Compulsively readable military sci-fi with a strong humanist side that isn’t overwhelmed by bloodshed and doomsday weapons.

Marsco Triumphant

From the The Marsco Saga series , Vol. 2

Zarzana’s (The Marsco Dissident, 2013) bravura second installment in his ongoing saga continues his broad-canvas approach to political power plays, betrayals, and invasions at the end of the 21st century.

In this novel, three factions scheme to attack or subvert Marsco, an Earth-based corporation with a virtual monopoly on software, advanced munitions, and interstellar-travel technology. The company decisively seized power from the corrupt governments of Earth in the mid-2000s. The planet is now a shattered, semi-occupied former battleground strewn with peasants known as “PRIMS,” while elites jockey for positions in Marsco’s ruling autocracy. The latter’s success is defined by finger-disc implants that signify rank, mobility, and access to Marsco cybernetworks. To many, these military-corporate rulers of mankind are no better than the fascist Continental Powers who brought on the planet’s ruin. Among the disenchanted is Anthony “Zot” Grizotti, an “iceman” who’s expert at tending humans in hibernation during long space voyages. He’s curious and incautious enough to join an alliance of secret Marsco opponents; one of them is the remaining fragment of the Continental Powers’ attack fleet, hidden in the asteroid belt, and the other is the Nexus, a fanatical, cultlike PRIMS rebel group underground on Earth. Meanwhile, Walter Miller, who was once one of Marsco’s premiere innovators, works with fellow insiders on the next generation of spaceship propulsion—a technology that’s potentially far beyond Marsco’s reach. Like its predecessor, this installment is heavy with dialogue. However, the speakers are all well-drawn characters who are either heavily conflicted or deeply committed (romantically or politically). When action arrives, it comes on like a firestorm of Tom Clancy–esque ordnance, aerospace feats, and strategy, though with considerably more introspection and less of the slam-bang video-gaming style that often makes similar material resemble a live-action cartoon. A helpful glossary of Marsco-era slang is essential, especially for newcomers to Zarzana’s universe.

Compulsively readable military sci-fi with a strong humanist side that isn’t overwhelmed by bloodshed and doomsday weapons. 

Pub Date: April 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5153-0202-5

Page Count: 652

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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THE TESTAMENTS

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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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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