Wide-eyed mid–19th-century humanistic optimism in a breezy, blissfully readable translation by Stump (French/Univ. of...

THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND

The first of two new unabridged translations of what Roland Barthes called Verne’s “almost perfect” novel, currently only available in its 19th-century incarnation. In 1865, a year before he invented the “scientific romance,” Verne’s castaway novel, Uncle Robinson, was rejected by his publisher. Ten years later, Verne, now renowned for Around the World in Eighty Days and From the Earth to the Moon, vastly expanded his castaway story as The Mysterious Island—a tale based on real-life Alexander Selkirk (1676–1721), a sailor who joined the South Sea buccaneers and, at his own request, was put ashore on an island in the Pacific off the coast of Chile (in 1704), where he survived alone until 1709, when he was discovered and brought back to Britain. Verne’s own story is a rousing summation of his optimistic expectation that, through the thoughtful uses of technology and the aid of good fellowship and a friendly dog, the human race could survive just about anything. When five Americans—an engineer, a journalist, a sailor, a freed African slave, a young boy and his faithful dog—find themselves stranded in Richmond, Virginia, during the closing days of the Civil War, they steal a balloon and drift into a storm that blows them thousands of miles westward, until the balloon falls apart near a volcanic island in the South Pacific. Though it takes a hundred pages for the group to reunite, another hundred and thirty to guess that they may not be alone, a few hundred more for them to be attacked by pirates and find the attack mysteriously repulsed (by the author’s most famous and enigmatic fictional villain, now tragically dying), Verne’s plot moves along breathlessly through scenes of the castaways surmounting danger through technology (e.g., a watch crystal focusing the sun’s rays to make fire) while having chatty lectures about flora and fauna.

Wide-eyed mid–19th-century humanistic optimism in a breezy, blissfully readable translation by Stump (French/Univ. of Nebraska). (75 b&w reproductions of original illustrations)

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2002

ISBN: 0-679-64236-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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

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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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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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