An uneven collection that may not land with speculative fiction readers outside LA.

READ REVIEW

SPECULATIVE LOS ANGELES

If "we already live with the tropes of dystopian fiction," then what comes next? Hamilton's anthology attempts to answer that question through stories from Aimee Bender, Francesca Lia Block, Alex Espinoza, and S. Qiouyi Lu, among others.

The stories here move among all of Los Angeles' gritty and bright corners. A slow-burning sibling rivalry makes room for a devastating invasion in Lisa Morton's atompunk opener, "Antonia and the Stranger Who Came to Rancho Los Feliz." Ben H. Winters' "Peak TV" follows a wealthy executive who faces down the inexplicable when the lethal repercussions of his success come to—literally—haunt him. In Bender's "Maintenance," a father and his motherless daughter find new meaning in the La Brea Tar Pits' mammoth sculptures. This anthology will not shine as brightly to readers who lack a substantive connection to Los Angeles, however. The novelty lies in understanding where, when, and how the versions of Southern California presented here differ from reality. Lacking knowledge of the real-life Los Angeles, readers will find that some of the stories operate on this gimmick and little else. Others meander through a particular time and place in the city but never move or make room for character growth. That's not to say that every story is a bust. Lu's "Where There Are Cities, These Dissolve Too" is a knockout, with Gundam-esque robot fighters and an emotionally fraught narrative. The unfortunate fact remains, however, that those who pick up this book for its marquee of contemporary speculative fiction authors will likely come away disappointed.

An uneven collection that may not land with speculative fiction readers outside LA.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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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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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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