An often baffling tale, but its protagonist’s wry commentary is undeniably entertaining.

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AN OTHER PLACE

In Dash’s (Sunburn, 2015, etc.) sci-fi outing, a man finds himself in a bizarre city filled with emotionless, robotic drones and people with fluctuating memories.

Londoner Newman Riplan, who troubleshoots computers, is in Amsterdam for work. It’s a relatively simple gig, but he takes his time so that he can stay overnight and party with Hughie and Battles, old friends whom he hasn’t seen in a couple of years. After the trio drinks, smokes, and snorts to excess, Hughie convinces Riplan that he’s due for a vacation and even buys him a plane ticket to a surprise destination. A fairly uneventful flight, however, takes an eerie turn when a confused Riplan suddenly has the feeling that he’s the only living soul on the plane—everyone else seems to have turned into mannequins. After the plane lands, he gets no clarification as to his whereabouts; when he asks the people around him, they respond: “Where do you think you are?” He enters a nameless city populated by drones—humanlike automatons that initially don’t seem to serve a purpose. Neither are the humans very accommodating, and they’re unfamiliar with even basic amenities, such as glass or electricity. Apparently someone called “the Alchemist,” of whom little is known, provides the people with what they need. Riplan believes that if he can just meet this man, he can find a way out of the city and back home. Dash’s surreal tale has its share of unsettling moments; two of the most disturbing entail Riplan learning what type of currency the city dwellers use and the origin of their preferred drink. There’s also an abundance of intriguing peculiarities, from beasts that run amok when the moon turns crimson to men who do a nightly task when everyone’s asleep. Readers shouldn’t expect many answers, though, as the city’s inhabitants have spotty recollections of their pasts. As a result, the novel is a dizzying affair, but Dash grounds the story with Riplan’s genuine connection to a woman he meets, named Cheryl. The author also provides moments of humor; Riplan gets a job in the city as a teller of tales, which he pulls from books and movies and claims as his own. The ending, though predictable, doesn’t disappoint, as it offers resolution while also leaving a lot to interpretation.

An often baffling tale, but its protagonist’s wry commentary is undeniably entertaining.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5396-2866-8

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2016

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

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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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