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Swarm

A white-hot ingot of daring, disciplined storytelling that focuses on a dangerous military project.

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A sci-fi thriller explores stolen technology and a hacktivist determined to guide humanity’s evolution.

This tale begins at a U.S. Air Force base in Afghanistan. Airman Donald Westlake, a recent convert to skinhead metal music, exits the barracks armed for combat. With violent lyrics screaming through his headphones, he begins shooting Afghani soldiers stationed at the base until he is killed by a fellow airman. Meanwhile, in Austin, Texas, hacktivist Tom Ayana orchestrates flash mob events from the “cyber command center” in his mother’s house. These incidents, which interrupt the lives of unsuspecting citizens in places like San Antonio’s Woodland Park, result in risqué demonstrations and a thrilling sense of connectedness among the participants. Under the digital guise of Swarm, Tom encounters the Meta Militia online and is chosen to play with—that is, augment—the zeph.r code, a stolen Department of Defense project designed to modify human behavior. While Tom and his best friend, a DJ named Xander Smith, combine their love of music, mobbing, and cosmic awareness to dominate the electronic dance music scene, Homeland Security agent Jake Duggan starts investigating Westlake’s death. Jake eventually recruits evolutionary biologist Dr. Cara Park—an expert on swarming insects—to help learn the deadly potential of zeph.r. In the latest book by Garcia (The Decline of Men, 2009, etc.), readers are treated to what might be written if the misanthropic author Chuck Palahniuk gave the free-wheeling Thomas Pynchon a blood transfusion. Garcia’s careening prose covers cutting-edge topics, like using mosquitoes to inoculate against malaria, while also espousing the work of “neo-patriots” like Anonymous, who “would save democracy by keeping it honest.” When Tom experiences the fabulously kinetic zeph.r, there’s “a rising, writhing tower of tessellating textures, each one separate yet fused to the others and seething, like a flame.” Though intellectually and politically supercharged, these elements never prevent the characters’ humanity from carrying the narrative. The ambiguous ending glories in the potential of life-altering technology in the hands of a forward-thinking society.

A white-hot ingot of daring, disciplined storytelling that focuses on a dangerous military project.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9974398-1-6

Page Count: 374

Publisher: Morphic Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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