Clever, funny, thought-provoking, and sweet, these stories are classic Willis.

TERRA INCOGNITA

A master of fantasy playfully combines science fiction with other genres in three antic novellas.

Willis (I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, 2018, etc.) has long regaled her readers with science fiction that flies off whimsically into fantasy, as well as fantasy that leans on science to support its plots. In this trio of novellas (really two novellas and a short story), she folds in other genres as well. Uncharted Territory takes on the Western; Remake reconsiders the Hollywood musical; and D.A. pays homage to—or perhaps thumbs its nose at—the coming-of-age space opera. In “Uncharted Territory,” Drs. Carson and Findriddy are surveying the planet Boohte with the rather unhelpful aid of their native guide, Bult, when a “socioexozoologist” named Evelyn Parker arrives to study the courtship habits of the local fauna—both native and, it turns out, terran. In Remake, the ever merging corporations that control the entertainment industry have long since given up on new movies and, for the most part, living actors. They prefer to use computer graphics and artificial intelligence to insert long-dead stars into Hollywood classics. Then a CG student meets a dewy-eyed dancer with soaring ambitions. Can he make her dreams come true? In D.A., the shortest and most delightful, everybody in Theodora’s high school is dying to be a cadet at the International Space Academy—except Theodora, who’s set her heart on UCLA. When the Academy appointments are announced, she knows there must be some mistake. Why would they choose a student who didn’t even apply? Willis is best known for her time-travel novels, and her recent fiction has been steeped in a cranky nostalgia that suggests she might be happier if she could use one of her time machines. But in this book, the nostalgia seems affectionate rather than bitter. The stories share her signature style of comedy, in which muddled protagonists bat their ways through flurries of seemingly absurd rules and nonsensical events, which all resolve by the end into neat patterns.

Clever, funny, thought-provoking, and sweet, these stories are classic Willis.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-9686-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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

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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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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