Audiobook Review: Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts

11 03 2013

Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts

Read by Charles Carroll

AudioGO

Length: 2 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Middle Grade Adventure

Quick Thoughts: Stranded is a nice start to a series that I think kids will enjoy with the potential for better things to come. While I would have liked to see a bit more happen overall, I think this serves as bait for the hook, and it’s enough to snare a decent sized fish. Survivor fans may get a bit of a chuckle at how Probst’s experience as the host of the hit show comes into play in the tale, then happily hand the book off to their kids.

Grade: B

I know many of you are asking, why is Bob, a mid to late 30ish guy with no kids who has a penchant for dark horror, apocalyptic fiction and violent thrillers, reviewing a Middle Grade adventure novel? Let me assure it is simply because, despite having no children of my own, I am an uncle known for purchasing books as gifts for his sibling’s progeny and as a conscientious consumer I feel it’s important to get a good handle on books you may give to children and not due to my unhealthy obsessions with Jeff Probst and the show Survivor. Stranded intrigued me because it reminded me of the days I would stay up way too late reading adventure tales like Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island and watching movies like Swiss Family Robinson and not the hours I spent arguing each move made by the Survivor contestants on chat rooms and Instant messaging, blogging about the show and playing online Survivor RPG’s. As a child I dreamed about writing tales of pirates and deserted islands and this passion has always stayed with me, even if I did end up putting together and writing two seasons of my own online RPG about a Survivor tournament taking place in Post Apocalyptic America. So yea, I may be a bit of a fan of the show, and I may have argued more than once that Probst is the best reality host on TV and sure, maybe I once tipped a bartender twenty dollars to put on Survivor in a Casino in Biloxi because I was too drunk to walk to my hotel across the street before the show started, but hell, my love of adventure tales as a kid was the true catalyst to me listening to this book. Heck, I probably would have listened to it even if it was written by someone else, perhaps Phil Keoghan.

Stranded follows four children Carter, Buzz, Jane and Vanessa who have recently become a family when Carter and Jane’s mom married Vanessa and Buzz’s father. Of course, there’s a bit of tension and while the parents are away on their honeymoon their uncle takes them on a boat trip in the Pacific as a bionding exercise. A storm hits, and the kids are separated from the adults, left stranded on a deserted island. Now, they must find a way to work together in order to survive until help can come. So, Stranded isn’t going to blow anyone away. It’s a lightweight, but fun adventure tale with some relatable characters and just a touch of danger. I think that the writers do a good job setting up the scenario and developing the characters, but that takes up the majority of the tale, with maybe the last hour for just a bit of family drama, searching the island, and some daring do. Fans of Survivor will pick up some of the classic themes of the show, like prioritizing water over shelter, a mishap leading to drama, and personality conflicts exasperated by the tense situation. I like how the writers created realistic positive and negative aspects of each child, giving them all a role to play in their survival yet making it necessary for them all to work together. It creates a nice message while also building the drama. The major problems with the tale come in its depth. The reader doesn’t yet feel the true desperate nature of the situation, because the group is relatively well stocked at the moment, and sort of oblivious to the dangers of their situation. Being the first in a series, Probst ends the episode with a smack in the face for the kids that should up the ante for the next installment. Overall, it’s a nice start to a series that I think kids will enjoy with the potential for better things to come. While I would have liked to see a bit more happen overall, I think this serves as bait for the hook, and it’s enough to snare a decent sized fish. Survivor fans may get a bit of a chuckle at how Probst’s experience as the host of the hit show comes into play in the tale, then happily hand the book off to their kids maybe creating the next generation of obsessed Probst fans.

