Armchair Audies Roundup: Fantasy

28 05 2012

Introduction:

This Week, along with my normal reviews, I will be presenting my roundup posts for The Armchair Audies. If this is the first time you’ve heard of the Armchair Audies, the process is pretty simple. Myself, and a bunch of other bloggers have decided to listen to audiobooks nominated for the Audio Publishers Association prestigious Audie Award. The categories I have listened to and reviewed were Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal.

For each category, I will post the list of nominees, with a link to my review. Then I will offer evaluation of category overall. I will be picking which title was my favorite, which title I would vote for if I was a judge, and which title I feel will win. Also, I will include titles for each category that I feel were overlooked. Make sure you check out The Armchair Audies home page at The Literate Housewife.

Today’s Category: Fantasy

Nominees:

Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Mors

Narrated by Bronson Pinchot

Blackstone Audio

My Review

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith

Narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Audible Inc./Brilliance Audio

My Review

 The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

Narrated by Marc Vietor

Audible, Inc.

My Review

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Narrated by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

My Review

Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini

Neil Gaimen Presents/Audible, Inc.

My Review

Overview:

I choose to start with the Fantasy Category because, in my opinion, it is the most competitive category. All Five of these titles I highly recommend, and would be happy with any of them as a winner. There is also a lot of diversity here. My only surprise with this category is that outside of maybe Rumo, there is no Epic Fantasy titles. You have a modern fantasy, a young adult fantasy, a futuristic science fiction tale, and a mash up parody. In a year with long awaited Epic Fantasy series releases by George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss, I expected to see at least one of these type novels nominated for an Audie Awards. 

My Favorite: The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

Of all the titles nominated, my favorite would be A. Lee Martinez’ The Automatic Detective. This novel is the perfect blend of narrator and content, with Marc Vietor’s robotic delivery perfectly suited to the main character, Mack Megaton, who is in fact a robot. Yet, the reason this title would not get my vote, if I was a judge is a simple one. This is not a Fantasy. This is a noir style tale of a Robot Detective who breaks away from his programming to uncover a conspiracy that threatens his futuristic city. It contains many classic science fiction tropes, and almost no fantasy whatsoever.

My Vote: Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers

While I absolutely loved Rumo, I also had some small problems with it. It’s a bit too long, causing some dragging moments, and some of the voices created by Pinchot and the production team are, while appropriate, a bit annoying. Yet, I would vote for this title simply because of the risks the production takes in order to present the best audio version of this book possible. Not every risk they take pays off, yet the majority does, and combined with Pinchot’s splendid narration, makes for a rewarding listening experience.

Who Will Win: Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

Edoardo Ballerini gives a beautiful reading of this highly accessible, literate Fantasy. I feel there are many reasons this title will win. It is a rare, neglected gem, finally brought to audiobook format through Neil Gaiman’s ACX production company. Gaiman’s advocacy of audiobooks and contributions to the community can only help this title. Yet, most importantly, it is a Fantasy novel that will appeal to people outside the genre. There are no messy elves, or bothersome fairies, and the magic isn’t prevalent or flashy. It is just a story full of recognizable people in a strange, almost Twilight Zone like situation.

Some Overlooked Titles:

Among Others by Jo Walton

A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente





Audiobook Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

9 05 2012

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse, Bk. 1)

Read by Jefferson Mays

Recorded Books

Length: 19 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Space Opera/Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: . In Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey has created a realistic vision of the early stages Earth’s space faring future. Full of well developed characters, grand adventure and complex ethical situations, Leviathan Wakes is solid science fiction, delivering thrills while making you think.

Grade: B+

Leviathan Wakes is nominated for a 2012 Audie Award in the Science Fiction category. 

