A landmark of modern dystopianism, portending a time to come that no one would want to live in.

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RADIANT TERMINUS

French “post-exoticist” Volodine (Bardo or Not Bardo, 2016, etc.) returns with a dark view of the near future, where science fiction meets a certain kind of horror.

It’s fitting that in Volodine’s latest, a corpse should figure as one of the first characters we meet—well, not quite a corpse, not yet, though 30-year-old Vassilissa Marachvili is passing on quickly enough that Volodine refers to her as “the dying woman.” Perhaps, as the post-Heideggerians would say, she is always already dead, but what does it matter? In the remote Siberian outpost that is the setting for Volodine’s yarn, a kind of Chernobyl on steroids in a post-apocalyptic time, following the fall of the Second Soviet Union in a nuclear shootout, the living envy the dead. But, that said, there’s not much distinction between the categories in this hell, a place of “machines constantly humming. Fuel rods regularly sizzling as they tried to get several degrees hotter….The radioactivity at its peak puffing almost silently.” Overseeing this domain is Solovyei, a kind of Col. Kurtz for our time (think Marlon Brando with even more of a glow), who certainly has a godlike complex and maybe even some godlike powers and who does what he can for Vassilissa: “She’s gone into a dark tunnel. She’s neither dead nor alive,” he explains, helpfully. That’s one of his easier-to-comprehend statements; as our hero, Kronauer, reflects, Solovyei is a master of conjuring “images of shadowy eternity and worlds with indecipherable rules of existence.” Indeed. There can be no Kurtz without a Marlow—or a Capt. Willard trying to terminate his command, though deposing a man half dead is easier said than done. Volodine himself is a master at painting grim, infernal scenarios that seem fit for a neoarctic retelling of Mad Max, and with just the right atmospheric touches: can there be, after all, a Russian story without its wolves?

A landmark of modern dystopianism, portending a time to come that no one would want to live in.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-940953-52-6

Page Count: 468

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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