Charles Carroll brings a lot of youthfulness to his reading of Stranded. Carroll’s characterizations are well though out and age appropriate, without becoming caricatures of children. He gives each child a distinct voice fitting to the personalities the author develops. I particularly liked the segments where Jane is recoding a video blog of her adventures, he gives Jane a light femininity with a studious cadence to her speech. He did a good job capturing both Carter’s frustration and Buzz’s self doubt, while showing Vanessa’s struggles as the oldest sibling. His pacing was a bit slow, which probably works well for younger listeners who haven’t really developed their active listening skills yet, but can be a little frustrating for seasoned audiobook listeners. I think this audiobook would work well for a group listen, especially for a family car trip or morning carpool. There is just enough fun and adventure and a good diversity of characters to please all types of listeners, even moms and dads.

Book 2: Stranded: Trial by Fire will be out in June!





Audiobook Review: The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

6 02 2013

The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

Read by Mauro Hantman

AudioGo

Length: 9 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: As a tale of time travel, with its intermingling concepts of fate and free will Farrell succeeds where so many other tales of time travel fails. Its brilliantly built plot, complicated character and hints of a near future world were enough to keep my brain spinning in a dizzying euphoria. It may not have had the emotional impact of many more character driven tales, but like the best puzzles, it will never truly leave your mind.

Grade: B+

I really have a love/hate relationship with Time Travel. I love Time Travel. From the moment I watched my first Doctor Who episode, and read HG Wells, I knew I was a sucker for the fourth dimension. Some of my favorite novels of all time have time travel elements. There are lots of interesting things you can do with Time Travel, with stories as diverse as Ken Grimwood’s Replay, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, SM Stirling’s Nantucket series and Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, all offering interesting uses of time travel. Hell, there have even been good time travel movies. Sure, we all had to sit through Van Damme’s Timecop, but we also got to see 12 Monkeys. I also hate time travel. I hate movies and books that place these stupid arbitrary rules on the morality of time travel. My brother and I will always fight over The Prisoner of Azkaban, but in my opinion it’s the worse Harry Potter book simply because of the stupid use of travel. Come on, it’s OK for Hermione to utilize time travel to fit more classes into her schedule, yet using it to stop people being murdered would be against the rules.  Hell, if they could travel back in time without those stupid rules, then Harry Potter never would have become an orphan, Voldemort would have been thwarted early and The Casual Vacancy would never exist, yet, they try to tell us that wouldn’t have been a proper use of time travel. We could have prevented The Casual Vacancy! Instead, Cedric gets killed, Dumbledore remains in the closet, and Rowling decided to try her hand at adult fiction. My point is, if you have the ability to travel in time, either use it, or shut the hell up. I’d totally use it.

Every year, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, a time traveler returns to an abandoned hotel in 2071, where he celebrates his existence with the youngsters and elder versions of himself. On his 39th year, he becomes the celebrated man, wearing the spiffy suit he had always envied. Yet, when he arrives he also discovers that one of the versions of him has been murdered and he has a year to prevent it, or irrevocably harm the timeline. Author Sean Farrell has created a head trippy, mind bending time travel tale that takes all the rules you think you knew about time travel and beats them down like a dead dog. It’s a fascinating set up, with the majority of the interaction taking place between the past and future versions of himself. Yet, each version of himself he interacts with has his own secrets, twists on his personality and hidden agendas. It was brilliantly plotted, yet often confusing. As a reader, I was amazed how Farrell kept it all together, creating these versions of the same character, and sending them off on an intricate dance of paradoxes, predestinations and paranoia. There is a mystery to the tale, but the kind of mystery where each clue can be overwritten, each motivation altered, and no single given aspect of the story can be trusted. There is also a girl, because there is always a girls, and a bit of a tragedy, because, with a girl comes tragedy and remorse. Yet, not everything worked perfectly. I was quite fascinated by the world that Farrell created outside of the party. It had an almost dystopian feel, blending near future technology with old world quaintness that left me feeling like I was missing a key aspect to the story. The world felt like a tease, a nonessential aspect to the story that Farrell threw in for flavor, yet with enough depth that it left me wanting to know more about it, a desire that would go unfulfilled. Also, at times, I felt the multifaceted layering of the story worked as an intellectual exercise, more that an act of storytelling. I was so involved in keeping the pieces straight that I didn’t take the time to enjoy it as much as I could. As a tale of time travel, with its intermingling concepts of fate and free will Farrell succeeds where so many other tales of time travel fails. Its brilliantly built plot, complicated character and hints of a near future world were enough to keep my brain spinning in a dizzying euphoria. It may not have had the emotional impact of many more character driven tales, but like the best puzzles, it will never truly leave your mind.

