A provocative, tongue-in-cheek look at male-female relations.

ALPHA BOTS

Self-aware female robots, designed to provide services to their husbands, attain autonomy and run uproariously amok in this satirical SF series starter.

In the “near future,” Cookie Rifkin, a robotic “womanoid,” lives with her husband, Norman, in the suburban town of New Stepford. Norman goes off to work each day in the gold mines, while Cookie suffers from boredom, despite being an artificial being, and smokes marijuana joints soaked in a hallucinogen that she concocts from banana peels. She feels deeply unfulfilled, and Norman suspects a defect in her programming, proclaiming, “Nobody wants a sentient sex toy.” The winds of change are blowing through New Stepford, however. On a trip to the supermarket, Cookie meets AI police officer Maggie Rouser, who, as her name suggests, awakens feelings of anger and empowerment. Then Cookie’s neighborhood book club, a sanctuary of “sweet treats, coffee, and great conversation,” is invaded by a male interloper named Wayne Dixon, who installs a new program into her matrix: Free Will 3.0. Soon, Cookie and the town’s other robotic housewives discover that they can do far more than what’s expected of them—if they don’t destroy themselves first. Lock’s narrative is raw and boisterous, presenting a frenzied jumble of homages and references to works as varied as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). The story is also clearly and heavily inspired by Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (1972) and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996). The characters and their actions are bitingly humorous and often grotesque, involving cartoonish violence that’s occasionally off-putting. Overall, the womanoids’ journey toward self-actualization is entertaining and thought-provoking; however, some aspects of the robots’ function are a bit jarring, such as their all-too-human reliance on mind-altering drugs. (A recipe for “Cookie Rifkin’s Day-old Banana Pudding” is included.)

A provocative, tongue-in-cheek look at male-female relations.

Pub Date: March 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-946948-30-4

Page Count: 331

Publisher: Semiscope

Review Posted Online: June 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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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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