My Top 10 Audiobooks of 2014

8 01 2015

In the past, I used to offer my favorite 20 audiobooks of the year. This, of course, when I was listening to nearly 200 audiobooks a year. In 2014, I listened to maybe 80-90 audiobooks in total, and the idea of doing a top 20 seemed ridiculous. So, instead, I offer you my 10 favorite audiobooks(with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.). Despite the lower number, my choices were quite hard. I think 2014 was a great year for apocalyptic fiction and my list definitely reflects that.

Choosing my favorite audiobook of the year incredibly hard. I knew it would come down to a battle between two novels. One was a simply mind blowing exploration of Post Apocalyptic fiction. For me, I thought Station Eleven was brilliant, and worked on so many levels. Mandel’s ability to blend together multiple storylines with a menagerie of complex and wonderful characters creating one of the most vivid and fascinating entries into post apocalyptic fiction I have experienced in some time easily made it perhaps the best book I listened to in 2014. Yet, I didn’t have more fun listening to any book as a did Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers. I went back and forth on my decision, but in the end I decided this isn’t a “Best of”list but a favorites list, and he book I enjoyed the most this year, by a hair was The Flight of the Silvers.

Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Read by Rich Orlow

Recorded Books

I should note that not was it my favorite Audiobook, but perhaps my best review of the year.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Read by Kirsten Potter

Random House Audio

Code Zero (Joe Ledger, Bk. 6) by Jonathon Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

What list would be complete without the latest entry of the Joe Ledger series. What makes Code Zero so amazing is how Maberry brings together so much of the series into one book. While it’s book 6 of the series, it is also the direct sequel to Patient Zero and proves why Maberry is the Zombie king.

My Review

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenny

Hachette Audio

I loved Harry August. I mean, this book was right in my wheelhouse, like Replay and Life After Life, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a tale of one person living their life over and over. Yet, despite the apocalyptic tone of the novel, it is full of whismy and dark British humor that makes it a unique experience. 

My Review

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Read by Cassandra Campbell

Harper Audio

Bird Box is simply the scariest book of the year. And while there be monsters, Malerman let’s the monsters in your own head fill out the details. Bird Box also benefits from the wonderful performance of Cassandra Campbell. Chilling and wicked.

 

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Read by Josh Cohen

Random House Audio

Any other year, this would have been a contended for best book of the year. It’s an emotional exploration of one man’s character, while dealing with the death of one world, and the creation of another. I loved how Faber created a unapologetic, authentic Christian character who was, while at times frustrating and naïve, a good man. Josh Cohen’s narration was my favorite performance of the year. If you have only read this book, I encourage you to take some time and be mesmerized by a simply amazing performance which is the perfect example of how a narrator can enhance the experience of a book.

 

California by Edan Lepucki

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

On the surface, California seems like your typical Young Adult Dystopian set up, but Lepucki strips away all the clichés and creates a disturbing yet enthralling look at societal breakdown and counter culture movements. California explores the nature of humanity, yet also manages to tell a darn good story.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Read by Finty Williams

Hachette Audio

So, you don’t like zombies? The Girl with All the Gifts may cure you of that unfortunate ailment. Carey once again shows that the undead are not simply the bloated corpse of a one trick pony, but a medium that offers much potential exploration. While good zombie tales are about delicious brains and entrails, great ones are about what it means to be human.

The Three by Sarah Lotz

Read by Andrew Wincott and Melanie McHugh

Hachette Audio

The Three was a novel that often managed to mesmerize me and frustrate me at the same time. Like Bird Box, The Three worked by using your own brain against you. Lotz asks open ended questions, and allowed the twisted brains of her readers to fill in the blanks. This made The Three fascinating to me, because each reader brings their own nightmares into the tale making the experience unique to them.

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman

Read by Christopher Buehlman

Blackstone Audio

I almost didn’t listen to The Lesser Dead, because, well, meh vampires… and it was read by the author. Well, fucking A Vampires and perhaps the best Author narration I have ever hear. The main character, Joey Peacock, was one of my favorite characters of the year, and if the book ended with your typical horror story bloodbath ending I still would have loved it. But it didn’t and well… wow. Great surprising novel.

