Audiobook Review: Exponential Apocalypse by Eirik Gumeny

23 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Exponential Apocalypse by Eirik Gumeny

Read by Lee Ann Howlett

Eirik Gumeny

Length: 5 Hrs

Quick Thoughts: Exponential Apocalypse reads like it was written by an acid tripping Cory Doctorow after a Futurama marathon from a compound in the post-Skynet Appalachian mountains. I had a lot of fun with Exponential Apocalypse, and you may too if you enjoy absurdly absurd apocalyptic tales with robots, zombies and superhero squirrels.

Grade: B

Perhaps shockingly to many of you, I am not one of those snooty guys who lives and breathes by the classics. Sure, I enjoy the classic ways to bring about the utter destruction the world as we know it but I am open to variety. I know many of you out there scoff at the idea of an apocalypse, like it will never happen. I mean, things like The Black Death and The Dark Ages are truly fictional constructs. Yet, I assure you, Apocalypses come and go in all sorts of variety. Hell, humanity has been an apocalypse to the many extinct animals that used to grace this world. So, I love all sorts of end of the world catalysts from the classics like plagues, zombies and socio-economic crashes to less traditional causes like, say,  nano-mutated flesh eating moth hybrids who borrow through our many faceholes, lodge into our brains and take over our fine motor control. Even within the subgenres of apocalyptic fiction, I like varieties. Why settle for robots, when we can have nanabots, macrobots, androids, cyborgs, AI, and demon possessed mechanic constructs designed to look like Justin Beiber (true story)? Why just worry about Romero Shambling zombie ghouls when we can  prepare for fast zombies, smart zombies, Zombie  cows, Llombies, zonkies and zoats? What I do find far fetched is the idea of a single apocalyptic event. Sure, if a significantly sized asteroid strikes our planet we’re screwed, but I think it’s more likely that the apocalypse will come about due to economic factors rising from robotic augmentation, radical moderate terrorists upset with the polarized nature of national discourse and the crazy government lab dude trying to create genetically modified humans able to survive an asteroid strike by fusing their DNA with octopuses. And don’t even get me started on the wrath of angry gods who feel marginalized due to the changing realties of world religion and science. Really, don’t. Oh, you did. Crap.

Ever since science once and for all won the war against religion, Thor, the Norse Lighting god now proven to not exist, has been working at a Holiday Inn. With the world going through a perpetual series of 22 Apocalypses causing major shifts in the reality of the world and minor annoyances, Thor continues his uneventful non-existence delivering pillows, bantering with his coworker and dealing with the underground dwelling Hollowmen. When Aztec god Quetzalcoatl attempts to seize the control of the world, the remnants of the government calls on Thor to assassinate the snake god with the help of some escapees from a lab experiment, a few surviving  former world leaders clones and his coworker Catrina. Exponential Apocalypse reads like it was written by an acid tripping Cory Doctorow after a Futurama marathon from a compound in the post-Skynet Appalachian mountains. This is both awesome, and just a bit disconcerting. The book is funny as hell at times, while also making you groan. Just when you begin to think author Eirik Gumeny couldn’t get more bizarre, corny or just plain absurd, he goes and tells a sentient rope joke. Truly, my experience was full of good laughs at well designed comedic moments, and some bad laughs of "Holy shit, what is wrong with this dude." That being said, I utterly loved this world populated by every single thing that science can do amped up on meth, including zombies of all species, robots of all variety, strange muties and werewolves and mutie werewolves dancing in the entrails of his victims singing nursery rhymes. The story isn’t always so coherent, but it’s full of so many awesomely strange characters and weird situations that it didn’t need to always make sense. At times it had the feel of some strange man who sat down at his computer, and thought "What the fuck, I can write a novel!" in good and bad ways. Exponential Apocalypse may be the strangest novel I have read since The Sugar Frosted Nut Sack. It’s really hard to recommend it to people, unless their brains have the twisted, apocalyptically marinated style of dementia that I wallow in everyday. I had a lot of fun with Exponential Apocalypse, and you may too if you enjoy absurdly absurd apocalyptic tales with robots, zombies and superhero squirrels. Oops, I may have forgotten to talk about Timmy. Fuck it, just read the book.

