Audiobook Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

23 03 2017


The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependencey Series, Bk. 1) by John Scalzi

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Studios 

Grade: B+

Everyone has that friend who is a bit over-the-top goofy, tries too hard to be clever and fit in with the cool geeks. Maybe they swear too much, or make a joke that’s not quite appropriate for the situation but it’s all a mask for the fact that they are incredibly smart. Well, that’s basically a Scalzi novel. At times, it just feels like he’s trying to hard. Ships named after song lyrics, bad puns, lots of swearing but all of that is just noise distracting you from the fact that The Collapsing Empire is actually a smart, fun science fiction novel. The Collapsing Empire is the start of a series but it’s also a pretty well contained novel on its own that comes to a satisfying conclusion. The characters can be frustrating at times but all find different ways to surprise you. Fans of Scalzi will eat this up, while others will try to make all types of serious literary criticism while not quite managing to suppress a smirk. 

Hey, it’s Wil Wheaton! Rare is the perfect Wil Wheaton performance but there’s just something engaging about his style. Sometimes he emphasizes the wrong word or his voice pitches up into the whiney range. All his female characters feel like they are either 5 or 50, but when Scalzi kicks up the snark Wheaton delivers. You can’t help but enjoy his wry humor and the obvious fun he has while narrating and that makes up for most of his flaws. 





My Top 10 Audiobooks of 2015

21 01 2016

It was quite hard for me to come up with a definitive Top 10 list this year. In 2015 I listened to just over 80 audiobooks, ranging from Amazing to well, meh. I was more brutal than usual, quickly stopping any book that didn’t grab me pretty quickly. When putting together this list, my rules were pretty simple, I would stick to 10 books, they would be books produced in 2015 and they would be books that hit that sweet spot between performance and content. When I narrowed my selections down originally, I came up with 20 contenders, with about 5 absolute Top 10 books. It took me a while to whittle the final 15 books into the five final slots, but I put my emphasis on the performance at this point, and that helped a lot. I think this list has a lot of diversity with genre and style, and hope all my readers can find something that suits their tastes.

And yes, it’s been a while since I have posted here at the old ‘lobe. 2015 was an interesting year personally, mostly in a positive way. There has been some ups and downs, and my audiobook listening time has been a constant source of positive influence. A big shout out to the storytellers who helped me through this year.

My Favorite Audiobook of 2015

The Cartel by Don Winslow

Read by Ray Porter

Blackstone Audio

If you are going to invest over 40 hours in an audiobook experience, who better to lead you through it than Ray Porter. When I completed THE POWER OF THE DOG, I felt there was so way Winslow could top this story, and was expecting the sequel to be a bit of a let down. It wasn’t even close. THE CARTEL was even more riveting than it’s predecessor, taking characters you already knew in surprising new places. Yet, what truly amazed me about THE CARTEL was the slew of new, fully realized peripheral players, each one brought to life so completely they could have carried a novel on their own. THE CARTEL taught me things about the War on Drugs and the formation of the Cartels that I never really wanted to know and shined a light on the drastic effects our policies can have on developing nations, but more importantly, it told a hell of a story. Ray Porter was simply brilliant, taping emotions I didn’t know I had. I have always believed that Porter was the best 1st person narrator in the business, but here he proves his skills are just as effective in a 3rd person narrative.

 

My Favorite Apocalyptic Audiobook of 2015

The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell

Read by Sasha Dunbrooke

ListenUp Audiobooks

I have a feeling people are either going to love this audiobook, or hate it. Me personally, I found it absolutely friggin’ brilliant. More importantly, Sasha Dunbrooke gives my favorite performance of the year, taking a complex idiomatic tale and seamlessly infusing life into it. Her performance is as much music as it is narration, creating a unique rhythm to the patois of this post apocalytic world. Dibolla explores uncomfortable truths about motherhood and survival and has created one of the most unique and memorable characters in the flooded post apocalyptic subgenre. Her slow burned post pandemic world feels scarily plausible.

