Audiobook Review: Shadow of Freedom by David Weber

5 06 2013

Shadow of Freedom by David Weber (Honorverse Bk. 14, Saganami Arc Bk. 3)

Read by Allyson Johnson

Audible Frontiers

Length: 16 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: If you absolutely love Weber’s writing, and enjoy battles with no questions about the outcome and no real dramatic tension, just a superior force kicking cocky people’s asses, than Shadow of Freedom should make you quite happy indeed.

Grade: C+

I was thinking about Karate Kid today. I know, what day aren’t the vast majority of humanity thinking about Karate Kid. So, I was thinking about a what if. What if Ralph Macchio started as a poor kid taking on the rich kid establishment through the teachings of a wise Mr. Myagi? What if his training got more intensive to the point where it takes on almost mystical levels? Young Macchio became the ultimate skilled practitioner of the martial arts, able to kick anyone’s ass. His enemies at the Cobra Kai, admitting to his vast superiority become his allies as he enters the wider world. Along the way, he encounters the established greats of martial arts. They all dismiss him as a minor nuisance, a young upstart that needs to be put in his place. Yet, with each boss fight, Macchio reigns supreme, not allowing the bosses to lay a single hand on him. Our Karate Kid is so vastly superior that he kicks their asses before the fights even begins, issuing their ultimate comeuppance. Each new boss hears rumors of the skills of the Karate Kid, but discounts them, leading to their ultimate devastating ass kicking. Macchio is so beyond everyone else that you know he is going to win before there is even a hint of a fight. No need for some strange Crane Bird Stance or mystic injury healing massage, he just shows up, and takes them utterly apart. You know that each win is without drama or intrigue. There is no chance of a loss, and the bosses each make the same stupid decisions. Let’s face it, this scenario sucks, and would be the result of bad storytelling. You may like seeing arrogant bosses getting put in their place, but there should be some drama, a chance for the bosses to at least lay a finger on the young traveling Karate Kid.

Shadow of Freedom is one of the latest in the spinoff series that examines the Honorverse and the wars of the Marticoran Empire, but away from the main action, and centered on peripheral characters. It’s sort of serves more as a sequel to Torch of Freedom and the Saganami arc than the main arc of the narrative, yet I don‘t feel it fits comfortably into any particular part of the story.. Shadow of Freedom focuses on the Talbot Quadrant, an out of the way segment of the Empire that recently broke away from the Solarian League. This in the growing war between the Manticorans and the Solarians the Talbot Quadrant has become more strategically significant. Yet, the conflict has been a direct result of the manipulative hand of the shadowy Mesa Alliance, whose secret plans are now beginning to surface. The political and military scenario at this time in the series is so complex and vast that Weber needs nearly half the novel to set things up, making sure his readers are up to date. It’s a murky situation, and at times it feels like Weber’s universe and his conflict has just gotten too big. When he finally gets down to action, it’s basically a repeat of the last few Honorverse novels, where the Solarians doubt the ability of the upstart neo-barb Mantorians and dismiss the rumors, than get their asses complete kicked just like the time before… and the time before. There is no dramatic tension, just the satisfaction of arrogant people getting the snarky grins wiped off their faces… oh, and maybe just a bit dead as well. The only moments that really add to the overall Honovorse story deals with the breakdown of the plans of the Mesa Alliance, and this is a relatively small slice of the tale. I like the characters, and Weber writes strong action, but it’s all basically rehashed scenes that may offer a bit of fun, but does nothing to move the plot towards any sort of resolutions. I enjoyed the tale, once things got moving, but wanted so much more. I will be interested in seeing if the bits of information given to us by Weber in this novel have any impact on the storyline. It almost seems like a spinoff series that serves simply to give us another book to buy. If you absolutely love Weber’s writing, and enjoy battles with no questions about the outcome and no real dramatic tension, just a superior force kicking cocky people’s asses, than Shadow of Freedom should make you quite happy indeed.

Allyson Johnson has a solid grasp on Weber’s world and gives another fine performance. One of the overall issues of the series is that Weber uses such a broad set of characters from many different planets, with no real cues on their accents that narrators basically just makes it up. Johnson uses an array of American, European and Asian accents for her characters. Yet, the issue comes in with series consistency, when other narrators take on the other spinoff series. I wish they would allow Johnson to just continue to read the entire series. I am comfortable with the choices she makes, and she stays relatively consistent after some questionable pronunciations early in the series. Johnson does a great job with the action, and kept me from falling asleep during the long bits of monologue style exposition that Weber uses to remind us what’s happening. For fans of Weber’s series, as long as they don’t expect too much, Shadow of Freedom is a decent listen. Those frustrated with the current direction of the series thought, will only have their condition exacerbated.


