Audiobook Review: Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey

24 12 2012

Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey (Book 2 of The Expanse)

Read by Jefferson Mays

Recorded Books

Length: 19 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: From the very first page, Caliban’s Wake had me enthralled. It’s a second novel that doesn’t suffer from the tradition second novel’s fate. It’s has a fully contained story, new characters that actually enhance the story and true emotional impact through a realistic portrayal of broken characters. Fans of Leviathan Wakes should not hesitate to jump into this latest tale of the Expanse, and for those new to the world, what are you waiting for?

Grade: A-

Leviathan Wakes was a novel last year that I listened to mostly because it was nominated for ALL THE AWARDS, most particularly in the science fiction category of the Audies. Well, that, and because the novel had Vomit Zombies. Honestly, if it wasn’t nominated for an Audie, and wasn’t on my list as a participant in the Armchair Audies event, I’m not sure I would have listened to the novel. While I love science fiction, the description of the novel didn’t really capture me. I’m actually less of a Hard Scifi guy that most fans, and tend to like more explody, almost pulpish scifi, over intricate space operas and wasn’t sure where Leviathan Wakes fell within the genre. Yet, I ended up listening to it, and liked it. Liked it, not loved it. It took me a while to engage with the story, to get a handle on the characters and become invested in the world. Simply put, I found the beginning kinda meh, and the ending pretty kickass. So, when Caliban’s Wake first came out, I was excited for it, yet, there was a delay between when the print version came out, and all my favorite Speculative fiction bloggers were raving about it, and when the audio version came out. In that two month delay, my enthusiasm began to wane. I think I started to realize that rarely does a second novel improve over the first. In fact, far too often a first novel holds a pretty self contained story, and then the second novel serves almost as a set up novel for the trilogies conclusion, leaving us with some sort of cliffhanger, and not offering a satisfying conclusion. So, although I snatched up the audio pretty quickly, it took a while to go from recent purchase to an active place on my listening schedule.

Caliban’s War finds the crew of the Rocinante working for The Outer Planet’s Alliance hunting Space Pirates. Yet, when a strange incident on Ganymede leads Jim Holden to believe his boss has broken his trust and released a violent pathogen, the crew must find a way to uncover what happens, and search for a missing girl who may hold the keys to the conflict. Caliban’s War is the rare second book in a trilogy that actually improves over its predecessor in every way. While Leviathan Wakes spent a great deal of time intricately developing the complicated politics of Corey’s near future world, Caliban’s War jumps right into the action and never slows down. Yet, Caliban’s Wake isn’t just about Space Monsters, large scale battles and thrilling rescues, Corey gives us a glimpse of the changed Earth and its culture without dragging down the pace. Corey introduces a new character to the mix, Mar’s Marine Bobbi Draper that helps provide deeper incite into both Mars and Earth. Some of my favorite scenes were when Bobbi encounters the culture of Earth, trying to figure out how much of what she has been told about Earth is true and how much is just Martian propaganda. Filtering these scenes through Bobbie’s perspective gave us an outsider’s perspective, seamlessly integrating this bit of world building into the plot. Along the way Bobbi meets up with a powerful Earth politician, another new POV character Chrisjen Avasarala, whose political machinations only enhanced the story. So often when new characters are added to a series, I find myself longing to get back to those who I have already developed a relationship with, and this was often the case with the third new character, Prax, but with Bobbi and Avasarala, I was totally enthralled. Corey also does a good job showing how the horrific events that Holden experienced in Leviathan Wake changed him, and how it affected his crew and his relationship with Naomi. In fact, there is a lot of emotional resonances to be found within the pages of breakneck action. These are not cardboard characters that can shake of death and devastation with a wink and a nod, and each member of the crew, as well as the new characters, bring their own issues to the story, giving it more depth that your typical space opera or military science fiction tale. From the very first page, Caliban’s Wake had me enthralled. It’s a second novel that doesn’t suffer from the tradition second novel’s fate. It’s has a fully contained story, new characters that actually enhance the story and true emotional impact through a realistic portrayal of broken characters. Fans of Leviathan Wakes should not hesitate to jump into this latest tale of the Expanse, and for those new to the world, what are you waiting for?

