Audiobook Review: The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green

15 05 2013

The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green (The Nightside, Bk. 12)

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 31 Min

Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: For fans of the series, The Bride Wore Black Leather should be a lot of fun, completing the story in the style of the previous novel. For me, though, this final novel highlighted many of my issues with the earlier novels and stripped away the one aspect of the series I really liked.

Grade: C-

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

Really people, I tried. I love the Armchair Audies Event. It’s one of the few blogging activities I take part in every year that I am proud of. It’s one of the few things I do on my small little slice of the internet that I think both forces me out of my comfort zone, and also provides a valuable service. Sure, I do Zombie Awareness Month, and participate in things like June is Audiobook Month and Jenn’s Bookshelves’ Monsters, Murder and Mayhem events, but for those things I still control the content on my blog. In many ways what I like about Armchair Audies is that the book selections are out of my hands. Last year, I loved the experience. It was really an awesome experience. I have loved the experience so far this year as well, but it has come with more difficulties. From the moment the nominees were announced, I was a bit flummoxed. You can tell just by the nominees alone that one company made a concerted push to have their titles at the forefront of the selection process. The nominees both in my categories and in other had me shocked, and a bit dismayed at times. It had me doubting the process. Some of that was saved after listening to the two selections from Recorded Books in the Fantasy category, but since then, I have been pretty much under whelmed. My favorite category, Science Fiction was practically all titles I have already listened to. Then came paranormal, which had some really amazing titles, but also one title that was the 12th in a series. Yet, I was going to try. I was going to pool my resources, and listened to as many of the 11 prequels as I could. I had the time management skills, and the determination. I made it to Book 6, and then I just couldn’t. I saw all the other awesome books I could have been listening to instead of this series, which was, in my opinion, mediocre. So, I broke my cardinal rule, and skipped ahead to Book 12, the Audie nominated entry of Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, The Bride Wore Black Leather.

So, I’m going to keep the summary of the book short. Basically, the Nightside series is ending. Some bad guy decides he wants to make The Nightside a 60’s paradise and force The Nightside, where it is always 3 AM, into the light and of course, this is a bad thing, because then where will all the monsters go to terrorize people. Groan… Listen, Simon R. Green’s Nightside isn’t a bad series. I can understand why it has a following. I personally felt like the one story arch was pretty strong, but not strong enough to keep me interested. The thing I like most about this series is the strange camaraderie between an oddball group of characters, and the essence of this final edition of the story was stripping John Taylor away from his friends, thus eliminating my favorite aspect. In fact, the Bride mentioned in the title, John Taylor’s fiancé Susie Shooter doesn’t even show up in the tale until the last 30 minutes of the audiobook. Like most of the series, it’s not bad, just mostly blah for me. As John Taylor freely admits, he isn’t really an Investigator, which sucks for a series about a guy who runs a Private Investigator firm in a strange magical section of London where it’s always 3AM. He’s a guy with a gift that is moved around on a chessboard by unseen forces in order to use that gift. He has a knack for getting out of bad scrapes, which of course, he allows himself to be maneuvered into regularly. He’s a hero with no agency, surviving by the ultimate Dues ex machina, and waits patiently for the villain to reveal his evil plan before stumbling on a way to thwart it. I love the setting of the story, the bizarre world, the blending of speculative fiction tropes and genres, I just never became invested in the plots of the tale enough to give two shits and a half of a giggle. Skipping from book 6 to book 12, you would think you would feel lots of holes in the story and want to find what filled them. Sure, there were holes but only on a few occasions was I in the slightest way tempted to fill them. Fans of the series should love this finale, since basically it’s John Taylor going from character to character he knows and reminding all of us about their sordid relationships. The action doesn’t really take off until the final third, and that mostly consists of some of these same people being magically manipulated into acting like douchebags. For me, well, I can’t gather up enough passion to lambaste and bash this title with snark and clever .gifs, so I’ll just say, if you like The Nightside books, you’ll like it. If you’d rather spend 10 hours watching a marathon of episodes of Gilligan’s Planet, then here’s a link to it’s theme on Youtube:

While aspects of the audiobook drove me up a wall, very little of this was due to the narration by Mark Vietor. He had total command of the characters and the setting, and I thought this performance was much more nuanced than in some of the earlier editions. Yet, some of the problems with the writing in this series become BLINKING RED LIGHTS OF DOOM in the audiobook. The repetition was horrible. If I had to hear John Taylor say "…and then it was the easiest thing in the world…" just one more time I would have laced my head in moth pheromones and sat outside under a porch light while they attempted to mate with my skull. FYI, I HATE MOTHS. I was actually going to keep a running count on how many times Vietor ominously said “The Nightside…” in his patented mustache twirling soft British sneer but instead I invested my time more wisely by picturing Justin Beiber on tour with Menudo. That being said, Vietor was quite good and if you like the series, he’s the way to go. Sure, give him an Audie nomination and everything. I mean, he did read 12 of these things. 

