Audiobook Review: Pilot X by Tom Merritt

29 04 2017


Pilot X by Tom Merritt

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Studios

Grade: B+

Many yeas ago a reviewer called the latest release by a band I liked “a blatant U2 ripoff.” The members of that band took those words as a compliment. So, in that vein, Tom Merritt’s novel, Pilot X is a blatant Dr. Who ripoff in the best possible way. It’s a timey whimey high stakes adventure full of colorful aliens, a main character whose engaging and charmingly out of his depths, a spaceship with more personality than most human literary characters and enough head spinning, reality altering time travel shenanigans to keep the reader unsure if they are even supposed to be guessing. Merritt balances seriousness and absurdist human at a level at least in the ballpark of Douglas Adams and delivers a clever engaging story to boot. 
I always enjoy Kevin T. Collins, and you could just tell he was having a lot of fun with this book. From Cyborgs and Alien Hive Minds to officious bureaucrats Collins delivers without ever going cartoonishly over the top but still managing to capture the humor in the text. His pacing is crisp, building the tension, keeping the listening engaged in the story. If you want so good old fashion science fiction fun, you can’t really do better than Pilot X. 

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Audiobook Review: In the Darkness, That’s Where I’ll Know You: The Complete Black Room Story by Luke Smitherd

19 04 2017


In the Darkness, That’s Where I’ll Know You: The Complete Black Room Story by Luke Smitherd

Read by Luke Smitherd

Flying Body Press

Grade: B

I was in a bit of a rut. I had started two very smart, clever science fiction novels and found myself in awe of the writing and impressed with the concepts but not actually enjoying the experience. So I said, screw it, give me something fun. I had downloaded In the Darkness, That’s Where I’ll Know You a while back after thoroughly enjoying Luke Smitherd’s The Stone Man and than forgot about it. I started it as a desperation move, hoping to get my groove back and I’m glad I did. This novel, the complete version of his Black Room was truly a Bob novel, a weird physic novel full of likable everyday characters and awkward romance. Smitherd tells a tale with dark themes balanced out by goofy humor. It was both smart and good fun, never taking itself too seriously just delivering an entertaining read. 
One of the reasons I hesitated on listening to this was that it was narrated by the author. Smitherd has a nice voice but as us rabid audiophiles know, a nice voice isn’t enough. There were plenty of flaws with his reading. His pacing in the beginning was a bit awkward. The biggest issue was with the perspective transitions, they were often too fluid, not allowing you to realize you moved from one POV to another, which lead to a dissonant feeling pulling you momentarily out of the story. Yet besides these issues, I found myself enjoying the narration. He manages the tongue in cheek humor with a British subtlety that perfectly suited the story and his enthusiasm for the story was infectious. While a professional narrator could have enhanced the experience, don’t let the fact that the author narrated the tale scare you off. 





Audiobook Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

23 03 2017


The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependencey Series, Bk. 1) by John Scalzi

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Studios 

Grade: B+

Everyone has that friend who is a bit over-the-top goofy, tries too hard to be clever and fit in with the cool geeks. Maybe they swear too much, or make a joke that’s not quite appropriate for the situation but it’s all a mask for the fact that they are incredibly smart. Well, that’s basically a Scalzi novel. At times, it just feels like he’s trying to hard. Ships named after song lyrics, bad puns, lots of swearing but all of that is just noise distracting you from the fact that The Collapsing Empire is actually a smart, fun science fiction novel. The Collapsing Empire is the start of a series but it’s also a pretty well contained novel on its own that comes to a satisfying conclusion. The characters can be frustrating at times but all find different ways to surprise you. Fans of Scalzi will eat this up, while others will try to make all types of serious literary criticism while not quite managing to suppress a smirk. 

Hey, it’s Wil Wheaton! Rare is the perfect Wil Wheaton performance but there’s just something engaging about his style. Sometimes he emphasizes the wrong word or his voice pitches up into the whiney range. All his female characters feel like they are either 5 or 50, but when Scalzi kicks up the snark Wheaton delivers. You can’t help but enjoy his wry humor and the obvious fun he has while narrating and that makes up for most of his flaws. 





Audiobook Review: Sector 64: Ambush by Dean M. Cole

24 02 2015

Sector 64: Ambush by Dean M. Cole

Read by Mike Ortego

Dean M. Cole

Length: 11Hrs 57Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

Let’s face it, we all know that there are aliens out there. Somewhere in the vastness of space, life has sprung up. I mean, if Earth managed to evolve enough to bring us to a point where 50 Shades of Grey is a literary and cinematic phenomenon, then somewhere out there other life, maybe even sentient life, exists. And, would we really blame them if they want to destroy our planet and rid the universe of our menace. That’s the thing about Alien Invasion stories. If there is a species of Alien Life out there who can actually make it to Earth, then we better home they haven’t seen that our cultural contribution to the universe is 50 Shades, or being tied down and abused is the least of our worries.

