Magic, Machines and the Awakening of Danny Searle

McWilliams’ debut is, for the most part, a beautiful intersection of science and magic in which a mysterious girl and a team of scientists seek to create artificial intelligence.
Scientific wunderkind Tyler Cipriani, son of the famous Aiden Cipriani, doesn’t like being manipulated by his father; he had enough of that as a child when he was a test subject for his father’s studies. He dislikes it so much that in spite of his considerable talents, he avoids working much on his own. As his mother later explains, “[T]he problem is…you want to be a rebel, but you have nothing to rebel against.” So when his dad approaches him about helping Quantum Bay Labs win the Xprize for artificial intelligence, Tyler isn’t remotely interested—until he meets the lab’s latest hire, Danny Searle. Intelligent, funny and mysterious, the beautiful bookkeeper immediately captures Tyler’s attention with her magical—both literally and figuratively—worldview. Allowing his father to manipulate him once more, Tyler signs on to help the team with Prometheus, their artificial intelligence project. Though largely an idea-driven novel, McWilliams’ work features some magnificent characters that are equal parts hyperintelligent and approachable. Scientific questions of consciousness, free will and reality are addressed in clever ways, as when Aiden—traveling down a rabbit hole of a dinner discussion that is so pleasant and thought-provoking readers might wish these were real people they could spend time with—reminds his guests that, “just because a fish discovers he lives in a fish tank, doesn’t mean he no longer has to swim.” What Danny brings to the table is a different perspective: “Why can’t you just admit that science is the study of a magical world that just happens to be consistent and logical?” But it’s not just at the intersection of science and magic that McWilliams’ talent shines; it’s how he’s able to align those worldviews to build on each other as Danny—and, much to Tyler’s discomfort, her ex-boyfriend, David, a professional magician who shows up later—contributes to the programming project by inspiring new ideas in the scientists. Danny retains her mystery until, just before the project’s deadline, a car crash puts her in a coma and her secrets are revealed. The first two-thirds of the novel are supremely excellent, but the final third goes up in smoke. The tone changes, the charm disappears, and the poorly explored ending comes from too far afield to be anything but disappointing despite McWilliams’ last-ditch efforts to resurrect the otherwise outstanding story.

A beautiful start to a tale of love, science and magic; it’s a shame the magic doesn’t last.

Pub Date: May 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499583724

Page Count: 268

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 9, 2014

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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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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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