An amusing SF private eye/coffee spoof, chock-full of silicon circuits, served with laughs.

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THE GREAT AMERICAN DECEPTION

In a giant, futuristic mall, a coffee machine with artificial intelligence excitedly narrates the exploits of its new owner, a retro-style, hard-boiled gumshoe.

Stein’s (Lost, 2019) satirical SF detective yarn at least initially owes much to Douglas Adams, before the material finds its own humorous tone. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans may recall Adams’ ancillary detail of robotic home appliances with “Real People Personalities,” often annoying, single-minded entities. And coffee machines were among those conveniences so accessorized. Arjay, the first-person (or first-gadget?) narrator here, is such a device, an ever-upbeat, persistent, and talkative “top of the line” coffee maker. Arjay gets delivered to Frank Harken, a private eye of the old school, whose beat is the Great American, a fortresslike, coast-to-coast shopping/dining/entertainment/residential mall (shades of Somtow Sucharitkul’s Mallworld). The mall is a consumers’ paradise and haven for the elite in an otherwise ill-described (but doubtlessly unpleasant) future United States. Because of a prime directive to serve coffee in any circumstance, Arjay is mobile, resourceful, multilimbed, and filled with extra goodies such as laser cutters. The AI becomes sidekick to bemused tough-guy Harken. The chipper appliance recounts their initial case together, a missing custom-dentistry heiress named Winsome Smiles, connected to shady characters and now apparently kidnapped. Arjay’s enthusiastic narration takes readers through not only the standard private investigator clichés (mobsters, clueless authorities, duplicitous dames), but also bizarre boutiques and services (“legstentions”), literary references encompassing The Princess Bride and Edgar Allan Poe, and—in a very Hitchhiker touch—reams of persnickety Arjay non sequitur footnotes. (Sample: “Assassins were notoriously inconsiderate.”) A nice feat for Stein is that he still remains faithful, even in the jokey milieu, to the twisty conventions of a decent gumshoe mystery. And a certain readership demographic will appreciate that he keeps a lid on Quentin Tarantino–type violence and never flavors the brew with gratuitous sex or sleaze. This coffee tale offers good taste (to the last drop).

An amusing SF private eye/coffee spoof, chock-full of silicon circuits, served with laughs.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-946501-21-9

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Tiny Fox Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Someone else might’ve made this fresh and clever, but from this source, it’s an often dull and pointless-seeming retread.

AGENCY

A sequel to The Peripheral (2014), in which bored dilettantes from the future meddle virtually with potential pasts while more responsible people try to ameliorate the damage.

The novel opens, as so many Gibson novels do, with an intelligent, creative young woman accepting a not terribly well-defined job from an enigmatic (possibly sinister) executive involving a piece of cutting-edge technology. In this case, that technology is an emerging AI with origins in top-secret military research who calls herself Eunice. The young woman, Verity Jane, spends only a couple of days with Eunice (via company-issued glasses, phone, and headset) before her new boss, Gavin, gets nervous about Eunice’s potential and starts attempting to monitor every move of the human–AI pair. What Verity does not know is that her present day of 2017, in which a decreased Russian influence on social media led to an unnamed woman who is clearly Hillary Clinton winning the presidency, the U.K. voting to remain in the E.U., and a volatile situation in Turkey threatening to turn nuclear, was deliberately manipulated by someone in 2136 who enjoys creating doomsday scenarios among possible past timelines. It’s up to future law enforcement (who can only contact the timeline via digital communication or virtually controlled mechanical peripherals) to get in touch with Verity and Eunice and recruit them to prevent looming global catastrophe. Given Gibson’s Twitter-stated unhappiness with the timeline in which he currently finds himself, it's hard to know what he's implying here: That outside intervention would have been required to achieve a Hillary Clinton presidency and defeat Brexit? Or that our own vigilance on social media could/should have brought those outcomes about? And why would these two potentially positive occurrences in that timeline instigate an even darker scenario than the one readers are currently experiencing—and also require that intervention to fix it? Have we reached the point of no return in all potential 21st-century timelines, doomed, at least in part, regardless of what political and social choices we make now? (Nor is it ever really explained why Gavin turns so quickly on Verity and Eunice, unless it’s simply to inject the story with urgency and transform it into the author’s favorite plot device, the chase.) This is vintage, or possibly tired, Gibson, filling his usual quest-driven template with updated contemporary or just-past-contemporary politics, technology, and culture.

Someone else might’ve made this fresh and clever, but from this source, it’s an often dull and pointless-seeming retread.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-101-98693-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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