A novel that seems to aspire to a consciously literary emulation of William Gibson but struggles with upsetting passivity.

AFTER JAMES

Helm (Cities of Refuge, 2010, etc.) creates a claustrophobic atmosphere of surreal unease and technology-fueled horror.

The three parts of Helm’s novel each present a distinct storyline related tenuously, perhaps, to its neighbors, but they share a vivid tone and an unsettlingly malleable reality. This sense of a world in which science and technology have delivered on our most paranoid imaginings, but in a way that makes life more susceptible to strangeness instead of less, has the odd effect of sealing the narrative tightly inside each protagonist’s head. Ali is a scientist who has retreated to an isolated house to work up the courage to blow the whistle on the flawed “creativity drug” that she helped design. James is a failed poet who finds himself hired by a mysterious man and sent to Rome to investigate the meaning of a series of poems posted anonymously on the internet. Celia is a researcher for a drug company who discovers that her scientist father has undergone a conversion to a vague spiritualism at the hands of a manipulative conceptual artist. The details of their stories seem like material for a science fiction thriller, but each character is mired in existential confusions brought on by personal trauma, and the reader is trapped alongside them, in prose that is sometimes excessively reflective and gestural. Despite having murders, geopolitical strife, hacktivists, and secretive anarchist groups, the novel muffles any suspense and momentum. The characters think so hard about their feelings that they don’t feel them with any conviction, though Helm often strikes upon perfectly selected details of human interaction.

A novel that seems to aspire to a consciously literary emulation of William Gibson but struggles with upsetting passivity.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941040-41-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A fine novel for those who like to immerse themselves in alternative worlds.

RED RISING

From the Red Rising Trilogy series , Vol. 1

Set in the future and reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, this novel dramatizes a story of vengeance, warfare and the quest for power.

In the beginning, Darrow, the narrator, works in the mines on Mars, a life of drudgery and subservience. He’s a member of the Reds, an “inferior” class, though he’s happily married to Eo, an incipient rebel who wants to overthrow the existing social order, especially the Golds, who treat the lower-ranking orders cruelly. When Eo leads him to a mildly rebellious act, she’s caught and executed, and Darrow decides to exact vengeance on the perpetrators of this outrage. He’s recruited by a rebel cell and “becomes” a Gold by having painful surgery—he has golden wings grafted on his back—and taking an exam to launch himself into the academy that educates the ruling elite. Although he successfully infiltrates the Golds, he finds the social order is a cruel and confusing mash-up of deception and intrigue. Eventually, he leads one of the “houses” in war games that are all too real and becomes a guerrilla warrior leading a ragtag band of rebelliously minded men and women. Although it takes a while, the reader eventually gets used to the specialized vocabulary of this world, where warriors shoot “pulseFists” and are protected by “recoilArmor.” As with many similar worlds, the warrior culture depicted here has a primitive, even classical, feel to it, especially since the warriors sport names such as Augustus, Cassius, Apollo and Mercury.

A fine novel for those who like to immerse themselves in alternative worlds.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-345-53978-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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This brilliant bit of nihilism succeeds where so many self-described transgressive novels do not: It's dangerous because...

FIGHT CLUB

Brutal and relentless debut fiction takes anarcho-S&M chic to a whole new level—in a creepy, dystopic, confrontational novel that's also cynically smart and sharply written.

Palahniuk's insomniac narrator, a drone who works as a product recall coordinator, spends his free time crashing support groups for the dying. But his after-hours life changes for the weirder when he hooks up with Tyler Durden, a waiter and projectionist with plans to screw up the world—he's a "guerilla terrorist of the service industry." "Project Mayhem" seems taken from a page in The Anarchist Cookbook and starts small: Durden splices subliminal scenes of porno into family films and he spits into customers' soup. Things take off, though, when he begins the fight club—a gruesome late-night sport in which men beat each other up as partial initiation into Durden's bigger scheme: a supersecret strike group to carry out his wilder ideas. Durden finances his scheme with a soap-making business that secretly steals its main ingredient—the fat sucked from liposuction. Durden's cultlike groups spread like wildfire, his followers recognizable by their open wounds and scars. Seeking oblivion and self-destruction, the leader preaches anarchist fundamentalism: "Losing all hope was freedom," and "Everything is falling apart"—all of which is just his desperate attempt to get God's attention. As the narrator begins to reject Durden's revolution, he starts to realize that the legendary lunatic is just himself, or the part of himself that takes over when he falls asleep. Though he lands in heaven, which closely resembles a psycho ward, the narrator/Durden lives on in his flourishing clubs.

This brilliant bit of nihilism succeeds where so many self-described transgressive novels do not: It's dangerous because it's so compelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-393-03976-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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