Audiobook Review: Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slattery

11 07 2013

Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slatterly

Read by Paul Heitsch

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America is a head trippy, fascinating near future dystopian full of some awesome characters, wonderful scenarios and laugh out loud humor, yet despite all this awesomeness, the author’s style and my inability to handle the flowing transitions kept me from ever fully engaging with this read. It’s a book I can say was quite good, well written, and full of some very memorable moments, yet overall, I can’t say I especially enjoyed listening to it.

Grade: C+

You ever find one of those books that is so solidly in your wheelhouse that you just know you can’t go wrong. That if you described it to you friends, with the traditional “It’s like this awesome thing, meets this awesome thing set in the universe of this awesome thing” that it just sounds so damn good you salivate thinking about it. Yet, for some reason, it just falls flat for you. This was my experience with Brian Franccis Slatterly’s Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America. I mean, COME ON! Even the title is awesome. Thinking about the book now, I can list tons of excellent things about it. There was humor and adventure, and even a touch of romance. There were ninja duels and explosions and cross country travels in Post Apocalyptic America. Even the set up was pretty awesome. Liberation takes place in a post Economic crash America where the dollar has become so devalued it is almost worthless. Where other countries have called in our debt, and we just can’t pay leading to the collapse of our government. It’s a scarily realistic scenario, and Slatterly plays it out well, describing riots, the lack of resources, and starvation that would follow the fall of the United States. Slattery designs a slow boil apocalypse, one that I found quite intriguing. He deftly shows the rise of robber barons, chief among them a former smuggler names The Aardvark, criminals who already have the system in place to take control of the newest commodity in America, Slaves. The situation has become so dire, that Americans are willingly becoming slaves in order to eat, taking on indentured debts they will never be able to repay. Set within this world is a group of six former criminals who used to target people like The Aardvark with highly complex schemes and robberies. Yet. right before the fall of the US economy, one of the six turned on the one member of the group, the assassin Marco, who was like the glue that held the slick six together and formulated all their plans. Now, Marco has escaped from jail and wants to get the team back together for one last mission, to take down the Aardvark and put an end to the slave trade. I mean, this sounds awesome, right?

If you were to ask me to describe Liberation, I would call is Vonnegut’s Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (one of my favorite Vonnegut novels) with the over the top comedic style of The Princess Bride (an awesome book and movie) with a group of characters straight out of the TV show Leverage (pretty damn good show.) And who wouldn’t want to read that? Yet, for some reason, I never became engaged with the story. I think a big part of it was Slatterly’s style. The author used nonlinear storytelling, with a very fluid transitions, often leaving you unsure whether you are in the past or the dealing with current events. You would be fully immersed in a scene or time frame, and suddenly trasnition to another scens with a different character reflecting on the past, or trying to deal with something current, or a combination of both. It’s like there was a solid plot, but someone covered it in grease and I could never get a solid grasp on. Liberation was full of some awesome scenes. There is a wonderful duel between Marco and an assassin that is hired by the Aardvark to hunt him down, which is so stylistically similar to something in The Princess Bride I was expecting one of the characters to yell out “INCONCIEVABLE! I though Slatterly’s ending was brilliant, funny, fast and furious, and just a touch dirty, with  a twist that while utterly destroying my suspension of disbelief, was a whole lot of fun. Yet, getting to these wonderful moments was the hard part. Whenever I felt like I was comfortable with the author’s style, he shifted and changed colors and revealed himself to be just an old man behind a curtain and not a grand floating headed wizard. It was disconcerting, and ultimately unrewarding. I honestly think Liberation is a good book. I believe there are people there who will be blown away by it. Even those people, like me, who struggle with it, will have discovered characters they love and moments they will remember, even if it’s in a mish mashed context of malleable transitions. Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America is a head trippy, fascinating near future dystopian full of some awesome characters, wonderful scenarios and laugh out loud humor, yet despite all this awesomeness, the author’s style and my inability to handle the flowing transitions kept me from ever fully engaging with this read. It’s a book I can say was quite good, well written, and full of some very memorable moments, yet overall, I can’t say I especially enjoyed listening to it.