Audiobook Review: The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

6 11 2012

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 21 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

Grade: B

I have been a big fan of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series since first encountering it two years ago. I was very excited, after the sixth book of the series, Victorious, which tied up much of the plot of the series, when Campbell announced that he would be writing two spin off series based in the same universe. I have always enjoyed spin-off series, particularly in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. So much of good SF/F comes down to world building, and these authors create these vast and complex worlds, then the novels only give you a glimpse of it. Often times, when reading a science fiction world set in an elaborate universe, I feel like I’m given a newspaper, but only read the local section. There are so many other stories out there that can be told, and while the main story is what hooks me in, I often wonder what is going on in the world when the main characters leave on their next mission, and people go back to their daily grind. So, when I found out that the first spin-off series was just more of Blackjack Geary doing his thing, just with a new mission, I was sort of disappointed. I liked the book, and there were interesting new things to look at, but I don’t think it really gave us a bigger look at the overall world Campbell had created.  This is why I was really looking forward to Tarnished Knight, the first of a Spin off Series set in the world of The Lost Fleet, yet giving us a glimpse into Syndicate Controlled Space.

When the Syndicate Government lost its century long war to the Alliance, thanks to the efforts of the legendary Blackjack Geary, many of the Syndicate controlled systems fell into chaos. In Midway, a system that borders the space controlled by the mysterious Enigma Race, two former Syndicate CEO’s form an uneasy alliance in order to Midwa as an Independent System. Yet, their instinctive distrust of each other and the populous creates tension as the two new leaders try to figure a way hold onto the power they have. Tarnished Knight is a complex mixture of military science fiction and political space opera that has heavy doses of action, political maneuvering and paranoid conspiracies, both real and imagined. Campbell has created an interesting new perspective that gives us a glimpse into a part of his world that we have only seen through a filter of an enemy and outsider. Here we see how the oppressive nature of the Syndicate government has affected even those who are trying to break away from it. Tarnished Knight reminded me a lot of some aspects of David Weber’s Honerverse, where the complex political systems create a sense of institutional blindness, and an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. We have two main players, former CEO’s Icena and Drakon, who are almost genetically unable to trust each other. It was quite interesting to see the misconceptions and poor assumptions of basic drives of humanity that have been bread into these characters. We are given an outsiders perspective, able to see pieces that they can’t, and full of knowledge from the Lost Fleet series, that make their decisions often seem frustrating. Yet, it also makes a certain bit of sense from their perspective. I find this sort of complex merging of political realities and social engineering fascinating within a science fiction setting. Some fans of The Lost Fleet series, who expect non stop action full of large scale naval battles, may find the concentration on the minutia of everyday static rule to be disappointing. Yet, I felt, with this setting. Campbell has more room to develop his characters, and create something more enduring. Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

My overall experience of listening to Tarnished Knight as an audiobook came away mixed. There we some definite continuity issues between Marc Vietor’s pronunciation of some names versus the pronunciations used in The Lost Fleet series. I really think this is something the producers of the series should have paid better attention to. Marc Vietor is a solid narrator. He excels at certain productions that are suited to his unique style. He was excellent as the voice of Webmind in Robert Sawyers WWW series, and brilliant as Mack Megaton in the Audie nominated production of AL Martinez’s The Automatic Detective. Yet, here, with a multi-POV tale, with a lot of characters, his almost robotic tones left something to be desired. It wasn’t that his characterizations were bad. I think he shows a decent amount of range for his voice, but, I felt that another narrator may have brought more to the table than Vietor does here. If this was the first entry to a brand new series, the weaknesses of his performance may have been easier to overlook, but since this is a well established world, the deficiencies were all the more glaring. That being said, my problems with the narration were not major enough to want to switch to the print version of this series. I can live with Vietor continuing as narrator, but if they do switch to someone else for future editions, you won’t hear me complaining.

Audiobook Review: The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

3 04 2012

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

Read by Mark Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hors 3 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Automatic Detective combines the best aspects of crime fiction and science fiction to make a truly unique comic romp full of unexpected heart and a ton of fun action. If there was a Mack Megaton T-Shirt, I’d totally buy it.

