ALWAYS COMING HOME

LeGuin here focuses her inimitable world-building skills on two conflicting societies of the future—implying, of course, their relevance to the present. Far less preachy than 1974's The Dispossessed, this is equally intelligent and ambitious. It lacks, however, the flawless integration of storyline and interspersed folk-material that characterized 1969's The Left Hand of Darkness. The novel is set in northern California in some far distant future that has been shaped by earthquakes and social upheaval. There are computers and contraceptives, tanks and antibiotics, but this is a world governed by human customs, not by technological "progress." The two societies LeGuin describes are both tribal, though she prevents us from thinking of either as "primitive." As in Shevek's role as mediator between the planets Urres and Anarres in The Dispossessed, the two cultures in conflict here are observed by a narrator not wholly part of either world. "North Owl" (one of LeGuin's rare female protagonists) is a "half-person"—raised by a woman of the matriarchal Valley (a herdsmen/farmer tribe), but fathered by a passing Condor warrior. She grows up without a father in her mother's nature-respecting world; later, in her rebellious adolescence, she joins her father and becomes a woman of the war-seeking Condors, marrying, and bearing a child. Ultimately, assuming the new name of "Woman Coming Home," she travels with her own small daughter back to The Valley, as the precarious, war-centered economy of the Condors begins to collapse, taking tribal solidarity along with it. Because LeGuin is adapting relatively familiar (American Indian) paradigms, there are fewer sheer triumphs of wit and imagination than in such science-fiction novels as Left Hand of Darkness, which have offered the geography, customs and languages of entirely invented worlds. In addition, the bulky apparatus of poems, folk tales, maps, illustrations, glossary—even a taped cassette of "Valley" music (unavailable for review, but not performed, at any rate, by Moon Unit Zappa)—often overwhelms what should be central here: the delicate, beautifully told story of North Owl's education. Still, the heroine's efforts to strike a balance between opposing claims (between mother and father, spirit and mind, husbandry and conquest, peace and war) mark a return by LeGuin to the themes and techniques of her major work. And no one does this type of utopian near-allegory better.

Pub Date: March 29, 2001

ISBN: 0-520-22735-2

Page Count: 534

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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

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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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