Audiobook Review: Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

21 08 2013

Ex-Communication (Ex-Heroes, Bk. 3) by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder, Khristine Hvam, & Mark Boyett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse with Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.

Grade: B+

If you’re anything like me, you have probably had plenty of those late night, half drunk conversations with friends about some pop culture geeky subject like who is hotter Han Solo or Chewbacca (Chewie) or how every time Kirk beams down to the surface to bed green women and fight aliens the transporter is actually killing him and feeding his soul to the great old squid gods. Of course, on those nights were you are just a bit less drunk, you have more normal conversations like who you would most like to headshot in a zombie apocalypse or what superpower you would want most. For me, the headshot conversation is pretty easy (Hitler’s Venezuelan Clone) but I always struggle with the super powers thing. Whenever someone asks me what super power I would want, I usually freeze up, then sputter out something stupid (Ummm… teledynmanics, I mean thermokinesis) because I really don’t know. I mean, sure, it obvious that there are lots of cool superpowers that seem to defy the laws of physics, like flying, or shooting beams out of your eyes or the ability to eat 500 hotdogs when you weigh 120 lbs, but honestly, the characters that often have these powers seem like prats. Sure, Superman has all these awesome powers, but what I’d really want is his camouflage glasses that makes everyone around him too stupid to realize that he’s Clark Kent, and somehow manages to fool even the CIA’s facial recognition software (I assume, or they’d be using him to assassinate the leader of the Illuminati or Justin Beiber.)  Honestly, my favorite superhero characters have always been those who suffered some personal tragedy leading them to become highly skilled at a multitude of human tasks, but have no actual enhanced skills, Of course, when people ask you what superpower you want and you answer "I want someone I love to be brutally murdered by a corrupt politician leading me to devote my life to learning a uniquely special skill set from an old master in order to hunt them down in the darkest shadows of night" even my closest friends look at me funny. So, I just usually end up answering Anti-entropy, because, it makes me seem smart even though I have no idea what it would do but when they ask me what I mean, I just tell them it’s too complex to explain.

Ex-Communication is the third novel in the series that pits superheroes against ravaging hordes of the undead. The last bastion of humanity is holed up in Los Angeles, fighting a constant battle against the encroaching hordes that have fallen under the control of a powerful super villain named Legion. If dealing with the zombies isn’t bad enough, within the compound, elections are coming, tension between the superheroes and the regular folk are increasing and one hero who could wipe them off the face of the map is beginning to act a bit unstable. Peter Clines manages to top himself once again in this series that just seems to get better and better. With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Honestly, I have enjoyed this series. Both Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots were fun but with both novels, it took me a while to adjust to the story. With Ex-Communication I was instantly engaged, and Clines kept me hooked for the entire ride.  I think that Clines had a bit more flexibility in this tale, since he has already competently built his world and told the majority of the origin stories of his heroes. This allowed him to play with his THEN… NOW… format a little more, with much better affect.  All his characters seem to have taken on more depth, moving beyond just being pretty cool superheroes, to actually seeming like real people. He introduces one new charac6er through a series of THEN segments that actually have the reader a bit disoriented and confused, until the click comes, and it’s like, HOLY SHIT I GET IT NOW! THIS IS AWESOME! Even better this character goes on to be one of the best of the novel, and the most fun to watch develop. I also like that Clines took the time to add some more fantasy oriented mythological spins to his story. He balances the growing religious adaptations of the survivors between bizarre cherry picking of Biblical references to a more open and inclusive religious experience, then throws in some surprising bits of religious historical mythology to make things even more intriguing. Part of me was sad when one of those threads was nothing more than a brief side trip in the ultimate plot, but it was still pretty cool. The final battle was pretty epically awesome. Clines writes cinematic blockbuster fight scenes, and continues to put together some of the best finales that simply come alive in your brain. Ex-Communication has all your favorite characters, with some new ones, doing all your favorite things in delightfully awesome ways while battling an enemy that could very well kick all their asses. Clines even manages to throw in some open ended twists that make the reader reevaluate a lot of what they assumed earlier. It was all well done, and the most fun I have had in this series yet. Ex-Communication is a complete tale, yet leaves enough threads to make me very excited to see where this series goes next.

