SPHERE

A cotton-candy science thriller, Crichton's first novel in seven years matches neither the hardcore suspense nor the wit of his The Andromeda Strain, The Great Train Robbery, or Congo. But this spirited tale of a science team sent to explore a spaceship found on the Pacific floor does engross via its rich seeding of techno/oceanic lore and a happy plot that bounces merrily along from one surprise to the next. Reflecting his own march into middle-age, Crichton here offers his oldest hero yet, 53-year-old psychologist Norman Johnson, expert in the embryonic field of alien contact. Johnson is whisked off by the Navy to the South Seas along with five other scientists, most notably young black math-whiz Harold Adams and pretty zoologist Beth Halpern. After a shocking debriefing—they're told about the alien ship lying 1000 feet below the waves—the five descend by minisub to a deep-sea habitat. From there, the band explores the spaceship—which they deduce is an earth ship that traveled here from the future via a black hole—and find the sphere: a 30-foot wide hollow silver ball, clearly an alien artifact. All this is intriguing stuff, but without much tension; so Crichton dusts off an old ploy; he isolates his characters by whipping up a typhoon that cuts off surface aid, and then transforms the sphere into a Pandora's box of horrors. Adams finds his way into the sphere; after he emerges, it starts communicating via the habitat's computer, claiming to be hosted by an alien named "Jerry." Cute? Not when "Jerry" takes credit for the deadly jellyfish and giant squid that attack the habitat, killing all but Adams, Beth, and Norman. Norman and Beth soon figure out that "Jerry" is really Adams, who's been empowered by the sphere to make nightmares come true; but when they knock him out, the attacks continue, setting up Crichton's final conjuror's cache of tricks and twists, and a pleasingly upbeat ending. This sphere's as lightweight as a balloon floating up and away; but the ascent is swift, smooth, and loads of fun.

Pub Date: June 8, 1987

ISBN: 0062044915

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1987

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DEVOLUTION

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

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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