An engrossing, if sometimes overly talkative, tale of a groundbreaking inventor.

THE GENE RASP

An SF novel focuses on an unconventional inventor and his remarkable creation.

McConnell’s book takes the form of an autobiography of his main character, born Tom Spoon and renamed Tom Maloof after the famous woodworker Sam Maloof. Sam not only gave Tom a glimmer of future promise while he was languishing in a boys home, but also used his influence to gain the teen admission to a university. Even in those early years, Tom is an engagingly self-effacing character, often reflecting on his life. “I would think of how things would be different if I had grown up in a normal family,” he muses at one point. “I would later learn that no family is ever normal.” Tom goes on to invent a miraculous device called the Gene Rasp, a way to manipulate genes, “a tool that could cull the chaff from the wheat.” The invention can effectively reengineer individual genetics, offering a cure not only for cancer, but for all kinds of genetic deviations and medical problems as well. Around this narrative center, McConnell expands two larger stories: one involving Tom and the intriguing friends and colleagues he makes along the way and the other indulging in a great deal of his own digressions on a wide variety of scientific, personal, and even philosophical topics. “The longer the distance the stranger the memory,” he observes. “Memory is fractal, splintering and glimmering and cascading.” A lot of the ambitious and thought-provoking story reflects that kind of cascade. The author is a generally entertaining writer throughout the fictional memoir, delivering many rich details. But he sometimes displays a weakness for throwaway clichés (“The mind is not only a terrible thing to waste,” he writes at one point, “it’s a very difficult thing to understand”), and he underestimates how distracting the myriad digressions can be. The intricate text includes not only copious amounts of poetry, but also frequent URL links and scanning tags designed to share key songs and sound clips with readers.

An engrossing, if sometimes overly talkative, tale of a groundbreaking inventor.

Pub Date: July 15, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-66-637197-8

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

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KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

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MEXICAN GOTHIC

Moreno-Garcia offers a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror, set in 1950s Mexico.

Inquisitive 22-year-old socialite and anthropology enthusiast Noemí Taboada adores beautiful clothes and nights on the town in Mexico City with a bevy of handsome suitors, but her carefree existence is cut short when her father shows her a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina, who recently married fair-haired and blue-eyed Virgil Doyle, who comes from a prominent English mining family that built their now-dwindling fortune on the backs of Indigenous laborers. Catalina lives in High Place, the Doyle family’s crumbling mansion near the former mining town of El Triunfo. In the letter, Catalina begs for Noemí’s help, claiming that she is “bound, threads like iron through my mind and my skin,” and that High Place is “sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.” Upon Noemí’s arrival at High Place, she’s struck by the Doyle family’s cool reception of her and their unabashed racism. She's alarmed by the once-vibrant Catalina’s listless state and by the enigmatic Virgil and his ancient, leering father, Howard. Nightmares, hallucinations, and phantasmagoric dreams of golden dust and fleshy bodies plague Noemí, and it becomes apparent that the Doyles haven’t left their blood-soaked legacy behind. Luckily, the brave Noemí is no delicate flower, and she’ll need all her wits about her for the battle ahead. Moreno-Garcia weaves elements of Mexican folklore with themes of decay, sacrifice, and rebirth, casting a dark spell all the way to the visceral and heart-pounding finale.

Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-62078-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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