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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

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KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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