A frisky, if somewhat convoluted, SF satire with some Shakespearean knavery.

A JACK FOR ALL SEASONS

In Smith’s SF series installment, an interplanetary actor/singer/rogue faces warlike cephalopod aliens using faster-than-light technology.

This series relates the zesty, comedic, and rather torturously plotted capers of Jack Jones, a crewman aboard the starship Shakespeare. The crew poses as Earth’s cultural ambassadors, performing human music and classic plays for various alien species, but in reality, they’re spies/troubleshooters looking out for humankind’s interests. Jack and the Shakespeare team were slow to realize that their faster-than-light drives are part of a fiendish plot by their inventors, the octopuslike Quihiri. After an “upgrade” issued from the Quihiri homeworld, the drives begin to fail, leaving many alien civilizations suddenly helpless before xenophobic Quihiri armies. The opening plunks the reader right down in the middle of all this, and over the course of the book, Jack tries to unite with Earth’s forces and share intel to thwart the villains without being separated from his Shakespeare friends in the fog of combat. His new compatriots—including Max, a superintelligent talking dog—are less than open-minded about Jack’s occasional Quihiri allies and unconventional methods. Readers unfamiliar with this complicated series should know that Jack is a young clone of the lawless original Jack (“Old-Jack”), who languishes in jail; the clone inherited Old-Jack’s cover job and his ship-captain romantic partner, Gina. A semi-endearing facet of the material is that the new Jack is truly a lover, not a fighter, who tries to solve things with kisses rather than gunfire. Early on, Jack meets Jax Jones, who looks and acts exactly like him—which oddly isn’t fully addressed until the closing pages. There are numerous quotes from Shakespeare as well as a famous Star Wars line and Cats lyrics. The author is a physicist at the University of Colorado, and she ably uses her expertise to spike her fiction with quantum theory. In a brief afterword, she also acknowledges her debt to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy cycle, which readers will notice—especially in the detail of improbability-powered star travel. Jack’s larkish antics may also captivate fans of Harry Harrison’s classic Bill the Galactic Hero series.

A frisky, if somewhat convoluted, SF satire with some Shakespearean knavery.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-950198-25-2

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Quarky Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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