ZODIAC

AN ECO-THRILLER

Although Stephenson credits the hard-boiled detective novels of James Crumley as the spiritual spark plug for this antic thriller, these adventures of an ultrahip sleuth who tracks ecological crooks owe more to the comic iconoclasm of Richard Farina and William Kotzwinkle—and the immature campus high jinks of Stephenson's own The Big U (1984)—than to Crumley's knowing, semitragic ironies. Narrator Sangamon Taylor, "the granola James Bond," is the resident gumshoe of GEE, a Greenspeace clone based in Boston and dedicated to nonviolent sabotage of polluting companies. A self-styled "professional asshole," late-20s Taylor dresses like a slob, struts his self-righteousness like a badge, and lists nitrous oxide as his drug of choice. Fortunately, he also spins a funny, cocky, engaging rap as he tells of his battle with the villainous Basco company—a battle catalyzed by his find that lobsters in Boston Harbor are packed with PCBs, legacy of an illegal 1956 dumping by Basco. A nighttime boat duel with Basco's goons—Sangamon on his trusty Zodiac raft, the heavies on a smuggler's Cigarette speedster—and a daytime showdown in Basco's boardroom plunges Sangamon into hot water as Basco frames him as a terrorist bomber, sending him on the run. Hiding out in Maine, Sangamon joins forces with a real, world-class terrorist; after they make national news by foiling an assassination attempt on Basco's owner by a polluted Basco employee, they return to Boston to tackle the Big Problem: in trying to cover up its PCB dumping, Basco has loosed a gene-spliced organism that threatens to convert all the salt in the sea to organic chlorine. A violent confrontation in Boston Harbor (on an island of garbage inhabited by fans of a satanic heavy-metal band), a tense brush with a lethal Navy SEAL, and a "mediagenic" assault on a Basco ship loaded with pollutants end this manic tale. Stephenson's high-octane narration, drenched in environmental lore, grabs from start to finish despite its cloying smugness; a likely hit in college/cult circles, this book—with film rights already sold—may entice a wider readership as well.

Pub Date: May 26, 1988

ISBN: 1596062487

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1988

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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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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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