My 2014 Honorable Mentions

 

Defenders by Will McIntosh

The only reason Defenders didn’t make my top 10 Audiobooks, is because it’s not available in audio, which is a travesty. Defenders was easily my favorite print read of the year. McIntosh took pulp fiction to a new level. His economy of word created stunning imagery that defies logic.

Favorite Binge Listen:

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive , Bk. 2) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer & Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

So, for someone who is a bit hesitant to take on Epic Fantasies, binge listening to 100 hours of epic fantasy was a daunting task. But Dammit, The Stormlight Archives are everything I love about fantasy including stuff I didn’t realize I loved about fantasy.

Here are some of my other favorites of the year.

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Audiobook Review: The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

16 04 2014

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Read by Rich Orlow

Recorded Books

Length: 21Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A

OK, so this may get weird.

The other day, I was finishing up a particularly disappointing listen. I had been in a strange cycle of awesome followed by awful in my audiobook listening, and needed to balance out the latest heartbreaking letdown with some new brain-busting goodness. Scanning through my pile of yet to be listened to audiobooks, my brain was screaming “NO NO NO!” at each one I perused. So, as normal people are known to do, I started to scan my extremely packed Audible Wishlist for something, anything that may tickle my malleus. Then, I saw this:

THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVER

“What the fuck is this?” I asked myself in my typically profane way. I had no recollection of adding this title to my Wishlist. While I have been known to add some weird stuff to Wishlist, this book didn’t seem to be some strange hedgehog porn title, or an Apocalyptic Robot Unicorn Spatterpunk Anthology, and I had no clue how it got onto my Wishlist. Immediately I went to my list of go to possibilities.

Drunk Wishlisting: This is of course, the cousin to Drunk Texting for the more socially awkward.

Hacker Pitches: Maybe some Author/Hacker gave up pitching their novels to me through email, and used the Heartbleed Bug to access my Audible Passwords to add their book to my wishlist.

The Pets: I know these bastards use my computer when I’m not home to fuck with me.

But, being curious I read the Publisher Summary. This book seemed really good. Like, something I would really like. Then it hit me.

Maybe, future Bob went back in time and added this book to my Wishlist, because it was so damn good.

But then, this creates a weird Paradox. How exactly would future Bob know this books was so good if it was never on his Wishlist and yet how was it added to my Wishlist unless future Bob knew it was good? Maybe, it wasn’t actually future Bob. Maybe, one night I faced a choice, embrace my extroverted side and go out and engage in some social activity like a normal person, or give in to my introverted half and spend the night researching audiobooks like some hermit auditory entertainment addict. Now, in the past, I tended to feed the introverted side, and stay home, but lately I have been more social. So, what if when I made this latest decision, the choice created an alternate timeline, where alt-Bob stayed home and discovered THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS, read it, became fascinated by temporal paradoxes, created a dimensional spanning time machine, traveled to the timeline where I actually engaged in social activities, and accessed my Audible Wishlist, adding THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS to it, knowing at some point I will be looking for an alternative to my latest disappointing listen.

I know, right! Makes sense.

So, I did listen to THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS and goddammit, Future Alt-Bob was on to something here. When a book starts with the utter annihilation on one existence, and get weirder from there, well, I’m in for the ride. THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS is tale of regular, everyday people, who just happen to be cross dimensional temporal superheroes who must come together to prevent the destruction of the multiverse. It’s like Markus Sakey’s Brilliance meets Fringe, with a touch of the Superfriends. You have all the typical superhero cliches, the tragic beginnings, the broken heroes, the discovery of their powers, the struggle with the ethical issues of power, silver glowing force field ball things, over the top action sequences and awkward romantic tension, yet added into it is some bizarre physics/timey wimey meta-mystical weirdness. Oh, and an isolationist alt-America that is rife with Xenophobia because WHY NOT!. To make it better, Daniel Price has the writing chops to pull what could be an incoherent mess, into a fast paced, exciting chase story. His characters are lovingly constructed, and come alive in your brain. His action sequences are so well put together, and detailed that at times they seem to go on a bit too long, but still keep you utterly enthralled. My only real complaint is that as part of a series, my brain wanted a bit more resolution. Sure, the story had a lot of strong reveals at the end, and it was pretty well contained, but Price utilized his temporal plotting to create lots of foreshadowing of potential things to come and I wanted to know NOW! THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS grabbed me from the apocalyptic beginning, and held onto me with it’s giant white fist through all the multidimensional time weirdness, to the exciting finale. It was pretty damn good.