For the longest time I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to listen to Leviathan Wakes. When I first heard of the novel, I thought it sounded interesting, but not enough to find itself prioritized on my mountainous To Be Listened To pile or to actually spend an Audible Credit on. I love scifi, but unless I am quite familiar with the author I fall victim to the big publicity machine. It takes not just a concept that instantly grabs my attention, but that concept must be presented to me through advertising, peer buzz and reviews. Basically, what I am saying is that I am lazy. The majority of what I listen to is authors I have been reading for years or subgenres that I am always hunting for and if something falls outside of those categories, someone else has to do the work of discovering what the book is about and presenting it to me in a manner designed to peak my interest. Yet, something weird happened with Leviathan Wakes. While there was never a big, "Ah Ha!" moments for me, the novel lingered around the peripherals of my attention. It started to gather award nominations. I began to hear discussions of the novel by fellow bloggers whose opinion I respect. Slowly, I began to discover the novel, and what it was about. Then, it was nominated for an Audie Award. When I became involved in Armchair Audies, I discovered that Leviathan Wakes wasn’t just a title in a category I was planning to listen to, but one which I was actually excited about. As I researched the novel a bit more, knowing I would be listening to it, I discovered there was actually a Zombie subplot. This was the final piece in my listening puzzle. I was looking for a book for Zombie Awareness Month which contained Zombies, but in which the Undead were not the main focus, as sort of a change of pace read for the event. Leviathan Wakes fit this bill perfectly.

I have only recently discovered the science fiction subgenre of The Space Opera. Most of the science fiction I had read before was earthbound scifi thrillers, and Post Apocalyptic novels. Yet, the idea of Earth becoming a space faring Planet, spreading humankind to the stars has always fascinated me. So, I began to read far future space faring novels by authors like David Weber and Jack Campbell. Yet, Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey offered me something new, and in my reading experience, fresh. Leviathan Wakes takes place in a sort of intermediate stage of Earth’s expansion. While Earth has yet to reach the stars, we have expanded our grasp of our own solar system. Mars, initially a colony of Earth, has risen to be a power that rivals its mother planet. Along with Mars, the near Earth Asteroid belt has also been colonized. With this fascinating setting in place, Corey (the pseudonym of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) has created a science fiction story that is more about the people than the science. Corey combines the swashbuckling adventures of Firefly, with the noir stylings of Chandler, and fills it with realistic, complicated characters. The story is presented through two main point of views, James Holden, the earth born XO of a Water Hauler whose ship is mysteriously destroyed while he’s on a rescue mission, and Detective Miller, a washed out Detective whose conflicting loyalties leads to an actual metal break. Forced together due to a series of circumstances, Holden and Miller discover a strange scientific experiment on a space station that begins transforming people into strange undead vomit zombies. While the plot is full of wild theories, far reaching conspiracies, and complicated interplanetary politics, filtered through the perspectives of Holden and Miller it comes of seamlessly. Often times such complex plots become hard to follow, and sludge up the narrative, yet, Leviathan Wakes manages to buck this trend presenting s smooth, exciting tale which will keep you mesmerized as each new level is revealed. In Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey has created a realistic vision of Earth’s space faring future. Full of well developed characters, grand adventure and complex ethical situations, Leviathan Wakes is solid science fiction, delivering thrills while making you think.

Leviathan Wakes was narrated by Jefferson Mays. This is my first opportunity experiencing Mays narration, and I feel his did a solid job. Each character was well defined, and he moved the plot along crisply, adding the right touch of emotion at the proper moments. He has a solid grasp on accents and vocal cadence, capturing the unique sounds and almost musical tilt to the Belter’s vocal evolution when needed. May’s reading is almost workmanlike, never overdoing any aspect of the reading. His reading emphasized story over style, never inserting himself into the narrative, just allowing the authors words to do the heavy lifting. While I wasn’t blown away by his reading, I understood why the production garnered an Audie nomination. Leviathan Wakes is presented as it should be, with no bells or whistles, just a straight up reading of an excellent science fiction tale.





