Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Super Plunge Lady and the 3D Printed Rocket Car
by Erin Lale

by Daniel Huddleston

Portraits Hung in Empty Halls
by K.C. Ball

Mouse Trap
by Fiona Moore

Basket in the Sky
by Igor Teper

Worlds Less Traveled
by John C. Conway

Redemption of Colony Venturis
by Wayne Helge

Where the Grass May Be Greener
by Rob Butler

Double Time
by Rik Hunik


Do Beavers Rule Mars?
by Thomas Elway

Science Fiction at the Box Office
by Adam Paul




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Dematerial Implications

QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT. Teleportation. Book covers rarely scare off readers with such heady terms, and even science fiction writers tend to embrace easier subjects, such as a post-apocalyptic planet Earth. Charles Barouch hurls the reader headlong into the fire of ethereal physics with his novel “Adjacent Fields,” and if the science doesn’t scare us, the politics will. How does the inventor of a teleportation device get the funding to produce and market such a revolutionary product? What if customers can’t use the teleporter until their governments figure out how to regulate and tax the device?

“When you invent something,” the hero reminds us, “no one leaps out of the shadows and presents you with a comprehensive statistical analysis.”

The novel opens with “the little man” named Rama demonstrating his amazing invention, the Adjacent Field, at a conference of potential investors. “There was interest in their eyes, but also impatience ... these people went to demonstrations for a living. Keeping their attention was vital to getting their money.”

They witness cargo vanishing from one pad and reappearing on another, but don’t even grasp what they have seen. “What commercial value do you see in moving small objects tiny distances between platforms?” asks one unimpressed investor.

Rama’s audiences cannot grasp the technology or see its potential—until a reporter in Rio swaps microphones with someone in New York, then Hong Kong. The unplanned microphone swap is “graspable.” Within a week, the inventorsbarouch have a privately traded company with six hundred stockholders. Not long after that, our protagonists are in jail on suspicion of finding a way to trade goods without paying taxes. Barouch narrates these ironies with dry, understated humor.

The political machinations of the story are scary, but so is the science. Teleportation would involve dematerializing an object at one point, sending the object’s precise atomic configuration to another location, and reconstructing it there. Time and space would be eliminated from travel. We’d be transported to any location instantly, without crossing a physical distance. Barouch apparently grasps the concept of quantum entanglement, but he mercifully simplifies explanations of how it works. E.g., “Both ultraviolet and infrared do pass through but the bulk of the visible spectrum won’t. Radio frequencies pass through, except for short-wave and a few kilohertz worth of bandwidth in the middle of the FM range.”

The “Adjacent Fields” of the title got their start in a monastery, in the floor tiles, into which one monk has disappeared, another one is trapped, and a third one is disassembled, his various body parts appearing from time to time in one tile or another, even waving or speaking. This is not a book for impressionable readers to consume at bedtime.

The story bounces from the monastery to the inventors, to the businessmen and politicians, with a huge cast of characters that include semi-teleported monks, a Zen-seeking pianist, an escaped mental patient, a con artist with multiple identities, and a gay man whose lover fears Walter isn’t really gay but just unable to relate to women, due to an incident with his sister Jenny, now deceased, but the invention is named for her: the Adjacent Fields become JCI, JennyPads International.

The dialogue is memorable, even if the characters are hard to keep up with. Rama tells Walter, “I needed someone more trustworthy than I am. Don’t ever completely trust me, Walter. Simply trust everyone else less.”

Barra tells Russell, “Quantum Physicists are idiots. Their theories are the worst kind of junk science and their beliefs are more like a crackpot religion than like any reasonable attempt at understanding.” Russell’s unspoken response is priceless: “He’d studied physics and built his device on these principles. He knew it was right because he had a quantum entanglement device under his robes and it worked. She had to be wrong.”

Barra verbally shreds him: “If you intend to kill everyone who understands how the field works,” she says, “you can cross suicide off your to-do list.”

Aside from the risk of jail or execution for those who can create the JennyPads, there’s the disturbing knowledge of how many ways they can be used. Presented first as a way to ship packages to Brazil at the speed of an e-mail, the invention may be used to save lives or commit murder. “A doctor could reach inside a human body and work on a person without cutting them open,” planes could drop JennyPads instead of bombs, making the invention the “Healer, killer, remaker of society.”

