A slight but well-crafted and heartfelt effort.

BANNERLESS

Vaughn, who's competent in many subgenres, eschews werewolves (Kitty Saves the World, 2015), superheroes (Dreams of the Golden Age, 2014), dragons (Refuge of Dragons, 2017), and spacefarers (Martians Abroad, 2017) for a smaller-scale story, an intimate post-apocalyptic mystery.

Several decades after the Fall—a series of epidemics and devastating storms that have killed off most of the human population—survivors in California live in an interdependent confederation of towns along what they now call the Coast Road. Every household produces only what it needs and can't have children unless granted a banner for one by the town committee. The brown-clad investigators both look into suspected violations (including bannerless pregnancies) and mete out appropriate judgments. When Sero, an unpopular but skilled handyman, dies under suspicious circumstances, Enid, a young investigator, travels to Pasadan to determine the truth. As she and her colleague Tomas examine the evidence, Enid confronts both the resistance of the townspeople and the memory of a journey which marked a turning point in her life. Despite the worldwide apocalypse, this is actually a deeply personal story about one woman and the mores of small-town living, a deft portrait of a society departed so completely from the complexities of the now-destroyed civilization (except for some technological scraps) that survivors don’t even understand what it is they’ve lost. This is exemplified by a performance of “Dust in the Wind”; the musician believes that it is a song from Kansas rather than a song by Kansas—either way, Kansas is so impossibly distant so as to border on the mythical. Perhaps surviving humans (with the exception of a few desperate scavengers) would develop into a community where murder is rare, most crimes are petty, and shunning is a devastating punishment; it would be nice to think so. The characters definitely aren't angels, but they're still a pleasant and reasonably plausible departure from the grim sort that usually populate this subgenre.

A slight but well-crafted and heartfelt effort.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-94730-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever...

SNOW CRASH

After terminally cute campus high-jinks (The Big U) and a smug but attention-grabbing eco-thriller (Zodiac), Stephenson leaps into near-future Gibsonian cyberpunk—with predictably mixed results.

The familiar-sounding backdrop: The US government has been sold off; businesses are divided up into autonomous franchises ("franchulates") visited by kids from the heavily protected independent "Burbclaves"; a computer-generated "metaverse" is populated by hackers and roving commercials. Hiro Protagonist, freelance computer hacker, world's greatest swordsman, and stringer for the privatized CIA, delivers pizzas for the Mafia—until his mentor Da5id is blasted by Snow Crash, a curious new drug capable of crashing both computers and hackers. Hiro joins forces with freelance skateboard courier Y.T. to investigate. It emerges that Snow Crash is both a drug and a virus: it destroyed ancient Sumeria by randomizing their language to create Babel; its modern victims speak in tongues, lose their critical faculties, and are easily brainwashed. Eventually the usual conspiracy to take over the world emerges; it's led by media mogul L. Bob Rife, the Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates religious franchulate, and vengeful nuclear terrorist Raven. The cultural-linguistic material has intrinsic interest, but its connections with cyberpunk and computer-reality seem more than a little forced.

The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever embellishments, none of the above is as original as Stephenson seems to think. An entertaining entry that would have benefitted from a more rigorous attention to the basics.

Pub Date: May 15, 1992

ISBN: 0553380958

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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