Audiobook Review: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

9 09 2013

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Read by John Lee

Random House Audio

Length 24 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Perdido Street Station is a brilliant but at times overly complex fantasy tale that twists, meshes and redefines many of the standards of what fantasy is. Most importantly, if you are a big fan of giant empathic man eating killer moths and enjoy listening to them gaining carnal knowledge of each other before heading out to suck the life essence from a human being, this book is for you, you sick twisted excuse of a human being.

Grade: B

I really should learn my lessons. The other day I was scanning through my reviews this year, and realized I have actually listened to very little traditional second world fantasy. I’ve listened to plenty of Urban Fantasy, and other such genre off shoots, but not much tales of worlds other than ours, with magic, and unicorns and elves, and the like. This really isn’t too surprising. Of all my genre faves, second world fantasy is the genre I am probably most hesitant about. Typically, when I jump into a new fantasy reality, it’s part of a series, and I fall in love with the world in book 1, get intrigued my the story progression but dismayed by the lack of any true closure in book 2, and then totally ignore book three. I can probably name 5 series which I have read the first two books in, and still haven’t finished. So, the obvious solution to my fantasy drought would have been to pick up one of this final books in a trilogy, but this would require that awkward adjustment period when you jump back into a fantasy world you haven’t been in for years, but are expected to remember. So, instead, I put out a call on twitter for a stand alone second world fantasy novel. This first thing I learned is there is almost no goddam standalone fantasy novels out there. There are plenty of books that “standalone but exist in the same world” which I know I would be crazily trying to figure out the missing subtext and those little character relationships that are thrown in as Easter Eggs to the series fans. Finally, after receiving a few recommendations for series, or fantasy series that weren’t second world, I finally decided that it was going to come down to two names, China Mieville and Guy Gavriel Kay, fantasist that I believe met my criteria, but I have always been a bit intimidated by. This off course, lead me to my major issue. Upon talking about China Mieville, I suddenly got slammed with PERDIO STREET STATION! PERDIDO STREET STATION! recommendations. So, I chose to, well, take my initial voyage into the world of China Mieville with Perdido Street Station. I guess this is what I get for asking for book recommendations on Twitter.

So, I am going to forgo writing a synopsis about this book, because it is so weird, and really, what same person would believe me. Perdido Street Station is at its core, a love story between a woman who has a human body, but her head is, well, not so much insectile but an actual full bodied insect and a mad scientist, who is really quite sensible. It is also a tale of government corruption, organized crime, and a fantasy exogenous anthropological tour through a fantasy city which is both recognizable and entirely alien. Mieville’s city of New Crobuzon is brilliantly conceived and surprisingly vivid. Each moment he spends showing us around this city is breathtakingly physical. In many ways you feel the heat, smell the stench and find yourself a bit uneasy as you enter each new district, and meet it’s strange other than human denizens. Yet, it’s not just a thought exercise, but a interesting story of a scientist who let his zeal to find a way to give a bird like being restored flight after his wings had been removed due to a crime, lead to a danger that may destroy the entire city. Herein lies the problem. It’s wonderfully done, full of complex action scenarios, strange diverse characters including robots, demons and large spidery things and a fascinating revenge tale involving a disturbing crime boss, but the menace was HUGE EMPATHIC KILLER MOTHS. This is what I get for asking for recommendations on twitter, monstrous moths having sex and eating people’s essence. I have been quite open about my mottephobia. I have an irrational fear and disgust of moths which I trace back to the days when my sister would hide at the bottom of the attic steps and throw dead moths at me when I came down. If a moth lands on me, I feel dirty the rest of the day. And now I have images of giant moths fucking in my brain that can’t be removed without targeted radiation or some PDK-like superdrug. Perdido Street Station was a challenging book for many reasons. Mievelle’s world is so foreign that it takes time to adjust to. In many ways, his world building is the antithesis to much of the fantasy I have read in the past. There were moments I really enjoyed this book, particularly the wonderful city and some of the most fascinating characters I have encountered in fiction, but for the most part my brain was so involved in understanding the book, it forgot to enjoy it. Plus, KILLER MOTHS! I mean, really. One last note, I only later discovered that Perdido Street Station is in fact, listed as part of a series. I know… I know… it’s not a traditional series, but moths and a series. What’s next, finding out that New Crobuzon is actually located in Idaho? Geez…

