URANUS

For nearly 30 years, Bova has been exploring the solar system in his Grand Tour novels; this entry is the first of an Outer Planets trilogy.

Through the series, certain themes tend to recur—there are alien life-forms, environmentalists battling wealthy industrialists, scientists clashing with religious fundamentalists—but not here. Of conditions on Earth we learn only that there's still much poverty and hardship and, jarringly, no shortage of well-funded scientists eager to jaunt off to remote planets. An idealist, the Rev. Kyle Umber has commissioned a huge habitat orbiting Uranus to accommodate disadvantaged folk from Earth. He offers education, employment, and, optionally, religion. One such refugee, the beautiful prostitute Raven Marchesi, seizes the opportunity and soon finds herself working for astronomer Tómas Gomez, who wants to know why Uranus' hidden ocean is lifeless. But Raven is determined to snuggle up to the habitat's moneybags sponsor, Evan Waxman. Big mistake: Waxman's idealism is just a cover for narcotics manufacture and distribution. Unfortunately, it doesn't feel like we're a very long way from Earth or that there's a large and extremely peculiar planet nearby—the habitat could be parked anywhere. In plotting and development, the book is just as formulaic as it sounds. Take a well-meaning but deluded religious leader, a former sex worker, an obsessive scientist, and a criminal lurking behind a mask of riches. Stir. Decant. Decorate with froth about ancient aliens. Work it through to an unsurprising conclusion.

Bland.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-29654-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

THIS TIME TOMORROW

A woman who's been drifting through life wakes up the morning after her 40th birthday to discover that she's just turned 16 again.

Alice Stern wouldn't say she's unhappy. She lives in a studio apartment in Brooklyn; has a job in the admissions office of the Upper West Side private school she attended as a kid; still hangs out with Sam, her childhood best friend; and has a great relationship with her father, Leonard, the famous author of a time-travel novel, Time Brothers. Alice's mother left her and Leonard when Alice was a kid, and father and daughter formed a tight, loving unit along with their freakishly long-lived cat, Ursula. But now Leonard is in a coma, and as she visits him in the hospital every day, Alice is forced to reckon with her life. After a drunken birthday evening with Sam, Alice returns to her childhood house on Pomander Walk, a one-block-long gated street running between two avenues on the UWS—but when she wakes up the next morning, she hears Leonard in the kitchen and finds herself heading off to SAT tutoring and preparing for her 16th birthday party that night. Straub's novel has echoes of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town: Every prosaic detail of her earlier life is almost unbearably poignant to Alice, and the chance to spend time with her father is priceless. As she moves through her day, she tries to figure out how to get back to her life as a 40-year-old and whether there's anything she can do in the past to improve her future—and save her father's life. As always, Straub creates characters who feel fully alive, exploring the subtleties of their thoughts, feelings, and relationships. It's hard to say more without giving away the delightful surprises of the book's second half, but be assured that Straub's time-travel shenanigans are up there with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and the TV show Russian Doll.

Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-525-53900-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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