This perceptive take on the reality TV–in-the-future premise deserves boffo ratings.

VICARIOUS

Bruno’s SF novel follows the struggling inhabitants of a dilapidated space ark who are unwitting players in a cruel, hidden-camera reality show.

In the year 2450, the Ignis is an aging, ramshackle spaceship fashioned from an asteroid and presumably carrying approximately 10,000 refugees from a destroyed Earth to a colony world in the Tau Ceti star system. Every fragile resource, including birth, is highly regulated, so it’s impressive that a girl called Mission, conceived outside regulations and genetic assignments, survives to adulthood and blends in. There’s a bigger secret, however: Humankind, back on Earth, is still around. Although beset by floods, millions on 25th-century “High Earth” enjoy an idyllic lifestyle featuring robots, virtual-reality technology, and other media entertainment. The Ignis, it turns out, is still in orbit around Earth, providing a continuous hidden-camera feed for Ignis: Live, a 50-year-old reality TV show transmitting the real-time lives (and deaths) of the ship’s desperate inhabitants, including Mission. Asher Reinhart, chief director of content for the show, has watched Mission’s struggles and developed a strong emotional attachment to her. When he learns that a disaster is planned for the ship to boost sagging viewership, he intervenes to protect Mission from harm. This transgression backfires, putting Mission in even more danger and sending Asher into the anarchic Outskirts zone. Bruno is not the first, nor will he be the last, SF author to address reality television, but he mines rich veins of meaning in this stand-alone work. He also doesn’t skimp on the action, which includes grotesque cyborgs, but he also instills deep thought into his premise. There are familiar themes regarding the greed and ego of media elite and the fickle flukiness of celebrity, but the heart of the tale is an exploration of the contrast between the tech-saturated lifestyles of High Earth’s people and the hardscrabble ordeals that the Ignis’ courageous inhabitants encounter. The author also scores points for not aping the landmark twist of Daniel F. Galouye’s 1964 virtual-reality novel Simulacron-3, which also involved puppet masters monitoring a synthetic society.

This perceptive take on the reality TV–in-the-future premise deserves boffo ratings.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-949890-72-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Aethon Books, LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

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PROJECT HAIL MARY

Weir’s latest is a page-turning interstellar thrill ride that follows a junior high school teacher–turned–reluctant astronaut at the center of a desperate mission to save humankind from a looming extinction event.

Ryland Grace was a once-promising molecular biologist who wrote a controversial academic paper contesting the assumption that life requires liquid water. Now disgraced, he works as a junior high science teacher in San Francisco. His previous theories, however, make him the perfect researcher for a multinational task force that's trying to understand how and why the sun is suddenly dimming at an alarming rate. A barely detectable line of light that rises from the sun’s north pole and curves toward Venus is inexplicably draining the star of power. According to scientists, an “instant ice age” is all but inevitable within a few decades. All the other stars in proximity to the sun seem to be suffering with the same affliction—except Tau Ceti. An unwilling last-minute replacement as part of a three-person mission heading to Tau Ceti in hopes of finding an answer, Ryland finds himself awakening from an induced coma on the spaceship with two dead crewmates and a spotty memory. With time running out for humankind, he discovers an alien spacecraft in the vicinity of his ship with a strange traveler on a similar quest. Although hard scientific speculation fuels the storyline, the real power lies in the many jaw-dropping plot twists, the relentless tension, and the extraordinary dynamic between Ryland and the alien (whom he nicknames Rocky because of its carapace of oxidized minerals and metallic alloy bones). Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13520-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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