A laudable sci-fi yarn that’s both irreverent and relevant.

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L.I.F.E. in the 23rd Century

A DYSTOPIAN TALE OF CONSUMERISM, CORPORATE COFFEE, AND CROWBARS

In Richter’s (Mating Rituals of Migratory Humans, 2013) dystopian novel, a lowly citizen may be the “Chosen One,” destined to lead a revolution against a government that thrives on fear.

Pat McGewan-X04, a typical American in 2233, is implanted with technology called “Life-force Input and Feedback Equipment,” or “L.I.F.E.,” which gives him immediate access to mood stabilizers and any number of applike “Gizmos” for, say, downloading maps or checking his bank account. It also generates a seemingly endless supply of advertisements, most of which feed off the idea of perpetual terrorist threat. Every citizen submits to weekly audits from such agencies as the Department of Homeland Security and the Fitness Enforcement Agency, which generally result in fines or time in Patriot Rehab. One day Pat knows that something’s very wrong when he wakes up in a hospital; he later learns that he’s the sole survivor of a terrorist attack that killed hundreds of others. But his temporary memory loss isn’t what startles him the most—it’s the fact that he can suddenly hear people’s private L.I.F.E. messages and conversations. After he gets wind of someone called “the Librarian”—a word that Pat doesn’t even know—he heads to the only library that his L.I.F.E. can find, searching for answers as to why he didn’t die with the rest of the victims. Herb, the Librarian, is willing to help, as he’s convinced that Pat’s the one who will expose a government that’s lying to its citizens. Despite this tale’s dismal view of the future, in which a mere opinion can lead to someone’s arrest, Richter manages to inject a great deal of humor into the proceedings. Pat’s biggest fear, for example, is that a jury will punish him by taking away his access to robotic assistance—because then he’d have to learn how to make a sandwich or turn on the laundry unit. There’s curious, often funny tech (such as “slidewalks,” which require little actual walking) and a few twists, although most readers will likely guess what the government’s up to. Most of the satire here has a gloomy residue, though: at first, it seems absurd that Pat doesn’t immediately recognize his wife, but he’s never actually seen her—or their son—in the flesh. Overall, the author’s social commentary speaks of a world where modern conveniences can turn a society into a mass of lonely, isolated people.

A laudable sci-fi yarn that’s both irreverent and relevant.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Diskordian Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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

DEVOLUTION

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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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