Audiobook Review: Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

21 08 2013

Ex-Communication (Ex-Heroes, Bk. 3) by Peter Clines

Read by Jay Snyder, Khristine Hvam, & Mark Boyett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse with Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.

Grade: B+

If you’re anything like me, you have probably had plenty of those late night, half drunk conversations with friends about some pop culture geeky subject like who is hotter Han Solo or Chewbacca (Chewie) or how every time Kirk beams down to the surface to bed green women and fight aliens the transporter is actually killing him and feeding his soul to the great old squid gods. Of course, on those nights were you are just a bit less drunk, you have more normal conversations like who you would most like to headshot in a zombie apocalypse or what superpower you would want most. For me, the headshot conversation is pretty easy (Hitler’s Venezuelan Clone) but I always struggle with the super powers thing. Whenever someone asks me what super power I would want, I usually freeze up, then sputter out something stupid (Ummm… teledynmanics, I mean thermokinesis) because I really don’t know. I mean, sure, it obvious that there are lots of cool superpowers that seem to defy the laws of physics, like flying, or shooting beams out of your eyes or the ability to eat 500 hotdogs when you weigh 120 lbs, but honestly, the characters that often have these powers seem like prats. Sure, Superman has all these awesome powers, but what I’d really want is his camouflage glasses that makes everyone around him too stupid to realize that he’s Clark Kent, and somehow manages to fool even the CIA’s facial recognition software (I assume, or they’d be using him to assassinate the leader of the Illuminati or Justin Beiber.)  Honestly, my favorite superhero characters have always been those who suffered some personal tragedy leading them to become highly skilled at a multitude of human tasks, but have no actual enhanced skills, Of course, when people ask you what superpower you want and you answer "I want someone I love to be brutally murdered by a corrupt politician leading me to devote my life to learning a uniquely special skill set from an old master in order to hunt them down in the darkest shadows of night" even my closest friends look at me funny. So, I just usually end up answering Anti-entropy, because, it makes me seem smart even though I have no idea what it would do but when they ask me what I mean, I just tell them it’s too complex to explain.

Ex-Communication is the third novel in the series that pits superheroes against ravaging hordes of the undead. The last bastion of humanity is holed up in Los Angeles, fighting a constant battle against the encroaching hordes that have fallen under the control of a powerful super villain named Legion. If dealing with the zombies isn’t bad enough, within the compound, elections are coming, tension between the superheroes and the regular folk are increasing and one hero who could wipe them off the face of the map is beginning to act a bit unstable. Peter Clines manages to top himself once again in this series that just seems to get better and better. With a strange new arrival, a shocking return and an epic, action filled finale, Ex-Communication is about as much fun as you can have surrounded by dead people who want to eat your face. Honestly, I have enjoyed this series. Both Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots were fun but with both novels, it took me a while to adjust to the story. With Ex-Communication I was instantly engaged, and Clines kept me hooked for the entire ride.  I think that Clines had a bit more flexibility in this tale, since he has already competently built his world and told the majority of the origin stories of his heroes. This allowed him to play with his THEN… NOW… format a little more, with much better affect.  All his characters seem to have taken on more depth, moving beyond just being pretty cool superheroes, to actually seeming like real people. He introduces one new charac6er through a series of THEN segments that actually have the reader a bit disoriented and confused, until the click comes, and it’s like, HOLY SHIT I GET IT NOW! THIS IS AWESOME! Even better this character goes on to be one of the best of the novel, and the most fun to watch develop. I also like that Clines took the time to add some more fantasy oriented mythological spins to his story. He balances the growing religious adaptations of the survivors between bizarre cherry picking of Biblical references to a more open and inclusive religious experience, then throws in some surprising bits of religious historical mythology to make things even more intriguing. Part of me was sad when one of those threads was nothing more than a brief side trip in the ultimate plot, but it was still pretty cool. The final battle was pretty epically awesome. Clines writes cinematic blockbuster fight scenes, and continues to put together some of the best finales that simply come alive in your brain. Ex-Communication has all your favorite characters, with some new ones, doing all your favorite things in delightfully awesome ways while battling an enemy that could very well kick all their asses. Clines even manages to throw in some open ended twists that make the reader reevaluate a lot of what they assumed earlier. It was all well done, and the most fun I have had in this series yet. Ex-Communication is a complete tale, yet leaves enough threads to make me very excited to see where this series goes next.

