A well-written, conceptually agile adventure with a memorable ending.

STILLED

THE STORY OF INKLEBRAWT WINKLEHANK

A secret clan of biologically enhanced humans battles their would-be destroyers in this SF adventure.

In Pawtucket, Massachusetts, Maggie Henderson leads a ragtime cover band. Her vibrant onstage persona is at odds with her day-to-day life as a postdoctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She’s working on programming “nanorobots” to help fix damaged skin cells. The work will be, as she tells her boyfriend, Tim Gritmuff, like “the perfect skin-cream.” Maggie also harbors a strange secret. She’s a Huply; she has both human and Plythi’i ancestry. The Plythi’i are a race of humanoids created with nanomachines who possess a telepathic Sense. Our heroine’s life putters along until she meets a man flying a kite barefoot in a park. This is polymath Inklebrawt Winklehank, who briefly attended Maggie’s high school. She’s star-struck because of his brilliant work in the field of “Integrated Bio-circuits” and wonders if he’s attending their high school reunion that night. Meanwhile, a violent offshoot of Huply, known as the Shepherds, wants to stop humanity’s “artificial speciation” and destroy the Plythi’i. The last grand battle between the two secret groups happened in 13,330 B.C.E. in Bolivia. With an attack imminent, Maggie must figure out her connection to Inklebrawt, another Huply, and a strange coterie of individuals, including Navy Seal David Wessel and a woman named Zayla. The group’s only hope may rest in contacting the Tsr’ Yyd, an enigmatic force that, once unleashed, could change life on Earth. Can Inklebrawt access a revered Plythi’i text called the Convictions in time to act?

Estvander’s hard SF adventure is similar to Greg Egan’s and Vernor Vinge’s novels; all toss readers headlong into conceptually dense worlds that require skillful absorption of ideas along the way. The story opens on the realm built by the Plythi’i in ancient Bolivia; this segment is flush with futuristic elements, including “Enginteks” who shape and build with stone using devices called “Vecco’i Sean.” The name Sean crops up frequently in reference to the creator of the Plythi’i, but a full explanation doesn’t arrive until the story’s end. Estvander rewards patient readers with tightly interlocking plot segments, many of which shuffle the cast through time and location (to the planet Ply’, for example). Grounding readers in more mainstream SF motifs is the Sense, reminiscent of the Force in the Star Wars franchise. Another familiar element is the way Inklebrawt’s volatile human emotions often co-opt his cool Plythi’i, Spock-like logic. In one thrilling scene, the character Yumi uses her Sense to merge metal and stone, sealing a doorway against attacking Shepherds. And while there’s much innovation to love in the work’s first half, it often relies on traditional thriller components to goose the plot. The Shepherds, for example, appear on Earth as mobsters who resort to kidnapping and gunplay to achieve their goals. The clever, remarkable finale will give audiences much to think about as far as the workings of the universe and humanity’s place in it.

A well-written, conceptually agile adventure with a memorable ending.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-48829-706-7

Page Count: 337

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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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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IMAX-scale bleeding-edge techno-horror from a writer with a freshly sharpened scalpel and time on his hands.

WAYWARD

The world as we know it ended in Wanderers, Wendig’s 2019 bestseller. Now what?

A sequel to a pandemic novel written during an actual pandemic sounds pretty intense, and this one doesn’t disappoint, heightened by its author’s deft narrative skills, killer cliffhangers, and a not inconsiderable amount of bloodletting. To recap: A plague called White Mask decimated humanity, with a relative handful saved by a powerful AI called Black Swan that herded this hypnotized flock to Ouray, Colorado. Among the survivors are Benji Ray, a scientist formerly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Shana Stewart, who is pregnant and the reluctant custodian of the evolving AI (via nanobots, natch); Sheriff Marcy Reyes; and pastor Matthew Bird. In Middle America, President Ed Creel, a murdering, bigoted, bullying Trump clone, raises his own army of scumbags to fight what remains of the culture wars. When Black Swan kidnaps Shana’s child, she and Benji set off on another cross-country quest to find a way to save him. On their way to CDC headquarters, they pick up hilariously foulmouthed rock god Pete Corley, back from delivering Willie Nelson’s guitar to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This novel is an overflowing font of treasures peppered with more than a few pointed barbs for any Christofacists or Nazis who might have wandered in by accident. Where Wanderers was about flight in the face of menace, this is an old-fashioned quest with a small band of noble heroes trying to save the world while a would-be tyrant gathers his forces. All those big beats, not least a cataclysmic showdown in Atlanta, are tempered by the book’s more intimate struggles, from Shana’s primal instinct to recover her boy to the grief Pete buries beneath levity to Matthew Bird’s near-constant grapple with guilt. It’s a lot to take in, but Pete’s ribald, bombastic humor as well as funny interstitials and epigraphs temper the horror within.

IMAX-scale bleeding-edge techno-horror from a writer with a freshly sharpened scalpel and time on his hands.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-15877-7

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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