Stick with it—there will be surprises, just not the ones you were expecting.

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TWO FRONTS

From the War That Came Early series , Vol. 5

Turtledove (Coup d’Etat, 2012, etc.) delivers the fifth installment in his latest series—a final volume is promised—developing an alternate-history version of World War II.

This widescreen Technicolor what-if began with Turtledove’s 2009 novel Hitler’s War, which portrayed a World War II starting with a 1938 German invasion of Czechoslovakia. Real history and Turtledove’s imaginary version continued to diverge thereafter, as Britain and France allied themselves with Nazi Germany to battle the communist Soviet Union. The U.S. goes to war with Japan while avoiding the European theater, and in Spain, fascist Nationalists with German backing wage trench warfare against mingled Communists and Republicans allied with free Czechs and independently operating Americans and British. Now, however—and we’ve only reached 1942—following an anti-fascist coup, Britain has joined with France to open a western front against Germany. Again, the number of plotlines and characters can be bewildering: frontline soldiers on the European western and eastern fronts, sailors and marines on Hawaii, Japanese pilots in China, civilian Americans and German Jews, Ukrainian partisans and Czech snipers, among others. Inevitably, major historical figures merely rate a mention or die offstage in plausible fashion. Patience is a necessary virtue when reading Turtledove’s slow, knowledgeable, scattershot saga, and any earlier impressions of his building toward some earth-shattering conclusion are shown, here, to be quite incorrect. Instead, Turtledove embeds many small, subtle hints—to reveal them would be to give the game away—that his real objective is to paint, brush stroke by brush stroke, a postwar landscape quite different than the one that prevailed in the real world.

Stick with it—there will be surprises, just not the ones you were expecting.

Pub Date: July 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-345-52468-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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Someone else might’ve made this fresh and clever, but from this source, it’s an often dull and pointless-seeming retread.

AGENCY

A sequel to The Peripheral (2014), in which bored dilettantes from the future meddle virtually with potential pasts while more responsible people try to ameliorate the damage.

The novel opens, as so many Gibson novels do, with an intelligent, creative young woman accepting a not terribly well-defined job from an enigmatic (possibly sinister) executive involving a piece of cutting-edge technology. In this case, that technology is an emerging AI with origins in top-secret military research who calls herself Eunice. The young woman, Verity Jane, spends only a couple of days with Eunice (via company-issued glasses, phone, and headset) before her new boss, Gavin, gets nervous about Eunice’s potential and starts attempting to monitor every move of the human–AI pair. What Verity does not know is that her present day of 2017, in which a decreased Russian influence on social media led to an unnamed woman who is clearly Hillary Clinton winning the presidency, the U.K. voting to remain in the E.U., and a volatile situation in Turkey threatening to turn nuclear, was deliberately manipulated by someone in 2136 who enjoys creating doomsday scenarios among possible past timelines. It’s up to future law enforcement (who can only contact the timeline via digital communication or virtually controlled mechanical peripherals) to get in touch with Verity and Eunice and recruit them to prevent looming global catastrophe. Given Gibson’s Twitter-stated unhappiness with the timeline in which he currently finds himself, it's hard to know what he's implying here: That outside intervention would have been required to achieve a Hillary Clinton presidency and defeat Brexit? Or that our own vigilance on social media could/should have brought those outcomes about? And why would these two potentially positive occurrences in that timeline instigate an even darker scenario than the one readers are currently experiencing—and also require that intervention to fix it? Have we reached the point of no return in all potential 21st-century timelines, doomed, at least in part, regardless of what political and social choices we make now? (Nor is it ever really explained why Gavin turns so quickly on Verity and Eunice, unless it’s simply to inject the story with urgency and transform it into the author’s favorite plot device, the chase.) This is vintage, or possibly tired, Gibson, filling his usual quest-driven template with updated contemporary or just-past-contemporary politics, technology, and culture.

Someone else might’ve made this fresh and clever, but from this source, it’s an often dull and pointless-seeming retread.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-101-98693-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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