Grade B+

The Automatic Detective is an Audie Award nominee in the Fantasy Category.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about Genre, particularly after reading this blog post on Staffer’s Book Review. I abhor labels, yet so much of fiction is defined by labels. Tack the label “Science Fiction” on a title and certain people will instantly be compelled to it, while others will reject it out of hand. I have personally never come across a definitive definition of science fiction. I am one of those strange people that define the genre of a novel in a very wishy washy way, by feel. Some novels just feel like Science fiction, while others feel like Fantasy. For the first time ever, The Audies have broken down the Speculative Fiction nominees into three categories, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal. Scanning over the nominees, I find some of the choices of which category a title belongs in interesting. When I originally reviewed SM Stirling’s The High King of Montival, I labeled it as a Post Apocalyptic Fantasy, yet the Audies have it listed as Science Fiction. I was also surprised to see Richard Morgan’s The Cold Commands listed as Science Fiction. Now, I haven’t read The Cold Commands, but I read its prequel The Steel Remains and found it to be pretty solid in the Fantasy camp, yet some research shows me that there are some scifi elements to the follow-up. The one that confused me most was The Automatic Detective by A Lee Martinez. Upon finishing this listen recently, I continue to be confused. For me, this was pretty clearly Science fiction with Paranormal elements yet it was nominated in the Fantasy Category. Now, I am not all up and arms about this. There is a natural blending of Speculative Fiction subgenres and so this sort of mishmash is natural, but I wonder, who decided on the Category a nominee is placed in. Is the title being evaluated entered into a specific category by the producer, or does the final decision lie with the Audio Publisher’s Association?  Yet, in the end, this topic is unimportant, what truly matters is that The Automatic Detective is quite an entertaining listen.

Mack Megaton is just a regular Joe, working a nine to five as a cab driver, trying to make his way through his probational status to become a citizen of Empire City. Like most people, Mack is trying to find his humanity among the hustle and bustle of the big city. What makes this harder is that Mack is a hulking robot original designed for destruction, who through a programming fluke developed free will and defied his creator. So when the family next door is kidnapped and the little girl left a note behind pleading for Mack to find them, Mack is on the case, because that’s what good citizens do. I really believe that A. Lee Martinez is one of the most underappreciated original voices working in speculative fiction today. The Automatic Detective is a prime example of this. Martinez creates a truly original character voice in the robotic noir delivery of Mack Megaton, and keeps it consistent throughout the novel. He never breaks character, keeping Mack’s narrative, clipped and robotic, full of clever puns and brilliant dialogue that plays off his nature as a machine. The Automatic Detective is a cybernetic Chinatown, with strange dangerous hoods, a brilliant and beautiful dame and a city setting that becomes a character in itself. The plot was delightfully over the top, full of colorful characters, crazy conspiracies and a whole lot of destructive action. Mack Megaton may be one of my favorite characters in a long time. Despite his robotic ways he has a lovable naiveté that is only augmented by his unflappable loyalty and actual progression as a character. The Automatic Detective combines the best aspects of crime fiction and science fiction to make a truly unique comic romp full of unexpected heart and a ton of fun action. If there was a Mack Megaton T-Shirt, I’d totally buy it.

I have always liked Mark Vietor as a narrator, but if I had one complaint, it’s that sometimes he comes off a bit robotic. Well, hello there. The casting of Vietor as narrator for The Automatic Detective was simply inspired. Vietor understood exactly what Martinez was trying to do, and pulled it off flawlessly. I could easily picture Mack as a huge lumbering Robot, wearing a Fedora and Trench coat, traveling the streets of Empire City trying to find the score. Vietor captured the pace of the novel perfectly, staying in character, delivering the action scenes in a crisp, straightforward manner. Even his dialogue had an organic feel to it, allowing his interactions with his beautiful damsel, or his best friend who just happened to be a sentient ape, to not feel forced. The Automatic Detective is one of those moments of synergy when the perfect narrator is given the opportunity to perform a novel seemingly tailored to his talents.

Audiobook Review: WWW:Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer

6 05 2011

WWW:Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer (Conclusion of the WWW Trilogy)

Read by Jessica Almasy, Marc Vietor, Oliver Wyman, and Anthony Haden Salerno

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Wonder if a fitting conclusion to the WWW series, one which will stick with me for a long time.

Grade: A-

Wonder. I think that was the perfect title for this, the third entry in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW series, about an emergent consciousness on the internet. I think much of science fiction today has lost its sense of Wonder. So many books today take the many wonderful things that science has to offer us, and present them in a perverted formed, not used to uplift us, but to hold us down by oppressive forces. Science Fiction is full of dystopian, apocalyptic scenarios, of science used as weapons. It is almost assumed that any great break through we have will be used as a tool to hold us down, and only enrich the greedy or power hungry. It seems that a sense of wonder in what science can do, even among those who are fascinated by it, has been lost. I miss those days when I can look up are the stars and wonder what it will be like when humanity grows beyond Earth, and begin colonizing other planets, without wondering how the first interstellar war will begin. Yet, Sawyer has truly created a novel that glories in the beautiful possibilities of the future, with science as our guide.