From what I understand, based on comments and reviews, Audible has some production issues with Ex-Communication, particularly editing errors dealing with the multi-narrator style but they were fixed. This is something I want to mention first, because there were still some errors. Now, I’m not sure if I just got the older version, or if there was one that was worse, but along the way there were few occasions when a male voice read a female character’s dialogue (unlike the rest of the novel) and at least one repeated line.  Yet, these little blemished were the only scars on an otherwise excellent production with three talented narrators. Jay Snyder has the voice of a blockbuster movie. This doesn’t always fit when he is voicing a regular Joe character, but he is simply perfect for this series. He is the anchor that holds the production together. Boyett balances him with a gruffer, older voice that manages to shove a little humanity into the production. Khristine Hvam is always wonderful to listen to, and her grasp on these characters is great. Her work on the new character was so fun it reinforced my wish that Clines provide more chapters from female POVs just so I we can get to hear more Khristine Hvam. Ex-Communication is a blockbuster movie shot into your brain through your earholes. A fun filled action packed zombie and superhero extravaganza that comes alive in your tastiest brain parts and rattles around in there until the brilliant finale makes it explode out of your skull.

Audiobook Review: Warbound by Larry Correia

13 08 2013

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Alternate History Urban Fantasy/Steampunk Superheroes.

Quick Thoughts: Larry Correia brings the arc than began in Hard Magic to a natural and completely satisfying conclusion in Warbound. With a combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful characters and one of the best narrator performances I have experienced, The Grimnoir Chronicles has earned it place as perhaps my favorite all time Speculative Fiction Audiobook series.

Grade: A+

Warbound is the third book in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series about an alternate 1930’s where a secret society of magical superheroes called the Knights of the Grimnoir protect humanity against the use of magically enhanced powers for evil. I’m not exactly sure what Larry Coreia’s plans are for the world he created here, but as far as overall story arcs, Warbound serves as the end of the trilogy that began with  Hard Magic. If Correia decided to never again visit the world, I would be disappointed, but in no way left hanging. It’s about as complete of a story as you can get in the series heavy environment of speculative fiction. This being so, it’s hard to simply evaluate Warbound on its own. In order to truly review it it must be examined for how it completes this trilogy. I have used a lot of hyperbole in describing this series. I have called it things like "breathtaking" and "brilliant" and felt tempted at times to chant "THIS IS AWESOME" like some rowdy fan at a wrestling match while listening. In my reviews, I called it "mind-boggling good" and reiterated a fellow reviewer’s comment that this series is "A Perfect example of how good audio can get." I even have called the narration by Bronson Pinchot "my favorite performance by a male narrator this year."  Yet, I have resisted the urge to place it in any overall context until I felt the series has reached some sort of natural conclusion, which in Warbound it has. I mean, endings are very important, and while a bad ending may not affect the fact that I got a lot of enjoyment out of the previous audiobooks, it would affect where I would put this series in my personal pantheon. Now, having listened to Warbound, I can easily declare that the Grimnoir series is high among my favorite speculative fiction series of all time. But wait, there’s more, people. The Grimnoir Chronicles may be my favorite speculative fiction audiobook series of all time. Now, I can think of books and series I may like a bit more, but I can think of no series that has combined an amazing story full of awesome characters with one of the best narration performances of all time. Larry Correia has created an amazing story, and Bronson Pinchot takes this story to a whole other level that I may not have even believed possible until i heard it for myself.

