Audiobook Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

15 08 2013

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Read by Mikeal Naramore

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Lives of Tao is a fun filled, twisted buddy comedy between a slacker and his ancient alien parasite. Welsey Chu tells a tale full of light hearted humor, yet balances it with fascinating relationship full of hidden depths and well executed action. Listeners should expect to have a whole lot of fun with The Lives of Tao.

Grade: B+

A few months back I was watching Oz: The Great and the Powerful, and getting more and more frustrated. The Wizard of Oz was one of my first literary discoveries as a child, and along with Narnia, was the place I most dreamt of someday getting to visit. So, there I was, watching this movie about a carnival wizard who would be sucked through a tornado into the land of Oz, and all I could think of was that this guy was a total asshat. Here is this misogynistic shyster with almost no redeeming qualities, and he was going to get to visit the wonderful Land of Oz. I cry FOUL, good sirs and madams. Now, I understand that often times, stories require transformation. That for there to be a true payoff at the end the character must discover some new aspect about themselves, or find true love or some such hooey. Yet, do we have to start the transformation process at douchebag? There are some good, everyday people who don’t kick puppies, force fathers to work on Christmas day instead of being home with their sickly child, or treat women like pieces of meat that deserve adventure in magical lands with the potential to find true love with a beautiful good witch. Now, I don’t need my protagonist to be perfect, in fact, I don’t want them to be perfect. I like flawed characters. But why do we need to always have this handsome, physically fit, devilishly clever character who also happen to be incredible assholes? Can’t we find flaws in other areas to explore? This was one of the things that drew me to The Lives of Tao. Roen Tan is a slovenly, heavy set slacker, who is socially awkward and blames others for his own poor choices. He’s not what I would call hero material. Despite these flaws, I’d much rather see a transformation from lazy slacker to hero, than the typical Hollywood shitheel meets a beautiful women in a magical land so decided not to be quite as much of a total shitheel.

After another disappointing and pointless night drinking too much at the clubs, Roen Tan, an underachieving computer programmer, is hit with a sudden wave of nausea. A few weeks later, he begins to hear a voice in his hear encouraging him to stand up to a mugger, and questioning him on why he’s staying at a job he hates. Is Roen going crazy? Nope, it’s just a Quasing named Tao, an alien parasite that has inserted itself into his body and won’t be able to leave until Roen dies. Eventually, Roen discovers that he is now a part of an alien civil war raging among two factions of a species who have been stuck on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs. The Lives of Tao is a twisted buddy comedy between a young slacker and the alien parasite that must turn him into skilled agent. When I started The Lives of Tao, I expected a light and breezy science fiction comedy that bordered on slapstick. For the most part that is what I got. What did surprise me was that it was also a solidly written action novel with a lot of hidden depths. The first two thirds of the novel was mostly about building the relationship between Roen and Tan, developing the background on the war between the Prophus and the Genjix, and a training montage to show Roen’s transformation from out of shape desk jockey to a lean, mean fighting machine.  This segment was a lot of fun, full of funny moments, interesting characters and a great exploration of the intricacies of a human/alien parasite relationship. At times I felt it lacked a bit of depth. More often you were informed that Roen was now skinnier, better trained and really progressing as an agent, instead of actually experiencing the transformation. This caused a bit of dissonance, as you had to remind yourself that this wasn’t the lazy, whiney character that you met in the beginning. Chu peppers the novel with small tales of some Tao’s successes and failures with some of his past hosts, many of whom were influential historical figures. I found these segments to be fascinating, yet I wish these tales had also been a little more detailed. Yet, I did experience one thing that I didn’t expect. I felt a bit resentful towards our little alien friends. Sure, their war caused a lot of bad things to happen to humanity. This I could accept. Yet, the aliens seemed also to be responsible a lot of the great things humanity has accomplished. It would be one thing if this was just great leap forwards in technology or political philosophy, but when the aliens also revealed themselves to be responsible for some of the cultural and artistic achievements, I was like, DAMMIT! Can’t we have had achieve anything of value on our own, you meddling bastards!  The final third of the novel was a well orchestrated action scenario that was actually quite fun. Though the basic setup was typically action movie fare, it was well executed and full of well choreographed action. Overall, I liked The Lives of Tao a whole heck of a lot. While I wasn’t surprised by the humor that permeated the tale, what truly won me over was the relationship between Roan and Tao. Chu deftly handles this relationship, often leaving it up to the reader how much influence Tao truly had over Roen. In the end, this relationship wasn’t just about symbiosis, but how two separate entities could manage to make both themselves and the other better.

