An uneven collection whose flashes of profundity are too often doused by dispassion.

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AFTER THE APOCALYPSE

All our worst dystopian fears are realized in this grim collection.

McHugh’s stories (many previously published in SF and fantasy magazines) depict the many faces of social collapse. Worst-case scenarios abound: bird flu epidemics, dirty bombs, plagues spread by chicken nuggets, Mexican drug cartels and computer systems morphing into something sentient and malign. "The Naturalist" is set in the zombie preserve formerly known as Cleveland, where, during another Supreme Court retrenchment of constitutional protections for prison inmates, convicts are dumped to fend for themselves. The story’s protagonist, Cahill, finds he actually enjoys feeding his fellow prisoners to the zombies, like a bemused birder setting out suet. "Special Economics" takes the plight of Chinese factory workers to extreme lengths—they have to moonlight illegally to pay off their ever-mounting debt to their employer. The rather wan "Going to France" loses momentum after a few Francophiles take wing without benefit of aircraft. "The Kingdom of the Blind" is merely tedious, mimicking David Foster Wallace with none of his complexity or humor, and "After the Apocalypse" and "The Naturalist" cover George Saunders territory without his excoriating wit. The stories are more poignant when their premises are less speculative. In "Useless Things," a sculptor living hand to mouth in Albuquerque discovers that the hobo code is now online and that fashioning dildos is a more profitable e-business than creating life-like infant dolls—her life off the grid is dictated by the present-day economy rather than by disaster or pestilence. In "Honeymoon," a woman who narrowly misses settling for marriage to a loser confronts the vagaries of chance when she volunteers for a deadly drug trial. Although an imaginary (for now) food-borne disease is the catalyst for "The Effect of Centrifugal Forces," the real catharsis inheres in the conflicting intentions of Irene, the daughter of an estranged lesbian couple, and her mother’s new partner Alice, a hoarder.

An uneven collection whose flashes of profundity are too often doused by dispassion.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-931520-29-4

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Small Beer Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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