A hardworking but uninspired early novel, wholly overshadowed by Liu's later masterpiece.

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SUPERNOVA ERA

Apocalyptic yarn from the celebrated author of the Three-Body Problem trilogy (Death's End, 2016, etc.).

A nearby star explodes, hammering Earth with radiation that within a year will kill every person older than 13. Governments worldwide immediately grasp the facts, draw accurate conclusions, and make plans for parents and caregivers to rapidly teach their children the skills they'll need in order to keep civilization going. These developments may seem weirdly unreal when viewed from a non-Chinese perspective, as might the prospect of 13-year-old airline pilots, nuclear engineers, or doctors achieving competency after a year's training. The adults duly die off. Fortunately, China has just invented a supercomputer named China Quantum which helps out when the child executives—dreamer Huahua, intellectual Specs, and mature, practical Xiaomeng—become overwhelmed with the enormity of their task. The Chinese child nation creates a digital forum and decides that what it really wants to do is play, not slavishly attempt to keep the adult model functioning. Other nations come to similar conclusions. Tellingly, young America, which loves its guns, proposes live-ammo war games on Antarctica, which has rapidly melted. Liu wrote this tale in 1989, the year of Tiananmen Square, he says in an afterword. If it seems dark—indeed, the premise immediately demands comparison with William Golding's Lord of the Flies, right down to the singular lack of female perspective—Liu reportedly revised it several times before it was finally published in 2003, to avoid possible issues with officialdom. Imagine how much darker it must have been. The book as published stresses the competency and forethought of the older generation and downplays the inability of children to understand and anticipate consequences. Readers may draw their own conclusions about the politics behind all this.

A hardworking but uninspired early novel, wholly overshadowed by Liu's later masterpiece.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30603-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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

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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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