There is a scene early in this book, where Amanda, a nurse and one of the future SILVERS, is trapped in her protective bubble as the world is being destroyed around her. It’s a brilliant and poignant scene between her and her somewhat estranged husband that has emotional resonance throughout the rest of the book. Listening to this scene, I felt like I was there, witnessing a conversation between two distinct people. It literally gave me chills. This is when I said to myself, “Rich Orlow is a pretty badass narrator.” And, really, he is. There are performances to remember, and Rich Orlow gives one here. His handling of the many characters was wonderful. From the sociopathic creeper Evan to the strange otherly beings that seem to be directing each step the Silver take, Orlow nails them all. His pacing is spot on, allowing each sequence to move at just the right speed. While we are only a few months in, this is definitely one of my favorite performances of the year. Dammit, the man even sings a bit. If you like science fiction, time travel, shiny awesome things, or have a soul trapped somewhere in your flesh cocoon, give THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS a listen.





Audiobook Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

6 02 2014

Breach Zone (Shadow Ops, Bk. 3) by Myke Cole

Read by Korey Jackson

Recorded Books

13 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Military Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: While Breach Zone’s high concept scenario should thrill any speculative fiction fan, the true heart of the tale comes in Cole’s intimate development of the relationship between two characters. Breach Zone asks big question and never provides easy answers, but what it does provide is a whole lotta fun and characters you become truly invested in. 

Grade: B+

In Breach Zone, Myke Cole rounds out his Shadow Ops trilogy with a well conceived and solidly executed completion of the story that began in Control Point. When I first began Breach Zone, I was a bit worried. The concepts behind the tale, a siege of New York City by magical otherworldly beings under the leadership of a disgruntled and dangerous women, was brilliant, yet part of me wondered if the concept was too big for the writer. While Cole’s action scenes are solid, the strength of his writing came in his ability to create realistic, morally conflicted characters. I wondered if the big time blockbuster scenario would drown out the essence of the story. Yet, Cole took the story in a direction I was totally not expecting. While probably his biggest novel to date, it was also his most intimate, expanding the stories of two peripheral characters in a heartfelt way that felt like a natural progression to the story. While goblin battles and magical warfare was going on in big ways, the story proved to be about two characters and this conflict became the soul of the story, giving Breach Zone the humanity it needed. Breach Zone asks big question and never provides easy answers, but what it does provide is a whole lotta fun and characters you become truly invested in. 

After some pacing issues early on in the first novel, Korey Jackson has seemed to really find his stride in this series. It’s not easy for a series narrator to take on a series where the main protagonist shifts book to book, yet Jackson handles this seamlessly. Jackson’s reading sucked me into the tale, breathing life into these characters. His narration drives the story forward, keeping the listener on their toes. Cole brings the first arc of hi Shadow Ops series to a strong finish, and allows a good framework for more tales to come.





Audiobook Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

3 09 2013

Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse, Book 3) by James S. A. Corey

Read by Jefferson Mays

Recorded Books

Length: 18 Hrs 26 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: In Abaddon’s Gate Corey balances the love of exploration all great space operas have with vivid action and characters that seem so alive you can feel the tingle of their breath on the back of your neck. Abaddon’s Gate left me completely satisfied, and craving for more.

Grade: A-

NOTE: As this is book 3 in a series, there may be SPOILERS for those who haven’t read the first two books.

