Agreeable characters, a fascinating backdrop and brilliant plotting, with a further outlook of lengthy grins and occasional...

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NEPTUNE'S BROOD

In the same universe as Saturn’s Children (2008) but thousands of years later, Stross invents an entire interstellar banking system, shows us how it works—and then how to defraud it.

Interstellar spaceships take hundreds of years to crawl between systems, so the fastest means of communication is by laser beacon. Fast money is cash. Medium money is represented by interplanetary investments that take decades to mature. Slow money accumulates from the vast expenditures required to establish new interstellar colonies, and therefore, it’s millions of times more valuable than cash. Metahuman Krina Alizond-114, a scholar of the historiography of accountancy practices, travels to the water world of Shin-Tethys to find her missing sister, Ana. The only way she can reach the planet is by signing on as crew aboard Deacon Dennet’s Interstellar Church of the Fragile, a church on an interplanetary spaceship staffed by animated skeletons. Before long, however, pirate underwriters capture the ship. The pirate chief, (ac)Count(ant) Rudi, claims to know Ana via an insurance policy he sold her. Krina’s real goal, though, is the investigation of a fraud of truly galactic proportions, perpetrated centuries ago under the guise of establishing a scientific colony whose purpose was to develop a faster-than-light drive. The colony collapsed spectacularly, but the debt, a mountain of slow money, still exists if anyone can prove ownership. Krina has one half of the key, Ana the other—maybe; she might equally well be dead. Rudi and Dennett clearly know more than they’re telling; there’s an assassin on Krina’s trail; and these are just the beginning of the complications, including a petulant subaquatic monarch and a society of intelligent communist squid. If you begin by thinking that a narrative about banking, debt and accountancy might be dull, Stross will quickly disabuse you—there’s always a mad glint in his eye, even when he’s explaining some seriously weird and alluring concepts.

Agreeable characters, a fascinating backdrop and brilliant plotting, with a further outlook of lengthy grins and occasional guffaws.

Pub Date: July 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-425-25677-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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