Audiobook Review: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

26 04 2012

Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison (The Elder Races, Book 1)

Read by Sophie Eastlake

Tantor Audio

Length: (Hmmmm….) 12 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Quick Thoughts: If you like highly detailed sexual encounters in a magical alternate America, full of fae court politics and with a sexy, yet overly possessive male lead, than by all mean, give Dragon Bound a listen. Thea Harrison knows what her fans want, and she delivers the goods. Don’t worry, I’ll still respect you in the morning.

Note: I decided not to give this title an actual grade, because this is so far out of what I would normally listen to, grading it would be a disservice to the audiobook and fans of Paranormal Romance novels.

Dragon Bound was nominated for a 2012 Audie Award in the Paranormal category.

Fair warning ladies, if you are looking for a stunningly handsome shape shifting dragon to ravage you, fulfilling your deepest physical needs, I am not your man.  Obviously, I am not a shape shifting dragon, nor am I what you would consider classically handsome. Or, well, everyday handsome. While our shape shifting dragon has a chiseled, rippling chest, my chest is less rippling and more undulating.  One look at me will not take your breath away, and if it does cause you to feel an ache in your loins, I would recommend you go talk to your lady parts doctor. I am definitely not an alpha male, nor am I a beta male. I am the sort of male that follows at the back of the pack making snarky comments about those males leading the way. Last time I heard the term “enormous member” used to describe me was when I was considering signing up for Weight Watchers. You see, I will never star in my own Paranormal Romance novel and well, I am OK with that. I’m a flesh and blood guy whose parents are both human, and I work a pretty boring job. Not really fantasy making material. Recently, as part of the Armchair Audies, I took on the task of listening to all the audiobooks nominated in three categories, one of them being the Paranormal category. Luckily, most of the titles were novels I had some level of interest in. Well, there was one exception, that being Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison. Paranormal Romance really isn’t my thing. Personally, most romance novels seem to be about incredible attractive people who meet and fall into some sort of intense relationship. This really isn’t something that interests me. I have no disrespect for the genre, heck, I love books about zombies, ultra violent ex-soldiers roaming America, and Space Aliens coming to enslave the human race and eat our spleens, which, if your not familiar with those types of books, are not high literature. I am a big proponent of not being ashamed of what you choose for your personal entertainment, and while Romance is not really my thing, I will proudly stand next to my sisters and brothers who are Romance fans. I also may just try and sneak a peak at their voluptuous breasts and large throbbing members, you know, just for fun.

Dragon Bound tells the story of Pia Giovanni, a half wyr, half human resident of an alternative New York City, who is blackmailed into stealing something from the shape shifting wyr dragon Dragos. Dragos is one of the most powerful figures in wyrkind, and also happens to be, well, sort of hunky. When he tracks Pia down, he is instantly drawn to her in a mysterious way, and the two begin a whirlwind tryst that will put them up against the forces of the dark fae. Did I enjoy Dragon Bound? No, not really. Did I have fun with it? Absolutely. The main reason I didn’t enjoy Dragon Bound was I utterly despised with all the loathing possible in my heart, the character of Dragos. The guy was an utter asshat, treating his people, and Pia like property, ordering them around, and just finding multiple ways to act like an arrogant dill weed. Now, I understand this was all part of his dragon nature, but that didn’t make me like him. I personally hate when the female character falls for the alpha male. I still am pissed that Dee left Billy for Lee Adama (obligatory Battlestar Galactica reference.) Pia, whose response to Dragos misogyny and possessiveness was snarkiness followed by hissy fits and crying temper tantrums didn‘t really win me over either. Their relationship was the type that makes me feel awkward when exposed to it in the real world, so why would I want to read about it? Also, Harrison brilliantly, and in great detail describes every moment of physical contact between Dragos and Pia, whether sexual or otherwise, from limb placement to what parts of the bodies rub up against the other parts and its affect on their nether regions, yet, when it comes time for the Dragon to get all Dragony violent, she basically just says, “He rips them to pieces.” I want the gore. I want to know in what order he rends the limbs from his enemy. I want blood and splatter and giant dragon action, crushing skulls and eating the flesh of his enemies. Instead, I got a lot of Dragos boning Pia. Now, I enjoyed some of the characters, like Tricks, the fae PR “person” for Dragos, and the griffins. and the story was OK, but it was the romance that drove the narrative, and not the violence, or the mystery or even the magical alternate world she created. As someone who is not a romance fan, it’s just not what I’m looking for. Yet, for Paranormal Romance fans, I can see why this novel would be popular. If you like highly detailed sexual encounters in a magical alternate America, full of fae court politics, and with a sexy, yet overly possessive male lead, than by all mean, give Dragon Bound a listen. Thea Harrison knows what her fans want, and she delivers the goods. Don’t worry, I’ll still respect you in the morning.

