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The Devil's Calling
Dive into the second entry in Mike Kelley’s spellbinding trilogy, with freethinking literature professor Sean Byron McQueen returning for another high-stakes adventure. It’s been nine years since Sean Byron McQueen and quantum physics professor Emily Edens—aka M—discovered his murdered best friend’s Theory of Everything. Now, Sean and M live a near idyllic life on the campus of a college they’ve established for young women. M’s teaching of the new paradigm-shifting theory of constant creation has made her a rock star scientist. When Sean’s missing spiritual guide, Juno—believed to have been abducted by aliens that are targeting enlightened beings—sends him a telepathic message that his beloved and illuminated M is also in danger, Sean becomes hyper-vigilant in order to protect her. Meanwhile, troubling, AI-produced literature begins arriving in Sean’s inbox, and the culprit may be an ex-CIA operative with the code name Guru who is intent on revenge. Sean presumes the Guru is also the mastermind behind Genesis, a super-intelligent Russian computer that will connect humans via a network of direct, brain-to-brain links. Genesis is seen as the next evolutionary step by the wired-in nation (WiN), a group determined to create a New Society. Are the Guru and WiN after M, who is determined to assure the ethical rollout of the dangerous “hive-mind” technology, or are the threats figments of Sean’s vivid imagination—his superpower and curse?
Kelley’s ambitious follow up to 2021’s science-meets-spirituality thriller The Lost Theory stands as another literate cosmological epic, this time finding its professor heroes—Sean McQueen, literature, and Emily Edens, quantum physics—facing the fallout in 2027, both good and terrifying, of their adventure nine years before, which involved the discovery and sharing of a murdered poet colleague’s world-changing “theory of everything.” The good: Raising kids, relishing Emily’s Nobel nomination, running a new college for women, and adjusting to a world that they’ve fundamentally changed. Their first brush with the bad comes from telepathic messages (“They come like coded packets of information that then bloom into a knowing within my mind”) received by Ting, the sister of their missing spirit guide, Juno. Has Juno ascended to a higher plane—or perhaps been abducted by beings we have no better term for than “aliens”?

From there, Kelley offers a sprawling, thoughtful epic involving intelligence agencies that the heroes bested in the previous book, a terrifying secret society, a “brain-mapping quantum computer” capable of controlling the human mind, and the tantalizing truth, teased early on, that “Our science fiction was the government’s secret truth.” Thriller readers should be aware that, among the many surprises on offer, Kelley favors thinking through the spiritual and philosophical implications of his ideas over fisticuffs and chases, though bursts of action (such as a set piece involving a wildfire or a showdown involving a branding) are handled with crisp clarity.

The second in a projected trilogy, The Devil’s Calling again centers the romance between its leads, and their embrace of spiritual practice—they meditate more often than they throw punches. That emphasis (and a luminous ending) will please readers who share that inclination, though the near-future technology is not developed to the standards of tech-thrillers. Refreshingly, narrator McQueen actually thinks like a lit prof, offering “a prayer that Dickens, not Kafka, would be the author of my ending.”

Takeaway: An ambitious thriller, blending science, spiritualism, advanced AI, and possible alien abduction.

Great for fans of: Marcel Theroux’s Strange Bodies, Ramez Naam’s Nexus Trilogy.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A