A satisfying outer-space yarn of redemption under fire.

COMPLICATED

THE INTERSTELLAR LIFE AND TIMES OF SAOIRSE KENNEALLY

A young woman from a prominent 23rd-century Earth family avoids prison by enlisting in a term of off-planet service in Alexander’s SF novel.

Two centuries in the future, humankind has discovered reliable, faster-than-light space travel. No alien civilizations have been discovered yet, but there’s still plenty of danger, intrigue, and open warfare, due to humanity’s baser instincts. An underfunded, upstart military police force called “Peacemakers,” or “peacers,” tries to impose order and enact justice. On Earth, 20-year-oldSaoirse Kenneally, hailing from a clan that became wealthy by selling space-friendly computer technology, is a self-loathing alcohol abuser and troublemaker, though she draws the line at taking “zombie,” or “zombipterisin”—an addictive, extraterrestrial psychotropic drug. For her latest violation,which involves charges of attempted robbery and assault, Saoirse is disowned by her relatives but gets around serving jail time by accepting two years of off-world service. At a base orbiting Saturn’s moon Titan, she finds a degree of discipline and even sobriety via basic training and mentoring by Tomasz Szczechowicz, a battle-hardened, veteran peacer who’s closed-mouthed about his past and takes a strong personal interest in Saoirse. When she notes anomalies in the station’s computer records, she becomes part of the investigation; eventually she’s forced to flee even deeper into settled space, where she encounters a simmering conflict involving peacers on a colonized world. This novel’s resourceful, underdog protagonist, who’s inwardly tormented but always ready to fight, will remind readers a bit of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander—although Saoirse has a tattoo of a snake, not a dragon. It’s a somewhat formulaic story of a badly flawed protagonist gaining wisdom and maturity while wearing a uniform, but Alexander makes it earn its stripes. The future setting lacks cyborgs, godlike AIs, teleportation, or easy plot devices; rather, there are more relatable elements, including bullets, light planes, and microphones; the clever explanation is that the principle planetary setting has recreated an old Eastern European society, out of a sense of ethnic and cultural pride, and thus lacks modern gadgets. The finale features well-described, edge-of-your-seat combat and intelligent strategy.

A satisfying outer-space yarn of redemption under fire.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9993257-8-0

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Alton Kremer

Review Posted Online: March 30, 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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Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

THIS TIME TOMORROW

A woman who's been drifting through life wakes up the morning after her 40th birthday to discover that she's just turned 16 again.

Alice Stern wouldn't say she's unhappy. She lives in a studio apartment in Brooklyn; has a job in the admissions office of the Upper West Side private school she attended as a kid; still hangs out with Sam, her childhood best friend; and has a great relationship with her father, Leonard, the famous author of a time-travel novel, Time Brothers. Alice's mother left her and Leonard when Alice was a kid, and father and daughter formed a tight, loving unit along with their freakishly long-lived cat, Ursula. But now Leonard is in a coma, and as she visits him in the hospital every day, Alice is forced to reckon with her life. After a drunken birthday evening with Sam, Alice returns to her childhood house on Pomander Walk, a one-block-long gated street running between two avenues on the UWS—but when she wakes up the next morning, she hears Leonard in the kitchen and finds herself heading off to SAT tutoring and preparing for her 16th birthday party that night. Straub's novel has echoes of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town: Every prosaic detail of her earlier life is almost unbearably poignant to Alice, and the chance to spend time with her father is priceless. As she moves through her day, she tries to figure out how to get back to her life as a 40-year-old and whether there's anything she can do in the past to improve her future—and save her father's life. As always, Straub creates characters who feel fully alive, exploring the subtleties of their thoughts, feelings, and relationships. It's hard to say more without giving away the delightful surprises of the book's second half, but be assured that Straub's time-travel shenanigans are up there with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and the TV show Russian Doll.

Combine Straub's usual warmth and insight with the fun of time travel and you have a winner.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-525-53900-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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