Audiobook Review: Test of Fire by Ben Bova

9 07 2013

Test of Fire by Ben Bova

Read by Dean Sluyter

Blackstone Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Test of Fire is the worst kind of book, one just interesting enough to keep your attention, yet full of vile, despicable characters, nonsensical plots, and egregious pointless violent acts that did nothing for the story, that by the time you got to the end you wished that it was just a little bit worst so maybe you would have done the smart thing and just stopped listening.

Grade: D

While Test of Fire has a fascinating apocalyptic set up, and affectively utilized Shakespearean family dynamics in a science fiction setting it suffers from having the most unlikable unlikable characters of all time. I mean, really unlikable. The kind of characters that keep you reading a book in hopes that someone will just walk up to them and stab them in the eye with a ball point pen. Honestly, I don’t always have to like the characters. Some of my favorite characters of all time are royal jackholes. John Ringo and David Weber’s Empire of Man series featured Prince Roger, a whiney obnoxious  boy/man who I would have loved to see repeatedly punched in the face by Giants, martial artists, and professional wrestlers sneaking brass knuckles into the fray. Thomas Covenant is one of my favorite all time fantasy characters, and was such a self centered, self pitying arrogant asshat, that he didn’t even believe the world he was transported to was real, and treated the people he encountered as delusions denying the consequences of his actions towards them. Yet, what both these characters also had was a journey. A series of event that allowed them to shake off their negative characteristics, and attempt to achieve something positives. Yet, then there is Alec Morgan, our protagonist from Test of Fire. Alec Morgan is a cross between to Prince Roger and Thomas Covenant, without their redemptive journey. There was nothing likeable about him. He was an entitled, paranoid shitbird, who had everything handed to him on a silver platter and yet still felt the need to steal by force anything he wanted for himself. He is the products of two unlikable parents, a mother who was a thinly veiled Lady Macbeth, and a brutish father with a strict moral code that, if everybody else didn’t capitulate to his ideas, he would find a way to force them to.

So, Test of Fire began pretty well. A massive solar flare fries most of the Eastern hemisphere. Russia, believing this was an unprovoked attack, unleashes its nuclear arsenal at The US. The world falls into chaos. Yet, on the moon, a small community of scientist and miners still survive. Yet, in order to maintain their community, they need fissionable materials for their nuclear reactors from Earth. A power struggle between the community’s leader, Daniel Morgan and a group within the community, led by another arrogant asshat who happened to be sleeping with Daniel‘s wife, over how much they should help the Earth Survivors, as well as the manipulations of Daniel’s wife and her infidelities, leads the leader to head to Earth and hold the fissionable materials hostage. 20 years later, with the Moon community on it’s last legs, Daniel’s son Alec leads a excursion to Earth to locate his father and bring back the materials the moon needs. It’s all very fascinating, and at points well done, when it doesn’t fall into overused tropes, ridiculously complicated master plans and well, utterly unlikable characters. There is one scene that highlights just how utterly despicable Alec is. After some not to subtle flirting and playful blackmail by the attractive base doctor, Alec finds himself alone with her in her quarters. Then he discovers that she didn’t invite him back because of his utter irresistible attractiveness, but may have also had ulterior motives. This makes him angry, and wary, so of course, he rapes her. Ummmm… At this point I was ready to throw the digital audio copy across the room. I couldn’t fathom the point of this scene, other than show a man so arrogant that he punishes a woman who is basically a lesser version of his manipulative mother by sexual violence. Of course, there are no consequences to his action, and the scene is never revisited in anyway. In fact, later there is a scene were he prevents a rape of another girl, which, maybe was suppose to show some sort of transformation. That is until he admits that the only reasons he did it was because of his romantic feelings for the girl. I just don’t get it. Yet, I continued reading, partly because I found the post apocalyptic setting interesting, but mostly because I was hoping these characters would all be dying a painful embarassing death.

Now, maybe if the plot was better, than I would have found something to be positive about. You would think with a family dynamic straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy and a well conceived post apocalyptic setting, Bova was playing well within my wheelhouse. At times it felt like Bova was plying around the edges of a good tale, with fascinating scenes, but they never became fully developed. All the scenes lack descriptive depth. He gave a barebones description of Alec’s march through the devastated post nuclear America. Bova told of groups joining up with Alec and his soldiers, yet never showed you why they did. Alec was supposed to be a brilliant military strategist, basically born and raised for this very quest, but at times was incredible stupid. So much of the plot depended on nobody telling anyone anything. Plenty of people knew the truth about Alec’s father, people who could have used that truth to their advantage, and were the type of people who would, but surprisingly no one ever did. Alec’s father could very well have saves a lot of death and destruction by being straight with his son, but instead threw hissy fits, and preferred elaborate plans on top of plans, over simple brutal honesty. It all seemed like Bova came up with this fascinating big reveal, and forced all the square pegs of his plot one big mess of a round hole. Now, not all characters were unlikable to the extreme. There were two I didn’t hate. One of course, was the beautiful woman whose sole job was to fall in love with Alec, so he could have someone to both love and betray. The other was Daniel’s loyal friend, who really served no purpose other than being the one likeable character in the whole damn show.  Test of Fire is the worst kind of book, one just interesting enough to keep your attention, yet full of vile, despicable characters, nonsensical plots, and egregious pointless violent acts that did nothing for the story, that by the time you got to the end you wished that it was just a little bit worst so maybe you would have done the smart thing and just stopped listening.

This was my first time listening to narrator Dean Slutyer, and well… I just don’t know. He wasn’t bad. I can’t point to a particularly bad  character voice, or annoying pronunciation, or some real technical error. My biggest complaint was the pacing. He read it just so damn slow. In fact, I ended up bumping up the speed 10% because I just couldn’t take the pace. At this speed, it was almost acceptable. He almost seemed like a real narrator. Maybe I have just been spoiled. My past experiences with Bova have basically been relatively meh. I often find the concepts of his novels fascinating but the execution somewhat lacking. Yet, what Bova audiobooks did usually have was Stefan Rudnicki as narrator, and that made it worth the listen. Slutyer had a nice voice, but he didn’t really have the ability to sell a story like Rudnicki. Maybe if his pacing was more crisp, and the story less aggravating, I would have come away with a better perception of his work. Slutyer isn’t a narrator I would avoid in the future, but I definitely would hope in future endeavors not to have to speed his narration up to keep me interested.

Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

I reviewed this audiobook as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program.




One response

9 07 2013

A story where the hero is a rapist is likely going to be a bit problematic.

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