This speculative Hollywood tale deftly questions the desirability of immortality.

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WELLES LANG'S MAGIC BOX

A California detective searches for a serial killer who targets movie actors.

In this novel by Moore (The Merchant, the Janissary and the Corsair, 2017, etc.), Welles Lang is the greatest filmmaker of his generation. Actors both famous and unknown are dying to work with Welles. He and his collaborator Dr. Jack Crowley have now created the next immersive technology for filming, beyond 3-D, beyond holograms. There’s just one catch: This innovation does more than capture actors’ performances. It literally sucks the life essence out of them and into Welles’ magic box. So desiccated bodies of actors start popping up around Hollywood, sparking an investigation by Detective William Walker. Welles has another problem. Financing for this new technology came from a Croatian gangster, Ivan Blodovik, who expects Welles to turn his mistress, Davorka Stanich, into a star. Enemies of Welles lead the IRS and FBI to him and Ivan. Frustrated by Welles’ indifference, Ivan sends one of his thugs, Vitaly “Bob” Cervenko, to lean on him. But the filmmaker turns his machine on Bob, converting him into an avatar and his new enforcer. Considering himself beyond conventional morality, Welles collects more and more actors in his magic box, staying just ahead of the police trying to solve the increasing number of murders. Moore has created an entrancing cautionary tale of what happens when technology outpaces society’s ethical boundaries for it. In Welles’ mind, art trumps all, with the virtual actors just fodder for his visions as he plugs them into new roles at will. His partner in crime, Ivan, also thought himself above the law. Bob is the book’s redemptive character, going from darkness to light and eventually aiding the law in the pursuit of Welles and Ivan. The futuristic novel is fairly well-paced, although including lengthy segments that Welles is filming slows down the story without adding much to the narrative. But the author smoothly juggles a large cast of characters and various locations, which helps to propel the plot. The result is a thought-provoking take on the traditional Hollywood success story.

This speculative Hollywood tale deftly questions the desirability of immortality.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-978022-38-6

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2019

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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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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