The magic lingers, even when the final chapters have already been written.

MENTATS OF DUNE

Another prequel (Sisterhood of Dune, 2012, etc.) piecing together the developments by which the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers, human-computer Mentats, legendary-warrior Swordmasters and interstellar navigators of the Spacing Guild created the universe of the original Dune.

Weak-minded, foolish Salvador of House Corrino relies on his more talented brother, Roderick, to help rule the Empire, little suspecting how powerless he really is. Dying Mother Superior Raquella labors to rebuild the Sisterhood School; her dearest wish is to heal the breach with the estranged Sisters who, led by Reverend Mother Dorotea, profess loyalty to House Corrino and to the Butlerian movement. However, Raquella’s probable successor, Valya Harkonnen, has placed personal concerns above the goals of the Sisterhood. Gilbertus Albans, head of the Mentat School, teaches his students to use their minds as efficiently as those of thinking machines. But Gilbertus (secretly, he keeps the brain of the evil thinking robot Erasmus in his office) has, perhaps fatally, compromised with the Butlerians. Led by the legless fanatic Manford Torondo and his Swordmaster Anari Idaho, the Butlerians have extended a not-unreasonable proscription on thinking machines into an unreasoning hatred of all technology, despite their own reliance upon it. Josef Venport, meanwhile, whose space transport fleet depends upon spice from Arrakis to produce foldspace Navigators, defies the loathed Butlerians by ruthlessly embargoing any planet that accepts Manford’s anti-technology pledge. Series fans know what to expect: adroit plotting, flat narration and intriguing if not quite fully believable characters (inevitably, the developing schools of thought assume greater importance than the individuals) maneuvering against a backdrop shaping itself into the vast, complex, fascinating Dune universe.

The magic lingers, even when the final chapters have already been written.

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2274-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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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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The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever...

SNOW CRASH

After terminally cute campus high-jinks (The Big U) and a smug but attention-grabbing eco-thriller (Zodiac), Stephenson leaps into near-future Gibsonian cyberpunk—with predictably mixed results.

The familiar-sounding backdrop: The US government has been sold off; businesses are divided up into autonomous franchises ("franchulates") visited by kids from the heavily protected independent "Burbclaves"; a computer-generated "metaverse" is populated by hackers and roving commercials. Hiro Protagonist, freelance computer hacker, world's greatest swordsman, and stringer for the privatized CIA, delivers pizzas for the Mafia—until his mentor Da5id is blasted by Snow Crash, a curious new drug capable of crashing both computers and hackers. Hiro joins forces with freelance skateboard courier Y.T. to investigate. It emerges that Snow Crash is both a drug and a virus: it destroyed ancient Sumeria by randomizing their language to create Babel; its modern victims speak in tongues, lose their critical faculties, and are easily brainwashed. Eventually the usual conspiracy to take over the world emerges; it's led by media mogul L. Bob Rife, the Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates religious franchulate, and vengeful nuclear terrorist Raven. The cultural-linguistic material has intrinsic interest, but its connections with cyberpunk and computer-reality seem more than a little forced.

The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever embellishments, none of the above is as original as Stephenson seems to think. An entertaining entry that would have benefitted from a more rigorous attention to the basics.

Pub Date: May 15, 1992

ISBN: 0553380958

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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