Dragon Bound was narrated by Sophie Eastlake, and I feel she did an excellent job, even if I’m not sure I’d be able to look her in the eyes if I ever met her in real life. I like that her voice wasn’t especially sultry, but had an everyday, wry tone to it that captured Pia very well. You could tell she just embraced the novel, describing things that would make porn stars blush, with relish and excitement. She had fun with the characters, and gave them all her own little twist. I will warn audiobook listeners that is you are listening to this audio in your car with your windows down, and you roll up next to your old English teacher from high school it may lead to an awkward moment., but don’t worry too much, she’s probably hiding a Danielle Steele paperback under her Proust novel.

Check out these reviews from Actual Paranormal Romance Fans:

Hot Listens

Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads Review





Audiobook Review: The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan

24 04 2012

The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan (A Land Fit For Heroes, Bk. 2)

Read by Simon Vance

Tantor Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: While The Cold Commands doesn’t work as well as a standalone novel as the Steel Remains did, Morgan’s compelling characters and crisp action allows this bridge novel to achieve more than just setting up the finale. The Cold Command establishes the characters credentials for the task they must undertake, offering interesting character reveals, and deepening the bonds between this unique trio.

Grade: B

The Cold Commands was nominated for a 2012 Audie Award in the Science Fiction Category.

I have to admit, I have a horrible record with epic fantasy. All too often, I will read the first book in a series, and enjoy it, but when the next books come out, they get put on the backburner, and eventually overwhelmed by my TBR pile. The Big Fat Fantasies have really rarely been my favorite type of read. I rarely come into a series because I read some synopsis and am instantly drawn to the material. Things like magic, elves, dragons, and wizards aren’t buzz words that brighten my heart. The majority of the traditional fantasy novels and series I have read have been either recommended to me, or are by authors I have discovered through their other speculative fiction work. One of my issues is that often Fantasy novels are just so long. In the time it takes me to listen to one novel in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I could have listened to 5 normal sized audiobooks. So, while I have listened to the first two volumes of David Anthony Durham’s Acadia series and enjoyed it, I have yet to fit in the nearly 30 hour finale, The Sacred Band.  I have listened to exactly one of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law novels. I totally mean to continue and complete these series, but for some reason my easily distracted brain gets drawn to the five other books I could be listening to. Over two years ago I listened to Richard K. Morgan’s first foray into more traditional fantasy, The Steel Remains. I really enjoyed the story, and its complicated main character Ringil. Yet, I’m not sure if I would have taken on the second novel in Morgan’s Land Fit for Heroes saga if it wasn’t for armchair Audies. Yet, again, taking on this challenge of listening to all the nominees in the speculative fiction categories of the Audie Awards gave me the motivation I needed to take on an audiobook I was already interested in.

