An inventive mix of SF and fact that should engross a wide range of readers.

HOMO TRANSFORMANS

THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE SPECIES

This debut work combines an introduction to genetics with an SF adventure.

A supernova within the Milky Way exposed the Earth to tremendous amounts of gamma radiation. This “Stella Ignis” event stripped the ozone layer and caused mass extinctions. Some people went underground for protection, taking plants and animals along, and so “human society and knowledge had been preserved, albeit under severely constrained environmental conditions.” The ensuing centuries give rise to Homo transformans, whose genetic mutations allow them to shape-shift into various animals, including dragons. Two groups would like nothing more than to capture and exploit these individuals—the Biogenetics Company and the Cassius Foundation, which is led by Angus Cassius. To protect against these aggressors and the bounty hunters who would earn kidnapping fees, two forward-thinking Homo transformans named Edvar and Ruth H’Aleth create a refuge. Initially, the House of H’Aleth declines to conduct experiments using its citizens. But eventually, the goals of maintaining genetic knowledge and defending against the world’s evils bring philosophical offshoots into being. In a safe region, the House of Erwina conducts selective breeding and schools children. Farthest away is the House of Gregor, which practices genetic engineering. Can the houses remain intact across the generations against greedy individuals? Ames’ hybrid of science education and adventure provides anyone newly interested in genetics with an excellent foundation. Key vocabulary is defined in the text, like chromosome (“an extended strand of DNA that was…compressed into a microscopic package”), and always accompanied by uncredited explanatory illustrations. The plot goes on to detail how evolution works through trial and error—most early Homo transformans didn’t shape-shift expertly or completely and so died—and “patterns of inheritance”; Edvar and Ruth’s children possess combined and expanded traits. Throughout, black-and-white artwork showcases fantastic scenes or anomalies, as when the arrogant Rafe Cassius fails to transform fully and becomes a grotesque. The author’s imaginative tale follows H’Aleth descendants who work to merge Homo sapiens and Homo transformans into one society despite the Cassius family's machinations. The first two sections strike the best balance between science and adventure while later ones rely more on character development and worldbuilding.

An inventive mix of SF and fact that should engross a wide range of readers. (maps, tables, appendices, glossary, reference guide, index)

Pub Date: March 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5434-8012-2

Page Count: 586

Publisher: XlibrisUS

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

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PROJECT HAIL MARY

Weir’s latest is a page-turning interstellar thrill ride that follows a junior high school teacher–turned–reluctant astronaut at the center of a desperate mission to save humankind from a looming extinction event.

Ryland Grace was a once-promising molecular biologist who wrote a controversial academic paper contesting the assumption that life requires liquid water. Now disgraced, he works as a junior high science teacher in San Francisco. His previous theories, however, make him the perfect researcher for a multinational task force that's trying to understand how and why the sun is suddenly dimming at an alarming rate. A barely detectable line of light that rises from the sun’s north pole and curves toward Venus is inexplicably draining the star of power. According to scientists, an “instant ice age” is all but inevitable within a few decades. All the other stars in proximity to the sun seem to be suffering with the same affliction—except Tau Ceti. An unwilling last-minute replacement as part of a three-person mission heading to Tau Ceti in hopes of finding an answer, Ryland finds himself awakening from an induced coma on the spaceship with two dead crewmates and a spotty memory. With time running out for humankind, he discovers an alien spacecraft in the vicinity of his ship with a strange traveler on a similar quest. Although hard scientific speculation fuels the storyline, the real power lies in the many jaw-dropping plot twists, the relentless tension, and the extraordinary dynamic between Ryland and the alien (whom he nicknames Rocky because of its carapace of oxidized minerals and metallic alloy bones). Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13520-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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