In Warbound, Jake Sullivan, a Heavy who can literally control Gravity, has put together a secret mission to hunt down the Pathfinder, and interdimenrional being that, upon gaining enough power, can lead the great enemy, a predator that eats magic, to earth. With a crew combining Grimnoir Knights and Pirates, they must take a revolutionary new airship into the heart of the Imperium under the control of an imposter Chairman to find and destroy this creature. Back in the USA, magical humans are being forced to wear marks indicating their powers, while being enticed to move into their own cities under the protection of FDR’s government. Meanwhile, Faye, believed by the Knights to be dead, must enter the Dead City of Berlin to find the animated corpse of fallen Grimnoir Knight who can predict the future, to learn the consequences of being The Spellbound. Again, Larry Correia has taken multiple speculative fiction subgenres and blended it with history to create something that is both comfortable, yet utterly unique. The stakes are now greater, and the events spread out across the globe, yet somehow Correia managed to make it feel more intimate and personal than the first two novels. While Jake and Faye are fighting for the world, they are also dealing with their own personal demons. These personal struggles are potentially even more important to their quest to save the world than any actual individual confrontation. Yet, the ultimate confrontation is looming, between the Knights and a creature so powerful that the entity that brought magic to the world and is the greatest force in human history, is the prey to this predator. I love that Correia doesn’t set up the typical good vs. evil, black vs. white scenario, but instead shows on many different scales the true grayness that is inherent in any conflict. Sometimes doing what you believe is right can lead to great atrocities and the corruption of power will often distort even the best of intentions. Every character must evaluate their own essence, and often overcome their own conflicts in preparation for the coming battle. There are so many epic moments in Warbound that they won’t all fit in this review. In any grand finale, there must be some key casualties, and while to the readers will be saddened by it, Correia knows how to make a character go out in a way that has you hollering and cheering between the tears.  Like in almost all his other books, Correia manages to make the epic finale confrontations so huge, that even the combined talents of Peter Jackson, Michael Bay and Joss Whedon couldn’t fit it on their big screens. These are beyond cinematic. Yet, while these finales are full of awesome, perfectly choreographed action, there is an intimate intelligence to it as well. In Warbound, you have a big multiplayer action sequence that is so thrilling and intense it may have sucked a few years off my life, yet you also have a brilliant one on one showdowns, a showdown so big that it quite possible may have been too big for my earthly imagination.  It’s monumentally huge, yet in its own way, quite small. With Warbound Larry Correia brings this trilogy to a natural conclusion that fans will rejoice in yet have them long for more trips to this wonderfully envisioned world. 

I honestly don’t know how Bronson Pinchot does it. He manages to take what is simply an amazing piece of storytelling, and make it even better. On its own, Warbound and the other novels of this series are amazing, yet Pinchot makes this a series that you absolutely need to experience in audio to truly experience it at its best. It amazes me how much depth can bring to these characters just with is voice and pacing. Each character doesn’t just get it own voice, but its own rhythms and cadence that accentuates their attributes. Pinchot proves that there is so much more to narrating than saying the words in a voice that generally matches the characters. He creates with his voice in ways that few others can. He takes a huge cast of characters and makes each one stand out in memorable ways. He brings the action to life in with a visual acuity that rivals any visual medium. The Grimnoir series is, for me, the best meeting of wonderful storytelling with transformative narration I have ever experience. If Warbound doesn’t manage to pull in yet another Audie nomination and win, I will be completely shocked.

Audiobook Review: Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

22 04 2013

Spirit of the Century presents Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig (Dinocalypse Trilogy, Book 1)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Superhero Pulp Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Dinocalypse Now is the literary equivalent of a decadent dessert. It is pulp fiction at its finest, a fun story full of wonderful characters told in a way that makes every moment of the novel count. If you don’t have fun listening to this novel, than you, Sir or Madame, have no soul.

Grade: B+

I was going to start this review by saying that I used to watch the Superfriends all the time when I was a kid, but that’s not precisely true, I still watch the Superfriends. Well, I watch it with my nephews and with the special needs kids I work with… since I bought the DVDs for my nephews and the special needs kids I work with. I still love the show, whether it’s Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog or Zan, Jayna and space monkey Gleek. I loved Mr. Myxaptl and Bizzaro Superman and that flying Darth Vader head, and the fact that the Superfriends kept robotic copies of themselves just in case they had to fake their own deaths. Almost all of my superhero knowledge came from that show. I almost never read comics, the medium just doesn’t work for me and so I never really experienced the dark side of superheroes. They were always these all powerful uber-men who were stoic and morally true and dispensed out morality tales to kids and laughed at corny puns even childhood me thought were lame. They were about as close to perfection as you could get, like Jesus with X-Ray vision. They were never really human to me. Their morality tales held little sway, because these were perfect examples of the greatest of humanity so they knew not to vandalize their teachers room or they may end up falling down a broken elevator that someone unwisely left open with nothing but a small sign to prevent such a thing from happening. So, recently, I have been on a bit of a Superhero kick, trying to explore different, darker angles of these mighty heroes, from authors like Larry Correia, Adam Christopher, Peter Clines and many more. Now, I would like to say this is why I decided to listen to this latest audiobook release by Chuck Wendig, and sure, it had some bearing, but people, the book is called Dinocalypse Now. It has psychic dinosaurs, Conquering Sentient Apes, a potential world ending invasion and is narrated by Oliver Wyman. PLUS, superheroes… How could I NOT listen to this one?