At the start of The Cold Commands, Ringil’s attempts to go home after the events of The Steel Remains are not successful. He is again a hero in exile, roaming the land, sticking his nose where it really doesn’t belong. When he finds himself in the midst of a slave revolt, he again must run for his life. Eventspush his towards familiar allies, who are in all too familiar trouble. The early parts of The Cold Commands suffers greatly from being a second book in a planned trilogy. Morgan did such an excellent job tying things up in The Steel Remains, that there is a sort of listlessness in the action of the early parts of the novels. Luckily his trio of main characters, Ringil, Archeth, and Egar Dragonbane are interesting enough that the seemingly randomness of their actions is offset by the handling of the situations they get into. Morgan writes some of the crispest fantasy action sequences. Often time in Fantasy, the hand to hand brutal sword fights become sort of a blur to me, but Morgan’s writing is lean and mean and easily visualized. For me, it wasn’t until the Ringil and Archeth’s storylines begin to merge, that the novel begins to take on some cohesion. While much of the novel is setting up the epic quest to discover the dark force that is rising up, which will obviously be the focus of book three, the second half of The Cold Commands has some big reveals for Ringil, and Egar, and some hints of things to come for Archeth. One of my favorite aspects of The Land Fit for Heroes is Morgan’s ability to poke fun at the genre. Whether it be an immortal’s snarky rant about "The One" or Ringil’s incredulity at being called a farm boy, Morgan offers a lot of dark humor and not so subtle jabs at often overused Fantasy tropes.  While The Cold Commands doesn’t work as well as a standalone novel as the Steel Remains did, Morgan’s compelling characters and crisp action allows this bridge novel to achieve more than just setting up the finale. The Cold Command establishes the characters credentials for the task they must undertake, offering interesting character reveals, and deepening the bonds between this unique trio. 

I really can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since listening to my last Simon Vance narration. Simon Vance is a veteran of the industry, and as I understand it from my twitter timeline, his voice can make ladies swoon. While I didn’t swoon to his reading of The Cold Command, it definitely helped me make my way through some of the slower parts of this novel. Vance reads The Cold Command with a soft confidence. He has the ability to slow down his reading, especially the ending of the sentences, to give greater impact to what he is reading. This works particularly effectively during the action scenes which can often come off rushed and confusing, instead the narration allows the reader to visualize each stroke of the sword, and spray of blood.  One of the toughest things about narrating Fantasy novels is that there is no easy reference to accents. Being that these are fictional settings in a fictional world, the narrator must create various accents for the characters and keep them consistent. Vance achieve this feet, bringing the characters alive by tailoring authentic sounding accents to the personalities of his characters. The Cold Commands wasn’t as instantly compelling as The Steel Remains and there were some muddled and murky moments. It helped having a talented and engaging narrator like Vance leading us through the murk.





Audiobook Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

10 04 2012

Hard Magic by Larry Correia (Book 1 of the Gimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 15 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Fantasy/Super Powers Saga (heck, throw in a bit of everything)

Quick Thoughts: Hard Magic is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, superhero tales, Steampunk and alternate history told with a Noir flair that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Full of intensely visual action and set in a well researched and intriguing altered America, Correia has created something that will resonate with listeners long after the adventure is over. Bronson Pinchot’s narration is proof that a well performed and produced audiobooks can sometimes take a novel beyond the written word better than almost any other kind of medium.

Grade: A

Hard Magic is nominated for two 2012 Audie Awards in the Paranormal and Solo Narration – Male categories.

I have to admit, sometimes I can be a moody listener. This occurs mostly when I’m stressed with work, or everyday life or actually ill. There are a few audiobooks I have listened to that seems like something I would love, yet, for one reason or another, the listen conflicts with my mood, and I end up switching it up for something else. This happens with music as well, sometimes I want something folksy, while other times I just want to band my head and scream. Matching your listens with your moods can be a challenge. The problem for me comes when I choose something that doesn’t reflect my mood and end up putting it aside, I rarely ever go back to it. Like most book addicts, I have a huge pile of books both past, present and future that I want to listen to, and a limited amount of time to listen, so I find it hard to restart an audiobook. This is something that occurred to me with Larry Correia’s Hard Magic. I am a big fan of his Monster Hunter International series, and I remembered the first book started with this huge, hard knuckled violent altercation between an accountant and a werewolf. About 6 months ago or so, I was having a particularly stressful time at work, and needed some major carnage. I downloaded Larry Correia’s Hard Magic without really doing much research. Instead of starting off with a bloody, face ripping, limb rending bang, the book started with things like complex world building and character development. About an hour or so into it, I knew I just wasn’t in the right mindset for it, and turned to something involving cannibalistic undead hordes. One of the reasons I was excited about the Armchair Audies was that I knew that Hard Magic would be in one of the categories I selected and it would give me the motivation to pick up this title that I had neglected, due to no fault of its own. I have to say, I am really glad I did.