Barouch is a writer and journalist, published by International Spectrum, Mphasis (a Mensa publication), and HDWP Books.

“The reason we created HDWP Books,” he writes, “has everything to do with how hard it is for good stories to get out there. To be clear: most publishers genuinely want to help good authors tell good stories. We—the publishing industry—want to help you tell your story. That puts us all on the same page.” (“Adjacent Fields,” Charles Barouch, HDWP Books) 3 stars Carol Kean


No Defiance of Convention

THE FIRST MINUTE OF AN episode of “Defiance” is, more often than not, the most enjoyable minute of that episode. It’s in these initial moments that the titular town (founded when warring human and alien armies threw down their arms and made peace in a post-apocalyptic Earth) actually behaves like a real-life one. The camera leaps from merchants peddling their wares to back alleys littered with drugs and criminals to Defiance’s wealthiest sitting in their ivory towers. Rarely do these moments ever have any impact on the plot of the episode that follows; usually the show’s protagonists—sheriff Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his adopted alien daughter/deputy Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas)—don’t even make an appearance. Instead, these moments provide a support for an episode to build off of, and a way to allow the viewer to experience life in a world that is at once familiar and alien.

It’s a shame that the actual episodes that follow display none of the intelligence of those openings. The inner workings of city life are thrown aside for overly simple action-movie stories that boil down to little else than catching the bad guy and saving the day. A villain is introduced with some hazy link to an established defiancecharacter’s mysterious past (because on “Defiance,” every character has some terrible secret that must be hinted at through jumpy, over-saturated flashbacks), the villain tries to betray our heroes or destroy the town, but evil is foiled and moral order is restored. This is especially troubling when “Defiance” tries to paint itself as a place where right and wrong are shades of gray and no character is a shining beacon of morality—in reality, characters rarely, if ever, stray from a rigid moral path. Nolan and Irisa may appear to be loose cannons who lash out violently at a moment’s notice, but any and all acts of violence are soon revealed to have been the right decision all along. They act on impulse, and on the slightest suspicions (without any real evidence) that someone may be a villain, but those suspicions are always correct and their victims are always revealed to be vile villains of the worst kind. Thus the two heroes appear to be perfect, with the innate ability to always take the moral high ground even by accident. Similarly, the town’s mayor (“Dexter’s” Julie Benz) will consider making a dirty political move but never follow through, while the slimy alien gangster Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) may occasionally aid the heroes, but does so only when he has something to gain. No risks are taken when defining these characters, and the rough edges the show seems to tout never materialize.

The relatively poor quality of the dialogue and the acting certainly doesn’t help. Bowler, Curran, and Graham Greene (as the industrious owner of the town’s largest mine) do their best with lines that bluntly announce plot points and characters’ inner emotions, but the rest of the cast doesn’t fare nearly as well. Leonidas has only two settings: screaming rage and a wide-eyed stare that’s meant to visualize her brief moments of vulnerability (but instead showcases little else besides an actress with her eyes open very, very wide). Most of the more minor characters give wooden performances in dull, meandering side-plots—the star-crossed lovers from different races, the prostitute with a heart of gold, or the rookie deputy who slowly learns the ropes. Jaime Murray gives one of the better performances (as the wife of Curran’s alien gangster), but her role is clearly lifted in its entirety from the character of Cersei on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Murray’s Stahma Tarr, like Cersei, is the wealthiest of the wealthy elite, manipulating those under her domain from behind the scenes, arranging marriages to extend her sphere of influence, and is even the spitting image of “Thrones” Lena Headey clothed in a similar gossamer wardrobe.

