Big aspirations get crammed into an engaging tale of a robot with a modest system.

MAKESHIFT

A researcher, haunted by personal tragedy, becomes emotionally involved while psychologically assessing an advanced robot who may be prone to dangerous behavior.

Selbrede takes on weighty issues of humanity and machine life in this SF novella. For five years, research scientist Ally Fallows has worked at an institution called NQQ (short for the Latin nequaquam, meaning “any means”). Suddenly, she is reassigned to a project in NQQ’s elite division. A series of advanced prototype robots has gone rogue. Their AI minds suffer through “a sort of artificial puberty, if you will,” and they tend to rebelliously conclude their human creators are unworthy and must be eliminated. Thus, robots have been summarily destroyed by NQQ to thwart any threat to people (Ally later learns to her horror that human life has been lost already). Because of her psychology background, Ally is supposed to assess Makeshift, a guinea-pig robot deliberately cobbled from components of the scrapped ones just to trace the malfunction’s nature. Ally is surprised that the roughly humanoid Makeshift seems gentle, creative, and whimsical but also maddeningly obtuse and resistant to letting Ally analyze his intellect using standard methods. Eventually, the time with Makeshift—who, like Melville’s Bartleby the scrivener, resists doing a task because of an existential crisis (except the robot does a better job of explaining himself)—triggers unhealed emotional wounds Ally carries about her dead brother. By adhering to a brief page count and a fairly unadorned narrative, Selbrede imparts a fablelike quality to material that might have been explored at greater breadth and depth in one of Isaac Asimov’s canonical robot tales, though Asimov (at least in shorter classics like “Liar!”) exhibits much less love for conflicted machines and the unattached women in white lab coats who tend them. This novella, meanwhile, wrestles with nothing short of the meaning of existence, altruism, and the purpose of all intelligent organisms—which potentially involves quite a bit of hard-drive space. A dose of ambiguity in the finale (literally, the last few sentences) raises whole memory banks full of questions, especially among readers who may relate Makeshift to the human-hating Archos R-14, the cybermenace in Daniel H. Wilson’s far more action-oriented robot-uprising series. Meanwhile, Selbrede’s appealing voice will work for a YA readership not expecting huge tech downloads or widescreen stunts.

Big aspirations get crammed into an engaging tale of a robot with a modest system.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-359-00957-2

Page Count: 62

Publisher: Lulu.com

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 40

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

PROJECT HAIL MARY

Weir’s latest is a page-turning interstellar thrill ride that follows a junior high school teacher–turned–reluctant astronaut at the center of a desperate mission to save humankind from a looming extinction event.

Ryland Grace was a once-promising molecular biologist who wrote a controversial academic paper contesting the assumption that life requires liquid water. Now disgraced, he works as a junior high science teacher in San Francisco. His previous theories, however, make him the perfect researcher for a multinational task force that's trying to understand how and why the sun is suddenly dimming at an alarming rate. A barely detectable line of light that rises from the sun’s north pole and curves toward Venus is inexplicably draining the star of power. According to scientists, an “instant ice age” is all but inevitable within a few decades. All the other stars in proximity to the sun seem to be suffering with the same affliction—except Tau Ceti. An unwilling last-minute replacement as part of a three-person mission heading to Tau Ceti in hopes of finding an answer, Ryland finds himself awakening from an induced coma on the spaceship with two dead crewmates and a spotty memory. With time running out for humankind, he discovers an alien spacecraft in the vicinity of his ship with a strange traveler on a similar quest. Although hard scientific speculation fuels the storyline, the real power lies in the many jaw-dropping plot twists, the relentless tension, and the extraordinary dynamic between Ryland and the alien (whom he nicknames Rocky because of its carapace of oxidized minerals and metallic alloy bones). Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13520-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

more