Book Review: We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been Here by Lena NguyenTitle: We Have Always Been Here
Author: Lena Nguyen
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: July 6, 2021
Genre: Science Fiction
One Sentence Summary: Grace Park is one of thirteen humans sent to a new planet called Eos alongside an android crew, but, when they arrive, humans and androids alike begin to change, and it might have to do with odd metallic structures that may or may not actually exist on the surface

Overall

We Have Always Been Here combines science fiction with psychological thriller to get a wholly eerie and horrifying story of humanity and the lengths people and synthetics alike with go to in order to be free. There are shifting alliances and androids becoming almost human, secrets at every turn and in every heart, and a desperate psychologist who is out of the loop, but may be the only one who can save them. Frankly, this is a strange story, but was so impeccably done that it feels plausible, that it could be our future. There’s a a dystopian feel to it with the Interstellar Frontier (ISF) regulating most of the population on Earth and across the interplanetary colonies, but it’s mostly about a confined group of humans and androids who experience some very disturbing things.

Extended Thoughts

Psychologist Grace Park has always been more than a little different. In a time where most of space has been colonized and all of it run by the ISF, she is Earth-born and not conscripted to serve the ISF. But she also has a strong affinity with the androids, preferring their company to that of humans.

When a new planet is discovered, a crew of thirteen humans as well as an android crew are sent to Eos to survey it for suitability for colonization. That’s all Park knows, making her an outsider. But even before they each the space around Eos, strange things start happening on board and it turns out quite a lot is on a need-to-know basis, and Park is not one of the ones who needs to know, creating friction between her and the rest of the crew, almost all of whom are conscripted.

The humans begin to experience strange waking nightmares. The androids seem to be taking on human characteristics. There’s fear and paranoia and shifting ship hallways. And the only one who has a chance of piecing it together is Park, someone the androids trust, but the humans don’t.

We Have Always Been Here is a seriously creepy read. It certainly freaked me out several times, but didn’t scare me to the point of needing to turn on all the lights (I scare far too easily). It’s the kind of story that takes hold of you and refuses to let go. There are some slow parts, but the story relentlessly drives forward, the story altering alongside the crew and the ship. There are twists and turns and literally no idea of who to trust.

The world is far flung, encompassing all known space. It’s rare to come across a completely unknown and new planet. There are colonies seemingly just about everywhere, and they are the future for humanity to survive. The history behind it and how Earth is becoming increasingly uninhabitable is incredible, giving We Have Always Been Here a dystopian edge without actually really seeming dystopian with the ISF ruling the universe with an iron fist. Since moving off Earth is extraordinarily expensive, one can become conscripted to the ISF so they basically own you and keep your family hostage. This created an amazing tension between Park and the rest of the crew, who are almost all conscripted. They don’t understand her and she doesn’t understand them.

While the world is incredible, I really enjoyed the smaller world created on the ship. There’s distrust for the androids and Park’s affinity to them is noted as suspicious, so, by extension, the crew doesn’t trust her. She’s an outsider from whom everything about why they’re on Eos is kept. It made for something of a mind bending experience as she seems to be chasing smoke and mirrors, but there’s also really something there. The characters all really came to life, even the androids. All of them had distinct personalities and feelings and beliefs. I loved that they all kept something close to their chests, that some knew more than others, that they were so divided from the very beginning. I loved that I could understand them all, feel sympathetic towards them all, and feel indignant on Park’s behalf. Even the androids were incredible. As the story went on, they each developed distinct personalities and beliefs. They created a society of their own, which was really incredible, though also kind of freaky.

Told as something of a three-pronged story, it focuses on the main story of what’s happening to the crew as well as Park’s upbringing to showcase where she comes from and the division between Earth-born and conscripted, and transcripts of the two men who originally discovered Eos. They’re loosely wound together, but it becomes tighter by the last third, so the first two-thirds sometimes felt a little slow and not quite as interesting. There were long interludes about Park’s childhood that felt necessary, but maybe a little too long at the same time as I often lost the thread of the main story. But I did really enjoy seeing how it all came together to be perfectly braided.

We Have Always Been Here is an incredible story of what it means to be human, of how humans can be divided against each other. It’s creepy and atmospheric and so full of twists and turns it sometimes made my brain spin. But it’s also an incredible read, one that continually moves, continually offers tidbits while also holding all the cards close. I loved never being a step in front of Park, of having to explore and learn things with her. In many ways, I feel like Nguyen drops the reader into Park’s mind and body in order to lead us through this crazy, creepy, incredible story.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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