Science fiction elements add an eerie complexity to these deeply felt portraits.

MY REAL CHILDREN

Walton (Among Others, 2011, etc.) creates an engaging fictional biography of one woman’s life lived two different ways.

It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is “very confused,” or so they write on her charts in the nursing home. It’s true that she has had dementia for years, but sometimes her room seems to have navy blue curtains and sometimes pale green blinds. More puzzling, she is sure she remembers two distinct sets of children. Both visit her, but they don't share a reality; they're from the two different lives she entered when she made the choice to marry, or not marry, Mark, when she was a young woman. The novel travels back to Patricia’s childhood, a fixed narrative, and then begins alternating chapters to follow the split. In one life, she marries Mark and becomes Tricia, an obedient wife and mother of four children. In the other, where she is Pat, love and children come later, after she’s established an ardor for Italy and a satisfying teaching career. In both, Patricia is an inspiringly open-minded, grounded, active woman, and it's a pleasure to watch her adapt to her circumstances as the novel swings her through time. Her rights and role as a woman shift depending on the choice she made, but that choice is accompanied by larger changes in the world around her as well. Unsettlingly, neither landscape is quite recognizable. Midcentury touch points develop in unfamiliar ways—concerns regarding nuclear power and its misuse loom large for Pat, whereas the International Space Station on the moon becomes a marvel to Tricia. Both lives have their share of affecting triumphs and tragedies, with the themes of family and partnership woven evenly throughout. Walton is a straightforward, unsparing writer, and she strikes a poignant balance between the ideas of agency and fate.

Science fiction elements add an eerie complexity to these deeply felt portraits.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3265-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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