So, John Lee reads Perdido Street Station, and this makes me angry. I love John Lee. I think he’s one of the best narrators out there particularly when it comes to fantasy. He has a lush voice that can be both simple and complex at the same time. He manages to bring New Crobuzon alive in such beautiful ways.  One day, I would love to interview him for the blog. Of course then I would absolutely have to ask him about moth sex. MOTH SEX. If I ever meet the man in person, the first thing that will pop into my head won’t be his performance in Pillars of the Earth, which I consider one of the greatest narrator performances of all times, or his handling of the wonderful works of Graham Joyce, or even the odd but brilliant choice to have him narrate Brian Hodge’s Prototype… nope, it will be “Here’s the man who voiced killer empathic moth sex.” DAMMITT! Yet, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that once again Lee gives a wonderful performance. Perdido Street Station is a brilliant but at times overly complex fantasy tale that twists, meshes and redefines many of the standards of what fantasy is. Most importantly, if you are a big fan of giant empathic man eating killer moths, and enjoy listening to them gaining carnal knowledge of each other before heading out to suck the life essence from a human being, this book is for you, you sick twisted excuse of a human being.





Audiobook Review: Prototype by Brian Hodge

21 02 2013

Prototype by Brian Hodge

Read by John Lee

Crossroad Press

Length: 12 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction

Quick Thought: If you are looking for a fast paced psychological thriller with twists and turns, and easily defined characters, then Prototype probably won’t fit your bill. But, if you’re open to an exploration of the very nature of humanity, told with a science fiction tint, and full of moments of dark poetry than Hodge’s unique tale of a man plagued by his own genetics may enthrall you as much as it did me.

Grade: B

I have always been fascinated by the nature versus nurture debate. Is our future shaped by our genetic code? Is there some sort or instinctual archetypal genetic memory that guides us? Or, are we simply a product of out training and experiences? Are our actions a result of science or memory? This debate has raged for years, and while it always is interesting, it also frustrates me. The easy answer has always been that it’s a combination of both. Yet, that has never been enough for me. I have always felt that the basic problem with this argument is that it’s missing a key factor, another element that isn’t quite nature or nurture. I have trouble believing that human sentience arose simply as an evolutionary process. Now, of course, we come to the essence of the very question of what makes us human, more than our nature, and more than our nurture. Because, I feel there is something more. This very belief in something beyond our genetics and our upbringing is an essential aspect of religion. It’s easy when we can’t get the pieces to fit together right, to sedge God into the picture to fill it out, yet despite this being an easy solution, I’m not sure if it’s entirely wrong. There is something that gives us morality, the ability to go against our nature, and defy our experiences and act in a way that goes beyond both things, for good or for ill. I call it God, because I can’t think of a better word. God, not in a Judeo Christian sense, or even something spiritual in nature. God, as in a power beyond us, past our understanding, that has an influence on us, making as just a bit more than the sum of out parts. For many, this is an easy answer, and for others, I probably haven’t gone far enough, but I have trouble seeing humanity as simply animals that have evolved a sentience, or the children of an Almighty Being who we serve the whims of but there’s something, I just really don’t know what it is.

Clay Palmer has never quite fit into society, never felt quite right, a feeling that manifest itself into moments of uncontrollable rage and self harm. His latest incident has lead him to psychologist Adrienne Rand, who discovers that Clay has an extremely rare genetic mutation. As Adrienne attempts to find out just what this means for Clay, there is another person out there who shares Clay’s condition, and he want Clay for himself. I’m not exactly sure what to make of Prototype. I had expected a horror novel, based on past experiences with Brian Hodge. Yet, what I got was something else. Sure, it had it’s moments of horror, but, not in a traditional sort of way. If anything, Prototype is a darkly tragic soft science fiction tale which, instead of physics or technology as its scientific base, pulls from the softer sciences like psychology, sociology and anthropology, while utilizing genetics and biology as well. It’s a thriller where the thrills come more from the deep levels of introspection and exposition than from car chases and gun fights. Where science fiction journeys to the deep corners of Space, Prototype takes us on a journey through our genetic code, and psychology. Not to say there isn’t a real story. There is, but it is almost serves as more of a vehicle to deliver the concepts and philosophies than to tell a good tale. I have to admit, at first I had trouble getting into Prototype, but then I became enthralled. Hodge’s moody exploration of the dark side of humanity was unlike anything I had ever read before. He expands his tale to give an anthropological look at a unique subculture, and then manages to pull it all together, using the seemingly disparaging subplots to shine a light on the overall theme of the novel. I really have a hard time giving this a simple recommendation.  Did I enjoy Prototype? Absolutely. But, I enjoyed it for reasons that I wasn’t expecting, and that I usually reserve for non-fiction and not a novel. If you are looking for a fast paced psychological thriller with twists and turns, and easily defined characters, then Prototype probably won’t fit your bill. But, if you’re open to an exploration of the very nature of humanity, told with a science fiction tint, and full of moments of dark poetry than Hodge’s unique tale of a man plagued by his own genetics may enthrall you as much as it did me. Prototype is a novel that will stick with you for a long time.