When the Centurions, a group of "potent heroes of action" discover an assassination plot against FDR, what they weren’t expecting was an invasion by mind controlling psychosaurs, because let’s face it, no one ever expects an invasion by mind controlling psychosaurs. Yet, this is just the first wave of an attack, being orchestrated by Gorilla Khan, the conquering Ape, father of the Centurion advisor Professor Khan, and aimed directly at the Centurions. Now, those who manage to escape the trap, Jet Black, Sally Slick, Mack Silver "The Silver Fox" and others, must band together with Professor Khan to save the earth from Gorilla Khan, and a powerful enemy working behind the scenes. This book is set in the 1920’s Alternate history world of the Spirit of the Century RPG but no prior knowledge of the world is needed. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of the novel is the constant reference to other adventures, each one seeming crazier and even more over the top than the last. Now, I know more and more we are recommended to eat well balanced meals full of proteins and whole grains and the like, but every once in a while we must simply splurge on something decadent. Dinocalypse Now is like chocolate wrapped in bacon wrapped in THE GREATEST THING YOU EVER STUCK IN YOU MOUTH! It’s got everything you want in a great pulp fiction novel, like Jet Packs, Pterodactyls, Atlantis, Cavemen, soppy romance, women with tools and dirigibles, plus a plethora of things you didn’t even know you wanted. Wendig, who wrote some recent favorites of mine like Double Dead and the Miriam Black series, continues to impress me. He is simply a storyteller. It amazes me how much he can get across with such an economy of words. The action just leaps of the page, because there are no superfluous words holding it down. He deftly captures the rhythms of the speech of that time combining the sharpness of the 1920’s setting with ostentationsness of heroes. I really liked how these heroes seem just like you or me, just a bit enhanced, with the heroic ability to fling themselves into danger with abandon. There are no Supermen or Green Lanterns with extraordinary powers, just people who are a little faster, a little stronger but are mostly heroes because they choose to be. There are even little moral lessons, particularly in the development of Professor Khan, who steals the show, and Mack Silver, but it’s not beat you over the head moralistic life lessons, but true character development that serves the story. And really, this is the key impressive fact of Dinocalypse Now, every crazy moment, every wonderful character and well crafted phrase serves the ultimate goal of this story, to give the reader one hell of a good time. And I had one hell of a good time listening to this tale. Dinocalypse Now is the literary equivalent of a decadent dessert. It is pulp fiction at its finest, a fun story full of wonderful characters told in a way that makes every moment of the novel count. If you don’t have fun listening to this novel, than you, Sir or Madame, have no soul… or perhaps just different taste in entertainment than me.

It’s no secret that Oliver Wyman is one of my favorite narrators, and I simply must give a shout out to the sick minds who cast these audiobooks for Audible, because he was really the perfect choice for Dinocalypse Now. I mean, we know the man can do voices. I would venture to guess that the number of voices bouncing around in his skull would make Sybil shake her head in wonder. I find it important to find one quality of Wyman’s narration to point out in each review, instead of simply a laundry list of awesomeness. With Dinocalypse Now, Wyman is a human Cliffhanger machine. He manages to channel his inner "Meanwhile at The Hall of Justice" voice and end each chapter in a way that made you think that the world would come to a gruesome end if you didn’t continue on to the next chapter THIS. VERY. MINUTE.. This was simply perfect in creating a comic book feel for this novel. Wendig’s writing style is perfectly suited for audio, precise matter-of-pact pacing that allowed the listener to follow the action and Wyman just enhances this effect with his solid narration. This is a team that should be paired up more often, despite the potential for inter-dimensional chaos when they are. Luckily for us, this is the first of a trilogy, so there will be more Wendig and Wyman. I know I will be listening. 

