Book Review: Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown

Cover of the book Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown
Tropic of Kansas
by Christopher Brown
Harper/Voyager, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on September 27, 2017.

In the near future, the U.S. is broken apart into warring territories, the president is a tyrant, and rebellion rends the land. Immigration across all borders is restricted. Sig, a feral and fugitive young man, and Tania, a lawyer working for the government and daughter of a revolutionary, are connected by their past, and both get caught up in the burgeoning rebellion. They journey into the Tropic of Kansas, through the broken heartland of America to a flooded New Orleans, a world populated by smugglers, militia bands, monolithic corporations, and revolutionaries. Confronted by unreliable alliances and uncertain trust, they both must decide where their loyalties lie. This vision of the future is violent, unforgiving, and bleak: Cormac McCarthy meets Philip K. Dick. It’s disturbing because of how believable it is. The novel’s structure is fractured: chapters are short, with frequent jumps between characters. This gives the work an uncertain and unsettled feel and captures the fractured nature of the world these people inhabit. It’s remarkably effective. Recommended for fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and China Miéville.

Book Review: What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong

Cover of the book What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong
What the Hell Did I Just Read
by David Wong
St. Martin’s, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on September 21, 2017.

David, John, and Amy are back in their third adventure (after This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, 2012), and it’s as snarky, bleak, and funny as one could hope for. The narrative starts with a high-speed car chase and never slows down, racing headlong at a breathtaking pace. Children are being kidnapped; the Big Bad is a shape-shifter; and there’s an abandoned mine, a motorcycle gang, and yet another mysterious black-cloak organization. Our heroes remain hilariously incompetent and incredibly lucky. Then things get really weird. This book is a mind-trip, messing with the characters’ heads and making the reader question reality right alongside them. These are established characters, so readers shouldn’t look for much development. It’s also a bit too fast-paced: it’s easy to miss details that need to be remembered later. Although it’s not the strongest entry in the series, it’s exciting and a great deal of fun, which is really what Wong’s fans want.

Book Review: The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz

The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz
The Silent Corner
by Dean Koontz
Bantam, 2017

The Silent Corner is Dean Koontz’s version of a hard-boiled detective thriller: an off-the-books FBI detective on a personal mission, a rash of mysterious suicides, a cabal of men wielding a genuinely terrifying new technology. As always, Koontz renders his characters ably and the plot is perfectly paced. This is a tense, taut, and foreboding novel to kick off a new series.

I didn’t enjoy it at all.

There are two reasons why I didn’t enjoy this book. The first problem I have is his writing style.

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On the Economic Value of Human Beings

This.

Immigrants Shouldn’t Have to Be ‘Talented’ to Be Welcome by Masha Gessen (New York Times, September 6, 2017)

If immigration is debated only in terms of whether it benefits the economy, politicians begin to divide people into two categories: “valuable” and “illegal.” When countries make people illegal, the world comes apart. When we agree to talk about people as cogs, we lose our humanity.

I hate how our culture has decided that economics is the only thing that matters. That every aspect of our society is assessed predominately—if not exclusively—in economic terms. Education, healthcare, the environment, arts and humanities, science and engineering, technology, civil rights, immigration and refugees, and on and on and on…

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Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Cover of the book Artemis by Andy Weir
Artemis
by Andy Weir
Crown, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on September 1, 2017.

**STARRED REVIEW** Jazz Bashara grew up in Artemis, the only city on the moon. She’s a young, misanthropic, underachieving genius who side-hustles as a smuggler. One day, she takes on a job that proves too dangerous and finds herself wrapped up in murder and an interplanetary struggle for control over a new technology worth billions. This exciting, whip-smart, funny thrill-ride boasts a wonderful cast of characters, a wide cultural milieu, and the appeal of a striking young woman as the main character. It’s one of the best science fiction novels of the year—but to make it clear, Artemis is not The Martian (2011) redux. Tone, characters, structure are all very different. It’s more traditional sf and lacks the cheery novelty that characterized Weir’s famous first novel. The setting is just as detailed and scientifically realistic, but science isn’t the focus this time. Weir’s sarcastic humor is on full display, but Jazz delivers it with an anger that Watney (The Martian‘s protagonist) never had. The Martian appealed to a broad audience beyond regular sf fans, and Weir’s second novel will be in high demand, thanks to that, though it may not be to everyone’s taste.