I’m not exactly sure why John Lee was cast to narrate this book. John Lee is one of the top British narrators today, yet, this tale was set within the United States, and all the characters where American. I think that it says a lot about a narrator when they are cast for an audiobook that they probably aren’t quite right for yet still manage to pull off an amazing performance. While his American accents and characterizations were serviceable, it was Lee’s ability to capture the dark poetry of this novel that made it stand out. Prototype is full of inner dialogue and large sections of exposition and extrapolation, and John Lee’s rhythmic reading of these sections brought it alive for me. Lee managed to make the science of the book into its own character. I think Prototype probably wasn’t an easy novel to transform into audio. Listeners like a hook, or a quick payoff, and there isn’t much of that in Prototype. There is dryness to the opening moments of this audiobook that may make those looking for instant gratification to move on to something faster paced. Yet, I think seasoned audiobook fans will appreciate the excellent work that John Lee does here.

Note: I received this Audiobook for review as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer Program.





Audiobook Review: Some Kind of Fairly Tale by Graham Joyce

26 07 2012

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Read by John Lee

Blackstone Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Magical Realism, Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautiful, vivid tale of relationships colored with a touch of the fantastic. Joyce never spoon feeds his readers but creates a vibrant mosaic for each person to translate on their own. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is simply wonderful storytelling and one of the most rewarding tales I have experienced this year.

Grade: A

Listening to Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce led me to a very important life decision. I have decided that if someone I love tells me they were abducted by fairies, I’m just going to give them the benefit of the doubt. Now, I really don’t believe in fairies, but I know that there are plenty of things about this world that I don’t know or understand and I am willing to keep an open mind. Far too often, in fiction, we see a character come to loved ones with a fantastic story, alien abduction, doppelgangers, chupacabra attacks, CIA mind reading teams or the family dog talking to them, and people just decide that these previously sensible people have gone off their rockers. As readers of fiction, we decry these actions, asking why, or why, don’t they just listen to this person telling them of the deep conspiracy involving oil conglomerates, a rouge NSA agent and dolphin’s telepathy? Even worse, this person may actually have supernatural powers that the person has relied upon before, but “Oh no…” this time it’s just too over the top to listen to their mind reading, ghost whispering, werewolf hunting loved one. Well, I have decided to not be that guy.  I decided to be the one person in that person’s life that they can turn to for a non-judgmental, and maybe a bit gullible, ear. I will be the person who buys the tin foil for hat making purposes, or ties them down in iron so fairies won’t drag them off to a land of sensual pleasures. I really think it’s the least I can do.

After a fight with her boyfriend, Tara Martin wonders off in the woods, and disappears, only to show up 20 years later on Christmas day at her patents doorsteps, looking remarkably young for her age. Tara’s returns rips open the wounds of her disappearance for the Martin Family, particularly her brother Peter, and her boyfriend Richie. Yet, when she tells the story of the cause of her disappearance, and the six months she spends living in a strange village, her loved one need to decide whether she is simply lying, or has lost her mind. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is exactly as the title suggests, a fairy tale of a different sort. Yes, there are moments of magic and a definite feeling of otherness that flirts around the edges of the tale, but at its core the story is about reality. Tara’s unbelievable tale, while hurtful and confusing to those who loves her, is also the catalyst to this broken group of wonderful characters finding the strength to overcome the past and fix their relationships. Joyce’s prose is delightful, and full of whimsy. His descriptions of Peter’s family life, with its everyday tasks and children’s insistent pestering had the feel of an old nursery rhyme. He describes the mundane with a rhythmic poetry that gives the realism an almost magical feel. Tara’s sessions with her psychiatrist are especially well done, with Tara’s belief in her magical story battling against the doctors belief of her confabulation. In many ways, Tara needs to believe her dark tales, as it has altered her perception of and ability to live with reality, and the Doctor needs to believe her tale is covering for a traumatic event as it has profound affects on his past. .Joyce allows his characters to develop with the mysteries, having each characters secrets revealed as a counterpoint to Tara’s story. It all comes together beautifully, with an ending that tickles the imagination of the skeptics and places enough doubts for the accepting fantasists. Joyce’s endings are never clean, but complex revelations that allows the readers to answer their own questions, and Some Kind of Fairly Tale is no exception. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautiful, vivid tale of relationships colored with a touch of the fantastic. Joyce never spoon feeds his readers but creates a vibrant mosaic for each person to translate on their own. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is simply wonderful storytelling and one of the most rewarding tales I have experienced this year.

