A vigorous, intelligent reworking of familiar SF elements, featuring an American veteran who makes a long, international...

STARMAN'S SAGA

THE LONG, STRANGE JOURNEY OF LEIF THE LUCKY

An American on humanity’s first voyage to another star system discovers peril, romance, and considerable mayhem on the contentious project. 

It’s 2069 in Alexander’s (My Life, 2019, etc.) SF novel, and Leif Grettison is a Florida-based veteran who survived “the Troubles,” a Russian-Sino-United States war that scarred the mid-21st century. Now he’s a brainy graduate student with a girlfriend and an EMT job, neither valuing him very highly. Leif impulsively enters a high-profile lottery to select a civilian to go into hibernation for dozens of years at a time on the “starshot,” humanity’s first deep-space exploratory voyage (via a ramjet craft) to another, presumably habitable system, not returning home for nearly 30 years. To his surprise, Leif is told he is the winner—after a front-runner drops out. Leif is disturbed to find that the carefully selected 33-person multinational crew includes bellicose Russians and haughty Chinese still holding childish grudges. In fact, the entire project is largely propaganda, a NASA/International Space Commission gambit to make the world’s superpowers cooperate and expend their energies on a work of pure science rather than trying to kill one another over influence and territory. Leif realizes his own windfall as a token Everyman onboard was no random selection but a calculated move to place a former American soldier amid the team of squabbling, nationalistic scientists in case trouble develops. And trouble sure does. This maiden-voyage setup is a recognizable one, and it’s no secret from the start that Leif will find romance with the bunkmate who despises him the most: a laser-eyed, razor-cheekboned female Chinese pilot (who actually flew against his squad in combat). Still, the author skillfully steers the story. Alexander creates a good number of memorable jeopardy-in-space situations requiring steady nerves and know-how, and he evokes a nicely thought-out alien environment. The author even takes the story past the point where other writers might have pulled the curtain to ruminate on human society’s arbitrary evolutions and political-correctness pettiness (“snowflake” is a term used often here) and how being in suspended animation for long intervals doesn’t help. An opening prologue casting the tale as some sort of neo-Icelandic saga (paying tribute to Leif’s Nordic heritage), written in archaic language, is cute but, unlike the other rich material here, doesn’t really pay off.

A vigorous, intelligent reworking of familiar SF elements, featuring an American veteran who makes a long, international space voyage survivable. 

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9993257-6-6

Page Count: 353

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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