Ada Hoffmann, The Fallen (2021)

Author: Ada Hoffmann

Title: The Fallen

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series: The Outside #2

I wanted to read something by Ada Hoffman for a while, as her books have been praised as  both a good representation of neurodivergence and as solidly written stories. So when I saw this at NG I jumped at the opportunity, especially because the blurb was promising some cool hard SF, AI elevated to godhood, and a brewing human revolution on a distant planet. Not once had it mentioned that it’s a sequel ;). My bad, I guess, I should have checked the specs on other websites – though to be fair, I think this is one of the sequels where I’m better off not having read the first installment; the sequel explains all the previous events in detail.

If I were to describe this book in a few words, I’d go with Neurodivergent Superheroes: Angst and Rebellion. Contrary to the blurb’s promises, there’s not much SF in the mix; there are the AIs raised to a sort-of-godhood, but they behave in a manner that makes them indistinguishable from humans: they are petty, emotional, far from omniscient, hung up on some weird representations of themselves (they have modelled themselves on the lesser known Greek gods, for some reason), and generally obsessed with order. There are also their human and non-human henchmen (there’s one other sentient race in the universe, humanoid shapeshifters) called angels, who generally have been physically and mentally upgraded by the AIs (they can be recognized by titanium plates on their foreheads, under which lays god-added circuitry) for the purpose of raining death and destruction on disobeying humans. And humans are needed, because the AI gods are fuelled by the human souls they devour. As they can devour only souls of the believers, welp, it’s in their interest to maintain both the population and the belief. Against them we have a small neurodivergent group of people with superpowers endowed by the Outside, which is a sort-of-sentient and embodied force of natural Chaos. They oppose the angels and the gods, but have a hard time doing it as nearly all are significantly neuroatypical and find it difficult to interact with other people, let alone organize and lead their rebellion. This group forms the leadership for a broader movement of people who live in the Chaos Zone where The Outside was let in (as a result of the events of the first book) and changed a third of the planet in dangerous, unforeseen ways. They mostly want to live peacefully where they are; but the AI gods seem bent on eradication of the whole Chaos-infected area, the inhabitants included – which leaves the humans little else but to fight for survival. 

As you can see, The Fallen turned out to be more along the lines of YA fantasy than SF, and to be perfectly honest, had I known it beforehand, I wouldn’t have requested the book. I have no patience for the YA angst and emotional upheavals, and this type of scenario has been worked to death by many, many authors already – often with better results.

And yet, I don’t regret reading it; no, I’m actually glad I had the opportunity – after all, it’s not my usual fare and it’s good to venture out into the unknown from time to time ;). Moreover, I think that the neurodivergence representation is really very well done here, and the topic becomes increasingly more valid as we seem to have created a social and technological environment that is less and less forgiving to ourselves. I believe we all would do well to consider the boundaries of “normal” in our society, and how the “normal” is shaped by our culture, artifacts, beliefs and social expectations. The fact that Hoffmann introduces as protagonists a bunch of characters who are variously autistic, have split personality disorder, apraxia, fight with depression and anger issues, and even a light case of a Stockholm syndrome, is truly laudable. They are all broken, damaged by various traumas, and deeply imperfect, and yet they are still striving to do the right thing, even at a cost to themselves. We don’t seem to get many such characters in the mainstream books, so hats off for this. 

The relationships between our protagonists are complex and believable, though the characterization itself is somewhat lacking: I couldn’t really grasp the personality of any of them, beyond their unique neurodivergent traits, and they seemed to me more like representations of certain ideas than real-life people – but maybe this element had been more detailed in the first book. What was harder to swallow, however, was the amount of angst. Man, that angst. Everybody is unsure of themselves and their relationship, they all have their insecurities and fears and little sadnesses and grudges, and their description takes pages and pages of text, leaving very little space for any kind of action. The various relationships seem to have taken nearly all the author’s mental space for writing the book – and ultimately, this relegates the rebellion plot to the last 50 pages or so, making it almost an afterthought. The whole thing is over so quickly and nearly bloodlessly that it lacks any realism, turning instead into a necessary setup for the next installment. 

So, points for representation and inclusiveness, but definitely not for plot, pacing, or even worldbuilding. This is also very much a middle book, resolving minor issues only to create more, and bigger, problems. And yet, despite this all, I quite liked it. It’s such a well-meaning book, devoted to bring us, the readers, a gentle reminder that people can be very, very different, but they still remain thoroughly, unequivocally human.

Lastly, I’ve been really struggling with rating this book. So much in reading depends on context. I have read The Fallen right after finishing Dune (and I know, it must be karma, I wrote a looong review bemoaning the lack of an emotional layer in Dune, and I get nothing but the emotional layer in my next read :P) and my final review of The Fallen by necessity takes into account that experience, with its obsessively detailed, meticulously researched worldbuilding, fleshed out secondary characters with actual modes of living and beliefs, an economy and ecology, and consistent philosophical foundation. Is it fair to The Fallen? Probably not. Should I weigh my score against this influence? Possibly. Good intentions are not the only thing that matters in writing a book – but they do matter, too. 