That being said, I love alien invasion tales and Sector 64: Ambush is a pretty solid one. While the book doesn’t break all that much new ground, it isn’t really your typical Invasion tale either. Most invasion tales take a macro view to the story, giving us multiple big picture perspectives on the devastation an alien attack and the fight against the invaders Sector 64: Ambush gives us a more limited look, based on the perspectives of a few key players. It’s creates a fresh feel to the story, while still utilizing plenty of alien invasion, apocalyptic and military science fiction tropes.

Author Dean M. Cole moves the story along well. His prose is bare bones but polished. Early in the book, he definitely uses the David Weber “introspective infodump” style of giving us a bunch of the set up through the thoughts of some of the key players, but once he has the universe established, it’s pretty much well paced action that drives the narrative. There are a few unnecessary side trips, including a bit of potential sexual violence that I don’t think added much to the story, but overall, the tale stayed on target. Overall, I like the potential for the universe that Cole set up. I am interested in seeing where he make take the story in future installments. Sector 64: Ambush is highly accessible, action filled alien invasion science fiction that should appeal to the fans of the subgenre, while offering just enough little tweaks to give is a unique feel.

Mike Ortego has a old school narrator style that fans of narrators like George Guidall and Richard Ferrone should enjoy. He makes some smart choices along the way, including not trying to hard to give perform female voices that are out of his range. While fitting for the tale, it’s not my favorite style of narration. I personally would have enjoyed a narrator with a bit more energy and range, but this is a stylistic preference and not a true criticism. Ortego does a good job, especially with the alien voices. His pacing, at times, could get a bit staccato, but mostly he handled the action well. The production quality was excellent, and, for the many fans of this style of narration, Sector 64: Ambush should hit a homerun.





Audiobook Review: The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett

18 02 2015

The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett

Read by Gabra Zackman and LJ Ganser

Audible Studios

Length: 14Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+

The Silent History is supposed to be some evolutionary experiment in story telling, originally using an I-App to tell the story serially through a series of testimonials. I really don’t know about all that. I know, nowadays with the E-Book explosion and new ways of telling stories that for many, format is almost as important as content Yet, since I listened to it on audio and the testimonial style of storytelling has been done by writers as diverse as Dickens, Max Books and most recently Sarah Lotz, the “revolutionary” aspect of The Silent History had very little influence on me. For me, it comes down to just how good of a story it was.

The Silent History has a quasi-apocalyptic set up. Children around the world are being born without the ability to speak. While this doesn’t lead to complete breakdown, it essentially changes the very nature of society. Told in testimonial format, we get first hand perspectives into the changes and adaptations of the world. One of the best aspects of the novel is how the multiple, biased view points creates an unreliable narrative, often showing us important events from multiple perspectives. This immerses , the reader into the world, becoming the arbiter of the values of the time. The authors never seem to pick sides in the tale, just present the individual’s stories.

On a personal level, what really drew me into the story is the underlying question of the nature of disability. Being that I work with people with severe handicaps and have a nephew on the ASD spectrum, the debate into whether The Silents were in fact handicapped due to the fact that they deviated from the norm, or were just another version of humanity hit close to home for me. The authors do a great job presenting the multiple issues in this debate, from those hate anything that is different, to those who want to save them to those who want to raise them up to an almost religious level. The authors showed us how the many sides of the issues, positive and negative, can marginalize those that it most affects. The story did a wonderful job showing us the people involved without telling us how to feel.

The Silent History is smart, well told near future Science Fiction. The quick perspective changes and future history style keeps the reader relatively engaged. With this storytelling style, quick and short works better, and can be effective in adding to tension. For the most part, the authors achieve this. It is a bit overly long, and by the end of the novel I definitely was starting to get a bit of readers fatigue. While the authors brought it together in a unique and compelling way, the long path blunted some of the endings impact.

While the audio version may have lessened the revolutionary aspect of the format of the storytelling, the performances of the narrators elevated the story. Right now, it would be hard to convince me that Gabra Zackman is a singular person. Her broad range of characters were completely distinct and spot on. LJ Ganser also showed great range, with the multiple ages and eccentricities of the characters. Both narrates fully utilized the freedoms of first person storytelling to make this truly feel like a documentary instead of a dry historical reading. Both narrators managed to build tension into the tale, while briskly moving the story along. The Silent History works in audio, largely due to the wonderful nuanced performances of these talented narrators.





