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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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DEVOLUTION

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

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE SILENT PATIENT

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

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A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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