Audiobook Review: The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

6 02 2013

The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

Read by Mauro Hantman

AudioGo

Length: 9 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: As a tale of time travel, with its intermingling concepts of fate and free will Farrell succeeds where so many other tales of time travel fails. Its brilliantly built plot, complicated character and hints of a near future world were enough to keep my brain spinning in a dizzying euphoria. It may not have had the emotional impact of many more character driven tales, but like the best puzzles, it will never truly leave your mind.

Grade: B+

I really have a love/hate relationship with Time Travel. I love Time Travel. From the moment I watched my first Doctor Who episode, and read HG Wells, I knew I was a sucker for the fourth dimension. Some of my favorite novels of all time have time travel elements. There are lots of interesting things you can do with Time Travel, with stories as diverse as Ken Grimwood’s Replay, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, SM Stirling’s Nantucket series and Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, all offering interesting uses of time travel. Hell, there have even been good time travel movies. Sure, we all had to sit through Van Damme’s Timecop, but we also got to see 12 Monkeys. I also hate time travel. I hate movies and books that place these stupid arbitrary rules on the morality of time travel. My brother and I will always fight over The Prisoner of Azkaban, but in my opinion it’s the worse Harry Potter book simply because of the stupid use of travel. Come on, it’s OK for Hermione to utilize time travel to fit more classes into her schedule, yet using it to stop people being murdered would be against the rules.  Hell, if they could travel back in time without those stupid rules, then Harry Potter never would have become an orphan, Voldemort would have been thwarted early and The Casual Vacancy would never exist, yet, they try to tell us that wouldn’t have been a proper use of time travel. We could have prevented The Casual Vacancy! Instead, Cedric gets killed, Dumbledore remains in the closet, and Rowling decided to try her hand at adult fiction. My point is, if you have the ability to travel in time, either use it, or shut the hell up. I’d totally use it.

Every year, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, a time traveler returns to an abandoned hotel in 2071, where he celebrates his existence with the youngsters and elder versions of himself. On his 39th year, he becomes the celebrated man, wearing the spiffy suit he had always envied. Yet, when he arrives he also discovers that one of the versions of him has been murdered and he has a year to prevent it, or irrevocably harm the timeline. Author Sean Farrell has created a head trippy, mind bending time travel tale that takes all the rules you think you knew about time travel and beats them down like a dead dog. It’s a fascinating set up, with the majority of the interaction taking place between the past and future versions of himself. Yet, each version of himself he interacts with has his own secrets, twists on his personality and hidden agendas. It was brilliantly plotted, yet often confusing. As a reader, I was amazed how Farrell kept it all together, creating these versions of the same character, and sending them off on an intricate dance of paradoxes, predestinations and paranoia. There is a mystery to the tale, but the kind of mystery where each clue can be overwritten, each motivation altered, and no single given aspect of the story can be trusted. There is also a girl, because there is always a girls, and a bit of a tragedy, because, with a girl comes tragedy and remorse. Yet, not everything worked perfectly. I was quite fascinated by the world that Farrell created outside of the party. It had an almost dystopian feel, blending near future technology with old world quaintness that left me feeling like I was missing a key aspect to the story. The world felt like a tease, a nonessential aspect to the story that Farrell threw in for flavor, yet with enough depth that it left me wanting to know more about it, a desire that would go unfulfilled. Also, at times, I felt the multifaceted layering of the story worked as an intellectual exercise, more that an act of storytelling. I was so involved in keeping the pieces straight that I didn’t take the time to enjoy it as much as I could. As a tale of time travel, with its intermingling concepts of fate and free will Farrell succeeds where so many other tales of time travel fails. Its brilliantly built plot, complicated character and hints of a near future world were enough to keep my brain spinning in a dizzying euphoria. It may not have had the emotional impact of many more character driven tales, but like the best puzzles, it will never truly leave your mind.

I was quite excited when I discovered that Mauro Hantman was narrating this tale. My last experience with Hantman was positive, but I felt the story didn’t offer a lot for him to work with. Here, Hantman gives a solid, workman like performance. Nothing here will blow you away, yet, I think his subtle reading style fit the narrative well. The Man in the Empty Suit offered an interesting challenge for a narrator, where the majority of the characters were different versions of the same person. Hantman handles this well, using subtle vocalizations to help delineate characters, yet keep a base rhythm of speech consistent among all its versions. I think Hantman made smart decisions when reading this. I think if a narrator tried to hard, this could have been a train wreck of a production. The story itself was hard enough to follow without the narrator distracting you with jarring voices or fluctuating pacing. Instead, Hantman sort of blended into the background, delivering the tale in a simple style, allowing the listener to immerse themselves in the story. It is not a performance that listeners will remember for years to come, but it was the right one for this story.

