Eccentric, chatty characters fortify this spry, futuristic tale.

Zorkon's Secret

THE SEARCH FOR THE CONUNDRUMS

In Spalsbury’s (The White-Haired Buffalo Hunter, 2016, etc.) sci-fi novel, an interplanetary ambassador’s mission to explain the stalled delivery of energy crystals may entail tracking down a never-before-seen species.

Solar One Ambassador Plenipotentiary Judith Woeberry is sure her negotiations on planet Tanfourit prevented a civil war. But it seems assassins have followed her and her security team to Zorkon, where she hopes to find Negotiator Thomas Haddly, who’s been missing for months. Judith likewise wants to know why shipments of energy crystals have inexplicably stopped—the same mystery that drew Haddly to Zorkon. No one’s ever seen the energy crystal–providing Conundrums, whose presumed domain is past the point of ZIP (Zone of Impossible Punishment), a precarious energy field. Judith enlists Antonio Vesuvius Albero; he and his one-eyed, four-armed adoptive brother Arc are the only individuals who’ve safely traveled ZIP. They plan to brave the energy field, which can make people see things or creatures that aren’t there, to meet with the Conundrums and rescue Haddly. Meanwhile, Tanfourit factions join forces and are planning an attack against the Zorkon city, Freedom. The unstable ZIP may also be shifting, which would necessitate the evacuation of another city or possibly the planet’s entire population. Though the overwhelming majority of Spalsbury’s novel consists of dialogue, the author keeps the conversation lively via diverse characters who use assorted manners of speech. Arc uses electric sparks from his hands to communicate in Morse code (signified in text with all-caps), while perpetually nervous Zorkon Councilor Jerome Nichols relies on repetition and long pauses. Spalsbury’s descriptions solidify the environment, especially within ZIP, where Judith and others witness a “large energy devil tornado filled with mummified bodies [that] zoomed out of the sky.” Much of the plot’s resolved, but a cliffhanger paves the way for a second book, with plenty left to explore—perhaps further Zorkon back story.

Eccentric, chatty characters fortify this spry, futuristic tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5375-3613-2

Page Count: 424

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 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.

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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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This is quintessential Gibson: gonzo yet cool, sharp-edged, sophisticated—but ultimately, vaguely unsatisfying.

THE PERIPHERAL

While placed firmly in the sci-fi genre of his earlier works, Gibson's latest retains the social commentary from his more recent novels (Zero History, 2010, etc.).

Most Gibson plots essentially concern a race for a particular piece of information—one side seeks to possess it, the other to suppress it. (Although to be fair, isn’t that the plot of most thrillers?) What sets each book apart is the worldbuilding that surrounds that plot kernel. This time around, it’s particularly intriguing. Flynne, a young woman living in a poor, rural American county (probably Southern, though it’s never specified) in the near future, believes she’s beta testing a video game, witnessing the “death” of a virtual character in an urban high-rise. In fact, Flynne has gotten a view into a possible London existing decades in the future and has seen an actual woman get murdered. The two timelines can exchange information and visit each other virtually, via the androidlike “peripherals” of the title. That ability is enough for various future factions to hire killers to go after Flynne and her family or to protect them from that fate, as well as to change the events of her timeline sufficiently enough to ensure that it will never become that future, where, despite considerable scientific advancement, a cascade of disasters has eliminated the majority of human and animal life. Gibson’s strength has always been in establishing setting, while his characters tend to seem a bit blank and inaccessible; for example, alcoholic Wilf’s constant attempts to reach for a drink read more like an annoyingly persistent quirk than a serious psychological problem. Gibson seems to leave his characters’ motives deliberately obscure; due to that and his tendency to pour his energy into the chase, not the goal, the story’s resolution basically fizzles.

This is quintessential Gibson: gonzo yet cool, sharp-edged, sophisticated—but ultimately, vaguely unsatisfying.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-15844-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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