A highly engrossing and believable space-exploration novel.

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PRELUDE TO EXTINCTION

A crew investigating an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star finds something truly unexpected in Karpf’s debut SF novel.

In 2124, Jack Harrison is the captain of the spacecraft Magellan, on its historic multiyear voyage to the Epsilon Eri solar system—the first manned interstellar mission in human history. Their destination is Epsilon Eri-D, a planet that has the potential for sustaining intelligent life. The mission is particularly tense, as the reconnaissance probe that they sent ahead of them appears to have crashed into a debris field that surrounds the world. Then, on a nearby asteroid, they discover a crater that seems fairly recent—and evidence of some sort of explosion. When they finally get to the planet itself, they discover a massive, unidentified, tubelike object floating around it. On the planet, they find a single settlement enclosed in a massive dome, although no trace of intelligent life remains. Inside it, they discover evidence of a massacre: “The wall in front of them was covered with dozens of charred blast marks. The floor was littered with bones—too many to count.” When the away-team investigating the object goes silent, Jack and his crew go to have a look for themselves—and that’s when the trouble really begins. Their ship is soon hit by a strange burst of energy, and the crew finds that they’ve traveled an impossible distance through space—and time. Karpf’s prose style is measured and often quite technical, which results in a rich, realistic world: “Jack drummed his fingers anxiously against the shuttle bay bulkhead. The IPV had reached the shuttle on schedule, however bringing the unpowered vehicle aboard proved to be a delicate and agonizingly slow task.” The technology is given more emphasis than the characters, who sometimes come off as a bit flat and predictable. However, the mystery at the center of the book is so intriguing, and Karpf unspools it in such a deliberative manner, that the reader will hardly mind the relative lack of characterization. Fans of hard science fiction will particularly enjoy this thought-out, well-paced tale of a small crew’s unintentional close encounter.

A highly engrossing and believable space-exploration novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68963-591-2

Page Count: 345

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

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Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

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SEVERANCE

A post-apocalyptic—and pre-apocalyptic—debut.

It’s 2011, if not quite the 2011 you remember. Candace Chen is a millennial living in Manhattan. She doesn’t love her job as a production assistant—she helps publishers make specialty Bibles—but it’s a steady paycheck. Her boyfriend wants to leave the city and his own mindless job. She doesn’t go with him, so she’s in the city when Shen Fever strikes. Victims don’t die immediately. Instead, they slide into a mechanical existence in which they repeat the same mundane actions over and over. These zombies aren’t out hunting humans; instead, they perform a single habit from life until their bodies fall apart. Retail workers fold and refold T-shirts. Women set the table for dinner over and over again. A handful of people seem to be immune, though, and Candace joins a group of survivors. The connection between existence before the End and during the time that comes after is not hard to see. The fevered aren’t all that different from the factory workers who produce Bibles for Candace’s company. Indeed, one of the projects she works on almost falls apart because it proves hard to source cheap semiprecious stones; Candace is only able to complete the contract because she finds a Chinese company that doesn’t mind too much if its workers die from lung disease. This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment. This is Ma’s first novel, but her fiction has appeared in distinguished journals, and she won a prize for a chapter of this book. She knows her craft, and it shows. Candace is great, a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. She’s sufficiently self-aware to see the parallels between her life before the End and the pathology of Shen Fever. Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience.

Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-26159-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

RECURSION

In Crouch’s sci-fi–driven thriller, a machine designed to help people relive their memories creates apocalyptic consequences.

In 2018, NYPD Detective Barry Sutton unsuccessfully tries to talk Ann Voss Peters off the edge of the Poe Building. She claims to have False Memory Syndrome, a bewildering condition that seems to be spreading. People like Ann have detailed false memories of other lives lived, including marriages and children, but in “shades of gray, like film noir stills.” For some, like Ann, an overwhelming sense of loss leads to suicide. Barry knows loss: Eleven years ago, his 15-year-old daughter, Meghan, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Details from Ann’s story lead him to dig deeper, and his investigation leads him to a mysterious place called Hotel Memory, where he makes a life-altering discovery. In 2007, a ridiculously wealthy philanthropist and inventor named Marcus Slade offers neuroscientist Helena Smith the chance of a lifetime and an unlimited budget to build a machine that allows people to relive their memories. He says he wants to “change the world.” Helena hopes that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, will benefit from her passion project. The opportunity for unfettered research is too tempting to turn down. However, when Slade takes the research in a controversial direction, Helena may have to destroy her dream to save the world. Returning to a few of the themes he explored in Dark Matter (2016), Crouch delivers a bullet-fast narrative and raises the stakes to a fever pitch. A poignant love story is woven in with much food for thought on grief and the nature of memories and how they shape us, rounding out this twisty and terrifying thrill ride.

An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-5978-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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