Superb: a protagonist and a tale sure to please fans of smart, literate fantasy and science fiction.

BORNE

“Once upon a time there was a piece of biotech that grew and grew until it had its own apartment”: an odd, atmospheric, and decidedly dark fable for our time.

VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (Acceptance, 2014, etc.) set high standards for dystopian fantasy, and the wizardry was as much in the writing as in the storyline. This latest is much the same: supremely literary, distinctly unusual, its title character a blob of something or another that earns its name, in part, because it’s carried from place to place—when we meet it, in fact, it's tangled up in the fur of a giant bear that just now is busily marauding through the ruins of a once-thriving city in what would seem to be the very near future. The Company, an unfeeling and monstrously inclined biotech giant, once held sway there, but now what’s left is a whole bunch of one-time experiments gone awry. Mord, the bear, is one, Borne another. Alternately dodging and caring for them is Rachel, an eminently resourceful young woman who doesn’t quite know what to make of the little creature at first: “I knew nothing about Borne and treated him like a plant at first. It seemed logical, from my initial observations.” Logical, yes, but Rachel is no Mr. Spock: she brims with feelings, some of them for her fellow survivor Wick. Just as Borne is able to morph into semblances of other beings, though, including an uncanny other-Rachel, so Wick would seem to have logged some hours in the lab himself. The reader is treated to the intriguing spectacle of Borne’s acquiring consciousness in the middle of all the mayhem: “I became entangled in Mord’s fur. (Who entangled me?) Where did I come from before that?” That the genetic basis for life is nothing to tinker with is plain throughout, especially in the moments where VanderMeer’s deep talent for worldbuilding takes him into realms more reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road than of the Shire.

Superb: a protagonist and a tale sure to please fans of smart, literate fantasy and science fiction.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-11524-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 27

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

Did you like this book?

more