An immersive novel that chillingly predicts a world in which life is something to be escaped rather than experienced.

Autonomy

Houghton (Songs of Seraphina, 2015) explores the difference between living and surviving in this sci-fi thriller.

In the wake of a global climate catastrophe, a new world government re-establishes order as a single nation called the Autonomy. However, this order comes at a price, as the majority of the world’s citizens are simply considered “unit[s] of production.” Workers toil endlessly to create iNet glasses, devices that allow even the lowliest grunt to escape their lives through virtual-reality simulations. The glasses also provide access to the “Faith,” a religion that promises “points” toward salvation in exchange for worldly suffering. Rebellions rise in opposition to the government’s ever tightening control, and many citizens find themselves willing or unwilling participants in the deadly conflict. Pasco Eborgersen, a gambler with ties to the highest level of government, and Balmoral Murraine, an iNet savant from one of the poorest Sectors of the Autonomy, become unlikely allies. They learn secrets that could either save their world or destroy it and that there are people in power who would kill to see that information buried. Although the timeline of Houghton’s novel is somewhat unrealistic—the world goes from utter collapse to an Orwellian government to a rebellion within a span of roughly 30 years—the future society that the author creates is compelling. He gives ample attention to details of the new world’s structure, such as the jellyfish-and-insect-based “skaatch” that serves as the main food product and the commodified social order in which children are named by corporations. The Autonomy exists as a heightened version of the current First World/Third World system, strikingly juxtaposing the ravages of Sector 2 and 3 against the plump privilege of Sector 1. The concept of a gamified religion taps into a cultural obsession with instant gratification and validation while also emphasizing the performative nature of faith. However, Houghton’s attention to detail doesn’t overshadow the novel’s emotional resonance.

An immersive novel that chillingly predicts a world in which life is something to be escaped rather than experienced.

Pub Date: July 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-909845-48-0

Page Count: 468

Publisher: Kristell Ink

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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