A small but important addition to the oeuvre of a writer deeply concerned with issues of race and gender.

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UNEXPECTED STORIES

Striking social commentary underscores the action in two dark, previously unpublished stories from the late sci-fi master.

In the opening novella, A Necessary Being, Tahneh rules the Rohkohn, a small desert tribe facing a severe drought. Tahneh is a Hao, a rare, blue-skinned being prized for their fighting ability and political cunning in the fictional world's stark, allegorical caste system based on skin color in which all people are yellow, green or blue. Traditionally, tribes fight to capture, hobble and force a Hao to lead them. Tahneh's father endured this at the hands of the Rohkohn, yet Tahneh avoided hobbling by being born into the tribe. After her tribe peacefully captures a young male Hao named Diut, she knows that because she is growing old and has not given birth to an heir in her “intercaste liaisons” with her people, they will soon hobble Diut and force him to succeed her. The sharp prose that Hugo and Nebula awards winner Butler (Fledgling, 2005, etc.) is known for isn’t as honed here. But she generates immense tension and shows the loneliness behind Tahneh’s maneuvering as the central power struggle unfolds between the two Hao and their tribes, structured tightly around a moving scene of seduction, a fight and an uneasy pact, forcing Tahneh to strategize for her tribe while she considers if they or the Hao are her true people. In the bleak story “Childfinder,” a black woman named Barbara can read thoughts and find children with similar “psionic ability.” A confrontation with the select group of people with “psi” reveals that Barbara has struck out on her own to train black children and snuff out “psi” powers in white children, which may trigger a lethal race war.

A small but important addition to the oeuvre of a writer deeply concerned with issues of race and gender.

Pub Date: June 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4976-0137-6

Page Count: 95

Publisher: Open Road Media

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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