The fictional universe Solomon constructs here is inadequate to the real-world issues they are exploring.

SORROWLAND

A Lambda Award–winning writer explores America’s dark history of brutalizing Black bodies in their latest work of speculative fiction.

Vern is a young woman raising her twin babies in a forest, dressing them in the hides of animals she’s hunted and hiding them away in makeshift shelters. Vern is being followed by ghosts and stalked by someone who butchers animals and dresses them in infants’ clothes. Both are connected to the Black separatist commune from which Vern has escaped. As a parasite takes over her body, Vern develops superhuman powers and begins to suspect that she is a test subject being used by the United States government. There’s a lot going on here—perhaps too much. The novel starts out strong; the portion of the narrative in which Vern and her children are fending for themselves in the wilderness has the feel of folklore, and the idea that she is haunted by the experience of her ancestors is evocative. As Solomon moves further into the realms of science fiction, though, their voice loses much of its force. This is surprising given the quality of the worldbuilding in An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017), a dystopian tale set on a giant spaceship. The problem isn’t that the notion that Vern is part of a secret experiment conducted on Black people is implausible—Solomon references both the Tuskegee Study and the work of James Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist who practiced new techniques on enslaved women. The problem is that the concept that drives the plot for half the novel is barely developed. With almost no evidence, Vern intuits that she is part of a shocking conspiracy, and, from that point, readers are supposed to take this as a given. Instead of building a compelling case, Solomon wrestles fantastic tropes into shapes that fit the frame they’ve created without effectively supporting it.

The fictional universe Solomon constructs here is inadequate to the real-world issues they are exploring.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-26677-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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