As can happen in philosophically inclined science fiction, the issues are more fully explored than the characters; but when...

THE SECRET

Set in 2022, this impressive first novel by nonfiction author Hoffman (Shtetl, 1997, etc.) sketches a creepily plausible near-future in which her protagonist experiences a very 21st-century identity crisis.

The title is deliberately misleading. The real, “all-too-human secret” will not be fully understood until the story’s fnal pages. Hoffman expertly inserts enough clues for readers to guess the putative secret regarding narrator Iris Surrey’s birth shortly before she does it on page 60: Iris isn’t just Elizabeth Surrey’s daughter, but her mother’s clone. Finally understanding the reason for “The Weirdness,” the preternatural closeness that always set them apart in the midwestern college town where her mother raised her, Iris flees to Elizabeth’s native New York City, whose actual streets are subtly different from the Virtuals she viewed in school: “there were elements of surprise in the actual.” The grandparents she’s never met have moved from the Park Avenue address she found on old letters, so she takes up with Piotr, who can help her break into a classified e-mail address to locate them. Meanwhile, she watches organic artists reshaping actual animals using computer implants; visits a virtual club, where people use memory-chips to give themselves invented identities for a few hours; attends a debate on “Whither Human Design?”; and tries Piotr’s Affect Simulator, which allows users to acquire specific emotions at particular intensities. Hoffman gradually and subtly makes the point that although Iris may feel especially unreal due to her origins (her birth in 2005 was one of the first human clonings), she lives in a world where “reality” is virtual as often as physical. Yet the cautiously optimistic ending suggests that authentic identity and experiences are still attainable.

As can happen in philosophically inclined science fiction, the issues are more fully explored than the characters; but when those issues include the nature of reality and the location of the human soul, it’s not such a drawback.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58648-150-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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