Hot, glowing sci-fi nuggets.

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STRANGE WORLDS

Clayton (In the Shape of a Man, 2013) delivers 14 sci-fi tales.

These eclectic stories feature many of the political riffs and future-shock themes found throughout classic sci-fi; they’re also loaded with enough tragic irony to satisfy die-hard Twilight Zone fans. Some of the best include “Dog Man,” about Steve “Cap” Crowley and the other residents of Penn’s Village Nursing Home, plagued by a cat with a sense for who will die next; “Day, or Two, of The Dead,” in which benign zombies visit from another dimension to bond with loved ones (or failing that, annoy former acquaintances); and “A Working Man,” which reveals a future not unlike that of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where frequent, pointless hookups are the norm—until a rugged loner teaches the lovely Lenina what “gentleman” means. For the grandly comedic finale, “2038: San Francisco Sojourn; The Wrath of God” features Christ returning to find the law-abiding (and prescription-medicated) populace infantilized by left-wing policies run amok. Everyone must wear safety helmets at all times, and fast food meals come with condoms. Disgusted, Christ begins incinerating transgressors, only to be outdone by rapping, nuke-obsessed North Korean President Kim Young Moon. Elsewhere, author Clayton lovingly hints at his influences in clever, poignant stories. “Remembering Mandy” offers shades of Philip K. Dick, as Henley, last survivor of World War III, prepares to sell the memories of his wife to a corporation in exchange for eternal youth. Clayton’s cybernetic humans, enfeebled outcasts and future societies parade maniacally from his fertile imagination; Henley, for example, has “an auto-heart, Mylar veins, sponge lungs and a CPU-driven spleen and kidney.” Shorter tales, like “The Triumph,” “The Thing in the Box” and “About Our Cats,” are stunningly compact, envisioning fascinating scenarios readers will want to explore further. Overall, a cutting wit drives commentary on everything from race and religion to father-son relationships and the elderly. One too many portrayals of young people as texting-happy dolts, however, might date this volume in years to come.

Hot, glowing sci-fi nuggets.

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475233933

Page Count: 208

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 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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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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