Hard Magic is the first book of Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series. It is an alternate history of our world in which magical talents begin developing sometime in the 1800s. The novel takes place during the Great Depression, when J. Edgar Hoover was just beginning to exert his power, and thousands of Okies where escaping the Dust Bowl and heading to California. Hard Magic focuses on two main characters, Jake Sullivan, a Heavy who can seemingly control gravity, and a young, naive teenager name Faye, who is just beginning to understand her powers of teleportation. As one may expect, these two get mixed up in an international conspiracy involving secret magical institution, a powerful hidden weapon and some twisted Eugenics. It’s hard not to sound pat describing Hard Magic, because Correia fully embraces the tropes of superheroes sagas, and alternate history, but he blends and butchers them as he sees fits creating something that feels unique and exciting. Correia writes some of the meanest action sequences around, and the second half of this novel is a never ending ever escalating action sequence that manages to keep you enthralled the entire time. But, it is the first half of this novel that had me realizing I had underestimated Correia as a writer. Correia builds a brilliant world and fills it with fully realized characters. It was as if Harry Turtledove actually finally began meeting actually people, and writing about them, besides just having cardboard cutouts interacting with historical figures. I really think that is one of the hardest parts of alternate history, creating a world that stays true to the history, but populating it with fresh, real characters, and Correia pulls it off. By the time the action really takes off, I feel like I actually know those in jeopardy, and care about what happens to them. Hard Magic is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, superhero tales, Steampunk and alternate history told with a Noir flair that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Full of intensely visual action and set in a well researched and intriguing altered America, Correia has created something that will resonate with listeners long after the adventure is over.

So, about the narration. It’s Bronson Pinchot. Bronson friggin’ Pinchot. Come on, do I really need to say more. I have now listened to a bunch of his narrations, and somehow each time he manages to surprise and amaze me. I mean, he takes this novel, from a writer with a reputation for pulp filled action tales, and gets it nominated for the an Audie Award not just within its genre, but for Male Solo Narration up against authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, James Baldwin, Joseph Conrad, and the novel that inspired an Academy Award winning movie. No disrespect to Larry Correia, but Pinchot transforms this novel. He creates a voice for each character as lovingly as the novelist who breathed life into them. He gives the soft, underestimated Jake Sullivan such a true authentic voice, that it allows the violence that Jake is forced to resort to, seem that much more jarring. He captures the impulsiveness, and naiveté of Faye perfectly, allowing for some genuinely touching and funny moments, making you want to protect her while she’s out there unrepentantly kicking ass. And just thinking of the Pale Horse gives me the willies. Everything about this reading is proof that a well performed and produced audiobooks can sometimes take a novel beyond the written word better than almost any other kind of medium. The only complaint I had is that my listening schedule is so full right now, I won’t be able to get to the next book in the series, Spellbound, until sometime this summer.





Audiobook Review: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

4 04 2012

Solaris: The Definitive Edition by Stanislaw Lem

Translated by Bill Johnston

Read by Allesandro Juliani

Audible Frontiers

Length; 7 Hrs 42 Mins

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Lem achieves his goal of exploring something well beyond our concepts of what life is, and creates some true moments of psychological suspense, but despite the brilliant conceptual framework the novels seemingly endless exposition had me wanting to skim ahead to when things actually begin to happen. I wanted to like Solaris, and can understand why it’s considered a classic, but in the end, I found little entertainment value in the experience.

Grade: C

Solaris is nominated for a 2012 Audie Award in the Science Fiction Category.

