Be prepared to dodge lethal energy beams on every page of this rip-roaring tale.

THE SPAWN WAR

Masquerading as a merchant, an Earth spy takes refugees and a small crew into the midst of a gigantic interstellar war that could engulf the human race.

In this fourth installment, Renneberg (The Riven Stars, 2018, etc.) continues his rousing series of SF space operas and star wars. The setting is the year 4607. The human race, spacefaring but long quarantined by the regulating “Galactic Forum” of aliens, is barely a force in the pantheon of ancient, competing species. And humankind has problems of its own with an “Earth Separatist” revolutionary movement, heavy with malcontents and self-serving warlords. Humanity thus seems merely a bit player in a galaxy-spanning war between ancient civilizations. The formidable antagonists are the One Spawn—amphibian types with a hive structure of cruel matriarchs—using sinister robot weaponry and fearless troops in an all-out blitzkrieg against the dominant, more or less benevolent Tau Cetins. Recurring hero/first-person narrator Sirius Kade is an undercover Earth Intelligence Service agent, impersonating a merchant/adventurer of the Han Solo sort but secretly endowed with the cybernetic databases and nanotech reflexes of a supersoldier (though he also has a moral and ethics code all his own). Kade’s controller orders him on a mission to a besieged world—with the excuse of uniting a love-struck crew member with a girlfriend imprisoned on a bleak planet—that seems more key to the Separatist war than the One Spawn’s rampage. But in truth, it’s all to gain control of a much-sought item that could make a difference in the Spawn War. Soon, a veritable assortment of aliens and augmented Earth soldiers is on Kade’s ship, the Silver Lining. The ride is somewhat episodic (reminiscent of a vintage cliffhanger serial) but still an enjoyable roller coaster of battles, chases, “novarium” grenades, and narrow escapes, constantly reminding readers that plucky humans are just the small fry in this cosmic ocean of apex predators. But Renneberg clings to the genre trope that Homo sapiens’ fighting spirit, given a fair chance, would impress and intimidate even far older and more advanced ETs who discount the Earth interlopers. With action blasts right out of the gate, fun faux physics, stellar dreadnaughts bristling with guns, and fearsome, theoretical mega-weapons, this story is space opera as fans like it, sometimes feeling camera-ready for Lucasfilm but not at all Skywalker-derivative.  

Be prepared to dodge lethal energy beams on every page of this rip-roaring tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9941840-7-8

Page Count: 422

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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

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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

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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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