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Cold People


Cold People

Twenty-year-old medical student Liza is on a wonderful vacation in Portugal with her parents and younger sister when she strikes up a flirtation with a local tour guide. Despite her usual caution, she sneaks away to see Atto the evening they meet, and their connection is immediate and intense. But as they return to shore after a romantic ride in his boat, the world changes forever. An alien fleet has arrived to colonize the planet, giving all humans just 30 days to make their way to the Antarctic or be destroyed.

The opening chapters of Tom Rob Smith’s latest novel, COLD PEOPLE, give readers just a glimpse at the history of Antarctica and the struggles humans have living there. Now, inconceivably, it is the only place on Earth they will be allowed to live.

"COLD PEOPLE is classic sci-fi... Smith...has penned an exciting tale with a sweeping scope, compelling characters, and an intimate and emotional tone."

In the ensuing chaos after the aliens’ first shocking message, Atto finds Liza and her family in the crowd streaming out of Lisbon. His family has a boat, and they can try to sail to Antarctica. The going is terribly rough as they join throngs of boats hoping to make it to safety in the short window. Many are lost along the way, and most of humanity is destroyed.

Yet Liza and Atto end up leaders in the new icy world. Creating a civilization out of the wreckage of planes and ships results in three main cities on the continent. Life is incredibly hard; there is little food, shelter is limited and the weather itself is lethal. Some survivors focus on the joy found in art, expression and community; others on the pragmatic tasks of feeding and clothing people; and still others on scientific development.

One group of scientists centers their work on genetic modifications that they hope will create a new type of human --- those able not only to survive, but to thrive in the inhospitable conditions in which they are now forced to live. One such child is Echo, Liza and Atto’s own daughter. Echo was designed to be impervious to the extreme cold of Antarctica. Despite having great strength and some surprising gifts, she feels an emotional disconnect from her family and those around her. That is, until she meets Eitan.

Eitan is the result of the work of Dr. Song Fu and her protegee, Yotam Penzak. Fu wanted to ensure survival by any means necessary and brought in the lonely and earnest Yotam to humanize her efforts. The results, powerful hybrid beings like Eitan, offer one version of survival, but they may pose a threat as great as the aliens who have taken control of Earth.

COLD PEOPLE is classic sci-fi, replete with aliens, bio-tech and post-catastrophe survival. It is also a romance and a family drama, as well as a searing look at humanity forced to confront what in fact makes it human. Smith, who is best known as the author of the Child 44 trilogy, has penned an exciting tale with a sweeping scope, compelling characters, and an intimate and emotional tone. There is plenty of adventure here, but at the heart of this thought-provoking story are some very serious existential questions.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 10, 2023

Cold People
by Tom Rob Smith