The defiant story of an impossible enigma who only yearns to be a real girl.

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MEM

A young woman’s personality is the result of a startling experimental procedure, leaving her to struggle with the question of who she really is.

This debut novel by multigenre fabulist Morrow is a haunting exploration of memory, identity, and mortality set in a vaguely sinister alternate-reality Montreal circa 1925. In this rendering, scientists have discovered a peculiar method of extracting memories from people and delivering them into “Mems,” half-alive creatures whose purpose is to experience the memory over and over again in a fortress called the Vault until they die. But not our narrator, oddly enough. The story is told by a 19-year-old Mem who identifies as "Elsie," though her true designation is “Dolores Extract No. 1,” meant to keep the memory of a car crash in 1906 from troubling her “source,” Dolores Shepherd. But Elsie is a fully formed individual, capable of forming her own memories, the only Mem who's been allowed to live independently outside the Vault. Repeatedly she tells us, “I am a memory. Now I suppose I’ll live like one,” as she struggles with her place in this strange world. Called back to the Vault, Elsie learns that because Dolores has reached her maximum number of Mems, she is in danger of being “reprinted,” wiping out her unique self. Protected by a kindly professor and his wife, Elsie encounters broken Mems, fractured Sources, and a smitten scientist during her evolution into a new kind of being. In studying memory, Elsie becomes even more aware of the damage resulting from this cruel practice. “What kind of people are we if we can’t traverse the landscape of our own memories?” she asks. “What kind of people do they become who refuse?” These philosophical explorations ultimately culminate in a disturbing clash between Elsie and Dolores prime. With her dizzying concept, richly imagined narrator, ornate setting, and first-rate storytelling, Morrow offers an epiphany for readers of speculative fiction with echoes of ideas explored in films like Blade Runner and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The defiant story of an impossible enigma who only yearns to be a real girl.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944700-55-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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