A smart, lively genre mashup that confronts past horrors and explores future heroics.

SPACE TAXIS

In A. Frosh and H. Frosh’s SF debut, a Brooklyn cab driver finds himself on an unfamiliar alien world.

It's 1977, and Mike Redolfo drives a taxi in a crime-ridden New York City. One night, after a strange passenger stiffs him, he’s summoned before his boss, Mallinson. It turns out that Mike has a tendency to rescue helpless people, which makes him a liability, so Mallinson arranges to have his hack license suspended.The now-jobless cabbie drives to the Fulton Ferry district to drink. Suddenly, a bright light appears, and Mike and his cab float into the air. He awakens on the planet Vost, where it’s revealed that he was taken from Earth because his DNA resembles that of a wanted “renegade.” This mistake has stranded him in the alien city of Catuvell. To get home, he’ll have to work for decades at one of the only jobs available: cab driving. He soon discovers that Catuvell, filled with flying vehicles, bizarre citizens, and soaring crime, isn’t too different from ’70s Brooklyn. In a parallel narrative in 1944 Prague, Marianna Kravová is a pregnant Jewish woman secretly living with Dominik Kominsky. When the Gestapo arrive, the pair escape with the help of resistance fighters; as they head to Budapest, Marianna sees that Dominik possesses a frightening hidden ability. The authors offer a tale that combines playful SF and harrowing historical fiction. Mike’s adventure on Vost is endlessly inventive, as when he upgrades his taxi in order to be able to maneuver in the incredibly congested traffic. Comments on present-day life abound, as in the line, “With driverless technology, the government can easily snoop on exactly where everyone is going.” World War II buffs will be fascinated by Heinrich Himmler’s presence in the story and his connection to other characters; the authors’ prose also shows an impressively dark streak as it satisfyingly portrays the infamous Nazi’s death. Although the plot sometimes feels conceptually crowded—the Celtic god Cernunnos appears at one point—it’s a chaos that’s endearing, and it leads to a joyous finale.

A smart, lively genre mashup that confronts past horrors and explores future heroics.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-916212-68-8

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Burton Mayers Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2020

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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