A revolt on a distant planet holds a mirror up to Earth in this erratically effective novel.

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Once-Other

A debut sci-fi epic explores a colonial world striving for independence from its master planet.

This long and sometimes surreal tale is set on a planet informally referred to by its inhabitants as “Here-Born,” thereby differentiating it from their species home world of Earth, which they call “Earth-Born” or EB. The inhabitants of Here-Born were originally colonists sent from distant Earth; they crash-landed on Here-Born and began the slow, torturous process of adapting to a world with a higher gravity than Earth and no water, a blasted desert realm whose “face is scarred by one-third a sea of rock and awash in two-thirds an ocean of sand—and nothing else.” Despite these forbidding conditions, the Here-Born colonists flourished, adapting to the gravity and developing localized telepathy, a resistance to the planet’s extremes of heat and cold, and a prosperous trade in secondhand body-part replacements, a cultural innovation that never fails to revolt tourists from Earth-Born. One trader in such body parts is the title character, who’s also involved in a Here-Born campaign to throw off the imperial shackles of Earth-Born; as Once-Other rails at one tourist, Here-Born natives hate old Earth’s “underhandedness, your Earth-Born politics, your oppressive taxes, your laws, and your damn ignorant educational system.” And the last item—education—is unexpectedly important; “Never before,” Once-Other muses, “had any of us imagined how dangerous a weapon against young minds an education system could become.” This broader setting—freedom fighters trying to resist and subvert their political overlords—gives Nysschens ample opportunity to expound on all manner of political topics, with Once-Other at one point musing, “Can anyone believe that over on EB you pay higher taxes the more productive you are? That is how they reward success—by penalizing it?” The narrative often feels overlong and the characters, underdeveloped; the actual science in this sci-fi novel won’t have anybody confusing it with Dune. But the sociological observations that are obviously Nysschens’ main concern are indeed consistently intriguing.

A revolt on a distant planet holds a mirror up to Earth in this erratically effective novel.

Pub Date: Dec. 18, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 608

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

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

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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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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