Begins with vivid characters and solid worldbuilding bones but doesn’t entirely hang together.

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COMPANY TOWN

A teenage genius and his bodyguard uncover unpleasant corporate secrets and face a potentially otherworldly threat in this near-future sci-fi thriller.

New Arcadia is a failing town-sized oil rig in the Canadian Maritimes, recently purchased by Lynch Ltd. Rumors abound about the community’s future, and in the center of this turmoil is thrust Go Jung-Hwa, a skilled fighter and bodyguard for the sex workers’ union. The heir to the Lynch empire, 15-year-old genius Joel, has received death threats that seem to come from the future, and his elderly, ruthless father, Zachariah, believes that only Hwa can protect him. Poor and suffering from a congenital disorder that has stained her skin and given her epilepsy, Hwa has never received the augments or implants that most people have—which means that she can’t be hacked. But that doesn’t mean she and Joel can’t be stalked by an invisible serial killer who targets both them and the sex workers Hwa used to guard. We don’t learn much about the world outside of New Arcadia, but the microcosm we do experience—a single-industry town dependent on the continued need for fossil fuels, where corporations act like governments and nearly everyone is some form of cyborg—is intriguing and feels reasonably grounded in potential future trends. Ashby (iD, 2013, etc.) hints at the more outré, time-travel elements of the plot early on, but they still seem almost grafted on to the more realistic aspects of the story. They detract from the book's hard-edged authenticity and ultimately undercut a major theme: Hwa overcoming her hatred of and shame at her physical appearance. There’s also a killing that occurs midway through the book that ought to have major repercussions for Hwa but is apparently swept under the rug.

Begins with vivid characters and solid worldbuilding bones but doesn’t entirely hang together.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8290-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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