This novel’s offbeat narrative style and absorbing protagonist help to overcome its occasional missteps.

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DESCENDANT

In Levin’s sci-fi debut, a young man in the 24th century travels through space and time, confronts aliens, and falls in love.

Being an Eisenstein is far from easy. For centuries, 16-year-old Michael’s scientist forbears created bigger and deadlier weapons of mass destruction. The American Isles, formerly known as the United States, has been devastated by world wars and melting polar ice caps over the years. Now, in 2378, its citizens believe that the government’s been lying for years about extraterrestrials living in underwater biospheres on Earth. Michael fears that his father, Benjamin, has knowledge of the aliens, and he also thinks that the government will soon expect him, Michael, to invent new weapons. Michael accompanies his father to what he presumes is a meeting about weapons development, but a trek into dark tunnels results in him being knocked unconscious. He awakens to meet Ezekial, a time traveler who takes him through a wormhole to another planet. There, Michael encounters people who see all Eisensteins as a menace, and some claim shared history with him that he doesn’t remember. Soon, evil beings are out for his blood, plotting an attack against Earth and threatening his girlfriend, Maya. Levin’s unorthodox tale begins as a series of diary entries in which Michael addresses readers in time-stamped sections interspersed with other characters’ perspectives. Familiar genre elements, such as teleportation, are coupled with less recognizable but equally chic ones, such as Michael’s newly “extended mind,” which gives him powers akin to telepathy. Levin grounds the tale by giving the protagonist an appreciation for ancient popular culture (including a reference to the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Nevertheless, despite relatively minimal time travel, the story’s chronology gets confusingly jumbled. Fifteen years after the initial action, for example, the year is noted as 2378, then 2393, and later, 2387. Although this book reveals some things about Michael’s mysterious background, there remain myriad worlds to explore in planned subsequent volumes.

This novel’s offbeat narrative style and absorbing protagonist help to overcome its occasional missteps.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5320-1158-0

Page Count: 374

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 24, 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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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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