…and now, give me some Asher ;).

I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.

Score: 6/10

26 thoughts on “Ada Hoffmann, The Fallen (2021)

  1. This remembers me of my last year’s request of a NG title, only to find out that it was #5 of a series. I read the the series and it was fine (Red Rising), but swore to myself that I‘ll never ever not check out the series again.
    YA second book in a series? Sorry, that’s a nope from me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yup, I totally get it. If I were to judge this on literary merits only, it would get 5/10 at most. But getting some well-intentioned representation of neurodivergence is important enough IMO to merit that additional star or two.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. The worldbuilding is stupid, and lazy: what lately serves as an excuse for SF, ie. bunch of vaguely science-y sounding stuff haphazardly thrown together. I won’t be reading the sequel if you had any doubts 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Bummer. That cover looked cool and the blurb made it sound like Asher-lite, which I’d totally be good with. I am glad you still got some enjoyment out of it 😀

    On to Asher!!!!

    On a serious note, why do you feel that showing brokenness is a good thing? Fixing broken things is a good thing. Simply showing the brokenness however, that’s like toilet training. It’s essential. For a 2 year old (or whenever that stage happens) but not for an adult. I wouldn’t praise a teenager for using the toilet. I’d give them holy hell if they DIDN’T use the toilet. I feel like praise like yours is setting the bar so low that it is meaningless. I’m not trying to be personal here, and I know how I can come across, so I’m really trying to dial it back here 🙂
    I guess it all comes down to: Do people really think that humanity ISN’T broken? It doesn’t need to be shown in fiction, it should be so obvious.

    I’d like your take on that, as you seem to be coming at it from a different view and what is obvious to me apparently isn’t to everyone.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, but mental brokenness often is hidden, so showing it is the first step for repair. Also, certain issues (like certain forms of autism) don’t need fixing, amongst other things as the problem in some cases is more other peoples’ reactions, so also there a certain awareness is needed to fix that, and showing certain things helps raise awareness?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Gotta disagree. Showing isn’t fixing. I realize that’s popular opinion and much noise is made about it but if (generic) you think something is a problem and make that a point in your book, then a solution also needs to be presented. Take your example of “autism doesn’t need to be fixed but the reaction.” Then show the way to respond. THAT is showing a solution instead of whining about it (not you, the author) like prepubescent brat.

        My main issue with what you wrote is the idea behind “raise awareness”. It’s a buzzword and it’s a panacea so people can feel good about doing nothing. If you’re not doing something, then you’re not fixing the problem.

        (bet you didn’t know you were going to step on that landmine, eh? hahahaha)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Showing is a part of fixing. If I don’t know how to fix my computer, but I point out the problem, is it wrong? This way, I might reach out to a specialist who knows how to fix it but who wasn’t aware of the problem before. Also, to be fully transparent here, the author did show that people with various forms of neurodivergence can be susceptible to abuse or exploitation; I prefer her showing the problem even without solutions than not showing it at all.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. I agree raising awareness is a buzzword, but as Ola explained a few comments down (might not appear in your notifications, but since you don’t use the reader I’ll guess you’ll see it), it is a first step nonetheless, so it’s not exactly doing nothing. As a writer you can’t do much more by the way (I mean with your writing itself).

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Yup, the Asher-trap I fell into… 😉 Won’t happen again, I’ll just read the real one 😀

      Hmm I feel like there’s a huge discussion in it. I’ll do my best to give you a piece of my mind on this 😉
      Let’s start with the word “broken” since you clamped on it so fiercely, even dialed back 🙂. I used it as a shortcut to denote a neuro-psychological non-confirmity, or neurodivergence, affecting social relations of a person and their own view of themselves in a detrimental way, coupled with some traumatic experiences which make them even more susceptible to further deterioration of mental health. Can you really fix it? Do you know how? Who decides where are the limits of “normal”? Is shy normal, or not liking people? Or do we go all the way to psychopaths before we decide it’s not normal? There’s a whole continuum, a whole spectrum of behaviors, and many of them have biological foundations (autism, for example). Autism is not fixable at the moment, nor is apraxia, and we’re even struggling with “fixing” depression. And if you don’t know much about these mental/neurological afflictions, you may perceive that other person as a spoiled brat who hasn’t been properly raised. So I’d say learning more about it is a good thing.

