An ambitious interplanetary tale that’s hampered by haphazard execution.

OPPOSABLE

From the The Halteres Chronicles series , Vol. 1

Aliens, mercenaries, and hyperevolved house cats collide in a drug-fueled, blood-soaked road quest to save the world in Hammond’s SF novel.

Away in the far reaches of space, the planet Halteres is home to the Arca Trochia, an omniscient fungus with the power to transport the world’s violent alien factions to their new chosen dominion: Earth. But there, the hapless and depressive human author Dr. Stanley Ivan Vanderbilt believes that Halteres is just the product of his imagination. Ten years ago, he was unknowingly seeded by the Arca Trochia’s spores, and he wrote about Halteres’ inhabitants as a means to escape from his unfulfilling life. Now, he’s fallen under their influence again, and this time, they’ve compelled him to attach bionic opposable thumbs to his pet cats. Things spiral further out of control when the thumbs trigger an evolutionary leap, granting the cats sentience, psychic abilities, and miraculous biological advancements—but a tenuous grasp of morality, at best. Before long, Vanderbilt is at the mercy of his superpowered predator pets, and he’s also become a target for intergalactic assassins who can hijack human corpses. Injured, out of options, and desperate for a greater purpose, Vanderbilt flees blindly into the heart of the American Southwest. Along for the ride are Ashleigh,a mysterious and deadly vigilante with a souped-up car and a destination that she’s not planning to reveal anytime soon; Vanderbilt’s drug-addled best friend, Xeno; and his capricious feline companion, Patton. Along the way, the humans consume huge amounts of booze and drugs, visit the seedy underbellies of multiple places, find unlikely allies, and leave a gory path of destruction involving earthlings and aliens alike.

The novel employs an odd mix of campy grotesquerie, self-referential gag humor, and convoluted SF concepts, which makes it alternately intriguing and incoherent. Some readers may enjoy its irreverent, absurdist embrace of ultraviolent power fantasies, its hypersexual women who glory in their own objectification, and its grungy, sprawling fictional world, splattered with bodily fluids. Others, however, will find these same aspects rather off-putting, and they’ll feel that certain characters come off as offensive stereotypes. For the most part, Hammond is at his best in moments of stillness, when he allows his players to stop all the quipping and actually explore their connections to the world and one another. The author’s descriptions can be genuinely lovely, as when they address the American landscape, the feeling of being in a car headed nowhere, and the unbearable hugeness of the world in general. However, the novel feels torn between so many premises that none of them feel adequately explained. Several references are made to past events that aren’t elaborated upon, and the author introduces and discards a large number of secondary characters without ever fully fleshing them out. It’s not the most cohesive piece of science fiction, overall, but it is certainly never boring, and fans of its particular style will likely find themselves entertained by its hedonism and gruesome revelry.

An ambitious interplanetary tale that’s hampered by haphazard execution.

Pub Date: May 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73398-717-2

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A fun, fast-paced epic that science fiction fans will gobble up.

TO SLEEP IN A SEA OF STARS

A curious scientist stumbles on mysterious ruins in the opening chapters of this science fiction epic.

Things are really turning around for Kira Navárez. A xenobiologist, she’s finishing up a stint doing research on the large moon Adrasteia with a small team of other scientists, and her boyfriend, Alan, has just proposed to her. Instead of continuing to spend months apart, working on different planets and waiting until they can be together, they'll be able to ask their employers to make them part of a colony as a couple. As Kira performs a few routine last-minute checks before their team leaves the system, something strange catches her eye. She decides to check it out, just to be thorough, and finds herself in the middle of an ancient structure. When her curiosity gets the better of her and she touches a pedestal covered in dust, a bizarre black material flows out and covers her entire body. She passes out as she's being rescued by her team, and when she comes to, she seems to be fine, and the team reports her findings to the government. But soon a kind of strange, alien suit takes over her body, covering her with black material that lashes out violently against Alan and the other scientists, forming spikes that jump out from her skin. A military ship comes to collect what's left of the team and investigate the reports of an alien discovery. When an alien species attacks the ship, presumably because of Kira’s discovery, Kira will have to learn to harness the suit’s strange powers to defend herself and the rest of the human race. Paolini, best known for the YA epic fantasy series The Inheritance Cycle, makes his adult debut in another genre that welcomes long page counts. This one clocks in at close to 900 pages, but the rollicking pace, rapidly developing stakes, and Paolini’s confident worldbuilding make them fly by. Perhaps not the most impressive prose, but a worthwhile adventure story.

A fun, fast-paced epic that science fiction fans will gobble up.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-76284-9

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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