Stirling has hit an unexpectedly rich lode of creative ore, or perhaps finally plumbed a hidden reserve of talent: Either...

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IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS

The splendid alternate universe Stirling invented in The Sky People (2006) has—quite justifiably—metamorphosed into a series.

Two hundred million years ago, mysterious aliens dropped by, terraformed Venus and Mars and stocked them with dinosaurs and other Mesozoic life forms from Earth. Two hundred thousand years ago, the Lords of Creation swung by again, this time conveying humans and other mammals to both planets. Now, in the year 2000, Mars’s ancient civilization—highly advanced in bioengineering, weak in physical science—is slowly dying, along with its emperor, Sajir sa-Tomond. Apparently without issue, the emperor is secretly preparing to declare his daughter, Teyud za-Zhalt, as his heir. Representing Earth’s Western powers, archaeologist Jeremy Wainman has come to Mars to locate and study the lost city Rema-Dza. His companion, intelligence agent Sally Yamashita, knows their real mission is to locate dangerously powerful ancient technology left by the Lords of Creation, one such device already having turned up on Venus, and keep it out of the hands of the Eastbloc competition. Jeremy’s guide will be Teyud, an expert and fearless warrior. But neither Teyud nor Sajir yet know that several political factions, among them ambitious Prince Heltaw, have figured out who Teyud really is and will stop at nothing to kill or control her. The pace soon heats up, while the wonders—magnificently wacky Martian biological machines; the planet’s antediluvian, fully developed and carefully crafted social system; alien technology so advanced it’s magic; the possibility that the aliens themselves are, somehow, still hanging around—never cease.

Stirling has hit an unexpectedly rich lode of creative ore, or perhaps finally plumbed a hidden reserve of talent: Either way, after years of happy somewhat-above-mediocrity, it’s a wonderful surprise.

Pub Date: March 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7653-1489-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

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SEVERANCE

A post-apocalyptic—and pre-apocalyptic—debut.

It’s 2011, if not quite the 2011 you remember. Candace Chen is a millennial living in Manhattan. She doesn’t love her job as a production assistant—she helps publishers make specialty Bibles—but it’s a steady paycheck. Her boyfriend wants to leave the city and his own mindless job. She doesn’t go with him, so she’s in the city when Shen Fever strikes. Victims don’t die immediately. Instead, they slide into a mechanical existence in which they repeat the same mundane actions over and over. These zombies aren’t out hunting humans; instead, they perform a single habit from life until their bodies fall apart. Retail workers fold and refold T-shirts. Women set the table for dinner over and over again. A handful of people seem to be immune, though, and Candace joins a group of survivors. The connection between existence before the End and during the time that comes after is not hard to see. The fevered aren’t all that different from the factory workers who produce Bibles for Candace’s company. Indeed, one of the projects she works on almost falls apart because it proves hard to source cheap semiprecious stones; Candace is only able to complete the contract because she finds a Chinese company that doesn’t mind too much if its workers die from lung disease. This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment. This is Ma’s first novel, but her fiction has appeared in distinguished journals, and she won a prize for a chapter of this book. She knows her craft, and it shows. Candace is great, a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength. She’s sufficiently self-aware to see the parallels between her life before the End and the pathology of Shen Fever. Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience.

Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-26159-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

RECURSION

In Crouch’s sci-fi–driven thriller, a machine designed to help people relive their memories creates apocalyptic consequences.

In 2018, NYPD Detective Barry Sutton unsuccessfully tries to talk Ann Voss Peters off the edge of the Poe Building. She claims to have False Memory Syndrome, a bewildering condition that seems to be spreading. People like Ann have detailed false memories of other lives lived, including marriages and children, but in “shades of gray, like film noir stills.” For some, like Ann, an overwhelming sense of loss leads to suicide. Barry knows loss: Eleven years ago, his 15-year-old daughter, Meghan, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Details from Ann’s story lead him to dig deeper, and his investigation leads him to a mysterious place called Hotel Memory, where he makes a life-altering discovery. In 2007, a ridiculously wealthy philanthropist and inventor named Marcus Slade offers neuroscientist Helena Smith the chance of a lifetime and an unlimited budget to build a machine that allows people to relive their memories. He says he wants to “change the world.” Helena hopes that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, will benefit from her passion project. The opportunity for unfettered research is too tempting to turn down. However, when Slade takes the research in a controversial direction, Helena may have to destroy her dream to save the world. Returning to a few of the themes he explored in Dark Matter (2016), Crouch delivers a bullet-fast narrative and raises the stakes to a fever pitch. A poignant love story is woven in with much food for thought on grief and the nature of memories and how they shape us, rounding out this twisty and terrifying thrill ride.

An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-5978-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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