An ambitious and gory series opener that somewhat bafflingly straddles sci-fi and metaphysics/religion.

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THE RAGES

From the The Book of the Shepherds series , Vol. 1

In this debut futuristic novel, most of Earth’s degraded population retreats to virtual-reality limbo, with rogues, cannibals, and a few godlike beings competing for humanity’s destiny in the dangerous outdoors.

After the creation of free energy, cures for all diseases, and affluent income for everyone with no need for labor (drones accomplish it all), the world should be a Utopia. But “Energy Wars” killed billions and elevated to power a shadowy, rather untrustworthy, space-station–based savior called the Lord Judge, who molded the planet into a “Federation.” Now 90 percent of the survivors dwell in clustered “Hub” cities, which are practically ghost towns, as everyone atrophies indoors in mind, spirit, and body, plugged into virtual reality most of the time. The outside “Wilderness” has been deliberately abandoned to rebel primitivists, a more-than-human policing force, and a monstrous race of drug-mutated, prowling cannibal killers called the Wrynd (compared to zombies, they are actually in almost every respect orcs). And seemingly incarnating the Earth spirit Gaia, animals ranging from livestock to former pets savagely attack defenseless humans, incidents called Rages. Several linked, outsized characters who traverse the ominous landscape in the former American West—principally Navajo drifter Harley Nearwater, a legendary outlaw and casual killer—set the stage for a major paradigm shift. Davis launches his series with a tale that conjures familiar dystopian genre tropes but still invokes what one protagonist calls an “interestin’ world.” What happens in that realm is “interestin’ ” in long, rather tentative stretches but primarily sets up enigmas that may or may not be answered down the line. Early inklings of foreboding and menace turn into extravagant action scenes, as the Federation military battles Tolkien-esque hordes of Wrynd that bathe the Rocky Mountains in blood. Other characters appear on the scene, controlling elemental forces of nature, seeming more mystical than sci-fi. Harley morphs from an intriguing agent-of-chaos antihero into a more typical Shane-style cowboy loner with a soft spot for children and seniors. There are hints of Mormon underpinnings with the gradual introduction of the supernatural into what began as a sort of frontier cyberpunk story. “We’ve slipped from reality to fantasy, from science to wizardry,” observes one character after yet another cascade of death and special effects. Future volumes will have to address open-ended puzzles this outing sets up.    

An ambitious and gory series opener that somewhat bafflingly straddles sci-fi and metaphysics/religion.

Pub Date: April 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5455-8543-6

Page Count: 386

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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