The Line Between by Tosca Lee is a meticulously crafted and incredibly timely science thriller. It follows the journey of Wynter Roth, a young woman raised in an apocalyptic extremist Christian cult. Upon her expulsion from the New Earth community and compound, she must navigate the overwhelming world of the modern United States. As the days wear on, however, North America is gripped with a strange illness that presents as rapid, early-onset dementia. To Wynter, the epidemic and increasing natural disasters look eerily similar to the events New Earth’s prophet foretold as signs of the impending Doomsday--a Doomsday from which she no longer has salvation.
Lee handles this terrifying story with deadly accuracy, from the creeping dread that sets in with the first scene’s thawing permafrost to Wynter’s heart-pounding flight as the country crumbles around her. My background is in biology and pre-med and I was impressed with the scientific plausibility that many science thrillers lack. Having survived a pandemic and family succumbing to the same illness that inspired Lee’s fictional disease, I can say her worldbuilding in The Line Between is nothing short of prophetic. Both the overarching plot of the epidemic and Wynter’s own tale were gripping from the very first line.
The Oppenheimer Alternative by Hugo and Nebula winner, Robert J. Sawyer, is a science fiction take on classic wry political thrillers. Like its titular character, Alternative is melancholy and driven in turns. It follows the historic scientific events of what we know as the Manhatten Project, but like World War II, they serve as a backdrop for exploring Oppie’s faceted and often discontent character. The modern reader in me would have loved to see more of the minds and lives left in Oppenheimer’s wake--Kitty and most notably Jean. I was struck by the care Sawyer took to be as accurate as possible, without relinquishing any of the moments’ excitement. The transition from the historic events to his speculation on alternative history was seamless.
Sawyer’s prose dissects each new character with an honest curiosity devoid, for the most part, of judgment. His exploration of both these personalities and the events they influenced--or in the case of the latter, speculative half of the book, could have precipitated--was almost tender. Sawyer’s dedication to accuracy and craft make The Oppenheimer Alternative a wonderful book, not only for fans of classic speculative fiction, but also any historic fiction reader.
Thoroughly recommended, 4 out of 5 stars! Read now!
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Lucas, by Elna Holst, is a delightful re-imagining of Jane Austen's world, following the story of Charlotte Collins, Elizabeth Bennet's childhood friend. While Charlotte writes to the Lizzy we all know and love, this story is told in a second, secret set of correspondence Charlotte can never send to her friend, detailing her affection for women and her unexpected fall into infatuation and love--not with her husband, the rector of Rosings Park in Kent, but her physician's cousin, the delightfully unorthodox Miss Ailsa Reid. Ms. Holst paints a wonderful historic picture from the gardens and simplicity of Kent to the finery and excitement of a winter vacation Bath. Despite the fun and adrenaline of new, forbidden love, the more serious aspects of womanhood in Regency England were dealt with honestly and with respect.
Throughout the tale, Charlotte becomes increasingly akin to her imagined penpal, torn into two versions of herself: one, the demure, sensible Mrs Collins, rector's wife, the other swooning, secretive Charly Lucas, lover to the beguiling Ailsa. While the epistolary nature of the book made for a bit less world-building and richness than I would have liked, everything I love about Austen's world is here, from the longing and drama, to the exquisite clothes and races across the countryside for someone's honor and safety. I was hooked as Charlotte had to choose between her family's reputation and her own happiness. 4 out of 5 stars!