This exciting and thoughtful story marks McCarthy as one of sci-fi’s most promising new talents, and bodes well for the...

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EXOGENE

The second novel in McCarthy’s Subterrene War series (Germline, 2011, etc.) is a standalone tale that encompasses theology and existentialism in its story of a genetically engineered warrior discovering her own path.

Each Subterrene novel follows a different character involved in a brutal future war between the United States and Russia over natural resources in Kazakhstan. This time, McCarthy focuses on Catherine, one of the artificially grown super-soldiers used by the United States as frontline combatants against the Russians and their allies. Unlike the journalist protagonist of the previous installment, Catherine knows little to nothing about the motivations behind the war, and has been conditioned to focus her entire existence on killing enemy soldiers. Writing from Catherine’s perspective, McCarthy captures a fascinating mix of naïveté and ruthlessness, as Catherine, grown in a tank to the equivalent of 15 years old, is unfamiliar with everyday human life but knows everything about battlefield tactics and killing efficiently. The novel starts as Catherine is beginning to experience “the spoiling,” a degradation process that affects all genetics after they’ve been in the field for two years. Rather than submit to the mandated “discharge,” or suicide, Catherine escapes from her unit and begins a journey through battle-scarred Russia and the nuclear wasteland of North Korea, in the process questioning the principles that have so far defined her existence. A big part of that involves teasing out her own concept of God, and McCarthy portrays Catherine as a complex mixture of zealotry and skepticism, depicting a mindset that is effectively outside human experience while also very much identifiable. Although the novel takes place in the midst of a war and involves a number of battles, it’s less a war story than a rumination on identity and faith, anchored by a protagonist who brings surprising and moving depths to familiar science-fiction concepts.

This exciting and thoughtful story marks McCarthy as one of sci-fi’s most promising new talents, and bodes well for the series’ forthcoming third installment.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-12815-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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Someone else might’ve made this fresh and clever, but from this source, it’s an often dull and pointless-seeming retread.

AGENCY

A sequel to The Peripheral (2014), in which bored dilettantes from the future meddle virtually with potential pasts while more responsible people try to ameliorate the damage.

The novel opens, as so many Gibson novels do, with an intelligent, creative young woman accepting a not terribly well-defined job from an enigmatic (possibly sinister) executive involving a piece of cutting-edge technology. In this case, that technology is an emerging AI with origins in top-secret military research who calls herself Eunice. The young woman, Verity Jane, spends only a couple of days with Eunice (via company-issued glasses, phone, and headset) before her new boss, Gavin, gets nervous about Eunice’s potential and starts attempting to monitor every move of the human–AI pair. What Verity does not know is that her present day of 2017, in which a decreased Russian influence on social media led to an unnamed woman who is clearly Hillary Clinton winning the presidency, the U.K. voting to remain in the E.U., and a volatile situation in Turkey threatening to turn nuclear, was deliberately manipulated by someone in 2136 who enjoys creating doomsday scenarios among possible past timelines. It’s up to future law enforcement (who can only contact the timeline via digital communication or virtually controlled mechanical peripherals) to get in touch with Verity and Eunice and recruit them to prevent looming global catastrophe. Given Gibson’s Twitter-stated unhappiness with the timeline in which he currently finds himself, it's hard to know what he's implying here: That outside intervention would have been required to achieve a Hillary Clinton presidency and defeat Brexit? Or that our own vigilance on social media could/should have brought those outcomes about? And why would these two potentially positive occurrences in that timeline instigate an even darker scenario than the one readers are currently experiencing—and also require that intervention to fix it? Have we reached the point of no return in all potential 21st-century timelines, doomed, at least in part, regardless of what political and social choices we make now? (Nor is it ever really explained why Gavin turns so quickly on Verity and Eunice, unless it’s simply to inject the story with urgency and transform it into the author’s favorite plot device, the chase.) This is vintage, or possibly tired, Gibson, filling his usual quest-driven template with updated contemporary or just-past-contemporary politics, technology, and culture.

Someone else might’ve made this fresh and clever, but from this source, it’s an often dull and pointless-seeming retread.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-101-98693-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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