I was quite excited when I discovered that Mauro Hantman was narrating this tale. My last experience with Hantman was positive, but I felt the story didn’t offer a lot for him to work with. Here, Hantman gives a solid, workman like performance. Nothing here will blow you away, yet, I think his subtle reading style fit the narrative well. The Man in the Empty Suit offered an interesting challenge for a narrator, where the majority of the characters were different versions of the same person. Hantman handles this well, using subtle vocalizations to help delineate characters, yet keep a base rhythm of speech consistent among all its versions. I think Hantman made smart decisions when reading this. I think if a narrator tried to hard, this could have been a train wreck of a production. The story itself was hard enough to follow without the narrator distracting you with jarring voices or fluctuating pacing. Instead, Hantman sort of blended into the background, delivering the tale in a simple style, allowing the listener to immerse themselves in the story. It is not a performance that listeners will remember for years to come, but it was the right one for this story.

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





Audiobook Review: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

18 01 2013

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Read by Stephanie Cannon

AudioGo

Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: If you’re looking for an apocalyptic thrill ride full of hardcore zombie action and blood gurgling horror, This Is Not a Test may not fit your bill. Yet, if you enjoy well written, atmospheric tales full of complex problems with no easy answers, then you absolutely should give this one a try.

Grade: B

As a huge fan of the Zombie genre, I love when a novel has cross genre appeal. I think it is great when people who typically wouldn’t be drawn to books about the shambling carnivorous undead take a chance on a book featuring them. Yet, there is also a level of frustration to it. People will often tag their praise of such a novel with “It’s not really about Zombies.” Now, I understand this. People don’t want others who may be turned off by these horror icons to avoid the book. Yet, I find these sort of caveats up there with the term “guilty pleasure.” I like zombies. There is no shame in enjoying tales of ravenous hordes of undead as they tear through society one infected bite at a time. Yet, most importantly, most good zombie novels aren’t really about the zombies. In fact, there is a lot of great horror tales out there that aren’t about the monsters and evil, but the people it affects. Horror is about extremes, about how people react when they are put in these horrible situations. It’s easy to create characters that rise above their troubles, when their troubles are romantic entanglements or minor financial setbacks. Yet, when each decision you make could lead to a horrific death, it is much harder for the humanity to bubble to the surface. This is why horror often features flawed characters from tough situations. These people have already survived the horrors or regular life so taking on Monsters isn’t that big of a change. So, yes, This Is Not a Test is not really about Zombies but it definitely is about the living dead.

16 year old Sloane Price was already dead inside when the undead came. Abandoned by her sister and left in the hands of a controlling and abusive father, Sloane just wanted it all to end. Now, with the world in chaos, she finds herself holed up in a school with a group of her classmates. As the tension grows, and conflict blooms Sloane sees the infected bite of the undead as a potential solution to all her problems. This Is Not a Test is a moody, atmospheric tale of isolation, both physical and emotional, set within the chaotic world of the Zombie Apocalypse. Summers explores a lot of interesting issues involving acceptance, social perceptions and status that seem to permeate YA literature today, yet does it in a fresh way. I loved that throughout the whole novel, Summers stays true to her character. This is not a story of redemption or revelation but a detailed look at a broken girl in the most extreme situations. Filtering the conflicts and entanglements of the various characters through the eyes of someone so isolated, allowed Summers to skip past the caricatures, and create a group full of realistic and frustrating characters. Yet, This Is Not a Test isn’t, like many Zombie novels, about surviving the survivors. This Is Not A Test is about attempting to survive yourself and your history. Each character must come to terms with decisions, past occurrences or simply the perceived perceptions of their peers to find whether or not they can fit into this changed world and the answer is rarely yes. This is what makes this novel a tough listen. There is little in the way of thrills and chills of a traditional manner. Summers writing has a claustrophobic feel, trapping you in the mind of her main character, and it’s not always an easy place to be. If you’re looking for an apocalyptic thrill ride full of hardcore zombie action and blood gurgling horror, This Is Not a Test may not fit your bill. Yet, if you enjoy well written, atmospheric tales full of complex problems with no easy answers, then you absolutely should give this one a try.