This was my first experience with Mikael Naramore as a narrator, and I was quite impressed. Naramore delivers a clean, well paced performance that easily handles the specific challenges this tale had to offer. He has a pleasant strong voice that suited this tale well. As the heart of the story is the relationship between Roen and Tao, he does a good job brining these characters to life. He gives Tao an almost dreamlike quality that almost seems like a breezy version of Roen’s own voice yet distinct enough to allow their interactions to feel natural. I also like how slowly you here the development in Roen’s character. As the novel progresses, Roen sounds more self assured. He loses a bit of the whininess of the early character which fits well with the character development. Naramore handles the action with a sharp consistent pace that allows the listener to perfectly picture the events as they unfold. The Lives of Tao is a fun audiobook experience with just the right mix of action and humor as well as a great exploration of the sometimes tumultuous relationship between a man and his alien parasite.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

1 08 2013

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Read by Patrick Lawlor

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Chuck Wendig’s Blue Blazes reads like a desperately thrown haymaker, it doesn’t always need to land solidly to knock you off your feet. Luckily, more often than not, Wendig connects with a nose breaking wallop and follows up with enough gut punches to leave you reeling.

Grade: B+

I have always been more of a fan of brute force methods. It’s not that I am some big strong bruiser, because I am not, nor do I lack the intelligence for cleverness, it’s just I believe that sometimes the simple solution is often the best. Today’s books are full of complicated heroes who use their wits and resourcefulness to outsmart ruthless criminals. This is always fun, seeing some badie get their comeuppance based solely on the wit and resourcefulness of our everyday heroes. Yet, the literary world is also full of brilliant evil geniuses. These brilliant brainiacs come up with these overly complex plans that require everything to fall into place in just the right way in order for our heroes to fall into their perfect trap. They have big goals, and these goals are achieved through their almost balletic machinations. These plans are so perfect, that they ensnare our smart heroes in such a way that they can’t even think their ways out. This is why I like brute force heroes. There is a sort of cleverness to simplicity. Sometimes, all it takes is to punch the smarmy bastard in the kisser then run like hell. Sometimes, a randomly tossed Molotov cocktail in the chaos of a fight is more effective than the most intricately placed block of C4. I think so many times heroes over think thing. They spend so much time coming up with complex plans to battle the villain’s complex plans, that the best solution escapes them. Let’s face it, sometimes the best way to bring down a ballet, is to just push over one of the dancers. I like to apply these principles to all aspects of my life. I’m no writer. Put me in a war of words with those who sling words for a living, and I will lose. I won’t tell you about sentence structure, or narrative flow or any of that stuff. I like the brute force, Chris Farley method… "Remember that time when the big dude just punched the bag guy right in the face…. THAT WAS AWESOME!"