Audiobook Review: Symbiont by Mira Grant

5 02 2015

Symbiont (Parasitology, Bk. 2) by Mira Grant

Read by Christine Lakin

Hachette Audio

Length: 16Hrs 47Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Horror

Grade: B+

When Parasite came out, I was so excited. Mira Grant is like, the modern god of the scientific horror novel of some hyperbole. I loved the Newsflesh series, and was excited to see what she would do next. Plus, the book was about sentient tapeworms taking over their human hosts. Honestly, if you can’t get excited about sentient tapeworms taking over their human host then you probably aren’t my people.

Honestly, I should make that my online dating profile. Just list weird bizarre things that make me squeal and jump up and down in morbid glee, and if that makes you think I’m a bit weird, and the idea that being a bit weird is a negative aspect, well, you should probably pass on me.

So, Parasite came out. It was good….

I mean, I liked it but…

It really was pretty damn good…

OK, so basically, it wasn’t totally awesome, and I set myself up for totally awesome, so even pretty damn good was a bit of a letdown. So, I was less excited when Symbiont came out….

Symbiont, was pretty damn good. It’s hard to say whether I liked it more than Parasite or if my lessened anticipation just made it more fulfilling, either way, except for a few minor quibbles, Symbiont was maybe lightly brushing up against awesome.

Mira Grant has a great concept with this series, and Symbiont continues to explore it. Yet, despite the original concept, Grant storytelling has a traditional comfortable feel. This is actually a complement. Many authors today value style so high it gets in the way of a good story. Grant seems to know that no matter how unique the setting of concept, the story has to be accessible and compelling. While she spends a bit too much time on Sal/Sally’s internal struggles, she keeps the story moving forward with strong action and interesting characters. As Symbiont is the second book in series, the ending leaves a bit too much up in the air, which gives the take and incomplete feel, which, I guess is expected since the tale is, in fact, incomplete but I hoped for a bit more of a substantive ending. Symbiont moved the series in the right direction, giving us a greater glimpse of a world shattering around itself opening up space around the tale to give it a much bigger feel.

Christine Lakin gives a solid performance. Basically, she does her job and does it well. She has a pleasant voice, and is technically proficient. In all honestly, I really don’t remember much specifically about her performance. It won’t stand out as one of those amazing performances that remind me why I love audiobooks. Mostly, she just got out of the way of the story. Sometimes this is the best thing for a narrator to do. I think Symbiont could have benefited from a narrator that took a few more risks, but it also could have turned into an utter disaster, so I’ll take it.

If you liked Parasite, and don’t mind a few of Grants particular peccadilloes, than you will probably be quite satisfied with Symbiont. Just remember that this is just book two in a series, so don’t expect to feel like anything has actually been accomplished.





Audiobook Review: Rewinder by Brett Battles

22 01 2015

Rewinder by Brett Battles

Read by Vikas Adams

Audible Studios

Genre: Time Travel Adventure

Grade: B

Brett Battles seems to enjoy writing Thrillers, no matter the subgenre. In his latest standalone thriller, Rewinder, Battles gives time travel a go with solid results. Rewinder reads like a cross between Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, and Steven Jay Gould’s Jumper series. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking entry into the fray of time travel adventure, in fact, if anything, Battles quickly infuses the story with the feel of a pair of comfortable jeans. Instead of trying to create some clever new way to spin the genre, he puts his own spin onto time honored tropes. Like Jumper, Rewinder can work equally well as a Young Adult or Adult novel. While Battles main character Denny Younger is, well, younger, he doesn’t instantly fall into the character trapping of many young adult protagonist. Battles offers some interesting sociological insights, yet does it as a plot point, where his goal isn’t social commentary but just telling a damn good story. Battles creates a fast paced, exciting tale, with plenty of twists, that fans of old school time travel adventure novels will find perfect for an afternoon reading.

Narrating is more than just having a pleasant voice, and the ability to do character voices. A good narrator finds the right feel for a novel, and pushes the narrative in the right direction. Vikas Adams gives a strong textured performance, with a crisp reading that gives homage to the pulp nature of the tale. I have always admired Adams ability to handle both adult and children characters smoothly, something that isn’t really easy to do. I like that Adams gave Denny a youthful feel, yet still acknowledged that he was an adult doing an adult job. He captures the right blend of coming of age naivete, with a hardened edge of young man who grew up in the fringes of his society. Rewinder isn’t going to blow your mind, or have you rethink everything you knew about time travel, instead it will give you 8 hours of solid entertainment.