RAINBOW MARS

Almost 30 years ago, Niven (the splendid Destiny’s Road, 1997, etc.) wrote a handful of stories featuring Hanville Svetz of the Institute for Temporal Research. These reappear here as a sort of postscript, but the main attraction is a new full-length adventure. By the 31st century, Earth is polluted nearly to death, most species are extinct, and the office of UN Secretary-General has become hereditary. Under Waldemar the Tenth, Svetz roamed the past seeking wonderful animals to retrieve for Waldemar’s delectation. Waldemar the Eleventh, though, wants space travel and aliens—but the space program is nonexistent. So, what if the Martian canals observed by Lowell really were evidence of a dying civilization? Svetz and astronaut Miya Thorsven arrive on Mars in the year 1500. This Mars is inhabited, crisscrossed by canals, and sports a Beanstalk, a space elevator that seems to be a colossal space-going alien plant. The Martians, however, are mostly hostile and belong to a bewildering number of different species. Svetz and Miya must obtain Beanstalk seeds: if such a structure could be grown on Earth, it would yield cheap, painless access to space and its limitless resources. Several Martian species have already colonized this Beanstalk, which breaks free and sails off into space. When Svetz and Miya arrive at Earth a century later they watch the Beanstalk attach itself and grow. Mission accomplished? Well, not exactly. By the time they struggle back to the 31st century—not the same future they left—the Earth is dying, the Beanstalk having absorbed most of the planet’s water. Worse, the Beanstalk swarms with hostile Martians and is useless as a space elevator. Somehow, Svetz and Miya must change the past once again to remove the troublesome Beanstalk and find a way to make Mars live once more. A brilliantly conceived, funny, exciting, nail-biting, heart-warming jaunt through weird and wonderful histories that never were.

Pub Date: March 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-86777-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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