A solidly entertaining and sometimes enthralling interplanetary yarn.

IN THE ORBIT OF SIRENS

In Bruno’s debut SF series starter, refugees of a cyborg invasion colonize a distant, exotic world only to find bizarre and terrifying new threats.

In the future, humans on Earth have had to contend with an uprising of cyborgs called the Undriel, who are reminiscent of the Borg of the Star Trek universe. Human survivors in a war spanning the solar system wind up making a final stand on Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter. The Undriel overwhelm them, but young mechanic Denton Castus and his family manage to flee just in time by joining tens of thousands of humans in stasis as part of a desperate plan called the Telemachus Project. They take a 300-year flight to a habitable planet called Kamaria, which is “Earth-like, but different from Earth in a lot of ways.” For example, the exotic and potentially dangerous life-forms, from airborne bacteria to a race of technologically advanced, psychic flying humanoids called the Auk’nai, are very different, indeed. In a flashback, a previous Telemachus Project ship lands on Kamaria and its passengers make a tentative accord with the Auk’nai and explore the immediate vicinity, which includes a forbidding, abandoned city. There, a malevolent influence possesses war hero Roelin Raike. The two story threads come together when Denton awakens on Kamaria and integrates into the colonists’ society, where a long-ago incomprehensible crime is a lingering trauma. Before long, Denton also begins to feel the same psychic presence that afflicted Raike. Bruno is a highly imaginative and natural storyteller, conjuring numerous technologies, cultures, and creatures and providing a particularly spectacular ending. SF fans may detect echoes of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, TV’s Babylon Five, the blockbuster film Avatar, and other works; the smoothly polished prose and snappy pace are reminiscent of a no-nonsense master thriller author such as Alistair Maclean. The technology and biology descriptions don’t get in the way of the suspense, and the references to ancient Greek legend sharpen the backstory of Kamaria’s godlike aliens, who do indeed seem mythic. Hall’s illustrations feel like a tribute to the material’s stated origin—a comic book that Bruno created in elementary school.

A solidly entertaining and sometimes enthralling interplanetary yarn.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73464-701-3

Page Count: 514

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Ambitious, bleak, and not fully realized.

HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK

What happens to humanity when death radically outpaces life?

Scientists digging in Siberia find the body of a girl who seems to be a mix of Homo sapien and Neanderthal while also possessing genetic traits that look like starfish or octopus. She’s dressed in clothes remarkable not only for their fine needlework, but also for the fact that they’re decorated with shells from the Mediterranean. Unearthing this girl releases a virus that destroys human organs. From this strange, terrifying beginning the narrative moves to the City of Laughter, an amusement park where children infected with the virus can enjoy one last, fun-filled day before riding a roller coaster designed to kill them. Nagamatsu’s characters inhabit societies so overwhelmed by death that funerary services of various kinds dominate the economy and in which the past is disappearing while it’s impossible to imagine a future. Many of the chapters in this novel were first published as short stories. Cobbling these stories together makes a novel-length book, but it doesn’t necessarily make a satisfying novel. The different ways in which people deal with grief and survival accumulate without revealing new insights. The chapter in which a man contemplating suicide finds connection in a virtual world is an echo of the chapter about a man who repairs robotic pets who speak in the voices of the dead. A chapter in which a forensic pathologist falls in love with a man who has donated his body for research is virtually the same as the chapter in which a funerary artist who makes ice sculptures from liquified remains falls in love with a customer. And while there are characters who recur, a lot of these connections feel superimposed for the sake of crafting a novel. The final chapter—but for a brief coda—circles back to the beginning in a way that’s thrilling for a moment. Then Nagamatsu lays bare the mystery of the opening chapter in a way that can only be rewarding for hardcore devotees of the ancient astronaut school of ufology or readers for whom this concept is entirely new.

Ambitious, bleak, and not fully realized.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-307264-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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