My Favorite Horror Audiobook of 2015

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Read by Joy Osmanski

Harper Audio

I think it’s very hard to legitimately scare people. You can thrill them, disturb them, nauseate them, creep them out and disgust them, but to literately invoke fear into the hearts of your audience is a very, very hard task. I can probably name 5 books and movies that actually scared me, not counting that weird train episode of Laverne and Shirley that gave me nightmares when I was 5. Well, A Head Full of Ghost is legitimately, check your underpants for stains, scary. Yet, even better, it is so cleverly written, so well crafted that it may contain one of the most effectively surprising endings that is impossible to spoil because each person reading it, in essence, creates their own ending. Trembley plays on your preconceptions and biases so well, that it feels like he tailors the book to each person who will experience it. Joy Osmanski’s performance is exceptional, capturing the feel of the book, and never getting in the way of the story. In fact, her performance brings added levels to a novel that deserved nothing better than a stellar reading.

My Favorite Hilariously Uncomfortable Audiobook of 2015

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale

Read by Brad Sanders

Hachette Audio

Joe Lansdale’s tale of Nat Love, aka Deadeye Dick, former Buffalo Soldies and African American Cowboy on the run from an unstable racist upset that a black man looked at his wife’s ass, is maybe the most hilariously uncomfortable audiobook of 2015. There were so many moments that had me laughing out loud, then wondering just what the hell I was laughing at. Lansdale’s punchy, uncluttered prose combined with the ruminations of the main character kept me spellbound, through comedy and tragedy. Brad Sanders performance was delightfully uneven, capturing the essence of Nat Love perfectly infusing the appropriate amount of likeable unreliability into out hero.

My Favorite WTF Did I Just Listen To Audiobook of 2015

The Great Forgetting by James Renner

Read by David Marantz

Audible Studios

“OH, this is an interesting premise….

Wait… what?

But that makes no sense…

Oh, OK…

HOLY SHIT….

Wait…. WHAT!!!!!

I mean, really, can he do that? He can’t do that, right?

HOLY SHIT!!!

What did I just listen to….”

Really, that sums up my experience with THE GREAT FORGETTING only to add that David Marantz does a great job with, well, whatever the hell that was. Brilliant…. I think…

The Final Five

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Read by Titus Welliver

Hachette Audio

There were a lot of stellar continuations of long running series this year, but top of that list was Michael Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch/Mickey Haller legal/crime thriller. There has been much debate over who should be the voice of Harry Bosch, but with the wonderful new Amazon Prime series, BOSCH, I’m hoping the narrator question is settled for a while. Titus Welliver performance is the perfect blend of stoicism and emotion that befits the main character. Bosch should never be emotive, but Welliver captures the subtleties of the character better than some of the past narrators. Connelly delivers both an effective mystery as well as his best courtroom work since THE BRASS VERDICT.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

Read by Christy Romano

Audible Studios

Wong’s first novel not featuring David and John is an effective dismantling of the superhero genre. OK, maybe that’s too fancy a way of saying it. Basically, this novel bitch slaps the normal superhero novel and then screams nasty invectives at its stunned face. Wong has matured as a writer, and while there isn’t the uneven glee of John Dies at the End, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits introduces us to a unique main character and a bunch of weirdos then forces them to deal with duplicitous mayhem using means that defies the norms of genre fiction. Christy Romano is absolutely having fun with this tale, as if she knows she may never get the chance to read something this bizarre again, so she may as well go all out.

Predator One by Jonathan Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Maberry continues his tradition of making me feel unsafe in my own neighborhood with his latest Joe Ledger science thriller. This times its not alien space bats, or zombies, or mutant animal hybrids plotting to take over the world be releasing a vampyric strain of hemorrhagic fever into Wawa’s delicious coffee. No, instead he just has a drone attack my favorite ballpark leading to a tragedy even worse than the Phillies 2015 season. And that’s just the beginning. Ray Porter should just legally change his name to Joe Ledger, because they are the same dude. So, if you see Ray Porter walking in your direction, I’d say run.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Read by Patricia Rodriguez

Hodder & Stoughton

Well, it may be a stretch to include this book, because it is currently only available at Audible UK, but in a year with a lot of wonderful space adventures from authors like John Scalzi, James SA Corey, Jack Campbell and Ernest Cline, Becky Chamber’s THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET is the most fun you’ll have hopping around the galaxy in a while. Full of colorful characters and a flexible narrative that comes together so well, this book is a joy for pure scifi fans. Patricia Rodriguez gives a delightful performance teetering between whimsy and seriousness. She never downplays the tension but still manages to keep it fun at all times, no matter how grim it seemed.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Read by Almarie Guerra

