Highly rewarding, but you’ll need to bring along plenty of active brain cells.

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GHOST SPIN

Third installment of Moriarty’s independently intelligible far-future series (Spin Control, 2006, etc.) featuring a power struggle between the UNSec military-industrial empire and its cold-war adversaries, the AI-enhanced clones of the Syndicate.

UNSec’s command of its interstellar colonies is crumbling as its quantum teleportation network collapses. Key to the survival of both UNSec and Syndicate, and perhaps the human species itself, is the Drift: a strange region of space where quantum reality seems to operate on a macro level. When the almost unimaginably complex Emergent AI called Cohen reportedly suicides on planet New Allegheny, various pieces of him—ghosts—survive in scattered networks, some insane, some conscious. Cohen’s wife, ex-UNSec major Catherine Li, doesn’t believe the story. Li faces several problems: She’s wanted on certain planets as a war criminal, but thanks to UNSec boss Helen Nguyen’s restructuring of her psyche, she has no recollection of what she’s accused of doing. And the only way she can reach New Allegheny is by “scattercast,” having herself beamed toward her destination as an electronic download. Unfortunately, with this method, anybody with the right equipment can grab a copy of her. Consequently, another version of Li works for UNSec Navy captain Astrid Avery, whose mission is to hunt down ex-Navy pirate William Llewellyn. Llewellyn, tortured by a guilty secret, must operate in the Drift but needs a far more powerful navigational AI than the one already in his head. The one he gets is one of Cohen’s self-aware ghosts, and the ghost promptly begins to absorb him body and soul. Complexity is the watchword here, of thought, idea, narrative, character and plot; the resulting dense, chewy narrative avoids the obvious pitfalls, though it’s certainly not an easy read.

Highly rewarding, but you’ll need to bring along plenty of active brain cells.

Pub Date: April 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-553-38494-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Spectra/Bantam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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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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