Tonally the love child of Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and Aldiss’ SF classic Hothouse, this is a page-turner of the...

THE GENIUS PLAGUE

When mycologist Paul Johns returns home to Maryland from the Amazon rain forest in Walton's (Supersymmetry, 2015, etc.) latest, he is a changed man.

After recovering from a severe case of fungal pneumonia, the 21-year old fungi expert is markedly more intelligent; he suddenly has an eidetic memory and radically enhanced communication abilities—but something is off. The spores he breathed in while traveling have taken root in the linings of his lungs and spread throughout his body, and the same thing is happening to thousands of other people who've come in contact with the fungus; they are now connected together in a vast organic neural network. But the seemingly symbiotic relationship between fungi and human may not be the next evolutionary step in human development, as Johns thinks. Those infected by the spores have masterminded assassinations of the political leaders of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, and the number of people afflicted by the mind-altering infection is growing exponentially by the day. Paul’s brother, Neil, following in their father’s cryptologist footsteps, recently landed a job with the National Security Agency. Charged with decoding encrypted messages originating from the Amazon area, he begins putting together the pieces of a mind-blowing conspiracy that could wipe humankind off the face of the Earth. Paired with relentless pacing, an action-packed narrative, and a cast of interesting characters, Walton’s fluid writing style and tightly constructed plot produce a virtually un-put-down-able read. The only minor criticisms are a few implausible sequences (like Neil getting hired by the NSA with no college degree) and a conclusion that seems a bit rushed.

Tonally the love child of Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and Aldiss’ SF classic Hothouse, this is a page-turner of the highest order.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63388-343-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM

From the Remembrance of Earth's Past series , Vol. 1

Strange and fascinating alien-contact yarn, the first of a trilogy from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In 1967, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, young physicist Ye Wenjie helplessly watches as fanatical Red Guards beat her father to death. She ends up in a remote re-education (i.e. forced labor) camp not far from an imposing, top secret military installation called Red Coast Base. Eventually, Ye comes to work at Red Coast as a lowly technician, but what really goes on there? Weapons research, certainly, but is it also listening for signals from space—maybe even signaling in return? Another thread picks up the story 40 years later, when nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao and thuggish but perceptive policeman Shi Qiang, summoned by a top-secret international (!) military commission, learn of a war so secret and mysterious that the military officers will give no details. Of more immediate concern is a series of inexplicable deaths, all prominent scientists, including the suicide of Yang Dong, the physicist daughter of Ye Wenjie; the scientists were involved with the shadowy group Frontiers of Science. Wang agrees to join the group and investigate and soon must confront events that seem to defy the laws of physics. He also logs on to a highly sophisticated virtual reality game called “Three Body,” set on a planet whose unpredictable and often deadly environment alternates between Stable times and Chaotic times. And he meets Ye Wenjie, rehabilitated and now a retired professor. Ye begins to tell Wang what happened more than 40 years ago. Jaw-dropping revelations build to a stunning conclusion. In concept and development, it resembles top-notch Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven but with a perspective—plots, mysteries, conspiracies, murders, revelations and all—embedded in a culture and politic dramatically unfamiliar to most readers in the West, conveniently illuminated with footnotes courtesy of translator Liu.

Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7706-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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