Not exactly revolutionary in the hardware/software of cyberpunk sci-fi but fun and fast enough to keep fans’ mental...

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ENTROPY ANGELS

On a giant space-station colony, an outlaw hacker must use all his enhanced biology and cybersleuthing to survive when a deal goes awry and makes him the target of a lethal conspiracy.

Just like ska music, cyberpunk is a lively genre that refuses to die despite even critics in the sci-fi field declaring it has passed its expiration date (or operating system reset point). In this novel, Harritt (Fate’s Hammer, 2017, etc.) brings the kewl slang, outrageous violence, kinky sex, wild body modifications, and smug hacker smarts to a far-future environment: “New Eden,” a 26-kilometer-long space station/colony somewhere among the outer planets of the solar system. Originally built for religious exiles leaving an increasingly unfriendly Earth, New Eden has since evolved into its own roiling, decadent, wide-open culture of 4 million misfit residents, dominated by corporations and “Guilds” rather than a central government. That fact seems to be at the heart of a shadowy conspiracy that engulfs Gregor Skotta, aka Robards, aka Níðhöggr, a “jacker,” or hacker for hire, a brainy tough guy from impoverished origins. He sells digital secrets, combining tech savvy with genetically modified, enhanced muscles and martial arts moves. But a seemingly routine handover of merchandise to his connection turns into a bloodbath that leaves both attackers and some important Guild executives dead. Held accountable, Skotta deploys all his wits and devices in the chase of his life through the bowels, firewalls, and airlocks of New Eden.  Harritt hits the ground running with the action and dismemberment and will keep readers’ interest even as he clicks off the familiar genre touchstones, from the involvement of a by-now-obligatory Japanese yakuza dynasty (space-age samurai/ronin stuff; all otaku know the drill) to mortal combat against “battle synths” that are pretty much remote-controlled Terminator robots. Characters loom larger than life, and there’s evident effort to make the narrator/hero (who has a lost love out there in cyberlimbo but sleeps with just about any woman anyway) a really dangerous sort—callously killing one nameless marginal character for following him. He nonetheless maintains a street-gang Bushido ethic, or at least remains a better person than the vague but fiendish master villains bent on transforming New Eden into hell. True, the IT talk sometimes weighs heavy enough that readers will be tempted to call tech support (“Every night they erased the specific lines of code that opened the current back door, and every night the TIK kept replicating and evolving, changing its code slightly so they couldn’t purge it completely from their servers, burying itself further into the OS kernel”). But a good amount of nifty twists and hair-raising fights carry the story over the minor buggy patches.

Not exactly revolutionary in the hardware/software of cyberpunk sci-fi but fun and fast enough to keep fans’ mental joysticks busy.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: March 10, 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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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