My reaction to Lee Ann Howlett’s narration of the book was similar to my reaction to the story, at times awesome, at times a bit disconcertingly awkward. Her reading of the prose took me just a bit to get used to. She has a odd southern fried tone to her reading that at first I found weird but slowly I began to really like. It was different and unique, and not always fitting but always interesting. I loved most of her characters. She pulled out some really cool voices, fitting them well to the characters. Strangely, my least favorite of her characters was Thor. He was sort of surfer bland, which was appropriate to the character, but tended to be outshined by the peripherals.  There were a few little writing quirks that probably come off better in the print, were the eye can sort of skim over, but in the audio became a bit annoying. There was one “Are we there yet” scenes that went on a bit long and some constantly used titles to names that impacted the flow of the story, but Howlett did a good job minimizing the annoyance, while at times making them kind of fun. Howlett’s performance and the production had a rawness to it that I thought worked well, but I think others may get tired of. Yet, I think if you can push through some small frustrating moments, Exponential Apocalypse is worth the listen.

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

Note #2: The summary of the sequel Dead Presidents mentions Rhinos with lasers.

Audiobook Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

9 04 2013

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Read by Kate Rudd

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a melancholy near future tale of love, family and robots, told on a canvas of a fascinating post disaster world. She fills her world with fully realized, flawed characters that filled me with joy as they were pissing me off. Clarke has managed to create a wonderful science fiction tale with a romantic tilt that I totally bought into. which isn’t the easiest of feats.

Grade: A-

It’s no secret I love robots That being said, I have never LOVED a robot, although I have on occasion imagined my roomba giving me longing glances. Yet, despite this lack of any erotic robot experience, something lured me to Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Mad Scientist Daughter. Sure, part of it was the excellent review by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings, but mostly it was the book tagline "A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots." Honestly, if you know anything about me, you know that if it has robots, I’ll probably be reading it. Yet, that other part, the Love part, is problematic. I don’t have the best history with Romance, either personal or literary. Sure, I have occasionally read tales of sexy dragons or lovelorn Cemetery Restorers, but just never really connect with the romance of the tale and often find the sexy times sort of, well, awkward, particularly when listening around others. I think the problem is that I understand the romance, yet never really feel it. I think this is the essential characteristic needed to enjoy romantic oriented novels, the ability to emotionally embrace the romance. The problem for me is I can simply never relate to the characters. I can never put myself into the role. Maybe, it’s that I find myself unbelievable as a romantic lead, or maybe it’s that romantic leads tend to be people I can’t relate with. In fact, i often become resentful or mocking towards these Alpha male characters. Yet, here is where I think that I may really have issues. Occasionally… rarely but occasionally, I do get emotionally invested in a romance. Last time I shed a tear due to a romantic entanglement was during the movie Forrest Gump, particularly when he tells Jenny, "I may not be a smart man, but I do know what love is." I found myself enthralled with Lydia Netzer’s novel Shine, Shine, Shine, particularly in the non-Traditional romantic elements. It seems that when the male character is emotionally distant, or in someway outside of societal norms to the point where they are considered handicapped in some way, then grab the tissues, it’s time to fake some allergies. I really don’t know what this says about me, though it really may explain why I am still single.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter tells the life story of Cat Novak, the daughter of a famous cyberneticist. One day, when she is six, she is introduced to her new tutor, Finn, a man so pale, she believes him to be a ghost. Yet, he is not a ghost, but a one-of-a-kind android made to be nearly human. As Cat grows, Finn becomes more and more essential to her life, moving from tutor, to friend, to something even more. Yet, is Finn capable to return her love? So, before we get to what you all want to know about, which is the hot steamy robot kissy sexy lovey stuff, I want to examine the other aspects of this novel. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is set in a fascinating near future, post disaster world where robots and Artificial Intelligence are becoming more important to humanity, to the chagrin of many. I both loved and was frustrated by the world Clarke created. It was a beautiful tragic world, perfect for the tale being told. Yet, the tale itself was so intimate, so limited in perspective that you felt there was so much brimming around the surface of the tale that was worth being explored, particularly, as a post apocalyptic fan, the history that lead up to the changed world. Yet, despite my longing to know more, Clarke brilliantly hands out tempting tidbits along the way, allowing us to get small glimpses of a greater piece. She creates a permeating sense of melancholy with her words, with the broken world an almost too perfect reflection of the somewhat broken protagonist. Cat herself was equally frustrating, making decisions that simply boggled my mind. I sometimes wonder why authors will create theses wonderfully complex and compelling female characters, the saddle them with this condescending douchebags, and offering us just enough foreshadowing of the doomed nature of their relationship to keep us wanting to scream at this woman to runaway as fast as she can. Here again, I wonder if it’s just a matter of translation, that my romance deficient brain wants to analyze these relationships logically. So, now, the robot love. Guys… totally bought into it. It seems that yes, I need to add androids to my accepted list of romantic leads I can become engaged with. Now, part of me was happy to see that even robot man can be incredibly inept when it comes to women, so there’s that. Yet, Clarke had me hook, line and robotic immersion device.  I think with many romantic plots there is a sort of feeling of inevitability. That you simply know that the star crossed lovers will eventually both grab on to the correct navigational chart and find there way together, despite this, I was fascinated by this romance through every step. Even the uncomfortable sexy parts were done well, and never felt superfluous to the plot. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a melancholy near future tale of love, family and robots, told on a canvas of a fascinating post disaster world. She fills her world with fully realized, flawed characters that filled me with joy as they were pissing me off. Clarke has managed to create a wonderful science fiction tale with a romantic tilt that I totally bought into. which isn’t the easiest of feats.

