An impressive debut that goes beneath surface issues of climate-apocalypse fiction.

ORPHANS OF CANLAND

In Vitale’s debut SF novel set in an ecologically ravaged future California, a 12-year-old boy begins to realize his privileged status has blinded him to cruelties in his community.

It’s 2088, decades after a series of mid-21st-century natural disasters known as the Evanescence, which was fueled, in part, by government-directed fracking. This displaced the heartland population, and more refugees came from coastal cities ravaged by earthquakes and flooding. Conflicts between various groups, including Christian fundamentalists and radical environmental activists, finally brought down society. In its place arose WORLD (or Worldwide Objective: Restoration Longevity Dominion), an authoritarian program led by a shadowy billionaire. Habitable communities known as “Parts” are strictly regimented to maximize efficiency and rehabilitation. Canland, located at the former site of California’s Manzanar internment camp, is supposedly one of the better Parts, practicing desert reclamation and low-impact living—but it’s also the site of suicides and rampant substance abuse. Tristan Weekes, born without the ability to feel pain, has been used by his father, a WORLD scientist, as an experimental test subject. His mother leads Canland’s propaganda programs, and his brother, Dylan, is a criminal hacker trying to locate their father, who has been away for over a year. Over the course of the novel, Tristan (who narrates largely via journaling) begins to comprehend the serpents in Canland’s Eden. He exists in a state of limited emotion, exhibiting moments of borderline genius; however, because he has no physical discomfort or fear to deepen his outlook, readers will find him a distorted lens through which to view Vitale’s fictional world. Cautionary novels in the SF subgenre known as cli-fi are numerous, piling on details of disaster and woe. However, Vitale unusually focuses on the psychology of survivors in this novel—strivers and idealogues rationalizing their guilt, debating humanity’s role within (or without) nature, and confronting family betrayals. As a result, it’s a complicated, rich, and challenging work. It’s particularly discomfiting how characters who seem to be taking good, sustainable actions also show themselves to be serving a sinister dystopia.

An impressive debut that goes beneath surface issues of climate-apocalypse fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-9863553-2-0

Page Count: 361

Publisher: Strïj Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2022

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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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Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

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OUR MISSING HEARTS

In a dystopian near future, art battles back against fear.

Ng’s first two novels—her arresting debut, Everything I Never Told You (2014), and devastating follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)—provided an insightful, empathetic perspective on America as it is. Her equally sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn latest effort, set in a dystopian near future in which Asian Americans are regarded with scorn and mistrust by the government and their neighbors, offers a frightening portrait of what it might become. The novel’s young protagonist, Bird, was 9 when his mother—without explanation—left him and his father; his father destroyed every sign of her. Now, when Bird is 12, a letter arrives. Because it is addressed to “Bird,” he knows it's from his mother. For three years, he has had to answer to his given name, Noah; repeat that he and his father no longer have anything to do with his mother; try not to attract attention; and endure classmates calling his mother a traitor. None of it makes sense to Bird until his one friend, Sadie, fills him in: His mother, the child of Chinese immigrants, wrote a poem that had improbably become a rallying cry for those protesting PACT—the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act—a law that had helped end the Crisis 10 years before, ushering in an era in which violent economic protests had become vanishingly rare, but fear and suspicion, especially for persons of Asian origin, reigned. One of the Pillars of PACT—“Protects children from environments espousing harmful views”—had been the pretext for Sadie’s removal from her parents, who had sought to expose PACT’s cruelties and, Bird begins to understand, had prompted his own mother’s decision to leave. His mother's letter launches him on an odyssey to locate her, to listen and to learn. From the very first page of this thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving novel, Bird’s story takes wing. Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine—and persuasively posits that the antidotes to fear and suspicion are empathy and love.

Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49254-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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