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TERRAFORM

These dark, witty, and occasionally mournful stories will thoroughly satisfy readers looking for creative new dystopias.

Dispatches from the hyperconnected, hypersurveilled future.

The editors of this SF anthology bill it as a “full, visceral, and vital portrait of a world in rapid evolution,” and in many ways the collection delivers on that promise. Like all the best science fiction, these stories look at our present through the lens of some possible futures. Key themes emerge, including surveillance capitalism, artificial intelligence, and climate change. The world we see here is hyperconnected and yet uber-alienating, full of potential for ever shinier tech but lacking much opportunity for genuine, joyful humanity to thrive. There are some brilliant, haunting stories—a gonzo sendup of corporate culture ("Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company" by Kevin Nguyen), a minithriller about a smart-home assistant with a mind of its own ("Warning Signs" by Emily J. Smith), a time-travel tale about the gentrification of the past ("Trojan Horses" by Jess Zimmerman), a too-close-to-home parable about aliens who arrive on Earth as refugees ("The Wretched and the Beautiful" by E. Lily Yu). There’s also some invigorating experimentation with form, including fiction in the form of operating instructions ("Hysteria" by Meg Elison), school paperwork ("Exemption Packet" by Rose Eveleth), text messages ("U Wont Remember Dying" by Russell Nichols), and a simple list ("An Incomplete Timeline of What We Tried" by Debbie Urbanski). The dystopian realities of social media and late-stage capitalism are everywhere, with a ghost becoming a backdrop for selfies ("Ernest" by Geoff Manaugh), soldiers livestreaming from the front lines ("Headshot" by Julian Mortimer Smith), thousands of people lining up to toil meaninglessly in "entropy mills" ("Busy" by Omar El Akkad), and financial advisers pitching the zombie apocalypse as an investing opportunity ("Zombie Capitalism" by Tobias Buckell). Overall, this collection presents a sort of paranoid/defiant vision of the future in which everything and everyone is for sale but almost everything of value has been lost. Don’t look here for (much) hope, but do read these short, biting, vibrant stories for their wit, inventiveness, and verve.

These dark, witty, and occasionally mournful stories will thoroughly satisfy readers looking for creative new dystopias.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-3746-0266-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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