Kate Rudd narrates this tale and does so wonderfully.  The first thing that jumps out to me is the flavor of her characters. She reads the prose with a poetic tilt, capturing the mood of the tale with proficient ease. Yet, when she moved to her characters, and the dialogue, there is just something extra there, a touch of something unique and flavorful that came out in every voice she created. As someone who listens to so many audiobooks, you begin to recognize stock voices, traditional go to vocalizations that narrators use for characters. Maybe it’s just my limited experience with Rudd, this being only my second audiobook experience with he, but none of these characters felt rote in anyway. Each off them came off real. Of course, there were also her robot voices. I loved how she changed cadence when delivering an artificial voice, but still managed to inflect something new into each robotic character. Her voice of Cat’s Artificial Intelligent house was especially creepy. Rudd’s excellent performance truly enhanced my experience of this already excellent tale.

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

Audiobook Review: Robots vs. Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Narnia by Grant King-Koontz Matheson

1 04 2013

Robots Vs Zombies

Robots vs. Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Narnia by Grant King-Koontz Matheson

Read by Xe Sands and Phil Gigante

Shitilike Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Robots vs. Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Narnia is AWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOME. Full of great Zombie vs Robot action, a complex and intelligent strong female protagonist and a final twist so mindblowing that I had to bring in my own band of Zombie Cleaners to eat the brain matter that shot out of my skull. People, if you do not listen to this novel, you do not deserve the ability to listen to audiobooks and your earholes may scab over with nanite excrement.

Grade: A++

NOTE: Due to unforeseen litigation by the estates of George Romero, Isaac Asimov and CS Lewis, Robots vs Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Narnia was pulled from Audible. Hopefully this matter will be quickly resolved.

