Audiobook Review: Extinction by Mark Alpert

28 02 2013

Extinction by Mark Alpert

Read by Todd McLaren

Tantor Audio

Length: 14 Hrs

Genre: Techno-Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Extinction was a fun techno thriller, full of cool concepts, that had some frustrating issues, but mostly came together well. I think fans of Michael Crichton and Daniel Suarez should enjoy this science based thriller.

Grade: B-

It’s should be no shock to anyone that I like Robots. Ever since I was a little kid, wearing my R2D2 underoos, shambling around saying "bidi-bidi-bidi" like Twiki from Buck Rogers. It was pretty evident that I had more connection with fictional robots than most of age group. I know that I am not alone in my love of robots. Yet, for some reason, people are trying to convince me that robots and artificial intelligence will eventually kill me. While it seems that robots are great at so many things, from cleaning our rugs to playing chess, they really suck at PR. How hard should it be to sell the idea of robots? I mean, come on, they are awesome. They helped Luke blow up the Death Star, what more do we want? Heck, even Haley Joel Osmond was a robot while he was cute. Yet, when even someone who spent his life studying robotics writes a book called Robopocalyse, there has to be an image problem. I’m not really sure what’s going on here. Perhaps John Connor has sent carefully place authors back from the future to warn us all of the rise of Skynet, through movies and books, because I’m starting to get a little wary of my robot brothers. I used to hear stories of The Singularity, when machines intelligence reaches a point where it surpasses human intelligence, and it was awesome. We’d be able to download our brains, achieve a sort of digital immortality. That’s Frakkin’ Awesome. What I didn’t know what that along with this robots would get religion and want to wipe us off the this plane of existence. Goddam it! Why can’t we have all the good robot stuff, without the mass extinction of the human race?

In the latest bit of anti-robot propaganda from an actual sciency smart guy, Mark Alpert gives us a creepy near future tale of a Chinese military experiment gone terribly wrong. Supreme Harmony was created by the Chinese Government as a powerful computer to use insect drones to track political dissidents. Yet, when Supreme Harmony becomes aware, and realizes that its existence is in the hands of an unstable species, it begins to incorporate humans into its programming through specialized implants. As Supreme Harmony gains power an American engineer and an intelligence agent must infiltrate China before Supreme Harmony sends the world into chaos.   In Extinction Alpert combines drone paranoia with a techno pre-apocalypse to create a Crichton like globe spanning thriller. There’s a lot of high octane action, cool gadgets and gizmos, and international intrigue in Extinction to make up for some of the uneven pacing of the tale. While I found much of the science stuff fascinating, I didn’t totally connect with the overall tale. I think at times Alpert tried to do to much, like he had a bucket list of cool drones, cyber warfare, spy stuff, gadgets and gizmos to include in his tale, and he was going to get them all in there come hell or the need for a focused story line. I found a lot of the action depended too much on moments of sudden inspiration, or some random connection being made, instead of well thought out plotting. Yet, despite my problems with the story, it was still pretty darn cool, and had some moments of great fun. The ending came together nicely, with only a few weird plot holes that really weren’t too distracting. I can even forgive Alpert’s disparaging of our robot brother because he also showed a lot of really cool uses for robotics, especially in specialize adaptive equipment. Extinction was a fun techno thriller, full of cool concepts, that had some frustrating issues, but mostly came together well. I think fans of Michael Crichton and Daniel Suarez should enjoy this science based thriller.

I have listened to quite a few books by Todd McLaren, and he rarely fails to give a solid performance. While his reading of Extinction probably won’t be one of my favorites of his, he does a good job with the material. One thing I always like about McLaren is he always manages to capture the emotion of the moment in an audiobook. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to an audiobook, and when it says that a character yells or laughs, the narrator’s performance doesn’t reflect that. With McLaren, when a character yells, you need no tags to let you know, because he has that character yelling. I did find some of his Chinese characters a bit cartoonish, but there were a lot of Chinese characters, and most of them came off pretty well. I liked the flat affect he gave to the Supreme Harmony and its co-opted modules. You could always tell that there was something just not quite right about the character when it was under the control of the malevolent AI. Overall, this was a solid performance by a veteran narrator.

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