This exemplifies one of “Defiance’s” biggest failings: its total lack of cohesion. That universe that shines in each episode’s opening minute spends the rest of the hour as an awkward pastiche of countless different styles and genres. Defiance is a remote mining town styled after the Old West, situated in a barren landscape that is both post-apocalyptic wasteland (a la “Mad Max”) and alien futurescape; Nolan is a rugged treasure hunter with more than a passing resemblance to Indiana Jones, while his adopted daughter shares the same face, hair, dress and doe eyes of Milla Jovovich in “The Fifth Element.” The villains equip themselves in steampunk outfits while space cowboys straight out of “Firefly” visit an alien cantina straight out of “Star Wars.” In this world nothing is unique and nothing fits together quite like it should. No single element can shine because countless other contradicting styles are all pushing and shoving to be the one to stand out. So on the rare occasion when “Defiance” actually comes up with something new and exciting, it feels less like a creative accomplishment and more like the rare strand of spaghetti that actually stuck to the wall. The Tarrs’ home is a breathtaking set where every single element is pure, shimmering white; two characters make conversation outside a bombed-out dog food factory; a hulking alien beast takes his Jack Russell terrier for a late-night walk. In any other show these moments would be sparks of genius. In “Defiance,” they are beaten down by a thousand others that aren’t nearly as clever.

“Defiance” could be a fun bit of summer escapism if it would only slow down and think things through. Its charismatic anti-heroes need real charisma and a few negative characteristics to make them seem real. Its world should take a few elements and stick to them, rather than trying and failing to use every science fiction element under the sun. Even the action sequences don’t quite work. CGI often overwhelms the screen and creates a repetitive, video game aesthetic (not surprising when the show invites viewers to play along in an online “Defiance” MMO/shooter video game), and the level of violence fluctuates between tame gun battles and sequences drenched in entrails and arterial spray. Lying deep within “Defiance” is the spark of something truly exciting. Unfortunately for those tuning in, that spark is just that—a spark, and nothing more. (“Defiance,” Mondays 9/8c, SyFy) 2 stars — Adam Paul


Captain’s Saga Continues

THE LONG-AWAITED PAPERBACK edition of “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” by Lois McMaster Bujold is finally out, and it will not disappoint fans of the Vorkosigan Saga. Readers new to the series won’t get lost, though, because this book is written as a stand-alone. Backstory is cleverly worked into the book in a way that won’t bore longtime fans. For the fans, there are a few minor touches in the story in the form of cameo appearances by beloved characters from previous books. But knowing who they are is not necessary to follow the plot or enjoy the book.

The various books of the Vorkosigan saga have delivered a wide variety of different kinds of plots borrowed from other genres, including murder mystery and 19th century comedy-of-manners. This volume is a romantic cosagamedy, but there is plenty of action and excitement for readers who joined the series at the beginning when it was military science fiction. With most of theplot turning on feudal politics and romance, one might say this book is less “hard” than some of the other books in the series, but that would not be fair to Ivan. He’s a more mature version of himself than in earlier books, but still quite the ladies’ man.

Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril developed a lot as a character in a previous book, “A Civil Campaign,” in which he turned from the boyish “Ivan, you idiot” of earlier books into a competent adult capable of running his own plot independent of series main character Miles Vorkosigan. The Ivan of “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” is more like his cousin Lord (now Count) Miles Vorkosigan: clever, brave, and unafraid to take charge. This transformation isbriefly recounted in this book when one character tells another that before Emperor Gregor married and produced heirs, Ivan was always trying not to be a plot-magnet for other peoples’ political schemes, and did not want to appear too capable of leadership lest he attract people wanting to make him Emperor. Freed of this possibility by Gregor’s procreation, Ivan finally comes into his own, and is revealed as just as wily, chivalrous, and heroic as Miles.

The plot turns on a hard science fiction idea, the mycoborer, an experimental tunneling device that is destined to be the science fiction definition of “epic fail.” The spectacular unintended consequences produce the book’s big ending, so I won’t spoil it by revealing them here. Let’s just say that longtime fans who enjoyed other Vorkosigan Saga books where civil engineers’ inventions turned out to have more promise as a weapon will like this one too.

Structural engineering is not the usual sort of science people think of when they think of hard science fiction, but it is certainly a hard science. Bujold has put pipes and ductwork at the center of major plotlines in some of the other Vorkosigan books, so the mycoborer revisits some familiar territory for longtime fans, but in a completely new way. In all, this book is a delight for both Vor fans and science fiction readers who haven’t yet read the other Vorkosigan Saga books. (“Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance,” Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen) 5star — Erin Lale


Blockbuster Goes Bust

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S DEMONIC and dark fantasies, and even his more mainstream fare, featured worlds and stories that were inventive and magical. He was one of the few who made accessible horror films that were poetic as much as they were graphic. With “Pacific Rim,” he has joined the high concept summer blockbuster realm with an excessive, expressionless robots versus monsters flick that only requires its audience to suspend visual coherence and accept that there is only a thin thread in place of a story.