Most books, particularly the action oriented novels I enjoy, whether they be thrillers or speculative fiction, have clear good guys and bad guys. While the good guys aren’t always completely good, in the moralistic sense of the word, they tend to be better than the bad guys they are fighting and. Yet, life isn’t always cut and dry. Often times, the line between protagonist and antagonist is a matter of perception. My favorite fictional tales often fall into this sort of gray area. For any book, there is needed conflict, yet, too often, since we are allowed to understand the motivations and beliefs of the perspective character and see their enemies through their filters, we strongly understand that in this fight, they are in the right. Yet, that doesn’t always mean that their enemies are “bad guys” nor is their confidence in their righteousness any more deserving than those we believe to be in the wrong.  I think this is something that we often forget in real life. Often times with issues in real life or fiction, whether they be political or otherwise, the opposing side has a just as much righteous motivation for their actions. Your heroes, or those aligned with your ideals may believe that the actions undertaken by their opponents will result in disaster. Yet, the antagonists may have an equally valid belief that if they don’t succeed or prevent you from succeeding, a disaster will strike. Usually, the only true judge of who is a hero and who is its villain is history. Take away the conflict of ideals, and those on both sides of the issue may actually be allies. Yet, due to a differing opinion on an issue, become life long enemies due to one moment in history where they both find themselves fighting the righteous fight for an admirable ideal. Yet, sadly, this concept is rarely explored in fiction. All too often, author’s want their conflict to be black and white, even when their protagonists acts in shades of gray. The ends justify their heroes’ means because their hero is on the side that will eventually prove to be right and their opponent’s heartless villains even though their actions are similar to the proven “good guys.”

Jim Holden, Captain of the Rocinante, has problems. An old enemy wants to smear his name and organize his death, and Mars has taken legal issue with the salvage claim on his ship and wants the Rocinante back. His only chance to save his life and his ship is to head towards The Ring, a strange alien artifact that is using the form of his dead ally to communicate with him.  Yet, when the Rocinante flees and the exploratory fleet follows them into the ring and are sent unknown miles across space, violence erupts between those who want to return home and those who believe returning will bring destruction to those left behind, and of course, caught in the middle is Jim and his crew. Abaddon’s Gate is the latest edition in The Expanse series,  James SA Corey’s epic space adventure set in the intermediate age of space travel where earth has settled throughout the solar system but has yet to gain access to the stars. Again, Corey changes focus in his novel, this time away from the conflicts between Earth, Mars and the outer planets, and focuses on the intentions of the Protegen molecule and the strange alien artifact. The story is a more intimate and claustrophobic one. While it travels the furthest away from the solar system, it deals with issues of moral responsibility and the adaptation of religion and faith in a space faring society creating a mood more limited in physical scope but broad in the conceptual. Again, Holden finds himself at the center of a power struggle, this time between the leader of the exploratory force who gained his position through political means, and his security chief, Bull, whose political liabilities prevented him for getting the command that he was more suited for. This struggle leads to violence and mutinies on top of mutinies as the stranded force must deal with the alien artifact’s strange manipulation of space while trying to get home without damning humanity. I loved how Corey managed to bring religion into the mix as agents of gray, two sides of good people with strongly differing opinions. Instead of taking the easy, black and white religion is bad approach that we often see, Corey manages to balance the tale by creating the true hero of the tale in the form of a Methodist Minister named Anna who may be one of the series strongest characters in unexpected ways. While Abaddon’s Gates may lack the intricate machinations and fascinating worldbuilding that the first two novels had, Corey more than makes up for it with his crisp pacing and splendid action that kept listeners floating on the ends of their low grav seats.  Abaddon’s  Gate is proof that authors can constantly shift focus in their series, and tell multiple kinds of tales within the worlds they create, and still keep it fresh, exciting and consistent. I enjoyed every moments of Abaddon’s Gate. It tickled that spot in my heart that leaps for joy when given the opportunity to explore the unknown, even if it’s dangerous. Corey balances the love of exploration all great space operas have with vivid action and characters that seem so alive you can feel the tingle of their breath on the back of your neck. Abaddon’s Gate left me completely satisfies, and craving for more.

