A pleasingly dystopian exercise in building a world without social media—and without social graces, for that matter.

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BUBBLEGUM

The past isn’t even past—but the one postmodern fictionalist Levin imagines is stranger than most.

Levin turns in a big, futuristic shaggy dog tale, except that the dog isn’t so shaggy. In fact, it’s a rather tidy, lovable little critter called a Curio, or “cure,” a sort of emotional support animal that lends itself to all kinds of bad treatment. In Levin’s future—or past, that is, since most of the action ranges between the early 1980s and the early 2010s—the technological advances we’ve become used to are absent: There are no iPhones, no internet, no Facebook. You’d think that such lacunae would make people feel happy, but instead strange forms of life have been concocted, with inanimate objects capable of feeling and voicing discontent and pain as well as acquiring some of the traits the humans around them possess. Levin’s hero in this overlong but amusing story is an alienated memoirist with the science-fictional name of Belt Magnet. But then, everyone in this story has an unusual moniker: Lotta Hogg, Jonboat Pellmore-Jason, Blackie Buxman, and so forth. His cure has the name Blank, “short for Kablankey, the name I’d given it, at my mother’s suggestion, for the sound of its sneeze.” By the end of the story, even though Blank is a mass-produced laboratory thing, the reader will care for him/it just as much as Belt does—and will certainly be shocked by the horrible things some of the characters do to the inanimate and lab-born things among them. Says a guy named Triple-J, brightly, “Let’s use those Band-Aids to Band-Aid a cure to the slide at the playground, throw some rocks at it from a distance, and see if something revolutionary develops—some new kind of Curio interaction that doesn’t end in overload, and that we never would have expected to enjoy.” If Levin’s point is that humans are rotten no matter what tools you put in their hands, he proves it again and again.

A pleasingly dystopian exercise in building a world without social media—and without social graces, for that matter.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54496-2

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

DEVOLUTION

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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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