MARRIAGES BETWEEN ZONES 3 4 & 5

ARCHIVES)

This brief fable, the second work in the science-fiction series begun with Shikasta (1979), is bound to be read as a return to the portrayals of sexual politics responsible for Lessing's initial vogue. And indeed she has again taken up a favorite theme: the story of a chosen one's painful and humiliating struggle to obey an imperfectly understood summons, the redemption of a world meanwhile hanging in the balance. In the past, Lessing's thorny presentations of this motif—something like a modern Paradise Regained—have generated confusion, even annoyance. But this version, though superficially only an arid schema in which the queen of a serene matriarchy marries the king of a neighboring warrior state, is in fact Lessing's most humane and loving variation on the theme. The states in question are two of the levels of being mentioned in the first novel as lying around Shikasta (Earth) in six concentric shells progressively more open to the illumination of the lofty colonizing world, Canopus. AlIth, queen of the sane, civilized, and radiant Zone Three, is commanded by the unseen "Providers" (presumably the Canopeans) to descend to the stultifying air of Zone Four, there to marry the arrogant Ben Ata. As her own people see it, her marriage gradually corrupts her to the sexual serfdom and emotional crudities of a lower existence. But in the devious ways of the oppressed Zone Four women, AlIth eventually discovers a treasury of spiritual aspirations ironically forgotten in the bright and well-conducted "higher" world. At last she is ready to pass beyond both realms of being to a condition that surpasses either, while Zone Four has glimpsed enough of the truth shining through all conditions to disband its army and set about civilizing the desert marauders on the border of Zone Five. True, Lessing is not the writer to carry off improving parables with flawless elegance. The gracelessness of her prose style has never been more conspicuous, and her impatience with uncongenial detail makes the war economy of Zone Four a silly cartoon sketch. But there is a sweetness and generosity about this work not quite like anything she has done; like the difficult but moving Shikasta, it seems to encompass and summarize dozens of her previous concerns with a sort of piercing magnanimity.

Pub Date: April 4, 1980

ISBN: 0006547206

Page Count: 17

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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