An entertaining mystery set in an intriguing near future.

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A man seeks vengeance for the death of his father in a climate change-ravaged Kansas in this dystopian sequel.

The year is 2048, and an ecologically devastated America has devolved into a loose association of regional republics. One year after his father was murdered, Daniel McFaul must return to his hometown of Dodge City and take control of the dead man’s restaurant—or forfeit his inheritance. He leaves his girlfriend, Sally Bergen, in Savannah, Georgia, but not before encountering a wealthy computer whiz named Hunter Houdini, who tells Daniel: “I’m the man who can help you find your father’s killer before he kills you.” Houdini’s plan is to recover the remains of the robot that lasered Mayor Plato McFaul dead in the middle of Wyatt Earp Boulevard and then promptly self-destructed. If they can find the robot, it can lead them to the cabal behind the assassination. Houdini has his own reasons for getting to the bottom of the crime: He suspects that these are the same men who kidnapped his daughter years ago. After Daniel survives an attempt on his life at his lawyer’s office, he and Houdini set up a sting inspired by the latter’s famous namesake. Daniel has his doubts about trusting Houdini—he can’t decide if the man is a fool, a con artist, or both. But he can’t rely on anyone else in Dodge, all of whom are connected to his father’s business or political interests in some way. Can Daniel live long enough to force his father’s killers to reveal themselves? And can his relationship with Sally survive the appearance of a beautiful new assistant manager at his father’s restaurant?

Congdon’s sequel to Heat 30:1 (2015) is a lighthearted mix of mystery, Western, and SF. The vision of the future he paints is simultaneously realistic and fantastical: People eat bugs; robots work as waiters; and airplanes take off and land via the use of magnets, but the restaurant business is still largely the same as it’s ever been. Despite all that has changed by 2048, the characters don’t speak that differently than they do today. In fact, they often sound like they might be from 1948: “Hey look, no slick arguments, no moral razzmatazz. If you’re going to confess to a crime, or to witnessing a crime, let me call the cops right now and do us both a favor.” At one point, Daniel even makes a casual reference to the Keystone Kops. The characters, setting, and mood are all highly enjoyable. This is an ecologically minded vision of the future that isn’t all doom and gloom. But the book’s pacing is a bit slow for a work of speculative fiction. Characters signal plans and developments long before they come to pass, which will weigh at times on readers’ patience. There aren’t quite as many surprises as one might expect, and everything winds up in a fairly predictable place. That said, the author has created a world that is pleasant to spend some time in and he’s populated it with people whom readers will like being around.

An entertaining mystery set in an intriguing near future.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-67235-402-8

Page Count: 273

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2020

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Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

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SEVERANCE

A post-apocalyptic—and pre-apocalyptic—debut.

It’s 2011, if not quite the 2011 you remember. Candace Chen is a millennial living in Manhattan. She doesn’t love her job as a production assistant—she helps publishers make specialty Bibles—but it’s a steady paycheck. Her boyfriend wants to leave the city and his own mindless job. She doesn’t go with him, so she’s in the city when Shen Fever strikes. Victims don’t die immediately. Instead, they slide into a mechanical existence in which they repeat the same mundane actions over and over. These zombies aren’t out hunting humans; instead, they perform a single habit from life until their bodies fall apart. Retail workers fold and refold T-shirts. Women set the table for dinner over and over again. A handful of people seem to be immune, though, and Candace joins a group of survivors. The connection between existence before the End and during the time that comes after is not hard to see. The fevered aren’t all that different from the factory workers who produce Bibles for Candace’s company. Indeed, one of the projects she works on almost falls apart because it proves hard to source cheap semiprecious stones; Candace is only able to complete the contract because she finds a Chinese company that doesn’t mind too much if its workers die from lung disease. This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment. This is Ma’s first novel, but her fiction has appeared in distinguished journals, and she won a prize for a chapter of this book. She knows her craft, and it shows. Candace is great, a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. She’s sufficiently self-aware to see the parallels between her life before the End and the pathology of Shen Fever. Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience.

Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-26159-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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