A thriller with capable heroes that portrays a future that feels scarily near.

EFFACEMENT

In this SF thriller, brain chips are supposed to keep people healthy and connected to society—but they may be killing some of them.

In a post-privacy United States,virtually everyone has a Vitasync neurochip installed at the base of their brain. These technological marvels connect people to apps such as MyPharm, which treats small health problems, and a vast digital overlay of visual information. The chips record one’s experiences into a “lifelog,” which is illegal to tamper with and makes one a citizen who can hold a job and open a bank account. One day, Cole Westbay wakes to find his apartment trashed and his chip stolen. Without his connection, he feels like a “junkie coming down from a bad trip.” Cole works for BioNarratus, the company that’s cornered the neurochip market. He’s also the protégé of Lounis Belrose, one of the world’s most powerful people. Cole had been researching why several senators, judges, and other key figures have been meeting early ends, and how this may be connected to Vitasync’s latest software patch. After Cole asks a neighbor to call the police for him, he’s arrested for the crime of “effacement,” or having an offline lifelog. When Lounis bails him out of jail—instead of Cole’s girlfriend, Tesla Carrick, who also works for BioNarratus—Cole starts to suspect that something shady is going on. At a pawn shop, he hunts for Augmented Reality glasses to reconnect to the world, and he later meets Eva Spangler, an attorney who reveals to him an aspect of society that he’d never dreamed possible.

Hawkes superbly extrapolates what our technology-dependent and pandemic-stricken world might be like a dozen years from now. Despite the illegality of effacement, a large segment of the population is shown to live off the grid, divested from modernity by economics or circumstance; Cole is so ensconced in a busy realm of digital engagement that he has no idea these people even exist. Yet the author also shows that the protagonist does have a heart, although he’s given it to Tesla, a narcissist who’s wary of commitment. Eva, who drives sports cars, is skilled with a gun, and has a killer smile, becomes Cole’s—and the reader’s—guide through Control, Alt, Delete, a secret group that cherishes privacy. Hawkes occasionally embraces a hard-boiled tone in his prose, as in the line, “Being in the cell was a bit like being in a casino, with no clocks and no change in the lighting. But he had more to lose than a bet, and no one was bringing him cocktails.” The author mentions a “Great Pandemic” in connection with cruise-ship horrors, but Hawke’s descriptions of people’s dwindling social skills are more intriguing; many use “quints,” for example—digital projections that have replaced physical handshakes as greetings. Although the assassin hunting Cole, Phillip Chestnut, seems robotic, other characters show notable agency. A somewhat-winding journey on snowmobiles and through a courtroom brings readers to an enjoyably unexpected finale.

A thriller with capable heroes that portrays a future that feels scarily near.

Pub Date: March 27, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-72-861870-6

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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

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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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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