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


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 The engaging premise is obscured for the first half of the book by pandering and outdated stereotypes.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 haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

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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: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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The perfect blend of sweet, sexy romance and a riveting, high-stakes survival story.


From the Ice Planet Barbarians series , Vol. 1

A woman stolen by aliens crash-lands on an ice planet and finds love.

Dixon’s wildly popular series—it’s a fan favorite on TikTok and has a podcast dedicated to deconstructing each episode—is finally coming to print. In this first installment of the series, Georgie and at least a dozen other 22-year-old women are stolen from their homes on Earth by green aliens. Something goes wrong, and the aliens abandon their human cargo on an icy planet the women dub Not-Hoth. After engineering an escape plan, Georgie becomes their de facto leader. She bundles up and trudges out to find help and meets Vektal, a 7-foot blue alien and the leader of his tribe, the Sakh. His people have developed a symbiotic relationship with an organism called the khui, which allows the Sakh to survive the brutally cold temperatures of their home planet. Vektal’s people mate for life, but since there are very few women left, he has resigned himself to life without a partner. When he sees Georgie and his khui resonates, a physical response akin to purring, he knows she is destined to be his mate. Explorations of coercion, consent, and free will are woven throughout the story. Vektal’s unorthodox greeting shows that consent might operate differently in his world; but in the end, he learns that humans trapped in the worst of circumstances will still fight to control their own destinies. The book is fast-paced and sexy, but the major appeal might be Vektal. He is a romance main character stripped down to the core: desperate to find his partner and willing to do anything to keep her happy.

The perfect blend of sweet, sexy romance and a riveting, high-stakes survival story.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-54602-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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