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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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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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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