A powerful launch to a fresh SF series that promises a wealth of ingenious concepts.

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THE LANGUAGE OF CORPSES

From the Mechalum Space series , Vol. 1

Three individuals in a spacefaring future—where people fluidly inhabit successive bodies—participate in a desperate rescue mission near Neptune.

Linse’s Mechalum Space series begins with this auspicious SF novel, initially a triptych that comes together in the fourth act. The 28th-century setting encompasses a space-straddling era of Homo mutatis. Humankind has mastered the technique of inserting a consciousness into a seemingly endless variety of prepared bodies, whether organically grown flesh-and-blood hosts or special-purpose mechs. Virtual immortality, artificial intelligence companions, and perpetual attachment to the descendant of the internet (“the mesh”) are part of this revolution. But the real payoff is the invention of “Faison Gates.” These allow inquisitive, adventurous, or just plain desperate minds to teleport instantaneously throughout 300 remotely settled planets and environments in deep space. But it’s hardly idyllic. A religious war (traditional religion lost, apparently) raged early in this new era, and a backward-looking Earth has been largely cut off and neglected ever since. And two “essents” trying to occupy the same body will result in the death of one of them, a known method of assassination. In such a nest of polymorphic intrigue, Jazari is a somewhat naïve student of “xenolinguistics” (trained to communicate with advanced alien races even though such direct contact has not yet happened). She was forced by circumstance into joining the talented and diverse crew of crime kingpin Zosi, a choice she ultimately regrets. On another distant world, scientist Eala studies a gentle amphibious species called the taktak, whose ability to communicate telepathically represents another possible breakthrough. And, on the rim of humanity’s original, now-obscure solar system, a biologically generated body, code-named ZD777, is revived, nurtured, and educated by an AI guardian only to be informed of his predicament: He is the lone man aboard a hollowed-out asteroid, formerly a teeming space base for the Kuiper belt, now a forgotten, derelict habitat slowly failing in orbit around Neptune.

The potential to rescue ZD777 from his apparently hopeless fate is the climax of the multiheaded narrative stream, and quite a nail-biter it becomes. (Whether those nails are human or metallic alloy is up for discussion.) Wyoming-based author Linse previously published books set in the hardscrabble American West of today and yesteryear but adapts to the final frontier of far-future space with no rocky trails or cowboy atavisms whatsoever. Some of the speculations here (especially concerning the nature of intelligence, biologically native or artificial) could have taught Isaac Asimov a thing or two. That said, tenderfeet to this universe will have to struggle initially with a density of imaginative futurespeak jargon and para-human traits (including the near-universal use of the pronoun sheto designate everyone; complete genderfluidity evidently does that to a society). Linse only provides the expected information downloads and history lesson expositions every 100 pages or so. But readers who can think on their feet and adapt to the altered paradigm of what it means to be human—or sentient—are in for an exciting and provocative expedition to a new realm of ideas that’s particularly strong in the characterization department. The novel ends with every indication that more riches remain to be tapped from Mechalum Space.

A powerful launch to a fresh SF series that promises a wealth of ingenious concepts. (author bio)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-953694-00-3

Page Count: 472

Publisher: Salix

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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