Mind-stretching tales of synthetic fauna, not to be confused with the Marilyn Manson rock album of the same title.

MECHANICAL ANIMALS

TALES AT THE CRUX OF CREATURES AND TECH

A sci-fi anthology delivers 22 short stories, vintage novel excerpts, and nonfiction essays on the theme of robotic/cybernetic beings modeled after animals.

Strange flowers indeed bloom in this garden, gathered and creatively arranged by sci-fi/fantasy editors Chambers (Calls for Submission, 2017, etc.) and Heller (Strange Stars, 2018, etc.). They offer a particularly unusual subject via brief works based on (or tangential to) the idea of animal robots, cyborgs, or automata. Such a narrow focus might limit the appeal and quality of the material, and indeed there is a preponderance of eco-dystopic, what-happens-after-all-the-wildlife-becomes-extinct tropes. But the variegated imaginations of the writers burst off the page nonetheless. Here and there among the newcomers (and seemingly cued by pop historian Jess Nevins’ eponymous essay about animal simulacra in fiction and folklore going back centuries) are nested heirlooms from the early masters of fantasy. There are pieces by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert T. Toombs, Hans Christian Andersen—the one about a Chinese emperor’s clockwork nightingale, a classic not yet adapted by Disney—and, of course, Jules Verne. A steampunk influence shows up vividly in Delia Sherman’s “Brass Monkey,” which is mock-Victorian in its setting, voice, and sentiments, as a faithful faux simian helps its creators stop a counterfeiting ring. More troubling and timely is Jesse Bullington’s “Stray Frog,” envisioning a future in which police brutality is countered (theoretically) by making cops wield toxin-spitting GMO organisms that they must care for and nurture rather than cold, steel firearms. Seldom does the technology venture into the nuts-and-bolts descriptions of hard-sci-fi territory (the major exception: An Owomoyela’s “The Hard Spot in the Glacier,” a space-survival piece starring a centipede-shaped mecha). More often, there is science speculation transmuting the hows and whys into poetry, magic, art, or fairy tale, more effective in some literary experiments than others but always rewarding. From the doom-laden to the heroic, attitudes toward the concept of robotic animals at large run the gamut (although no stories seem to reflect Japanese anime and manga culture’s giddy positivity over robo critters, especially android cats). But the collection ends on an up note with Carrie Vaughn’s “Closer to the Sky,” a Western yarn featuring a bionic horse, arguably the most accessible entry for mainstream readers.

Mind-stretching tales of synthetic fauna, not to be confused with the Marilyn Manson rock album of the same title.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9997736-7-3

Page Count: 418

Publisher: Hex Publishers

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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