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? This is the question I pondered when first encountering the audiobook, Robots vs. Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Narnia by Grant King-Koontz Matheson. Let me let you in on a bit of a secret. I really like Zombies. I know, you are shocked. You are thinking, “If you really like Zombies why don’t you marry them?” Well, my lawyer says not to comment on that until our case, Bub vs. The state of Pennsylvania gets settled. Yet, I also like Robots. I mean, is there anything, Holidays, Weddings, Visits to the Proctologist, Elizabethan Literature, that isn’t made better by a robot. Hell, no matter how much I like you, I’d like you more if you were a robot. Hence my concerns with Robots vs. Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Narnia, if I love both Robots and Zombies, how do I choose who I’d like to win? Wouldn’t this be like putting my brother and sister into a death match with lasers and shit? YES! IT’S EXACTLY THAT AWESOME! How in God, Jehovah, The Maid, the Mother and The Crone’s name could you not find this awesome? This is like finding out that Jack Bauer and Sydney Bristow had a baby together and named him RoboCop. It’s that awesome. It’s like Batman delivering you a pizza with all your favorite toppings. THAT AWESOME! Yes, it’s like my brother and sister fighting to the death, in the actual GODDAM THUNDERDOME! Can you have too much of a good thing? NO FRACKIN’ WAY. I mean, are you an idiot? This is why god created peanut butter cups, because sexy cylons, bacon wrapped hotdogs and pirate ninjas aren’t the only things in the world that go perfectly together.   Now, I know that in the blogging community I am known for my restraint, but today I am humping restraint like a dog hopped up on Beggin’ Strips and Yuengling Lager.  Robots vs. Zombies, BRAIN IN OVERLOAD…error… error…3.14159263… REBOOT REBOOT…. Just what do you think you are doing, Barbara…? They’re coming to get you, Dave!

Lucy Nikita Bristow is working her first day at her new Librarian job when she stumbles upon a mysterious old book about assembling sentient robots from household supplies that was written by George Washington Carver. Oddly compelled, she takes the book home and begins building a robot army. Yet, when weird reports of corpses digging themselves out of their graves begin to hit the local news, she takes her robot army to an old Victorian house owned by a strange but kindly professor.  When the undead finally come for her, she hides herself in an old wardrobe while her robot army fights off the zombies. She falls asleep, and wakes up in Narnia. Yet, this isn’t the Narnia of her childhood. She finds the land full of copses of Hobgoblins and Dufflepuds and Mr. Tumbus’ body nailed to a Naiad with a sign that says “STAY OUT LUCY.” Yet, her magical glasses (did I forget to mention magical glasses?) give her a vision into a dark Castle where a centuries old nemesis has taken up resident, a nemesis that her robot army may have awakened. So, this book is…. AWESOME! I mean, this book is full of everything I love. A smart, savvy librarian with magical glasses. Hordes of Robots and Zombies doing battle. NARNIA!!! It was almost like some strange person let loose an earwig into my brain whose job was to collect everything I love and spit out into a gooey mess of ecstasy. Hell, this book even came with a coupon for a free slice of Amato’s Chicken Parm Pizza, which is MY FAVORITE EVER! It’s almost unbelievable how a title like this came to be, perfectly suited for the limited Robert Allen Reiss demographic. What I love most about it is the character of Lucy, who happens to share the name of my lovely niece is that she never lets the craziness throw her off her game. Even after she meets Larry, a young bookish man who suffered a traumatic injury, yet still manages to fight off zombies despite being wheelchair bound, she doesn’t fall apart into some love dovey mess. She and Larry develop a serious adult relationship based on mutual respect that slowly morphs into adoration. Together they find their way to the old dark castle, dealing with some well orchestrated epic quest style challenges along the way, including having to answer questions about the average airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow. Hell, there’s even Quidditch, although a bastardized American version that sucks all the fun out of the game. Nothing prepared the reader for the final twist that was so mind-blowing, I had to bring in my own band of Zombie Cleaners to eat the brain matter that shot out of my skull. People, if you do not listen to this novel, you do not deserve the ability to listen to audiobooks, and your earholes may scab over with nanite excrement. Honestly, if you don’t add this audio to your listening pile, I will personally show up at you home, and chant catchy rhyming slogans at your front door which cleverly rhymes robot with booger snot. This novel is set to be an interdimensional bestseller, and I have no idea why it’s garnered so little buzz. You can have your Rowlings and Scalzis and Grishams and James Patterson clones, I’ll take Grant KK Matheson, plus, that slice of pizza.

