Audiobook Review: Only Human (Themis Files, Bk. 3) by Sylvain Neuvel

1 05 2018

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

Narrated by William Hope, Charlie Anson, Laurence Bouvard, Adan Sablylich and a Full Cast

Random House Audio

Grade: A+

Only Human is the third novel in Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files series. It’s hard for me to objectively write about the series, since it’s probably my favorite current science fiction series. Typically, my thoughts are akin to a GIF of Homer Simpson’s Head with his brain replaced but a couple of rockem’ sockem’ robots.

So far, Only Human is probably my least favorite of the series, which means instead of an A followed by an infinite string of +’s, like their first two in the series, Only Human is simply a A followed by a string of pluses that terminate but so far down the path it might as well be infinite. Part of this is due to the fact that this is the third book in a series that has consistently brought the awesome, that the expectations for awesome bringing may actually be unachievable. The pacing is a little slower, more focused on relationships than on big ass robots fighting and potential world doom and destruction. It’s a more intimate tale of one family, than a global struggle. Adds to it a teenager who acts like a teenager, basically, a bratty, potential egomaniacal narcissist, and a father who humbly attempts to control her, and the struggles of this interplanetary drama are more terrestrial, no matter which planet it takes place on. Yet, none of this middling criticism negates that Only Human is still full on awesome, and fans of the first two books should devour this with glee.

Once again, Penguin Random House produces a brilliant audio version worth wonderful performances. Only Human is as close to a radio drama without all annoying bells and whistles that tend to bother traditional audiobook fans. The Narrators are full on acting the scenes, not just reading them, with screams and raised voices. It’s affective for the material, not quite the traditional narration style. The production really brings the world and characters to life in wonderful ways.

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Audiobook Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

23 04 2018

Space Opera (Unabridged)

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Read by Heath Miller

Highbridge Audio

Grade: B+

One thing I love about science fiction, is that it can be timely and poignant, examining cultural, political and scientific changes and their potential impact on modern existence. Also, it can be fun. Space Opera manages to be all this is one delicious gooey package. It’s a roller coaster ride of exobiology where the twist come in not what a character does, but in what a character is. At times it feels like it can be plummet into saccharine triteness, but then Valente suddenly veers off in another direction, causing the reader to want to throw their appendages up in the air and ululate in glee. It’s a testament to a novel when the author seemed to have just as much fun writing it as the reader does consuming it and Space Opera is a prime example of this symbiotic literary experience. Space Opera tackles some important topics, examining the ridiculous nature of some of our human hangups and prejudices, but does it in a style that less preaching but more drunken conversation with your crazy friends at the local pub,

If the value if an audiobook narrator was based in the number of times you chortled, snickered, or guffawed in inappropriate public forums than Heath Miller would be raking in the lols like a teenage girl with her first snapchat account. His reading hit all the right notes. It easy, when reading novels it a comedic element to veer off into the cartoonish. Miller is obviously having a good time with the material but never lets it become whatever the British version of Daffy Duck is. He has an endless array of character voices. It’s like each time Valente tries to outdo him with some crazy alien character, Miller was all “Yeah. I got this.”  In the end, the best compliment I think I can give this audiobook was that good fun was had by all.





Audiobook Review: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

11 02 2018

The Gone World

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

Narrated by Brittany Pressley

Penguin Audio

Grade: A

Tom Sweterlitsch takes three well worn sub-genres, the procedural murder mystery, time travel adventure and apocalyptic fiction and twists them into a miasma of something truly original. Sweterlitsch has created a tale full of dark imagery. He creates settings like a visual artist, hauntingly beautiful, like a nightmare you can’t escape. Yet it’s not this dark landscapes that truly make this novel work, but the human characters he populates them with. No matter how strange the trip gets, and people, it gets pretty damn strange, you never lose the connection with the main character. It is both literary and accessible, the kind of fiction that appeals to those looking for a true work of art and those who just want to read a grand tale of adventure. It’s all topped off with a bittersweet ending that may have pulled a bit of feeling from my hardened soul.

Narrator Brittany Pressely only adds to the beauty of the tale. As our protagonist changes throughout the tale, so does our narrator but she never loses the core of the character. Pressley is like an anchor, always keeping our minds from going afloat. She reveals Sweterlitsch’s worlds with haunting beauty and makes us feel for these characters. The Gone World is the first great science fiction novel of 2018, and one that going to be hard to top.





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. 





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.