A flawless blending of actual and potential events, aided by an engaging narrator.

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Democracy's Missing Arsenal

In the first of their planned three-volume alternative American history, King and Bredehoft expertly plot the effects of the South’s victory in the Civil War.

This history starts with Lee’s triumph at Gettysburg, a “point of divergence” clinching the nation’s division into the USA and the CSA—Confederate States of America. The countries form competing international alliances: While the CSA partners with Germany and Britain, the USA forms tightknit friendships with France and Russia. Border conflicts erupt near Mexico and Canada, which the Yukon Gold Rush renders appealing to would-be U.S. colonizers. With Britain entangled in the “Irish Question,” Russia advancing into India and Afghanistan, and the CSA and Japan planning to attack the Philippines, the stage is set for an altered World War I in 1898. Global warfare catches most great powers unprepared, both technologically and ideologically. The CSA, however, is an able aggressor: Hoping to annex Maryland and Delaware, it leads devastating attacks on New York and Washington, leaving the capital in ruins. Indeed, this bleak picture coincides with the narrator’s present-day setting: Writing in 1963, an unnamed, former U.S. president surveys a post-apocalyptic scene while cowered in a primitive New England outpost, with New York City having been destroyed by Germany’s atomic missiles. He attempts to pinpoint where everything went wrong, inspired by “duty to make an honest accounting at history’s bar.” At first, Confederate victory may have augured a better world, but as the slave trade and the accelerated cycle of war continued, things grew worse, especially as the USA restricted freedom of speech to prevent dissent. King and Bredehoft seamlessly weave genuine and conceivable historical happenings: The Dreyfus Affair and Boxer Rebellion are juxtaposed with imagined but entirely plausible assassinations or invasions. Omissions, such as the Boer War and Lincoln assassination—he decided against seeking re-election, leaving the job to William H. Seward—come with faultless justification. Throughout, there is an impressive level of detail as the authors follow minute chronological swerves to their logical conclusions, illustrating “the highly contingent nature of history.”

A flawless blending of actual and potential events, aided by an engaging narrator.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1484100943

Page Count: 588

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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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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