A hackneyed sci-fi spectacle.


From the author of Ready Player One (2011), another book centered around video games and the 1980s.

Teenager Zack Lightman loves playing games online with his friends, although any similarities to teenagers of today end there. He’s obsessed with '80s science fiction, ostensibly because it’s a way to fill the void left by his dead father. In the attic, Zack finds not only his dad’s favorite movies on VHS, but also a detailed conspiracy theory his father wrote when he was 19, claiming video games and movies about alien invasions have been secretly funded by a shadowy organization to prepare humanity for the real thing. It’s a crazy theory that, of course, turns out to be absolutely true. When aliens invade, Zack is whisked away to a secret training facility where he learns the game he’s devoted years of his life to playing has always been an advanced tactical simulation, much like the plot to the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter. Now, Zack and his fellow gamers must step up and defend Earth for real. In the hands of a more skilled writer, the book could have drawn on familiar stories to launch into a new science-fiction adventure. Instead, it offers little more than interminable video game–style battles and timeworn tropes, including a plot twist that can be seen coming for miles. Zack’s love interest is impossibly attractive, swigs booze from an R2-D2 flask, and laughs at all his jokes—a nerd-fantasy centerfold and just as one-dimensional. Meanwhile, Zack’s two friends are indistinguishable from one another and do little more than argue over geek minutiae, because as everyone knows, that’s all nerds ever do. However, in the end, it’s the unrelenting references to '80s movies that squander any possible tension in the narrative. Readers never doubt whether the good guys will win because they’re constantly reminded: good guys always win in the movies.

A hackneyed sci-fi spectacle.

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3725-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.


Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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


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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