An ambitious and mostly successful sci-fi tale with a bit of social critique.

SOPHISTICATION

A thriller tells the story of an America rattled by a mysterious, technologically advanced group threatening to take over the country.

In the not-so-distant future—the Donald Trump administration is over and the video game “Half-Life 4” is about to be released—a cloaked figure appears on the floor of the Senate to offer a cryptic warning: “In one month, your ineffective order ends. In one month, we take over.…Everything.” He then disappears in a ball of blue light, causing a media frenzy of speculation the likes of which has never been seen. As the lone member of the government’s Unexplained Occurrences Division—whose duties until now have mostly entailed cataloging internet rumors and watching pornography—widower and drug addict Carl Brannigan is placed on the task force assembled to find out just what that cloaked man was talking about. Meanwhile, an enigmatic figure enters the hospital room of a quadriplegic boy named Kevin Splinter and, with a mere touch, cures him of his condition. In San Francisco, 23-year-old freelance video game journalist Miyuki Mitsuraga spends most of her time fielding misogynistic hate mail from male gamers, but she’s just gotten a message from “the ones in the news” asking her for a meeting. After the arrival of cloaked figures at a stadium in San Francisco, where they reveal damaging tapes of the city’s mayor, the strange organization offers Miyuki an interview because her “heart is pure.” The Cloaks, as she names them, claim to be a good government group out to expose corruption and injustice. But it turns out to be a little more complicated than that. With alternate realities, alien civilizations, and city-destroying technology in the mix, this disparate band of outsiders—and a few powerful insiders—must race to figure out what’s coming before it gets here. Casamassina’s (Dead Weight, 2016) prose is voice-driven and inflected with numerous details of his cyberpunk-meets–Comic-Con vision of the future. His attempts at snark often come across more misanthropic than perhaps he means them to—a viral video is described as spreading across the internet “like runaway Gonorrhea at a cheap motel”—but he occasionally reaches moments of lyricism. At one point, Miyuki’s entrance into a club is depicted thusly: “She’s in harmony with these people, all of them dressed like the mutant teenage grandchildren of the industrial and anime gods. Here, she can disappear. The black lights cast them all in periwinkle, their teeth luminescent, their skin paints and contact lenses aglow, until they look alien.” The plot is well-paced and quite riveting, and once the storylines of the various characters begin to intersect and the scope of the conflict reveals itself, readers should become thoroughly invested. The author manages to capture the worldviews, interests, and personalities of gamers in ways both good and bad, but the story has enough broad sci-fi appeal to hook readers who aren’t concerned with that subculture. While the narrative is bloody, profane, jocular, and angst-ridden, an unexpected warmth pervades the work that will likely keep readers with it until the end.

An ambitious and mostly successful sci-fi tale with a bit of social critique.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-79187-080-5

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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