AFTER JAMES

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

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 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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GOLDEN SON

From the Red Rising Trilogy series , Vol. 2

Comparisons to The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones series are inevitable, for this tale has elements of both—fantasy, the...

Brown presents the second installment of his epic science-fiction trilogy, and like the first (Red Rising, 2014), it’s chock-full of interpersonal tension, class conflict and violence.

The opening reintroduces us to Darrow au Andromedus, whose wife, Eo, was killed in the first volume. Also known as the Reaper, Darrow is a lancer in the House of Augustus and is still looking for revenge on the Golds, who are both in control and in the ascendant. The novel opens with a galactic war game, seemingly a simulation, but Darrow’s opponent, Karnus au Bellona, makes it very real when he rams Darrow’s ship and causes a large number of fatalities. In the main narrative thread, Darrow has infiltrated the Golds and continues to seek ways to subvert their oppressive and dominant culture. The world Brown creates here is both dense and densely populated, with a curious amalgam of the classical, the medieval and the futuristic. Characters with names like Cassius, Pliny, Theodora and Nero coexist—sometimes uneasily—with Daxo, Kavax and Sevro. And the characters inhabit a world with a vaguely medieval social hierarchy yet containing futuristic technology such as gravBoots. Amid the chronological murkiness, one thing is clear—Darrow is an assertive hero claiming as a birthright his obligation to fight against oppression: "For seven hundred years we have been enslaved….We have been kept in darkness. But there will come a day when we walk in the light." Stirring—and archetypal—stuff.  

Comparisons to The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones series are inevitable, for this tale has elements of both—fantasy, the future and quasi-historicism.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-345-53981-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

MORNING STAR

From the Red Rising Trilogy series , Vol. 3

An ambitious and satisfying conclusion to a monumental saga.

Brown completes his science-fiction trilogy with another intricately plotted and densely populated tome, this one continuing the focus on a rebellion against the imperious Golds.

This last volume is incomprehensible without reference to the first two. Briefly, Darrow of Lykos, aka Reaper, has been “carved” from his status as a Red (the lowest class) into a Gold. This allows him to infiltrate the Gold political infrastructure…but a game’s afoot, and at the beginning of the third volume, Darrow finds himself isolated and imprisoned for his insurgent activities. He longs both for rescue and for revenge, and eventually he gets both. Brown is an expert at creating violent set pieces whose cartoonish aspects (“ ‘Waste ’em,’ Sevro says with a sneer” ) are undermined by the graphic intensity of the savagery, with razors being a favored instrument of combat. Brown creates an alternative universe that is multilayered and seething with characters who exist in a shadow world between history and myth, much as in Frank Herbert’s Dune. This world is vaguely Teutonic/Scandinavian (with characters such as Magnus, Ragnar, and the Valkyrie) and vaguely Roman (Octavia, Romulus, Cassius) but ultimately wholly eclectic. At the center are Darrow, his lover, Mustang, and the political and military action of the Uprising. Loyalties are conflicted, confusing, and malleable. Along the way we see Darrow become more heroic and daring and Mustang, more charismatic and unswerving, both agents of good in a battle against forces of corruption and domination. Among Darrow’s insights as he works his way to a position of ascendancy is that “as we pretend to be brave, we become so.”

An ambitious and satisfying conclusion to a monumental saga.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-345-53984-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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