You know you have totally sold into a series narrator when you get mad at an author for not including a certain character because you loved how they performed them. This was the situation I faced with Abaddon’s Gate (the authors know who I’m talking about. MORE!) Jefferson Mays delivers another solid performance, bringing this world fully alive for the listener. Mays is one of the few male narrators where I actually think he does better with his female characters than his male. Not that his male character’s aren’t excellent, he just hits a whole other level when he voices Corey’s complicated and wonderful female characters. It was also great to have Miller back even if it’s an alien replicated version of him, largely due to Mays sardonic delivery of the character that got more than one laugh out of me. Mays really steps up the pacing for Abaddon’s Gate. The focus on action really came alive in this audio version, and there were moments I risked cramping up due to a lack of oxygen because I totally forgot to continue breathing until I knew all my favorite characters were safe. Abaddon’s Gate is truly a great example of how good science fiction can be in audio with just the right narrator and I am excited to see what part of The Expanse Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante head to next.





Audiobook Review: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

30 07 2013

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

Read by Graham Winton

Recorded Books

Length: 22 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Robert Jackson Bennett takes on the American Dream, and twists it in so many bizarre ways it becomes a kaleidoscope of what-the-fuckery. An engaging plot full of wonderful characters, that Bennett sends on one of the weirdest, wildest sciency fiction adventures my poor brain has ever had to process. Some narration issues may have held back some of it’s overall potential, but it’s still one heck of a good listen.

Grade: A-

Physics is weird. Confession time: I am not one of those super smart braniacs who understands the intricacies of the way our universe works. Hell, I’m not exactly sure how my cell phone works. Yet, despite my mental deficiencies, I love sciencey stuff.  I get fascinated by talk of all the stuff smart people talk about, like The Higgs Boson, buckyballs, interdimensional travel, alternate universe, quarks, and such, even though I don’t understand jack shit about it. I look at physics like I look at music, I may not understand how the dude gets that sound to come out of a wooden box with strings, but dammit I love listening to it. Yet, somewhere in the monkey part of my brain where I still run screaming from loud noises and fire, physics scares the shit out of me. I don’t know what’s worse, being so smart you understand the laws of the universe, or being just smart enough to be scared pantless of them. Because, Physics is weird. Let’s face it, how many books start with some weird physics experiments, which opens the door to some crazy ass shit. Well, a lot of the ones I read do. I’m scared of that crazy ass shit. I am scared that someday, somewhere, some well meaning scientist is going to try to figure out just how their quantum computer works, or attempts to beam a live chicken three feet, and in process open some portal allowing Cthulhu and the great old ones into our realm of existences to feast upon our souls. Because, of, well… physics. Even worse, I fear that some scientist will be working on some project, and just accidentally turn off our universe, forcing us all to blink out of existence. Even scarier, some weird scientist with face claws and a pack mentality from some planet like 50 or 100 gazillion light years away will screw up some experiment, and shrink the space between our planets enough so they can invade us, and impregnate our throats with their larval babies. Because, really, I love science. It’s all shiny and awesome and may one day allow us to colonize our universe and live for centuries, that’s if we don’t all have alien larva gestating in our esophagi.

Robert Jackson Bennett, author of one of my all time favorite audiobooks, The Troupe, takes on the American Dream, and twists it in so many bizarre ways it becomes a kaleidoscope of what-the-fuckery.  There are a few occasions in my reviewing life where I avoid like kryptonite giving a full synopsis of a book, because some books are better off just going into them pretty much cold. American Elsewhere is one of those books. Bennett has created one of the weirdest, wildest, sort of science fiction mysteries tales that I have come across. It’s so full of these game changing moments, these occurrences that utterly change your perspective of what you were reading, that attempting to describe it to you is as futile as teaching you cat to clean it’s own damn liter box. The strange thing is, these moments aren’t like big time Shamalayan twists. In fact, for much of the book, you have you have some pretty darn good suspicions about what is happening, except Bennett knows this and uses that understanding against you to screw with your brain. You expect certain things, and find them to be true, but are shocked at just how you got there and what implications these things truly have. At times, I felt like he was mocking me, proving me both right and wrong with one sweep of his preferred writing implement. It hurt my brain. Repeatedly. Yet, despite his mind bending plot developments, Bennett finds a way to tell a pretty enthralling story, with some likable characters.  I love that there really isn’t a real traditional bad guy in American Elsewhere. There are bad people who do bad things, and there is, on some levels, and antagonist, but again Bennett plays with the traditional bad guy motivations in ways you just don’t expect. There is one moment where one of the sort of antagonist says, "But is what I did really so wrong?" and the answer really isn’t that easy to figure out. In many ways, American Elsewhere is a family drama written under the precept that every family is a soap opera, and the bigger and weirder and otherworldlier the family is, the soap opera becomes exponentially weirder. Oh, and the big climatic finale was simply epic. It was a big fight scene, twisted and turned and flipped on its head, in ways that make your brain go BOOM! I mean, it was pretty damn awesome, and unexpected, and just a bit sad. It’s really hard to explain American Elsewhere, and why I loved it so much. Wonderful characters, weird science, a creepy idyllic town, a abandoned New Mexico Lab, and a kick assed heroine with a red muscle car. Again, Bennett manages to alter the very fabric of reality in a way that makes for a wonderfully engaging but mind numbing tale. 

