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NATURAL HISTORY

Quirky, highly intelligent, uneven, sometimes exposition-clogged, often utterly remarkable: alert, agile readers will find...

Another entry in what amounts to a (not exclusively) British-accented new New Wave of breathtaking space operas (cf. Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, John C. Wright, Neal Asher), here’s Robson's third novel and first US appearance.

Several centuries hence, the moon and Mars have been terraformed, semi-independent societies thrive at Jupiter and Saturn; true artificial intelligences, Abacands, serve without desires or volition, while humanity consists of natural-type Unevolved and a spectacular array of odd-bodied, MekTek-enhanced Forged: Rocs, TickTock Hives, Heavy Angels—and human-machine starships like Voyager Lonestar Isol, which, cruising near Barnard's Star, collides with an exploded-spaceship debris field and sustains life-threatening damage. Near death, Isol comes upon a strange silicate rock, apparently an engine—and, somehow, sentient! Isol realizes that the rock, “Stuff,” is, via eleven-dimensional superspace, capable of transporting her instantly, anywhere, and of reshaping matter to any desired form. She jumps to what seems to be the rock’s homeworld, where stand the deserted buildings of an alien civilization. Isol jumps back to Earth, intending to sell bits of Stuff to her would-be revolutionary Forged contacts (they chafe under the Gaiasol government's heavy hand). Fearing schism or outright civil war, Gaiasol's security chief, General Machen, rejects Isol's claims and insists on independent verification. Isol chooses the Unevolved cultural archeologist Zephyr Duquesne who, Isol assumes, should be easy to manipulate. Zephyr finds the planet to be all that Isol has claimed, covered with astonishing artifacts that have the semblance of living matter. Meanwhile, other recipients of Stuff are less happy: some hear voices; others fear that Stuff is invasive. Isol begins to fight Stuff’s efforts to remake her, terrified of what the inevitable metamorphosis may bring.

Quirky, highly intelligent, uneven, sometimes exposition-clogged, often utterly remarkable: alert, agile readers will find it thoroughly rewarding.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2005

ISBN: 0-553-58741-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Spectra/Bantam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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DEVOLUTION

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

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE DARK FOREST

From the Remembrance of Earth's Past series , Vol. 2

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Second part of an alien-contact trilogy (The Three-Body Problem, 2014) from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In the previous book, the inhabitants of Trisolaris, a planet with three suns, discovered that their planet was doomed and that Earth offered a suitable refuge. So, determined to capture Earth and exterminate humanity, the Trisolarans embarked on a 400-year-long interstellar voyage and also sent sophons (enormously sophisticated computers constructed inside the curled-up dimensions of fundamental particles) to spy on humanity and impose an unbreakable block on scientific advance. On Earth, the Earth-Trisolaris Organization formed to help the invaders, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. Humanity’s lone advantage is that Trisolarans are incapable of lying or dissimulation and so cannot understand deceit or subterfuge. This time, with the Trisolarans a few years into their voyage, physicist Ye Wenjie (whose reminiscences drove much of the action in the last book) visits astronomer-turned-sociologist Luo Ji, urging him to develop her ideas on cosmic sociology. The Planetary Defense Council, meanwhile, in order to combat the powerful escapist movement (they want to build starships and flee so that at least some humans will survive), announces the Wallfacer Project. Four selected individuals will be accorded the power to command any resource in order to develop plans to defend Earth, while the details will remain hidden in the thoughts of each Wallfacer, where even the sophons can't reach. To combat this, the ETO creates Wallbreakers, dedicated to deducing and thwarting the plans of the Wallfacers. The chosen Wallfacers are soldier Frederick Tyler, diplomat Manuel Rey Diaz, neuroscientist Bill Hines, and—Luo Ji. Luo has no idea why he was chosen, but, nonetheless, the Trisolarans seem determined to kill him. The plot’s development centers on Liu’s dark and rather gloomy but highly persuasive philosophy, with dazzling ideas and an unsettling, nonlinear, almost nonnarrative structure that demands patience but offers huge rewards.

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7708-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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