Impressive and worthwhile, but even committed readers will be tempted to skim at times.

IRON WINTER

Final entry in the alternate-world Northland trilogy (Bronze Summer, 2012, etc.).

Once again, stunning worldbuilding is the order of the day. In 1315, Extelur, originally built thousands of years ago as a wall to hold back the encroaching seas, has expanded into a vast linear city housing the most powerful civilization in the world. To the east lies the Hattusan (Hittite) Empire; to the south, Carthage, having destroyed Rome in the Punic Wars, occupies North Africa and Iberia; the Mongols hold sway in Asia; in the Americas, three sprawling civilizations have arisen. As the story opens, old scholar Pyxeas studies the behavior of glaciers in Coldland (Greenland). He returns to Extelur with a young Inuit companion, Avatak, and bad news: The current bitterly cold weather is but a harbinger of a new Ice Age. But Pyxeas’ understanding of the forces and processes behind this is yet incomplete, so he plans to travel to Cathay to consult the scholars there, meanwhile warning Extelur’s fractious leaders of what is to come. Few, of course, believe him—until another heatless summer is rapidly followed by a winter of unprecedented ferocity. As Pyxeas and Avatak make their way to Cathay, they observe civilizations in the throes of collapse. The Hattusans, menaced by Scand and Rus hordes fleeing the north, make a fateful decision: uproot their entire empire and sail south to challenge Carthage for control of the agricultural wealth of Egypt. All this is brought to vibrant life in a series of fine character studies and interactions, even if the plotting is far less probable than the densely woven backdrop. The drawback is Baxter’s tendency to drench everything in detail, all too frequently slowing the narrative to a crawl.

Impressive and worthwhile, but even committed readers will be tempted to skim at times.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-451-24012-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: ROC/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM

From the Remembrance of Earth's Past series , Vol. 1

Strange and fascinating alien-contact yarn, the first of a trilogy from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In 1967, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, young physicist Ye Wenjie helplessly watches as fanatical Red Guards beat her father to death. She ends up in a remote re-education (i.e. forced labor) camp not far from an imposing, top secret military installation called Red Coast Base. Eventually, Ye comes to work at Red Coast as a lowly technician, but what really goes on there? Weapons research, certainly, but is it also listening for signals from space—maybe even signaling in return? Another thread picks up the story 40 years later, when nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao and thuggish but perceptive policeman Shi Qiang, summoned by a top-secret international (!) military commission, learn of a war so secret and mysterious that the military officers will give no details. Of more immediate concern is a series of inexplicable deaths, all prominent scientists, including the suicide of Yang Dong, the physicist daughter of Ye Wenjie; the scientists were involved with the shadowy group Frontiers of Science. Wang agrees to join the group and investigate and soon must confront events that seem to defy the laws of physics. He also logs on to a highly sophisticated virtual reality game called “Three Body,” set on a planet whose unpredictable and often deadly environment alternates between Stable times and Chaotic times. And he meets Ye Wenjie, rehabilitated and now a retired professor. Ye begins to tell Wang what happened more than 40 years ago. Jaw-dropping revelations build to a stunning conclusion. In concept and development, it resembles top-notch Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven but with a perspective—plots, mysteries, conspiracies, murders, revelations and all—embedded in a culture and politic dramatically unfamiliar to most readers in the West, conveniently illuminated with footnotes courtesy of translator Liu.

Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7706-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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Sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery.

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THE MARTIAN

When a freak dust storm brings a manned mission to Mars to an unexpected close, an astronaut who is left behind fights to stay alive. This is the first novel from software engineer Weir.

One minute, astronaut Mark Watney was with his crew, struggling to make it out of a deadly Martian dust storm and back to the ship, currently in orbit over Mars. The next minute, he was gone, blown away, with an antenna sticking out of his side. The crew knew he'd lost pressure in his suit, and they'd seen his biosigns go flat. In grave danger themselves, they made an agonizing but logical decision: Figuring Mark was dead, they took off and headed back to Earth. As it happens, though, due to a bizarre chain of events, Mark is very much alive. He wakes up some time later to find himself stranded on Mars with a limited supply of food and no way to communicate with Earth or his fellow astronauts. Luckily, Mark is a botanist as well as an astronaut. So, armed with a few potatoes, he becomes Mars' first ever farmer. From there, Mark must overcome a series of increasingly tricky mental, physical and technical challenges just to stay alive, until finally, he realizes there is just a glimmer of hope that he may actually be rescued. Weir displays a virtuosic ability to write about highly technical situations without leaving readers far behind. The result is a story that is as plausible as it is compelling. The author imbues Mark with a sharp sense of humor, which cuts the tension, sometimes a little too much—some readers may be laughing when they should be on the edges of their seats. As for Mark’s verbal style, the modern dialogue at times undermines the futuristic setting. In fact, people in the book seem not only to talk the way we do now, they also use the same technology (cellphones, computers with keyboards). This makes the story feel like it's set in an alternate present, where the only difference is that humans are sending manned flights to Mars. Still, the author’s ingenuity in finding new scrapes to put Mark in, not to mention the ingenuity in finding ways out of said scrapes, is impressive.  

Sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3902-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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