Years ago, when I was just a wee little boy, I was watching a movie over my father’s house with my younger brother and older sister. I am not sure what the movie was, or even remember much about it, beyond one scene. The movie took place on some sort of space craft or space station. This wasn’t some futuristic Trekian space going habitat but a nuts and bolts type that NASA may throw together eventually. In the scene that I remember, a few of the astronauts get stuck in vacuum without any protection. They died a horrible death gasping for air, with blood flowing out of their eyes. Why I remember this is that it traumatized my sister. My sister was so bothered by the gruesome deaths of the astronauts that she made me and my brother promise right there that we would never become astronauts. I think this was a pinnacle moment in my development as a fan of science fiction. Anything that could evoke such a visceral reaction from my sister, must be awesome. Although I gave her my pledge that day, ever since I have been fascinated by primitive space travel and colonization tales. Books that present the true dangerous situations that we will face when we try to expand past our planet, whether we encounter new life, or not.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is a classic novel in this milieu. Solaris was first published in 1961 and has been made into movies twice. I have been told that it is high concept hard science fiction at it’s best. It takes place on a station hovering above the planet Solaris, where earth has encountered it’s first sentient species. Yet, this species in nothing like we’d imagine. Solaris is a large planet with a small land mast, and a vast ocean, only this ocean is alive. Years of attempting to make contact with this sentient ocean has ended in failure. After a series of strange events, psychologist Kris Kelvin is called to the station to investigate. When he arrives he finds that the crew had been conducting more aggressive experiments, and now one scientist is dead, and the others are experience what may be hallucinations. Yet, when Rheya, Kelvin’s long dead wife appears to him in the flesh, he begins to realize that something much weirder is taking place. I found Solaris to be brilliant, but unfortunately not in a very entertaining way. Solaris in essence is about the futility of making contact with a nonhuman species. Its main story, about Kelvin encountering his wife is interesting. but it is wrapped up in hours of exposition that is akin to listening to a slanted textbook of scientific philosophies and failures. It’s not a shock that the movie versions of Solaris have focuses on the Kelvin/Rheya story and skimmed past the essence of the novel, because it would have been like sitting for hours in a not particularly interesting lecture. There are a lot of interesting concepts and Len creates a very precise future scientific history, but it is told to us through scientific journal entries and Kelvin’s rambling thoughts, and we never really get to experience them with the characters. Lem achieves his goal of exploring something well beyond our concepts of what life is, and creates some true moments of psychological suspense, but despite the brilliant conceptual framework the novels seemingly endless exposition had me wanting to skim ahead to when things actually begin to happen. I wanted to like Solaris, and can understand why it’s considered a classic, but in the end, I found little entertainment value in the experience.

I think if I had been reading this novel instead of listening to the audiobook I may have enjoyed it more. Reading actually gives you more flexibility. As a reader, I could have skimmed parts of this novel, yet with the audiobook I felt like I was trapped in a car with some bloated windbag trying to prove how brilliant he is. I was trapped, and I just had to listen, or zone out. The narrator, Battlestar Galactica alumn, Alessandro Juliani had a nice voice, and handled the characters well, but read the seemingly endless exposition in a sort of rapid fire, let’s get through this as quickly as possible style. He would start each segment slowly, as almost with a sigh, then rush the rest out with an exhalation. I don’t really blame Juliani, his narration was really fine, I think a large part of it was my inability to connect with the text. I actually found myself taking as few breaks from listening as possible, so I could get through the audiobook in one day. I feel that Solaris was nominated for its Audie more as respect to a classic and the fact that Audible actually commissioned a new direct from Polish translation of the novel then anything that made it stand out as an exceptional audiobook production. While I didn’t like it, I am sure fans of the novel will appreciate the new translation and the performance of the narrator.

 

For another perspective check out these reviews:

RichBurns.me

Audiofile





Audiobook Review: The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

3 04 2012

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

Read by Mark Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hors 3 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Automatic Detective combines the best aspects of crime fiction and science fiction to make a truly unique comic romp full of unexpected heart and a ton of fun action. If there was a Mack Megaton T-Shirt, I’d totally buy it.