From what I understand, based on comments and reviews, Audible has some production issues with Ex-Communication, particularly editing errors dealing with the multi-narrator style but they were fixed. This is something I want to mention first, because there were still some errors. Now, I’m not sure if I just got the older version, or if there was one that was worse, but along the way there were few occasions when a male voice read a female character’s dialogue (unlike the rest of the novel) and at least one repeated line.  Yet, these little blemished were the only scars on an otherwise excellent production with three talented narrators. Jay Snyder has the voice of a blockbuster movie. This doesn’t always fit when he is voicing a regular Joe character, but he is simply perfect for this series. He is the anchor that holds the production together. Boyett balances him with a gruffer, older voice that manages to shove a little humanity into the production. Khristine Hvam is always wonderful to listen to, and her grasp on these characters is great. Her work on the new character was so fun it reinforced my wish that Clines provide more chapters from female POVs just so I we can get to hear more Khristine Hvam. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.





Audiobook Review: 14 by Peter Clines

3 07 2012

14 by Peter Clines

Read by Ray Porter

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 42 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams  uncomfortable.

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

One of the hardest aspects of writing book  reviews is trying to provide enough background information on a book so that a reader, even if they are unfamiliar with the book you are reviewing, can decide if it is something they may be interested in, yet doing it in a way that doesn’t ruin the experience. For many books, a detailed summarily, which provides the basic plot elements and genre categories, is appropriate, and this basic background information will actually assist the reader in getting into the right mindset to enjoy the story. Yet, sometimes a book is best experienced cold. It’s tough, because there are so many books available today, and a reader has to consider their time and money when choosing what to read. So, if you have come to this blog today, looking for a detailed synopsis of Peter Cline’s latest, 14, I’m sorry to say I am going to disappoint you. Any attempt by me to describe this book would only lessen the impact of the novel. 14 is the anti-NBC Public Service announcement, “The More You Know…” because the less you know going in, the better. What I will do is attempt to describe my experience in as general a way as possible, with a sort of wink, and a nod asking simply that you trust me. I know that you people don’t really know me, but please trust me, because this one is pretty darn good.

In 14 Peter Clines has created a frightening vision that blends genres, manipulates tropes and flips conventions on its head. It is old school horror pushed into a pop culture age, it is a mystery without a crime, and an adventure that remains stationary for much of the tale. This tale defies easy categorization. It is a darkly comic horror story that borrows just as much from Office Space and Saturday Morning cartoons as it does from HP Lovecraft, Richard Matheson and Phillip Jose Farmer. Like a good JJ Abrams series Clines combines aspects of mystery, horror, alternate history, science fiction, Steampunk, and dark fantasy, yet unlike these series, the story stays on track and actually delivers a solid ending. Yet, what surprised me was at times, particularly the final third of the novel, it actually sort of freaked me out a bit. Now, I read plenty of horror and rarely, if ever does it actually frighten me. It may appall me, or shake my sensibilities, but rarely do I actually get scared reading it. Yet, Peter Clines manages to tap into some of our deepest archetypical fears, and left me, at times, feeling quite unsettled. On the basic mechanics of the tale, 14 does a lot of things right. Clines created a lot of interesting characters, some which were instantly likeable. The main plot was in many ways a mystery tale, with a group of characters coming together to solve a riddle. As with all good mysteries, part of the solving the riddle is solving the characters, and each main character has a bit of a mystery to them, some secrets that become quite relevant to the plot, and others that serve as sort of a red herring. 14 has many twist, some of these twists you see from a mile away, some that you kick yourself for not figuring out earlier, and some that just totally floor you. The plot is intricately   and expertly built and while a bit out there, Clines grounds the far fetched nature of the tale with a likeable, everyman/woman cast. These are regular people in a decidedly irregular situation and filtering this tale through these character’s perspectives helps the reader buy into the rather bizarre nature of the story. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams uncomfortable.

I have become quite a big fan of Ray Porter’s narration style, and his rich voice. Porter is one of my favorite first person narrators. He understands that speech isn’t always fluid and flawless, but includes affectations, and inconstant pacing. Porter can do more with a pause and a sigh, than many narrators can do with poetry. Yet, this was the first time I have listened to Porter read a novel written in the third person. I wondered if his style would be as good of a fit with this type of tale as it is with his first person narration. Thankfully, I can report that it totally was.  Porter perfectly captures all of Clines strange collection of characters. It was interesting to see Porter, who I know best as the voice of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger, bring to life a character that is basically soft spoken and unsure of himself. Yet, Porter does more than capture the main character Nate well, but allows the soft voice he creates for him to grow stronger as the book moves on, highlighting the transformation of the character. One of Porter’s other strong suits is voicing exotic women, and that serves him well with the lead female character Veek. In fact, each character is given a voice that highlights their personalities and place in this story, which was very helpful with such a large cast of important characters. And I can’t talk about the ending. Really, what Porter does with the final third of the book is just nightmare inducing. It seriously freaked me out, people. Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. 14 is one of those books where even if you already read the print version, experiencing the audio version will bring it own rewards.