To make matters even better, this novel was narrated by Phil Gigante and Xe Sands. I mean, holy hell, people. My all time favorite narrator and one of the nicest audiobook people whose works is usually out of my genre, team up to make this audiobook shine like a well maintained recently washed and detailed vintage Mustang convertible. Sands manages to make Lucy sound sort of sexy, yet still mature, intelligent and skilled at zombie slaying and robot making. Gigante handles Larry’s point of view, full of humor and action. No one can turn a phrase or give validity to a pun better than Phil Gigante. The best part of their narration is the action scenes.  You can almost hear the evisceration of a sloppy zombie as a robot forces his razor sharp probe through its skull. Sands allows you to visualize every blood spatter, every maggot dropping from decaying wounds and every sensor shorting out as the zombie hordes do battle with the robot swarms. Oh, and the crazy adventures in Narnia. Gigante builds the tension as Larry and Lucy team up to take on a series of crazy tasks, deftly driving us through the tale, managing every quick turn, sudden stop and death defying Dukes of Hazard like jump with the skills of a NASCAR Driver. Both narrators even manage the slower touching, emotionally charged portions wonderfully. My only complaint was during the talking monkeys scene. Gigante is obviously using a Capuchin Monkey accent when the text clearly indicated they are a blend of Baboon and Rhesus monkeys. While it was bothersome, the average listener who is not educated in the various accents of talking monkeys will probably just gloss over what seemed to be a glaring mistake in my book. Other than that, this was a wonderful production.  God shines down his love on the world the day he allowed the wonderful Phil Gigante and Xe Sands to be cast for this audiobooks.

Note: Thanks to Shitilike Audio for providing me with my own time machine as payment to write them an awesome review of this audiobook.

What Others Have Said:

“While I typically enjoy hoitey toitey literary novels read by egomaniacal British Voice “Talent” Robots vs. Zombies really opened my eyes to just how awesome things Bob likes are. I am now an unapologetic robozombiephile.”  —  The Literate Housewife

“Wait… What… Shit, I shouldn’t have ate those mushrooms. I will just mark this novel with my putrid urine stream as endorsement of quality.” — Chuck Wendig, author of “25 Ways to… Oh What the Fuck, Just Write Shit and Let Me Play Video Games.”

“While full of sex, violence and gore, I have no qualms exposing young children to the awesomeness of Robots vs. Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Narnia. In fact, it will become required reading in all Elementary Schools in The Keystone State.” — Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett

“It’s my goal to purchase the movie rights just so I can play the role of Lucy Nikita Bristow.”  — Tom Cruise, Destroyer of War of the Worlds and Jack Reacher.

“OK, Bob. I’ll listen to it. Will you just shut up!” — The Audiobookaneers

*The Previous Endorsement May or May Not Be Real*

Audiobook Review: Extinction by Mark Alpert

28 02 2013

Extinction by Mark Alpert

Read by Todd McLaren

Tantor Audio

Length: 14 Hrs

Genre: Techno-Thriller

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

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

Audiobook Review: Swarm by B. V. Larson

28 12 2012

Swarm (Star Force, Book 1) by B. V. Larson

Read by Mark Boyett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 9 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Swarm is simple, escapist military science fiction fun. Larson writes with a "what the hell, let’s go for it" style that’s reminiscent of a train hopping a track and running into a truck full of fireworks in front of a car full of clowns. Don’t expect lots of depth, but do expect plenty of huge robotic sandworms killing off tons of enhanced super soldiers.