Mookie Pearl is a thug. Honest, with a name like Mookie Pearl, how could he not be? Mookie is a connected man with THE organization, an organized crime syndicate in New York City. For the most part Mookie is muscle, a big leg breaker, the kind of intimidating force you send in when the best solution is the punching kind. Yet, Mookie is also connected with his army of mole men, underground dwellers who have knowledge of the Down Deep, the subterranean cities of goblins, the dead and old gods, with access to mysterious drugs that open users up to various supernatural abilities. Mookie has always been loyal, but when a shuffle in management leaves him on the outs, and with his reckless vindictive daughter stirring things up, Mookie may finally have found a situation he can’t punch his way out of.  Chuck Wendig’s Blue Blazes reads like a desperately thrown haymaker, it doesn’t always need to land solidly to knock you off your feet. Luckily, more often than not, Wendig connects with a nose breaking wallop and follows up with enough gut punches to leave you reeling. I love the Blue Blazes. I loved that Wendig did things that really should have come of corny or contrived, yet through a sort of literary self awareness, actually seemed fresh. There is a sort of retro feel to The Blue Blazes, with characters just a bit too colorful surrounding a man who is a dark chunk of granite. Mookie, by being Mookie, makes all the other characters around him glow just a bit brighter. Mookie isn’t a good guy. He’s a criminal, a neglectful father, and really, not all that clever. Yet, he has a solid core that he doesn’t violate, and a penchant to get things done. With so many of today’s anti-heroes being unrepentant douchebags who use their own complicated lives and self doubt as excuses for their horrible behavior, it was nice to have a character with self awareness enough to realize what type of person he is, and not try to excuse it. Then there is Nora, his petulant, bratty little hellhound of a daughter, who is playing well over her head to rectify her daddy issues. Oh, how I wanted to hate Nora. I just couldn’t. She was delightfully misguided, a bad ass chick held back by her own inability to deal with her issues. The interactions between Mookie and Nora were frustratingly fun. At times The Blue Blazes felt like a stew of all the things that Chuck Wendig wanted to fit into a novel, but had to cut out. An orgasmic romp through a twisted authors most bizarre imaginings. Part horror, part fantasy, with of strange creatures, rolled girl gangs, colorful criminals, and a dead stunt drivers with a souped up quad, The Blue Blazes is a freakish tour through a weird alternate New York City, and one really messed up family.

Audiobook narration isn’t always about having a wonderful, pitch perfect voice. It’s about finding the right feel for a book. This is exactly what Patrick Lawlor does in The Blue Blazes. Lawlor doesn’t read the book, as much as sneer it, flinging it from the page into the reader’s general direction. There is a brutal gruffness to his reading, and almost anti-poetry. Lawlor captures Wendig’s brute force descriptive language perfectly. In The Blue Blazes, a flower is a flower, and a stone is a stone, and Mookie is a big, thug. There is no need to flowery metaphors. Lawlor just goes at the prose, reading is with a machine gun pacing, firing each moment at you with a staccato burst. It was the perfect delivery for this novel. Lawlor’s voicings were not often very distinctive from one character to the next. He uses a few, traditional New York thug voices for the characters, yet, he manages to make each of the feel right. He did a good job with the singsongy nature of Skelly, the leader of the roller girl gang’s retro diction, and capturing Nora’s petulance. All together it was a lot of fun to listen to. The Blue Blazes won’t win any prizes for elegance, but it was the right narrator paired with the right novel, making it a really fun listen.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

9 04 2013

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Read by Kate Rudd

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a melancholy near future tale of love, family and robots, told on a canvas of a fascinating post disaster world. She fills her world with fully realized, flawed characters that filled me with joy as they were pissing me off. Clarke has managed to create a wonderful science fiction tale with a romantic tilt that I totally bought into. which isn’t the easiest of feats.