I’m not sure if some of the transitional flow issues were due to the fact that the audiobook version lacked the visual cues that are implicit in a print novel. Maybe I would have enjoyed this more in print, but I really can’t fault narrator Paul Heitsch. In fact, I thought that Heitsch gave a solid reading, with a strong grasp on the characters, and even managed to capture some of the truly funny moments of the novel.  Slatterly’s often lyrical prose, during some of the more engaging moments, managed to come alive in Heitsch hands. The Slick Six was a very diverse group spanning sex, race and nationality, and Heitsch handled each character appropriately, giving them soft accents and never falling into cartoonist stereotypes. He paced the novel well, particularly the finale, which was the most action packed moment of the book. I think that Liberation had to be a very hard novel to narrate, and despite my overall lack of engagement, I think Heitsch pulled it off as best as can be expected. This was my first experience with both Slatterly the author and Heitsch the narrator, and I’m actually quite interested in exploring more of both of their work.  

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Audiobook Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

19 02 2013

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Divergent, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Harper Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 22 Min

Genre: Young Adut Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: Insurgent is a fast paced, action packed near future adventure novel filled with apocalyptic visuals, a fascinating world and a cast of fully drawn characters. Any fan of Young Adult Dystopian novels should be thrilled with Insurgent, and Roth should expect a horde of fans clamoring for the next book in this series.

Grade: B

They say the key to any relationship is communication, and since I want the relationship here with those who may stop by The Ole’ Guilded Earlobe Weblog to be a good one, let’s talk about communication. The more I read, the more I think 90% of plots in books would fall apart if people would just talk to each other. The problem is that literary characters have all these great reasons for not sharing valuable information. They may not trust someone, or worry that if they tell someone something that happened it would cause that person not to trust them. They spend so much time trying to figure whether or not to tell someone something, or exactly when the best time to reveal something is, that it allows the plot to go on an on, when in reality, the right word to the right person would have had the story wrapped up at about the novella range. It seems this lack of information sharing is even more prevalent in Young Adult fiction. Not only does a character not talk about things because the boy or girl of their dreams may not be all crushy on them if they do, adult won’t tell teens crap because they are just kids. Even if the young person is key to the survival of their group or the overthrow of the dystopic order, adults will rather keep it to themselves than tell some a young person whether it be a bratty outsider or their own responsible progeny. So, when I think of all the important traits a young adult protagonist needs, the most important is the ability to eavesdrop on adults. Hell, even Harry Potter probably would have ended up as basilisk chow if he didn’t have all the tools he needed to sneak around Hogwarts, and spy on adults. So no matter how competent, how cute and perky, or how tragic and moody you are, if you are the star of a Young Adult novel and you can’t find ways to gain information from unexpecting adults, the odds will never be in your favor.

After the shocking finale of Divergent, the Dauntless faction is split up, and those loyal to their faction are being hunted along with Abnegation by the tech savvy Erudite. Now, with the city on the verge of war, Tris and Four must search for allies and uncover secrets to prevent more death and the rule of as oppressive system, with the key to everything possibly being her Divergent status. Insurgent is a fast paced, action packed near future adventure novel filled with apocalyptic visuals, a fascinating world and a cast of fully drawn characters. I loved the thought and detail Roth put into her world, and how she lovingly developed each character, making them jump off the page. The plotting was strong, all though it did meander at moments. At points it got bogged down in the inner struggles of Tris, romantically, ethically and politically, but Roth does a good job pulling it all together. Yet, despite all the awesomeness she packed into this novel, I didn’t fully connect with it, the ways that many others seem to have. The problem, for me, was in the world she created. There’s nothing wrong with it, and she deftly creates this interesting societal structure, but it didn’t ring true for me. One of the things I love about dystopians is following the natural extrapolations of the process of the breakdown of our society. Like with Divergent, I had trouble seeing the structure of Roth‘s world being a natural development of the world we live in. I felt like I do when I try and read comic books, the world just doesn’t fit exactly for me. It was like I was in the Matrix, and not a true version of the world. Now, I understand there is a reason for this, and Roth does take steps to explain some of this feeling, but, I still found myself feeling a bit cold as I read it. All that being said, my qualms where more due to my preferences as a reader, and not any problem with this book. Any fan of Young Adult Dystopian novels should be thrilled with Insurgent, and Roth should expect a horde of fans clamoring for the next book in this series.