Grade: B

So, some things you should know about me. I have never been abducted by aliens. I have never been taken aboard any sort of ship, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial and had my anus probed to learn important things about our species. I ha’ve seen the images that come from colonoscopies, and I’m not sure exactly how that helps, and have to wonder why the aliens don’t just hack into a doctor’s system and download intra-anal images, and not worry about getting their hands dirty. I have seen plenty of UFO’s, but, let’s face it, there are plenty of flying objects out there that I just can’t identify either because of ignorance, or just my poor vision. Now, I believe that there very well may be aliens out there, but I can’t help but wonder why they would bother to even come to Earth. Now, the biggest reason used among science fiction novels has been the mysterious collection of "resources." Now, I am not fancy smancy asteroid physics sciencey guy, but that sort of seems to me like flying to Turkey for a pack of Camels in a world full of 7-11’s. What resources does Earth have, that the thousands of planetary flotsam and jetsam along the way don’t? And if earth is full of these awesome natural resources, can they only be detected through the anuses of drunk rural bumpkins? Why not just use the kinetic force of a really big rock, smash earth to pieces then collect what’s there? Yet, despite all these issues, I love alien invasion stories, whether they are lizard men, little gray dudes, or robot collectives. This is mostly due to the one reason I think would give a valid explanation for inter planetary contact, curiosity, even if it did kill the psychic tree cat.

Unbeknownst to humanity, there is a vast war going on between large Macro Machines, and an alien species that uses a swarm of nanomachines to fight them. These nanomachines called Micros are in search of flesh and blood operators to help fight the machines, whether they want to or not. Now, the Macros are heading towards Earth, and the Swarm has arrived kidnapping people off the face of the planet, and putting them through a series of test, which if failed, those tested are discarded to lethal affects. Kyle Riggs has passed their test, and now must battle the coming Enemy while trying to keep their mysterious new allies from destroying humanity.  Swarm is a fun filled action pack military science fiction thriller full of high stake battles, over the top characters and plenty of humor. Now, I’ll be honest, looking back at Swarm, there are just tons of head shakily inconsistent moments in the story, but the story is so damned fun, you don’t even think about them while in the midst of all the action. Kyle Riggs is a totally cool character, if you discount his flawed persona, ability to shrug off things like the murder of his children and his total superhero, Mary Sue-ishness. Larson writes with a "what the hell, let’s go for it" style that’s reminiscent of a train hopping a track and running into a truck full of fireworks in front of a car full of clowns. It’s just too over the top to be realistic, but crazy enough that I just didn’t really care if it made sense. Larson does a great job of making things explode, developing bad ass ways for robots to kill us and for us to kill robots, and filling his characters with a blend of testosterone, bravado and paranoia. Swarm reminded me of a less nuanced version of John Ringo’s Posleen War series, which is like saying a bunker buster bomb is a less nuanced version of a tactical nuke. Moving forward, I hope to see more character development, a deeper look into the enemies and allies Earth makes, a bit more tactical reason to the battle scenes beyond a "kill them all" attitude and female characters that serve as more than just the sexy conscious of the men.  Yet, I have no doubt I will be moving forward with this series.  Swarm is simple, escapist military science fiction fun. Don’t expect lots of depth, but do expect plenty of huge robotic sandworms killing off tons of enhanced super soldiers.

The positive thing about Mark Boyett’s performance is his no hold barred approach to reading Swarm. The negative thing about Mark Boyett’s performance is his no holds barred approach to reading Swarm. Boyett takes on these characters with an abandon which adds a sense of excitement to the production, but also forces a bad caricature feel onto many of the characters. In many ways, Boyett gave the novel a graphic novel feel, with his over the top accents and rapid fire pacing. I think his reading totally fit the book. There is no need to tone it down as Riggs and his boys are dropping nukes and fighting killer robots in the Amazon Basin. Yet, sometimes, particularly during the moments that were supposed to be Rigg’s introspective and emotional moments, Boyett’s style muted the emotional impact. Yet, those moments are pretty sparse, so we get quickly back to the fighting which Boyett delivers wonderfully. Swarm is a great audiobook for those moments when you just want to lean back, and listen to something explody and violent. Or, what I like to call, Thursday.

