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HALTING STATE

The book is written using three second-person present-tense narrators (for no apparent reason except that Stross,...

Opening salvo in a near-future Information War, from Stross (Glasshouse, 2006, etc.).

In 2018, in the People’s Republic of Scotland, Wayne Richardson, marketing director of Hayek Associates, a new dotcom startup involved with online virtual-reality gaming, calls the cops in a panic. He attempts to explain to dogged Sergeant Sue Smith that he’s been robbed by Orcs, who’ve raided the bank of VR game land Avalon Four. It emerges that Hayek acts as a stabilizer for the economies of numerous online reality games, and if word of the robbery leaks out, their share price could plummet. Meanwhile, Hayek’s backers, sensing an attempt at stock-price manipulation, send forensic accountant and gamer Elaine Barnaby—who, once she grasps the situation, insists on calling in programmer and games expert Jack Reed to assist. As Elaine and Jack probe the robbery, it becomes clear that something else is going on—as evidenced by an anonymous threat to kidnap Jack’s niece, then an attempt to kill them both. The world’s three information superpowers—Europe, China and India—are poised to go to war. Chinese Intelligence dreamed up a way of subverting the computing system of a medium-sized European nation using hackers and VR game-players. Elaine and Jack learn, however, that Hayek itself is a front for British Intelligence, which has used the VR/role-playing game SPOOKS to train a cadre of willing and utterly unsuspecting counter-operatives—including Jack and Elaine!

The book is written using three second-person present-tense narrators (for no apparent reason except that Stross, convincingly, can). Throughout, he displays a knack for turning outrageously improbable speculation into certainty in this fast-paced, skillfully constructed computational mirror-maze.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-441-01498-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE DARK FOREST

From the Remembrance of Earth's Past series , Vol. 2

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Second part of an alien-contact trilogy (The Three-Body Problem, 2014) from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In the previous book, the inhabitants of Trisolaris, a planet with three suns, discovered that their planet was doomed and that Earth offered a suitable refuge. So, determined to capture Earth and exterminate humanity, the Trisolarans embarked on a 400-year-long interstellar voyage and also sent sophons (enormously sophisticated computers constructed inside the curled-up dimensions of fundamental particles) to spy on humanity and impose an unbreakable block on scientific advance. On Earth, the Earth-Trisolaris Organization formed to help the invaders, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. Humanity’s lone advantage is that Trisolarans are incapable of lying or dissimulation and so cannot understand deceit or subterfuge. This time, with the Trisolarans a few years into their voyage, physicist Ye Wenjie (whose reminiscences drove much of the action in the last book) visits astronomer-turned-sociologist Luo Ji, urging him to develop her ideas on cosmic sociology. The Planetary Defense Council, meanwhile, in order to combat the powerful escapist movement (they want to build starships and flee so that at least some humans will survive), announces the Wallfacer Project. Four selected individuals will be accorded the power to command any resource in order to develop plans to defend Earth, while the details will remain hidden in the thoughts of each Wallfacer, where even the sophons can't reach. To combat this, the ETO creates Wallbreakers, dedicated to deducing and thwarting the plans of the Wallfacers. The chosen Wallfacers are soldier Frederick Tyler, diplomat Manuel Rey Diaz, neuroscientist Bill Hines, and—Luo Ji. Luo has no idea why he was chosen, but, nonetheless, the Trisolarans seem determined to kill him. The plot’s development centers on Liu’s dark and rather gloomy but highly persuasive philosophy, with dazzling ideas and an unsettling, nonlinear, almost nonnarrative structure that demands patience but offers huge rewards.

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7708-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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