Emma Galvin again gives a solid reading of Insurgent. She is fast becoming one of my favorite Young Adult narrators based on the thoughtful detail she puts into her work. Galvin doesn’t assume that the main character sounds like her, but uses her voice to reflect the character that Roth creates. Galvin does a great job pacing the many elaborate action sequences that Roth sets up, keeping the flow, yet never muddling the action. Insurgent is a wonderfully produced and narrated audiobook. The characters feel real, and Galvin gives the setting a hyper reality that seems to fit in with the author‘s intent. It’s nice to have a Young Adult novel narrated in a way where the teenagers seem like teenagers, and the adults seem like adults.





Audiobook Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

14 01 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Read by Emma Galvin

Harper Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: Veronica Roth has built a fascinating world, and filled it with interesting characters, an intriguing plot, a lot of adventure and of course, the obligatory kissy kissy. Divergent is definitely an upper echelon entry in the YA Dystopian subgenre, and while there were times I was frustrated by the microcosm of the plot, I believe the world will be more fully explored in future editions of the trilogy,

Grade: B+

I know most people, including myself, tend to put Apocalyptic and Post Apocalyptic literature into the basic same genre as dystopian literature. There are a lot of good reasons for that. Very often, a dystopia forms in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, although this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I have always preferred Apocalyptic literature to Dystopian because I enjoy that journey. Many Dystopian novels seem to start with an interesting oppressive World structure, and then build around that. An author will ask, what kind of journey we would need to take to get us from our current world to one where the government forces our children into Death games and then place just enough hints about that journey into the narrative. Most Apocalyptic fiction comes at it from the opposite direction. What kind of society would form after the world suffers ecological breakdown, or a nuclear war? This is the journey that often fascinates me. Take humanity, strip away its accoutrements, alter its values and what rises to the surface. What new religions are born? What new archetypes enter our genetic memories? This is why I often get frustrated with Dystopians. I want to know why the world became what it is. I become distracted looking for clues to what external forces pushed society to adapt in such a way to lead to these new societies. Many Dystopians have really good setups, but rarely feel natural. I always feel like I am missing an element to the story, a sort of Dues Ex Machina that has guided the world to this point. This is often why I like to start with the bang, and work my way to the new society, instead of being dropped right there, without all the pieces.

Divergence is set in a future Chicago, where society has shifted and now breaks itself down into groups based on key values that people believe are needed to keep the world on the right course. Beatrice was born into the Abnegation Faction who value selflessness. This faction provided most of the governmental leaders and is in constant conflict with Erudite, the faction that values Intelligence. Yet, Beatrice feels unsure of her own selflessness, and finds herself in even more conflict when during a test to determine faction proclivities, she is told that she is Divergent, but she must keep that outcome secret. Beatrice then chooses to join another faction, Dauntless, who value Fearlessness. During a brutal initiation process where the losers become Factionless, Tris must try to find her place, while search out what exactly it means to be Divergent. I know, 99% of the world has already read this book, and I am quite late to the party. I finally gave in after reading too many of my favorite YA bloggers add this author’s work to their favorites list. Still, I expected to be disappointed with it. I expected to let the hype diminish it for me. Luckily, I really enjoyed Divergent. I may not have been blown away as some were, but it’s a pretty solid adventure, with some nice twists and a really well thought out world. I think Roth has created a very interesting Dystopian set up, with some interesting hints to what may have lead to it. Still, I wanted to know more. Divergent is set in a very isolated setting, built on the ruins of a fallen city, set within the predominate social structures. While this set up was brilliantly built, I couldn’t help but wonder about what else was going on. I wanted to know more about the factionless, more about what Dauntless needed to protect and guard the city against. This was probably why I didn’t love this as much as some, I was more intrigued by these issues than Tris’s actual story. Not that the story was bad. Sure, there are some lovey kissy moments with a mysterious boy-man, but the whole Divergent subplot gave to adventure and intrigue a grounded purpose, Yet I wanted more. Now, as this is a trilogy, I am sure that more is yet to come. Veronica Roth has built a fascinating world, and filled it with interesting characters, an intriguing plot, a lot of adventure and of course, the obligatory kissy kissy. Divergent is definitely an upper echelon entry in the YA Dystopian subgenre, and while there were times I was frustrated by the microcosm of the plot, I believe the world will be more fully explored in future editions of the trilogy,