Audiobook Review: Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

1 09 2011

Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder with Mark Boyett, Kristine Hvam and Elizabeth Rodgers

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: This highly satisfying sequel to Ex Heroes plays out like a Graphic Novel in your head, with highly visual action and some cool new characters.

Grade: B

Ex-Patriots is the sequel to the zombie vs. superhero apocalyptic novel Ex-Heroes. I like zombie apocalyptic sequels, particularly for planned series. If the author follows the formula of zombie series, the first novel tends to be a more intimate tale, surrounding a select group of survivors, and how they managed to survive and live in a world overrun by the undead. With the basics set up, and the characters established, the second novel in a zombie series gets to do something I always love, expand the world. Sure, you could leave the same survivors in the same locale basically fighting the same scourge, perhaps in greater numbers, but what’s the fun in that. We want to see what’s happened to the country, whether there is a government struggling to maintain order. And we want new bad guys. Whether they be some crazy religious cult or a gang of bandits, we want some new human threat to add to the zombie plague. Sure, we want interesting new twists on the zombie mythos, but, we also want a bit of that old formula for us to grab onto. Peter Clines knows this. Peter Clines has a strong grasp on the pop culture of the zombie apocalypse. So, of course, ex-Patriots gives us what we want, shadowy government figures, enhanced super soldiers, and the greatest of all apocalyptic enemies, the power hungry military establishment. Yep, this should be all sorts of fun.

Again, Peter Clines has created a highly visual zombie apocalypse novel that reads like a Graphic novel, except that your brain is the artist. He adds a cool new hero, a surprisingly frightening new nemesis and mixes in some dire straights in this satisfying sequel to Ex-heroes. Clines revisits the formula from ex-Heroes of slowly developing his new characters by jumping from past to present so we often see the consequences before understanding the reasons behind how the characters got to where they were. This plays out well over the course of the novel offering twists and surprises so that even the most perceptive readers will find themselves caught off guard, Clines uses the old apocalyptic nemesis of a rogue military unit in a new and interesting way, which makes the novel have a comfortable feel without becoming overly predictable. Add to all this his crisp, well plotted action scenes and listeners should have a lot of fun with this latest edition Cline’s Ex series.

Ex-Patriots uses the narration style of its predecessor, with multiple narrators handling different character POV, and two women narrators handling the female dialogue. This gives Ex-Patriots an almost Graphic Audio feel without the annoying sound effects. Personally, I am always skeptical of this approach. I believe adding in female dialogue into male narrated POV’s often leads to bland characterizations. Narrators need material to help build characters, and I think it’s a struggle for them to truly embrace and differentiate characters when only doing snippets of dialogue. Kristine Hvam does a good job and is helped by the fact that she worked on the previous novel, but you do feel some level of disconnect from the characters. Yet, the process works with this novel do to it’s almost comic book, visual feel. Any loss of female characterization is made up by the crisp reading of action scenes, and the excellent job on the male voices in their POV.  I think this is a good narrating team, and only hope that Hvam is given more of a role in future audio versions, because her voice is fantastic and she does a good job with the material given. Jay Snyder is also excellent, using his "meanwhile at the Hall of Justice" voice perfectly. The whole production is well cast and an extremely fun listen for all fans of superheroes and zombies.





Undead Authors: An Interview with Peter Clines

1 06 2011

Peter Clines is the Author of the Superhero vs. Zombie novel Ex-Heroes (My Review) and its upcoming sequel Ex-Patriots. Ex-Heroes was recently released by Audible Frontiers as part of promotion with Permuted Press, and Ex-Patriots will be released as part of the second wave. His other works include Robinson Crusoe(The Eerie Adventures of a Lycanthrope). Mr. Clines was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions.

 

 

Bob: First off, as a lover of audiobooks and zombie fiction, this relationship between Permuted Press and Audible Frontiers has been a highlight of my year. I know that former alum J. L. Bourne, and the late, great Z. A. Recht both had audiobook versions of there work, and now even more audio exposure for Permuted has to be a good thing. What is your take on audiobooks in general, and in the relationship between Audible.com and Permuted Press?

Peter:In general, I think audiobooks are great.  Anything that gets people to read more (and, in all fairness, gets authors paid so they can keep writing) is a good thing.  So thumbs up there.   And points to Audible.com for really taking audiobooks to the next level.  It’s a brilliant business model, one of those things that’s so obvious I think everybody kicks themselves for not thinking of it first.

