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: Line of Fire by Stephen White

21 08 2012

Line of Fire by Stephen White (Dr. Alan Gregory Series, Book 19)

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hors 43 Min

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Line of Fire is a slower, more contemplative novel in the Alan Gregory Series. Instead of Alan solving a crime, he is attempting to solve and salvage his life and the lives of those he loves. While many may find this frustrating, I found it brilliant and heartbreaking and it left me yearning for the series finale.

Grade: B+

Line of Fire by Stephen White is the penultimate volume in his series featuring Boulder Colorado psychologist Dr. Alan Gregory. The fact that the series will be ending with its 20th edition both saddens and excites me. I will hate to see this series go. Dr. Alan Gregory isn’t your typical thriller hero. He doesn’t secretly posses ninja skills and he never served as an Army Ranger. In fact, he’s pretty much a boring, mediocre guy that you wouldn’t give a second thought to if you saw him walking down the street. I will be very sad to see this character leave my literary world, but I am also kind of happy that White decided to end this series on his own terms. There are so many series out there that seem to push out their yearly edition to the titular characters series without much progression to the overall development of the plot or character. Yet, one thing White has managed to do is progress the series. The Alan Gregory today isn’t the same man we met in the first novel, Privileged Information. He is a bit more world weary, a lot more experienced, and most importantly, a lot more developed as a character. It’s interesting what White has done to this character over the series. He is a man who is a bit of a push over. He is married to a strong willed and kind of unlikable woman who, in my opinion, never really seems to appreciate him. Throughout the series, his best friends, two strong, but actually likeable women and a Boulder County Police Officer, all of which sort of push him around as well. Yet, instead of making his into this super assertive character, White has allowed him to develop mechanisms to deal with his faults. More importantly, over the past few editions, White has explored more and more into Alan’s past, showing us exactly why he has become the man he is today. It’s a progression that felt like it was leading somewhere, and it seems that eventual destination begins in The Line of Fire.

Usually in an Alan Gregory novel, some external motivational force, like a murder or kidnapping, that connects in some way to one of the doctor’s cases, leads him into some adventure. Yet, in Line of Fire, the motivation is all internal. While the city of Boulder is dealing with one of it’s largest wildfires to date, a   careless moment between Alan and Sam may just expose their deepest secret, potentially leading to the destruction of everything they hold dear. Also, a mesmerizing new client may hold the secret to one of his dearest friend’s erratic behavior.  Line of Fire is a psychological thriller with a big emphasis on the psychological. Personally, I thought the direction that Stephen White took this novel was inspired brilliance. White pulls together subplots going back as far as book 1, to put Alan and Sam in the most precarious spot of the entire series. Instead of trying to solve a murder or save a client, Alan is trying to keep the pieces of his life, his friendships, family and business, from crashing around him. This book definitely downplays the action and spends a lot of time in Alan’s head, forcing him to take on things he would much rather keep buried. White is simply brutal to his main character in this novel, taking everything he finds solace in, and tearing it from under his feet. While you know a lot of it is due to choices made by the characters in the novel, it is still hard to watch at times. Alan Gregory is one of those characters you want to see succeed, yet, his greatest strength, the fact that he is willing to do anything for those he loves, may just become the instrument for his destruction. My emotions ran the gambit in this novel. I was angry and frustrated at one moment, then utterly heartbroken the next. Now, some readers may be disappointed with this novel and its direction. As the first chapter in the two book arch that will end the series, Line of Fire doesn’t have the kind of clean ending you expect from the series. Much of the book is wrapped up, but there is definitely a feel of unfinished business as the novel comes to a close. Line of Fire is a slower, more contemplative novel in the Alan Gregory Series. Instead of Alan solving a crime, he is attempting to solve and salvage his life and the lives of those he loves. While many may find this frustrating, I found it brilliant and heartbreaking and it left me yearning for the series finale.

Again, Dick Hill is on board as narrator to bring Alan Gregory to life. While Dick Hill is quite respected in his ability to bring the big, bad assed, butt kicking hero types to life, I have always enjoyed the softness that he brings to the Alan Gregory character. Alan is never smooth, often fumbling over his words and his thoughts, and spends a lot of time     over analyzing life’s minutia within the walls of his own mind. While Hill captures the strengths of this character, he always gives him a slight edge of uneasiness that fits the character well. Also, you just have to love Hill’s Sam Purdy. Purdy is the crotchety cop friend that seems to become the staple of many thrillers, but in this series, he’s broken away enough from the stereotype to becomes something more. Hill manages to bring out a lot of Purdy’s dark humor and at the same times displays Purdy’s struggle between his dinosaur nature and his attempts to become more open minded. Even with a tremendous amount of heartbreakingly emotional moments, and our characters being in extreme desperate states, Hill manages to bring the fun and humor of the series to life. There is only one more chapter in Dr. Alan Gregory’s life left to go, and I await it with fearful anticipation.

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