The underlying premise is fascinating but not worth the initial eye-rolling slog.

SHADOWS OF ETERNITY

To save humanity from extinction and obscurity, Rachel Cohen, a trainee at the moon-based SETI Library, interprets alien messages sent across galaxies and eons.

The SETI Librarians are the gatekeepers and curators of data alien cultures have set adrift in space, often millions of years ago, in hopes other intelligent life would find them. Some of these messages are Artificials—sentient AIs who must be convinced to share their vast knowledge. Rachel is particularly good at the task, which requires full-body immersion in pods that allow the Artificials to share their data using all available human sensory inputs. Working on her first Message, Rachel is raped by the AI in exchange for important information, which doesn’t seem to bother anyone but her, and that only slightly. After this great success, she moves on to other Messages, and her body and mind are once again used against her will. Eventually she finds herself ambassador to an alien race, but this time the aliens have come in person—and they’re asking for Rachel. If she plays her part, humanity may unlock the key to interstellar travel. The engaging premise is obscured for the first half of the book by pandering and outdated stereotypes. It reads like the author decided to throw in some concepts like feminism and gender fluidity without ever speaking to actual women or queer people, who don’t use the words yeastyand moistnearly as often as he seems to think they do. With women constantly thinking about their menstrual cycles and nongendered people referred to as “it,” the early part of this disjointed book is one yeasty, moist, hot mess. The second half gets considerably better after the aliens arrive and Rachel gets to make more of her own decisions, but she is still often along for the ride rather than influencing events. If she took more agency, perhaps Benford could be forgiven for the first half of the book, but the way he uses rape as a plot point, dissects the physical and intellectual prowess of Rachel’s Jewish ancestors, and consistently dehumanizes or vilifies anyone who doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes doesn’t leave much room for later graciousness. Benford may have been trying to twist this SETI tale into a story that includes themes of gender and consent, but he didn’t do it justice.

The underlying premise is fascinating but not worth the initial eye-rolling slog.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-4362-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

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PROJECT HAIL MARY

Weir’s latest is a page-turning interstellar thrill ride that follows a junior high school teacher–turned–reluctant astronaut at the center of a desperate mission to save humankind from a looming extinction event.

Ryland Grace was a once-promising molecular biologist who wrote a controversial academic paper contesting the assumption that life requires liquid water. Now disgraced, he works as a junior high science teacher in San Francisco. His previous theories, however, make him the perfect researcher for a multinational task force that's trying to understand how and why the sun is suddenly dimming at an alarming rate. A barely detectable line of light that rises from the sun’s north pole and curves toward Venus is inexplicably draining the star of power. According to scientists, an “instant ice age” is all but inevitable within a few decades. All the other stars in proximity to the sun seem to be suffering with the same affliction—except Tau Ceti. An unwilling last-minute replacement as part of a three-person mission heading to Tau Ceti in hopes of finding an answer, Ryland finds himself awakening from an induced coma on the spaceship with two dead crewmates and a spotty memory. With time running out for humankind, he discovers an alien spacecraft in the vicinity of his ship with a strange traveler on a similar quest. Although hard scientific speculation fuels the storyline, the real power lies in the many jaw-dropping plot twists, the relentless tension, and the extraordinary dynamic between Ryland and the alien (whom he nicknames Rocky because of its carapace of oxidized minerals and metallic alloy bones). Readers may find themselves consuming this emotionally intense and thematically profound novel in one stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-bleed sitting.

An unforgettable story of survival and the power of friendship—nothing short of a science-fiction masterwork.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13520-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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