A richly rewarding blend of noir thriller and sci-fi in the best tradition of Dick, Stephenson, and Delany.

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VOID STAR

Imaginative, intelligent vision of a future in which the machines we build take an unusual interest in us even as we seek to exploit them further.

Dystopian fiction thrives on taking present facts and trends and extrapolating them into the future, making the bad even worse. Mason (The Lost Books of the Odyssey, 2010) fully honors this genre convention. Are the ice caps melting? Fine: a century or so from now, let’s put New York underwater, make an archipelago of San Francisco, a glittering city of towers that is “remote, incorruptible, a place outside of time.” Is inequality rising? Then we’ll have a world in which the rich live entirely apart from the poor, who in turn inhabit Rio-style favelas in the hell that is Los Angeles—and most of the rest of the world, for that matter. In this future, AI algorithms are almost ready to emerge into full consciousness, and when they do, humans won’t much matter. Enter Irina, an intermediary with an implanted memory who can interpret bots to humans and vice versa. Her employer, a super-tycoon named Cromwell, wants nothing more than to live forever, though he is already “approaching the limit of what life extension can do.” AI might be of help there, though even the wealthiest and most capable of Mason’s characters—including a Brazilian heir to a fortune and a brilliant though bent-toward-bad intellectual—are having trouble figuring out why the avatars and disembodied voices of the machines are misbehaving so. Cromwell also wants what’s inside Irina’s brain, which she has to put to good use escaping the many traps he lays for her, helped along by a growing insurrection among the have-nots. Parts of the book are overwritten, and the many threads of the storyline show a bare patch here and there, but in the main, Mason’s story makes a fine ode to freedom of thought and being in an oppressive time.

A richly rewarding blend of noir thriller and sci-fi in the best tradition of Dick, Stephenson, and Delany.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-28506-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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