A clever extrapolation of today’s sociopolitical pathologies to the next century, with an uncommonly optimistic dose of...

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THE DAR LUMBRE CHRONICLES

In a future socialist America, Houstonians face the vicissitudes of life as a rising political/religious movement predicts the imminent return of a vanished scientist as a medical messiah.

Johnston labels his debut dystopian novel as “science fiction laced with political satire.” But in his deadpan tale, the biggest gag many readers will note is the author cheekily including himself in a future archives as one of sci-fi’s “old masters.” Otherwise, disillusionment with government and mistrust of the Establishment could come straight from today’s headlines and bloggers. America in 2135 is an economically troubled, socialist nanny state, intrusive, abusive, paranoid, and incompetent—whether it’s Democrats or Republicans operating “NatGov.” Some 50 years earlier, an enigmatic Mexican-born genius, Dar Lumbre, threatened the status quo of nationalized health care with his politics, sparking a warrant for his arrest. But he disappeared during the chaos after a providential solar flare erased the surveillance state’s digital records. Disciples since have prophesied Lumbre’s messianic return, bringing freedom and a formula for eternal life (thanks to Johnston’s med-tech savvy, the Jesus parallels are more intriguing than contrived and labored). In Houston, geneticists Crane Hopkins and Annie Lee study Lumbre’s own heirloom tissue samples, which hold amazing, restorative DNA applications that even NatGov allows (while it bans the scientist’s writings). But the sacred flesh is failing over time. Meanwhile, Crane’s freelance programmer brother becomes enmeshed in a Lumbre social movement (with cultish overtones) that may lead him astray, politically and in his fragile marriage. Hanging over the characters is the threat of NatGov’s wrath, but Johnston shies away from action-violence and simple black-and-white morality with a resolution more about science puzzles and societal problem-solving than chases or fights. Some may find the author’s conclusion almost too upbeat for the likes of NatGov. Others will enjoy that late in the ingenious narrative he embeds a shoutout to Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, which is pretty good company for Vonnegut as well as Johnston.   

A clever extrapolation of today’s sociopolitical pathologies to the next century, with an uncommonly optimistic dose of medicine in the end. 

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-08616-2

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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