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





Audiobook Review: Immobility by Brian Evenson

6 04 2012

Immobility by Brian Evenson

Read by Mauro Hantman

AudioGo

Length: 6 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Science Fiction, Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: For fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction, Immobility is a different take of some familiar situations. Evenson offers some brilliant visuals, compelling dilemmas and a gut punch ending, just don’t expect to go away completely satisfied.

Grade: B

I’m not quite sure why we find amnesia stories so compelling. It’s one of the most overuse subplots in television today, and I find myself rolling my eyes whenever it’s used. Yet, for some reason I forget to turn the channel.  I think the lore of the amnesiac is the ultimate Fantasy dream of starting over. Often the victim of amnesia remembers their skills and basic world knowledge, but forgets who they are. They can now start fresh. Movies like Regarding Henry and books like Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook show us that we not only can escape the burdens of memories, but change the person we are, perhaps becoming a better version of ourselves.  Yet, amnesia subplots often add an extra layer of mystery. Not only are we figuring out what is happening, solving a crime or preventing a tragedy, but we are discovering who this person is and how they lost their memory. Is it a sinister plot, or just some accidental fateful moment that led our hero to their current state? This is one of the reasons I was instantly interested in Brian Evenson’s Immobility. The underlining mystery of a victim of amnesia with the added stressed of an Apocalyptic landscape, what’s not to love?

Josef Horkai is woken after 30 years in storage with no memories beyond hazy images of an apocalyptic catastrophe. He is greeted by a man named Rasmus claiming to be his friend, and is informed that he has a rare condition that has left his paralyzed.  Rasmus explains that his disease gives him one advantage, he is able to survive out in the war ravaged, radioactive wasteland that is lethal to most unprotected humans. Rasmus gives Horkai a mission to recover an item stolen from their community, an item that could help ensure their survival. Brian Evenson has created on of the most brutal, devastating post apocalyptic landscapes I have read. The land is toxic to the few survivors who have managed to find shelter from looming death. The land is utterly barren, and as Josef travels this wasteland, with the assistance of two human "mules" there is little cause for hope. Even more tenuous is Horkai’s grip of reality. All he knows he has been told by Rasmus, and while he feels that something is off, he can’t figure out an alternate course. This is really the highlight of Immobility. The dreamy visuals serve as the perfect backdrop for Horkai’s uncertainty. Horkai is the reluctant unreliable narrator. He wants to know the truth, wants to share it with the reader, but is just incapable. Each survivor Horkai meets along the way only adds to his conundrum. Each situation convinces him that Rasmus’ intentions are not as benevolent as they seem, yet circumstances push him towards completing his mission. While I loved dilemmas Horkai faces, I feel Evenson missed some opportunities to push it further. The ending is devastating and brilliantly answers some questions, but leaves the essence of the main character up in the air. For fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction, Immobility is a different take of some familiar situations. Evenson offers some brilliant visuals, compelling dilemmas and a gut punch ending, just don’t expect to go away completely satisfied.

It’s hard to really evaluate Mauro Hantman as a narrator based on this audiobook. This is my first time listening to an audiobook narrated by Hantman, and found his performance satisfactory if not particularly noteworthy. This isn’t the fault of Hantman. The text itself offers very little challenge to a narrator. There are very few characters in this novel, and they are all male. The prose had a dreamy quality to it which required the narrator to read it in a slow steady, almost airy pace. Hantman did some interesting things with Qanik and Qatik, the two human mules that assist Horkai, giving them an almost robotic, pliant tone that fit the nature quite well. Hantman’s reading was clean and clear, and while it didn’t add to much to the experience, it didn’t detract from it either. Hantman is definitely a narrator with potential, and I look forward to hearing him take on some novels that are a bit more of a challenge. Overall, his tone fit the story right, and truly, what more can you ask for in a narrator.

Note: Thanks to the good people of AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for Review. Immobility is scheduled for release on April 10th.

This review is part of my “Welcome to the Apocalypse” weekly feature.