A hackneyed sci-fi spectacle.

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ARMADA

From the author of Ready Player One (2011), another book centered around video games and the 1980s.

Teenager Zack Lightman loves playing games online with his friends, although any similarities to teenagers of today end there. He’s obsessed with '80s science fiction, ostensibly because it’s a way to fill the void left by his dead father. In the attic, Zack finds not only his dad’s favorite movies on VHS, but also a detailed conspiracy theory his father wrote when he was 19, claiming video games and movies about alien invasions have been secretly funded by a shadowy organization to prepare humanity for the real thing. It’s a crazy theory that, of course, turns out to be absolutely true. When aliens invade, Zack is whisked away to a secret training facility where he learns the game he’s devoted years of his life to playing has always been an advanced tactical simulation, much like the plot to the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter. Now, Zack and his fellow gamers must step up and defend Earth for real. In the hands of a more skilled writer, the book could have drawn on familiar stories to launch into a new science-fiction adventure. Instead, it offers little more than interminable video game–style battles and timeworn tropes, including a plot twist that can be seen coming for miles. Zack’s love interest is impossibly attractive, swigs booze from an R2-D2 flask, and laughs at all his jokes—a nerd-fantasy centerfold and just as one-dimensional. Meanwhile, Zack’s two friends are indistinguishable from one another and do little more than argue over geek minutiae, because as everyone knows, that’s all nerds ever do. However, in the end, it’s the unrelenting references to '80s movies that squander any possible tension in the narrative. Readers never doubt whether the good guys will win because they’re constantly reminded: good guys always win in the movies.

A hackneyed sci-fi spectacle.

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3725-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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