Of course, I’m thrilled about the partnership between Permuted and Audible.com.  It’s just going to get the books and the brand out to an even larger audience.  Permuted’s becoming a very big small press, if that makes sense, and I think I’m lucky to be caught up in that.  I’m also flattered that Audible.com picked me as one of the four authors for the next wave of releases.   So I’ll have two audiobooks from them less than two months apart.

I should also take a quick moment and add that Audible.com approached me about writing some bonus material for the July releases.  The four Permuted novels being released that month (starting with Ex-Patriots) each comes with a bonus short story.  All four stories connect and overlap in what I’ve been calling The Junkie Quatrain.  They stand alone, but if you read more of them you start to get a better view of the post-apocalyptic world they’re set in and a better understanding of different events. 

Bob: You really have created a unique vision in your novel Ex-Heroes, combining Super Heroes with Zombies, receiving praise from people such as Nathan Fillion, Mira Grant and now this lowly audiobook blogger. What was your inspiration for Ex-Heroes? How hard was it to get people to take the concept seriously?

Peter: I’d disagree that it’s unique.  Really, people have been pairing superheroes against zombies for decades.  If memory serves, Superman fought the undead back in the ’80s in one of the first John Byrne issues of Action Comics.  I think what makes it stand out was that I didn’t use the overly-gritty, overly-dramatic take on superheroes that’s become so prevalent in comics.  I just tried to make them the kind of heroes I grew up on, the ones that were a bit more fun and… well, heroic.

Which (to actually answer your question) is kind of what inspired it.  A few years back one of the big two comic companies announced a limited series where superheroes would deal with a Romero-style uprising and I was thrilled.  I thought it was going to be awesome.  Instead, it was superheroes as zombies.  And not even heroes, really.  It was cannibalistic ghouls wearing superhero costumes.  Rather that heroic survival, it was just dark and gritty taken to the extreme.  And not even good dark and gritty.  It was clumsy and wordy and just… boring.  In my opinion, anyway.  So, like a lot of people do, I sketched out some very rough ideas of how I would’ve done it.  Right around the same time I came across some old sketchbooks I’d been lugging around for years.  There were tons of (very bad) pictures of all the (very silly) superheroes I’d made up as a kid, and it got me thinking that, if they were polished up a bit, a lot of them would slot very easily into the story I thought should’ve been told.  I started typing one night and wrote "The Luckiest Girl In The World."  And it all kind of expanded from there.

As for getting to people to take it seriously, that’s yet another bit of serendipity.  I’d sold two short stories to Permuted Press for different anthologies and hung out for their Thursday night chatroom sessions.  One night it was just me and Jacob Kier, the publisher, and as we talked it came out that he also thought the previously-mentioned comic series was a wasted opportunity and that he’d love to see it done right.  So when I was about 20-30,000 words into the book that would be Ex-Heroes I approached him, reminded him of the conversation, and asked if he’d be interested in looking at it.  He said sure, I delivered it a few months later, and he accepted it a month after that.  Three days before Christmas 2008, if memory serves.

Bob: Super Heroes, in my opinion, are the epitome of American Icons. How hard was it to come up with plausible and diverse hero characters that didn’t come off as ripoffs of existing Icons?

Peter: It’s always a bit of a challenge because there’s only so many plausible powers out there and there are so many heroes already.  I think if you try to make the superhero side completely original you end up with that sort of X-Men/mutant silliness back in the early ’90s where everyone had to have a completely unique power and we ended up with mutant translators and mutant inventors.  So on the surface, yeah, my character Stealth is a lot like Batman, Zzzap is like the Human Torch (or maybe X-Ray from the U-Foes (geek reference)), Gorgon is like Rogue, and so on.  It’s almost impossible to get away from.

The trick, like any piece of writing, is the character side of it.  If they come across as real people with their own quirks and personalities, it doesn’t matter if they’ve got the same power as someone else.  No one’s ever going to confuse Charlie from Firestarter with the Human Torch or the Green Knight with Wolverine, even though they’ve got pretty much the exact same powers, because they all have very different personalities.  Mack Bolan is not James Bond, and neither of them is Chuck Bartowski. 

Probably a great example of this is St. George.  I’ve seen a ton of people in reviews refer to him as "the Superman" of the book.  Which I find interesting because from a powers point of view he’s nothing like Superman.  He’s far, far weaker (as is pointed out, Spider-Man could kick St. George’s ass), he can barely fly, and he’s not so much invulnerable as very tough.  The parallel everyone sees is in the type of person they both are, not the powers they have.