There are so many things to like about Wonder, I doubt I can cover them all. Wonder ends one of the most beautifully produced, and endless thoughtful science fiction trilogies in audiobook form today. It’s nice to see an author embrace the audio form, to the extent that he actually has the emergent entity WebMind choose his official voice based on one of his favorite audiobook narrators, Marc Vietor.  Wonder examines both the good and evil in mankind, yet, one of my favorite things about the book is that its main antagonist, Peyton Hume, wasn’t an evil man. In fact, his intentions were good, and on a personal level, I could almost sympathize with him. For people of my generation, Artificial Intelligence will always be viewed with a bit of skepticism. We have been indoctrinated by so many images of the harm it can do. Yet, an interesting parallel is that typically it’s the AI entity actually has good intentions that leads to harm. In that way, Peyton Hume embodies what we fear, that someone will feel that our survival depends on having our free will taken away. I also enjoyed Sawyer’s evenhandedness in political discussions. I am what I like to call an extreme moderate, and sometimes feel brow beaten in novels by people pushing an agenda. Yet, while I feel Sawyer has well developed beliefs many of which I may not share, what he seems to value most, like me, is open, honest respectful discussion. All in all, Wonder if a fitting conclusion to the WWW series, one which will stick with me for a long time.

Again, the audiobook version of this book is brilliantly produced. Narrators Jessica Almasy, Marc Vietor, Oliver Wyman, and Anthony Haden Salerno handle the prose perfectly, each taking a different POV and integrating Marc Vietor’s voice of WebMind throughout. Again Jessica Almasy is the star of the show in an expanded role both as the main POV Caitlin Decter, and also handling the Hobo subplot. Her narration is spot on perfect, and she finds the right inflections and rhythm for each character. Oliver Wyman, a personal favorite of mine, voices the POV of the WATCH group and of Peyton Hume, and does it with his typical professionalism. Salerno handles the China subplots well, and was a solid addition to the cast. All together, Audible has produced one of the best science fiction listening experiences available today with the WWW trilogy.

Audiobook Review: WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer

18 04 2011

WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer

Read by Jessica Almasy , Marc Vietor , Oliver Wyman , Jennifer Van Dyck

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thought: WWW:Watch is thought provoking science fiction at its best, and the audiobook enhances the experience with its dead on performances.

Grade: A-

WWW: Watch is the second book of Robert J. Sawyers WWW Trilogy. I listened to the first book in the series, about an emerging consciousness on the web, about a year ago, in 2010. I found it to be a fascinating opening for a trilogy. WWW: Wake was only my third Robert J. Sawyer novel, having read Hominids a while back, and listened to the audio version of Flashforward before the start of the television series based on the book.  I loved Flashforward, much more than its ill fated television version, and had mixed feelings on Hominids. Yet, I decided to listen to WWW: Wake based on one fact, no matter whether I agree with what he is saying, Robert J. Sawyer always makes me think. I love science fiction that challenges our preconditions and prejudices, as long as it’s not in that condescending, “I have more degrees than you” sort of way. Sawyer definitely uses the medium of his science fiction to shine a light on social, and scientific issues yet, keeps it well contained within the bonds of his stories, so as to not distract from the fact that reading science fiction is supposed to be entertainment.

Sawyer started off the book, in his introduction, by promising us that unlike most trilogies, the second book would not be the weakest. Luckily he lived up to his promise. WWW: Watch builds well on the promise of WWW: Wake, allowing us a more complete and satisfying tale. Watch again brilliantly takes on a topic that most people wouldn’t even consider up for discussion, whether the Orwellian vision of Big Brother actually fits into our culture, and whether “being watched” is an inherent evil. Sawyer makes a very wise decision in allowing the consciousness Webmind to develop with the guidance of a brilliant but naïve 16 year old girl named Caitlin. For us older, more jaded beings that grew up on Asimov and Terminator movies would not be so readily willing to accept the idea of a benevolent electronic consciousness.  Sawyer assembles a cast, from Caitlin to her autistic father, to a Bonobo chimp hybrid named Hobo, who are capable, for their various reasons, of accepting Webmind for what he truly is, and not what we would fear he could become. One of the reasons Watch improves over Wake, is that all the subplots that Sawyer built so nicely in Wake, finally begin to come together, readying us for the payoff in the final novel, WWW: Wonder.

WWW: Watch is a brilliantly produced, multi-narrator audiobook along the lines of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Oliver Wyman and Marc Vietor are narrators I am quite familiar with and handle their parts perfectly. Yet the true star of this production is Jessica Almasy who is responsible for the Caitlin POV. Almasy handles Caitlin perfectly. Caitlin is a transported Texan living in Canada. Almasy perfectly blends the two accents, with a subtle southern twang that builds as she gets excited, and full of Canadian idiosyncrasies. Caitlin has just the right levels of wonder and naiveté in her voice, yet, when she is discussing something that she is confident in, that naiveté bleeds out and she becomes the women she will be someday. WWW:Watch is thought provoking science fiction at its best, and the audiobook enhances the experience with its dead on performances.