I’m not sure if it was just the fact that Caliban’s War was simply a more engaging tale, or some improvement by the narrator, but any reservations I had about Jefferson Mays performance in Leviathan Wakes was eliminated in Caliban’s War. Mays shows a total command over these characters. Mays particularly shines in his performance of new POV character Chrisjen Avasarala. Mays adds the right flavor to her voice, showing her strong character and acerbic wit. It is truly a highlight of the production. Mays pacing was pristine, he managed to make an almost 20 Hour audiobook feel too short. Yet, it wasn’t a perfect performance. There were a few scenes where his delivery didn’t match certain descriptive tags written into the story. For example, there were a few scenes a character is described as having “yelled” something, and it surprised me because Mays didn’t add anything, either in volume or urgency to those scenes. Mays uses a quiet confidence in his reading that usually worked, but at some moments his measured delivery muted key scenes. Yet, this minor complaint didn’t affect the overall feel of the book. Caliban’s War took a series I was interested in, and excited me enough to make the concluding novel Abaddon’s Gate one of my most anticipated science fiction novels of 2013.

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Audiobook Review: A Rising Thunder by David Weber

18 06 2012

A Rising Thunder by David Weber (Honor Harrington, Bk. 13)

Read by Allyson Johnson

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Science Fiction/Space Opera

Quick Thoughts: A Rising Thunder is definitely the case of my love of the Universe Weber has creates conflicting with my nostalgia for the feel of the older books, and my desire to move the plot ahead in more significant ways. I find the universe fascinating, and I want to know the ins and outs of every decisions and incident, yet I know that as the Universe expands, things begin to move slower. Even fictional worlds must deal with entropy.

Grade: B

A bit ago, author Richard Kadrey posted an old quote from Raymond Chandler about science fiction that I found humorous. In the quote, he talked about the new genre called science fiction, and went on to write this cliché paragraph filled with faux techno jargon that I found quite funny. Yet, of course, as a fan of science fiction, I also felt a tad defensive. This paragraph more is how outsiders view science fiction than an actual reflection on the genre itself. I imagined that someone could write an equally clichéd parody of hard boiled detective novels that would get Chandler riled a bit too. Then I began listening to A Rising Thunder by David Weber, and had to laugh. A Rising Thunder is the 13th book in the main arc of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, a series that also includes 4 supplementary novels that are linked to the main arc, 5 shared world anthologies, and one Young Adult precursor novel. These 23 books make up what is called by fans The Honorverse. Yet, what made me laugh was that anyone who read the opening sequence of A Rising Thunder would feel like you were reading Chandlers scathing parody of the genre. It is full of technical terms, place names, acronyms, and political inferences specific to the world that Weber has created and someone just happening into the book would totally feel like it was a strange version of the English language. Yet, for me, who has read all but the Anthologies, it felt comfortable to be back in a world I enjoyed.

A Rising Thunder is a hard novel to really evaluate. First off, I had a lot of fun with it. It had been nearly two years since I last read a Honor Harrington novel, not counting the Young Adult A Beautiful Friendship, which is set centuries before Honor Harrington was born. Yet, despite all the fun I had with it, I was also frustrated. The scope of Weber’s universe has grown so much since On Basilisk Station, that each significant occurrence that happens in A Rising Thunder, has to be explored from so many angles, that the novel only slightly progresses the story in any meaningful way. Case in point, On Basilisk Station is quite an intimate tale of an estranged ship captain sent on a make-work mission with a disgruntled crew. The novel begins with Honor boarding her ship, getting ready to head out into a backwater region of Manticorian space. In A Rising Thunder, our main character and hero Honor Harrington, now a major political, military and social player in the universe, doesn’t even appear in the book until we are six hours in.
Also, Weber filled his early novels with high risk, high casualty conflicts, where Honor pulls out victory by the skin of her teeth. In a Rising Thunder, the battles are so one-sided, that there really isn’t any sense of peril. You know who is going to win, you just don’t know which clever trick they will use to pull the win off. Yet, while the military struggle is decidedly one sides, the political aspects of the novel are as muddy as pond water. Here is where the real conflict is now taking place, in the bureaucrats offices, board rooms, and council chambers, and the common man or front line soldier really has little or no say in the number of ways they are getting screwed by the political systems. A Rising Thunder is definitely the case of my love of the Universe Weber has creates conflicting with my nostalgia for the feel of the older books, and my desire to move the plot ahead in more significant ways. I find the universe fascinating, and I want to know the ins and outs of every decisions and incident, yet I know that as the Universe expands, things begin to move slower. Even fictional worlds must deal with entropy.