Giant monsters called Kaiju have begun to materialize one after another from a portal to terrorize large cities. An international collaboration produces several large robots called Jaegers to counter act the Kaiju, which are controlled by two pilots. Raleigh and Yancy Becket (Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff respectively) apacificre brothers who pilot Gipsy Danger, a nuclear powered Jaeger. When a Category 3 Kaiju defeats Gipsy Danger, killing Yancy during battle, the Jaeger program is reduced to find more effective measures. That effective measure is to construct giant walls along the coasts on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Nearly five years later, Raleigh is on the fringe of joining the construction crew, until Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), commander of the Jaeger program, chooses to go rogue by secretly re-initiating the Jaeger program, and approaches Raleigh to return to Gipsy Danger.

“Pacific Rim” is influenced by Japanese monster flicks that were a part of the style called Kaiju, of which “Godzilla” is the most recognizable franchise. While “Godzilla” reflected the nuclear anxieties of Japan, this film tends to only reflect Hollywood’s insistence of continually attacking the senses with conventional grandiose, excessive CGI, and bigger than ever battles between giant robots and monsters. The film is essentially “Top Gun” meets “Transformers,” and the dated features of those franchises certainly do not assist this film’s central themes and action.

The secret to having two people control the Jaegers is called Drifting, or the neurological connecting of two human brains in order to control these gigantic machines. The side effect of this event is the sharing of memories, and this link can help the pilots bond and focus more on their battles. Drifting also involves the only interesting aspect of the film, a subplot involving the search for a Kaiju brain, led by the gregarious Jaeger program scientist Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day). Dr. Geiszler is also in competition with his professional rival Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), and their interactions offer some of the best moments of the film.

But that says a lot for a plot whose story is fleeting and frayed. The film focuses solely on the battles between these large beasts which might be satisfying to the rock ’em sock ’em crowd, but cuts are so quick that we are robbed of any real action. Everything happens so fast and surrounded by water, at night, or is surrounding by falling buildings so that nothing is really seen except the consequences of blows. The film’s pacing is also relatively quick, although the film itself is overly long. When these gigantic beasts and robots aren’t battling for supremacy, the meager human stories and connections are cliché and conventional as they come. The dialogue is threadbare and atrociously hokey and saccharine, making the film feel predictable. As an example, Raleigh is forced into an eye-rolling rivalry with another pilot, and other pilots are traumatized by father issues and personal vendettas against the Kaiju.

Where most films work to suspend disbelief, “Pacific Rim,” which is both artless and mindless, asks nothing of its spectators other than to accept the relentless barrage of visual and audio effects. Yet, even these effects are suspect. An underwater battle features full audio effects as the bots and monsters are smashed and bashed as if they were above water, and none of these audio events are muffled by the sea. The film essentially becomes an exercise of flexing CGI muscles to evoke awe, but as a science fiction effort, it is another disappointment that is aimed at the lowest common denominator. (“Pacific Rim,” directed by Guillermo del Toro, Warner Bros.) 1stars — Aaron Weiss


World Music Stays Close to Home

THERE’S A STORY BEING TOLD in “Future Worlds,” a new MP3 of electronic music by Alex Storer. A quick glance at the album’s track list and a narrative immediately takes shape. We start somewhere close to home with the first song, “Souvenier of Earth,” then “To the Stars” sets the journey in motion. A new home is found, and then expanded on (“Utopia,” “Colony,” “The World Outside”). The narrative takes on an exploratory element (“Second Son,” “Icefall,” “Beneath the Surface,” “Cities in the Sky”) before eventually returning back to where it started (“Flightpath,” “Earthlight”). Finally, what is old is reborn anew in “Sea of Flames.”

The Light Dreams (pseudonym of artist Storer) cites classic works of science fiction as his inspiration for “Future Worlds,” specifically the writing of Arthur C. Clarke and the art of David A. Hardy. The pieces are all in place—the classic science fiction influences; the underlying narrative of the album—but the one place where “Future Worlds” lags behind is its music.

