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

ORANGE CITY

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

KLARA AND THE SUN

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. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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