There is often a fine line between a really good audiobook, and a great one, and much of it comes down to the narrator. It’s usually agreed that a good narrator can make a mediocre book better, but a bad narrator can destroy the best book. Yet, it’s also possible for an awesome book to still remain pretty awesome, but lose some of its potential due to small choices made by the narrator. That being said, Graham Winton isn’t a bad narrator. In fact, I would have no problem listening to him read a book again. I just think there were moments where American Elsewhere could have been a great mind-blowing audio experience, but was held back a bit by the narrator. First off, I would argue that the entire audiobook would have been served better with a female narrator. Winton’s female voices were pretty strong, but the main character was late 30’ish Hispanic American woman from Texas. While his voice for her was serviceable, if she was maybe a peripheral character, I think his bland voicing of her character held the book back. You can make an argument that the true main character wasn’t Mona, but the town of Wink. Winton did a good job narrator if this were the case. He had a matter of fat tone that served well in the omniscient narrator perspective, but I still think the book would have been better server with a mature female narrator like Hilary Huber or Kirsten Potter. Also, being that the book was set in the Southwest, there was a surprising lack of accents among the characters. I think that the narrator didn’t need to go all out on the accents, but some subtle Texan and New Mexico accents would have added some flavor to the recording. Technically, Winton did a lot right, His reading was smooth and strong, and he paced the novel well, I just would have liked a bit more. Overall, there was nothing in his performance that would make you want to stop listening, and I loved listening to this book, but there was a small naggy part in the back of my head telling me this could have been so much better. That, with just a little more from the right narrator, this could have easily been in contention for my favorite audiobook of the year.





Audiobook Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

19 07 2013

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Read by Lynne Thigpen

Recorded Books

Length: 12 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Octavia Butler’s slow boil apocalypse is a mesmerizing journey, both physically and spiritually, through a haunting broken America. Parable of the Sower defied my expectations, while it is a visionary almost prophet look at a very possible future, it is also a compelling character study and an accessible tale of survival.

Grade: A

I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I have a whole slew of names on a list of authors I need to read before I die, once some flexibility in my current reading list opens up. Of course, such flexibility doesn’t exist. Every week when the new books come out there are about 4 or 5 that I just HAVE TO read, and a few that I really would like to read. Being that I listen to about four or five books a week, and read a few a month, I can barely find time to listen to all the books I want to in the current year, let alone spend time checking out overlooked classic authors I have neglected. I have considered doing reading challenges where you try to take on a certain level of books from your TBR pile, yet I am beginning to realize that these types of challenges feel like a chore to me. So, instead, I have decided to naturally try to incorporate some of these classics into my reading rotation, current releases be damned. One author I have particularly neglected, which it could be considered criminal due to my predilection for post apocalyptic fiction, is Octavia Butler. Butler’s Parable series has been on my radar for over 10 years, in fact, I actually purchased a print copy of Parable of the Sower about 7 years ago, which unfortunately, fell right around the time where I began  doing most of my reading through audio. Yet, I think I was also daunted a bit by the ideas behind the novel. Butler has often been described to me as visionary, and a literary science fiction writer. These are good things. Yet, for a guy who likes explosions and zombies and walking dudes, and sometimes find myself shaking my head at "literary" masterpieces in appreciative confusion and I couldn’t help but worry that Butler’s philosophical vision may be destined to be a bit over my head.

