An intriguing, introspective, and parablelike sci-fi/fantasy tale with moralistic edgings, more idea-based than...

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GLOWFLIES ON THE FACE OF GOD

A spacegoing researcher who studies the religious folklore of aliens dangerously violates noninterference protocols.

Sidanius’ (Five Blocks Down, 2016) sci-fi novel introduces Li, part of a nomadic race called Spacefarers. Eons ago, their king refused a god’s harsh command to sacrifice a child. As punishment, their home world became engulfed by their sun, with the Spacefarers taking to the stars. Now, with evolved bodies granting them translucent forms that allow chameleonlike camouflage, they travel the cosmos as secret recorders of traditions and folktales of alien species—especially recurring “sacrifice narratives.” It turns out that many species hear deities demanding the ritualistic killings of animals or their own kind. Li is more sensitive than most Spacefarers after witnessing numerous slaughters. On the drought-stricken world of Plena, she monitors a “holy man” called Bram about to kill his own son to appease the heavens. Unable to stand by impartially, Li calls from her hiding place and prevents the sacrifice. Subsequently, she is tormented by her action and whether to tell her superiors that she violated a prime directive of noninterference. Moreover, Li receives visions of lives and mores on Plena drastically altered by her meddling. This novel is, of course, an adaptation of the Old Testament tale of Abraham (Bram) and Isaac. But the book never becomes a hoary, sci-fi shaggy god story with rocket-ship versions of Adam, Eve, or Noah as the punchlines. Sidanius’ prose is limpid and unhurried (perhaps a trifle too unhurried) and suffused with melancholy as Spacefarers gather centuries of ethnographic data. This is apparently a bid to come to existential terms with their own expelled-from-Eden condition (nobody discusses investigating the mysterious holy spirits). There’s an ever-so-metaphorical detail that to survive space, the Spacefarers’ adapted anatomy eliminated hearts—though conscience-stricken Li continually feels twinges from her “phantom” one. Her empathetic qualities make her shed the cold impartiality of a detached field researcher. While traditional sci-fi notions—Einsteinian relativity and quantum entanglement—figure into the plot, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to steer clear of the white-lab-coat exposition of hard sci-fi and technology and render the material fablelike. Even when Li takes desperate action, it’s far from zap guns and straining warp engines. Fans of Ursula K. Le Guin, Doris Lessing, and other humanist, anthropology-minded sci-fi masters are the ideal readership. 

An intriguing, introspective, and parablelike sci-fi/fantasy tale with moralistic edgings, more idea-based than thrill-oriented.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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