Audible Studios

I didn’t want to read THE WATER KNIFE. Although I know for many this is heresy, I hated THE WIND-UP GIRL. Well, by hated I mean, found boring and couldn’t get more than a third of the way through before flinging it out of my ears and searching for an erotic paranormal thriller to cleanse the palate. But, everyone said “Read THE WATER KNIFE” “THE WATER KNIFE is so good.” “Stop being a stupid poopy head Bob!” Well, grudgingly I listened to it. OK, so, yeah, it was pretty awesome. Great characters, interesting world, and an actual story that went, like places and shit. Plus, it was goddam funny. To make things even bettery, the narrator, Almarie Guerra was fantastic. So, yeah, I loved THE WATER KNIFE. I still stand by my opinion of that other Bacigalupi novel.

 

So, yeah, that’s my Top 10. I’m sure there are many of you screaming “What abouts…” So, here are my What Abouterable Mentions:

Robert Crais told a solid story in THE PROMISE with two of my favorite narrators, Luke Daniels and MacLeod Andrew’s duking it out.

I loved MORTE by Robert Repino, but surprisingly found Bronson Pinchot’s performance a bit flat.

Two Thirds of Neal Stephenson’s SEVENESE was amazing. The last third was pretty crappy.

AURORA by Kim Stanley Robinson was well done, and pissed me the fuck off. Screw you, Mr. KSR, you party pooper. I can haz my space colonies.

Will Collyer delivers a fun performance in Chris Holms The Killing Kind, featuring one of the most fun final shootouts any book of 2015.

John Grisham may have his own Lincoln Lawyer in Sebastian Rudd the titlular ROGUE LAWYER, in this series of vignettes that makes a fun listen.

While I didn’t like Claire North’s TOUCH as much as THE MANY LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST, it was still a fun listen thanks to a good performance by Peter Kenny.

Dan Wells picks up his John  Cleaver series with a bang in THE DEVIL’S ONLY FRIEND, and Patrick Lee continues to blend scifi and thrillers together in THE SIGNAL.

In Print, I really loved Brian Keenes, THE LOST LEVEL. Pulp scifantasy at it’s best.





Audiobook Review: The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett

18 02 2015

The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett

Read by Gabra Zackman and LJ Ganser

Audible Studios

Length: 14Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+

The Silent History is supposed to be some evolutionary experiment in story telling, originally using an I-App to tell the story serially through a series of testimonials. I really don’t know about all that. I know, nowadays with the E-Book explosion and new ways of telling stories that for many, format is almost as important as content Yet, since I listened to it on audio and the testimonial style of storytelling has been done by writers as diverse as Dickens, Max Books and most recently Sarah Lotz, the “revolutionary” aspect of The Silent History had very little influence on me. For me, it comes down to just how good of a story it was.

The Silent History has a quasi-apocalyptic set up. Children around the world are being born without the ability to speak. While this doesn’t lead to complete breakdown, it essentially changes the very nature of society. Told in testimonial format, we get first hand perspectives into the changes and adaptations of the world. One of the best aspects of the novel is how the multiple, biased view points creates an unreliable narrative, often showing us important events from multiple perspectives. This immerses , the reader into the world, becoming the arbiter of the values of the time. The authors never seem to pick sides in the tale, just present the individual’s stories.

On a personal level, what really drew me into the story is the underlying question of the nature of disability. Being that I work with people with severe handicaps and have a nephew on the ASD spectrum, the debate into whether The Silents were in fact handicapped due to the fact that they deviated from the norm, or were just another version of humanity hit close to home for me. The authors do a great job presenting the multiple issues in this debate, from those hate anything that is different, to those who want to save them to those who want to raise them up to an almost religious level. The authors showed us how the many sides of the issues, positive and negative, can marginalize those that it most affects. The story did a wonderful job showing us the people involved without telling us how to feel.

