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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more