Of all the narrators that typically handle Young Adult novels, Emma Galvin is probably my favorite. She really manages to bring a fresh perception to each reading. Sometimes I feel some narrators sort of force the voice of the story to fit their narrative style, yet Galvin never does this. She allows her voice to reflect the story being told. Just hearing the progression of Tris’s journey, as she move away from the soft spoken Abnegation girl, to the Fearless Dauntless shows just how much thought Galvin puts into her characters. It was interesting, with each character, you could almost feel their journey, a blending of their original faction with their current. For example, Erik was read with a sort of mocking cockiness that showed his Erudite background blending with his Dauntless position, while Four’s soft confidence gave plenty of clues to his background. As usual, Galvin’s pacing was precise, giving the reading a visual feel that played well with the elaborate set ups of the author. Divergent is definitely a novel that translates wonderfully to audio thanks to its talented narrator. 





Audiobook Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

7 12 2012

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Read by Fiona Hardingham

Blackstone Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 15 Min’

Genre: Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

Grade: A-

Back when I was in college I took a class with my favorite professor called, “Women in Politics.” At this point in my life, I was still holding on to many of the beliefs that my upbringing in a very conservative church had taught me. In one of the first classes we discussed coverture and how woman were viewed as property even within English Common law. We leaned that “The Rule of Thumb” was believed by some to be a reference to a legal ruling where a judge said it was illegal to beat your wife with a stitch thicker than the size of your thumb. This class was a real turning point in my development, particular on gender issues. Before this, I grew up in a church where our Pastor’s wife bragged about calling her husband “Lord and Master” and women were told they could not divorce their husbands, even if they were abusive. This year there has been a lot of talk about the “War on Women.” While I have no sympathy for men who talk about legitimate rape and attempt to legislate women health issues without bothering to be informed, I understand where these things come from. I remember being at a Christian music festival, where a Pro-Life speaker explained that when a woman is raped, her body is flooded with so many hormones that pregnancy is nearly impossible. I am sure plenty of people left that speech believing this, and for me, I had to actually research the issue to discover its fallacy. I strive to have an open mind on issues, but I learn one fact pretty early. I am a man, and no matter how much I understand Women’s issues intellectually, I will never understand them emotionally. I think much of my open-mindedness comes from the fact that I was a reader. I read books like The Handmaid’s Tale, and A Gift Upon the Shore that allowed me to gain some level of emotional awareness of these issues that lead to me questioning much of what I was taught. Sometimes, I  feel if it wasn’t for books, I may not have been able to escape from the trappings of misogyny that was so prevalent in my youth.

When a virus is released causing pregnancy to become a death sentence for woman, society is sent into turmoil. With the potential of being the final generation, young adults rebel against the adult society that brought war, environmental disasters and the gradual extinction of the human race. Within the chaos, one young woman is searching for some way she can make a difference. As she attempts to find her place amongst different movements, she finally figures a way she can help. Yet, this decision may require the ultimate sacrifice. The Testament of Jess Lamb is a frustrating, emotional and brilliant thought experiment that caused me to strip down my responses to many different issues, and reevaluate them in the light of the tale. In order to give a proper appraisal of this novel, I have to look at it from two different vantage points, one as a piece of speculative fiction, and the other as a social commentary. The Testament of Jesse Lamb is the sort of slow boil apocalypse that are becoming prevalent within the genre. Instead of one big bang, the apocalypse comes more gradually. The novel is an intimate look at the slow breakdown of society through the eyes of one young girl. While I loved this world Rogers’ created, and found it quite fascinating, filtering it through one character makes the experience limiting. I would have loved to see a broader look at this world, but I don’t think it would have worked as well within the requirements of this story. As a piece of social commentary, I have to admit, I struggled, but I think in a good way. Jessie Lamb was a frustrating character for me. I think if I had read this novel when I was younger I would have seen her as a noble character, perhaps even heroic. Yet, today I couldn’t help by find her a bit foolish. What I found interesting was the juxtaposition between the movements she became involved with, Animal rights, Feminism, and Scientific with the thought process she used to come to her decisions. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is it really highlighted just how people talk to each others. The way Jesse came to her decisions seemed almost parallel to religious enlightenment, yet, her father, and others tried to dissuade her using almost a cold scientific reasoning that, when seen through her internal dialogue, came off quite patronizing. Despite my frustration with her, I liked Jessie Lamb as a character, which just made it harder to accept what she was doing. Yet, I was very uncomfortable in my reactions, wondering if my distaste for her choice was due to some lingering misogyny or even a patronizing view of youth. I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

