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.





Audiobook Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

29 04 2014

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

Read by Tavia Gilbert

Audible Studios

Length: 10 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A

In Afterparty, Daryl Gregory has created one of the more unique near future thrillers I have experienced in a while, a psychotropic chase novel across a recognizable future landscape full of strange characters, new tech and enough twists to keep you not even sure if you should even try to keep on guessing. Yet, if this was all that Afterparty was, I’d write a nice little review, talking about the above mentioned topics and try to keep it sounding all professional and shit.

Except I can’t because Afterparty punched me in the head. Repeatedly. With lingering effects.

Now, it wasn’t the story per se. The story was like a really good road trip to someplace you never been before with little side trips you never quite expected. Except, this road trip was laced with landmines. One second you’d be driving along, pointing to an all glass Tabernacle and Hoagie shop, or stopping to get your picture at the world’s largest ball of Already Been Chewed bubble gum in the Midwest, then bam, something goes boom and your brain matter gets sprayed all over your upholstery.

Afterparty tells the tale of a group of scientists who invented a drug that had the unfortunate side effect of manifesting a deity directly into your brain. After one scientist purposely overdoses the group with the drug, the group each gains their own version of god along with various levels of self destructive behavior. Years later, Lyda Rose, one of the scientist is now sequestered in her latest mental institute and discovers the drug has now hit the streets and she, along with the Angel who lives in her head, must discover which former colleague is responsible.

So, it’s pretty damn cool on it’s own. Yet, Gregory has laced his tales with reflections of the true nature of God, faith, the delusion of free will, humanity’s biological imperatives, along with other sociological, psychological, religious and scientific mindfucks. I’m probably missing a few ogicals and istics along the way. As someone who grew up in a religious family, raised in a fundamentalist Baptist Church I have spent years trying to come to terms with my spiritual inadequacy in the face of those who find real joy in religion. I rarely come across an interpretation of the Bible that I haven’t in some level explored. Gregory somehow made me look at some things in a whole new light. In fact, it’s something I’m still thinking about and if you get a few beers in me, as some friends were loathe to discover, I will spew it all over you. It’s rare that a book affects me on such a personal level, not based on a character I came to love or some scenario I could relate to, but with issues of self, and faith explored in brilliant new ways. The thing I especially liked about Afterparty is that I think each person who reads it will more than likely have a similar mindfuck moment, yet with a different topic. This is the fun part of driving through a cerebral minefield, you never know which one is going to blow your brains out of the back of your head.

Sadly, I don’t listen to enough Tavia Gilbert. This is only the third time I have had the privilege to listen to her narrate a book, and it was definitely my favorite. How often does a narrator get to take on religious schizophrenics, delusional deities and bizarre cowboys? For some this may be daunting, but for Tavia Gilbert it came off as great fun. She deftly guided us through an strangely familiar world, while giving the intricately laced dialogue an organic feel. Gilbert never gave anything away, just allowed you to discover the various psychosis of the characters as well as their foibles and secret intentions in a manner worthy of the text. It’s a performance that is both nuanced and just a little bit goofy, and simply fun to listen to.





Audiobook Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

24 04 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenney

Hachette Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A-

Here’s the thing: Give me a book about someone reliving their life over and over again, while maintaining their memories, and I’m gonna read it. And, more than likely, love it. People often say that there are no new plots, like that’s a bad thing. Maybe I’m strange, but often when I read a really good book, I want to read something just like it again. Maybe it’s the experience. You can never really re-experience a book again for the first time, but you can try and recapture that experience again through something else.

One of my all time favorite books is John Grimwood’s Replay. I friggin’ love that book for so many reasons. It’s time travel without the stupid machine. It’s a chance to fix your mistakes, or make new ones. So, when I heard about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, I knew I had to listen. It reminded me of Replay, and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. So, it’s hard to truly evaluate how much of my reaction to this novel is a reflection of the shared experience and how much was an appreciation of this specific experience.

Yet, I really liked Harry August, both the character and the novel, for many reasons. One of my favorite aspects is how Harry used each life to investigate a certain aspect of condition. Through science, religion, drugs whatever, he explores what it means to be a man reliving his life. This gives the novel a whole lot of metaphysical and scientific time travel speculation stuff that I always enjoy. I like novels that make my brain jump through hoops, consider strange possibilities, while maintaining character that I find engaging. The plot was full of moral complexities. How much influence should Harry and his like have on world events? Are they responsible to make the world a better place, or obliged to keep history flowing as close to the original path as possible? North explores these questions in interesting ways. I liked all this thinky stuff. The basic plot itself was fine. Harry receives a message from the future that something is happening to speed up the end of the world, and he investigates it. He works, at differing levels, with a group of others reliving lives called The Chronos Club. The investigation serves the purpose of creating conflict, and does it pretty well. All in all, I felt it came together well. In fact, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a novel that stuck in my brain for a long time after finishing.

I was glad to finally get to listen to a audiobook narrated by Peter Kenney that I actually liked. I had listened to him once before, and his performance was the main thing that kept me in that game. Again, Kenney gives a wonderful performance. OK, some of his American voices sounded weirdly like Daffy Duck, but his handle on international accents was excellent, and he added so much texture to the reading. He moved effortlessly between long bouts of exposition and dialogue seamlessly, keeping the listener actively engaged. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an experience I won’t soon forget, and the next time I see a book about someone living their life over and over again, I’ll probably be all over that as well.