Stephanie Cannon delivers a solid but flawed reading of this novel. Sloane is not an easy character, and Cannon reads her with an emotional deadness that while appropriate to the tale, made it less than engaging for the listener. Also, her muted tones transferred over to many of the other characters, and while they had somewhat different voices, the rhythms and cadence remained constant for every character creating confusing dialogue. It was also hard to determine Sloane’s internal and external dialogue, making you wonder at times whether she said something or just thought it. For a novel that was so intimate, and took place largely in the head of one character this could be problematic. Yet, I also thought Cannon did a good job capturing the mood and rhythms of Summer’s prose. She transitioned well from slower moments to the action, and allowed listeners to follow along well. Overall, I felt the production was well done, but the style of the book was either better suited to print, or could have used a narrator with a bit more vocal diversity.

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





Audiobook Review: Safe House by Chris Ewan

12 12 2012

Safe House by Chris Ewan

Read by Simon Vance

AudioGO

Length: 10 Hrs 53 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Safe House is a smart, well paced and highly enjoyable thriller with just the right amount of twists to keep things interesting. Ewan proves he knows how to tell a good story without relying on clichéd tricks and smoke and mirrors, just a solid plot with engaging character. This is my first experience with Ewan, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.

Grade: A-

Listen up kids, I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret. No matter what your parents tell you, or what that Public Service Announcement that some television station plays between their latest sitcoms espouses, sometimes peer pressure is good. Of course, if your peers are encouraging you to recite the ancient spell they found in a dusty old book written in Latin, or if they want to taunt the mysterious new kids at school for his pale skin and fang like teeth, then your problem isn’t peer pressure, your problem is really crappy peers. I for one, find most of my peers within the book blogging community to be quite lovely, and when I hear them talking about a book or an author that has brought them joy, I feel pressure to share in that experience. Despite the fact that we have very different tastes, and that she has an obsession with a certain British narrator, whenever I hear Jennifer of The Literate Housewife talk about a book or series she loves, I pay attention. For the past year or so, I have witnessed her enthusiasm over a series of books called "The Good Thief’s Guide to [Insert City Name]" Now, my initial reaction was that I thought it was an interesting idea to write a travel book for people who enjoy the act of theft, yet are generally good, but that really isn’t the type of book that usually interests me. Of course, with a bit more research I discovered that this was actually a fictional series with a gentleman thief and mystery writer as its protagonist. Even further research led me to the discovery that this same author, Chris Ewan, had a new standalone thriller coming out with an intriguing plot, that had also landed on another of my favorite bloggers "Best of 2012" list. This is the kind of peer pressure I can get behind.

