Socioeconomic sci-fi on a broad canvas that reads like dire headlines from tomorrow.

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THE MARSCO DISSIDENT

After 21st-century wars and catastrophes ravage Earth, the omnipotent multiplanetary corporation Marsco assumes control—but forces within and outside the company plot its downfall.

First-time author Zarzana brings to bear an academic background in this hefty start to his planned sci-fi series, a compulsively readable future history detailing a catastrophic 21st century and the political, economic and social pathologies that leave beaten-down humanity dominated by a callous one-world (one solar system, really) corporate empire. In the 2090s, billions have died as a result of decades of wealth inequality, global resource wars, pandemics, climate change and backsliding scientific ignorance. Enter Marsco (est. 1999), a giant software/IT/space travel monopoly, possessing some of the less savory aspects of Microsoft and the Union Pacific Railroad. Based in Seattle, Marsco remained largely untouched during mankind’s darkest days; using cyberwarfare and conventional weapons, the company technocrats stepped in and seized Earth away from governments. The ruthless corporation has barely improved life on Earth. PRIMS, a vast, war-displaced peasant class, live in backward squalor, while elite castes are marked by Marsco finger-disc implants, permitting social mobility via levels of access to all-important cybernetworks. Opponents of Marsco include Walter Miller, once one of the company’s iconic engineers/innovators, now dwelling amid PRIMS as a high-profile dissident; defeated nationalist leaders and warlords left older but no wiser thanks to cryogenic stasis; and savage, cultish Luddites composed mainly of rebel PRIMS. Zarzana’s story—short on action, dialogue-heavy, but seldom hectoring or pedantic—recalls early Heinlein, without quite so much faith in altruistic, laissez-faire capitalist heroes coming to the rescue. The scale of Zarzana’s imagination is practically Asimov-ian, though one suspects he has many other wonders unrevealed behind the curtain; we never enjoy a tour of Marsco’s actual Martian HQ, for instance. But there’s still plenty ahead and plenty to look forward to in upcoming volumes.

Socioeconomic sci-fi on a broad canvas that reads like dire headlines from tomorrow.

Pub Date: July 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495925832

Page Count: 674

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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