A staid, melancholy, cautionary sci-fi tale with an Orwellian, fablelike quality.

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SYSTEM

WITH HIS FACE IN THE SUN

Faced with the end of his marriage, a mild-mannered man starts to question the omnipotent data-based System that regulates his society in this sci-fi novel.

Big Brother becomes Big PDA in author Davidson’s hands. In a future United Kingdom, the System is developed as a panacea to the world’s ills—an omnipotent online database, personal planner, and social network regulating all aspects of life. It monitors and communicates with its users via surgically implanted mobile units. The System’s artificial intelligence, with its prime directive to look after mankind’s security, is supposedly infallible, so nearly everyone gratefully follows its dictates, which have largely eradicated crime, poverty, and global overpopulation. (Never mind that dissenters who publicly question the System tend to disappear.) Advertising man Wallace Blair has especially close personal connections with the System; his grandfather had a part in its design, and his father currently holds a high maintenance position. Wallace is notified that his blissful marriage to Mary, a fanatical System believer, has been automatically moved to pre-divorce “Transition” status. Suddenly daring to doubt the System’s perfect judgment, he goes off the grid to delve into taboo family secrets—specifically, his grandfather’s mysterious breakdown and retreat from public life shortly after the System became active. At least, Wallace thinks he’s off the grid. Davidson seeds clues here and there that this indolent, apathetic, technology-blighted society is of a piece with the one depicted in Aldous Huxley’s classic 1932 dystopian satire Brave New World, which is looking less like satire with every passing year. Furthermore, he avoids the temptation to dazzle readers with florid descriptions of sci-fi marvels and jargon. Wisely, he keeps the System thoroughly offstage and mysterious—no towering computer-mainframe headquarters, no mecha battle-troops à la The Terminator (1984)—which makes the invisible, paranoid AI even more disquieting and the society which enabled it, equally so. A good deal of the plotline, in fact, addresses the relationships between three generations of Blair men. Plodder Wallace never develops into much of a rebel, any more than Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Winston Smith did, which goes much against the grain of the blockbuster mentality that typifies novels such as The Hunger Games (2008). However, it’s appropriate to the elegiac, downbeat tone.

A staid, melancholy, cautionary sci-fi tale with an Orwellian, fablelike quality.

Pub Date: May 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1511491099

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2015

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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A captivating start to what promises to be an epic post-apocalyptic fable.

THE BOOK OF KOLI

The first volume in Carey’s Rampart trilogy is set centuries into a future shaped by war and climate change, where the scant remains of humankind are threatened by genetically modified trees and plants.

Teenager Koli Woodsmith lives in Mythen Rood, a village of about 200 people in a place called Ingland, which has other names such as “Briton and Albion and Yewkay.” He was raised to cultivate, and kill, the wood from the dangerous trees beyond Mythen Rood’s protective walls. Mythen Rood is governed by the Ramparts (made up entirely of members of one family—what a coincidence), who protect the village with ancient, solar-powered tech. After the Waiting, a time in which each child, upon turning 15, must decide their future, Koli takes the Rampart test: He must “awaken” a piece of old tech. After he inevitably fails, he steals a music player which houses a charming “manic pixie dream girl” AI named Monono, who reveals a universe of knowledge. Of course, a little bit of knowledge can threaten entire societies or, in Koli’s case, a village held in thrall to a family with unfettered access to powerful weapons. Koli attempts to use the device to become a Rampart, he becomes their greatest threat, and he’s exiled to the world beyond Mythen Rood. Luckily, the pragmatic Koli has his wits, Monono, and an ally in Ursala, a traveling doctor who strives to usher in a healthy new generation of babies before humanity dies out for good. Koli will need all the help he can get, especially when he’s captured by a fearsome group ruled by a mad messianic figure who claims to have psychic abilities. Narrator Koli’s inquisitive mind and kind heart make him the perfect guide to Carey’s (Someone Like Me, 2018, etc.) immersive, impeccably rendered world, and his speech and way of life are different enough to imagine the weight of what was lost but still achingly familiar, and as always, Carey leavens his often bleak scenarios with empathy and hope. Readers will be thrilled to know the next two books will be published in short order.

A captivating start to what promises to be an epic post-apocalyptic fable.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-47753-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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