After a motorbike accident on the small Isle of Man, Rob Hale wakes up in the hospital with signs of a possible traumatic brain injury. When he questions the doctors about fate of his passenger, a beautiful women he had just recently met, he discovers that she never made it to the hospital, in fact, there is no evidence she even really existed. Despite assurances that this mysterious blond was just side effect of his injury, Rob is sure she exists and is in some sort of trouble. I have always enjoyed tales of unreliable memory where a lone protagonist is forced to question things he just knows are true and this is what initially drew me to Safe House. Yet, what I discovered was a solid thriller, with some really engaging characters and a unique setting that gave it a real intimate feel. While the plot was, like most thrillers, a bit overly complicated at times, it all falls together nicely. Chris Ewan writes with the sort of everyman flair that I really enjoyed. He takes a main character that is basically just your mundane regular Joe, and puts him in a situation where on the surface he seems totally out of his league, but by the sheer force of his will, manages to make things happen. I really enjoyed the fact that Rob wasn’t any sort of highly skilled operator, and while there were conspiracies on top of conspiracies within the plot that forced him into risky situations, he wasn’t like some loose ship in a storm, he acted when he needed to. Not to say that it was easy for Rob, Ewan puts that poor guy through the works, heaping mental and physical abuse on him, and not even rewarding him with a gratuitous love scene. At least the poor guy had a good dog.  Ewan adds a lot of color to his tale through his peripheral characters, particularly Rob’s parents and grandfather, yet deftly incorporates them into the overall story, making each moment of the matter. I also really enjoyed the action in this novel. This wasn’t the over the top, car chase and shoot em outs that plague modern movies, but smart subtle, yet sometimes quite brutal action that moves the story in the right directions. Safe House is a smart, well paced and highly enjoyable thriller with just the right amount of twists to keep things interesting. Ewan proves he knows how to tell a good story without relying on clichéd tricks and smoke and mirrors, just a solid plot with engaging character. This is my first experience with Ewan, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.

So, I have things to say about Simon Vance, and since it’s been a while since I reviewed one of his audiobooks, I thought this would be a good forum. I personally think that the reason Simon Vance does so well with his narrations is he enjoys winning Audies, Earphones and starred reviews, as well as bringing hours of entertainment to his loyal fans through his masterful storytelling. There, I said it. This is actually my first time listening to Simon Vance narrate a book that isn’t speculative fiction, and I was quite interested to see how someone who I trust to bring fantasy worlds to life handles the real world. Vance does a wonderful job with Safe House. What I really liked was the introspective tone he gave to Rob’s character. With all the wildness of the plot, Vance used his voice to ground the character, allowing us to experience his thought process. It was almost as if Rob was the port in the storm for us, and Vance built off that to allow us to keep everything in perspective. My favorite moments in the audiobook were the bits of humor that surfaced throughout the production. There was one particularly moment, when Rob was trying to extract important information from his unfocused grandfather that was just priceless, and impeccable performed. I also loved that Vance seemed to capture the flavor of the Isle of Man. There was almost a leisurely pace to his reading, letting us know that this was no city thriller, and that the character’s are going to take there time and figure this thing out. I really enjoyed Safe House, and while I may not be ready to join the Simon Vance cult, he’s definitely someone I trust to tell me a darn good story.

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





Audiobook Review: Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

16 10 2012

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Read by Stephanie Cannon

AudioGo\Strange Chemistry

Length: 8 Hrs 55 Min

Genre: Young Adult Paranormal

Quick Thoughts: Blackwood is a strong YA tale with themes that permeate the label but are done in a unique and engaging way. The strength of this novel is in its characters. Bond created two engaging protagonist, and a slew of secondary players that are well developed. While some small pacing issues muddled the latter half, Bond pulls it all together with a satisfying conclusion that deftly blends history with the paranormal.

