An unusually rosy, if rather talky, take on the relationship between humans and robots.

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PEOPLE OF METAL

In this sci-fi tale, the destiny of mankind is drastically altered after new technology allows the copying of human minds into robotic chassis—and ultimately, the resulting beings must save the last Homo sapiens.

Snyder’s debut saga opens in 2014 with Graham Gordon, a Canadian youth, reading a Popular Science article about new advances in interfacing animal brains with computers. Later, the adult Graham does robotic research as scientists in a ruthlessly ambitious China and in a corporate-corrupted United States race to develop artificial, humanoid soldiers. He figures out how to copy human minds (with all their useful job skills, experiences, and interpersonal nuance) into software, but instead of creating marching automaton armies, a Sino-American cooperative effort mass-manufactures a nicer breed of robots with the ability to think. These durable, tireless, guileless “Machines” go on to replace the human labor force entirely. However, “Malaise,” a fatal torpor typified by suicide and addiction, levels humanity. The ultrasensible Machines have personalities, opinions, and quirks—all cut and pasted from real people—but they lack the incentive for evil. So, as mankind languishes on the edge of extinction, Machines conclude that it’s only fair to rescue their inventors. Leading the effort is Keisha, a Machine copied from long-dead novelist Amelia Dixon; Bill Weinberg, copied from Dixon’s money-manager husband; and other roboticized VIPs from an earlier era. The style of this seven century–spanning chronicle of robotic evolution (and human devolution), told largely in anecdotal fashion, sometimes verges on reportage. At times, it recalls Isaac Asimov’s iconic, linked short story cycle I, Robot (1950), although nobody mentions “positronic brains” here. Snyder’s story indulges in the utopian speculation of early sci-fi works, as the wise, verbose Machines implement programs for restoring “biological” civilization to its glory, while also sidestepping its socio-economic pitfalls and pathologies. This optimistic novel does lack the slam-bang robot action of a Terminator movie, but the Machines make charming company as they engage in lengthy discussions about how and why biological culture went buggy—and about ways to put it right.    

An unusually rosy, if rather talky, take on the relationship between humans and robots.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68433-153-6

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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