Strong worldbuilding and characters ground an imaginative setting, creating a powerful series opener.



From the Station Trilogy series , Vol. 1

Death is neither the end of existence nor the beginning of clarity for a grieving widower who finds himself in a mysterious near utopia in this debut novel.

Marlin Hadder is dead and not particularly liking it. After a dreamlike encounter in which he seemingly repudiates a peaceful meeting with a “painfully beautiful” and powerful “iridescent figure” because of the Rage, a lifelong anger that he struggles to control, Hadder ends up in a city called Station, in a decrepit bar with the same name. The city is a marvel: All labor is done by humanoid manikins, and there are numerous entertainments and no aging or sickness. It seems like paradise, but Hadder has some key questions (“Could this strange city really prove a new beginning? Could it make him finally forget his old life that was lost in the wreckage? Is that what he needed? Is that what he really wanted?”). Several residents have queries of their own. The more he explores, the more he questions, especially regarding the enigmatic Creator of the city, Mister Rott, and the beings on the other side of Station’s border. Early writes with economy and punch, creating an unusual world with specificity and color while permitting many aspects to go unexplained for the moment, allowing for more particulars or mystery as the story demands. Hadder and the other humans of Station are painted in equally strong detail. Their strengths and flaws seem believable and lived in even as the stranger aspects of their reality—such as the lack of a sun, the inability to leave the city once one’s entered, even the nature of their continued existence—loom over the characters to various degrees, affecting their psychologies and philosophies in unexpected ways. Portraying a realm built from various pieces of the characters’ old world, the engrossing novel wears its numerous influences well, twirling aspects of Dante, Philip José Farmer, and Buddhist thought into the narrative without being ham-handed. Some readers may be surprised at where the last third of the book goes, given its tonal shift with respect to the previous pages, but this volume is only the first of a series. The author’s deft plotting and capable writing keep things together even while laying the groundwork for the tale’s continuation.

Strong worldbuilding and characters ground an imaginative setting, creating a powerful series opener.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73423-140-3

Page Count: 361

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2020

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Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

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A post-apocalyptic—and pre-apocalyptic—debut.

It’s 2011, if not quite the 2011 you remember. Candace Chen is a millennial living in Manhattan. She doesn’t love her job as a production assistant—she helps publishers make specialty Bibles—but it’s a steady paycheck. Her boyfriend wants to leave the city and his own mindless job. She doesn’t go with him, so she’s in the city when Shen Fever strikes. Victims don’t die immediately. Instead, they slide into a mechanical existence in which they repeat the same mundane actions over and over. These zombies aren’t out hunting humans; instead, they perform a single habit from life until their bodies fall apart. Retail workers fold and refold T-shirts. Women set the table for dinner over and over again. A handful of people seem to be immune, though, and Candace joins a group of survivors. The connection between existence before the End and during the time that comes after is not hard to see. The fevered aren’t all that different from the factory workers who produce Bibles for Candace’s company. Indeed, one of the projects she works on almost falls apart because it proves hard to source cheap semiprecious stones; Candace is only able to complete the contract because she finds a Chinese company that doesn’t mind too much if its workers die from lung disease. This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment. This is Ma’s first novel, but her fiction has appeared in distinguished journals, and she won a prize for a chapter of this book. She knows her craft, and it shows. Candace is great, a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. She’s sufficiently self-aware to see the parallels between her life before the End and the pathology of Shen Fever. Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience.

Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-26159-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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A rather one-dimensional but mostly satisfying child-soldier yarn which substantially extends and embellishes one of Card's better short stories (Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories, 1980).

Following a barely-defeated invasion attempt by the insect-like alien "buggers," a desperate Earth command resorts to genetic experimentation in order to produce a tactical genius capable of defeating the buggers in round two. (A counterinvasion has already been launched, but will take years to reach the buggers' home planet.) So likable but determined "Ender" Wiggins, age six, becomes Earth's last hope—when his equally talented elder siblings Peter (too vicious and vindictive) and Valentine (too gentle and sympathetic) prove unsuitable. And, in a dramatic, brutally convincing series of war games and computer-fantasies, Ender is forced to realize his military genius, to rely on nothing and no-one but himself. . . and to disregard all rules in order to win. There are some minor, distracting side issues here: wrangles among Ender's adult trainers; an irrelevant subplot involving Peter's attempt to take over Earth. And there'll be no suspense for those familiar with the short story.

Still, the long passages focusing on Ender are nearly always enthralling—the details are handled with flair and assurance—and this is altogether a much more solid, mature, and persuasive effort than Card's previous full-length appearances.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1984

ISBN: 0812550706

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984

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