Audiobook Review: Seed by Rob Ziegler

19 06 2012

Seed by Rob Ziegler

Read by Nicola Barber

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 45 Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts:Seed is a highly stylized Post Apocalyptic novel that I think just went over my head. Perhaps all the pieces to the puzzle were there, I just couldn’t seem to find them, or get them to fit together right. Despite garnishing high praise from many respected sources, I never became engaged with the story or characters enough to actually enjoy my time listening to it.

Grade: C-

I have always believed that consuming a book, whether reading it in electronic or print form, or having it read to you through an audiobook, or aloud by a loved one, is more than just being presented with a story, it is developing a relationship with the text. Sometimes, a book fails to please, not because it’s poorly written or a flawed story, but either something fails in the delivery process, or the relationship just isn’t right. Often, the reason a book doesn’t resonate is just as much the readers fault as the author. To put it plainly, sometimes I feel like a failure when I don’t like a book. I have become more attuned to other people’s opinions on book since becoming more active in the blogging community, and often I will hear about a book that everyone, including respected bloggers and critics, is raving about, and it’s a book that is within a genre, or subgenre I enjoy, yet when I read it, it just falls flat. Sometimes I understand why it happened, like with Daniel Wilson’s Robopocalyse, whose story structure, and the audiobook narration failed to resonate with me. Yet, there have been a few books recently that many have raved about, that I just couldn’t get into. I could never point to something within the book and say, "That was wrong. I didn’t like that." I just got to the point where I had no desire to keep on reading or listening to the tale. Some of these books are critic darlings, like Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, and others are books raved about by bloggers who I consider my "go to" people for book recommendations, like Low Town by Daniel Polanski. Both of these books were cases where I felt more like I failed the book, than the book failed me. These were books I just couldn’t figure out, or engage with and ended up not finishing. In 2012, I have yet to start an audiobook and not finish. I have had a splendid run of books, giving out more A grades this year than I did in almost all of 2011. But all streaks must come to an end, and for me, the streak ended with a book I was quite excited about, Seed by Rod Zeigler.

Now, first thing, I do not review books I don’t finish. So, since you are reading this, I did end up finishing Seed. I listened to the first 8 hours of the book, and realized, I had no desire to finish it. So, I stopped listening, and moved on. Then I finished a book Friday evening, and decided that maybe the weekend, where my listening is more scattered, would be a better time to attempt to complete the final 6 hours of the book. So, I strapped on the ear buds, and powered through it. Seed is everything I should like in book reading, a high concept Post Apocalyptic near future tale. With war and climate change wreaking havoc on the world’s economy, The United States government becomes dependent on a strange bioresearch company called Satori, who has developed a genetic strain of seeds that will grow in the changed environment. Yet, when one of the strange genetically engineered scientist decided to defect to the government, she goes missing, and a Secret Service agent named Sienna Doss is sent into a land full of migrants and roving gangs to find her.  Seed is told from multiple points of views, including the missing scientist, her clone-mate/husband, the secret service agent sent to find her, and two migrant brothers trying to find a place in the changed world. For me, it felt like someone grabbed a handful of pieces from multiple puzzles, thrown them together, and we the reader were supposed to forced the pieces together into some sort of complete picture. Every time I felt I was starting to get somewhere in the story, I found something that just didn’t fit right, and no matter how hard I pushed, I couldn’t get it to fall in with the rest of the tale. I most enjoyed the perspective of Doss, who finds the army base she is sent to in disarray, and she attempts to pull it together to help her complete her mission. Yet, this standard Post Apocalyptic military angle was broken up from the story, missing for large portions of the tale and never gathered enough steam to significantly affect my perception of the book. Instead, the focus is more on the strange Satori company whose weird science and genetic manipulations serves some strange purpose I could never really figure out. Seed is a highly stylized Post Apocalyptic novel that I think just went over my head. Perhaps all the pieces to the puzzle were there, I just couldn’t seem to find them, or get them to fit together right. Seed has been highly praised by critics, and made its way onto many end of 2011 "Best Of" lists. Yet, for me, I never became engaged enough to actually enjoy my time listening to it.

The narration of Seed was one of the more interesting aspects of the novel, in a sort of technical, out of the text manner. First off, to be clear, I thought Nicola Barber, for the most part, did a good job. In particular, I thought her male characterizations, particularly of the young Mexican brothers, and other gang members was superb.  Yet, I also had a few issues. First off, there was one weird mispronunciation that had me tweeting and researching, instead of listening to the book. Barber pronounced the word "vitamin" with the first syllable rhyming with "bit." Now, I couldn’t figure any textual reason for this particular pronunciation, and after some tweets and research I discovered that it is a proper British pronunciation. Now, later on in the book, she did pronounce the word in the way I was used to, with a hard ‘I.’ I also discovered that Barber is a British voice over talent, who was using a American accent for this production. While her American accent was strong, beyond the Hispanic characters, she used no regional dialects. Characters from the North East sounded basically the same as characters from Texas. This wasn’t too distracting, outside of two characters discussions about their Texan upbringings but it failed to add flavor to the dialogue in a way that truly talented and prepared narrators excel at. Despite my issues, I though Barber did a relatively decent job with the story, and her performance was pleasant enough to keep me listening to a tale I really wasn’t enjoy all that much.