Audiobook Review: Spellbound by Larry Correia

11 12 2012

Spellbound by Larry Correia (Book 2 of the Grimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 16 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk/Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

Grade: A+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

It’s no secret that I love a good superhero tale, as long as I don’t think about it too much. I have always been one who hasn’t let inconsistencies in fiction bother me too much. I mean, honestly, I love zombie books, and other goofy science fiction type things, if I let plausibility and consistent mythology bother me too much I probably would have to resort to nonfiction. That being said, those rare occasions when my mind is working too hard, Superhero origin stories hurt my brain. Now, I’m mostly a casual superhero fan. I’ve never been a big comic book guys, so all my issues have probably been addressed multiple times by multiple people. Yet, I never understood why more people haven’t had themselves bitten by irradiated, genetically engineered spiders, or exposed to top secret gamma rays. If superheroes are a real part of your world, wouldn’t more idiots be trying to throw themselves in front of meteors? Then, there’s Superman. He is biggest, strongest superhero of them all, who somehow gets his power from a yellow sun. I’m not exactly sure how the rays of a yellow sun would allow you to fly, or shoot beams out of your eyes. I mean, maybe if we could already float or have low powered eyebeams, then sure, yellow sun, amps us up. I’m down. Plus, Superman can fly into space, through the galaxy where not all suns are yellow. What’s up with that? Wouldn’t he lose his power? So, whenever I go into a tale involving superheroes I plan to sort of roll my eyes and go with the origin story’s flow, which hopefully is dealt with then pushed into the background. Yet, Larry Correia, in his Grimnoir series, has done something I really didn’t expect. He has created a fascinating origin for the force behind the rise of magical powers and integrated it into the mythology of the series in a way that I find quite fascinating.

Spellbound is the second entry in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles, the direct sequel to the Audie award winning Hard Magic, an audiobook that would have been in my top 20 last year, except I listened to it after making my list. After the events of Hard Magic the Grimnoir Knights find themselves is a bad position when they are framed for an assassination attempt on FDR. Now, hunted by a mysterious new government agency, the magical group must try to clear their name while preparing to battle an ancient force that could devastate the world as they know it. It’s common practice in action series that with each new edition  the hero or heroes takes on progressively worst badies. After defeating the most powerful and oldest magical human in the last book, I really wondered where Correia could take the story. Well, in Spellbound everything is amped up exponentially. Spellbound is Hard Magic on blue meth, full of inter-dimensional demons, vast conspiracies, and some of the unlikeliest of allies. Spellbound made my brain spin. I have often commented on the cinematic quality of Correia’s action scenes. Yet, in Spellbound the action scenes are still meticulously choreographed and highly visual, but they are so big that I don’t think a film screen could hold it all. Picture the big battle in The Avengers, throw in Gozer, give it a Steampunk edge, then multiply it by ten, and maybe you have an idea how the finale of this novel felt. Yet, it’s not just the action scenes that hold this book together. Correia has developed characters with amazing death and creates a complex mythology and detailed plot, yet reveals it in a way that is highly accessible. It’s easy to place a sort of sort of pulpy, gun porn label on Correia, but in all honesty, this guy can write with the best of them. Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

In her review, one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Kat Hooper of Fantasy Literature, said that Spellbound is “A Perfect example of how good audio can get.” She is absolutely right. Bronson Pinchot’s performance in Spellbound is easily my favorite performance by a narrator this year. It really is mind boggling how good this book is in audio. Pinchot delivers a master class in pacing of a multiple POV novel. Most good narrators create a pace for each characters inner and external dialogue, yet with each perspective shift, Pinchot tailors his reading to the pace and tone of each character. There is never any question when you are looking at something from Faye’s kinetically paced point of view, or when things slow down to the ponderous pace of the underestimated Heavy Jake Sullivan. Pinchot is one of the few narrators that can actually enhance the author’s character development with his voice. His handling of the international cast was flawless, and tailored each voice to its character’s origin, personality and magical skill. Let’s face it, I listen to lots of audiobooks, and I have listened to more than a few books narrated by Pinchot, but what he does with Spellbound just amazed me. Each character comes alive, each scene jumps from the page to my ears in a masterful way, and it was one of the most engaging and pulse pounding audiobook experiences I have ever had. I have said this before, but I truly believe Correia must have sacrifice some goats or something to the gods of audiobooks to be given two of the best in the business to read his words. In Spellbound he must have gone the extra step and sacrificed an ancient polka dotted virgin goat or something, it was just that good.

