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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Very smart and very entertaining.

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THE POWER

All over the world, teenage girls develop the ability to send an electric charge from the tips of their fingers.

It might be a little jolt, as thrilling as it is frightening. It might be powerful enough to leave lightning-bolt traceries on the skin of people the girls touch. It might be deadly. And, soon, the girls learn that they can awaken this new—or dormant?—ability in older women, too. Needless to say, there are those who are alarmed by this development. There are efforts to segregate and protect boys, laws to ensure that women who possess this ability are banned from positions of authority. Girls are accused of witchcraft. Women are murdered. But, ultimately, there’s no stopping these women and girls once they have the power to kill with a touch. Framed as a historical novel written in the far future—long after rule by women has been established as normal and, indeed, natural—this is an inventive, thought-provoking work of science fiction that has already won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction in Britain. Alderman (The Liars’ Gospel, 2013, etc.) chronicles the early days of matriarchy’s rise through the experiences of four characters. Tunde is a young man studying to be a journalist who happens to capture one of the first recordings of a girl using the power; the video goes viral, and he devotes himself to capturing history in the making. After Margot’s daughter teaches her to use the power, Margot has to hide it if she wants to protect her political career. Allie takes refuge in a convent after running away from her latest foster home, and it’s here that she begins to understand how newly powerful young women might use—and transform—religious traditions. Roxy is the illegitimate daughter of a gangster; like Allie, she revels in strength after a lifetime of knowing the cost of weakness. Both the main story and the frame narrative ask interesting questions about gender, but this isn’t a dry philosophical exercise. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and even funny.

Very smart and very entertaining.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-54761-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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A captivating start to what promises to be an epic post-apocalyptic fable.

THE BOOK OF KOLI

The first volume in Carey’s Rampart trilogy is set centuries into a future shaped by war and climate change, where the scant remains of humankind are threatened by genetically modified trees and plants.

Teenager Koli Woodsmith lives in Mythen Rood, a village of about 200 people in a place called Ingland, which has other names such as “Briton and Albion and Yewkay.” He was raised to cultivate, and kill, the wood from the dangerous trees beyond Mythen Rood’s protective walls. Mythen Rood is governed by the Ramparts (made up entirely of members of one family—what a coincidence), who protect the village with ancient, solar-powered tech. After the Waiting, a time in which each child, upon turning 15, must decide their future, Koli takes the Rampart test: He must “awaken” a piece of old tech. After he inevitably fails, he steals a music player which houses a charming “manic pixie dream girl” AI named Monono, who reveals a universe of knowledge. Of course, a little bit of knowledge can threaten entire societies or, in Koli’s case, a village held in thrall to a family with unfettered access to powerful weapons. Koli attempts to use the device to become a Rampart, he becomes their greatest threat, and he’s exiled to the world beyond Mythen Rood. Luckily, the pragmatic Koli has his wits, Monono, and an ally in Ursala, a traveling doctor who strives to usher in a healthy new generation of babies before humanity dies out for good. Koli will need all the help he can get, especially when he’s captured by a fearsome group ruled by a mad messianic figure who claims to have psychic abilities. Narrator Koli’s inquisitive mind and kind heart make him the perfect guide to Carey’s (Someone Like Me, 2018, etc.) immersive, impeccably rendered world, and his speech and way of life are different enough to imagine the weight of what was lost but still achingly familiar, and as always, Carey leavens his often bleak scenarios with empathy and hope. Readers will be thrilled to know the next two books will be published in short order.

A captivating start to what promises to be an epic post-apocalyptic fable.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-47753-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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