Richly described, if uneven, tales with some memorable characters.


From the Conduits series , Vol. 2

This second installment of a series offers more interconnected short stories about madcap outsiders who live in the fictional Green Valley.

In The Ballad of Jinx Jenkins (2018), Sommers introduced an enigmatic vagrant whom the people of Green Valley had proclaimed an omen of bad luck. In the opening of this sequel, Jinx stands with a noose around his neck, facing death. Similarly, Green Valley is in the death grip of the dreaded BigCorp, an avaricious private company intent on gobbling up land and pushing Sniff, a highly addictive drug, to locals. In the tale “The Life of Jinx Jenkins,” it is revealed that Jinx once worked for BigCorp, and his downfall was initiated by its future CEO, Jason Big, who claims credit for the protagonist’s SkyTram designs. Other stories tell tales of the people of Green Valley—from its disgruntled blue-collar workers, such as Grackle and Crag who toil in a sweet factory, to its wannabee superheroes, including “The Errant Knight,” an offbeat Don Quixote, and “The Starling,” a female hacker intent on implanting a virus in the BigCorp servers. The pervading theme in this collection is the corrosive nature of capitalist enterprise. Sommers poignantly describes the fallout experienced as a result of BigCorp’s industrial ventures: “The problem was the mess the smog left behind, staining every tree, building, and car in a gray-green tint. A thick, sticky film seeped into one’s consciousness, their will, their sense of being.” In Jinx, the author astutely creates a complex character whose deterioration mirrors that of the valley. Imagery of Jinx decaying on the streets is graphic and impactful: “The grape-sized infection on his knuckle throbbed so hard it split itself open.” Sommers’ introduction of various superheroes is less successful. The Errant Knight’s foppishly archaic diction injects some levity: “I shall have the most immaculate cut of meat you have…adorned with your freshest comestibles.” But the author gets caught up in recounting each superhero’s backstory, which, along with the group’s predictable crime-fighting capers, becomes tediously repetitive. Sommers also sometimes uses racial slurs needlessly: “Wops and Spooks and Spics.” This volume displays many of the markings of a talented writer, although there are some off-putting elements.

Richly described, if uneven, tales with some memorable characters.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948309-92-9

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Transmundane Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller


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.


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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