An unusually sedate and conscience-ridden military/sci-fi drama featuring a warrior who’s lost without a battle to occupy...

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CLOUDS & EARTH

A victorious but haunted commando of the future, adrift after her services are no longer needed for combat, becomes lured into unethical corporate espionage missions by a megalomaniac tycoon.

This sci-fi novel from poet/author Scarlett (Love Crimes, 2017) is set 150 years “from now.” A conflict called “the Long War” seems to have become the new branding for the war on terror. To defeat regional warlords preying worldwide on civilians in guerrilla attacks, fresh tiers of military intelligence sent elite warrior squads after the bad guys on their home soil. While the Dubai-born author doesn’t spell it out, there is a strong inference these best-of-the-best soldiers eradicated much of the Arab world. Lt. 1st Class Alisande “Sandy” Attiyeh was a teen orphaned by a terror attack when she joined the fight as an ace hacker/assassin/commando. After the West’s victory, she embraces celebrity as an inspiring avenger (even doing commercial endorsements). Still, much of peacetime American society (the military included) reviles her as a loose-cannon war criminal, and, at only 31 years old, she remains drug-sedated and troubled by her past. Lyndon Hamilton, a homicidal billionaire tied to a destructive cult, recruits vulnerable Sandy for his data-mining conspiracy to seize and manipulate society via computer. In a subplot, Matthew “Massi” Moretti, a teenage armed forces cadet in Virginia who unashamedly idolizes Sandy, finds himself increasingly ostracized by his comrades and even the girl he loves. Scarlett’s nonstandard story structure takes place in the aftermath of a dramatic, action-filled conflict, not during the thick of it, with key details supplied only sparingly with belated flashbacks. For many genre readers—especially in an era of sci-fi sagas profitably starring women—this series opener intriguingly explores the wounded mindset of a discarded alpha heroine when the fight’s over, adrenaline rushes are in short supply, and dull domesticity looms in a “happy” ending. Think Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Honor Harrington (Honorverse), and Killashandra Ree (Crystal Singer trilogy). As such, the author offers a more character-driven and thoughtful story than expected. Despite the futuristic time frame, the technology here is not too extraordinarily advanced. Sadly, perhaps the biggest mind-blower in Scarlett’s extrapolated America of tomorrow is the horrifying massacre of Middle Easterners and its impact on guilt-ridden citizens.

An unusually sedate and conscience-ridden military/sci-fi drama featuring a warrior who’s lost without a battle to occupy her talents and keep her pain at bay.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5434-9323-8

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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