An enjoyable, gentle fantasy that gives new meaning to the phrase “Spirit of St. Louis.”

A UNIVERSE LESS TRAVELED

In the 20th century, citizens of St. Louis discover that a parallel-universe effect exists, allowing them to periodically cross over to a different, more ideal city.

Von Schrader’s debut novel should especially captivate readers familiar with St. Louis, but even those unacquainted with the city will find this parallel-worlds yarn worth a visit. In 1929, during the stock market crash, Missouri financier James Whittemore Hines is contemplating suicide when he suddenly finds himself in an alternate St. Louis, with no economic malaise. World War I never happened either (apparently thanks to a benevolent Kaiser Wilhelm II), and nobody’s heard of Charles Lindbergh. Pragmatic Hines doesn’t question the phenomenon but uses his acumen to become part of the city’s infrastructure. When a devastating earthquake hits in 1931, Hines’ radical plan of citizen shareholder ownership of the wrecked city not only rebuilds St. Louis, but also tackles racism, jump-starts scientific development, and makes the place a radiant, world-class metropolis (though this town doesn’t have that landmark steel arch). Years later, in the original St. Louis of 2010, blighted and racially divided (but at least it’s got the Gateway Arch), Billy Boustany is the harried head of a failing chain of electronics/appliance stores. He accidentally crosses over into the other St. Louis (which he calls “HD St. Louis”) and is charmed by the eclectic markets, pedestrian-friendly streets, curious inventions, and upbeat ambiance. He revisits the alt-city again and again and finds the secret too good to keep to himself. Which is a problem, because, as the narrative divulges, an elite corps in “HD St. Louis,” the Knights of the Carnelian, polices the shifting boundaries between the worlds and strives to keep out intruders from the original city, characterizing them (understandably) as uncouth, racist, and generally detrimental. But even as villains, they are fairly soft-edged. While the plotline of von Schrader’s tale may remind SF readers of China Miéville’s The City & the City (2009), its heart is much closer to the soothing fantasies of Jack Finney (Time and Again; I Love Galesburg in the Springtime), with their nostalgic longing for bygone (or, in this case, alternate) eras and communities. Von Schrader’s prose is butter smooth, and the chronological jumps the narrative makes back and forth throughout history (in both universes) are never tangled or confusing.

An enjoyable, gentle fantasy that gives new meaning to the phrase “Spirit of St. Louis.” (afterword, author bio)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73297-062-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Weeping Willow Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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