A funny and fantastical spin through a future New England.

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Flatlander

A man wakes up with no memory in a foreign land—Vermont—in this debut novel.

In 2110, a man finds himself in Middlesex in the country of Vermont, but there’s one problem —he has no idea where he came from or how he ended up in this unfamiliar territory. Dubbed Flatlander by the inhabitants, who include the swashbuckling King Henry, the wanderer is told that Vermont is now its own sovereignty, free from the rules and regulations of what the residents call the “Old Country.” King Henry and his court, prejudiced against Flatlanders to begin with, do not trust this newcomer because of his amnesia. But he will be offered citizenship if he completes 10 important quests for the monarch (“Quests that are designed to help the republic. Helping fix problems that have been festering for much too long. As Vermonters, we sometimes like to think that we’re immune to many of the problems that the rest of the world faces, yet that is not so”). Through demons, assassinations, political intrigue, a moose named Pete, and more, Flatlander must complete his tasks, figure out who he is, and be accepted by King Henry and his country—not an easy mission, to say the least. As Flatlander journeys through every inch of Vermont, he learns more about his past, his future, and the country that he is fighting to be a part of. Kranichfeld’s enthusiasm for epic fantasy novels is apparent in this work—it’s full of imaginative, irregular creatures and characters, which should inspire delight (or, in some cases, disgust) in readers. His prose remains dense but still seals in excitement, propelling the reader through Flatlander’s exploits. The explanatory footnotes included throughout the text are charming and helpful, adding more layers to the tale’s lore or aiding those readers unfamiliar with New England or Vermont. It is clear that the author has a deep love for the setting—he is creating perhaps a new genre of geographical fiction here, combining the culture and hallowed grounds of Vermont with the themes of a Homerian epic. Balling’s illustrations—simple sketches etched in black and white—add a mysterious air and a window to what to visualize as the tale proceeds. Lovers of adventure stories should certainly adore this book, and wait with bated breath for the next chapter.

A funny and fantastical spin through a future New England.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4917-9992-5

Page Count: 684

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2016

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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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