This is my second experience with Fiona Hardingham as a narrator and the first experience didn’t go so well, yet not due to any problem with her narration. This was why I was happy to see that she was handling the narration of this audiobook. Hardingham gives a wonderful performance, worthy of the novel. The novel is told from the first person perspective of Jesse and Hardingham managed to find the right balance between innocent naiveté and gravitas that was appropriate for the character. It was great to hear her transition from almost a flighty teenager, wondering if she should dye her hair, or if the boy she likes liked her back, to a young adult contemplating her place amongst a dying species. Hardingham made me feel connected with not just the main character, but many of the peripheral characters as well. Her characterizations were subtle but distinct, and she did a great job in differentiating between Jesse’s internal and external dialogue, which was a key element for this story. Overall, The Testament of Jessie Lamb was a thought provoking novel that is enhanced by the excellent performance of the narrator.

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

This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. To find more posts, click on the banner below.





Audiobook Review: Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey

27 09 2012

Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey

Read by Minnie Goode

Broad Reach Publishing

Length: 17 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: Wool is a fun and fascinating science fiction. Fans of post apocalyptic and near future dystopian will love having a new playground to explore. Howey lovingly builds his world on top of dark secrets and fills it with wonderful cast of diverse characters. If you are like me, and hesitated a bit at this novel, I can honestly say, go for it. It’s well worth the time.

Grade: B+

There is a certain dichotomy that comes with most well done dystopian novels particularly for dystopia regimes that rise after some sort of apocalyptic event. While at first glance, there is a system that suppresses freedom, implements strict regimented procedures onto its citizenry and ruthlessly protects the power structure, more often than not at some point in the institutions development, it is done with the best of intentions. A good post apocalyptic dystopian will force you to question everything you believe you hold dear, and force you to ask yourself what exactly you would be willing to give up to protect yourself and humanity in total. It’s easy for us in Western Culture to acclaim that personal freedom is never worth giving up simply for safety. We look at these systems as naturally corrupt, easy cheering when our heroes decide to push against the status quo. Yet Freedom is not a natural state for humanity. Democracy rarely evolves naturally in human culture. Add to that the pressures of preventing a further devastation, it’s easy to see how dystopic societies rise. Far removed from the situation, we can play the moral giant and embrace the chaos that these types of situations create. Yet, we must reconcile that with the bloodshed and the intentions of government. Whenever I read a book like Wool, which contains an element where the system of leadership is holding the truth from its people and I try and fight against my knee jerk action. Would the people of the Silos be better off knowing everything? Can the machinations of the people in power be justified by the prevention of chaos? If the price of freedom is the destruction of humanity, is it worth it? This is why I love these types of stories. While they more often than not are really about the characters, there are often so many levels beyond the surface to examine.

