A noodle-bending literary sci-fi novel that puts its hero in the box with Schrödinger’s cat.

SPUTNIK'S CHILDREN

An underground comic creator reveals the unbelievably true origin story of her most famous creation, Sputnik Chick, the girl with no past.

In this arresting debut novel, Favro (The Proxy Bride, 2012) has crafted a delightful, timey-wimey gem that manages to temper its phantasmagorical imagery with the authentic pain of losing everything that one loves. The book’s protagonist is Debbie Reynolds Biondi, a pill-popping, hard-drinking cartoonist looking down the barrel of middle age even as her punky comic-book heroine continues to surge in popularity. But to keep her gig, Debbie is under pressure from her publisher and fans to reveal the origins of her graphic doppelgänger. That’s when the story comes off the ground like a flying car as Debbie reveals how she grew up in an alternate reality vastly removed from this one. In Debbie’s universe, dubbed “Atomic Mean Time,” when Robert Oppenheimer split the atom, it shattered time, creating a fractured spectrum of alternate realities. Debbie’s adolescence was spent terrified under the very real threat of nuclear war as America and Russia increased their nuclear arsenals in droves in a cold war that never ended. Yet there are also those mundane but unforgettable moments of adolescence, too, including time with friends and Debbie’s romance with handsome neighbor John Kendal. But again and again, Debbie encounters a mysterious time traveler she dubs “The Trespasser,” who warns of her inevitable fate as the sole person with the ability to bring time’s impossible divisions to an end, albeit at unthinkable personal cost. Favro walks an incredible narrative tightrope here, balancing present-day Debbie’s sad, inebriated reality with Atomic Mean Time Debbie’s frightening world of duck-and-cover exercises, DNA–enhanced “twisties,” and imminent nuclear threats. “I’ve always felt that The Girl With No Past was a revenge tragedy at heart,” a lover tells her. “There’s a darkness at its core. That’s what makes it so interesting.”

A noodle-bending literary sci-fi novel that puts its hero in the box with Schrödinger’s cat.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77041-341-2

Page Count: 360

Publisher: ECW Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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

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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

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

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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

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