Social media improves a dystopian future (ugh, right?) in this provocative, cyberpunk series.

THE WAKEFUL WANDERER'S GUIDE TO NEW NEW ENGLAND & BEYOND

Debut author Infantino launches his cli-fi series in a post-apocalyptic U.S.

Infantino sets his Wakeful Wanderer series on an Earth devastated by catastrophic climate change. Rising sea levels caused a “Great Tide,” a doomsday event that sent North America into anarchy. The poor and self-righteously angry hunted and killed the wealthy in a murder spree known as “The Vengeance.” Many of those same mobs (and some surviving dynasties) filled the power gap, ruling regions in a feudal style. An exception to the force and brutality is the “Interconnected,” high-tech humans with neural implants that link their minds at all times. Cooperative, altruistic, and empathetic, the Interconnected control sections of America’s Northeastern seaboard, especially from Boston to Tarrytown, although, thanks to their mass consciousness, they rarely need to travel. Uniting the post-apocalyptic communities, in the manner of the vagabond hero of David Brin’s The Postman (1985), is “Wakeful Wanderer” Marto Boxster. A travel blogger of sorts, Marto beams his prose directly to minds of followers as he explores neurolinked and technophobic settlements. An orphan Interconnected who considers his work a return to old-style journalism, he “writes” (and thinks directly to others, an art known as “thexting”) of his travels via motorized unicycle throughout the territories. Countless online/interactive followers learn one another’s cultures and histories through him. But the Interconnected have enemies in the form of lingering Vengeance gangs and jealous Luddite technophobes whose throwback conservative philosophies condemn these new post-humans as “xombie” abominations. Marto, while on the road, discovers discomfiting truths about himself and his origins during a conspiracy to attack the upgraded folk and return the U.S. (or what’s left of it) to “traditional” values of rule by money, violence, and slavery.

Infantino is an established musician, though only late in the narrative does he start dropping album names and song titles. Instead of this being a singer/songwriter’s dreaded side gig, the book is solid speculative fiction about transhumanist and climate issues, though by no means is it the first near-future novel to foresee a society dominated by social media (the term is never used, by the way). Via Marto and other characters, the author ruminates on the Interconnected’s progressive system of political and social economy based on “Merits” (think “likes” brought to its ultimate fulfillment) and paying it forward. The author’s evaluation of this seemingly idyllic, peaceable coexistence among those whose lives are improved by cybertechnology isn’t exactly a full endorsement of better living through science, although the bad guys enact their sinister scheme before the debates with Marto reach any sort of conclusion. Still, it’s fair to say that the Interconnected are a nicer bunch of New Englanders to inherit the Earth than their reactionary rivals. More volumes in the series have been completed, and one looks forward to more of this unsettlingly plausible world.    

Social media improves a dystopian future (ugh, right?) in this provocative, cyberpunk series.

Pub Date: March 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64-456278-9

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2021

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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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An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

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PROJECT HAIL MARY

Weir’s latest is a page-turning interstellar thrill ride that follows a junior high school teacher–turned–reluctant astronaut at the center of a desperate mission to save humankind from a looming extinction event.

Ryland Grace was a once-promising molecular biologist who wrote a controversial academic paper contesting the assumption that life requires liquid water. Now disgraced, he works as a junior high science teacher in San Francisco. His previous theories, however, make him the perfect researcher for a multinational task force that's trying to understand how and why the sun is suddenly dimming at an alarming rate. A barely detectable line of light that rises from the sun’s north pole and curves toward Venus is inexplicably draining the star of power. According to scientists, an “instant ice age” is all but inevitable within a few decades. All the other stars in proximity to the sun seem to be suffering with the same affliction—except Tau Ceti. An unwilling last-minute replacement as part of a three-person mission heading to Tau Ceti in hopes of finding an answer, Ryland finds himself awakening from an induced coma on the spaceship with two dead crewmates and a spotty memory. With time running out for humankind, he discovers an alien spacecraft in the vicinity of his ship with a strange traveler on a similar quest. Although hard scientific speculation fuels the storyline, the real power lies in the many jaw-dropping plot twists, the relentless tension, and the extraordinary dynamic between Ryland and the alien (whom he nicknames Rocky because of its carapace of oxidized minerals and metallic alloy bones). Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13520-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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