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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more