Grade: A-

It’s no secret I love robots That being said, I have never LOVED a robot, although I have on occasion imagined my roomba giving me longing glances. Yet, despite this lack of any erotic robot experience, something lured me to Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Mad Scientist Daughter. Sure, part of it was the excellent review by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings, but mostly it was the book tagline "A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots." Honestly, if you know anything about me, you know that if it has robots, I’ll probably be reading it. Yet, that other part, the Love part, is problematic. I don’t have the best history with Romance, either personal or literary. Sure, I have occasionally read tales of sexy dragons or lovelorn Cemetery Restorers, but just never really connect with the romance of the tale and often find the sexy times sort of, well, awkward, particularly when listening around others. I think the problem is that I understand the romance, yet never really feel it. I think this is the essential characteristic needed to enjoy romantic oriented novels, the ability to emotionally embrace the romance. The problem for me is I can simply never relate to the characters. I can never put myself into the role. Maybe, it’s that I find myself unbelievable as a romantic lead, or maybe it’s that romantic leads tend to be people I can’t relate with. In fact, i often become resentful or mocking towards these Alpha male characters. Yet, here is where I think that I may really have issues. Occasionally… rarely but occasionally, I do get emotionally invested in a romance. Last time I shed a tear due to a romantic entanglement was during the movie Forrest Gump, particularly when he tells Jenny, "I may not be a smart man, but I do know what love is." I found myself enthralled with Lydia Netzer’s novel Shine, Shine, Shine, particularly in the non-Traditional romantic elements. It seems that when the male character is emotionally distant, or in someway outside of societal norms to the point where they are considered handicapped in some way, then grab the tissues, it’s time to fake some allergies. I really don’t know what this says about me, though it really may explain why I am still single.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter tells the life story of Cat Novak, the daughter of a famous cyberneticist. One day, when she is six, she is introduced to her new tutor, Finn, a man so pale, she believes him to be a ghost. Yet, he is not a ghost, but a one-of-a-kind android made to be nearly human. As Cat grows, Finn becomes more and more essential to her life, moving from tutor, to friend, to something even more. Yet, is Finn capable to return her love? So, before we get to what you all want to know about, which is the hot steamy robot kissy sexy lovey stuff, I want to examine the other aspects of this novel. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is set in a fascinating near future, post disaster world where robots and Artificial Intelligence are becoming more important to humanity, to the chagrin of many. I both loved and was frustrated by the world Clarke created. It was a beautiful tragic world, perfect for the tale being told. Yet, the tale itself was so intimate, so limited in perspective that you felt there was so much brimming around the surface of the tale that was worth being explored, particularly, as a post apocalyptic fan, the history that lead up to the changed world. Yet, despite my longing to know more, Clarke brilliantly hands out tempting tidbits along the way, allowing us to get small glimpses of a greater piece. She creates a permeating sense of melancholy with her words, with the broken world an almost too perfect reflection of the somewhat broken protagonist. Cat herself was equally frustrating, making decisions that simply boggled my mind. I sometimes wonder why authors will create theses wonderfully complex and compelling female characters, the saddle them with this condescending douchebags, and offering us just enough foreshadowing of the doomed nature of their relationship to keep us wanting to scream at this woman to runaway as fast as she can. Here again, I wonder if it’s just a matter of translation, that my romance deficient brain wants to analyze these relationships logically. So, now, the robot love. Guys… totally bought into it. It seems that yes, I need to add androids to my accepted list of romantic leads I can become engaged with. Now, part of me was happy to see that even robot man can be incredibly inept when it comes to women, so there’s that. Yet, Clarke had me hook, line and robotic immersion device.  I think with many romantic plots there is a sort of feeling of inevitability. That you simply know that the star crossed lovers will eventually both grab on to the correct navigational chart and find there way together, despite this, I was fascinated by this romance through every step. Even the uncomfortable sexy parts were done well, and never felt superfluous to the plot. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a melancholy near future tale of love, family and robots, told on a canvas of a fascinating post disaster world. She fills her world with fully realized, flawed characters that filled me with joy as they were pissing me off. Clarke has managed to create a wonderful science fiction tale with a romantic tilt that I totally bought into. which isn’t the easiest of feats.

Kate Rudd narrates this tale and does so wonderfully.  The first thing that jumps out to me is the flavor of her characters. She reads the prose with a poetic tilt, capturing the mood of the tale with proficient ease. Yet, when she moved to her characters, and the dialogue, there is just something extra there, a touch of something unique and flavorful that came out in every voice she created. As someone who listens to so many audiobooks, you begin to recognize stock voices, traditional go to vocalizations that narrators use for characters. Maybe it’s just my limited experience with Rudd, this being only my second audiobook experience with he, but none of these characters felt rote in anyway. Each off them came off real. Of course, there were also her robot voices. I loved how she changed cadence when delivering an artificial voice, but still managed to inflect something new into each robotic character. Her voice of Cat’s Artificial Intelligent house was especially creepy. Rudd’s excellent performance truly enhanced my experience of this already excellent tale.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.