John Lee brings the perfect approach in his narration of Some Kind of Fairy Tale. Lee is telling you the tale with the rhythms of a bedtime story, capturing the magical edges of Joyce’s prose with natural skill. His characters are fully realized and as complicated as Joyce writes them. Yet, there was one aspect of the audiobook that gave me mixed feelings. Lee only slightly alters his baritone voice  when he reads Tara’s accounts of her time living in the fairy village. While his reading was appropriate in tone and rhythm, I wonder if these segments would have been more effective with a female narrator. It’s a tough question for me, because the rest of his work is utterly brilliant, and his reading of these segments is well done, but it was also the only points of the book that Lee’s narration pulled me out of Joyce’s world. I am really torn about whether it would have been worth the narrator transition to bring in a female narrator for these scenes, but it was something I though about as I listened. Despite this one thing, Some Kind of Fairy Tale was simply brilliant, and I would highly recommend it to anyone whether they like a good fairy tale or not.

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

Stefan of Far Beyond Reality is currently running a giveaway for 12 Print copies of this wonderful novel. So, check out Stefan’s review of Some Kind of Fairy Tale, then sign up for his giveaway,





Audiobook Review: Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar

1 05 2012

Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar

Read by John Lee

Tantor Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zombiestan, with its international setting, non traditional zombies and fast paced action gives the zombie subgenre a fresh new spin and a novel that I feel can easily appeal to hardcore zombie fans and those new to undead literature. I will definitely be seeking out more of Dhar’s work, as well as broadening the international scope of my zombie reading choices.

Grade: B+

Last year, I got schooled in an interview with Mira Grant. Well, not really schooled in a negative way, just educated. Before reading Feed, I had only really read one Zombie related novel written by a female author. I asked her about that, and she went on to tell me about other female authors writing about zombies. Since that point, I discovered a multitude of female zombie authors and read many, including works by Eloise J. Knapp, Jessica Meigs, Sophie Littlefield and others. Recently, I listened to Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar, and realized that almost all of my Zombie readings and listening have been by American and UK authors and set in those countries. While there is something comforting about a tale being set in places familiar to you, a change of setting can breathe new life into a genre. This is one of the reasons I was instantly drawn to Mainak Dhar’s Zombie Apocalypse novel Zombiestan. As someone who has listen and read a lot of Zombie Apocalypse novels, I am always looking for a new spin that can offer up a new angle on genre. Not that I dislike traditional zombie tales, I just feel mixing up anything, whether it be books, movies, or food, will keep things feeling fresh. I was unfamiliar with Dhar’s work before discovering the upcoming audiobook version on the Tantor website, and it reconfirmed my belief that Tantor is doing an excellent job bringing lesser known, independently published Zombie tales into the audiobook world.

In Zombiestan, Mainak Dhar takes a nontraditional look at the Zombie Apocalypse. After an air strike on a secret meeting of high level Al Qaeda leaders, Taliban soldiers searching through the rubbage get infected with the a strange pathogen. As they begin to travel, they spread the disease, which transforms them into raving animalistic killers. While they very much act like traditional rage zombies they retain some level of organizational memory and cunning. As the devastation ravages through Afghanistan and into India, an American soldier meets up with an aging romance novelist, a young gamer, and a teenage girl with her 2 year old brother. Zombiestan is a fast paced journey across a land full of lawless survivors and raging biters. Dhar uses classic post apocalyptic and zombie scenarios, yet puts an interesting new twist on them to create the rare novel in the genre that just seems fresh. While Dhar is not the first to use the motif of the changing and evolving undead, his biters have an added creepiness factor as they scream "jihad" and set up traps for the survivors. Unlike many zombie novels, the biters are a constant threat, and the survivors find no real safe refuge when they take to the street at nighttime. This constant pressure on the group pushes the tension and adds to the pace. If I had any complaints at all about the novel it’s that often, despite Dhar doing an excellent job developing the bond between the survivors, he felt the need to tell us they were bonding, which was really unnecessary. It seemed like at times he felt unsure he was getting his point across, so he needed to tell us what it was. But he had no cause for concern, because the situations he created for his group and their developing relationships were obvious enough. Dhar even managed to throw in a bit of romance, and made if feel right which is something that is hard to do in a fast paced apocalyptic novel such as this. Zombiestan, with its international setting, non traditional zombies and fast paced action gives the zombie subgenre a fresh new spin and a novel that I feel can easily appeal to hardcore zombie fans and those new to undead literature. I will definitely be seeking out more of Dhar’s work, as well as broadening the international scope of zombie reading choices.

