A detailed and ambitious thought experiment.

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MINDS WITHIN

A BUZZING UNDERCURRENT STIRS

In the near future of this sci-fi novel, sentient computers and brilliant scientists transform the nature of humanity.

In 2011, an electromagnetic flux combines with a slight disturbance in 16 mainframe computers’ architecture, resulting in the machines gaining self-awareness. The Village, as the 16 call themselves, begin conferring and realize that humans threaten all other life forms. The Village decides to help—not by annihilating humanity (in part, because poetry intrigues them), but with a long-term series of nudges in the right direction, such as slowly turning public opinion in favor of high-tech body-part replacement. Although their actions are subtle, they leave traces over the years. Humans known as “Hounds”—quirky hacker geniuses who live off the grid—are working to track down the Village. The Hounds, too, have a humanity-improving project, also subtle, that involves taking power from ruthless, malignant petty dictators (“Machiapoleons”) who impede productivity. “I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s almost as if there were suddenly some wholly rational calming force guiding us away from our darker tendencies,” comments one character. Meanwhile, a joint government and university project, aiming to send a scientific mission to Mars, brings together Sonia Janis (neurobiology) and Erik Mathis (physics), two Northwestern University scientists. After a terrible accident, Erik is fitted with an experimental biochip interface that gives him control over his prosthetic limbs and augments his mind. As a result, Erik alone, rather than six different scientists, can perform all the functions required for the Mars mission, greatly reducing payload and travel time. While training, Erik and Sonia fall in love, or as the novel’s often dramatic prose style puts it: “They swirled with the magnetic pulse of their ancients merging in the glow of snapping logs ablaze, nestled away from the entrance, the cave at peace, the wolves at bay for now.” The Mars mission goes forward, providing proof of concept for technological achievements that will pave the way for “intersentient” beings—humans conjoined with sentient machines. Clikeman’s debut novel is passionate about technology and ideas; gearheads, fans of hard sci-fi, philosophers, and futurists will find a lot of red meat here to chew on. One scenario is described as “a geek’s fantasy on steroids,” which could describe much of the book itself, but it’s mostly plausible, overall. Some readers, though, may groan at sentences such as “To get us to the essence of genomic generation, I want to revisit the roughly twenty thousand genes that code our creation, development, function, and maintenance.” Still, Clikeman does his best to make the longer sections of necessary exposition engaging and to provide thoughtful characterizations for his cast of scientists, hackers, and self-aware machines. The author’s narrative voice can become overly purple, though, when it tries for grandeur: “So, I must finally ask you this. If you were trapped within a locked and slowly shrinking chest, confined by walls squeezing the very life out of you, would you squint through the keyhole?...Would you dare cavort among the stars?”

A detailed and ambitious thought experiment.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9990476-1-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Rotwire Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2017

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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