A smart, absorbing, and inventive time-travel tale.

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ABSOLUTE ZERO

In this sci-fi debut, guardians of the time stream inhibit a physicist from completing his experiment, which leads to a catastrophic future event.

Caltech physicist Dr. Ezekiel “Zeke” Levine is on the verge of achieving absolute zero, but someone evidently stops him. His memory is initially fuzzy when a stranger leads him out of his lab and through a portal. This man, Ben, has brought Zeke to the Chronosphere, a place that’s “outside of time.” It’s here that chronologists monitor the time stream and try to amend calamities, like saving some—but not necessarily all—people from a 17th-century plague. It seems that a massive, potentially apocalyptic occurrence down the time stream is the eventual result of Zeke’s experiment. But removing the physicist from his timeline and destroying his notes haven’t prevented a future entropic effect: a glimpse ahead shows a galaxy that appears to be deteriorating. So Headley Grantham, head of the Council of Chronos, assigns Zeke the task of finding a way to rectify the entropy. As part of his training, Zeke joins the chronologists, including historian Dr. Siroush Isfahani, on a mission to the mid-1300s. This ultimately prompts Zeke’s hypothesis: the entropic effect may be caused by the chronologists’ contaminating the time stream, with their constant traveling putting time particles (or chronotons) in the wrong place. Most in the Chronosphere aren’t keen about Zeke’s notion. But when the chronologists realize another group may have its eye on them, they’ll have to face the possibility that the dismal future could very well be their fault. Tameron fills his book with several genuine surprises, from the future event the chronologists blame on Zeke to the introduction of Aurora Quinn, a woman in the 14th century who’s apparently versed in time traveling. Readers will surely detect similarities between this story and well-known works like Doctor Who and Star Trek. The author even acknowledges these for comic relief: Zeke jokingly calls the chronologists “Time Lords” and later quips, “Dammit, Jim…I’m a nerdy physicist not a master spy.” Nevertheless, Tameron injects his narrative with creativity even when tackling genre staples. There are playful references, for example, to the butterfly effect (traveling to a particular time period sparks a seemingly unrelated change centuries later) as well as the popular idea of going back in time to kill Hitler. Theoretical discussions are, of course, in abundance, and this provides the focus over sci-fi trademarks such as otherworldly tech (a scanning device merely resembles an iPhone). Scientific dialogue often includes terms common to the characters (for example, gluons and other particles) but perhaps not to readers. In a hilarious moment, Siroush stops Zeke from elucidating subatomic particles. “Yes, yes,” he assures the physicist. “I know what bosons are.” Still, all that discourse revolves around solving mysteries, which extend to Zeke’s hunting for details on time-travel pioneer Kamien Zdanie and maybe uncovering something nefarious at the Chronosphere. A gratifying ending leaves room for a continuation, and with an indication that this is Volume One, a series likely awaits.

A smart, absorbing, and inventive time-travel tale.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4996-1329-2

Page Count: 296

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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