Audiobook Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

12 06 2011

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Read by Mike Chamberlain

Random House Audio

Genre: Robot Apocalypose

Quick Thoughts: While a fast, fun listen, I was unable to truly connect with the characters or situation on any significant level, partly due to Mike Chamberlains disjointed narration.

Grade: B-

The Apocalyptic novel has seen lots of progressions. Pre-WW2, the majority of the “end of the world” scenarios were out of the hands of man, there were plagues, like Shelley’s Last Man and and Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, and there were astronomical catastrophes like Well’s In the Days of the Comet and Wyle’s When Worlds Collide. Even outside forces bring about the end such as HG Well’s alien menace in War of the Worlds, and the bizarre North Pole thingamajig that killed off the planet in MR Shiel’s The Purple Clouds. Yet, as we enter the nuclear age, more and more often it’s man’s creations or neglect that end up killing us, the plagues are man-made, the ecological disasters brought on by Global Warming, and the robots begin to rise. As technology increases and the world grows smaller, it seems more and more likely that we are all going to die by our own creations. Well, until we do, we can at least get some good books and movies out of the deal. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson is the latest apocalyptic tale where man’s creations, here being artificial intelligence and robotics, become our greatest enemies. It is told in a series of first person and third person accounts of heroic survivors of Zero Hour, the day of the initial coordinated robot attack, who work to find a way to defeat an Artificial Intelligence called Arcos who is bent on the systematic slaughter of the majority of mankind.

The story of Robopocalypse centers on one man, Cormack Wallace, as he relates important stories of key figures in the battle to stop the robots. Because of this style of storytelling the narrative jumps around a lot, telling key stories about key moments, without a lot of set up and staging. In this way, the book is reminiscent of Max Brook’s World War Z. The major difference is that Wilson’s tale follows a select group of reoccurring characters as pivotal players in the war. While the action is crisp, and the increasing evolution of the machines is fascinating, do not expect a detailed character drama. The characters exist solely for what they can contribute to the fight, and when there contribution is complete they disappear with a solemn statement that they were never heard from again. The story progression is fast, and every scene in the book is significant, yet it was hard to become emotionally attached to the situation and characters. Even the motivations of the AI were hard to understand. Science fiction and Apocalyptic fans will embrace this novel and have fun with it, I know I did. I just have trouble seeing Robopocalypse having the crossover appeal of World War Z, or other breakout science fiction hits.

I think some of my lack of connection with the story may have come from the lackluster performance of the narrator, Mike Chamberlain. Chamberlain has an excellent narrative voice, it’s strong and clear, yet, just reading a tale like this is not enough. A good audiobook narrator makes many choices during a reading, and I question many of the ones made by Chamberlain. His reading of the first person account of a congresswoman trying to save her children came off quite disjointed and confusing when the narrator created a female voice for her dialogue but continued with his male narrative voice reading the other parts of the account. At other points in the book he maintains the chosen voice of a character thought the entire first person account. Another example of his discontinuity was when he gave sort of a cockney accent to a British hacker, yet read the tale of the Japanese robotic mechanic as Middle American, with no real attempts at creating a Japanese character voice. Even the childlike voice of the AI, which should have come off creepy, instead just sounded bratty. Perhaps, this novel would have been greatly improved by an additional narrator who could fill out Chamberlain’s weaknesses. Sadly, Chamberlain’s disjointed performance and bad narrative choices made what could have been an excellent audiobook listening experience into merely a fun, but forgettable listen.