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

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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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An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

RECURSION

In Crouch’s sci-fi–driven thriller, a machine designed to help people relive their memories creates apocalyptic consequences.

In 2018, NYPD Detective Barry Sutton unsuccessfully tries to talk Ann Voss Peters off the edge of the Poe Building. She claims to have False Memory Syndrome, a bewildering condition that seems to be spreading. People like Ann have detailed false memories of other lives lived, including marriages and children, but in “shades of gray, like film noir stills.” For some, like Ann, an overwhelming sense of loss leads to suicide. Barry knows loss: Eleven years ago, his 15-year-old daughter, Meghan, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Details from Ann’s story lead him to dig deeper, and his investigation leads him to a mysterious place called Hotel Memory, where he makes a life-altering discovery. In 2007, a ridiculously wealthy philanthropist and inventor named Marcus Slade offers neuroscientist Helena Smith the chance of a lifetime and an unlimited budget to build a machine that allows people to relive their memories. He says he wants to “change the world.” Helena hopes that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, will benefit from her passion project. The opportunity for unfettered research is too tempting to turn down. However, when Slade takes the research in a controversial direction, Helena may have to destroy her dream to save the world. Returning to a few of the themes he explored in Dark Matter (2016), Crouch delivers a bullet-fast narrative and raises the stakes to a fever pitch. A poignant love story is woven in with much food for thought on grief and the nature of memories and how they shape us, rounding out this twisty and terrifying thrill ride.

An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-5978-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM

Strange and fascinating alien-contact yarn, the first of a trilogy from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In 1967, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, young physicist Ye Wenjie helplessly watches as fanatical Red Guards beat her father to death. She ends up in a remote re-education (i.e. forced labor) camp not far from an imposing, top secret military installation called Red Coast Base. Eventually, Ye comes to work at Red Coast as a lowly technician, but what really goes on there? Weapons research, certainly, but is it also listening for signals from space—maybe even signaling in return? Another thread picks up the story 40 years later, when nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao and thuggish but perceptive policeman Shi Qiang, summoned by a top-secret international (!) military commission, learn of a war so secret and mysterious that the military officers will give no details. Of more immediate concern is a series of inexplicable deaths, all prominent scientists, including the suicide of Yang Dong, the physicist daughter of Ye Wenjie; the scientists were involved with the shadowy group Frontiers of Science. Wang agrees to join the group and investigate and soon must confront events that seem to defy the laws of physics. He also logs on to a highly sophisticated virtual reality game called “Three Body,” set on a planet whose unpredictable and often deadly environment alternates between Stable times and Chaotic times. And he meets Ye Wenjie, rehabilitated and now a retired professor. Ye begins to tell Wang what happened more than 40 years ago. Jaw-dropping revelations build to a stunning conclusion. In concept and development, it resembles top-notch Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven but with a perspective—plots, mysteries, conspiracies, murders, revelations and all—embedded in a culture and politic dramatically unfamiliar to most readers in the West, conveniently illuminated with footnotes courtesy of translator Liu.

Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7706-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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