A space odyssey that’s worth taking.

THE ENCELADUS MISSION

HARD SCIENCE FICTION

A probe’s discovery of organic molecules on a moon of Saturn—proof positive of alien life—prompts an international team of scientists to embark on a dangerous journey in Morris’ (Der Riss, 2018, etc.) hard-sci-fi novel.

In 2031, a long-range automated spacecraft confirms biological material on Saturn’s ice moon Enceladus, where a liquid ocean exists beneath the frozen surface. The prospect of extraterrestrial life awaiting discovery in the solar system prompts a worldwide effort under NASA to recruit, train, and finally send several scientists on a 2046 mission to explore below Enceladus’ surface in the Valkyrie, a manned vessel described as “a drill that could swim, not a submarine that could drill.” Its co-pilot is Martin, a cool-headed Jet Propulsion Laboratory contractor who seems to have no fear of death due to a personal tragedy; the epic unfolds from his point of view during the risky, monthslong voyage. Morris is an exponent of highly technical sci-fi that details aerospace exploration and innovation practically down to the last rivet. Happily, he also pays heed to the human element, an aspect that can feel poorly engineered in many other hard-sci-fi books. Early on, for instance, the crew deals with an emergency when the mission commander, Amy Michaels, who’s in a relationship with engineer Hayato Masukoshi, becomes pregnant despite the fact that doctors told her that she was infertile. Morris also gets plenty of altitude from the brainy, minuscule crew’s problem-solving, as they cope not only with the challenge of having another mouth to feed, but also missing supplies and malfunctioning propulsion. The fact that the stakes on Enceladus may only involve unicellular organisms is no drawback; the author’s gift for narrative even endows the collision between a space rock and an automated vessel with something like emotional weight. The book also adroitly handles the tricky question of alien intelligence. Lengthy nonfiction postscripts, written in a similarly supple style, describe the science in the story; it’s hopefully not a spoiler to note that the Valkyrie is an experimental concept in real life (and the head of the firm behind it, as well as businessmen Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, is mentioned in the novel).

A space odyssey that’s worth taking.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72683-024-9

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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