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THE HUMAN DISPERSAL PROJECT

An inventive, thoughtful space adventure about the nature of purpose and community.

In Chouinard’s SF novel, a group of children come of age without adults.

Pee-pop has lived her entire life—nearly 10 years—inside a self-sufficient POD spaceship shooting through the galaxy at interstellar speed. Pee-pop is the de facto leader of the crew of 10 cadets, all of whom have been on the ship since they were literal zygotes. The cadets all have names like Chee-chaw, Plashy, Chop-char, and Dee-dore, and—like the seven dwarves—each has a distinguishing attribute (funny, smart, strong, creative). They all get along, except for Potch, whose descriptor could well be malcontented: “Like the rest of his compatriots, he didn’t choose this life. But unlike the rest of them, he had never accepted it either, and pretty much right from the beginning. Earth was a long way behind them—far longer than their own lifespans, should they ever desire to turn back.” When the cadets’ 10th birthday arrives, the ship’s intelligent operating system, ABRAM (Automated Biological Replication Assistance Machine), reveals something big. As part of the Human Dispersal Project, they—like numerous other PODs—were scattered to the stars in the hopes of spreading human life to distant planets. The planet they’re headed for is called ESUP-9, orbiting Alpha Centauri B. The cadets are now old enough to have access to the Anthropological Records Collection, a trove of information about humankind and its history. The new information astounds the crew, particularly Pee-pop, who feels great responsibility for her fellow cadets, and Potch, who feels more than ever that he’s trapped. In addition, both characters feel like some aspect of the mission remains hidden from them. Can these 10 children and their AI chaperone continue to grow collectively as they speed toward their future? Or will the inherent flaws of their species—fear, paranoia, selfishness—unmake them before they reach their ultimate home?

Chouinard writes kids well; one of the joys of the novel is seeing the microculture the cadets have built for themselves. The hard SF elements are crafted with exceptional detail and verisimilitude. The story is a slow burn, but the author’s prose adeptly massages the tension just enough to keep readers engaged, as here, when Pee-pop watches Potch: “She couldn’t break past that impenetrable shroud he had carried around with him his entire life. He was here. He was helping. But that didn’t undo months of sneaking around, storing secrets in a journal meant for no one’s eyes but his, doing who-knows-what as he snooped around the system.” The book is appended by 50 pages of post-narrative text, which mostly covers the author’s inspiration and writing process (revealing, for example, how many of the character names are drawn from his son’s imaginary friends). Even without this addition, however, the book feels slightly overlong. This is partly due to the general sluggishness of the plot, and partly to the fact that, while the book is not meant for children, it is very much about children. Nevertheless, fans of thoughtful SF will find much here to ponder.

An inventive, thoughtful space adventure about the nature of purpose and community.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9781735167909

Page Count: 431

Publisher: Proavia Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2024

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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PROJECT HAIL MARY

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

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Weir’s latest is a page-turning interstellar thrill ride that follows a junior high school teacher–turned–reluctant astronaut at the center of a desperate mission to save humankind from a looming extinction event.

Ryland Grace was a once-promising molecular biologist who wrote a controversial academic paper contesting the assumption that life requires liquid water. Now disgraced, he works as a junior high science teacher in San Francisco. His previous theories, however, make him the perfect researcher for a multinational task force that's trying to understand how and why the sun is suddenly dimming at an alarming rate. A barely detectable line of light that rises from the sun’s north pole and curves toward Venus is inexplicably draining the star of power. According to scientists, an “instant ice age” is all but inevitable within a few decades. All the other stars in proximity to the sun seem to be suffering with the same affliction—except Tau Ceti. An unwilling last-minute replacement as part of a three-person mission heading to Tau Ceti in hopes of finding an answer, Ryland finds himself awakening from an induced coma on the spaceship with two dead crewmates and a spotty memory. With time running out for humankind, he discovers an alien spacecraft in the vicinity of his ship with a strange traveler on a similar quest. Although hard scientific speculation fuels the storyline, the real power lies in the many jaw-dropping plot twists, the relentless tension, and the extraordinary dynamic between Ryland and the alien (whom he nicknames Rocky because of its carapace of oxidized minerals and metallic alloy bones). Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13520-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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