Often more a metaphorical than tangible story, but unquestionably a literary journey worth taking.

Murdered for Extra Seconds of Erection

In this dystopian novel, scientists struggle to find the source of a worldwide virus causing sexually stimulated men to assault women.

Women aboard the luxury cruise ship Luxus Maximus find themselves the targets of an unlikely threat—the male passengers. The men, with conspicuously engorged members, accost the ladies in an apparent trance. The women duck out in a suite and get help from the Australian Federal Police, boarding via helicopter. Doctors, however, can find nothing wrong with the affected men, who later express no interest in females, sexual or otherwise. A quarantine to subvert a potential outbreak is evidently ineffective: men are soon trying to force themselves onto women on a global scale. Scientists, including geneticist Dr. Roger Klein, can’t immediately pinpoint the cause but determine that the mere sight of the opposite sex triggers the men’s response. Agencies, meanwhile, opt for temporary solutions. Separating the genders, for one, fails when armed male soldiers, intended to keep men away from safe zones, cross into the women’s areas and attack. Burqas quiet things down, but Christians suggesting that a cross be emblazoned on the Islamic garment ignites heated religious debates and eventual terrorist strikes. Klein discovers a mutating virus and a message—converted to audio and visual components—in genetic material. If the message can be translated, scientists may uncover the virus’s origin and possibly a cure. Despite a seemingly playful title, the novel takes itself seriously, more in tune with dark satire. There’s copious fallout from the virus, for example, like the chance of economic crisis because women primarily staying inside diminishes the workforce. Abanteriba (Poetic Retribution from Mars, 2006) provides back stories for notable characters such as Klein and Dr. Harald Brand, director-general of the World Health Organization. Regardless, a focus on the plot doesn’t afford them much personality. The latter half slows down considerably, with Klein and company searching for someone to translate the message. This portion is too long and tedious, repeatedly stressing that the world is on the “precipice” of or “teetering” on disaster (or doom, etc.). But the moral remains loud and clear, leading to a clever reexamination of the title and the imposing final thought.

Often more a metaphorical than tangible story, but unquestionably a literary journey worth taking.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4828-6431-1

Page Count: 454

Publisher: PartridgeSingapore

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.


Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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