Lauren Olimina is a sharer, a rare empathic condition that allows her to feel the pain and sensations of those around her. She hides her condition from the small walled community she lives in. She also hides the truth that she begins to believe in, that God is Change and that their destiny lies on the stars, a truth she calls Earthseed. Yet, as society becomes more and more unstable due to economic collapse and climate change, Lauren finds herself preparing to join the endless mob of homeless travelers looking for a better life in the north. When tragedy hits her community, she joins a few survivors on a journey where she spreads the philosophy of Earthseed to those around her. Octavia Butler’s slow boil apocalypse is a mesmerizing journey, both physically and spiritually, through a haunting broken America. Butler has created one of the most resonant worlds I have experienced. Her society is a vision of contradictions where no one can trust anyone else, yet they need the help of others to survive. Lauren Olimina is such a beautiful and complex character, it is almost impossible to believe she is only 18 years old. She is unwavering in her conviction of the tenets of Earthseed. In many ways, Parable of the Sower is a new gospel, the tale of a prophet of a new religion that incorporates but isn’t dependent on the many other belief structures. Butler tells Lauren story in a way that you fear she may be just a bit insane, but you hope she isn’t. I’ll be honest, part of me feared the world Butler created, because it is a truly visionary and realistic account of a path that’s just a bit too believable. Yet, another part of me couldn’t help but wish Lauren was real, that Earthseed was more than just a fictional philosophy. Yet, Parable of the Sower isn’t just a preachy philosophical journey through a new religion, but a strong tale of survival in the face of devastation. Butler’s descriptions of the rise of a new indentured slavery through company towns is terrifying. It reminded me a lot of the world of Brian Francis Slattery’s Liberation, where people began willingly to sell themselves as slaves to avoid starving.  It’s scary that two separate voices, decades apart, can create a situation where one of the biggest evils in our history becomes a viable alternative. Despite the direness of the world Butler created, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of hope as many of these characters came together to survive. The Parable of the Sower defied my expectations, while it is a visionary almost prophet look at a very possible future, it is also a compelling and fascinating character study and an accessible tale of survival.

There were a lot of things about Lynne Thigpen’s narration that typically I would point to as problems. She read with a slow, deliberate and consistent pace that at times almost bordered on monotonous. Her characterizations were mostly subtle, and rarely did she emote in any significant way. There were these very tragic, heartbreaking moments which she read it with a careful, almost muted matter-of-factness. Yet, for some reason, the sum of her performance was simply mesmerizing. I truly felt drawn into the world,. I really can’t put my finger on why, but Thigpen’s reading just worked. It was hauntingly beautiful. It felt like a poem trying to avoid being poetry, a song spoken but not sung. It many ways it complemented Butler’s broken, muted world of mistrust, and monotony. Despite her minimalistic characterization, I found each character came alive in its own way. The softness of the accents and slight changes in the rhythms of the speech did more that a perfect capturing of character could do. Sometimes, I think there is a bit of destiny at play in the world. Perhaps the reason I never read those copies of the Parable series I bought so long ago is that God is Change, and my change from a print to audio reader offered me the perfect way to experience this tale.

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. Click on the banner below for more posts.





Audiobook Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

26 04 2013

Range of Ghost by Elizabeth Bear (The Eternal Sky, Bk. 1)

Read by Celeste Ciulla

Recorded Books

Length: 12 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Range of Ghost is a beautiful sprawling epic fantasy, full of deep mysteries, wonderful imagery and truly engaging characters. Bear twists and turns your expectations of what fantasy should be, combining myth and fables with an intricate history that is reminiscent of the vast dynasties and mongrol hordes of Asia in the 12th century.

