A complicated, engrossing sci-fi saga, featuring religious overtones (albeit seasoned with skepticism) that may appeal to...

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CHASING SATAN

From the Benwarian Chronicles series , Vol. 6

The Benwarians, friendly aliens in Arizona trying to save humanity from itself, combat a formidable and persistent foe: either the devil incarnate or a mass of negative energy that is a pretty accurate stand-in.

Author Samuelson (Ride the Neural Networks, 2016, etc.) continues a Benwarian Chronicles series started in A Benwarian Fix (2009). Benwarians are the survivors of an advanced, benevolent nation from the doomed planet Lemmus whose other inhabitants (“Lemmings”…get it?) succumbed to religious mania, greed, and selfishness and allowed climate change and other ills to destroy their environment. An escaping colony of Benwarians has been nearing Earth, intending not only to make a new home for themselves, but to help Homo sapiens avoid the same mistakes. Porter Tellez is a cultured (British-accented, no less) blue-skinned Benwarian soldier-statesman sent ahead in a vanguard to Earth. Unfortunately, his initial landing site, in 1970s South Africa, made him an abused political prisoner of the racist apartheid system, exposed to some of the worst evil humanity had to offer. This includes “Alpha,” a primordial demon of malice, possessing one sentient being after another and spreading suffering and ruin, in the manner of the devil himself (which Alpha claims to be). Here, in the sixth book in the series, Porter and his extended Benwarian/human family and comrades, after escaping South Africa, have established themselves in rural Arizona, on a ranch secretly being prepped as a Benwarian base. Alpha, however, journeyed with them, hiding in the brain of Porter’s younger Benwarian ward Travis. Exorcised, the vengeful entity leaps from one body to another—including a bear and cow—intent on destroying the aliens and their loved ones. Alpha finds a most promising host in Jonny J. Miller, a peripheral character from an earlier book. The Benwarian bunch know that danger is near; meanwhile, under Alpha’s manipulation, Jonny falls in with organized crime, finds an accursed shotgun, and starts evolving into a murderer.      With its circumbendibus storyline, the novel shouldn’t work as well as it does, a testament to the author’s tale-spinning chops and ability to get into the heads (much like Alpha does) of characters with tangled backstories. Key elements seem à la carte helpings of previous sci-fi/fantasy material; the Porter-Travis relationship in particular is very similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentoring Luke Skywalker (minus Luke’s father drama), and the Benwarians, sure enough, use mojo very much akin to Jedi mind tricks in their routine heroics. But Star Wars characters never invoked the Bible while facing the Dark Side, as is done here. There’s a running debate between rationalist nonbeliever Porter; his devout African wife, Loreto; and his psychic half-caste son, Logan, over whether Alpha, aka Satan, has validity, or whether the infernal fiend they’re fighting merely represents “an archetype of ancient memories so powerful they have remained electrically charged thoughts.” The same goes for Jesus, Christianity, and heaven, disdained as fanciful by Porter (even though he’s a good-sport alien chap and attends weekly Sunday school at his wife’s insistence). This metaphysical argument remains politely unresolved.

A complicated, engrossing sci-fi saga, featuring religious overtones (albeit seasoned with skepticism) that may appeal to Christian readers.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 203

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2019

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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