While there's a fascinating alternate history here of humanity's quest for the stars, it could stand to be told with...

THE CALCULATING STARS

Veteran historical fantasist Kowal (Ghost Talkers, 2016, etc.) tackles an alternate history of the space race, in which a catastrophe necessitates an earlier reach for the stars—and the confrontation of gender barriers.

In the 1950s, the world nearly ends, first due to a strike from what Elma York will always remind people was a meteorite and then through the resulting climate change. Elma is a physicist, pilot, and human computer; she and her engineer husband, Nathaniel, both work for NASA's predecessor agency. The Meteor, as it comes to be known, destroys Washington, D.C., and most of the East Coast, leaving the survivors to scramble to fill leadership gaps and address the sudden winter brought on by the impact and the devastating greenhouse effect that will follow. Earth may have just decades to live, and both men and women will need to go into space for humanity to survive. Elma fights the sexism and racism of the era as well as her own personal anxieties. The Apollo-era technology is well-researched and well-presented and always feels organic—more organic than the characters. Elma is an obvious genius, ethical to a fault, and sets records at everything she attempts. Her supposed flaw of discomfort with public speaking is apparently not too obvious to anyone but her, as she's lauded by other characters for how well she does it. She advocates for feminism and for women of color with admirable...admirableness, but Elma never really addresses her own privilege. (Nathaniel is even more exemplary—understanding, supportive, hot, and perfectly progressive.) With the exception of a misogynist antagonist, the supporting cast is never too deeply developed—a shame, given their supposed diversity. The plot hits all its beats dutifully, but don't expect surprises.

While there's a fascinating alternate history here of humanity's quest for the stars, it could stand to be told with characters who are a little more human.

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7838-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and...

DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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