A well-conceived parable of aging and love.

HARMONY

A woman attempts to find meaning in post-divorce life in this satirical, speculative novel.

At age 50, Harmony is feeling self-conscious about being too old, especially after her husband, Garth, leaves her for a younger woman. Though indistinguishable from a human, Harmony is actually a RealGirlz: a synthetic woman who was originally created “with an approximate physical age of sixteen” by a 3-D printer in order to serve as an unpaid sex worker for the Regal Corporation. She was released from that life by court order at age 20, but Garth still throws her sex-worker past at Harmony when he leaves. To add insult to injury, the same day Harmony receives her divorce papers, she also gets a notice about Compassionate Release, the program by which single women over 50 are encouraged to take advantage of an assisted suicide service. After Harmony makes a desperate, flailing pass at Lydia, her trans best friend who was also abandoned by her partner, the two women try to figure out how to proceed in life as middle-aged singles. It’s a world of devious men and frightening statistics. But is happiness really possible for a woman in Harmony’s situation, or should she just accept the sweet embrace of death? Mann’s prose is crisp and clever as she paints a portrait of a future just slightly (and yet believably) advanced from the audience’s present. The premise is rife with humor. When Harmony attends the RealGirlz 50th Birthday Bash, one of her synthetic sisters observes: “We may be 50 biologically, but we’re just 34 chronologically. Have you thought about that?” While the book takes a while to find its voice—the first few chapters are oddly serious for what turns out to be mostly a comedic work—the author has plenty to say about how much society defines women primarily by their relationships with men. (Though there’s always alternate fulfillment: “Living for the children, I suppose,” Harmony’s Compassionate Release rep defines it. “If you have them.”) Even with the speculative elements, Mann hews closely to her characters’ interior lives, giving the story some emotional heft—and readers a lot to think about.

A well-conceived parable of aging and love.

Pub Date: March 18, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2020

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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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An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

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PROJECT HAIL MARY

Weir’s latest is a page-turning interstellar thrill ride that follows a junior high school teacher–turned–reluctant astronaut at the center of a desperate mission to save humankind from a looming extinction event.

Ryland Grace was a once-promising molecular biologist who wrote a controversial academic paper contesting the assumption that life requires liquid water. Now disgraced, he works as a junior high science teacher in San Francisco. His previous theories, however, make him the perfect researcher for a multinational task force that's trying to understand how and why the sun is suddenly dimming at an alarming rate. A barely detectable line of light that rises from the sun’s north pole and curves toward Venus is inexplicably draining the star of power. According to scientists, an “instant ice age” is all but inevitable within a few decades. All the other stars in proximity to the sun seem to be suffering with the same affliction—except Tau Ceti. An unwilling last-minute replacement as part of a three-person mission heading to Tau Ceti in hopes of finding an answer, Ryland finds himself awakening from an induced coma on the spaceship with two dead crewmates and a spotty memory. With time running out for humankind, he discovers an alien spacecraft in the vicinity of his ship with a strange traveler on a similar quest. Although hard scientific speculation fuels the storyline, the real power lies in the many jaw-dropping plot twists, the relentless tension, and the extraordinary dynamic between Ryland and the alien (whom he nicknames Rocky because of its carapace of oxidized minerals and metallic alloy bones). Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13520-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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