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

PETROLEUM STAR

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acronym for “Strategic Ultra Planetary Energy Reserves and Outlying Industrial Lithosphere”) where his human body has been replaced by frozen crude oil, his speech is now transmitted via radio frequencies, and the landscape around him is barren.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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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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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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