Audiobook Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

10 04 2012

Hard Magic by Larry Correia (Book 1 of the Gimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 15 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Fantasy/Super Powers Saga (heck, throw in a bit of everything)

Quick Thoughts: Hard Magic is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, superhero tales, Steampunk and alternate history told with a Noir flair that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Full of intensely visual action and set in a well researched and intriguing altered America, Correia has created something that will resonate with listeners long after the adventure is over. Bronson Pinchot’s narration is proof that a well performed and produced audiobooks can sometimes take a novel beyond the written word better than almost any other kind of medium.

Grade: A

Hard Magic is nominated for two 2012 Audie Awards in the Paranormal and Solo Narration – Male categories.

I have to admit, sometimes I can be a moody listener. This occurs mostly when I’m stressed with work, or everyday life or actually ill. There are a few audiobooks I have listened to that seems like something I would love, yet, for one reason or another, the listen conflicts with my mood, and I end up switching it up for something else. This happens with music as well, sometimes I want something folksy, while other times I just want to band my head and scream. Matching your listens with your moods can be a challenge. The problem for me comes when I choose something that doesn’t reflect my mood and end up putting it aside, I rarely ever go back to it. Like most book addicts, I have a huge pile of books both past, present and future that I want to listen to, and a limited amount of time to listen, so I find it hard to restart an audiobook. This is something that occurred to me with Larry Correia’s Hard Magic. I am a big fan of his Monster Hunter International series, and I remembered the first book started with this huge, hard knuckled violent altercation between an accountant and a werewolf. About 6 months ago or so, I was having a particularly stressful time at work, and needed some major carnage. I downloaded Larry Correia’s Hard Magic without really doing much research. Instead of starting off with a bloody, face ripping, limb rending bang, the book started with things like complex world building and character development. About an hour or so into it, I knew I just wasn’t in the right mindset for it, and turned to something involving cannibalistic undead hordes. One of the reasons I was excited about the Armchair Audies was that I knew that Hard Magic would be in one of the categories I selected and it would give me the motivation to pick up this title that I had neglected, due to no fault of its own. I have to say, I am really glad I did.

Hard Magic is the first book of Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series. It is an alternate history of our world in which magical talents begin developing sometime in the 1800s. The novel takes place during the Great Depression, when J. Edgar Hoover was just beginning to exert his power, and thousands of Okies where escaping the Dust Bowl and heading to California. Hard Magic focuses on two main characters, Jake Sullivan, a Heavy who can seemingly control gravity, and a young, naive teenager name Faye, who is just beginning to understand her powers of teleportation. As one may expect, these two get mixed up in an international conspiracy involving secret magical institution, a powerful hidden weapon and some twisted Eugenics. It’s hard not to sound pat describing Hard Magic, because Correia fully embraces the tropes of superheroes sagas, and alternate history, but he blends and butchers them as he sees fits creating something that feels unique and exciting. Correia writes some of the meanest action sequences around, and the second half of this novel is a never ending ever escalating action sequence that manages to keep you enthralled the entire time. But, it is the first half of this novel that had me realizing I had underestimated Correia as a writer. Correia builds a brilliant world and fills it with fully realized characters. It was as if Harry Turtledove actually finally began meeting actually people, and writing about them, besides just having cardboard cutouts interacting with historical figures. I really think that is one of the hardest parts of alternate history, creating a world that stays true to the history, but populating it with fresh, real characters, and Correia pulls it off. By the time the action really takes off, I feel like I actually know those in jeopardy, and care about what happens to them. Hard Magic is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, superhero tales, Steampunk and alternate history told with a Noir flair that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Full of intensely visual action and set in a well researched and intriguing altered America, Correia has created something that will resonate with listeners long after the adventure is over.