For another view of this novel check out the review by Justin at Staffer’s Book Review. Also, if you are a Speculative Fiction Fan, I recommend checking out his blog in detail.

Audiobook Review: A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber

11 01 2012

A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber (Star Kingdom, Bk 1)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A Beautiful Friendship is a wonderful speculative fiction introduction to teenagers interested in Science Fiction concepts like non-human sentient life, and space colonization, without getting overly bogged down in superfluous details. It is also a heart warming adventure story full of characters both human and not that you can truly care about.

Grade: A-

Like many men my age, I constantly am battling to maintain an air of masculinity in order to keep my proper place in the social stratus. I mean, I don’t really want people to look at me as soft, or, god help me, sensitive. So, I bottle up my feelings, hiding them from the world. If someone asks me how I feel, I usually answer with a caveman like grunt, and then scratch myself somewhere socially inappropriate in order to put an end to that line of questioning. Yet, let’s face it, if I didn’t have a softer side, I wouldn’t need to struggle to hide it. So, I need to admit something, but I truly hope that we can keep it between you and me, people of the internet. *Deep Breath* I like cute cuddly things. Particularly animals. Now, I know there is a traditional, even socially acceptable bond between man and his dog. Dogs hunt with there men. Dogs fetch things, ride in the back of their pickup trucks wearing bandanas. Yet, my dog is about 20 pounds, wears a sweater when there is a nip in the air and enjoys when I talk to him like a little baby. Also, I have a cat. Enough said. So, it should be no surprise that I like books with non-human characters. Some of my favorite books have had talking dogs, little fuzzy sapiens, and even a large fruit bat named Roberto. And while the confessions continue, I should admit that through books I have witnessed many deaths and tragedies, and have handled them with masculine stoicism, but if a dog gets a hangnail, I am reduced to a blubbering fool.

A Beautiful Friendship is the first novel in David Weber’s Young Adult series which is a spin off to his popular Honor Harrington Space Opera series. A Beautiful Friendship takes us back to the early days of the Star Empire of Manitcore on the frontier planet Spinx. This is where a young 13 year old Stephanie Harrington, and with her the human race, first encountered Tree Cats. If you are a follower of the Honor Harrington series you will know that Tree Cats are sentient, telempathic feline like aliens that develop a strong psychic bond with individual humans. While Weber does take the time to delve into the complex relationships between Tree Cats and their Two Legs in the Honor Harington series, the history of this unique phenomenon is only briefly touched on. I have to admit, I was a little weary when I heard that Weber was writing a Young Adult novel, even though I was excited to lean more about the Tree Cats. Weber’s writing is often heavily laden with world building on a massive scale, detailed political and military maneuvering and complicated relationships, that I wondered if he could pull off a Young Adult novel that doesn’t talk down to it’s targeted audience. Well, he really does pull it off. Weber found the perfect storyline to enter the YA fray, with a story that is full of heart and emotion, and tackles the concepts of what sentience truly is. I like that he doesn’t fall into cheesy high school romance, and his main character, a strong female teenager who doesn’t fall apart when she does meet a cute boy. A Beautiful Friendship is a wonderful speculative fiction introduction to teenagers interested in Science Fiction concepts like non-human sentient life, and space colonization, without getting overly bogged down in superfluous details. It is also a heart warming adventure story full of characters both human and not that you can truly care about.

I have heard Khristine Hvam several times before in multi-narrator productions but this is the first time I have listen to an audiobook where she was the sole narrator. I have always been impressed with her readings, and here she doesn’t disappoint. Hvam uses her background in animation to great effect, capturing the multiple Tree Cat characters wonderfully.  I liked that the Tree Cats, while having a level of cutesiness to their voices, were given depths beyond cute little cat like creatures. She did a good job capturing their social structure and presenting it to the listener with the voices she chose. She also captured the precocious Stephanie well, not coming off too whiney unless whininess was called for. Stephanie is a mature character but Hvam never forgot she was voicing a child, no matter how mature she was. A Beautiful Friendship will delight Honor Harrington fans who are waiting patiently for A Rising Thunder to come out next fall yet also is a strong stand alone that will create a whole new audience for Weber.