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Artificial Intelligence: Rise of the Lightspeed Learners

Charles Jennings. Rowman and Littlefield, $32 (200p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1680-7

Tech entrepreneur Jennings (The Hundredth Window) brings pragmatism, humor, and a dash of self-inflation to this convincing plea for Americans to inform themselves about and engage politically with the inevitable rise of what he calls Machina sapiens. Based on his view that artificial intelligence can be a net positive for humanity—provided it’s managed correctly—Jennings warns against leaving decisions up to irresponsible parties, among whom he includes rogue states, the Chinese government, and Big Tech. Finding the U.S.’s lack of a national AI policy “both remarkable and negligent,” Jennings calls for a “new American technology story,” in which development is spearheaded not by private companies but by the federal government, possibly using independent monitoring bodies similar to the Atomic Energy Commission. He also brainstorms ideas for new entrepreneurial tools, encourages state and city governments to crank up AI-centered economic development, and, in general, leans his optimism on the potential of well-informed, self-directed individuals—he points to trucking and security as examples of American business sectors approaching AI with positivity rather than fear. Jennings offers more polemic and less exploration than he promises, but, in the midst of expressing his strong opinions, provides a substantial framework to support readers’ thinking about tech regulation. (May)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Doctor’s Orders (Copper Point Medical #3)

Heidi Cullinan. Dreamspinner, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-64108-140-5

Readers who were captivated by The Doctor’s Secret and The Doctor’s Date will find the concluding Copper Point Medical contemporary a dreadful letdown. This time, it’s pediatrician Jared Kumpel and small-town hospital CEO Nick Beckert who couple up, getting a second chance at love. The men have been estranged for decades after first falling for each other as teenagers. They reconnect when they are trapped in an elevator. However, although Nick kisses Jared passionately, he is afraid that coming out will upset his family, jeopardize his relationship with his church, and affect his job—reasonable concerns, but his fretting over them is drawn out at excessive length. Nick tries to pretend he and Jared are just roommates, but this arrangement is as flimsy as the novel, which spends so much time on Nick’s angst that there’s barely any romance. Nick is so self-involved that the lovestruck Jared eventually has an emotional breakdown, which passes for relationship development. There’s a subplot involving rebuilding the hospital and possible elevator sabotage, but even this intrigue fails to spark much interest. This underwritten contemporary is a very disappointing end to an otherwise terrific series. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The House of Sacrifice (Empires of Dust #3)

Anna Smith Spark. Orbit, $16.99 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-51152-0

The final volume in Spark’s relentlessly bleak Empires of Dust trilogy (after The Court of Broken Knives and The Tower of Living and Dying) is a storm of intrigue, violence, lost faith, and insanity. The mighty Army of Amrath, led by ruthless Marith, King of Death, has brought most of the continent of Irlast under his control after a bloody four-year campaign. But peace isn’t easy, especially for a man whose grip on reality is questionable at best. After three miscarriages, Marith’s wife, Thalia, is uneasily pregnant again. The army, ordered to disband without back pay, is at loose ends and turning to violence. Worst of all, Marith is once again hearing the voices that drive him to chaos and murder. The only solution: another war. Spark shifts the narration among four characters, each haunted by the past and the shadows it casts on the present. The world is vividly tactile, constructed from mountain crags, sandy deserts, and tumbled cities populated by ambitious lordlings and desperate citizenry. Spark wraps up this turbulent saga with skill, leaving readers hungry for her next work. Agent: Ian Drury, Sheil Land Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Cry Pilot

Joel Dane. Ace, $16 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-984802-52-1

Riveting action paired with a sharp psychoemotional landscape combine for the explosive launch of a futuristic trilogy (the first voyage of the Dane pseudonym for an established author). Centuries in the future, humans live in tiny corporate enclaves while the ruined Earth undergoes terra fixing, a process that sometimes creates biological horrors. Maseo Kaytu is a refugee with a secret, which makes it hard for him to enlist in the corporate military, but through a touch of chicanery and a stint as a cry pilot—human “keys” needed to engage highly technological, high-lethality vehicles known as CAVs—he earns his place in Group Aleph for basic training. The group is part of a program that’s been formed to address the rising threat of entities called lampreys. It’s not an easy road through basic training, but he manages as part of a squad that becomes closer than family despite his checkered past. Frequent adrenaline-rush action scenes make up most of the novel, interspersed with Kaytu’s internal narrative and experiences. This is an intriguing, thoughtful exploration of what a corporatized future might look like, liberally peppered with scenes of military life. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Mighty Deep (The Underfoot #1)

Ben Fisher and Emily S. Whitten, illus. by Michelle Nguyen. Lion Forge, $12.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-5493-0289-3

Someone has erected a dam, and the Hamster Aquatic Mercenaries have been called upon to destroy it. Without their recently lost trapsmith, though, breaking up the dam will prove near impossible. Still, they draft a few younger hamsters who may not be entirely ready to make their way into enemy territory. There, they will confront reptiles, birds, and sentient animals who have uncertain motives. Fisher (the Great Divide books) and entertainment journalist Whitten, making her debut, introduce readers to a fascinating world that blends elements of GI Joe stories with Brian Jacques’s Redwall books. In between chapters, written artifacts offer a glimpse of a previous time, when humans created sentient animals in labs before freeing and abandoning them. Artist Nguyen excels at depicting realistic, emotive talking animals, and she manages shadowing and foreground well, spotlighting the earthy-toned hamsters. Though the premise of the story is basic (destroy a dam), the complicated threads and well-developed, quirky characters create a compelling adventure that readers will want to explore in future series installments. Ages 13–16. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/07/2019 | Details & Permalink

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We Contain Multitudes

Sarah Henstra. Little, Brown, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-52465-0

