An outstanding science-fiction novel hobbled by its rushed story structure.

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SEMIOSIS

Colonists land on a planet with unexpected sentient species in this sci-fi debut.

In the 2060s, a group leaves Earth to create a new, peaceful society. They arrive 158 years later on a planet they name Pax. The botanist, Octavio, knows that planting seeds from Earth, without symbiotic microorganisms in the soil, would be futile, but Pax is already teeming with plants. He tests a persimmonlike fruit growing on snow-white vines and finds it safe to eat—but later, three Pacifists die after eating the same fruit from a different vine that’s now, somehow, poisonous. The deadly crop, he discovers, comes from an identical snow vine that’s competing for space with the vines closer to the colonists. He knows the chemical alteration is too fast to be mere ecological adjustment, and when the deadly vine changes its chemistry again to destroy a field of grain the colonists planted, Octavio begins to understand that the poisonous vine sees them as a threat. The plants of Pax are able to think and plan ahead—and the colonists must learn to communicate with them in order to survive. Beginning with Octavio, the story is told from seven different points of view, spread out over more than a century, and each perspective change sends the story years ahead. Every chapter is like a short story within a shared universe—and it’s a phenomenal universe. The worldbuilding is astonishing: the human society is richly detailed, and it’s riveting to watch the colonists learn to communicate with a life-form so different from us. The flora and fauna of Pax are magnificently alien, calling to mind sci-fi classics such as Larry Niven’s Ringworld. But the story’s overwhelming scope is also its downfall: readers scarcely have time to register who the colonists are and what’s happened during the intervening years before being rushed forward again. Interesting storylines end abruptly, and action scenes, including a monumental battle, feel rushed. None of the genuinely engrossing characters or ideas are allowed enough space to develop. When the prevailing trend in science fiction is to turn even the flimsiest plots into bloated trilogies, cutting this extraordinary story short feels like a deplorable waste.

An outstanding science-fiction novel hobbled by its rushed story structure.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7653-9135-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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