An entertaining yarn that delivers a curious mix of science and sci-fi.

  • Rolling Stone & Kirkus' Best Music Books of None

INVASION AI

An astrophysicist discovers an artifact from outer space containing a cryptic message that may be a precursor to an alien attack in this debut novel.

Lukas Linsky is a genius who dreams of becoming an astrophysicist. He was born to accomplished parents Flo, a doctor of genetics, and Marcus, who in 2017 founded the CIA-backed Android AI. The CIA wants to use the company to create combat robots, but advancement in artificial intelligence leads to a line of superior androids called Andi Mk2s. Their purpose is to help humans reverse the increasing devastation caused by global warming. At the same time, Lukas starts building the Linsky Observatory in New Zealand, completed by 2032. It’s in New Zealand where Lukas spots a “bolt of bright orange plasma light” moving with purpose and obviously not a natural occurrence. He and his pal Angus “Gus” Macleod later see and chase another plasma ball, which lands on Earth. It’s a sphere that Marcus determines is of an element or alloy not of this world. It also contains a binary-coded message, the initially translated synopsis providing a future date and coordinates to the sun. The sphere seems to have originated from an Earth-like exoplanet, Kepler-452b. Noting that Kepler-452b is lacking in a particular resource that’s more abundant on Earth, Lukas surmises an alien species may be intent on taking the treasure in a likely unfriendly manner. Further decryption of the sphere’s code reveals that the aliens may be wary of the Mk2s and have a plan involving the androids. Lilly’s engaging tale, despite Lukas’ first-person voice, reads like a history book. There’s very little dialogue, and the narrative’s occasionally interrupted by separated text defining terminology or clarifying historical references. These notes reinforce a smart story rife with information, even when they explain something relatively simple like TV—after all, it may be obsolete for distant-future readers. There is, however, some redundancy: expounding on wormholes more than once or discussing the Richter scale and electromagnetic pulses well after they’ve already appeared in the story. The protagonist generally relays events as they unfold, which is fitting for a scientist. But he’s not merely a cold observer; the author skillfully provides insights into his character. It’s clear that Lukas loves his parents, and he quickly falls for Vicki, a former professional football (aka soccer) player in England. He also believes calling Marcus “Dad” is a “childish slip,” a sign that he fears emotional attachments, even to loved ones. Still, his relationships to friends and family are sturdy enough that, when death ultimately rears its ugly head, there’s an unmistakable impact. Lilly deftly retains suspense by way of the aliens’ anticipated actions; there’s a countdown to the 2035 date cited in the message (down to the final seconds), while an invasion at that point is still speculation. Tech is both familiar and new (for example, a top-secret submarine) and sometimes creatively named: a ship's operations room for flying pilotless aircraft is called "The Kids Room" for its resemblance to handheld gaming consoles.

An entertaining yarn that delivers a curious mix of science and sci-fi.

Pub Date: May 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-473-38440-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2017

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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