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PERHAPS THE STARS

From the Terra Ignota series , Vol. 4

Curiously compelling but not entirely satisfying.

The fourth and final volume in the Terra Ignota series, a science fantasy set on a 25th-century Earth where people affiliate by philosophy and interest instead of geography.

For the first time in centuries, the world is seized by war—once the combatants actually figure out how to fight one. While rivalries among the Hives provide several motives for conflict, primary among them is whether J.E.D.D. Mason, the heir to various political powers and apparently a god from another universe in human form, should assume absolute rule over the world and transform it for the better. Gathering any large group to further the progress of the war or the possibility for peace is hampered by the loss of the world transit system of flying cars and the global communications network, both shut down by parties unknown, indicating a hidden and dangerous faction manipulating the situation for its own ends. As events play out, they bear a strong resemblance to aspects of the Iliad and the Odyssey, suggesting the persistent influence of Bridger, a deceased child who was also probably a god. Is tragedy inevitable, or can the characters defy their apparent fates? This often intriguing but decidedly peculiar chimera of a story seems to have been a philosophical experiment, but it’s difficult to determine just what was being tested. The worldbuilding—part science, part magic—doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, and the political structure defies comprehension. The global government consists of an oligarchy of people deeply and intimately connected by love and hate on a scale which surpasses the royal dynasties of old, and it includes convicted felons among their number. Perhaps the characters are intended as an outsized satiric comment on the way politicians embrace expediency over morality or personal feelings, but these supposedly morally advanced potentates commit so many perverse atrocities against one another it is difficult to engage with them as people. At times, they seem nearly as alien as J.E.D.D. Mason.

Curiously compelling but not entirely satisfying.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7806-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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THE DARK FOREST

From the Remembrance of Earth's Past series , Vol. 2

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Second part of an alien-contact trilogy (The Three-Body Problem, 2014) from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In the previous book, the inhabitants of Trisolaris, a planet with three suns, discovered that their planet was doomed and that Earth offered a suitable refuge. So, determined to capture Earth and exterminate humanity, the Trisolarans embarked on a 400-year-long interstellar voyage and also sent sophons (enormously sophisticated computers constructed inside the curled-up dimensions of fundamental particles) to spy on humanity and impose an unbreakable block on scientific advance. On Earth, the Earth-Trisolaris Organization formed to help the invaders, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. Humanity’s lone advantage is that Trisolarans are incapable of lying or dissimulation and so cannot understand deceit or subterfuge. This time, with the Trisolarans a few years into their voyage, physicist Ye Wenjie (whose reminiscences drove much of the action in the last book) visits astronomer-turned-sociologist Luo Ji, urging him to develop her ideas on cosmic sociology. The Planetary Defense Council, meanwhile, in order to combat the powerful escapist movement (they want to build starships and flee so that at least some humans will survive), announces the Wallfacer Project. Four selected individuals will be accorded the power to command any resource in order to develop plans to defend Earth, while the details will remain hidden in the thoughts of each Wallfacer, where even the sophons can't reach. To combat this, the ETO creates Wallbreakers, dedicated to deducing and thwarting the plans of the Wallfacers. The chosen Wallfacers are soldier Frederick Tyler, diplomat Manuel Rey Diaz, neuroscientist Bill Hines, and—Luo Ji. Luo has no idea why he was chosen, but, nonetheless, the Trisolarans seem determined to kill him. The plot’s development centers on Liu’s dark and rather gloomy but highly persuasive philosophy, with dazzling ideas and an unsettling, nonlinear, almost nonnarrative structure that demands patience but offers huge rewards.

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7708-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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I CHEERFULLY REFUSE

The novel’s voice remains engaging, and its spirit resilient, against some staggeringly tough times.

Amid the dystopian collapse of the near future, a musician embarks on a quixotic voyage from the shore of Lake Superior.

There’s both a playfulness and a seriousness of purpose to the latest from the Minnesota novelist, a spirit of whimsy that keeps hope flickering even in times of darkest despair. Things have gone dangerously dark along the North Shore, and likely for the country as a whole. A comet is coming that augurs ill, a pandemic has wreaked havoc with the public health, an autocratic despot and raging populism have made books and booksellers all but treasonous. There are corpses floating in the lake from climate change, and there are numerous instances of people swallowing something that kills them; the dead are generally considered seekers of whatever comes next (which has to be better than this) rather than suicides. As narrator Rainy sets the scene, “The world was so old and exhausted that many now saw it as a dying great-grand on a surgical table, body decaying from use and neglect, mind fading down to a glow.” Rainy is a bass player in bar bands, a jack of a variety of trades, and devoted husband to Lark, a bibliophile who runs the local bookstore. Before the collapse of the publishing industry, a cult author had been set to publish a volume with the same title as this novel, and finding one of the few advance copies has been like a holy grail for Lark. Then a copy finds her, courtesy of a fugitive pursued by the powers that be, and whatever tranquility Lark and Rainy had achieved is shattered. Rainy takes to the lake to escape the fugitive’s pursuers and reunite with Lark. He experiences a variety of hardship, challenge, and adventure, yet somehow lives to tell the tale that is this novel.

The novel’s voice remains engaging, and its spirit resilient, against some staggeringly tough times.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780802162939

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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