This gripping sci-fi–esque yarn ably incorporates social and political themes.



From the Pan21 series , Vol. 1

Years after fighting off a plague infection, survivors become the target of a dubious administrator who’s convinced they still carry the lethal virus in this dystopian novel.

Forty percent of humanity was killed by the virus Pan21, and an even higher percentage in the Republic, comprised of seceded Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. Republic Voice reporter Helen Small lost her family and best friend to Pan21, which mercifully ended seven years ago. She was infected but endured; the survivors are marked by cosmetic side effects: ashen skin, hair, and eyes. Despite no signs of the plague, there seems to be an anti-survivors movement brewing. A group called the Grey Alliance forces two survivors out of their Texas town. Surprisingly, Administrator Chaste, in statements to the media, doesn’t condemn the Grey Alliance’s aggressive tactics. In fact, he’s supportive, later claiming Pan21 has resurfaced, transmitted by survivors locally and in other parts of the world. Helen, via an anonymous column, rebuts Chaste’s assertions, having found no confirmation of recent plague deaths. Unfortunately, the public sides with Chaste, and Helen’s subsequently arrested, primarily for being a survivor. Things could turn decidedly more precarious for her, however, if her captors learn she’s the column’s author. McDaniel’s (The Future Is Short, 2017, etc.) wise choice to set a global-plague tale in the smaller Republic condenses his epic narrative and generates a swift pace, while descriptions of characters and environment are generally subdued—akin to the “colorless” survivors. But the muted prose is befitting of Pan21’s devastation (Helen walks the shockingly empty hallways of a Dallas hospital) and makes flashes of color stand out: a morning of “blood-red sunlight” or a photo of Helen’s now-dead 5-year-old son in a blue-striped shirt. Chaste’s administration poses an unmistakable threat, monitoring citizens with flying quads and HealthPals (devices inserted in skin) and ultimately branding Helen a terrorist. A romance between Helen and her boyfriend, Francisco Stiles, meanwhile, is fleeting, though it’s rich material for the planned sequel.

This gripping sci-fi–esque yarn ably incorporates social and political themes.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-578-19117-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Undertow Press

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2017

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


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.


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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