A sometimes-preposterous but often profound tale of civilization struggling to persevere.

RITERS

In this debut sci-fi novel, one man’s journey leads to a group of survivors spending a century aboard a spaceship in search of a new Earth.

September 2197 marks the 100th anniversary for the people on Protostar, who will finally learn of the events preceding their expedition. It begins in the late 21st century with the “spacecase hero” named “Harrison, Jack.” He’s a spacecase because he’s String-trained, able to access the fifth dimension. Stealing a micro thought-recorder gets Harrison sent to work in subterranean mines in Alaska. It’s there he notices authorities’ apparent mistake in removing both the thought-recorder and his Appro-recall implant. Harrison has newfound perception, since part of the Appro-recall’s function is to block full access to memories. Fellow mining techies, led by “Larkill, Han,” enlist Harrison for a prison break: they plan to drill their way to the surface and head to Sanatan, the Satcit (satellite city) version of Las Vegas. Harrison can use his skills to play the String game, with everyone then splitting the winnings for whatever destination’s next. Along the way, Harrison has new experiences, including sex that isn’t virtual. Nevertheless, Han has another plan involving hijacking a ship and starting a new civilization elsewhere. Indeed, Earth has been devastated by overpopulation, global warming, and a third world war. But Han’s true objective may entail some explosions and ensuing deaths. Before long, someone’s being held captive by a very dangerous organization, and somewhere in the months prior to Protostar’s takeoff is a secret (or two) that’s been hidden for 100 years. Harris’ story is a shrewd genre piece taking place in an expansive universe that doesn’t shy away from farce. For example, the techie escapees encounter Bob, an unabashed cannibal who remembers his last girlfriend more fondly as a meal. Likewise, it seems Dog has taken the place of God, as in “Dogdamn” and “Oh my Dog, there is a Dog!” (The eventual explanation for this is best left unspoiled, though it’s certainly bizarre.) Other aspects of the future world, however, are deeper. The state of Earth, for one, is clearly derived from present-day concerns, and the only real form of government is 7, or the Seven Cartels—cartels around the globe under one umbrella. One of the tale’s strongest points is its treatment of flesh-and-blood intimacy versus the virtual kind Harrison initially prefers. There are numerous instances of the former in which affection is surprisingly lacking from either partner, while Harrison, when on the String, is tender and vulnerable with Han. Dialogue’s rife with jargon typically defined by context. Several characters speak Amerab (American-abbreviated), which the narrative doesn’t translate, but there are only a few words at a time (and they are memorable: “Washi mufu?”). But some readers may be thrown by the excessive amount of commas throughout. One example of how this can be jarring is the spoken line “Do you see, Jack?” Though it looks to be dialogue uttered to Harrison, he’s actually the subject of the query and not in the scene.

A sometimes-preposterous but often profound tale of civilization struggling to persevere.

Pub Date: July 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63568-122-2

Page Count: 501

Publisher: Page Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2017

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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 almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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