      To be fair, though, I think this book is more directed toward YA than adults; you are over 40, Booky, and you have your family, you have gone through many experiences, and now are a centred, solid person who knows their own core and stand firm by their beliefs. You have made your peace with humanity being broken, and it, as well as the solution to this problem, are an integral part of your religious beliefs. Young people, even more so now than before, often don’t have any of it, and even if they knew they need some guidance they find it is in relatively short supply. Part of the problem seems to be that the society, especially social media, create a false image of perfection and success, which makes many people, particularly young people who are still very malleable and easy to influence, feel deeply inadequate. There’s an epidemic of depression among young people worldwide, there was – and still is – an opioid crisis in the US, there’s a growing number of suicides etc. Showing a more forgiving image of one’s flaws, and showing how the protagonists try to overcome their problems and inadequacies, might be IMO a better thing than inundating them with images of tough superheroes who always make good decisions, always look their best, and have virtually no personal problems – apartfrom the alien invasion or another world domination plot.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thank you for taking the time to respond thusly.

        I think what I was thinking of for “broken” was very different from how you were meaning to use it. I was using it from a theological standpoint, where one knows that humanity isn’t “naturally good” and will not make the right decisions because of their innate goodness. If I read your comment correctly, you’re talking about the simply physical side of things?
        And people’s response to that.
        But even if that is the case, my initial comment still makes sense. Reading your other comment though, I think we simply are going to have to disagree on what qualifies as fixing and solutions. You’re thresh hold is much lower.

        As for the YA thing. You are correct in your assessment of me and I’d say your assessment of the World Culture and its attendant ills (social media pressure, drugs, etc) is spot on. But where we differ is on how to respond to that. There are also differences on what we think of as the underlying causes for such things.

        But all of that is getting off topic. You answered my question and it’s given me some good food for thought.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Yeah, I figured that the “broken” part was were we differed the most. My take on “broken” deals more with biology/neurobiology/psychology than theology. But I can see we just perceive the problem a bit differently, and see different things as solutions. Still, I do love to discuss all this stuff with you, even if at the end we need to agree to disagree – it’s always good to see a different viewpoint on things, especially when we think of something as obvious and then realize it’s anything but – so thanks, Bookstooge! 😀

          Liked by 2 people

          1. No, thank you. I realize that I am not always the easiest person to deal with and that I tend to go off the handle even when I’m desperately trying not to. Which is why I simply keep silent so often (you have no idea, not just here, but everywhere).

            And I have zero problems with not coming to a consensus with people. I’m not a pansy millennium 😉

            Liked by 2 people

  3. Not only did you pick up a sequel, but it also turned out to be secretly YA, and on top of that, it gives you all the emotion that Dune didn’t give you at all? What are the odds. I’m laughing alone at your misery here. 😛 Then again, I’m glad it wasn’t a complete waste of time though! Great honest thoughts, Ola! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Karma returns, man, karma returns… I bet old Frank pulled some strings above or below, wherever he is; he strikes me as a vengeful type 🤣🤣🤣


  4. Ken Adams

    I really enjoyed the first book in this series. The idea of AIs taking over but also cloaking themselves in the trappings of religions was really interesting. It shoed glimpses of the hierarchy of the AIs and the humans that served them who grew increasingly augmented and upgraded the higher up the chain they were. Great stuff imo.

    Then, this novel came out and it was set in pretty much one location and pretty much the entire goal of the all the protagonist and the ‘gone’ people was to… make things slightly better for the people in that location? Like, seriously, what changed between the start of the book and the end? The main protagonist from the first book spent 90% of it in pretty much a fugue state, while her girlfriend and friends supported people on 1/5 of a planet. Angels occasionally fought them and then at the end they made some more food available to them. The main antagonist from the first book was doing things for no clear purpose. He wanted to escape the system he was bound to in the first book but then spent this book muttering about heresy and not much else. His muscle, Enga, from the first book is setup in this book to do great things and then vanishes, only to reappear at the end and accomplish nothing.

    What happens in this books? Seriously? It felt like it could have been condensed down to a chapter in a much better book. It seems like they asked the author for a sequel they hadn’t intended to write and they just slapped together an incredibly muddled and inconsequential story that pales in comparison to the first book. Where before we started to learn about an incredible power that was available and being suppressed by the AIs and got glimpses of what it could do, in this book it’s used to grow fruit and grasses.

    So. Lame.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad to hear that the first book was better, at least! 🙂 I agree that nothing really happens here; I assume the author wanted to focus on relationships and also intended to show how making any kind of revolution is difficult, but succeeded only in the first task. It’s a challenge to depict any kind of rebellion as boring, but Hoffmann succeeded 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh, you wrote that comment a day too early! Just check my newest review! 😂😂 Though to be fair, this new horrible experience was not a sequel, just a brand new debut thriller. 😭🤮
      I must admit that sometimes I actually don’t mind to start with second books and go from there (many first books are weaker than sequels in my experience); what I read about this particular one, though, is that the sequel is just inferior to the first book in every aspect; almost as if the writer was forced to write something because of the success of the first book, and not because they had a story to tell.


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