An engrossing and disturbing glimpse into a digital totalitarian future.

CROMBY'S AXIOM

In a future world where almost all of humanity is mentally connected by a universal, digital mind/internet, a famous athlete suddenly becomes unlinked and a captive of free-thinking rebels.

Kirchner’s debut SF novel envisions the year 2084. Following a war in which 2 billion people died, humanity adopted the pseudo-utopian solution of universal connectivity to the “Hive” via neural implants. Now, a placid, highly regulated global community of rather shallow citizens enjoys distractions of instant information, entertainment, gossip, sports, and social media. Meanwhile, the surveillance state, aka “Mother,” ruthlessly patrols their thoughts and quietly eliminates any troubling dissent or forbidden subjects (like religion or paperback books). Tommy Pierre Antigakamac—alias “Teepee,” in reference to his Canadian First Nations ancestry—star of American-style football, is one of the Hive’s most avidly followed celebrities. But while indulging in his elitist privilege of hiking and adventuring unattended in the Swiss hinterlands, he becomes disconnected from the Hive. Truly alone for the first time, the athlete is captured by a band of “Ketchen,” off-grid dwellers. At first, the hero is disgusted by their primitive ways and taboo offline ideas, but with time and the hosts’ patient hospitality, Teepee starts to revel in the privileges of privacy and freedom of thought, and he too comes to hate Mother and the dictatorship. Then the rebels invent a method to sabotage the all-seeing Hive, reliant on Teepee’s superior speed and timing. But something isn’t quite right. Readers should spot fairly easily the takeoff on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (a shoutout to Ray Bradbury also conjures that writer’s dystopias). Indeed, much of the engaging story settles into confined debates-cum–brainwash sessions (à laWinston Smith versus O’Brien in Orwell’s classic). These discussions focus on the Hive’s insidious methodology and, at least to the ostensible, surprisingly sympathetic villain of the tale, why such a society became necessary, and perhaps even inevitable, for Earth’s survival. But will the much-abused Teepee carry out the system’s destruction, will he escape somewhere else, or will he repent and learn to love Big Mother? With a brief page count and consistent intelligence, Kirchner’s novel may not reinvent the dystopian future cautionary tale, but it renders an effective update/upgrade for the age of the smartphone. His portrayal of a surveillance state is as disquieting as Orwell’s vision in the analog era.

An engrossing and disturbing glimpse into a digital totalitarian future.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-52-559608-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

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OUR MISSING HEARTS

In a dystopian near future, art battles back against fear.

Ng’s first two novels—her arresting debut, Everything I Never Told You (2014), and devastating follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)—provided an insightful, empathetic perspective on America as it is. Her equally sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn latest effort, set in a dystopian near future in which Asian Americans are regarded with scorn and mistrust by the government and their neighbors, offers a frightening portrait of what it might become. The novel’s young protagonist, Bird, was 9 when his mother—without explanation—left him and his father; his father destroyed every sign of her. Now, when Bird is 12, a letter arrives. Because it is addressed to “Bird,” he knows it's from his mother. For three years, he has had to answer to his given name, Noah; repeat that he and his father no longer have anything to do with his mother; try not to attract attention; and endure classmates calling his mother a traitor. None of it makes sense to Bird until his one friend, Sadie, fills him in: His mother, the child of Chinese immigrants, wrote a poem that had improbably become a rallying cry for those protesting PACT—the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act—a law that had helped end the Crisis 10 years before, ushering in an era in which violent economic protests had become vanishingly rare, but fear and suspicion, especially for persons of Asian origin, reigned. One of the Pillars of PACT—“Protects children from environments espousing harmful views”—had been the pretext for Sadie’s removal from her parents, who had sought to expose PACT’s cruelties and, Bird begins to understand, had prompted his own mother’s decision to leave. His mother's letter launches him on an odyssey to locate her, to listen and to learn. From the very first page of this thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving novel, Bird’s story takes wing. Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine—and persuasively posits that the antidotes to fear and suspicion are empathy and love.

Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49254-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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An unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

TENDER IS THE FLESH

A processing plant manager struggles with the grim realities of a society where cannibalism is the new normal.

Marcos Tejo is the boss’s son. Once, that meant taking over his father’s meat plant when the older man began to suffer from dementia and require nursing home care. But ever since the Transition, when animals became infected with a virus fatal to humans and had to be destroyed, society has been clamoring for a new source of meat, laboring under the belief, reinforced by media and government messaging, that plant proteins would result in malnutrition and ill effects. Now, as is true across the country, Marcos’ slaughterhouse deals in “special meat”—human beings. Though Marcos understands the moral horror of his job supervising the workers who stun, kill, flay, and butcher other humans, he doesn’t feel much since the crib death of his infant son. “One can get used to almost anything,” he muses, “except for the death of a child.” One day, the head of a breeding center sends Marcos a gift: an adult female FGP, a “First Generation Pure,” born and bred in captivity. As Marcos lives with his product, he gradually begins to awaken to the trauma of his past and the nightmare of his present. This is Bazterrica’s first novel to appear in America, though she is widely published in her native Argentina, and it could have been inelegant, using shock value to get across ideas about the inherent brutality of factory farming and the cruelty of governments and societies willing to sacrifice their citizenry for power and money. It is a testament to Bazterrica’s skill that such a bleak book can also be a page-turner.

An unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982150-92-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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