Grade: B

I really hadn’t planned on listening to Blackwood when I did. In fact, if it wasn’t for some poor planning on my part, and a misevaluation about how much time was actually left on another audiobook, I probably wouldn’t have listened to Blackwood until the end of this month. I was listening to The Twelve, a longish Post Apocalyptic Vampire thriller and was planning on moving out of the paranormal world for my next listen and take on a police procedural. Yet, I was running errands over the weekend and believed I had plenty of time left on The Twelve, yet, just as I was pulling into my driveway, The Twelve ended. At that point, I hadn’t transferred my next planned audiobook onto my MP3 Player and it just happened that Blackwood was next in my queue. It started automatically, and instead of pausing it, I continued to listen, and was instantly pulled into the mystery of Roanoke Island. Now, Blackwood is a paranormal Young Adult novel with a bunch of mystery and a romance. It really isn’t something I usually seek out. I don’t mind the occasional YA novel, but usually it’s a Post Apocalyptic tale or at least a dystopian, but I have always been fascinated by the disappearance of the settlers in Roanoke, as well as a lot of other historical anomalous disappearances. As a minor history buff, I understand that most of these occurrences have entirely logical reasoning behind them, but I love when fiction gives them an otherworldly edge. So, hooked in by the history, and a couple of interesting characters, I was enthralled enough with the opening sequence to Blackwood that I decided to complete the ride.

Miranda Blackwood has lived her entire life on Roanoke Island with the pressure of the Blackwood curse making her a target in her town, ostracized by her classmates, and labeled a freak. Phillips Rawling, son of the police chief, hears the voices of the islands dead in his head which caused him to lash out and be sent away by his family. Yet, when 114 townsfolk go missing, reminiscent of the historical claim to fame of the island, and Miranda’s dad turns up dead, the two teens find themselves at the center of an ancient mystery that just may spell doom for the entire town. I absolutely loved the first half of Blackwood. Gwenda Bond has created two engaging and interesting characters in Miranda and Rawlings. Much of the first half of the novel is mabout these two characters discovering more about themselves, and the history that weighs down on them. Sure, there was a lot of overused annoying YA themes to ignore, the beautiful outcast, the troubled loner and a mystery only they can solve, but Bond made it easy to look past these clichés and see the depths of her characters. Bond sets up her plot well, delivering some well executed twists. In fact, one of the twists frustrated me so, because the major issue I was having with the tale was resolved through this twist, whish I should have realized, but for some reason didn’t. Yet, once the characters were set up, and the big twists revealed, some of the shiny newness of the tale began to wear off. I have to congratulate Bond on an unique twist on the historical happenings, and her ability to wonderfully blend the history into her paranormal story, but I also found the pacing in these latter parts to be just a bit muddled. There is a decidedly creepy feel to the tale, but the explorations beyond the twist lost me for a bit. Luckily Bond is able to pull it all together with a strong ending that satisfyingly answered the mystery while giving the characters a full arch. Blackwood is a strong YA tale with themes that permeate the label but are done in a unique and engaging way. The strength of this novel is in its characters. Bond created two engaging protagonist, and a slew of secondary players that are well developed. While some small pacing issues muddled the latter half, Bond pulls it all together with a satisfying conclusion that deftly blends history with the paranormal.

Blackwood is narrated by Stephanie Cannon, and this was my first experience with her as a narrator. To be perfectly frank, I had mixed feelings about her reading. For the most part, I thought it was solid, with a few small quirks. Cannon uses a soft southern accent for Miranda, but its not consistent, there are moments where you feel like she forgot about the accent, but then remembered and, BANG! there it was again. When she did use it, I thought it added a nice bit of flavor to the reading. Cannon also had moments of awkward pacing where she felt like she was almost struggling to pull the words off the page. Yet, overall, I liked her reading. When she was on, she was really on, but sadly the few moments where she was just a bit off were definitely more likely to stand out. With a bit more consistency in her reading, Cannon would be an excellent narrator. While Blackwood works well as a Standalone, if Bond does decide to revisit these characters, I definitely hope that Cannon returns to bring them to life.





Audiobook Review: Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff

7 09 2012

Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff

Read by Stephen R. Thorne

AudioGo

Length: 1 Hr 41 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection is a production that is definitely worth a listen. It’s a quick and dirty slice of the Zombie apocalypse that fans of the genre should have a whole lot of fun with.

