Big-idea sci-fi readers will likely find this an awesome, challenging ride.

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BURY MY HEART ON KEPLER-452B

A wealthy visionary races to launch humanity’s first starship to a habitable planet before overpopulation, religious fanatics, and other 21st-century horrors destroy Earth in this sci-fi tale.

Hard science fiction and hard, Objectivist-style philosophy combine in this interstellar survival-adventure from Powers (I, Quetzecoatl, 2012), much like one of the alloys he lovingly describes in its more hardware-oriented passages. The John Galt-esque hero, known simply as Floyd, is an American billionaire circa 2067, who, as a child, lost his parents to Muslim terrorists who’ve taken over Europe. He uses his inherited wealth from Floyd Enterprises to principally save himself and his closest associates from the catastrophes of war, crime, famine, overpopulation, and religious mania. As quietly as possible, he buys a giant storage tank in the gang-ridden, industrial slums of New Jersey and outfits it as a starship, with revolutionary, quantum-based “warp drives” of his own conception (discussed at length and made distinct from the similarly named engines in the Star Trek mythos). When his ship is fully operational, he plans to escape to distant Kepler-452B, a possibly life-supporting world about 10 years away at sub-light-speed, if everything works as planned. Due to seemingly insurmountable engineering problems, the first part of the book is heavy with physics and propulsion propositions, which the author makes wonderfully believable, if abstruse. After the fraught liftoff, readers are treated to alternating moments of peril and Floyd’s preaching about the world left behind, which he says has fallen prey to extinction-event-level climate change, failing economies, and apocalyptic religions; he blasts Judeo-Christianity but makes Islam the principle villain. Floyd wants to try to get things right with an agrarian, low-tech sustainable community—if the ship can hold together and avoid freezing solid. Eventually, the book also includes a sort of spirituality (of the Eastern/Native American variety) and romance. Balancing the various thrills against the soliloquies is a tricky orbital maneuver, but the author succeeds magnificently, avoiding genre pitfalls that have made the Noah’s-Ark-in-space premise a genre cliché. Loose ends at the conclusion provide fodder for a sequel without leaving too much unfinished business. 

Big-idea sci-fi readers will likely find this an awesome, challenging ride. 

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5406-2593-9

Page Count: 366

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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