Nonviolent Orwellian sci-fi, somewhat prosaically told but asking good questions.

AMEARTH

In Dober’s (Ultimatus, a Gaming Corporation, 2014) novel, threats of alien attack from deep space unite humanity under a high-tech, American-led one-world government—but what if the hostile aliens are, in fact, a hoax?

In the year 2045, the planet is under siege, according to authorities. Aliens from distant Kepler 3763 contacted Earth via radio transmissions in the 1980s, but a paranoid President Ronald Reagan reacted with a barrage of long-range missiles. Because of the nearly 24-light-year distance, the 21st-century world can expect long-delayed deadly retaliation. Thus the nations of the world are persuaded to combine and cooperate under the U.S.–led “AmEarth” umbrella, sharing in the construction of a giant “honeycomb” shield above the stratosphere while putting aside old enmities. Only holdouts Bolivia and New Zealand challenge the new world order, denouncing it as imperialistic propaganda. One AmEarth citizen listening to the skeptics is Scott Johansen, the teenage son of well-liked politician Peter Johansen. Peter starts to share Scott’s doubts when AmEarth’s first president, Neil Chen Tyson, taps him as his successor in a rigged election and explains to him that AmEarth is secretly run by a superintelligent artificial intelligence of terrestrial origin. Dober isn’t the first author to imagine a sham alien-invasion scare as a self-serving con—there was a similar payoff in Alan Moore’s 1987 graphic novel Watchmen (which referenced a 1963 episode of The Outer Limits). But he thinks through the details well and tells his yarn in a measured voice that will appeal to adult sci-fi newcomers and YA genre fans who want to read about dystopias in which upholding the status quo is a defensible idea. Readers expecting chases and action-packed battles, though, may have their hopes deflated by the staff discussions, committee votes, and dinner-table dialogue. That said, Dober nicely presents the philosophical problem of a functioning, utopian-level society built on a lie. Characterizations tend to be lean, but there are cute cameos by Donald Trump, Sasha Obama, and New Zealander filmmaker Peter Jackson. The open ending points inevitably to a sequel.   

Nonviolent Orwellian sci-fi, somewhat prosaically told but asking good questions.

Pub Date: July 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9965491-1-0

Page Count: 362

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2018

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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