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

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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With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and...

DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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