Grade B+

The Automatic Detective is an Audie Award nominee in the Fantasy Category.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about Genre, particularly after reading this blog post on Staffer’s Book Review. I abhor labels, yet so much of fiction is defined by labels. Tack the label “Science Fiction” on a title and certain people will instantly be compelled to it, while others will reject it out of hand. I have personally never come across a definitive definition of science fiction. I am one of those strange people that define the genre of a novel in a very wishy washy way, by feel. Some novels just feel like Science fiction, while others feel like Fantasy. For the first time ever, The Audies have broken down the Speculative Fiction nominees into three categories, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal. Scanning over the nominees, I find some of the choices of which category a title belongs in interesting. When I originally reviewed SM Stirling’s The High King of Montival, I labeled it as a Post Apocalyptic Fantasy, yet the Audies have it listed as Science Fiction. I was also surprised to see Richard Morgan’s The Cold Commands listed as Science Fiction. Now, I haven’t read The Cold Commands, but I read its prequel The Steel Remains and found it to be pretty solid in the Fantasy camp, yet some research shows me that there are some scifi elements to the follow-up. The one that confused me most was The Automatic Detective by A Lee Martinez. Upon finishing this listen recently, I continue to be confused. For me, this was pretty clearly Science fiction with Paranormal elements yet it was nominated in the Fantasy Category. Now, I am not all up and arms about this. There is a natural blending of Speculative Fiction subgenres and so this sort of mishmash is natural, but I wonder, who decided on the Category a nominee is placed in. Is the title being evaluated entered into a specific category by the producer, or does the final decision lie with the Audio Publisher’s Association?  Yet, in the end, this topic is unimportant, what truly matters is that The Automatic Detective is quite an entertaining listen.

Mack Megaton is just a regular Joe, working a nine to five as a cab driver, trying to make his way through his probational status to become a citizen of Empire City. Like most people, Mack is trying to find his humanity among the hustle and bustle of the big city. What makes this harder is that Mack is a hulking robot original designed for destruction, who through a programming fluke developed free will and defied his creator. So when the family next door is kidnapped and the little girl left a note behind pleading for Mack to find them, Mack is on the case, because that’s what good citizens do. I really believe that A. Lee Martinez is one of the most underappreciated original voices working in speculative fiction today. The Automatic Detective is a prime example of this. Martinez creates a truly original character voice in the robotic noir delivery of Mack Megaton, and keeps it consistent throughout the novel. He never breaks character, keeping Mack’s narrative, clipped and robotic, full of clever puns and brilliant dialogue that plays off his nature as a machine. The Automatic Detective is a cybernetic Chinatown, with strange dangerous hoods, a brilliant and beautiful dame and a city setting that becomes a character in itself. The plot was delightfully over the top, full of colorful characters, crazy conspiracies and a whole lot of destructive action. Mack Megaton may be one of my favorite characters in a long time. Despite his robotic ways he has a lovable naiveté that is only augmented by his unflappable loyalty and actual progression as a character. The Automatic Detective combines the best aspects of crime fiction and science fiction to make a truly unique comic romp full of unexpected heart and a ton of fun action. If there was a Mack Megaton T-Shirt, I’d totally buy it.

I have always liked Mark Vietor as a narrator, but if I had one complaint, it’s that sometimes he comes off a bit robotic. Well, hello there. The casting of Vietor as narrator for The Automatic Detective was simply inspired. Vietor understood exactly what Martinez was trying to do, and pulled it off flawlessly. I could easily picture Mack as a huge lumbering Robot, wearing a Fedora and Trench coat, traveling the streets of Empire City trying to find the score. Vietor captured the pace of the novel perfectly, staying in character, delivering the action scenes in a crisp, straightforward manner. Even his dialogue had an organic feel to it, allowing his interactions with his beautiful damsel, or his best friend who just happened to be a sentient ape, to not feel forced. The Automatic Detective is one of those moments of synergy when the perfect narrator is given the opportunity to perform a novel seemingly tailored to his talents.