A highly engrossing and believable space-exploration novel.

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

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

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PROJECT HAIL MARY

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. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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