SPACE

America's space program, from WW II roots to the 1980s, is the subject of Michener's new mega-faction—so those readers who relished the dynasty/historical-romance aspects of his multi-century epics (Chesapeake, The Covenant, etc.) are likely to be disappointed by the smaller scope and quieter action here. Others, however, may appreciate the close-up focus—the same handful of central characters for 640 pp.—or the relatively in-depth treatment of the science/issues involved. And those put off by Tom Wolfe's jivey, semi-hostile approach in The Right Stuff will certainly prefer Michener's more positive (though not uncritical) view of the astronaut program. In 1944 US engineer Stanley Mott is the man responsible for locating and secretly rescuing Germany's top rocket scientists: the real-life von Braun (a background figure here) as well as the fictional Dieter Kolff, who manages to sneak out of Germany with formulas for long-range rocketry. So Mott, with wife Rachel, oversees the research program once the Germans are resettled in Alabama. And, meanwhile, we also meet future astronaut John Pope, a brainy, "straight arrow" Navy test pilot (with raunchy Korea buddy, Marine Randy Claggett) whose lawyer-wife Penny is a vital aide to stolid Sen. Norman Grant, a WW II hero on the Senate's space committee. In the early '50s, however, Mott is removed from the program (he switches to the embryonic NASA, studies celestial mechanics and ablation); the three major military branches feud about space-program control; and Ike's Defense Secretary virtually calls off all rocketry plans. Then . . . Sputnik—and everything changes. Ike revises his tune. After debate, space-program control is given to NASA. Mott and Kolff violently argue about goals and methods. (Manned vs. unmanned flights? Flashy moon-shots vs. wide exploration? Earth-orbit rendezvous vs. lunar?) And John and Randy are in one of the first astronaut batches: their Gemini mission, with flight-walks, is detailed; career-woman Penny is harassed for not conforming to the chosen astronaut PR-style; the raunchy goings-on at Cocoa Beach are touched on (a beautiful muckraking Korean journalist sleeps around); and, on a fictional Apollo 18 mission to the moon's "dark side," Randy and another pilot die from sun radiation. In an apparent attempt to provide relief from the dense, unvaried material here, Michener supplies a few limp subplots—e.g., Mott's worry over his sons (one homosexual, one drug-dealer). And one subplot—the doings of a con-man UFO guru who switches to anti-Darwinism in the '80s—becomes increasingly important, with a wind-up debate on Faith vs. Science. Finally, however, this is Michener's customary education-in-an-epic package: less romantic/exotic than usual, typically stiff in dialogue and narration, inferior to many non-fiction sources of popularized astro-science—yet sure to draw a vast Big-Book readership.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 1982

ISBN: 0449203794

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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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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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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