I will freely admit I was skeptical when starting my foray into Wool. Whenever I hear about a highly successful independently produced novel or series, I can’t help but approach it warily. I began hearing about Wool a few months ago. A few blog commenters and other Post Apocalyptic fans recommended it to me. Wool was a type of novel that fit right into my wheelhouse. It is a future Post Apocalyptic tales about an underground Silo, where people live under a regimented system which perpetuated that The Silo is the natural state of living, created by God, and the outside is taboo and deadly. If a person expresses desire to leave The Silo, they are sentenced to Cleaning, forced to leave the Silo to clean the cameras and sensors, and eventually succumbing to the toxic air. Wool is told in an interesting style, with the first few "books" of the series smaller, novella sized vignettes leading to two larger works.  I was quite impressed by Wool. The first two vignettes are touching precursors to the main storyline and do well to create the world that Howey will play in. The main storyline really starts by the third book, which follows a well conceived main character, Jules, a mechanic who is convinced to become The Silos sheriff, and begins to unravel the mysteries of The Silo, to the chagrin of the shadowy head of the IT division. The plot is deftly handed out in a slow reveal fashion, setting up things for a series of big reveals. Wool is intricately plotted, and well executed. Howey peppers his plot with highly engaging characters. Howey storytelling is interesting. He included highly detailed scenes, following the activities of his characters. Despite this, the novel is paced at a pretty crisp pace, until the final novel where is gets a little bogged down trying to pull it all together. Yet, even with that one small negative, Wool is a fun and fascinating science fiction. Fans of post apocalyptic and near future dystopian will love having a new playground to explore. Howey lovingly builds his world on top of dark secrets and fills it with wonderful cast of diverse characters. If you are like me, and hesitated a bit at this novel, I can honestly say, go for it. It’s well worth the time.

So, before starting Wool, I broke one of my rules and went to Audible to check out some of the reviews. If I was going to take a chance with this novel, I new narration would be key. I was a little saddened to see quite a few negative reviews of the narrator, Minnie Goode. After listening to it, I was flabbergasted. I personally felt that Goode’s performance was full of heart and emotion and wonderfully captured the feel of the novel. Goode’s task wasn’t easy, since the first two vignettes have a different feel than the final three. I was impressed that she was able to capture the feel of all the books in this edition, modulating her narrative voice to fit the mood. When the book finally got to the predominant character, Jules, I thought Goode shined. Now, it wasn’t a perfect reading. Goode definitely would have benefited from a strong director or at least a bit of advice on what works and what doesn’t when creating character voices. Some of her male voices came off a bit goofy or a touch grating, and her attempts at some of the children were a little bit sickly sweet.  Yet, despite the issues with some of the male voice, her choices fit the characters as they are described by the author. I thought the range of voices was a bit too much for a homogenous culture, but it serves its purpose by delineating characters. Goode also used a lot of sighs and laughs and the like in the reading, while sometimes they came off unnatural, I appreciated them. All the problems I had with the narration were peripheral to my main impression. Goode brought a level of excitement that I love to see in a narrator. Her voice has a nice rich tone that I felt was just right for Jules. While she does have a bit of work to do, I only see her getting better as a narrator and hope to experience one of her readings again.





Audiobook Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

25 09 2012

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Translated by Yuji Oniki

Read by Mark Dacascos

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 19 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Dystopian Action Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Battle Royale is so compelling a tale, that despite this disappointing reading, I was engaged through most of the tale. While, at times it can be hard to swallow and plagued with inconsistencies, it is a fascinating experience. You can’t help but empathize with the children’s plight and wonder just how up for it you would be in such a situation. This is a novel that can tell you things about yourself, and some of those are things you just don’t want to know.

Grade: B

Years ago, back in the late 90’s I read a book called Ill Wind by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason. In the book, there was a huge oil spill off the coast of California and a special microbe was released to eat up the spilled petroleum. Except it mutated and became airborne, and started reeking havoc on the world destroying anything that was petroleum based, including rubber and plastics. About 10 years later I found a book called Black Monday by R. Scott Reiss. In Black Monday, a shadowy group releases a plague that attacks oil, rendering the fuel inert and plunging the world into chaos. About 3 years ago I listened to an audiobook called Directive 51 where an organized radical group released a nano-swarm that attacked Petroleum based products, and of course that leads to OMG! The World is ending. All three of these authors are well established writers who have no need to rip anyone off. Sometimes, writers just happen to get inspired by similar things. When The Hunger Games came out and as it began to gain in popularity, I began to hear many calls that it was plagiarized from Battle Royale. Now, first off, two books with similar themes does not make plagiarism even if they share a wealth of similar plot elements. If that was true, then every cop show on TV would be a case of plagiarism. Yet, to even call The Hunger Games idea theft is a huge stretch. We don’t know the motivations and inspirations behind Susanne Collins development of the story. The idea of a dystopian government placing its citizens, whether children or adults, into a lethal battle simulation is nothing new. Hell, Stephen King did it twice with The Long Walk and The Running Man. If anything, I think fans of Battle Royale should be appreciative that the Hunger Games have made more people interested in Battle Royale. Heck, we now have an audiobook version, and there are rumors of a potential TV show.  Battle Royale was a novel I have been interested in since a friend gave me the Manga version, and I’ll admit, my interest was even more piqued after the success of The Hunger Games.

