Short, futuristic tales bubbling with enticing characters and details.

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THE SCI-FI STORY WITH THE CAT IN IT

SHORT STORIES

In this collection of four stories set in dystopian worlds, people endure diseases and furtive government control.

Although the tales in this volume don’t all take place in the same world or time, there are similarities among them. In the opening story, “The Sight Mask,” it’s been three-quarters of a century since the epidemic The Eye Death surfaced. People were suddenly going blind and dying a few months later. Fortunately, Dr. Ayumi Amador created Sight Masks that protected the populace and eventually became everyone’s sole technical device. But Amador, who’s spent her life searching for a cure with no success, soon learns a telling secret about the Governing Council. The subsequent two tales, “Two Schools” and “Two Roads,” are companion pieces. In their shared world, global legislation has banned the written word, and people communicate via speech, videos, and pictures. Governments believed writings, primarily on “the Network,” were rife with mendacity and ultimately precipitated confrontation and mass murder. But viruses have split people into two groups: water-level and air-level. The former has access to superior tech, but water folk are immune to the viruses that plague air folk. “The Lottery”—the longest story and the one starring the cat—is the tale of a future America, now a Republic, and its popular television show The Lottery. Citizens have a chance to win $100 million, at first annually but eventually on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, this reputed utopian nation, free of crime and unemployment, has an unsavory underbelly involving more than just the feline-transmitted Epsilon-A virus. Fondakowski (Out, 2017, etc.) simplifies her futuristic stories with minimal characters and concise histories of her worlds. Two tales have plot turns that, while dramatically sound, are predictable. But the author truly excels at shaping each story’s dystopia through marked characterization. “The Sight Mask,” for example, begins with a mother whose newborn may already be doomed, as a nurse is unable to affix a mask on the infant before she opens her eyes. The governments in “Schools” and “Roads” have vanquished sexism and homophobia by eliminating gender tags. But it seems discrimination still exists, with the water-level people a literal interpretation of the lower class. Fondakowski also uses nongender pronouns for every character in the two tales and deftly demonstrates other ways that players can have distinction (like the “smart-ass” student in “Schools”). This nevertheless makes the occasional slips into masculine or feminine pronouns in both stories glaringly apparent. “The Lottery” spotlights prospective winners as well as the show’s host, Carl Kent, who has a “crisis of conscience” when he becomes fed up with what the program is withholding from the audience. But the governing body, as in the other tales, seems on the verge of totalitarianism even if citizens are unaware. It’s a subtlety the author’s prose reflects, as her unadorned writing conveys complexities in straightforward terms. Carl’s immense popularity, for example, stems from various factors, including his delivery: “He was speaking from a low register, but not too low, and his voice was pure and crisp, not too treble.”

Short, futuristic tales bubbling with enticing characters and details.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 121

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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