The Silent History is smart, well told near future Science Fiction. The quick perspective changes and future history style keeps the reader relatively engaged. With this storytelling style, quick and short works better, and can be effective in adding to tension. For the most part, the authors achieve this. It is a bit overly long, and by the end of the novel I definitely was starting to get a bit of readers fatigue. While the authors brought it together in a unique and compelling way, the long path blunted some of the endings impact.

While the audio version may have lessened the revolutionary aspect of the format of the storytelling, the performances of the narrators elevated the story. Right now, it would be hard to convince me that Gabra Zackman is a singular person. Her broad range of characters were completely distinct and spot on. LJ Ganser also showed great range, with the multiple ages and eccentricities of the characters. Both narrates fully utilized the freedoms of first person storytelling to make this truly feel like a documentary instead of a dry historical reading. Both narrators managed to build tension into the tale, while briskly moving the story along. The Silent History works in audio, largely due to the wonderful nuanced performances of these talented narrators.





Audiobook Review: The World House by Guy Adams

4 02 2015

The World House by Guy Adams

Read by Paul Boehmer

Audible Studios

Length: 10Hrs 43Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: C-

I’m not sure what just friggin’ happened. I mean, I kinda know. There are these characters, and a weird house, and time travel, and god like people, and amnesia, and a cool game of Snakes and Ladders, and I think that one guy is also that other guy or maybe I am thinking about someone else. Oh, and that girl is like maybe autistic, which of course means she has some special ability or perception that will help save the world, or destroy it, or maybe stop the bad guy who I am not sure is really bad because that’s that’s what mentally challenged people do in fantasies… and, well, maybe I’m just an idiot who can’t follow the authors disjointed train of thought. I mean, I get this way with “high brow” stuff where I think I am supposed to get it. Like Birdman, which I guess had moments, but still, I didn’t get it. Like art or jazz or that weird class of philosophy I took…

But…

Shit…

So really, maybe Guy Adams is a genius who created this beautiful mosaic of a novel, full of complexities and layers upon layers, creating a mesmerizing tale that blends generations and genres and I am just too dumb to figure it all out. I know I feel like this when I attempt to read China Mellville and Paolo Bacigalupi, which people I respect tell me is brilliant, but turns my brains to mash, and, well, kinda bores me at the same time making me want to pull out something with explody monsters hunters or time traveling Nazis.

Or maybe Guy Adams just wrote a book that had some brilliant moments, was fun at brief intervals but was mostly a mess that barely held my interest and often left me confused about exactly what the hell just happened.

But maybe not…

I’m confused.

One thing I like about Paul Boehmer is that he has a unique narrative voice. His voice has a tone that reflects an international feel yet isn’t specific to any particular nationality. It reminds me of the subtle accents that many 1800 era American period pieces use, not really modern American or Modern British but somewhere in between. This is why I think Boehmer is excellent in historical fiction and has been underused in the fantasy genre where straight British accents seem to be the preference of audio producers. This is why I thought he was perfectly suited for a book like The World House. But, now I am not so sure he was, mostly because I really didn’t care about the book enough to figure it out. His characters were fine. I often found the perspective shifts were not distinct enough, but this may just have been because I wasn’t invested enough in the characters to realize that they had shifted.

Oh well….

Basically, The World House was a book that constantly had me on the edge of thinking,”Let’s end this and move on to something else” but that little part of me said that eventually there would be this sort of AHA! Moment that pulled it all together and made it worth it. And I guess there was something like that, but by that point I just wanted it all to be over.

Now maybe some time traveling zombies or talking unicorns or sexy dragons….





Audiobook Review: Rewinder by Brett Battles

22 01 2015

Rewinder by Brett Battles

Read by Vikas Adams

Audible Studios

Genre: Time Travel Adventure

Grade: B

Brett Battles seems to enjoy writing Thrillers, no matter the subgenre. In his latest standalone thriller, Rewinder, Battles gives time travel a go with solid results. Rewinder reads like a cross between Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, and Steven Jay Gould’s Jumper series. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking entry into the fray of time travel adventure, in fact, if anything, Battles quickly infuses the story with the feel of a pair of comfortable jeans. Instead of trying to create some clever new way to spin the genre, he puts his own spin onto time honored tropes. Like Jumper, Rewinder can work equally well as a Young Adult or Adult novel. While Battles main character Denny Younger is, well, younger, he doesn’t instantly fall into the character trapping of many young adult protagonist. Battles offers some interesting sociological insights, yet does it as a plot point, where his goal isn’t social commentary but just telling a damn good story. Battles creates a fast paced, exciting tale, with plenty of twists, that fans of old school time travel adventure novels will find perfect for an afternoon reading.

