Team-superhero–style action meets cyberpunk sci-fi with satisfying, sometimes-head-spinning results.

SLEEPERNET

In the year 2085, Nathan Wainwright, chief architect of advanced computers that regulate a ubiquitous virtual reality environment, is lured into top-level U.S. government intrigue and treachery thanks to his sideline as vigilante. 

Earth has been radically transformed, not only by natural disasters resulting from climate change and pollution, but also by technology spawned under the 40-year presidency of an American strongman/dictator, Victor Marconi, who showed his mettle by instantly, ruthlessly vaporizing major cities in Russia, China, India, and Brazil, which had formed an alliance and seemingly orchestrated a monstrous Pearl Harbor–style sneak nuclear attack. One of Marconi’s other feats (prior to his suicide during a corruption investigation) was sanctioning the creation of Sleepernet, a virtual reality system accessible to all and monitored by 10 space-based supercomputers so advanced that they have outsized personalities to match their mythic names (Zeus, Olympus, Titan, Hera, Isis, etc.). Nathan was foremost among 10 brilliant engineers who brought Sleepernet online a decade earlier. Now, with a strong Bruce Wayne–like drive borne from tragedy—his wife died in an early Sleepernet snafu—Nathan dons a high-tech disguise (more like the Grim Reaper than Shazam) and foils lawbreakers and evildoers. He fights crime with or without the assistance of his fellow Sleepernet creators, who don’t always share his ideals. Nathan is approached by sexy Susan DiRevka, a congressional aide who fears that a senator has been replaced by an imposter (easy enough; it’s a peculiarity of the post-Marconi era that elected officials go masked and anonymous). But is Nathan being set up by those who covet Sleepernet as the ultimate tool of power and surveillance? Or is the conspiracy even bigger?   Punctuating his chapters with pithy Mark Twain quotes (“Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any”) and working Winston Churchill–isms into the narrative here and there, debut author McCool isn’t the first sci-fi writer to try to reboot the superhero aesthete with a what-if premise: What if costumed avengers were real or at least scientifically achievable and socially valid? But he approaches the material with a degree of realism that surpasses merely riffing ironically on clichés of the funny pages. The highly readable results lean more toward cyberpunk than Stan Lee (maybe Frank Miller is a good compromise), with high-tech combat described against a political background smacking of the George W. Bush era—a fascistic USA ruled by corporate stooges and military-industrial warmongers who are never held accountable, especially not by the propaganda-spewing media or the docile, duped, dopily patriotic public. Hence Nathan’s crusade, which ultimately (and rather unsurprisingly) uncovers the lies on which the unconstitutional Homeland Security–style reach of the Marconi presidency/personality cult is based. Scientific infodumps can grow tortuous: Virtual reality overlaps with the real thing (even to the point of distorting space-time), and omnipotent AIs endow their programmers/votaries with demigod skills to match superhuman strengths—the proverbial gadgetry sufficiently advanced so as to be indistinguishable from magic.

Team-superhero–style action meets cyberpunk sci-fi with satisfying, sometimes-head-spinning results.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5327-7925-1

Page Count: 498

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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