There’s just something about disaster stories and survival that captures my interest. It’s that Canadian thing, I guess, that Margaret Atwood identified so many years ago. Anyway, I spotted this on our library’s new titles shelf and was intrigued. I read it in February and postponed this review during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s eerie how life is imitating art here; in this novel, a terrible flu has swept through the global population, wiping out some 70% of the American population. This story is set six years later in San Francisco, with four primary characters as they are struggling to live as normal lives as possible. Moira, a former pop star, is desperate to stay incognito from her overbearing father, is about to get married; her wedding planner is Krista, whose sole family is her cat Mick, and she likes it that way. Rob, still reeling from his wife’s death, is Moira’s work colleague, a news censor whose sole focus is his seven-year-old daughter Sunny.
When a nearby star goes supernova, the Earth is bathed in radiation that kills everyone over the age of 13, while children’s DNA is able to repair itself. International leaders rally with an audacious, desperate plan – train the children to run countries, power systems, fly planes and drive cars, farm the fields, operate shops and cut hair – learn to do all the things that adults have had to look after, and in less than a year. The technical skills were pretty straightforward, but the softer skills of negotiation, leadership, patience and experience simply can’t be taught in such a short time. Still, the adults have no choice, and in time, the reins are handed over and the adults die. The book focuses primarily on a trio of child leaders in China, two boys and a girl, named Huahua, Specs, and Xiaomeng, as they struggle to keep the country operating.
There’s nothing like an alien life form gone crazy viral as a plot premise. Hollywood screenwriter Koepp (of Jurassic Park fame) has probably already sold the movie rights to this hilarious roller-coaster ride of a sci-fi thriller. An alien fungus hitches a ride on Skylab’s exterior as it falls to Earth, landing in Australia in 1979 and breaking loose 10 years later. It is impossibly fast and deadly, but thanks to Pentagon bioterror operative Roberto Diaz, it’s quickly contained. A tiny sample remains in the hands of the U.S. government, and is entombed in an underground cold storage bunker somewhere in the Midwest. Thirty years later, the fungus roars back to life, escaping the bunker which has since been sold and now serves as a self-storage facility. Diaz is called out of retirement to stop the organism, and races against time to save the world, with only a pair of hapless security guards to help him.
This is Arden’s second book featuring her trio of young adventurers – Ollie, Coco, and Brian. It’s also quite a bit scarier, in my opinion, than the first one. I shivered with the creepiness! First, let me open by saying that while you don’t have to have read Small Spaces first, I’d recommend it. There are several references to it throughout the book, and I’m happy to report that all three young protagonists admit to being significantly affected by what happened to them in the first book. So read it first if at all possible. It’s now Christmas, about two months after the scarecrow incident, and the three kids are in the back seat on their way, with Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mum, to a ski resort called Mount Hemlock (not the one near Agassiz, lol!). A brutal storm is raging and just before arriving, Coco sees a ski-jacketed figure in the road who appears to be warning them away. No one else sees him, and despite the scare, they continue on.
Ghost stories were my staple as a girl – I read all those anthologies from Alfred Hitchcock, plus Lois Duncan, John Bellairs, Richard Peck, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. (Until I was 14, when the unforgettable Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot scared me straight.) Modern kids are enjoying stories by Holly Black, Mary Downing Hahn and Neil Gaiman, and I’m delighted to offer Katherine Arden as a terrific new voice in kids’ scary fiction. This is her first novel for children, and it hits all the targets – authentic voice, prickly but sympathetic protagonist witha strong moral compass and two reliable and smart pals, generally unhelpful adults, and a spooky plotline involving a bunch of really creepy scarecrows.
Got a ghost? Shelly and her grandmother are ready to help. Like all women in their family, they have the ability to see spirits and catch them. In their hair. Once caught, the ghosts can be set free and sent on their way, to wherever it is they are supposed to be. Shelly’s mum has it too, but she prefers to spend her time with the living. The three live in a happy home, and Shelly is delighted whenever her grandmother lets her accompany her on a ghost job. Sometimes the ghosts are in a house, sometimes they are animals, and sometimes they are quite happy to stick around. Grandmother says you can’t push them till they are ready to go, but often a cup of warm milk does the trick. When a tragedy befalls the family, Shelly finds herself drawing inward, choosing the company of ghosts over the real world.
I like alternative histories, and this is an intriguing one based on the real-life explorations into space travel research by Nazi Germany. What if the space race had taken place two decades earlier, during World War II, pitting the Americans against the Germans? In 1941, Austrian aerospace engineer Eugen Sänger proposed a rocket-propelled bomber he called the Silbervogel or Silver Bird, intended to attack the United States. Steele, a science journalist turned sci-fi writer, drew on this interesting fact for a couple of short stories and even a television script that never gained interest. In V-S Day he fleshes out the concept into a full-length novel, developing characters on both sides of the Atlantic as the two countries race to develop the technology – the Germans to attack, and the Americans to defend.