A fast, fun, and intelligent SF thriller.

SCORPION

A CIA analyst hunts an erudite assassin across a high-tech world.

Quinn Mitchell is wounded: by the accidental death of her child, by her estrangement from her husband, by her deflated self-confidence and loneliness. But even wounded as she is, she is CIA Deputy Director Townes' best analyst, and when an analyst is needed to assist Interpol in catching the Elite Assassin, she is the choice. This establishes one plotline, but there's much more going on. The assassin Ranveer, a gentleman of impeccable taste and manners, globe-hops from job to job on Emirates Airlines, kills in a variety of high- and low-tech ways, and leaves each victim marked with a four-digit identifying number. He is revered and respected by all. Quinn's job is to try to find a pattern, or patterns, in his methods, travel, numbering, anything that might shape an AI analysis—and she has some success. Sent into the field, she gets close to him but is always a tantalizing step or two behind. Meanwhile, researchers, in particular physicist Henrietta Yi, a CIA contract employee, are attempting to decipher a coded message discovered in the Large Hadron Collider that appears to have come from the future. When Quinn traps Ranveer, the assassin reveals that he has deciphered the message and that in fact it's a set of instructions to assassinate specific individuals, sent from the future, apparently to avert or suppress misery and chaos then. The CIA is aware of this, and Ranveer, though not an employee, is acting in their interests. But it turns out there are crosscurrents in the future, too, and Dr. Yi may have something to say about the CIA's tendency to aid and abet established interests. All this takes place in an only slightly futuristic world that snaps and bristles with technological capabilities that may seem distant or improbable but which are in fact just around the corner. (Cantrell is a software engineer as well as a writer, and he knows the territory). There's snappy dialogue, sharp observation, and compelling characters in Quinn, Ranveer, and Henrietta; the technology sings, the physics is plausibly presented, and the suggestion of time travel fascinates.

A fast, fun, and intelligent SF thriller.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984801-97-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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