Battle Royale takes place in an alternate history in a totalitarian country called The Republic of Greater East Asia. Every few years the government taps a Third year Middle School class for a military simulation where the class must fight each other to the death and only one child can survive. Thrust into the games, a trio of students try to survive while looking for a way out without having to kill each other. Yet, some members of the class are up for the game, willing to ruthlessly murder their classmates to win. Battle Royale is a dark exploration of paranoia told with over the top violence and stark contrasts. I think that there is a method to Koushun Takami’s madness in choosing the age range of children that he does. The range of maturity, both physical and emotional is often striking, making the motivations of each child hard to determine until their actions play out, and Takami shows us flashbacks of their lives. This mix allows the reader to both experience the horror of children being slaughtered, while still achieving some level of entertainment in the experience. This is the interesting rub of Battle Royale, we should be mortified by what is happening, feeling for these children who are put in to such a harsh reality. One moment these kids are discussing who their crushes are, or what they want to be when they grow up, and the next they are slashing throats and slaughtering classmates in hails of gunfire. You are disgusted, yet compelled to find out how the next one dies. The novel is full of stylistic violence, paranoid delusions and bursting hormonal young teenagers, and it’s a combustible mix. I will admit, about two thirds of the way through the novel, I became seriously fatigued with the mayhem. There is never a comfortable moment in the novel, and there comes a point, as the numbers dwindle, that you just want it to be over. The novel is also full of some interesting social and political commentary. It’s interesting to see such a callus and heavy handed government, but one that is also relatively successful. I do have to admit, I never really bought the reasoning behind the games from the governmental stand point, though I did find the exploitation of the games interesting. I am glad I finally got a chance to experience the novel version of Battle Royale, and while it was hard to swallow and full of inconsistencies, it was a fascinating experience. I really wonder sometimes what it says about us when a novel like this becomes popular. You can’t help but empathize with the children’s plight and wonder just how up for it you would be in such a situation. This is a novel that can tell you things about yourself, and some of those are things you just don’t want to know.

I can totally understand the thinking behind the producers in casting Mark Dacascos for the reading of Battle Royale. He is a professional Actor and martial arts expert of partial Japanese ancestry. Sadly, his performance is extremely lacking. Battle Royale would be a hard task for the most talented of audiobook narrators. There are 42 young, Asian characters. Reading Battle Royale allows us Western listeners to differentiate the Asian names by sight, yet aurally it was very hard to keep straight. Two of the main characters are named Shogo and Shunya, and when it comes to the female characters there are Yuka Yuko, Yukie, Yumiko, Yukiko and Yoshimi, and it’s all a struggle to keep straight. Dacascos doesn’t even try. He reads Battle Royale in a flat, unevenly paced manner, as if he was reading the story to his kids at night, with no pre-knowledge of characters or plot. He makes no attempts at characterization, reading them all, male and female in a flat unemotional narrative voice. It got to the point that when he did show excitement or fluctuate his voice, it was so unexpected it came off just weird. Not all of this is Dacascos fault, this particular translation was clunky, with repetitive word choices and little narrative flow. A talented narrator could have smoothed it out and brought more life to this tale, but sadly, Dacascos’ reading only illuminated the problems with the translation. I have to say, Battle Royale is so compelling a tale, that despite this disappointing reading, I was engaged through most of the tale.





Audiobook Review: Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

29 08 2012

Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Read by Oliver Wyman

Audible Frontiers

Length:5 Hrs 31 Min

Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: I never really found myself comfortable in the world of Logan’s Run. While the plotting and voice were a bit uneven, and the novel was definitely a reflection of it’s time, overall I have to say I’m glad I experienced it. While together there was some unevenness, each microcosm experienced by Logan offered a fascinating look at the worlds the authors extrapolated from the youth uprising of the 60’s.

