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ORANGE CITY

A tart and fluid SF view of a nightmare future dominated by canned beverages.

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Near a bleak, dystopian future America, an offshore City exists, run by a grotesque cyborg, serving as a supposed rehabilitation haven for society’s outcasts.

In his SF novel, Goldberg vaguely sketches a mad, bad, and dangerous future world created by the aftermath of the “War To End All Wars.” Poverty, crime, the maimed, and the deformed are rampant in “Amercyana,” but at some point, a solution, of sorts, takes shape via the construction of The City, an offshore community that welcomes society’s most desperate individuals. Hidden from outside eyes by hologram projections, the place is more a strange, surreal simulation of a city than the real thing. The metropolis’s inhabitants have predetermined roles and are universally camera-monitored by “the Man,” a freakish, multilimbed cyborg fixed in place in a cyclopean tower dominating the skyline. But the Man—a Stalin admirer—is no therapeutic, healing entity. Graham Weatherend, an abused, imprisoned orphan, has been brought to The City by Scout E, one of the Man’s many hirelings. Formerly known as Edmond Edwards, Scout E is a conscience-wracked wife killer who traded his dismal lot for a lofty position in The City doing the cyborg’s bidding. Now, the two citizens are installed in The City’s lone remaining advertising agency, hyping a soda called orange Pow! Graham becomes a specialist at writing slogans for the strangely addictive brew, and suddenly he sees orange colors and themes everywhere, becoming a literal slave to the refreshment. Until, abruptly and arbitrarily, green lime Pow! makes its overwhelming appearance...and then a blue-raspberry Pow!...and then....What seems a seriocomic, semihallucinatory, semicryptic dark satire of Madison Avenue guys (with prosthetic limbs and other body horrors) ultimately grows into seriously dystopic and violent stuff. Neatly paced and escalating like a sinister bar crawl, the novel gives readers the flavor of Philip K. Dick and perhaps a little Kafka and J.G. Ballard in the mixology (though the book’s back cover mentions George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the TV series Lost). A final twist at the end leaves the aftertaste of a promised sequel, in which some of the big narrative questions posed by this zesty installment may be answered. We’ll drink to that.

A tart and fluid SF view of a nightmare future dominated by canned beverages.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64921-878-0

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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DARK MATTER

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.

Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90422-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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KLARA AND THE SUN

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

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Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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