A slow-paced but incredibly imaginative sci-fi achievement.


A debut sci-fi novel about life on an industrial planet.

Straw presents the bizarre tale of Horton Sphere, who was once a young man on Earth with a penchant for science fiction, an odd habit of composing haikus, and a job at a fast food restaurant. One day, however, he’s shocked to find himself in a very different place entirely. He suddenly materializes on a planet called “SUPEROIL” (an acronym for “Strategic Ultra Planetary Energy Reserves and Outlying Industrial Lithosphere”) where his human body has been replaced by frozen crude oil, his speech is now transmitted via radio frequencies, and the landscape around him is barren. It’s soon revealed that SUPEROIL is a planet made completely of petroleum. It lacks metals, oxygen, and culture of any kind, and other residents, like Horton, need not sleep, eat, or procreate. He’s shown around this dismal place by a girl named Gasoline Allie, who manages to get him a job on an oil rig. Horton doesn’t seem cut out for this work, but he makes the best of things while trying to puzzle out how he got to SUPEROIL in the first place, and if he’ll ever be able to go back home. Straw has clearly put of lot of thought into his worldbuilding, and he takes no shortcuts in explaining it all to readers. He details everything from the intricacies of Horton’s physical movements to the process of drilling for oil, both on Earth and on SUPEROIL. Such explanations consume pages and pages of text—and include a great deal of information about science and the history of Earth’s oil industry—but the payoff is an exceptionally unusual alien world. Even Horton, an avid reader of science fiction from “Asimov to Zelazny,” has never read about anything quite like this, and real-life readers are unlikely to forget it. That said, the abundant exposition slows the storyline to a crawl. It’s only in the final 100 pages of this roughly 600-page work that events finally pick up and a real sense of suspense takes hold. Nevertheless, even in the latter chapters, there remains much for readers to discover.  

A slow-paced but incredibly imaginative sci-fi achievement.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-71813-511-6

Page Count: 618

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2019

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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

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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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