Convoluted at times, but overall a fun ride.

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Pleomorph

The threat of war—both conventional and biological—involving the United States, Russia, and China looms large in Mann’s debut thriller.

As a senior U.S. government adviser based in Beijing, Mark Richards is sent to investigate what appears to be a massive excavation project in a remote area of China. The Chinese insist it’s nothing more than a large-scale fossil discovery. However, the amount of heavy equipment being used, from trucks to aircraft, has led some to suspect it might actually be a military operation. Or maybe it’s simply a decoy to misdirect attention away from whatever China is really planning. Added to this are troubling reports of a virus that has wiped out thousands in the Chinese city of Kashgar—was it a chance tragedy or could it have been intentional? U.S. government officials scramble to put the pieces together when another event sends shock waves across the globe: several Russian provinces have circumvented the corrupt control of Moscow and, with their valuable natural resources, entered into trade deals directly with China. Access to these resources means China is poised to set up its own trade bloc—one in which the United States may have no share. Even as strategists, military officers, and politicians struggle to comprehend the situation, it escalates to the fever pitch of all-out war, as Russia and the United States threaten the borders of China—a war no one can truly win. Throughout, Mann maintains a high level of complexity in economic, cultural, political, and scientific details. He develops a vivid sense of place, made more remarkable given the vastly different locations described. Characters are largely realistic, though some readers may find the sheer number a bit overwhelming, particularly because Mann continues to add new characters until nearly the end of the story. Prose sometimes seems a bit unpolished—e.g., “Out of habit, his eyes darted furtively around the room out of habit”—but most will feel Mann makes up for it with a well-paced, inventive story. Heavy hints at a sequel should leave readers in happy anticipation.

Convoluted at times, but overall a fun ride.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5028-7065-0

Page Count: 180

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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