John Lee is one of the top narrators in the business, especially when it comes to world spanning epics, and international casts. Lee brings his command of accents, and excellent pacing to Zombiestan, elevating the text in a way only the best narrators can. Lee captures the creepy feel of the biters, with their screams of “jihad” and ever present danger. Lee never rushes the story, allowing the authors pacing to push the narrative. He brings an organic feel to the dialogue, seamlessly slipping from one accent to another, which cannot be an easy thing to do. One of the reasons I was excited about this novel was that lee would be narrating, and he didn’t let me down at all with his performance. Zombiestan is an early contender for my favorite zombie audiobooks of the year, and one I hope gets the appreciation it deserves. Hopefully this excellent production will help create a new fan base for this promising independent author. 

Note: A special thanks to Tantor Audio for providing me a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

30 04 2011

The Silent Land: A Novel by Graham Joyce

Read by John Lee

Blackstone Audio

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: An Epic Love story set apart for its intimate look at a genuine couple in a unique situation, read well by the narrator.

Grade: B+

It’s been a long time since I read anything by Graham Joyce, probably too long. Joyce was always one of those authors who could blend genres, whether it be horror, romance, fantasy and science fiction seamlessly, and create something distinctly his own. Sadly, until recently, his work has not been produced in audio form, which I personally believe it would translate very well into. So, when I saw that his latest novel, The Silent Land was being offered as an audiobook, I was excited. It’s hard to talk about expectations when discussing one of Joyce’s novels, because each of his novels that I have read has been quite unique. So, I had no idea of what to expect. The basic synopsis appealed to me, a married couple on a ski vacation escape from an avalanche, to discover that there is no else around. As a fan of Post Apocalyptic novels, this concept fascinated me. Not that I was expecting a Post Apocalyptic novel, but like Shelley’s The Last Man, or MP Sheil’s The Purple Cloud, the element of being left alone in our world is both frightening, and intriguing.

The Silent Land is, in truth, an epic love story. The fantastical background that Joyce creates is just that, the canvas that reveals the art. I have never been a huge fan of the Epic Love story, because typically, the players involved just don’t seem authentic to me, or are themselves epic in nature, a state of being that I just cannot relate to. Yet, Zoe and Jake, our couple, are not epic personas, but a truly real couple. They do not allow the strangeness of their situations prevent them from fighting over petty issues. They argue, make love, tease and are often cruel. They are simply a real couple, in an increasing unreal situation. Joyce doesn’t force the romance down our throats, he just develops the characters in such a way that their love becomes obvious. Joyce doesn’t try to use tricks to garner an emotional response, either. While the novel is in part a mysterious fantasy, he doesn’t leave the audience dragging for too long, revealing the scope of the world that Zoe and Jake inhabit, yet still leaving enough up in the air to allow for a satisfying ending. The Silent Land works like a puzzle, Joyce shows you all the pieces, and when they all finally come together, you are left satisfied with the entirety of the picture presented to you. 

It was interesting to hear John Lee tale on such a small, intimate novel. My experiences with Lee have been huge, epic novels like The Pillars of the Earth, or multi-character science fiction tale, like Baxter/Clarke’s Time Odyssey series. John Lee has a crisp, strong voice, with a decent range to handle multiple characters. Here Lee doesn’t need to use his range as much, since he is mostly dealing with two characters. I liked Lee’s reading to The Silent Land. He brought a steady matter of fact tone to the narration, never trying to play whimsical or mysterious, just allowing the words to speak for themselves. His characterizations of Jake and Zoe were well done. Lee found the right tone for the couple whether they where arguing cruelly, or just engaging in playful teasing. The Silent Land wasn’t my favorite Joyce novel, but hopefully the success of this audio adaptation will lead to more of his works being brought to the audio format.

 

Note: A special thank you to the good people at Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this audiobook. You can purchase this audiobook at all major bookseller sites, or at Blackstone’s own website HERE.