Cyberpunk shock meets infinite romantic regret in this dark, engrossing, and ultimately doleful SF tale.

AETHYR

A nanotechnology engineer’s mind, uploaded online, reboots after spending three years in a netherworld and must try to remember what went wrong with the experiment.

Kelly’s debut SF novel offers a first-person narration from entirely within a software-based environment called the Aethyr. Pittsburgh nanotech engineer Patrick “Paddy” Riordan was part of a pioneering experiment in the late 2020s by a cutting-edge/punk rock–style team of young coders, neurologists, and biochemists. The group planned to digitize a human brain and put its consciousness online, theoretically resulting in immortality, godlike perceptions, empathy, and power. The subject was supposed to be the team’s financier, terminally ill venture capitalist Andrew Damon. But Paddy, suffering chronic gastric pain, volunteered to leave flesh behind and go first even if that meant being clinically euthanized and having his brain sectioned. After three years in a limbolike state, Paddy regains awareness and his mortal appearance (complete with Iron Maiden T-shirt) in the Aethyr’s artificial program/simulation and its seedy, noirish city of New Eridu. (Here, as in the porn-dominated web, most places seem to be sex clubs and strip joints.) Surrounded by sinister phantoms and avatars that may either be people or AIs, Paddy finds that vital parts of his memory are missing. Moreover, a warrior type, calling itself the Varyag and declaring itself his defender, hints that the researcher who was the radiant love of Paddy’s life, MIT prodigy Zinaida, aka Zed, is in danger. Somehow in this incorporeal state, Paddy can help her. But is the Varyag lying? What happened to Andrew? What really happened to Paddy? For that matter, what’s happening right now? If this tale had been told in a more straightforward fashion, it might have had less impact. But in Kelly’s long-end-of-the-cyberscope gambit, starting with the outcome and leapfrogging back in time, the story is an intriguing puzzle of transhumanist tech, philosophy, metaphysics, and unreliable narrators. The narrative delivers a mounting sense of dread as digital entities broadly hint to Paddy that he will deeply regret learning the truth if he chooses to continue his quest. While describing the rubber reality of Aethyr is a tough proposition, SF readers raised on The Matrix and Black Mirror (the recipient of a shoutout) and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash should acclimate to the immaterial milieu.

Cyberpunk shock meets infinite romantic regret in this dark, engrossing, and ultimately doleful SF tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73412-910-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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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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