Grade: B

Recently, there seems to be a big push to bring some of the older dystopian and post apocalyptic tales to audiobook. I’m not so sure if this is a result of the reemergence of the genre through Young Adult hits like The Hunger Games, or simply because the digital age of audiobooks and rights issues have made it easier to bring older science fiction tales to this format. More than likely it’s a combination of them both. Over the past 12 years of so, I have been making a push to find more classic post apocalyptic tales. It’s not as easy as it may seem. Many titles have gone out of print, and used copies have become exorbitantly expensive.  I have spent many an hour, with tattered lists of out of print books in my hands searching through stacks of disorganized paperbacks in used book stores. I have found some great finds there, including early editions of Wyndham classics being sold for under a buck. Yet, some titles I haven’t been so lucky with. So, I’m always excited when I see a title like Logan’s Run come to audiobook. Despite is spawning television and movie adaptations, I was never able to find a reasonably priced copy. The strange thing is, there has been many times where I actually have had more fun hunting down a lost classic then I did actually reading it. I have talked before about how I have often struggles with older science fiction. I think science fiction, more so that fantasy or even horror, is often a product of its time. Author’s will extrapolate future cultures based on existing trends, that when played out, often won’t match up with reality. This is OK, for a contemporary novel, but many times with a novel written outside of my life span, I find trouble connecting with the author’s voice and vision. This was a major concern of mine, entering into my listening of Logan’s Run, which was written in 1967.

Logan is a Sandman, a hunter tasked with bringing in those who run, instead of willingly turning themselves over to be put to sleep on their Last Day, Yet, as Logan get’s closer and closer to his final day, he spends it looking for meaning in his life. He can’t find it in drugs or women, or even his work. Then one day, hunting down a runner, he discovers a key to Sanctuary, a legendary home for those who escape The Sleephouses and the Sandmen. Now, on his last day, he has a mission., find Sanctuary and the oldest man on earth, and turn them into the authorities, thus giving his final moments meaning.  In order to do this, he must become a runner. I have to admit, Logan’s Run wasn’t exactly what I expected. Nolan and Johnson have created an interesting dystopic and ageist society which pushed the idea of “Don’t Trust anyone over 20” to an almost absurdist level. While I was expecting either a extreme regressive society typical to what you may see in a Post Apocalyptic tale, or a highly futuristic society full of pristine walls and jump suits, instead the authors create  a series of fractured microcosms ranging from an almost frontier, yet modernized Los Angeles, to cultures of roving criminals and gypsies. Like the World itself, the voice of the narrative is quite inconsistent, yet I don’t think this was necessarily a bad thing. As Logan moves from society to society looking for Sanctuary, the landscape often matches his fractured psyche as tries to reconcile his search for meaning with his desire to live. Of course, to make matters tougher for Logan, there is a girl. Isn’t there always a girl? I never really found myself comfortable in Logan’s World. While the plotting and voice were a bit uneven, and the novel was definitely a reflection of it’s time, overall I have to say I’m glad I experienced it. While together there was some unevenness, each microcosm experienced by Logan offered a fascinating look at the worlds the authors extrapolated from the youth uprising of the 60’s. I think if you look at it as more a series of interconnecting vignettes, you can appreciate the story more. It may not be a book I ever place high on my list of favorites, but it was definitely one I am glad I got the chance to experience.

Luckily, to make the ride a bit smoother, we have one of my favorite narrators, Oliver Wyman. Wyman gives another wonderful reading as he guides us through the various stops that Logan makes on his search for Sanctuary. There are a lot of chances for Wyman to show his chops and he doesn’t disappoint. From the gangs of “cubs” to the sing songy patois of the gypsies, Wyman helps build on what the author’s create by bringing the various cultures and groups to life. Particularly, the language of the Gypsies, which was reminiscent of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, was wonderfully performed. There would be a temptation to sacrifice some level of authenticity of the style in which it is written in order to make it more accessible, but Wyman doesn’t do this, making it a highlight of the audiobook experience for me. I think another challenge, for both the narrator and the listener, is to remember that, despite the roles the characters in this novel are, they are by our standards, children. Wyman never lets us forget this, making the realities of the novel that much starker for the listener. All in all, I found it to be a wonderful performance that stayed true to the essence of the novel.