Bob: For me, oftentimes action sequences in books can become muddled and hard to visualize, let alone follow. Yet your action scenes were crisp, and highly visual. What is your process when writing action scenes?

Peter: I’m a big believer that less is more when it comes to action.  If it takes me thirty seconds to read something that would only take one second to happen, I feel it really starts to slow the pace.  Once a writer’s done that four or five times on the same page, the story is draggggging.  So action is where I always try to cut and tighten when I’m editing.  I have this unwritten rule, though, that Stealth is the only person who gets long action scenes because she’s moving so fast and doing so much that I wouldn’t be able to write them otherwise.  So, from a cinematic point of view, she’s the one character in bullet-time.

I also try not to overcomplicate stuff with a lot of weapons or martial arts terminology that the average person isn’t going to know and doesn’t need to know.  They’re going to be forming their own mental picture of what’s happening, and if I intrude on that image too much it gets disruptive and knocks them out of the story.  I can tell you this guy delivers a stunning ushiro geri to that guy… or I can just say he back-kicks the guy in the stomach.  That sort of technical stuff is great in small doses, but if there’s too much of it all it does is make the reader stumble.  That’s just slowing the pace again.

Bob:  If you could choose, what superpowers would you like? I would like two answers, the first would be a power that would make you a true crime fighting hero, and the second, one that was basically useless, but would be really cool to have.

Peter: Hmmmm.  Good question.  I think if I was actually going to fight crime the only possible options would be either invulnerability or super-speed (so the bad guys either can’t hurt me or can’t hit me).  Without those you’re pretty screwed.  Between the two, I’d probably go with super-speed.  I always liked the Flash.

If it was just for me, it’d probably be something like Spider-Man’s agility.  Or time travel.  Because time travel is cool.  Especially if you’ve got a fez.

Bob: If I could somehow sneak into your house and take a picture of your bookshelf, what books are given the highest place of honor and what may I be shocked to find?

Peter: You’d find they’re alphabetized, which is pretty shocking to anyone who knows me and my girlfriend.  We’re disorganized on so many other levels…

There’s a bunch of Stephen King and piles of Ray Bradbury.  Fair amounts of Neil Gaiman, Dan Abnett, and Lee Child.  There are a lot of graphic novels and sci-fi by people like Asimov, Clarke, and Hogan.  I’ve got a lot of older Anne Rice stuff, before her books started feeling so repetitive.  I don’t know about shocking, but it might be surprising how much classic and children’s literature I have.  I love Dumas, Hawthorne,  Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter rules!). East of Eden is spectacular, and so is To Kill a Mockingbird.  I think you’ve got to know the past to appreciate the present, and it never hurts a writer to have a broader base than their chosen genre.

Some of the kid stuff is books I’ve kept since I was little (like the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander or the Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald) and some of it’s things I’ve found again.  A few years back my girlfriend found two of my favorite childhood books for me– The Forgotten Door and Stranger from the Depths.  I think it’s important to keep hold of that primal sense of wonder and excitement and fear.  You look at people like Bradbury or King and it’s pretty apparent there’s a large part of them that’s still a little kid.

Bob: Without giving too much away, what should we expect from Ex-Patriots, the sequel to Ex-Heroes?

Well, more of the same, on one level.  Everyone who made it out of the first book will be there, and now that they’re established I get to do a bit more with them.  There’s going to be lots of zombies (some of them famous).  There’s also going to be a few new super-characters.  One of them we’ll meet briefly is the Driver, another escapee from my childhood sketchbooks.  I thought it would be funny and a bit sad if someone had a superpower that was completely useless after the apocalypse.

There’s also going to be a large Army presence, and our heroes are going to be away from the Mount for a while because of it.  I was frustrated by the way the military almost always gets portrayed in zombie stories.  Either they’ve gone mad or they’re deserters.  Or both.  The general impression is that, one way or another, the military is the worst group to be associated with in a crisis, which is kind of unfair.  So I wanted to show the soldiers as solid and dependable and heroic.  Which isn’t to say there won’t be issues when the Army and civilian survivors find each other, but none of those issues are coming out of incompetence or a "Muahh-hah-hah, now we’ll take all your food, fuel, and women back to our base and abandon you to the zombies" sort of thing.

And I got to set up a lot of stuff for a third book, too.  But we’ll talk about that later…

You can purchase the Audiobook Version of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines at AUDIBLE.COM.

 

Zombiefest