Grade: B

I really don’t know the history behind the whole "found footage" style of storytelling. I know my first real experience with this style was The Blair Witch Project. Blair Witch came out when I was in college. I remember heading down to The Ritz in Philadelphia during its initial limited run not really knowing what to expect. Now, remember, I was young and impressionable back than, and easily manipulated by the machinations of the big screen. Basically, what I am saying is this movie scared the crap out of me. While intellectually I knew this was just a movie, it felt real to me. Now, I am much older and wiser now, and have experienced the dog crap that is known as Blair Witch 2, so, no longer can the "found footage" style manipulate me so blatantly.   Sure, I saw and loved Chronicle but, I never had any problem keeping my sense of reality. I am beginning to think the whole Diary/Blog style of novels is the literary counterpoint to "found footage." Diary style novels take a step beyond the traditional first person POW, stripping away another level of reality so it seems that we are reading the actual words written by our main character. It’s a fun style when done right, but sort of obnoxious when done poorly. Yet, I think there is a reason why these types of stories sometimes don’t translate to audio very well. I think it’s because narrators are often too good. Sometimes, it seems the audiobook is too flawless, like they hired a professional studio with a trained actor to bring their diary to life. This is because, well, that exactly what is happening. Yet, in Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff, AudioGo attempts to truly bring the found footage style to Audiobooks.

Caught in the midst of an outbreak of a necrotic infection, Dr. Robert Twonbly, a hematologist from Seattle, records his flight from his laboratory to a community in North Canada and his attempts to avoid the zombies that now pestered the land. His recordings, made on a hand held recorder, and his journal are eventually discovered by Canadian officials and are one of the few first person accounts of survival amidst the chaos of the initial zombie outbreak. I found Zombies to be fascinating on many levels. The story itself will not break much new ground. It is a basic Zombie Apocalypse survival tale told in a first person stream of consciousness style. The story itself is notable for two things. First, I found the probably cause of the outbreak, a food additive that made foodstuff more desirable, an interesting twist. Second, the author does a good job showing the mental deterioration of the main character due to the high stress situation.  This is the second found footage, false document style Zombie novel I have listened to recently, and while I enjoyed the scientific slant of The Zombie Autopsies, Zombies had a much more human story. There is definitely a real sense of dread and despair to this story. It emotional manipulations are often obvious, but affective. In essence, if you are looking for some groundbreaking spin on Zombie literature, you won’t find that here. What you will get is a quick fix of zombie mayhem, told in an intriguing style. It’s basically, just enough zombie fun to keep the hardcore fan sated. 

The true payoff of the experience is the style of the audiobook. Adapted from a graphic novel, the production has a lot of obstacles to overcome. The biggest negative to the whole production is that you don’t have the illustrations. I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the original work as a supplement to the audio production. What AudioGo does here is impressive. They create a true "found footage" feel with this production. The audiobook is not pristine, there is often background noise, low res hissing, and clunking sounds, like you would expect to hear when listening to something taped by a crappy little recorded. Narrator Steven R. Thorne does a good job giving the production a real feel as well, stumbling over his words, sighing and sometimes cutting off his own recording. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it is authentic enough to be worth the distractions. It really is one of the first effective translations of this style to the audiobook format. Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection is a production that is definitely worth a listen. It’s a quick and dirty slice of the Zombie apocalypse that fans of the genre should have a whole lot of fun with.

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

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” Theme. Click on the image below for more information.





Audiobook Review: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

15 08 2012

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Read by Greg Wise

AudioGo

Length: 5 Hrs 55 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Planet of the Apes is such wonderful escapism, that the pure joy of the story takes what could be overbearing social satire and just makes it feel like simple fun. Those who have only experienced the movie should definitely consider taking the time to experience the novel. In so many ways, it’s like being given a new perspective to a much beloved tale made better when you realize it is its origin.

