A capable sci-fi novel, more The West Wing than Kim Stanley Robinson, that focuses its thrills on the political maneuvering...

Excessive Entanglement

In d’Arbelloff’s debut sci-fi novel set in the early 2030s, an overpopulated Earth finds hope when Cerulea, a new, inhabitable planet, is discovered.

The book’s title refers to the separation of church and state—a relevant issue when a new off-world colony’s constitution is being written. Second-term U.S. President Virginia Belknap supports colonization to the new planet, but religious conservatives fear that “’a determined minority of Ceruleans will . . . rid this new society of what it should hold most precious: its faith in God.’” A dangerous, violent conspiracy of conservatives soon threatens to sabotage the mission, and when a conservative wins the next presidency, compromises must be made. Readers who chiefly love the awe-inspiring aspects of science fiction—the brave new worlds of never-visited planets, the shared human enterprise of venturing into outer space—may find this novel a bit disappointing, but those with a taste for behind-the-scenes horse trading, debates, cloture, contracts, points of order and dirty tricks, will thoroughly enjoy the book. Although d’Arbeloff develops his characters effectively, he often seems more interested in how things work. For example, he lovingly describes technology, in a manner reminiscent of Tom Clancy: “The V-90 Dragonfly tiltrotor aircraft streamed through the sky. . . . An offshoot of the V-22 Osprey, this was the next generation; with a top speed of 425 mph, it was 30% faster than its sibling.” When the novel renders the spacecraft environment, beauty takes a backseat to form and function: “Before them stretched a small, narrow, forested valley, rich green on either side with a long, thin, crystal blue lake in the center. Within the trees [were] the building units that would serve as the living quarters and recreational facilities for the ship’s crew.” Overall, while some readers may find this style intriguing, others may wish for a bit more wonder.

A capable sci-fi novel, more The West Wing than Kim Stanley Robinson, that focuses its thrills on the political maneuvering required for a new Earth.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1479352258

Page Count: 412

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2013

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

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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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A weird, wild ride.

THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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