Narrating is more than just having a pleasant voice, and the ability to do character voices. A good narrator finds the right feel for a novel, and pushes the narrative in the right direction. Vikas Adams gives a strong textured performance, with a crisp reading that gives homage to the pulp nature of the tale. I have always admired Adams ability to handle both adult and children characters smoothly, something that isn’t really easy to do. I like that Adams gave Denny a youthful feel, yet still acknowledged that he was an adult doing an adult job. He captures the right blend of coming of age naivete, with a hardened edge of young man who grew up in the fringes of his society. Rewinder isn’t going to blow your mind, or have you rethink everything you knew about time travel, instead it will give you 8 hours of solid entertainment.





Audiobook Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

29 04 2014

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

Read by Tavia Gilbert

Audible Studios

Length: 10 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A

In Afterparty, Daryl Gregory has created one of the more unique near future thrillers I have experienced in a while, a psychotropic chase novel across a recognizable future landscape full of strange characters, new tech and enough twists to keep you not even sure if you should even try to keep on guessing. Yet, if this was all that Afterparty was, I’d write a nice little review, talking about the above mentioned topics and try to keep it sounding all professional and shit.

Except I can’t because Afterparty punched me in the head. Repeatedly. With lingering effects.

Now, it wasn’t the story per se. The story was like a really good road trip to someplace you never been before with little side trips you never quite expected. Except, this road trip was laced with landmines. One second you’d be driving along, pointing to an all glass Tabernacle and Hoagie shop, or stopping to get your picture at the world’s largest ball of Already Been Chewed bubble gum in the Midwest, then bam, something goes boom and your brain matter gets sprayed all over your upholstery.

Afterparty tells the tale of a group of scientists who invented a drug that had the unfortunate side effect of manifesting a deity directly into your brain. After one scientist purposely overdoses the group with the drug, the group each gains their own version of god along with various levels of self destructive behavior. Years later, Lyda Rose, one of the scientist is now sequestered in her latest mental institute and discovers the drug has now hit the streets and she, along with the Angel who lives in her head, must discover which former colleague is responsible.

So, it’s pretty damn cool on it’s own. Yet, Gregory has laced his tales with reflections of the true nature of God, faith, the delusion of free will, humanity’s biological imperatives, along with other sociological, psychological, religious and scientific mindfucks. I’m probably missing a few ogicals and istics along the way. As someone who grew up in a religious family, raised in a fundamentalist Baptist Church I have spent years trying to come to terms with my spiritual inadequacy in the face of those who find real joy in religion. I rarely come across an interpretation of the Bible that I haven’t in some level explored. Gregory somehow made me look at some things in a whole new light. In fact, it’s something I’m still thinking about and if you get a few beers in me, as some friends were loathe to discover, I will spew it all over you. It’s rare that a book affects me on such a personal level, not based on a character I came to love or some scenario I could relate to, but with issues of self, and faith explored in brilliant new ways. The thing I especially liked about Afterparty is that I think each person who reads it will more than likely have a similar mindfuck moment, yet with a different topic. This is the fun part of driving through a cerebral minefield, you never know which one is going to blow your brains out of the back of your head.

Sadly, I don’t listen to enough Tavia Gilbert. This is only the third time I have had the privilege to listen to her narrate a book, and it was definitely my favorite. How often does a narrator get to take on religious schizophrenics, delusional deities and bizarre cowboys? For some this may be daunting, but for Tavia Gilbert it came off as great fun. She deftly guided us through an strangely familiar world, while giving the intricately laced dialogue an organic feel. Gilbert never gave anything away, just allowed you to discover the various psychosis of the characters as well as their foibles and secret intentions in a manner worthy of the text. It’s a performance that is both nuanced and just a little bit goofy, and simply fun to listen to.