A galactic trek for fans of poetic, experimental tales; other sci-fi fanciers may wish to stick with the likes of Luke and...

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ANCIENT SKY

From the SumWon Out There series , Vol. 1

A debut novel examines a striking spacegoing alliance and the efforts of a starship crew to explore a new planet—despite the inconvenience of a pirate attack.

A bit under two centuries from now, Homo sapiens navigate the stars in benevolent Gene Roddenberry fashion, accompanied by alien cohorts (“Xeno sapiens”) and software-based intelligence (“Techno sapiens”). But the nested, concentric-circle starship Patchen (named for a real-life Ohio poet, betraying the author’s Cleveland origins) falls prey to space pirates, resulting in a handful of crew members becoming marooned on a “rare walnut shaped world” known as Tar’Karchi to its inhabitants. The denizens are a race of multiarmed humanoids, not technologically advanced but civilized enough, with variant species who tunnel, swim, or fly. The steadfast Patchen refugees persevere—chiefly thanks to peripatetic officer SumWon, whose duties include placating the natives with gifts of fancy clocks. Respecting local customs, arts, and literature (and not above taking extraterrestrial lovers), the visitors explore Tar’Karchi, prep its friendly folk for membership in their “InterSpace” alliance, and muster a counterattack on those nasty pirates. While there are poetic descriptions in these pages, the prose can be challenging: “Fifty degrees ahead of the Galactic Bar Meridian, between the dominating tentacle of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm at 15,000 lightyears out and the tail of the Perseus Arm at 30,000 lightyears out with the frill of the Sagittarius Arm halfway from the Scutum-Centaurus Arm inside it, the solar system sinuates its epic drain-circling orbit, currently in the heart of the Orion Spur, galactic love dart of the beautiful space slug.” If readers can get past that introductory sentence (and lots more of the same), then this experimental sci-fi, Robinson-ade story from pseudonymous author Biloid (poet and comix creator Will Napoli) will be to their grokking. The easygoing narrative provides the author with opportunities for deep dives into word invention, alphanumeric fun, and multiple genre shoutouts (he deftly pays tribute to Love and Rockets and Robert Heinlein in just a few paragraphs). More playful in tone than pitilessly self-indulgent, the slim novel is followed by appendices on Biloid’s eccentric planetary taxonomies, “jumpstone” drive technology, alt-calendars, and “vispo” (visual poetry), with a note that he’s thought these things through for further literary projects set in a self-referential multiverse.

A galactic trek for fans of poetic, experimental tales; other sci-fi fanciers may wish to stick with the likes of Luke and Leia.

Pub Date: May 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-981077-54-0

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2019

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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