The album suffers from too many pieces that all sound far too similar. There’s a pattern that echoes all throughout “Future Worlds”: the bass establishes an extremely simple chord progression (rarely is there a harmony that would feel out of place in a modern rock song) while synthesizers layer in on topfuture. With the addition of some percussion, the faintest hints of melody and plenty of repetition, one has already described the vast majority of “Future Worlds.” Of course, repetitive music is by no means a purely negative attribute—taken individually, each piece is still a futurescape overflowing with detail. But when viewed as a whole, the same futurescape is revisited again and again, until everything blends together into a murky soup.

“Future Worlds” cries out for something totally different, something that would provide real contrast. A piece that only uses one chord and stays within minimalist simplicity; a piece that works the modern complexities of jazz into its harmonies instead of staying trapped within the simple major and minor scale.

There is individuality to be found within “Future Worlds,” but those moments of genuine excitement make up less than half of the album’s hour-long run time. “Utopia” begins like any other piece, but roughly halfway in it becomes decidedly funkier. The synthesizer stops repeating the same little half-melodies and starts to scream with the free-form intensity of a true soloist. “Utopia” has character. In it one can hear the hustle of space-age society, of technology and life fusing together with a hard edge.

“The World Outside” is another of the few songs that are truly memorable. A feature for the bass more than anything else, “The World Outside” is the album’s rare exception that plays with a bit of outside harmony. With a little modal experimentation, that driving bass takes on the quality of monks chanting in unison, yet still retains its science fiction edge. The song exhibits a somber quality that’s unlike the rest of “Future Worlds.”

And it’s fitting that the one song to truly break away from the album’s mold is by far its best work. Like “The World Outside,” “Flightpath” is a little on the slower side. But rather than following the outline dictated by the rest of the album, it begins with a single arpeggio and builds the whole piece around that same, repeating fragment. The percussion here does little more than keep time, allowing “Flightpath” to swell with dreadful power at its high points and whisper into nothingness at its low ones, all as that same arpeggio provides the backbone that everything else is built upon.

If only these pieces were the norm in “Future Worlds.” Instead, too many tracks offer teases of greatness and little else. Far too often, a song will begin with a crash of orchestration or a synthesizer warbling dissonantly out of pitch, suggesting something new and exciting and far from the norm. Yet after a few seconds, that freshness quickly dissipates into something that’s been heard three or four times already.

To a similar end, the final piece on the album (the bonus track entitled “Origins”) offers a tantalizing glimpse into what “Future Worlds” could have been, had each piece had its own unique character. As “Origins” draws to a close, the voices of space travelers can be heard under the music, and an inclusion as simple as that—a lone human voice on an album of electronic music—makes all the difference. The image that “Origins” had previously been painting takes on a whole new dimension. Its story now has characters, and with those characters comes extra depth of emotion that wasn’t there before. That simple little change makes “Origins” unique. The rest of the album just needs a little more where that came from. (“Future Worlds,” The Light Dreams, MP3) 1starAdam Paul


Saving Humanity in Spite of Itself

HUMANS SUFFER A CURIOUS CONCEIT that we must be the envy of angels, immortals, gods and aliens. Never mind that people “have besmirched everything bestowed on them,” as the 1999 film “Dogma” reminds us; “They were given Paradise, they threw it away. They were given this planet, they destroyed it.” Instead of hanging our heads in shame, we tend to buy books written by humans to make us feel better about being human—and Matt Haig’s “The Humans” is just the tonic.

Haig confronts a vast and indifferent universe with the charm and audacity our race is known for. Uncomfortable with apathy and meaningless existence, humans tend to cherish the notion that a loving God deliberately created us, then wonder why God doesn’t give up on us and start over. The answer—“God is crazy in love with us!”—goes back at least 700 years, when Italian mystic Saint Catherine of Siena proclaimehumansd that God simply fell in love with his creation in spite of all our failings. This is the revelation that plagues our alien protagonist in The Humans. Incarnated as a man, he is sent from a galaxy far, far away, not to save humanity, but to save the universe from us. An English mathematician has solved a great math riddle, and if this knowledge isn’t swiftly erased, humans will spread into outer space faster than European invaders were driven by Manifest Destiny. The alien’s job is simple: kill a few humans, come home again. However, like St. Catherine’s God, the alien is soon smitten with us. And if he doesn’t get the job done, another alien will.

