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THE GENOME

Not quite up to the standard of Russia’s greatest science-fiction writers (such as the Strugatsky brothers) but nonetheless...

A medium-future exploration of the effects of genetic engineering, which first appeared in Russian in 1999, from the Moscow-resident author of Night Watch (2013, etc.).

Many genetic modifications, from street sweeper to starship pilot, are available in the 22nd century; known as “speshes,” they kick in during early adolescence and provide the recipients with enormously enhanced abilities appropriate to the spesh. Pilot-spesh Alex Romanov, discharged from a hospital on planet Quicksilver Pit after a horrific accident, runs into Kim O’hara, a 14-year-old fugitive from planet Edem who is on the verge of her metamorphosis into a fighter-spesh. Compelled by his spesh to help her, Alex takes her to a cheap hotel and watches over her as he searches for work. Surprisingly, an attractive prospect materializes—as captain of a flying saucer with the right to select his own crew. He discovers, meanwhile, that Kim is carrying a computer crystal worth a fortune. With few candidates to choose from, he quickly hires a co-pilot, a navigator, an engineer, a doctor and Kim as a fighter, but he has doubts about them all—especially when his commission turns out to involve conveying a pair of VIP insectlike Zzygou, a formerly hostile race, on a tour of human-occupied planets. And when one of the Zzygou is gruesomely murdered, a galactic war threatens; worse, Alex learns, none of his crew members are what they seem, and each had a powerful motive to commit the crime. The narrative moves briskly and often mysteriously, with a curiously boyish enthusiasm. Add in splashes of humor, quirky references to Western cultural tropes and a true-to-life conclusion that leaves many of the surviving characters deeply dissatisfied yet optimistic.

Not quite up to the standard of Russia’s greatest science-fiction writers (such as the Strugatsky brothers) but nonetheless refreshingly different and something of a page-turner: well worth investigating.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4976-4396-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE DARK FOREST

From the Remembrance of Earth's Past series , Vol. 2

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Second part of an alien-contact trilogy (The Three-Body Problem, 2014) from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In the previous book, the inhabitants of Trisolaris, a planet with three suns, discovered that their planet was doomed and that Earth offered a suitable refuge. So, determined to capture Earth and exterminate humanity, the Trisolarans embarked on a 400-year-long interstellar voyage and also sent sophons (enormously sophisticated computers constructed inside the curled-up dimensions of fundamental particles) to spy on humanity and impose an unbreakable block on scientific advance. On Earth, the Earth-Trisolaris Organization formed to help the invaders, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. Humanity’s lone advantage is that Trisolarans are incapable of lying or dissimulation and so cannot understand deceit or subterfuge. This time, with the Trisolarans a few years into their voyage, physicist Ye Wenjie (whose reminiscences drove much of the action in the last book) visits astronomer-turned-sociologist Luo Ji, urging him to develop her ideas on cosmic sociology. The Planetary Defense Council, meanwhile, in order to combat the powerful escapist movement (they want to build starships and flee so that at least some humans will survive), announces the Wallfacer Project. Four selected individuals will be accorded the power to command any resource in order to develop plans to defend Earth, while the details will remain hidden in the thoughts of each Wallfacer, where even the sophons can't reach. To combat this, the ETO creates Wallbreakers, dedicated to deducing and thwarting the plans of the Wallfacers. The chosen Wallfacers are soldier Frederick Tyler, diplomat Manuel Rey Diaz, neuroscientist Bill Hines, and—Luo Ji. Luo has no idea why he was chosen, but, nonetheless, the Trisolarans seem determined to kill him. The plot’s development centers on Liu’s dark and rather gloomy but highly persuasive philosophy, with dazzling ideas and an unsettling, nonlinear, almost nonnarrative structure that demands patience but offers huge rewards.

Once again, a highly impressive must-read.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7708-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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