Hard-combat SF that delivers thoughtful alternative history speculation rather than ray gun stuff.

THE TEMPEST

From the New Persia series , Vol. 2

In this sequel, the citizens of New Persia—on a distant planet—face an invasion by a rival nation as a natural disaster approaches.

The author follows up his New Persia: Before the Storm (2018) with a military-SF actioner whose technology is more retro-20th century than futuristic. That’s because the setting is a twin-sunned planet, circa the 34th century, settled by refugees from Earth, deep-space colonists overwhelmingly of Muslim/Baha’i background trying to recover from a harsh beginning and setbacks costing generations of progress. Territorial conflict now simmers continuously, chiefly between the Farsi (Iranian) kingdom of New Persia and the adjacent Azania, established by people of primarily North African descent (speaking Bantu and Swahili). The previous volume set the stage for the latest outbreak of hostilities launched by the Azanians against the Persians—whose own empire was slipping into petty internal power struggles. This installment offers little exposition in favor of mostly nonstop battlefield action, on land, sea, and air, as New Persia warriors engage the enemy’s armored divisions, navy fleet, and flying corps. Early defeats put the mighty Persian capital, Persepolis, at risk. Two characters crucial to the city’s defense are Suri Pahlavi and Nasrin Avesta, young women discontent with their devalued status in the conservative, male-dominated Islamic society. Suddenly granted official rank in a hastily concocted female auxiliary, the Bar Basiji, the pair far exceed the expectations of chauvinistic men when ground combat hits. Meanwhile, a background threat looms against both warring nations: a “seed storm,” a periodic calamity occurring in this alien ecosystem, when ubiquitous native plant life starts a chemical cycle of fiery holocausts     Genre readers hoping for fanciful mega-weaponry may have to dial back expectations; indeed, some of the technical details impinge on steampunk. A surprise advance sprung by the Azanians turns out to involve the helicopter. And cyberfans may get a frisson when they discover that Bar Basiji’s principal function is to tend the wheels and gears of a Charles Babbage/Alan Turing proto-computer. Lynch (Endemic, 2018, etc.) only drops hints about the backstory of his compelling, imaginary world, but he does mention that—in its millennia or so of human habitation—the spacefaring civilization here rose and fell to ruin more than once, climbing its way upward repeatedly from dark ages featuring seed storms and entrenched belligerence. On that note, the only Azanian character of consequence, a tank commander named Aran, turns out to be an ethical soldier (and a Christian disciple, at least in part), initiating a cease-fire to evacuate vulnerable civilians. Persians themselves do not savor causing casualties or terror, declaring it is God’s will whether or not an enemy survives. Genocide and atrocities are not driving forces in what is, for contemporary readers, a throwback to a more chivalrous theater of war than this genre typically evokes. Some readers may notice that a whole planet of displaced Middle Eastern societies, untroubled by such factors as Israel, America, or Russia, nonetheless winds up just as crisis-torn and bomb-cratered as the present Persian Gulf. But if the author intends religious or political critiques, they are safely locked in the armory during this installment of the saga. The theme of female courage and resourcefulness under fire does come through loud and clear.

Hard-combat SF that delivers thoughtful alternative history speculation rather than ray gun stuff.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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