The alien’s home planet is a Utopia of immortal beings whose only god is math. Their sketchy rulers, The Host, sound like earth’s heartless communist regimes. Their devotion to prime numbers has never been polluted by poetry, Australian wine, peanut butter and The Beach Boys, so the idea of their assassin abandoning his Earthly mission and giving up immortality for the aches and pains of a short human life is, well, so alien, they just didn’t anticipate it.

Our nameless hero assumes the identity of Professor Andrew Martin, who was already captured and killed before the story opens. The chosen alien has morphed into a body identical to Martin’s and traveled light-years to Earth. Like the comic Mr. Bean of British television, he arrives naked as a newborn on the busy streets of Cambridge. He’s equipped with surprisingly little information on how humans dress, communicate and behave. Luckily he’s a speed reader, so he does some catch-up research at a magazine rack. Unluckily, the latest issue of “Cosmopolitan” is his first source of information about humans. The expected scenes of chaos and confusion occur as Haig employs the ironic humor of “unreliable narrator” and various tropes of science fiction to introduce our displaced alien.

Haig skips the science fiction tradition of world-building. How did a society light-years away find out about a human’s mathematical discovery, and what makes them fear that humans will conquer the universe with it? Kill the man and the knowledge today, but those pesky humans are sure to figure it all out in another generation or century, so why not just kill all humans now? Never mind: the point of the novel is to show that humans have redeeming virtues; the setup is secondary. The alien’s marvelous technology is an echo of ET’s, but what matters is the alien’s willingness to give up his powers in order to be fully human. Ancient Egyptians, the gods of Olympus, even Jesus set a precedent for that. Worse than the “cup” of dying on the cross, though, are the alien’s orders from above to murder his own family and anyone else who has knowledge of his Earth-shattering mathematical breakthrough. Better to suffer and die alone than to see our loved ones harmed, right? This is where Haig hooks the reader. However implausible the imposter’s presence may be, the way he becomes attached to his intended victims endears us to him. Everything about us is new, diverting, delightful. Our coffee is terrible, to him, but wine, hey, and Emily Dickinson, wow! Even the suspicious dog comes to love the alien, who is so much nicer than that awful Andrew Martin was. And, in spite of ourselves, we applaud the insights of our alien as he comes to love those simple, daily details that distinguish us as humans.

Hailed as science fiction with the “brilliance” and insight of Vonnegut, this novel is very readable, engaging and emotionally honest, but not startling. Page after page of observations about humans ring true, but we’ve heard it all before. E.g., the term “news” means “news that directly affects humans,” not the other nine million species on the planet, much less anything beyond the solar system. By renaming a cow “beef,” we make it okay to eat the creature. Few readers will be shocked that “The humans are an arrogant species, defined by violence and greed. They have taken their home planet, the only one they currently have access to, and placed it on the road to destruction. They have created a world of divisions and categories and have continually failed to see the similarities among themselves.” And so on. And oh, too true.

We know our flaws; what we want to know is how to love ourselves in spite of them. The alien shows us. He even compiles a list of advice for humans, and it can be viewed on YouTube, with fans of the novel reciting lines from the novel: "If there is a sunset, stop and look at it. Knowledge is finite. Wonder is infinite," or “Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. Do not fall for categories. Everyone is everything. Every ingredient inside a star is inside you, and every personality that ever existed competes in the theatre of your mind for the main role.” Such insights seem more the province of Facebook memes than a novel, but Haig does put a unique spin on the delivery of these warm fuzzies.

Commercial success is assured for this novel. Haig is writing a screenplay of The Humans” for producers of the Harry Potter movies. This is a realistic yet romantic look at people in a mainstream novel that contains elements of science fiction. As the alien himself tells us, there is only one genre, and it is “book.” A man ponders his own existence in a meaningless universe where life is short, nature is brutish but beautiful, and humanity, for all its pros and cons, is worth experiencing. Fans of Nicholas Sparks and Thomas Kincaid are more likely to love this book than fans of science fiction. I did enjoy this, and on the heels of “Apocalyptic Organ Grinder” by William Todd Rose, a dose of “The Humans” was just what the doctor ordered. (“The Humans,” Matt Haig, Simon & Schuster) 4starsCarol Kean



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