Offbeat global-warming sci-fi that taps the spirit of cowboy romances instead of the usual dystopianism.

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THE STING OF THE BEE

In a future wracked by floods and social upheaval, a widower tries to make a new life for himself and his daughter when the continent of Antarctica is thrown open to settlement in Lanning’s (A Spider Sat Beside Her, 2017) second book in a planned trilogy.

Climate change has gone unremedied by greedy corporate interests, causing rising sea levels and mass flooding in the United States. The superrich live in well-guarded enclaves while crime is rampant in the rest of America. Such crime claimed the life of the wife of John Barrous, a former corporate worker who’s now disenchanted by the system. He takes his adolescent daughter with him to a place where one might create a functioning, free-market democracy: Antarctica. Global warming has made it habitable and arable, and the United Nations allows a sanctioned, if dangerous, “land rush” for aspiring farmer-settlers, much like Oklahoma in the Old West. In the mostly wide-open frontier, where outlaws and stampedes are real dangers, John stakes a claim and finds a potential love interest in Lowry Walker, a strong-willed woman with a painful past who’s equally determined to keep Antarctica free of mega-capitalist exploitation. With little alteration, this story could well have been set in pioneer days. Instead of a rapacious railroad baron, there’s Napoleon-admiring villain Lorenzo Durant, complete with a robotic horse; he’s an oligarch intent on selling the nascent nation out to corrupt Russian interests. References to melted ice caps, politics, and a multicultural supporting cast keeps the narrative feeling current, but underneath, it’s an emotional, retro-feeling prairie romance in which the two homesteader leads circle each other but just can’t commit, like folks in a country-and-western ballad. It may be a mixed bag for sci-fi fans expecting epic hard science, spectacular worldbuilding, cool technology, and mind-blowing concepts instead of achy-breaky hearts trying to do right in a new heartland. But the oater atmosphere is rendered without genre self-consciousness, unlike Andre Norton’s Beast Master series, for example. Here, the comfortable Wild West formula, sure pacing, and sympathetic protagonists take well to the Antarctic topsoil.

Offbeat global-warming sci-fi that taps the spirit of cowboy romances instead of the usual dystopianism.

Pub Date: April 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9991210-2-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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