A thoughtful nightmare for uncertain times.

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KINGDOM OF NEEDLE AND BONE

When a devastating virus outbreak strikes, a virologist hatches a radical idea to save the lives of future generations.

While on vacation in Florida, 8-year-old Lisa Morris starts to feel ill but, not wanting to miss the last day of fun, keeps her symptoms to herself. By the time she and her mother, Brooke, and father, Rick, meet her Aunt Isabelle, who happens to be a virologist-turned-pediatrician, at the baggage claim back home, Lisa is in bad shape. Dr. Isabelle Gauley sees what’s on little Lisa’s back, “a deep red, vicious-looking rash, humped up in little peaks, like goosebumps, like acne,” and immediately thinks measles. Quarantine follows, but it’s too late for Lisa, as it is for the people she infected back in Florida and on the plane ride home. Lisa is patient zero, the first identified case of Morris’s disease, which eventually kills about 5 percent of the world’s population, a catastrophic loss of life. The finger-pointing and blame were inevitable, as was the depletion of the vaccination supply, then the outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps. With the world paranoid, exhausted, and divided, Isabelle and her nurses try to mitigate the damage the best they can at their vaccination clinic, but they’re fighting a still-active anti-vaccination movement (of which Brooke and Isabelle’s sister, Angela, a radical activist, is a part). When Brooke approaches Izzy with shocking evidence that Morris’s has indelibly changed its survivors’ immune systems, Izzy puts in motion a controversial plan to save future lives. The pseudonymous Grant (Feedback, 2016, etc.) writes with a lean urgency, taking barbed aim at the anti-vaxxer movement and its surrounding ethics while bolstering her potent cautionary tale with enough scientific factoids to make the whole rolling disaster terrifyingly plausible. Readers will be simultaneously relieved and disappointed when the novella ends, but as Grant makes perfectly clear, this is a fight that is never truly over.

A thoughtful nightmare for uncertain times.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59606-871-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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