A clever and finely wrought steampunk tale about aliens and misfits.

Song of the Oceanides

Źymbalist tells the story of two Martian girls attempting to get home in this debut steampunk novel.

In 1903, in three towns in Maine, three misfits’ lives are about to intersect. There is Emmylou, a young, clubfooted Martian girl who had been visiting Maine with her aunt only to have the woman fly away in their rocket ship, stranding Emmylou and her sister among the suspicious residents of Blue Hill (“What if the villagers somehow recognized them?” Emmylou muses. “If someone had noticed the rocket ship, then the villagers would be out and about looking for Martians”). There is Giacomo Venable, the self-published author of Sir Pilgarlic Guthrie’s Phantasy Retrospectacle and, in some ways, a self-loathing failure. There is Rory Slocum, a young boy who gets grief for always having his head in books, dreaming of life on Mars. Struggling to escape from the pressures of their respective situations, the characters drift forward in parallel threads, even as they move toward the ultimate goal of trying to help Emmylou and her sister escape the prejudicial society of Earth and return safely home. In the background is the constant, haunting song of the otherworldly Oceanides, the mysterious and maligned sea nymphs whose voices can be heard by only those that they have targeted for madness. Źymbalist writes in a lovely, highly descriptive prose that luxuriates in the details and curios of his setting: “The brimstone moths would be fluttering all about the command hub, each one fiddling with the many buttons and electrodes by which to work the technology of anti-matter propulsion...all of them nibbling on gowns of Martian mohair and felted wool.” The plot hits all the requisite steampunk notes—flying machines, Pinkertons, H.G. Wells—even if the pacing is lackadaisical. Though epic in structure (over 750 pages), the novel turns out to be ultimately reserved in its ambitions. It never fully delivers on the space-opera flourishes mentioned in the first chapter (Martian vulcanology, Venutian conquest); most of the book takes place in a Maine only marginally more exotic than the real state. That said, the world Źymbalist creates is so rich and vast that, for a certain type of reader, 750 pages will not be nearly enough.

A clever and finely wrought steampunk tale about aliens and misfits.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5232-1403-7

Page Count: 764

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2016

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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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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