Sanders is at his best when he leaves humor behind to tell stories with big ideas; fortunately, over half the stories here...

DANCING IN DREAMTIME

A short story collection wrestling with modern isolation and dystopic futures, from an author also known for nonfiction essays about conservation and nature.

Sanders (Divine Animal, 2014, etc.) begins with “The Anatomy Lesson,” a horror story about transformation in a poorly defined academic setting. “The First Journey of Jason Moss” describes a nebbishy man's unlikely midlife blossoming into a world traveler and solver-of-everyone's-problems. “The Artist of Hunger” is about an artist's rebellion against (somewhat cartoonish) villainous corporate patrons and their manufactured culture of greed. “The Engineer of Beasts" is the first story explicitly set in Sanders' Enclosure universe, a dystopia of bubble cities sealed against Earth's pollution, more thoroughly explored in his 1985 novel Terrarium. Despite traces of a too-cute whimsy, Sanders hits his stride as he explores what happens when one of the Enclosure's "disneys" (an inspired coinage for artificial parks within the cities) goes haywire. Sanders invigorates the "domed cities" trope for the last 10 stories, which chronicle humanity's retreat into the Enclosure...and their subsequent need to escape their refuge and reconnect with their ruined natural world and with one another. In the far future of the setting, our species reaches other, less spoiled planets. The two best stories take place here: “The Audubon Effect,” in which a team of scientists puzzles through the impossible appearance of extinct avians; and the claustrophobic and creepy “The Land Where Songtrees Grow,” a rescue mission whose members are in risk of losing their own minds. “Travels in the Interior” is also strong, sharply examining both celebrity culture and colonization/exploitation through two brothers whose expeditions on alien planets are televised.

Sanders is at his best when he leaves humor behind to tell stories with big ideas; fortunately, over half the stories here do so, despite a shaky start.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-253-02251-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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A huge, churning, relentlessly entertaining melodrama buoyed by confidence that human values will prevail.

LEVIATHAN WAKES

A rare, rattling space opera—first of a trilogy, or series, from Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  

Humanity colonized the solar system out as far as Neptune but then exploration stagnated. Straight-arrow Jim Holden is XO of an ice-hauler swinging between the rings of Saturn and the mining stations of the Belt, the scattered ring of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. His ship's captain, responding to a distress beacon, orders Holden and a shuttle crew to investigate what proves to be a derelict. Holden realizes it's some sort of trap, but an immensely powerful, stealthed warship destroys the ice-hauler, leaving Holden and the shuttle crew the sole survivors. This unthinkable act swiftly brings Earth, with its huge swarms of ships, Mars with its less numerous but modern and powerful navy, and the essentially defenseless Belt to the brink of war. Meanwhile, on the asteroid Ceres, cynical, hard-drinking detective Miller—we don't find out he has other names until the last few pages—receives orders to track down and "rescue"—i.e. kidnap—a girl, Julie Mao, who rebelled against her rich Earth family and built an independent life for herself in the Belt. Julie is nowhere to be found but, as the fighting escalates, Miller discovers that Julie's father knew beforehand that hostilities would occur. Now obsessed, Miller continues to investigate even when he loses his job—and the trail leads towards Holden, the derelict, and what might prove to be a horrifying biological experiment. No great depth of character here, but the adherence to known physical laws—no spaceships zooming around like airplanes—makes the action all the more visceral. And where Corey really excels is in conveying the horror and stupidity of interplanetary war, the sheer vast emptiness of space and the amorality of huge corporations.

A huge, churning, relentlessly entertaining melodrama buoyed by confidence that human values will prevail.

Pub Date: June 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-316-12908-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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