A sci-fi-tinged suspense novel that’s as smart as it is entertaining.




In Mayo-Smith’s debut techno-thriller, a handful of people test out the idea of automated government, but it could prove dangerous when some local officials consider it a threat.

When computer technician Kurt Porter found a bug in a contract-bidding program that gave certain companies an unfair advantage, he was framed for cybercrimes that he didn’t commit. Then he gets an early release from prison, although he has no idea why. Outside the prison walls, he meets university professor Anika Patel. It’s not a chance encounter—Anika knows that, before serving his sentence, Kurt wrote 7R1B3, a government-automation program. She’s implemented it in a small town in New York state, Ocean Grove on Fire Island, where she’s the mayor—a job offered to her by mysterious benefactor Raemond Station. But Raemond has an even bigger plan in mind to create a micronation somewhere near Turkey. Raemond contacts various people to implement his grand scheme; the ragtag group includes mechanical/electrical engineers and twin brothers Jiang and Qi Zhāng and popular Puerto Rican blogger Mia Cardona. They work together, with 7R1B3’s guidance, to build the new sovereign nation of Naja, beginning by establishing a new economy. The obstacles that they face, however, are substantial. Turkish President Ömer Ozturk’s public support of Naja puts the new nation in the crosshairs of his rival, Pecer Erbakan, who heads Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, Turkey’s secret police. Also in the mix is Dark Aurora, a computer program created to counter 7R1B3 through such methods as a direct cyberattack and turning deadly drones against the team. From the start, Mayo-Smith establishes an unhurried pace that makes for an engaging thriller. For example, it takes a while for Kurt’s backstory, including the reason for his incarceration, to come to light. Other characters have equally curious backgrounds that connect to Raemond’s recruitment; Anika explains, for example, that she’d been desperate for employment following a sex tape scandal, and Mia uses the job opportunity to escape an abusive boyfriend. Often, the story cloaks elements in mystery. Raemond’s and Dark Aurora’s origins are murky, and Koban Goran, an agricultural chemistry student in Eastern Turkey, has a role in Naja that isn’t made clear for nearly half the novel. Not surprisingly, bits of computer code and related terminology appear throughout, but Mayo-Smith’s concise prose is explanatory without ever feeling condescending. His clarification of 7R1B3’s experiments with artificial intelligence, for example, includes an apt reference to the well-known, real-life video game “SimCity,” describing a “scaled up…absurdly realistic” version of that game’s environment. Indeed, the scenes in which 7R1B3 communicates with Dark Aurora aren’t as complex as they might have been; for instance, 7R1B3’s reasoning is perfectly understandable as it tries to determine whether Dark Aurora is sending botlike random messages. The story also has its share of action, primarily involving assaults by the MIT, but the people in Naja face other menaces—including deadly snakes. The memorable final act includes more than one shocking death.

A sci-fi-tinged suspense novel that’s as smart as it is entertaining.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 610

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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