Series addict? Go right ahead. You know you want to.

THE RETURN OF THE DISCONTINUED MAN

Fifth in Hodder’s steampunk series (The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, 2013, etc.) starring Victorian explorer/translator Sir Richard Burton and his improbable sidekick, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Series regulars will acknowledge that the books don't stand alone. So, recall that everything began with the assassination of Queen Victoria by Edward Oxford, an insane time traveler from the 23rd century. This resulted in an alternate history in which scientist Charles Babbage and engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel spurred an industrial revolution that led to a devastating world war in the future of every timeline. Babbage, Brunel (now resident in a bizarre robot body), Burton and Swinburne have been searching desperately for a way to avert the war. This time, at precisely 9 p.m. on Feb. 15, 1860, as Babbage performs a critical experiment on the time traveler’s suit recovered in a previous episode, red snow falls over London as Burton and Swinburne make their way to a meeting of the Cannibal Club, and Spring Heeled Jack appears out of thin air, shrieking insanely and attacking Burton. Soon, dozens more Jacks, all dangerously demented, appear in locations where Burton is likely to be found. Burton, meanwhile, resorts to Saltzman’s tincture, a decoction that brings him bewildering visions of parallel realities and futures yet to be—including one where Burton finds himself in the 23rd century, occupying the brain and body of the decidedly sane genius known as Edward Oxford! Alert readers will note that Hodder’s time-travel rationale buckles under the pressure of the plot’s requirements, but it doesn’t matter: There’s more than enough adventure, intrigue, invention, fun and engagement to satisfy everybody—at least, those with some idea of what to expect.

Series addict? Go right ahead. You know you want to.

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61614-905-5

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever...

SNOW CRASH

After terminally cute campus high-jinks (The Big U) and a smug but attention-grabbing eco-thriller (Zodiac), Stephenson leaps into near-future Gibsonian cyberpunk—with predictably mixed results.

The familiar-sounding backdrop: The US government has been sold off; businesses are divided up into autonomous franchises ("franchulates") visited by kids from the heavily protected independent "Burbclaves"; a computer-generated "metaverse" is populated by hackers and roving commercials. Hiro Protagonist, freelance computer hacker, world's greatest swordsman, and stringer for the privatized CIA, delivers pizzas for the Mafia—until his mentor Da5id is blasted by Snow Crash, a curious new drug capable of crashing both computers and hackers. Hiro joins forces with freelance skateboard courier Y.T. to investigate. It emerges that Snow Crash is both a drug and a virus: it destroyed ancient Sumeria by randomizing their language to create Babel; its modern victims speak in tongues, lose their critical faculties, and are easily brainwashed. Eventually the usual conspiracy to take over the world emerges; it's led by media mogul L. Bob Rife, the Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates religious franchulate, and vengeful nuclear terrorist Raven. The cultural-linguistic material has intrinsic interest, but its connections with cyberpunk and computer-reality seem more than a little forced.

The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever embellishments, none of the above is as original as Stephenson seems to think. An entertaining entry that would have benefitted from a more rigorous attention to the basics.

Pub Date: May 15, 1992

ISBN: 0553380958

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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