A taxing read that makes good on early promises of an epic adventure.


The Gates of the Frontier Universe


An epic sci-fi novel centered on an intergalactic dispute from debut author Villanueva.

The world of Atlantis is under attack, and the Galactic Court must take action. After discussion, they decide to intervene since the court “believes the attacks on Atlantis will soon transform into a full invasion.” With skilled warriors like Olivia Silatine and Dakota Raldonar involved in the fray, it seems like the Union (as the opposing forces are called) hardly stands a chance. However, men like Pirate Gen. Thomas Morgan and the diabolical Cmdr. Étienne Fontaine, who once served as the leader of a combating force that killed millions, have tricks up their interstellar sleeves. Meanwhile, a young man named Lex Clark is embarking on a quest of his own. Journeying with his father, a politician of much renown who “had in fact done great things in the past,” the two seek one of several Celestial Artifacts that “are extremely rare and known by only a few in the entire galaxy.” The artifacts are of vital importance, and if found by Fontaine, worlds far beyond Atlantis may very well be doomed. Complex and lengthy, the story is slowed at times by extraneous details; e.g., “Accompanying the trio of capital cruisers, many smaller support craft held formation and surrounded the host vessels. These units not only assisted their flagships during combat but also provided protection during space travel.” The novel is not without surprises, which range from the extent of Fontaine’s evil genius to the emergence of a colorful three-tailed fox, which “actually had more in common with that of an adult lion.” Over-the-top dialogue, however, is often distracting: “The Court sealed its own fate the moment they put trust in the likes of you, FAILED SORCERERRRR!” And the overuse of capitalization doesn’t help: “IT HAS BEEN NEARLY SEVEN LONG CENTURIES SINCE YOUR DEFEAT ON EARTH. YOU FAILED TO UNDERSTAND THEN THAT LIFE DOES NOT ANSWER TO YOUR BECK AND CALL.” Propelled by action—“bullets flew, blue, green, and red shards whizzed, arrows stuck, and little fires grew all around the team”—and plenty of twists, however, this muddled story still manages to satisfy.

A taxing read that makes good on early promises of an epic adventure.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2015


Page Count: 718

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2015

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Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

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A post-apocalyptic—and pre-apocalyptic—debut.

It’s 2011, if not quite the 2011 you remember. Candace Chen is a millennial living in Manhattan. She doesn’t love her job as a production assistant—she helps publishers make specialty Bibles—but it’s a steady paycheck. Her boyfriend wants to leave the city and his own mindless job. She doesn’t go with him, so she’s in the city when Shen Fever strikes. Victims don’t die immediately. Instead, they slide into a mechanical existence in which they repeat the same mundane actions over and over. These zombies aren’t out hunting humans; instead, they perform a single habit from life until their bodies fall apart. Retail workers fold and refold T-shirts. Women set the table for dinner over and over again. A handful of people seem to be immune, though, and Candace joins a group of survivors. The connection between existence before the End and during the time that comes after is not hard to see. The fevered aren’t all that different from the factory workers who produce Bibles for Candace’s company. Indeed, one of the projects she works on almost falls apart because it proves hard to source cheap semiprecious stones; Candace is only able to complete the contract because she finds a Chinese company that doesn’t mind too much if its workers die from lung disease. This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment. This is Ma’s first novel, but her fiction has appeared in distinguished journals, and she won a prize for a chapter of this book. She knows her craft, and it shows. Candace is great, a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. She’s sufficiently self-aware to see the parallels between her life before the End and the pathology of Shen Fever. Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience.

Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-26159-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Something for everyone: space combat, interpersonal tension, and aliens, ultimately leading to a story about survival.


A heavily armed starship heads into deep space to combat a race of alien invaders.

Australian author Barry (Lexicon, 2013, etc.) made his bones on satires of corporate life before diverging into fast-paced fantasy with his last offering. Seven years later, he swerves yet again into hard science fiction that bears influences from everything from Ender’s Game to The Martian to 2001: A Space Odyssey with a dash of Starship Troopers and the Alien franchise here and there. The title refers to a massive starship, the fifth of its kind, which has been dispatched to find and kill an invasive alien species known to most earthlings simply as “salamanders.” This follows a first-contact skirmish seven years earlier that left its survivors devastated and led Earth’s leadership to develop massive AI–driven ships designed for zero-casualty warfare. While Providence is a big ship, it has a small crew, consisting of commander Jolene Jackson, weapons specialist Paul Anders, life manager Talia Beanfield, and intelligence officer Isiah “Gilly” Gilligan, the civilian tasked to the starship by the Surplex corporation. They’re a diverse bunch, representing a lot of character tropes, from the square-jawed captain to the secretive madman to an unlikely survivor. Their current mission is to go into what the military terms the “Violet Zone,” a communications dead zone akin to Star Trek’s intergalactic nebulas. After a series of successful raids on the salamanders, things go awry when the ship’s AI starts malfunctioning and the enemy grows more tactical, ultimately forcing the crew to the surface of a planet where they’re forced not only to struggle to survive, but also to face their enemy instead of simply nuking them from orbit. (It’s the only way to be sure). Yes, the plot and the technology are lightly derivative of other works in the SF canon, but at least Barry is pinching all the cool stuff from the best influences.

Something for everyone: space combat, interpersonal tension, and aliens, ultimately leading to a story about survival.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08517-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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