Audiobook Review: 7th Sigma by Steven Gould

27 07 2011

7th Sigma by Steven Gould

Read by Fred Berman

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: 7th Sigma is a excellent genre-blending accessible tale that has something to offer most any reader looking for a quick adventure filled listening experience.

Grade: B+

I have always enjoyed novels that have blended genres like a gifted musician, presenting us with something fresh and unique, while still offering us a glimpse of the familiar. Some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels, particularly those with an apocalyptic theme, have a bit of a western taste to them. Notable works, like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and David Gemmell’s Jerusalem Man series come to mind as well as lesser know Post Apocalyptic books like Neal Barrett Jr.’s Through Darkest America and Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow. The Western motif fits well in novels about a regressed society, because it presents us with a recognizable cultural archetype that is full of the possibility of grand adventure. Steven Gould’s 7th Sigma isn’t Post Apocalyptic on the worldwide scale, but is a look at a regional area that is forced to regress upon being infested with bug-like creatures that eat metal, and react to any type of electromagnetic field. The infestation is geographically specific, leaving the rest of the world relatively unchanged but allowing a territory for runaway teenagers and people looking to escape. The story centers on a character named Kimble Monroe, a young boy loosely based on the protagonist of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Kimble has been taking care of himself in the territory ever since his mother died and his abusive father was transported out for medical reasons. When Kimble meets Ruth, a marital arts expert escaping a bad divorce who is looking to start a Dojo in the territories, Kimble joins up as her “inside student.”

7th Sigma is a fictional coming of age adventure story with bits of sci-fi and western elements. There isn’t a single all encompassing plot arch, but a series of tales about Ruth and Kimble establishing themselves in a new town. Eventually, Kimble is recruited by a local intelligence Ranger and, in exchange for college tuition, engages in a series of undercover assignment. Kimble is a fascinating character, street wise beyond his years, yet impulsive, often making decisions that get him into trouble.  He has a sense of moral outrage that you can’t help but respect and just enough teenage brashness to act on it. Gould has created a wonderful character, and an intriguing world. Unlike most Apocalyptic stories, the “regular” world lies just beyond the borders of the territory, and you often wonder what keeps the characters tied to this other world. You see the world not just through the eyes of its inhabitants, but its visitors and refugees as well. The science fiction elements are there like a mysterious subtext. The bugs are an ever present danger to those in the territories, but they almost blend into the background, with the residents adapting to the new style of life, yet never really to the bugs themselves. 7th Sigma is also unique because it works well as an adult tale, yet also should appeal to younger readers as well. I know that I would have loved this book as a teenager. Overall, 7th Sigma is a excellent genre blending accessible tale that has something to offer most any reader looking for a quick adventure filled listening experience.

Fred Berman brings his smooth, steady tone to the reading of 7th Sigma. His voice fits well with the novel, handling teenage and adult voices well. Berman’s reading isn’t going to blow you away. His performance is restrained and his voices pretty standard. While this style is going to allow the listener to fully engage in the story without distraction, it is not going to enhance the experience like some narrators have the ability to do.  I would have liked a little more emphasis on creating unique character voices, and embracing the regional accents. Yet, overall Berman’s reading is solid, and the world fascinating enough that you won’t be worrying about any flaws in the reading while listening. With solid narration, an excellent main character, a fascinating world, and just enough lingering questions Steven Gould has created in 7th Sigma a setting and experience that I would love to revisit someday through a sequel, yet also left me feeling satisfied with the tale told.