A grab bag of decidedly less-than-amazing stories.

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PAWN'S GAMBIT

AND OTHER STRATAGEMS

A collection of science-fiction and fantasy short stories from an author best known for his Star Wars expanded-universe novels.

Zahn offers a variety of tales originally published from 1981 to 2014 in magazines such as Analog and Amazing Stories, anthologies, and even a sci-fi convention program. In the titular “Pawn’s Gambit,” hostile aliens kidnap a human and force him to play a game in which the winner will return to his planet and the loser will die. In “The President’s Doll,” voodoo is real, and a doll with the power to kill the president has been stolen. Another features a blind woman who has the power to see through the eyes of other people. Many of Zahn’s stories feel out-of-date, with obsolete references to things like “Soviet nerve gas” or an entire story about a magical copy of the Yellow Pages. Beyond the stories’ set-dressing details, the concepts themselves are often regressive. The cast of characters is overwhelmingly male; even aliens with tentacles or described as “a tailless albino alligator” are still referred to as “he.” A few stories border on downright objectionable, such as “The Giftie Gie Us,” in which a male protagonist spends an uncomfortably long time deciding whether or not he’ll coerce a blind woman to have sex with him and spends a moment surmising that she’ll go, “if not willingly, at least passively.” However, the collection’s biggest flaw is its graceless prose. The stories here are full of clunky, infodump phrases (such as, “by now, nearly five years after the holocaust”). Even worse, many of them end just as their setups are beginning to show promise.

A grab bag of decidedly less-than-amazing stories.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5040-1622-3

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

RECURSION

In Crouch’s sci-fi–driven thriller, a machine designed to help people relive their memories creates apocalyptic consequences.

In 2018, NYPD Detective Barry Sutton unsuccessfully tries to talk Ann Voss Peters off the edge of the Poe Building. She claims to have False Memory Syndrome, a bewildering condition that seems to be spreading. People like Ann have detailed false memories of other lives lived, including marriages and children, but in “shades of gray, like film noir stills.” For some, like Ann, an overwhelming sense of loss leads to suicide. Barry knows loss: Eleven years ago, his 15-year-old daughter, Meghan, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Details from Ann’s story lead him to dig deeper, and his investigation leads him to a mysterious place called Hotel Memory, where he makes a life-altering discovery. In 2007, a ridiculously wealthy philanthropist and inventor named Marcus Slade offers neuroscientist Helena Smith the chance of a lifetime and an unlimited budget to build a machine that allows people to relive their memories. He says he wants to “change the world.” Helena hopes that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, will benefit from her passion project. The opportunity for unfettered research is too tempting to turn down. However, when Slade takes the research in a controversial direction, Helena may have to destroy her dream to save the world. Returning to a few of the themes he explored in Dark Matter (2016), Crouch delivers a bullet-fast narrative and raises the stakes to a fever pitch. A poignant love story is woven in with much food for thought on grief and the nature of memories and how they shape us, rounding out this twisty and terrifying thrill ride.

An exciting, thought-provoking mind-bender.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-5978-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM

Strange and fascinating alien-contact yarn, the first of a trilogy from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In 1967, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, young physicist Ye Wenjie helplessly watches as fanatical Red Guards beat her father to death. She ends up in a remote re-education (i.e. forced labor) camp not far from an imposing, top secret military installation called Red Coast Base. Eventually, Ye comes to work at Red Coast as a lowly technician, but what really goes on there? Weapons research, certainly, but is it also listening for signals from space—maybe even signaling in return? Another thread picks up the story 40 years later, when nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao and thuggish but perceptive policeman Shi Qiang, summoned by a top-secret international (!) military commission, learn of a war so secret and mysterious that the military officers will give no details. Of more immediate concern is a series of inexplicable deaths, all prominent scientists, including the suicide of Yang Dong, the physicist daughter of Ye Wenjie; the scientists were involved with the shadowy group Frontiers of Science. Wang agrees to join the group and investigate and soon must confront events that seem to defy the laws of physics. He also logs on to a highly sophisticated virtual reality game called “Three Body,” set on a planet whose unpredictable and often deadly environment alternates between Stable times and Chaotic times. And he meets Ye Wenjie, rehabilitated and now a retired professor. Ye begins to tell Wang what happened more than 40 years ago. Jaw-dropping revelations build to a stunning conclusion. In concept and development, it resembles top-notch Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven but with a perspective—plots, mysteries, conspiracies, murders, revelations and all—embedded in a culture and politic dramatically unfamiliar to most readers in the West, conveniently illuminated with footnotes courtesy of translator Liu.

Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7706-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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