A journey into “complexity on the edge of chaos,” shaded by deep-felt despair.

RADIANCE

A thoughtful, knowledgeable exposé of half a century of America’s nuclear weapons industry that also makes a surprisingly absorbing first novel about a group of scientists competing for ascendancy at a California Bay Area lab.

By his late 30s, Philip Quine has fairly well squandered the brilliant scientific talent that initially won him his coveted position in J Section, R&D in Advanced Nuclear Concepts at the “Lab,” a think tank of brainy, eager-eyed University of California talent, probably modeled on Lawrence Livermore. Under the charismatic leadership of Leo Highet, a kind of oily p.r. man and prince of darkness whose adoration of Leonardo da Vinci gives him license to reckless arrogance, the Lab, goaded by an early ’90s conservative administration, is pushing to develop the so-called Superbright laser, the jewel in Highet’s wildly extravagant Radiance antimissile defense shield. Quine, cautionary by nature to the point of being unable to commit himself to longtime girlfriend Nan, warns Highet of overstating the laser’s capacity and even writes up an internal whistle-blowing report that eventually becomes the evidence that sinks Highet into scandal. Newly appointed acting director, despite his conflicting romance with Lynn Hamlin, a paralegal at Citizens Against Nuclear Technology, which demonstrates regularly against the Lab, Quine must appease the Department of Energy by switching the Lab’s direction to “dual benefit” and rooting out staggering cases of fraud, theft, and treason. Scholz, a composer of experimental computer music who lives in Berkeley, clearly knows his stuff, and from the inside. His narrative, far from being dry or academic, is densely layered, moving in and out of dizzying double-speak and acronyms, with a roiling display of personalities (the men are the scientists, the women the love interests), such as the emeritus founder of the Lab, Aron Reti, espousing the “cult of the beautiful theory,” and numerous wily senators.

A journey into “complexity on the edge of chaos,” shaded by deep-felt despair.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26893-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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