It’s hard to say enough good things about this hard-science future thriller with humor and heart—an excellent debut.

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THE PUNCH ESCROW

In this sci-fi thriller, a man fights for his wife and his lives after he’s duplicated in a transporter malfunction.

In 2147, the Last War ended half a century ago. Now the world is run mostly by corporations, which provide basic needs and run the global economy with the help of nanotechnology, which, among other advancements, has made human teleportation possible. Narrator Joel Byram is a “salter”—that is, he poses puzzles to artificial intelligence applications, hoping to stump them and improve their decision algorithms. He loves ’80s pop music and his wife, Sylvia, a quantum microscopy engineer. She works for International Transport, the company with a monopoly on teleportation thanks to its proprietary Punch Escrow technology. (Anything teleported is held in “escrow” until its arrival is confirmed; quantum entanglement is involved.) After a recent promotion, Sylvia has been working on a secret project that eats all her time, and the couple has drifted apart. Sylvia suggests a 10th anniversary vacation to Costa Rica, their honeymoon spot and one of the world’s few remaining off-the-grid locations. But as Joel is teleporting, a suicide bomber attacks, and he finds himself still in Greenwich Village, though he’s reported dead. At IT headquarters, Joel learns that Sylvia, already in Costa Rica, has panicked and done the unthinkable: used Escrow technology to restore him, creating a duplicate Joel. With several well-organized yet shadowy forces arrayed against them, both Joels must use all their combined experiences in manipulating AIs to rescue each other and Sylvia and stop a mad genius’s nefarious plans. Technology is important to debut author Klein’s novel, particularly the truth about how transportation really works, but character drives the story as much or more. Throughout, the narrator (whether Joel or Joel No. 2) has an appealing voice and presence. He’s funny, a bit of a smartass, but thoughtful, concerned about his marriage, and, in the face of mortal danger, grimly determined to do anything to rescue his wife. The duplicate-Joel plot has an extra payoff in how Joel is forced to contemplate some of his less admirable qualities when he sees them in his double. Klein’s worldbuilding is superb, especially effective for how he blends nifty gee-whiz stuff with characterization. For example, in 2147, engineered mosquitoes eat pollution and piss water. They’re saving the planet…but Joel hates the thought of being rained on from mosquito bladders and can’t stop complaining about it. Seeing how well Klein has thought through his premise is a great pleasure of the book. He also offers philosophical food for thought regarding identity and originality that recalls Walter Benjamin’s great essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” But readers with less taste for technology and ideas can still be drawn into the book’s twisty plot, unexpected turns, cunning plans, action, and struggle, plus entertaining matches of wit between Joel/Joel2 and various artificial intelligences. The ’80s pop music that threads through the book is another enjoyable feature.

It’s hard to say enough good things about this hard-science future thriller with humor and heart—an excellent debut.

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942645-58-0

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Geek & Sundry

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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