There are mixed feelings among Weber fans about Allyson Johnson’s performance as narrator of the main Honerverse arch, often going back to a mispronunciation of a major place name, which Weber himself admits was his fault. I personally enjoy her performance. It really is tough for a narrator of such a big series full of so many characters to satisfy everyone. Johnson uses a variety of accents, speaking styles and tones to delineate the multitude of major and minor characters that appear in these books, and for the most part, she does a good job. Sure, some of her male characters are on the rough side, but truly, how many male characters do you expect a female narrator to pull off. I always have issues with her portrayal of Honor. I tend to imagine Honor with a rougher voice, almost like Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. Yet, this is based on her personality and actions. Weber himself describes her voice as a pleasant Soprano, and that is what Johnson gives her. What really impresses me is how she manages to keep the pace of the novel moving briskly, even with large moments of exposition, as well as multiple side tracks and sub plots. Johnson does what good narrators should, keeps the book moving, and the characters interesting So, overall, I think Johnson handles the narration of this series extremely well and look forward to book number 14.





Audiobook Review: Invincible by Jack Campbell

3 06 2012

Invincible (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, Bk. 2) by Jack Campbell

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Length: 11 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Quick Thoughts: Invincible is a rollicking good listen, full of action, and a touch of humor. By creating some interesting new angles Campbell breathesnew life into a series that really wasn’t even close to death. The Lost Fleet is easily my current favorite continuing science fiction series, and one of the few that seems to just keep getting better.

Grade: A-

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

Invincible is the 8th novel written in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet universe. When I first discovered this series, I went on a listening spree of Jack Campbell and John G. Hemry, Campbell’s true identity, audiobooks. I listened to the four JAG in space novels, and the first six Lost Fleet novels within a span of two months. Yet, after listening to book 7, Dauntless, I wondered how hard it was to keep a series like this fresh. I liked Dauntless, yet, I felt like it was just another Lost Fleet novel, despite it bearing a new sub title called Beyond the Frontier. I struggled with myself. I loved the characters that Campbell created, and the basic formula of the story, which was bits of Galactic and Fleet wide politics mixed in around grand schemed space-based Naval battles. I love these stories, particularly the melding of space and interpersonal politics. I always looked forward to his Black Jack Geary briefings, where he had to employ just as much strategic cunning around the virtual conference table, as he did when planning a military operation. So, how much of the aspects of this series was I willing to give up in order to have something fresh. Luckily, this question never really had to be answered. With Invincible, Jack Campbell manages to keep the tried and true aspects of his Lost Fleet series intact, while creating new angles and potential implications that manages to revitalize this series with a fresh new perspective.

Invincible begins right where Dauntless left off. As Geary moves his fleet deeper into unknown territory, he finds himself trapped in by an unknown enemy. Campbell has left us off at an interesting place, and I was interested to see how he would resolve the situation. I had expected some initial discussion, followed by some trademark, kick ass battle scenes, yet Campbell surprised me. While Invincible is full of some awesome battle scenes, what really made the novel for me was the exegesis of the fleet’s unknown enemies.  Invincible does what the best space bound Military Science fiction, should do, it examines the new life encountered by the characters, and attempts to understand them, not just thinking of interesting ways to kill them, but actually trying to figure them out. Campbell has created some interesting new Alien species for Geary and the Fleet to deal with, and this adds a new freshness of perspective to this series. Another aspect of this novel that surprised me was the humor. There are some genuinely funny moments in Invincible, moments that actually made me laugh out loud. These moments were perfect tension breakers as the Fleet deals with internal problems coming from many directions as well as a sense of unease about what awaits them at home. Invincible is a rollicking good listen, with Campbell breathing some new life in a series that really wasn’t even close to death. The Lost Fleet is easily my current favorite continuing science fiction series, and one of the few that seems to just keep getting better.

Christian Rummel again impresses in his reading of Invincible.  Invincible has tons of characters and this is not an exaggeration. How Rummel manages to keep every character straight, I don’t know. Yet, he does more than keep them straight, but makes them all memorable. Each character has been given an authentic sounding voice that perfectly fits their personalities. His voicing of one minor character, Master Chief Gioninni, is the highlight of the novel for me, and I always look forward to him making an appearance. Rummel handles the complicated military maneuvers of the novel with a crisp, direct reading style that makes following the potentially confusing action easy for the reader.  For those who have yet to experience The Lost Fleet series, I highly recommend the audiobook versions where Campbell’s excellent, fast paced story telling is only enhanced by the narration of Christian Rummel.