Henstra’s return to YA (Mad Miss Mimic) tackles gay contemporary teen life via epistolary format. High school student Jonathan “Little Jo” Hopkirk is a gay, bow tie–wearing Walt Whitman fan. Adam Kurlansky (Kurl) is a reserved former football star who quit the team suddenly under strange circumstances. Assigned to one another as part of a weekly pen pal exchange at their high school—and despite their vastly differing interests—they develop a rapport via classroom mail that builds into frequent correspondence and, eventually, romance. Jo’s formally styled writing, studded with Whitman quotations, touches on life’s passions and on being bullied at school, and Kurl’s more casual missives discuss his family: his brother’s return from Afghanistan and his mercurial, controlling uncle. The correspondence at times stretches believability by recounting events and conversations for which both characters were present (“You were there, after all. You don’t need me to reconstruct the scene for you”). But as a medium for reporting day-to-day occurrences and conveying intimate feelings and classic themes—love, lust, and betrayal, among others—the letters shine. While the story’s format and build may strain credulity for some, the volume is likely to find admirers among fans of teen romance. Ages 14–up. (May)

Reviewed on 06/07/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Usual Suspects

Maurice Broaddus. HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-279631-8

Broaddus’s middle grade debut, a dramatic exploration of middle school from the perspective of its most “troublemaking” students, brings his personal experience volunteering in special education classrooms to bear. Thelonius Mitchell, an African-American attendee of Persons Public Crossing Academy, is a “disruptive” seventh grader and special ed student prone to school pranks that don’t please school administrators. When a gun is found near the school, and Thelonius and his compatriots stand accused (“you just bring in the usual suspects”), he takes it upon himself to search for the real culprit. Broaddus peoples his Indianapolis academy with all manner of adults, from well-meaning to apathetic. Its students demonstrate similarly varied motives, many of them trapped in a system ill equipped to offer the support or protection they need. Though the story captivates, the voices and characterization given to the juvenile protagonists can at times feel a touch adult. Broaddus surprises readers with an ending that avoids a tidy, just resolution, and his portrayal of complex dynamics, particularly from the perspectives of faculty, administrators, and students alike, sheds revealing light on the nature of systemic profiling, based on class, race, and neurodiversity, at schools and within society. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Udden, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 06/07/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Time Sight

Lynne Jonell, illus. by Vivien Mildenberger. Holt/Ottaviano, $16.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-11767-0

Jonell beguilingly entwines history and fiction in this sprawling time travel novel set at Menzies Castle in the Scottish Highlands. Will and Jamie Menzies arrive from the U.S. to stay with relatives, who keep the family castle open to tourists. Their father, meanwhile, is searching for their mother, who was recently taken hostage during a medical mission to a war-ravaged country. Exploring the fortress, 12-year-old Will discovers that he has Time Sight, which transports him, his younger brother, and their Scots cousin back to critical moments in their ancestors’ lives. Among the events they witness are the rival Stewart clan’s burning of the castle in the Middle Ages and escalating tensions between warring Picts and Romans during the Iron Age. Jonell (The Sign of the Cat), a descendant of the Menzies clan, provides vivid recreations of these episodes, made even more immediate and involving given that each unfolds on the site of the present-day castle, and Mildenberger’s airy pictures deftly incorporate past and present action. Will’s awakening to his strong bond with his ancestors and to the senseless violence that molded history and currently threatens his own mother’s safety gives the story additional acuity and depth. Ages 8–11. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. (May)

Reviewed on 06/07/2019 | Details & Permalink

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These Witches Don’t Burn

Isabel Sterling. Razorbill, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-45-148032-3

Hannah, a teen member of a secret coven of witches in modern-day Salem, Mass., is trying to move past her feelings about her ex-girlfriend, fellow Elemental Witch Veronica, when a bloody ritual sacrifice is discovered in their town. Worried that the ritual is a warning from a revenge-fueled Blood Witch, Hannah sets out to find the foe before the danger escalates. Propelled by suspenseful paranormal drama, Sterling’s debut also touches on deeper subject matter in its thoughtful depiction of the manipulative, potentially abusive relationship between Hannah and Veronica. Veronica is “the girl who pulled me out of the closet so fast and so completely my head was still spinning weeks later,” according to Hannah, who describes their first kiss as “life-changing” and “identity-altering.” Hannah’s inability to tell her human friends of her heritage and the recent threats for fear of being stripped of her powers intensifies the situation. Sterling doesn’t shy away from profanity or details of physical relationships in her authentic portrayal of adolescence as viewed through a contemporary teen witch’s experience. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 06/07/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Switchback

Danika Stone. Swoon Reads, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-22165-0

This latest by Stone (Internet Famous) follows two teenagers lost in the Canadian wilderness. Vale Shumway’s love of the outdoors means she’s excited to go on her school’s annual PE hiking trip, but she’s less thrilled at the prospect of spending time with her classmates. With Mike, her relentless bully, on the trip, her lifeline is her best (and only) friend, Ash Hamid, a gamer and class clown who hates the outdoors. After accidentally following the wrong trail, Ash and Vale become separated from the class and must face animals, dramatic weather, and starvation to make it out of the forest alive. The perilous adventure is viscerally described (as when rutting elk wander into their camp), but the characters lack development. The harsh bullying that Vale endures is compounded by her parents’ dismissive belief that her identified sexuality, aromantic-asexual, is a phase, and while she shows some growth in dealing with her bully, a final moment to flesh out Ash’s character undermines Vale’s efforts at self-determination. And though Ash feels guilty for not standing up for his friend, he remains a class-clown stereotype. This uneven offering will appeal most to fans of survival stories. Agent: Morty Mint, Mint Literary Agency. Ages 13–up. (May)

Reviewed on 06/07/2019 | Details & Permalink

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