A brilliant tale offering a universe and protagonist that are impressively well realized.

BOUND

In this debut SF novel, a powerful warrior with two complex personalities must discover and destroy the source of a dangerous infection.

The Polis federation, consisting of various intelligent species on more than 10,000 planets, knows no crime because of its members’ unconscious neural links to the Consensus, a shared morality. In case of a threat, the federation can also activate some underlying genes to engender Keld—strong, agile warriors capable of killing. Rarest of this rare breed are the Bound Keld, who can regenerate after their deaths into new lives. These Keld have two personalities, or rather two aspects of the same personality, in one body. Usually these personalities alternate with each reanimation, but Adin Rayne went through a tortuous process in order to become fused with Shennan, her other half. Only one can be ascendant (in charge of the body) at a time, but they’re mutually aware and communicative. Although she’d rather be a peacemaker, as a warrior with the Keld Special Action force, she’s charged with killing worlds, if need be, to protect the federation. On five planets, a new and unprecedented threat has arisen called the Madness, seemingly some type of infection that induces ordinary people to carry out deadly attacks despite the Consensus. In her battles, Adin discovers she has a unique ability to perceive the Mad, allowing her to track down the true nature of this infection and its source, which must be annihilated before the whole Consensus is contaminated. Her dangerous, bold endeavors have severe physical and emotional consequences; as if that wasn’t difficult enough, the Prospect planet Moton has been infected while its scientists are developing technology they’re not socially advanced enough to handle, a double threat. If Keld Special Action can’t wipe out the Madness on Moton, the planet may have to be destroyed.

In his book, Sullivan presents an intricate two-in-one main character whose psychology is as compelling as her warrior prowess. Adin and Shennan complement each other but have different preferences and strengths. Adin is reserved and cool, for example, while Shennan is more optimistic and gregarious. After each death, the personality that was ascendant retires to recoup, allowing the other to come forward and choose the preferred body type for that incarnation (complicating their romances). Adin/Shennan’s conflict between wanting to make peace while required to make war gives the character additional depth, and the worldbuilding is equally intricate and well thought out. The author gives attention to the kinds of differences many SF writers overlook, such as how diverse the cultures and languages can be and the ramifications of that variety. On Pellegro, for example, the four-caste system means a strike team doesn’t have enough taps for cable-fiber bundles, with the group expecting one bundle but getting four: “Who would have thought they wouldn’t even allow their data to touch?” This thoughtfulness is matched by exciting, dynamic action scenes with an array of weaponry and tactics, all described with crystal clarity while fully imparting their urgency and danger.

A brilliant tale offering a universe and protagonist that are impressively well realized.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-57-794744-6

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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

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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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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