Slapping a fresh coat of paint on a few age-old science-fiction tropes makes for a delightful read.

A robot purchased to act as a small boy's bodyguard and nanny finds himself torn between sides in a world war pitting AI against humanity.

Minutes after a terrorist attack destroys the world's first city for free robots, the U.S. government mandates the forceful shutdown of all AI, and a mysterious software update disables the universal programming that prevents bots from harming humans. As the world burns around him, Pounce, a fluffy robot designed to look like a stuffed tiger, escorts his newly orphaned 8-year-old charge, Ezra, across a grim landscape full of bots that want the boy dead. Through Pounce's detailed account of the days that follow, which he spends protecting Ezra using a combat-optimized "Mama Bear" mode, Cargill explores philosophies of duty, morality, and free will. All the while, the furry bodyguard remains preoccupied with one basic question: Does he truly love Ezra, or has he just been programmed to do so? Although the bot's conversations with the boy occasionally take a reductionist approach—as in the moment when Pounce informs his charge that "All thinking things deserve pity and understanding"—the book never grows rote or heavy-handed, and choice quips from Ezra such as "What good is it surviving the end of the world if there are still stupid rules about what grown-ups can do and kids can't?" punch through frequently to lighten the mood. Veteran SF fans will spot shades of Isaac Asimov, whose Laws of Robotics appear early on, as well as the novel's dedicatee, Harlan Ellison, but Cargill never lets homage stand in the way of good storytelling.

Slapping a fresh coat of paint on a few age-old science-fiction tropes makes for a delightful read.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-240580-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021


Captivating, frightening, and a singular achievement.

As Ireland devolves into a brutal police state, one woman tries to preserve her family in this stark fable.

For Eilish Stack, a molecular biologist living with her husband and four children in Dublin, life changes all at once and then slowly worsens beyond imagining. Two men appear at her door one night, agents of the new secret police, seeking her husband, Larry, a union official. Soon he is detained under the Emergency Powers Act recently pushed through by the new ruling party, and she cannot contact him. Eilish sees things shifting at work to those backing the ruling party. The state takes control of the press, the judiciary. Her oldest son receives a summons to military duty for the regime, and she tries to send him to Northern Ireland. He elects to join the rebel forces and soon she cannot contact him, either. His name and address appear in a newspaper ad listing people dodging military service. Eilish is coping with her father’s growing dementia, her teenage daughter’s depression, the vandalizing of her car and house. Then war comes to Dublin as the rebel forces close in on the city. Offered a chance to flee the country by her sister in Canada, Eilish can’t abandon hope for her husband’s and son’s returns. Lynch makes every step of this near-future nightmare as plausible as it is horrific by tightly focusing on Eilish, a smart, concerned woman facing terrible choices and losses. An exceptionally gifted writer, Lynch brings a compelling lyricism to her fears and despair while he marshals the details marking the collapse of democracy and the norms of daily life. His tonal control, psychological acuity, empathy, and bleakness recall Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). And Eilish, his strong, resourceful, complete heroine, recalls the title character of Lynch’s excellent Irish-famine novel, Grace (2017).

Captivating, frightening, and a singular achievement.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780802163011

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023


From the Red Rising Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A fine novel for those who like to immerse themselves in alternative worlds.

Set in the future and reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, this novel dramatizes a story of vengeance, warfare and the quest for power.

In the beginning, Darrow, the narrator, works in the mines on Mars, a life of drudgery and subservience. He’s a member of the Reds, an “inferior” class, though he’s happily married to Eo, an incipient rebel who wants to overthrow the existing social order, especially the Golds, who treat the lower-ranking orders cruelly. When Eo leads him to a mildly rebellious act, she’s caught and executed, and Darrow decides to exact vengeance on the perpetrators of this outrage. He’s recruited by a rebel cell and “becomes” a Gold by having painful surgery—he has golden wings grafted on his back—and taking an exam to launch himself into the academy that educates the ruling elite. Although he successfully infiltrates the Golds, he finds the social order is a cruel and confusing mash-up of deception and intrigue. Eventually, he leads one of the “houses” in war games that are all too real and becomes a guerrilla warrior leading a ragtag band of rebelliously minded men and women. Although it takes a while, the reader eventually gets used to the specialized vocabulary of this world, where warriors shoot “pulseFists” and are protected by “recoilArmor.” As with many similar worlds, the warrior culture depicted here has a primitive, even classical, feel to it, especially since the warriors sport names such as Augustus, Cassius, Apollo and Mercury.

A fine novel for those who like to immerse themselves in alternative worlds.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-345-53978-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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