Though the Korean War hasn’t generally been regarded as a major departure point in human history by alternate-world...

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FALLOUT

From the Hot War series , Vol. 2

Second part of the alternate-world-war trilogy (Bombs Away, 2015) whose entirely plausible conjecture was: what if President Harry Truman had used nuclear weapons during the Korean War?

Well, here he did, disastrously instigating a nuclear war. Atomic bombs have already devastated cities in China, Russia, and Europe, and on America’s west coast. Despite a few set pieces showing us the world’s leaders (though not as they formulate their decisions) and politics outside the war (the specter of McCarthyism), Turtledove once again develops his narrative via a substantial cast of ordinary people, both civilians and military, and their particular circumstances. Fascinating concurrences emerge. In Germany, currently occupied by Soviet invaders, Luisa Hozzel, the wife of a WWII Wehrmacht soldier now fighting alongside the Americans, gets sent to a Siberian labor camp. By contrast, Marian Staley and her daughter cope with life in a refugee camp outside now-radioactive Seattle. The members of Boris Gribkov’s Soviet bomber crew spend their free time drinking vodka and thwarting the political police, while Bruce McNulty, an American bomber pilot stationed in England, tiptoes toward romance with a widowed British pub owner. Elsewhere, other characters familiar from the first book experience action in the European and Korean theaters, some finding themselves allied with former enemies while others fight against opponents who once were comrades. In still other places less affected by the bombs and the battles, some semblance of normal life prevails. Even if he’s not creating completely memorable personalities, Turtledove’s patented, highly effective methodology—a steady sequence of sharply etched passages allowing him to accrue telling detail around each individual actor—ensures readers become attached to them and invested in their futures.

Though the Korean War hasn’t generally been regarded as a major departure point in human history by alternate-world theorists, Turtledove’s surmise reminds us just how dangerously unpredictable the nuclear option remains.

Pub Date: July 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-39073-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2017

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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