A deeply emotional, but unsteady first novel.

TWENTY-SEVEN

Others live over a century—Sophia Nolan is expected to die at 27 in Woodsmith’s cautionary sci-fi novel.

The author confronts present-day obsessions with longevity and wellness in a future world where the human life span is almost doubled and the date of death can be foretold. Sophia is born with a life expectancy of 27 years. The story follows her from infancy to adulthood as she and her loved ones contend with the approach of inevitable death. As the pressure grows, family members and others show their true personalities, Sophia faces still more painful truths, and she resolves to try and outlive her PDA—Projected Death Age—despite all expectations. Most of the people in Sophia’s society value the quantity of years lived to a nearly obsessive degree; Sophia has no choice but to appreciate the quality of life and to question the validity of predicting its end. She becomes a sort of rallying figure for a divided society, and the story builds through 27 chapters to a thought-provoking end. Despite showing a future world that has a sprinkling of robots and “thanatometers” attached to people’s wrists (in an apparent nod to Logan’s Run), the author hews closely to a naturalistic account of everyday life among ordinary people. The central conceit of Sophia’s short life expectancy is an intriguing metaphor for terminal illness. Sophia herself is sympathetic and fairly multifaceted, as are most of the characters. The book is marred by some uninspired passages and somewhat awkward “infodump” sections, but the pace and tone are well-served by its deliberate brevity and urgency. Woodsmith seeks to tell a very human and topical science fiction tale that calls into question our expectations of life and medicine, faith and mortality. Although slightly unpolished, the novel has fiber.

A deeply emotional, but unsteady first novel.

Pub Date: June 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1470068004

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

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All the narrative propulsion of escapist fiction without the escape.

PHASE SIX

Paced like a prophetic thriller, this novel suggests that "pandemic" is a continuing series.

Shepard has frequently employed research as a foundation for his literary creations, but never before in such pulse-racing fashion. He's set this narrative in the near future, when the threat of Covid-19 has passed but provides a cautionary lesson. And what have we learned from it? Not enough, apparently, as an outbreak within an extremely isolated settlement of Greenland begins its viral spread around the globe. Readers will find themselves in territory that feels eerily familiar—panic, politics, uncertainty, fear, a resistance to quarantine, an overload of media noise—as Shepard's command of tone never lets the tension ease. Eleven-year-old Aleq somehow survives the initial outbreak, which takes the lives of everyone close to him, and he may provide the key to some resolution if anyone can get him to talk. The novel follows the boy and the pandemic from Greenland to a laboratory facility in Montana as, in little more than a month, the virus or whatever it is, spread by touching, traveling, breathing, has infected some 14 million around the world. Jeannine Dziri and Danice Torrone, a pair of young researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who have dubbed themselves the “Junior Certain Death Squad,” find themselves on the front lines as they attempt to balance personal relationships (which occasionally read like plot contrivances) with all-consuming professional responsibilities. Meanwhile, the pandemic proceeds relentlessly. “APOCALYPSE II?” screams a Fox graphic amid “the social media cacophony,” as mass hysteria shows how human nature can take a horrible situation and make it so much worse. And though the novel builds to a sort of redemption, it suggests that there will be no resolution to the current pandemic beyond nervous anticipation toward the ones to come. Channeling Pasteur, Shepard promises—or threatens—“It will always be the microbes that have the last word.”

All the narrative propulsion of escapist fiction without the escape.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65545-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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Curiously compelling but not entirely satisfying.

PERHAPS THE STARS

From the Terra Ignota series , Vol. 4

The fourth and final volume in the Terra Ignota series, a science fantasy set on a 25th-century Earth where people affiliate by philosophy and interest instead of geography.

For the first time in centuries, the world is seized by war—once the combatants actually figure out how to fight one. While rivalries among the Hives provide several motives for conflict, primary among them is whether J.E.D.D. Mason, the heir to various political powers and apparently a god from another universe in human form, should assume absolute rule over the world and transform it for the better. Gathering any large group to further the progress of the war or the possibility for peace is hampered by the loss of the world transit system of flying cars and the global communications network, both shut down by parties unknown, indicating a hidden and dangerous faction manipulating the situation for its own ends. As events play out, they bear a strong resemblance to aspects of the Iliad and the Odyssey, suggesting the persistent influence of Bridger, a deceased child who was also probably a god. Is tragedy inevitable, or can the characters defy their apparent fates? This often intriguing but decidedly peculiar chimera of a story seems to have been a philosophical experiment, but it’s difficult to determine just what was being tested. The worldbuilding—part science, part magic—doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, and the political structure defies comprehension. The global government consists of an oligarchy of people deeply and intimately connected by love and hate on a scale which surpasses the royal dynasties of old, and it includes convicted felons among their number. Perhaps the characters are intended as an outsized satiric comment on the way politicians embrace expediency over morality or personal feelings, but these supposedly morally advanced potentates commit so many perverse atrocities against one another it is difficult to engage with them as people. At times, they seem nearly as alien as J.E.D.D. Mason.

Curiously compelling but not entirely satisfying.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7806-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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