A fun but deeply flawed science-fiction reimagining of the 1955 Heinlein juvie classic Tunnel in the Sky.

HALF WAY HOME

Revisiting a popular science-fiction premise—colonists stranded on an unexplored planet—the latest from Howey is a survival story revolving around a group of young pioneers who are awakened from their amniotic vats to find their settlement in ruins and the majority of their fellow colonists dead.

For hundreds of years, Porter and the rest of his compatriots have traveled through space as blastocysts—fertilized eggs—en route to a distant world that scientists back on Earth presumed could be habitable. Once at their destination, the AI was supposed to evaluate the planet and deem it either viable or unviable. If viable, the AI would grow the 500 fertilized eggs in vats and educate each one with specific knowledge (in medicine, mechanics, agriculture, etc.) for 30 years before they would be birthed as adults. If unviable, the AI would simply destroy everything. Born 15 years too early, Porter (the colony’s psychologist) is awakened to screams as his home burns. After deeming the world viable, the AI has inexplicably begun the abort process. Barely escaping with his life—naked and clueless about the alien world he has stepped into—Porter and 58 other newly hatched humans must survive long enough to understand the AI’s brutal decisions. But as the teenagers attempt to build their new society, age-old human flaws threaten to destroy their chances of survival. Howey doesn’t offer up anything particularly original here: The worldbuilding is superficial at best and the storyline is formulaic and predictable. But the major issue is with the tone-deaf characterization. Porter, who has been genetically engineered to be gay, is described as feminine and weak. His sexuality—which has little to do with the main story—seems forced and unrealistic. Some readers may find the paper-thin reasoning behind the author’s decision to make the main character gay problematic at best.

A fun but deeply flawed science-fiction reimagining of the 1955 Heinlein juvie classic Tunnel in the Sky.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-358-21324-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever...

SNOW CRASH

After terminally cute campus high-jinks (The Big U) and a smug but attention-grabbing eco-thriller (Zodiac), Stephenson leaps into near-future Gibsonian cyberpunk—with predictably mixed results.

The familiar-sounding backdrop: The US government has been sold off; businesses are divided up into autonomous franchises ("franchulates") visited by kids from the heavily protected independent "Burbclaves"; a computer-generated "metaverse" is populated by hackers and roving commercials. Hiro Protagonist, freelance computer hacker, world's greatest swordsman, and stringer for the privatized CIA, delivers pizzas for the Mafia—until his mentor Da5id is blasted by Snow Crash, a curious new drug capable of crashing both computers and hackers. Hiro joins forces with freelance skateboard courier Y.T. to investigate. It emerges that Snow Crash is both a drug and a virus: it destroyed ancient Sumeria by randomizing their language to create Babel; its modern victims speak in tongues, lose their critical faculties, and are easily brainwashed. Eventually the usual conspiracy to take over the world emerges; it's led by media mogul L. Bob Rife, the Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates religious franchulate, and vengeful nuclear terrorist Raven. The cultural-linguistic material has intrinsic interest, but its connections with cyberpunk and computer-reality seem more than a little forced.

The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever embellishments, none of the above is as original as Stephenson seems to think. An entertaining entry that would have benefitted from a more rigorous attention to the basics.

Pub Date: May 15, 1992

ISBN: 0553380958

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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