A compelling sci-fi series that starts with a big bang.

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The Agathon

The unexpected, unexplained destruction of Earth sends an experimental faster-than-light starship careening into the cosmos on a desperate mission to save what’s left of humanity.

As in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this kickoff to an interplanetary sci-fi series opens with the callous obliteration of Earth. But this debut novel isn’t a witty satire. The spacegoing humanity of 2339 has spent 100 years studying a mysterious mirror-surfaced “Monolith” (possibly a tribute here to Arthur C. Clarke) found on the Mars moon Phobos, transmitting terabytes of indecipherable information into deep space. In a cave on the red planet itself is the only form of nonhuman alien life ever discovered, “the Black,” an ancient, enigmatic, dangerous pool of organic ooze that devours anything that touches it, including people. Suddenly, shockingly, the Monolith beams a high-energy gamma stream directly at Earth, causing the planet to explode. Left on their own, remnants of humanity scattered on spacecraft and colonies throughout the solar system try to pull together to survive. Their one hope is the Agathon, a newly developed, experimental faster-than-light starship. The audacious, risky scheme involves taking the untested Agathon on a deep-space voyage to locate an Earth-like world on which to relocate survivors—and, if possible, solve the deadly riddle of the Monolith and the Black and what triggered the action against Earth. Chief among the ensemble of characters are Mars explorer/commander John Barrington, designated captain of the Agathon, and his daughter Carrie, both secretly products of accelerated evolution and sharing a telepathic link (they mourn Carrie’s mother, one of the Black’s first victims). While the naming of certain individuals after established sci-fi/fantasy characters suggests a pastiche, this volume offers nail-biting action and pacing that seldom flags. And the astronomical body count, which doesn’t spare key characters, adds a proper sense of jeopardy (as if the near-annihilation of Homo sapiens did not). The Irish author endows the alien component of the yarn with a genuine awe and mystery (at one point, a geologist says of the Black: “We don't know why the hell this ‘stuff’ has been sitting here for millions of years, when its purpose seems to be to absorb organic and inorganic substances on contact”). Weldon concludes the cosmic tale with a cliffhanger promising more revelations ahead. 

A compelling sci-fi series that starts with a big bang.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5191-3968-9

Page Count: 344

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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