A high-concept but uneven genre combo.

TIN SWIFT

THE AGE OF STEAM

Monk (Magic Without Mercy, 2012, etc.) delivers the second installment in her genre-blending Age of Steam series.

Following 2011’s Dead Iron, Monk here delivers an amalgamation of science fiction and fantasy genre elements, told in an alternately hard-boiled and folksy tone. Lycanthrope Cedar Hunt travels on the Old West frontier with, among others, a witch, Hunt’s werewolf brother and engineers specializing in steampunk-style tech, on a quest to find the Holder, a mysterious and powerful weapon. Soon after finding a town inundated by the supernatural creatures known as the Strange, Hunt and company are rescued by the airship Swift. Capt. Hink, who leads the Swift’s crew, wants the Holder as well, and another airship is hot on their trail. The novel is almost a sci-fi/fantasy Mad Lib—a Western-fantasy-steampunk-horror mashup attempting to draw together disparate elements of very different genres. Of all the elements on display, Monk leans most heavily on the supernatural and magical aspects. (She is also the author of the magic-oriented Allie Beckstrom urban-fantasy series.) At times, however, it feels as if the author is throwing together too many things at once; the mere fact that she combines so many different genres means that some are bound to get short shrift. Though there’s plenty of airship action, the steampunk-ish components can feel a bit tacked on and may not satisfy some hard-core steampunk aficionados. Also, for a novel that genre-crunches with such abandon, the story is a grim and serious affair, with relatively little humor. That said, readers of magic-based fantasy and fans of offbeat Westerns may find things to like.

A high-concept but uneven genre combo.

Pub Date: July 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-451-46453-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: ROC/Penguin

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

THE MARTIAN

When a freak dust storm brings a manned mission to Mars to an unexpected close, an astronaut who is left behind fights to stay alive. This is the first novel from software engineer Weir.

One minute, astronaut Mark Watney was with his crew, struggling to make it out of a deadly Martian dust storm and back to the ship, currently in orbit over Mars. The next minute, he was gone, blown away, with an antenna sticking out of his side. The crew knew he'd lost pressure in his suit, and they'd seen his biosigns go flat. In grave danger themselves, they made an agonizing but logical decision: Figuring Mark was dead, they took off and headed back to Earth. As it happens, though, due to a bizarre chain of events, Mark is very much alive. He wakes up some time later to find himself stranded on Mars with a limited supply of food and no way to communicate with Earth or his fellow astronauts. Luckily, Mark is a botanist as well as an astronaut. So, armed with a few potatoes, he becomes Mars' first ever farmer. From there, Mark must overcome a series of increasingly tricky mental, physical and technical challenges just to stay alive, until finally, he realizes there is just a glimmer of hope that he may actually be rescued. Weir displays a virtuosic ability to write about highly technical situations without leaving readers far behind. The result is a story that is as plausible as it is compelling. The author imbues Mark with a sharp sense of humor, which cuts the tension, sometimes a little too much—some readers may be laughing when they should be on the edges of their seats. As for Mark’s verbal style, the modern dialogue at times undermines the futuristic setting. In fact, people in the book seem not only to talk the way we do now, they also use the same technology (cellphones, computers with keyboards). This makes the story feel like it's set in an alternate present, where the only difference is that humans are sending manned flights to Mars. Still, the author’s ingenuity in finding new scrapes to put Mark in, not to mention the ingenuity in finding ways out of said scrapes, is impressive.  

Sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3902-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more