An engaging, pitch-black comedy of pathological horrors set in an alternative-future California.

CAPPING S'ERS

A debut SF novel imagines a dystopian, authoritarian California where a survivor of childhood abuse is a celebrity on a reality TV show who flamboyantly assists suicides before studio audiences.

In Kerns’ imagining of a near-future/alternative history United States, the country collapses due to poor economic planning. California, which has sealed its borders off (especially from Mexico), becomes self-sufficient, albeit a dangerous, riot-torn autocracy, with most public sites converted into homeless camps. Golf still persists, as do an official state TV station and its proletarian programming. Capping S’ersis a cruel but popular reality show in which would-be suicides (s’ersas per newspeak) gain payouts for their families by being killed (capped) on-camera for cheering crowds via the unique talents of Ricky Fordham. She grew up in a dual-abuser household, under a cheating, churchgoing mother and a brute father who would rather Ricky had been a boy. Toying with an inexplicable family relic, a lightweight, star-shaped disc with sharp points, Ricky found her only bliss perfecting trick throws. Quite unintentionally, she revealed her airborne star could slice human throats with deadly accuracy. Thus (to pay for her twin sister’s medical treatments), Ricky becomes the main enabler of volunteers on Capping S’ers, though she secretly tries to give each victim a chance to relent and literally step back from death. The disaffected Ricky narrates this engrossing series opener, which offers a mildly Borges-ian SF social satire in savagely bleak hues, as each suicide candidate recites a litany of misery and willful self-destruction. Some characters may have reasons for their malaise; others are just Golden State airheads right out of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One. Although Ricky finally rebels against televised evil (not necessarily as grandly as did Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series), the bulk of the intriguing narrative—much like TV reruns—is a heavily ritualized affair. The dark tale proceeds episode by episode, using repetitious dialogue and a commercial-break structure, with some verbal zingers delivered by show emcee Phil Ebenezer (catchphrase: “I have a PhD in clinical psychology”) with sincere heartlessness.

An engaging, pitch-black comedy of pathological horrors set in an alternative-future California.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73271-010-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

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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 unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

TENDER IS THE FLESH

A processing plant manager struggles with the grim realities of a society where cannibalism is the new normal.

Marcos Tejo is the boss’s son. Once, that meant taking over his father’s meat plant when the older man began to suffer from dementia and require nursing home care. But ever since the Transition, when animals became infected with a virus fatal to humans and had to be destroyed, society has been clamoring for a new source of meat, laboring under the belief, reinforced by media and government messaging, that plant proteins would result in malnutrition and ill effects. Now, as is true across the country, Marcos’ slaughterhouse deals in “special meat”—human beings. Though Marcos understands the moral horror of his job supervising the workers who stun, kill, flay, and butcher other humans, he doesn’t feel much since the crib death of his infant son. “One can get used to almost anything,” he muses, “except for the death of a child.” One day, the head of a breeding center sends Marcos a gift: an adult female FGP, a “First Generation Pure,” born and bred in captivity. As Marcos lives with his product, he gradually begins to awaken to the trauma of his past and the nightmare of his present. This is Bazterrica’s first novel to appear in America, though she is widely published in her native Argentina, and it could have been inelegant, using shock value to get across ideas about the inherent brutality of factory farming and the cruelty of governments and societies willing to sacrifice their citizenry for power and money. It is a testament to Bazterrica’s skill that such a bleak book can also be a page-turner.

An unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982150-92-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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