A delectably zany SF tale.

AIN'T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS

After an apocalypse, the last surviving people—and one aging, flatulent pooch—embark on a journey to save humankind’s future in this dystopian novel.

Humanity faced catastrophe when aliens called the Kenmoreans invaded Earth in search of tungsten, leaving behind nothing but scorched earth. Sure, the aliens may have been eventually defeated by a virus, but now the few human survivors have little to celebrate. Among them are American President Morton Buchanan, slowly losing his mind in the ruins of the White House, and reclusive SF writer Ira Hunter, who lives on Gall Island, off the coast of Maine, and whose only company is his older dog, Eve. (“One huge benefit of living a solitary life on a deserted island was the unintentional preparation for any impending apocalypse…the arrival of a hostile alien population, the outbreak of a calamitous war, and the ruination resulting from a rampant alien virus…well, these things have little-to-no impact on a recluse’s life.”) Then Zen Buddhist nun Sarah Pretlusky unexpectedly knocks on Ira’s door to say—to his dismay and utter surprise—that she has not only read all of his books, but has found the answer to humankind’s survival in them as well. Her startling statements feel even more real when CIA agents show up on a ship that carries Buchanan and an alien who purports to be 3 million years old, spouting a deranged plan to save (or possibly destroy) Earth for future generations. What’s an SF author to do but join the eclectic group? As the ragtag band of disparate heroes goes on a voyage that will determine humanity’s destiny, Ira realizes that his words have more potency than he ever knew.

This novel is ostensibly written by mysterious SF writer Sumac, who supposedly disappeared in the 1980s, leaving behind nothing but disorganized, handwritten manuscripts that are slowly being put together by his fans in the Sam Sumac Association. The group also presents readers with the author’s playlist of mostly blues songs for this story. The result here is an over-the-top, funny narrative full of zingers. The tale offers a hodgepodge of characters and threads that include Buddhist sayings, courageous seabirds and dogs, lots of tantric sex, a glacier in Iceland, Mary Shelley, and a couple of effective love stories. The book examines the power of storytelling in an oddball way that somehow works in the end. In addition, the cast is intriguing and often amusing. During Sarah’s first meeting with Ira, she asserts: “Now Mr. Hunter, if you think I’m going to be acting like the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine from the television show, Kung Fu, you’re in for some disappointments. Nope, I am still a living, breathing woman, not some kind of a superhero. And, right now, I’m as cold as shit. Can I please come in?” This slightly nonsensical but fun romp is as wacky as Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as ineffable as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, and as American-centric as the film Independence Day.  

A delectably zany SF tale.

Pub Date: April 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-977253-72-9

Page Count: 458

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2022

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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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Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

THIS TIME TOMORROW

A woman who's been drifting through life wakes up the morning after her 40th birthday to discover that she's just turned 16 again.

Alice Stern wouldn't say she's unhappy. She lives in a studio apartment in Brooklyn; has a job in the admissions office of the Upper West Side private school she attended as a kid; still hangs out with Sam, her childhood best friend; and has a great relationship with her father, Leonard, the famous author of a time-travel novel, Time Brothers. Alice's mother left her and Leonard when Alice was a kid, and father and daughter formed a tight, loving unit along with their freakishly long-lived cat, Ursula. But now Leonard is in a coma, and as she visits him in the hospital every day, Alice is forced to reckon with her life. After a drunken birthday evening with Sam, Alice returns to her childhood house on Pomander Walk, a one-block-long gated street running between two avenues on the UWS—but when she wakes up the next morning, she hears Leonard in the kitchen and finds herself heading off to SAT tutoring and preparing for her 16th birthday party that night. Straub's novel has echoes of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town: Every prosaic detail of her earlier life is almost unbearably poignant to Alice, and the chance to spend time with her father is priceless. As she moves through her day, she tries to figure out how to get back to her life as a 40-year-old and whether there's anything she can do in the past to improve her future—and save her father's life. As always, Straub creates characters who feel fully alive, exploring the subtleties of their thoughts, feelings, and relationships. It's hard to say more without giving away the delightful surprises of the book's second half, but be assured that Straub's time-travel shenanigans are up there with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and the TV show Russian Doll.

Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-525-53900-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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