Eclectic and insightful, mostly, and well worth dipping into.

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THE BEST OF ELIZABETH BEAR

From the award-winning author of The Red-Stained Wings (2019, etc.), a collection of 27 tales published between 2005 and 2019, spanning most of Bear's career.

Readers familiar with Bear's novels soon learn to expect the unexpected, with characters, worlds, and ideas eyed from drastically skewed perspectives. Who else would dream up a lactating vampire to whom the sun is no enemy, as Bear did in "Needles"? Or imagine a mortal Loki, banished from the Norse pantheon, as a god of rock music, as in "Hobnoblin Blues"? Mark Twain makes a guest appearance in a chewy murder mystery, "The Body of the Nation," set in the author's remarkable New Amsterdam universe and featuring the splendid Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett. We're offered an early yet highly effective glimpse of the universe that will evolve into the stunning Steles of the Sky series, "Love Among the Talus," while "Okay, Glory" shows us a reclusive, solipsistic genius forced to reinvent himself and the AI that's imprisoning him. Elsewhere, "The Bone War," Bear's wry commentary on the real-world Bone Wars between 19th-century paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, evokes a wide grin. Two tales would wring tears from a stone: "Tideline," about a dying battle machine whose last purpose is to memorialize her dead crew members, and "Orm the Beautiful," an exquisitely fashioned fable of the last dragon—that's also, possibly, a genuflection to Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea tales. Not everything here is a howling success, though. Even Bear's formidable talents can't always rescue creaky ideas from banality: Tubercular dentist Doc Holliday investigates a crashed alien spaceship ("Faster Gun"); gigantic Zeppelin-like Jovians rescue foolhardy human scientists ("The Deeps of the Sky"); and an amoral mercenary gets his comeuppance ("Perfect Gun"). A handful of others are more effect than story or strain to make a point. While Bear doesn't preach or hector, there's a message implicit in much of the work here: As individuals and as a species, we adapt, or we die.

Eclectic and insightful, mostly, and well worth dipping into.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59606-940-4

Page Count: 568

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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

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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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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