A memorable voyage through a brutal human society, bizarre alien environments, and elastic realities.

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PREDATOR MOONS

In Ramsay’s debut SF novel, explorers venture to distant planets to exploit life-forms who may have a few tricks of their own.

Near the end of the 21st century, the invention of “Drag Engine” spaceship propulsion (which is effectively teleportation) grants humanity access to countless worlds, but it also reveals hidden “glitches” in the universe—leading to the disturbing conclusion that reality is a vast software simulation engineered by forces unknown. Despite this existential blow, mankind plods on, following base instincts of greed, power, lust, and self-gratification. Liquid, shape-changing artificial intelligence machines called “ancillaries” are used as servants, sexual partners, pets, and even repositories of human memories. Everyone who could afford it has already fled Earth for other planets while the moon is now a huge library for universities devoted to new sciences. Mercury is home to greedy “clans” eager to exploit alien invertebrates: “We learned the entire universe was actually overflowing with life—arthropods, arachnids, cephalopods, crustaceans, cnidaria and insects in a trillion incredible varieties.” The curious absence of vertebrates leaves humanity as the cosmos’s apex predator. In this milieu, one-time refugee Isaiah Erickson, a Columbia University anthropologist who’s also a prosperous, high-tech arms dealer, ventures to the distant planet of Conrad in search of valuable, hallucinogenic alien wasp venom, to which he’s addicted. Meanwhile, Chloe Keating, an idealistic grad student hoping to explore and investigate endangered species, gets tricked into following a previous, doomed expedition to the muddy planet Hobbes to harvest enormous centipedes. Her mission and Isaiah’s fatefully intersect.

Ramsay crafts brisk, edgy prose that splits storytelling chores across three first-person narrators: Isaiah, Chloe, and a somewhat anguished ancillary who has the memories of an adventurer who perished while on insect safari. Readers may be able to detect influences from Pokémon cartoons as well as Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune, although other worlds described in Herbert’s fiction, such as the lethal Pandora in The Jesus Incident(1979), might make for more apt comparisons. Overall, Ramsay offers a work that’s a feat of considerable imagination and attitude—a stimulating tale of interplanetary intrigue and monsters, human and otherwise. Some genre connoisseurs may say that the future humanity he invokes—with its betrayals, obsessions, and sham replicas of animals, people, perhaps even the material world itself, seems like something out of Philip K. Dick’s realm of paranoiac dystopia. A semiderelict New York City that’s down to its last 50,000 people, for instance, would seem right at home in the film Blade Runner. Readers will want to know more about this strange future in which the sexes seem strongly segregated, suggesting that ancillaries have replaced domestic partners everywhere. At the same time, they’ll quietly dread whatever answers Ramsay conjures, and that’s quite an accomplishment, in accord with the credo of one of the duplicitous characters: “Space is dark and full of wonders. Wonders and horrors.” The author includes a “Bestiary” of creatures referenced in the text, illustrated by Sonntagbauer.

A memorable voyage through a brutal human society, bizarre alien environments, and elastic realities.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-69-375726-4

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Don’t Give Up the Ship Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Ambitious, bleak, and not fully realized.

HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK

What happens to humanity when death radically outpaces life?

Scientists digging in Siberia find the body of a girl who seems to be a mix of Homo sapien and Neanderthal while also possessing genetic traits that look like starfish or octopus. She’s dressed in clothes remarkable not only for their fine needlework, but also for the fact that they’re decorated with shells from the Mediterranean. Unearthing this girl releases a virus that destroys human organs. From this strange, terrifying beginning the narrative moves to the City of Laughter, an amusement park where children infected with the virus can enjoy one last, fun-filled day before riding a roller coaster designed to kill them. Nagamatsu’s characters inhabit societies so overwhelmed by death that funerary services of various kinds dominate the economy and in which the past is disappearing while it’s impossible to imagine a future. Many of the chapters in this novel were first published as short stories. Cobbling these stories together makes a novel-length book, but it doesn’t necessarily make a satisfying novel. The different ways in which people deal with grief and survival accumulate without revealing new insights. The chapter in which a man contemplating suicide finds connection in a virtual world is an echo of the chapter about a man who repairs robotic pets who speak in the voices of the dead. A chapter in which a forensic pathologist falls in love with a man who has donated his body for research is virtually the same as the chapter in which a funerary artist who makes ice sculptures from liquified remains falls in love with a customer. And while there are characters who recur, a lot of these connections feel superimposed for the sake of crafting a novel. The final chapter—but for a brief coda—circles back to the beginning in a way that’s thrilling for a moment. Then Nagamatsu lays bare the mystery of the opening chapter in a way that can only be rewarding for hardcore devotees of the ancient astronaut school of ufology or readers for whom this concept is entirely new.

Ambitious, bleak, and not fully realized.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-307264-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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