Audiobook Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

9 05 2012

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse, Bk. 1)

Read by Jefferson Mays

Recorded Books

Length: 19 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Space Opera/Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: . In Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey has created a realistic vision of the early stages Earth’s space faring future. Full of well developed characters, grand adventure and complex ethical situations, Leviathan Wakes is solid science fiction, delivering thrills while making you think.

Grade: B+

Leviathan Wakes is nominated for a 2012 Audie Award in the Science Fiction category. 

For the longest time I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to listen to Leviathan Wakes. When I first heard of the novel, I thought it sounded interesting, but not enough to find itself prioritized on my mountainous To Be Listened To pile or to actually spend an Audible Credit on. I love scifi, but unless I am quite familiar with the author I fall victim to the big publicity machine. It takes not just a concept that instantly grabs my attention, but that concept must be presented to me through advertising, peer buzz and reviews. Basically, what I am saying is that I am lazy. The majority of what I listen to is authors I have been reading for years or subgenres that I am always hunting for and if something falls outside of those categories, someone else has to do the work of discovering what the book is about and presenting it to me in a manner designed to peak my interest. Yet, something weird happened with Leviathan Wakes. While there was never a big, "Ah Ha!" moments for me, the novel lingered around the peripherals of my attention. It started to gather award nominations. I began to hear discussions of the novel by fellow bloggers whose opinion I respect. Slowly, I began to discover the novel, and what it was about. Then, it was nominated for an Audie Award. When I became involved in Armchair Audies, I discovered that Leviathan Wakes wasn’t just a title in a category I was planning to listen to, but one which I was actually excited about. As I researched the novel a bit more, knowing I would be listening to it, I discovered there was actually a Zombie subplot. This was the final piece in my listening puzzle. I was looking for a book for Zombie Awareness Month which contained Zombies, but in which the Undead were not the main focus, as sort of a change of pace read for the event. Leviathan Wakes fit this bill perfectly.

I have only recently discovered the science fiction subgenre of The Space Opera. Most of the science fiction I had read before was earthbound scifi thrillers, and Post Apocalyptic novels. Yet, the idea of Earth becoming a space faring Planet, spreading humankind to the stars has always fascinated me. So, I began to read far future space faring novels by authors like David Weber and Jack Campbell. Yet, Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey offered me something new, and in my reading experience, fresh. Leviathan Wakes takes place in a sort of intermediate stage of Earth’s expansion. While Earth has yet to reach the stars, we have expanded our grasp of our own solar system. Mars, initially a colony of Earth, has risen to be a power that rivals its mother planet. Along with Mars, the near Earth Asteroid belt has also been colonized. With this fascinating setting in place, Corey (the pseudonym of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) has created a science fiction story that is more about the people than the science. Corey combines the swashbuckling adventures of Firefly, with the noir stylings of Chandler, and fills it with realistic, complicated characters. The story is presented through two main point of views, James Holden, the earth born XO of a Water Hauler whose ship is mysteriously destroyed while he’s on a rescue mission, and Detective Miller, a washed out Detective whose conflicting loyalties leads to an actual metal break. Forced together due to a series of circumstances, Holden and Miller discover a strange scientific experiment on a space station that begins transforming people into strange undead vomit zombies. While the plot is full of wild theories, far reaching conspiracies, and complicated interplanetary politics, filtered through the perspectives of Holden and Miller it comes of seamlessly. Often times such complex plots become hard to follow, and sludge up the narrative, yet, Leviathan Wakes manages to buck this trend presenting s smooth, exciting tale which will keep you mesmerized as each new level is revealed. In Leviathan Wakes, James SA Corey has created a realistic vision of Earth’s space faring future. Full of well developed characters, grand adventure and complex ethical situations, Leviathan Wakes is solid science fiction, delivering thrills while making you think.

Leviathan Wakes was narrated by Jefferson Mays. This is my first opportunity experiencing Mays narration, and I feel his did a solid job. Each character was well defined, and he moved the plot along crisply, adding the right touch of emotion at the proper moments. He has a solid grasp on accents and vocal cadence, capturing the unique sounds and almost musical tilt to the Belter’s vocal evolution when needed. May’s reading is almost workmanlike, never overdoing any aspect of the reading. His reading emphasized story over style, never inserting himself into the narrative, just allowing the authors words to do the heavy lifting. While I wasn’t blown away by his reading, I understood why the production garnered an Audie nomination. Leviathan Wakes is presented as it should be, with no bells or whistles, just a straight up reading of an excellent science fiction tale.