A vigorous, intelligent reworking of familiar SF elements, featuring an American veteran who makes a long, international...

STARMAN'S SAGA

THE LONG, STRANGE JOURNEY OF LEIF THE LUCKY

An American on humanity’s first voyage to another star system discovers peril, romance, and considerable mayhem on the contentious project. 

It’s 2069 in Alexander’s (My Life, 2019, etc.) SF novel, and Leif Grettison is a Florida-based veteran who survived “the Troubles,” a Russian-Sino-United States war that scarred the mid-21st century. Now he’s a brainy graduate student with a girlfriend and an EMT job, neither valuing him very highly. Leif impulsively enters a high-profile lottery to select a civilian to go into hibernation for dozens of years at a time on the “starshot,” humanity’s first deep-space exploratory voyage (via a ramjet craft) to another, presumably habitable system, not returning home for nearly 30 years. To his surprise, Leif is told he is the winner—after a front-runner drops out. Leif is disturbed to find that the carefully selected 33-person multinational crew includes bellicose Russians and haughty Chinese still holding childish grudges. In fact, the entire project is largely propaganda, a NASA/International Space Commission gambit to make the world’s superpowers cooperate and expend their energies on a work of pure science rather than trying to kill one another over influence and territory. Leif realizes his own windfall as a token Everyman onboard was no random selection but a calculated move to place a former American soldier amid the team of squabbling, nationalistic scientists in case trouble develops. And trouble sure does. This maiden-voyage setup is a recognizable one, and it’s no secret from the start that Leif will find romance with the bunkmate who despises him the most: a laser-eyed, razor-cheekboned female Chinese pilot (who actually flew against his squad in combat). Still, the author skillfully steers the story. Alexander creates a good number of memorable jeopardy-in-space situations requiring steady nerves and know-how, and he evokes a nicely thought-out alien environment. The author even takes the story past the point where other writers might have pulled the curtain to ruminate on human society’s arbitrary evolutions and political-correctness pettiness (“snowflake” is a term used often here) and how being in suspended animation for long intervals doesn’t help. An opening prologue casting the tale as some sort of neo-Icelandic saga (paying tribute to Leif’s Nordic heritage), written in archaic language, is cute but, unlike the other rich material here, doesn’t really pay off.

A vigorous, intelligent reworking of familiar SF elements, featuring an American veteran who makes a long, international space voyage survivable. 

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9993257-6-6

Page Count: 353

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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