A lively, techno-fueled caper.

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SPIN-OFF

COOL ASSASSINS 1 & 2

A futuristic novel focuses on a powerful team of operatives.

This epic SF adventure begins with a girl named Jen Marov. Jen may be small but she is strong and an excellent climber. When she travels to Paris with her family, she is even able to climb the Eiffel Tower. Jen winds up with a successful career in the circus before pursuing a love of mountain climbing. Where will she wind up later in life? As a member of a fierce, do-good-oriented yet covert organization called Dog Breakfast. It is the 2070s and life on Earth, while recognizable to readers, is also wildly strange. Humans still populate the planet and struggle with capitalism, technological innovations, and environmental changes. But they have also managed to broaden their horizons. So-called soupers (because their orbiting environments look something like giant soup cans) live in space. Then there are advancements like travel by zephyrs (referred to as “gasbags”) and a protein-heavy foodstuff called sclup. The story expands to cover everything from a metropolis suspended over Canada named Tsawwassen to the excitement of something called “slasherrock,” but the ultimate focus falls on Dog Breakfast and its members. They are a tough group who train, eat, and sleep together. They learn to do things like dodge bullets and of course stomp the bad guys (although, as one member asserts, “we try to avoid violent solutions”). Will Dog Breakfast be able to pull off a difficult attack on the world’s corporate elite?

To say there is a lot going on throughout Quantaman’s narrative would be an understatement. Aside from the tale’s many events, readers get a primer on everything from hexagonal cities to the breakdown of a fictional company’s stock price. Such explanations are occasionally even accompanied by uncredited illustrations. This fine attention to detail, reminiscent of the work of William Gibson, helps to create a full picture of humanity’s future endeavors. But some aspects are more creative than others. A palmslate is basically a computer tablet, which, for simplicity’s sake, could have just been called a computer tablet. A crèche, on the other hand, is a school that raises children from the ages of 2 to 18 with intriguing results. The plot is likewise highly detailed and always in motion. Action scenes are prevalent and varied. Bad guys are felled with mini-crossbows and good guys can deploy other people’s car air bags. Still, the backgrounds of some characters may be more extensive than necessary. For instance, one of the newer Dog Breakfast members, Nyssa, seems to be forever explaining her past as an indentured sex worker. Though her biography contains some true oddities, such as the sale of her virginity by her mother, the story could have made do with a brief flashback or two as opposed to a full information download. In addition, the inner thoughts of characters tend to be redundant, as when Jen remarks to herself, after a close call: “Too close for comfort!” Yet overall, the book delivers an ambitious action tale in a vivid landscape that manages to be both foreign and familiar.

A lively, techno-fueled caper.

Pub Date: Dec. 30, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 858

Publisher: Psignologic Services

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2020

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Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

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SEVERANCE

A post-apocalyptic—and pre-apocalyptic—debut.

It’s 2011, if not quite the 2011 you remember. Candace Chen is a millennial living in Manhattan. She doesn’t love her job as a production assistant—she helps publishers make specialty Bibles—but it’s a steady paycheck. Her boyfriend wants to leave the city and his own mindless job. She doesn’t go with him, so she’s in the city when Shen Fever strikes. Victims don’t die immediately. Instead, they slide into a mechanical existence in which they repeat the same mundane actions over and over. These zombies aren’t out hunting humans; instead, they perform a single habit from life until their bodies fall apart. Retail workers fold and refold T-shirts. Women set the table for dinner over and over again. A handful of people seem to be immune, though, and Candace joins a group of survivors. The connection between existence before the End and during the time that comes after is not hard to see. The fevered aren’t all that different from the factory workers who produce Bibles for Candace’s company. Indeed, one of the projects she works on almost falls apart because it proves hard to source cheap semiprecious stones; Candace is only able to complete the contract because she finds a Chinese company that doesn’t mind too much if its workers die from lung disease. This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment. This is Ma’s first novel, but her fiction has appeared in distinguished journals, and she won a prize for a chapter of this book. She knows her craft, and it shows. Candace is great, a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. She’s sufficiently self-aware to see the parallels between her life before the End and the pathology of Shen Fever. Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience.

Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-26159-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

RECURSION

In Crouch’s sci-fi–driven thriller, a machine designed to help people relive their memories creates apocalyptic consequences.

In 2018, NYPD Detective Barry Sutton unsuccessfully tries to talk Ann Voss Peters off the edge of the Poe Building. She claims to have False Memory Syndrome, a bewildering condition that seems to be spreading. People like Ann have detailed false memories of other lives lived, including marriages and children, but in “shades of gray, like film noir stills.” For some, like Ann, an overwhelming sense of loss leads to suicide. Barry knows loss: Eleven years ago, his 15-year-old daughter, Meghan, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Details from Ann’s story lead him to dig deeper, and his investigation leads him to a mysterious place called Hotel Memory, where he makes a life-altering discovery. In 2007, a ridiculously wealthy philanthropist and inventor named Marcus Slade offers neuroscientist Helena Smith the chance of a lifetime and an unlimited budget to build a machine that allows people to relive their memories. He says he wants to “change the world.” Helena hopes that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, will benefit from her passion project. The opportunity for unfettered research is too tempting to turn down. However, when Slade takes the research in a controversial direction, Helena may have to destroy her dream to save the world. Returning to a few of the themes he explored in Dark Matter (2016), Crouch delivers a bullet-fast narrative and raises the stakes to a fever pitch. A poignant love story is woven in with much food for thought on grief and the nature of memories and how they shape us, rounding out this twisty and terrifying thrill ride.

An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-5978-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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