A rousing SF tale that stars a warrior hero with a strong moral center.

NORTHFIELD

A freelance armed security guard in a post-apocalyptic North America tries not to lose his humanity—or his life—as he becomes embroiled in violent action against the power-hungry, ruling “Network.”

Fisher’s debut SF combat novel has a hero in Mark Northfield, a former military man who survived a vaguely described attack on the United States 10 years earlier that effectively destroyed most of the world’s civilization. The globe is shrouded in a deadly yellow atmosphere that kills in seconds. But in North America, populations manage to survive in cities ruthlessly overseen by the Network, an organization that outfits people (the ones who can pay, anyhow) with breathing masks and filters. Haunted by recurring thoughts of his dead young wife and the horrors he has seen, Northfield dwells on the dangerous outskirts of Network territory, taking occasional mercenary gigs to provide security escorts from community to community. He is especially on guard against “Yellowbacks,” a cultlike bandit gang with its own respiratory apparatuses. Yet even in battle, Northfield still strives for altruism and ethical behavior—one of the few to do so in a savage milieu. Then, he is tricked into accepting a Network task to assassinate a stranger—to refuse the job means Northfield's elimination by the dictatorship’s unsubtly named “Death Corps.” It is no surprise when Northfield learns his target happens to be no ordinary, enemy-of-the-state dissident but one who holds the key to reversing the deadly climate change (the lethal airborne toxin is not chemical but rather a nanotechnology smart weapon). Once Northfield decides which side he is on and where to go, the plot becomes a rather basic A to B mission, albeit with much cinematic action and scintillating John Woo–style gun battles. And the hero, a conscience-wracked Lutheran, argues at length with other characters or in interior monologues with his beloved’s memory and a silent Almighty about moral equivalency, mercy, and the right thing to do. (“Everyone’s a dog that eats each other out here,” a man says to Northfield. “Sometimes you don’t have a choice in it all. Sometimes doing bad things is what you gotta do.”) Even if the straightforward plot makes few deviations, newcomer Fisher’s prose is sure-footed, and the combo of God, guts, and guns should especially appeal to readers of “prepper” SF.

A rousing SF tale that stars a warrior hero with a strong moral center.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-7923-4656-9

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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