Killer apps outnumber the glitches in 20 short, bracing narratives of cyberpunk sci-fi.

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Cyber World

TALES OF HUMANITY'S TOMORROW

An anthology of cyberpunk short fiction takes readers to a malleable world where advanced data technology and human interfaces create shifting realities, altered perceptions, and para-human intelligence.

There used to be a defiant rock-music catchphrase, “Punk’s not dead.” This anthology seeks to prove that cyberpunk’s not dead. The software and silicon-age subgenre of sci-fi, typified by direct interfaces between humans and data technology (be it cyborgs or virtual reality), burst onto the literary scene in the computer-hacktastic 1980s. But the once-buzzworthy trend was declared tiresome and defunct by its own godfather, William Gibson, only about a dozen years later. In his introduction here, Richard Kardrey sagely points out that if vinyl records and paper-making could make a comeback concurrent with tablet PCs and “Second Life,” then why not androids in the age of Android? These 20 compact stories exhibit the genre in its future-shock glory, as though Max Headroom never got canceled or Prodigy never went offline. The theme of body modification—especially the arbitrary, bewildering, and often desperate switching of genders—has particularly aged well (as in “WYSIOMG” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro). The inherent multiculturalism of cyberpunk (telecommunications and powerful multinational corporations turning the world into a scaled-down global village) means many of the stories embrace diverse locales and beliefs. These include tales set piquantly amid the culture of war-distorted, futuristic Islam, where Allah possibly speaks through a veteran’s neural implant (“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed); superpower-exploited Thailand, where nanotech is poised to execute the have-nots’ bitter revenge on the haves (“The Bees of Kiribati” by Warren Hammond); or denuded Nigeria, where biomechanical life forms are replacing humanity (“The Ibex on the Day of Extinction,” by Minister Faust). Many of the tales in this anthology, edited by Viola (Nightmares Unhinged: Twenty Tales of Terror, 2015) and Heller, are told in the first-person. As a result, they show off an argot of rich (if overused) cyberslang: “meatspace,” jokey Lord of the Rings references, and lines from Blade Runner. What may have changed since the 8088-processor days is that hardly anyone relies on “jacking in” to describe entering a virtual reality/online consciousness. “Diving in” seems to be the 2.0 version.

Killer apps outnumber the glitches in 20 short, bracing narratives of cyberpunk sci-fi.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Hex Publishers

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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