Grade: B

I hate reviewing Fantasy. I can never seem to manage to get my feelings about a Fantasy novel to flow from my brain to my fingers then onto my blog. I will often sit down and read some of my favorite bloggers discussing the latest in Fantasy novel with an eloquence I just can’t manage. They know the lexicon, they can analyze the trends and tropes, and deftly describe what they love and hate about a fantasy novel with a poetic flair that also manages to be accessible to everyday fantasy fans like me. Yet, when I sit down and try to write about a Fantasy novel that I recently read, I feel like an 80 year old man trying to figure out The Google. Specifically, where I have trouble is in second world fantasy. In fact, I only recently learned  that what I typically would refer to as epic, or Tolkieneque fantasy that takes place in a separate world totally apart from our plane of existence is called Second World Fantasy. Give me some portal fantasy or urban fantasy, and I’m cool. Part of my problem is I often have trouble with the worlds in general. I’m not sure if it’s due to a lack of imagination or that fact that I grew up in a home that looked at Fantasy novels as the gateway drug to Satanism, it just takes me awhile to buy into the world. At least with Portal Fantasy, I have characters who share some similar experience, or with Post Apocalyptic Fantasy, the world can be an extrapolation of our own. Yet, with Second World Fantasy, I am always looking for a tether. I am trying to find a link that can be a reference point. Typically, I can do this using history, for example, once I figured out that A Song of Ice and Fire was in part inspired by The War of the Roses, I was all good. Yet, I often times try figure out what settings are supposed to represent, or which Earth bound society a race or ethnic group within a Fantasy novel are inspired by. Often, without this tether, I feel like I’m visiting a stranger’s house and I never truly feel comfortable.

After a devastating war of succession amongst the Plain people, Temur, grandson of the Great Khagan, is now without family or tribe, lost among a flood of refugees. Yet, his star still burns in the Eternal Sky and his enemies would love to put it out. Samarakar was once a princess and heir to the Rasa dynasty, until her brother supplanted her and married her off to a political ally. Now, widowed, she has become a wizard, required to sacrifice her ability to reproduce to ensure her safety from her brother’s machinations. With an evil force unleashing disease and death, these two once heirs must join up to set right the course of history for their world. Range of Ghost is a beautiful sprawling epic fantasy, full of deep mysteries, wonderful imagery and truly engaging characters. Bear twists and turns your expectations of what fantasy should be, combining myth and fables with an intricate history that is reminiscent of the vast dynasties and mongrol hordes of Asia in the 12th century. Range of Ghosts wasn’t always an easy read for me. As I mentioned, I often struggle with second world fantasy and I never quite fully immersed me in Bear’s world. I felt like an outsider, trying to understand it, and every time I think I got a grasp on something Bear would introduce a new element that had me reevaluating things. This was both disconcerting and exciting. What I really loved was the characters. Relatively early on I felt invested in what was happening to them, fascinated with their journeys, and intrigued by what was to come. I loved that Bear’s magical system was more practical, a welcome change to the often flamboyant magic that seems to serve as the end all answer to all of the character’s problems. Here, the magic was a tool, and not their savior. I really liked the balance between the two main characters, the younger, more rash Temur, and the more experienced Samarakar, whose inner strength often masked her own insecurities and naiveté. Bear has a real knack for writing wide open battle scenes, yet giving them an intimate feel. I found her action quite descriptive, and her pacing crisp. I did begin to feel a bit fatigued with the non stop pace of the second half, and was wavering on whether I would want to continue the series, but Bear wrapped it up nicely, leaving me quite intrigued about where these characters will be heading next. Range of Ghost deserves all the accolades it has received. It’s a beautiful conceived fantasy novel and most of my issues with it are more due more to my limitations as a fantasy reader than any deficiency of the author.

This is my first experience with Celeste Ciulla as a narrator and overall my feelings were mixed. She definitely has a beautiful voice and I felt the majority of the characters, particularly the female characters, were well done. There were moments where her reading of the exotic names of characters and settings had an almost musical feel, rolling her tongue and emphasizing disparate syllables capturing the poetic feel of the world Bear created. Yet, I also had some issues. Her pacing was sometimes stiff, full of harsh diction that, at times, sucked some of the beauty from the prose. It was unbalanced, she would read a line, almost harsh and flat, over enunciating words, then end it with a place name or character name and give that an exotic flair. I felt her voice for Temur was a bit too soft, and uncertain. There were moments where the shock of his experiences could lead to this, but I feel at some point he should have seemed harder, more wary, yet Ciulla’s interpretation seemed to lack any of the pivotal character development that Bear was utilizing. Overall, it wasn’t a bad performance. The pacing issues were problematic at times, but it was balanced by the beauty of her voice and exotic flair she gave to much of the production.