A totally unnecessary endeavor, but an enjoyable and powerful one nonetheless.

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FUZZY NATION

An acclaimed modern sci-fi writer adds depth and unexpected poignancy to a “reboot” of H. Beam Piper’s classic 1962 novel Little Fuzzy.

In a future, when corporations strip-mine entire planets if the Colonial Authority doesn’t stop them first, disbarred-lawyer-turned-prospector Jack Holloway discovers an unbelievably rich seam of sunstones on Zara XXIII, exquisite jewels found only on that planet. His claim on the seam puts serious stress on his already shaky relationship with ZaraCorp, the company that runs Zara XXIII. And that’s before Holloway discovers a race of native creatures whose potential sapience could nullify ZaraCorp’s right to the planet. In his original novel, Piper tackled issues that would go on to be the plot of many a Star Trek episode, including the meaning of sentience and the brutal fallout of colonialism. Scalzi (Agent to the Stars, 2010, etc.) adds more emotional capital to the debate by replacing Piper’s stock characters with richly rendered, real-seeming people (and aliens). Piper’s Jack Holloway is a crotchety prospector with a heart of gold; Scalzi’s Holloway is a brilliant, ruthless jerk who makes the occasional moral choice as a way of scoring points against the universe. Scalzi also updates and expands upon the cynicism of the original to be more familiar to a contemporary audience: Piper’s corporation attempts to hide its frequent environmental depredations from notice; Scalzi’s actively papers it over with a public “eco-friendly” campaign. In an author’s note, Scalzi claims that he does not intend to “supplant or improve upon” the Piper novel. However, he may have done just that. In a genre flooded with bloated epics, it’s a real pleasure to read a story like this, as compactly and directly told as a punch to the stomach.

A totally unnecessary endeavor, but an enjoyable and powerful one nonetheless.

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2854-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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