A rare book that blends fun with fury and tomfoolery with social consciousness.

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AN AGENT OF UTOPIA

Stories that borrow from American folklore, history, and a plethora of literary sources to forge fantasy worlds that are intimately familiar.

Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, 2012, etc.) reasserts his down-home voice in this new collection of Southern fabulist tales. Often told in the first person, the stories tease the reader with echoes of historical fact and biography that slowly unfold into sociopolitical commentary. In some tales, this cultural consciousness is overt. The title story, for example, sees an actual agent of Thomas More’s fictional Utopia infiltrating 16th-century London in an attempt to rescue More from the Tower. When her mission fails, she becomes haunted by the profane voice of More’s severed head and stays in England in an attempt to find the freedom offered by an imperfect society. Along the same lines, “Senator Bilbo” finds the many-times-great-grandson of Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins a powerful political figure in the Shire advancing his agenda of racial purity in the face of a globalizing Middle-earth. Other stories flirt more subtly with their themes. In “Zora and the Zombie,” a fictionalized Zora Neale Hurston explores both the power and vulnerability of her femininity while researching her real-life ethnographic study of Haitian voodoo practices. In “Beluthahatchie,” the African-American trickster character High John the Conqueror is blended with the scarcely less mythic personality of bluesman Robert Johnson to explore the dynamics of institutionalized racial oppression and resistance in hell. As lofty as Duncan’s goals can sometimes be, the tenderness, humor, and sheer gumption of his voices make the collection both winsome and engaging. Of note, however, is the fact that the author uses racially insensitive language which, while historically accurate and appropriate to the voices of his characters, is not his to speak. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether Duncan's use of African-American folk forms and the stories' firm championing of the oppressed justify the employment of language that lands so harshly on the ear. Occasionally, the author loses his way in the maze of his references, and the stories suffer from a tendency to ramble, but even the most gabby of these tales has the power to startle the reader into realizations about their own time and place that are only possible when seen through the lens of make-believe.

A rare book that blends fun with fury and tomfoolery with social consciousness.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61873-153-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Small Beer Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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