Grade: A

I always think that one of the cool things about being an author is the possibility that your story will live well beyond your death. Writing has the potential to allow you to live, while maybe not forever, for a long time past your expiration date through your work. Yet, I think there is a sort of bittersweet angle in that for French Author Pierre Boulle. Boulle’s work will be remembered for years to come, but mostly due to the movie adaptations. Boulle wrote novels that eventually became the movies The Bridge Over River Kwai and Planet of the Apes. While both these works of fiction have become part of the mass culture of this planet, I think that many people would be surprised that these movies started out as books, and I also believe that many people just wouldn’t really care. While Boulle can be proud to contribute to our cultural lexicon, I think it must be a bit bittersweet that his original story was in some ways co-opted by the movie, and now this is all that most people remember.   I have personally seen all the movie adaptations that spawned from Planet of the Apes. I also know I have seen The Planet of the Apes TV show, but it was at such a young age I barely remember anything about it. I had always wanted to read the novel, Planet of the Apes. As someone who has always been fascinated with the concept, yet only experienced it in it’s film versions, I was quite interested to finally experience the source material. Finally having achieved my wish, I have to say it was worth the experience. The Planet of the Apes is a gripping science fiction thriller that, while containing elements that made its way into both of the film versions, is it own unique animal.

Ulysses Merou is a journalist traveling on a scientific expedition to an Earth like planet in a ship capable of near lightspeed travel. While the trip only takes two years, hundreds of real time years pass due to time dilation of near lightspeed travel. When arriving on the planet they name Soror, they discover that the humans there are nothing more than mindless beasts, yet a race of simians have obtained sentience and now dominate the planet. While there are many elements that differ from the film, I want to point out two that I found specifically interesting. In both of the film versions, the Simians are descendents, in some way of Earth’s Apes. While this isn’t entirely written off in Boulle’s novel, it is also not specifically addressed, leading to some interesting concepts of congruent evolution and precursor societies. The second one I found interesting on a sociological level. In both film versions, while the simian culture is advanced, they were not up to the level of humanity, with modern tech, like cars and airplanes. I sometimes wonder if the producers thought that presenting a Simian culture on par with modern human tech would just have been too unbelievable. While the human’s of Boulle’s novel were advanced past the apes, the Simian culture had progressed to the point that at least equaled the tech at the time the novel was written in the 1960’s. Boulle makes some interesting sociological observations about the differing ways that humans and apes learn that provide perspective on the development of both species. Boulle’s novel definitely tackles issues like racism, class, elitism, scientific stagnation, nature vs., nurture and other social extrapolations yet, does it with a darkly humorous satirical bent.  It would almost seem mind-blowing the depth of the plot Boulle has developed, but it is covered in an accessible science fiction yarn that allows you to process the implications, and twists and turns of the plot without being overwhelmed. In fact, Planet of the Apes is such wonderful escapism, that the pure joy of the story takes what could be overbearing social satire and just makes it feel like simple fun. Those who have only experienced the movie should definitely consider taking the time to experience the novel. In so many ways, it’s like being given a new perspective to a much beloved tale made better when you realize it is its origin. My only real complaint is that the original title, Monkey Planet, was replaced. Just because I love the idea of a Monkey Planet.

Greg Wise did a wonderful job bringing this tale to life. I did find it interesting that a British narrator was chosen for a title with a French Main character, but in no way did this fact take away from the production. Wise reads the novel is a simplistic fashion that allowed the story to shine. I found much of his characterizations to be enjoyable. I not exactly sure why he made some of the choices he did, but, I couldn’t help but laugh sometimes at the voices he chose. While Zira, the female chimpanzee that champions Ulysses cause, is given a light English accent, most of the male Simians are performed like Goombah Americans. It often made me laugh. I think, in retrospect, I may have enjoyed a bit of delineation between the three sects of Simians, Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans, but I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t even think about it until after I was completed. Planet of the Apes is a thrilling science fiction joyride, full of fascinating scientific and sociological concepts, and really was just a joy to listen to.

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