So, about the narration. It’s Bronson Pinchot. Bronson friggin’ Pinchot. Come on, do I really need to say more. I have now listened to a bunch of his narrations, and somehow each time he manages to surprise and amaze me. I mean, he takes this novel, from a writer with a reputation for pulp filled action tales, and gets it nominated for the an Audie Award not just within its genre, but for Male Solo Narration up against authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, James Baldwin, Joseph Conrad, and the novel that inspired an Academy Award winning movie. No disrespect to Larry Correia, but Pinchot transforms this novel. He creates a voice for each character as lovingly as the novelist who breathed life into them. He gives the soft, underestimated Jake Sullivan such a true authentic voice, that it allows the violence that Jake is forced to resort to, seem that much more jarring. He captures the impulsiveness, and naiveté of Faye perfectly, allowing for some genuinely touching and funny moments, making you want to protect her while she’s out there unrepentantly kicking ass. And just thinking of the Pale Horse gives me the willies. Everything about this reading is proof that a well performed and produced audiobooks can sometimes take a novel beyond the written word better than almost any other kind of medium. The only complaint I had is that my listening schedule is so full right now, I won’t be able to get to the next book in the series, Spellbound, until sometime this summer.

Undead Authors: An Interview with Peter Clines

1 06 2011

Peter Clines is the Author of the Superhero vs. Zombie novel Ex-Heroes (My Review) and its upcoming sequel Ex-Patriots. Ex-Heroes was recently released by Audible Frontiers as part of promotion with Permuted Press, and Ex-Patriots will be released as part of the second wave. His other works include Robinson Crusoe(The Eerie Adventures of a Lycanthrope). Mr. Clines was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions.



Bob: First off, as a lover of audiobooks and zombie fiction, this relationship between Permuted Press and Audible Frontiers has been a highlight of my year. I know that former alum J. L. Bourne, and the late, great Z. A. Recht both had audiobook versions of there work, and now even more audio exposure for Permuted has to be a good thing. What is your take on audiobooks in general, and in the relationship between and Permuted Press?

Peter:In general, I think audiobooks are great.  Anything that gets people to read more (and, in all fairness, gets authors paid so they can keep writing) is a good thing.  So thumbs up there.   And points to for really taking audiobooks to the next level.  It’s a brilliant business model, one of those things that’s so obvious I think everybody kicks themselves for not thinking of it first.

Of course, I’m thrilled about the partnership between Permuted and  It’s just going to get the books and the brand out to an even larger audience.  Permuted’s becoming a very big small press, if that makes sense, and I think I’m lucky to be caught up in that.  I’m also flattered that picked me as one of the four authors for the next wave of releases.   So I’ll have two audiobooks from them less than two months apart.

I should also take a quick moment and add that approached me about writing some bonus material for the July releases.  The four Permuted novels being released that month (starting with Ex-Patriots) each comes with a bonus short story.  All four stories connect and overlap in what I’ve been calling The Junkie Quatrain.  They stand alone, but if you read more of them you start to get a better view of the post-apocalyptic world they’re set in and a better understanding of different events. 

Bob: You really have created a unique vision in your novel Ex-Heroes, combining Super Heroes with Zombies, receiving praise from people such as Nathan Fillion, Mira Grant and now this lowly audiobook blogger. What was your inspiration for Ex-Heroes? How hard was it to get people to take the concept seriously?

Peter: I’d disagree that it’s unique.  Really, people have been pairing superheroes against zombies for decades.  If memory serves, Superman fought the undead back in the ’80s in one of the first John Byrne issues of Action Comics.  I think what makes it stand out was that I didn’t use the overly-gritty, overly-dramatic take on superheroes that’s become so prevalent in comics.  I just tried to make them the kind of heroes I grew up on, the ones that were a bit more fun and… well, heroic.

Which (to actually answer your question) is kind of what inspired it.  A few years back one of the big two comic companies announced a limited series where superheroes would deal with a Romero-style uprising and I was thrilled.  I thought it was going to be awesome.  Instead, it was superheroes as zombies.  And not even heroes, really.  It was cannibalistic ghouls wearing superhero costumes.  Rather that heroic survival, it was just dark and gritty taken to the extreme.  And not even good dark and gritty.  It was clumsy and wordy and just… boring.  In my opinion, anyway.  So, like a lot of people do, I sketched out some very rough ideas of how I would’ve done it.  Right around the same time I came across some old sketchbooks I’d been lugging around for years.  There were tons of (very bad) pictures of all the (very silly) superheroes I’d made up as a kid, and it got me thinking that, if they were polished up a bit, a lot of them would slot very easily into the story I thought should’ve been told.  I started typing one night and wrote "The Luckiest Girl In The World."  And it all kind of expanded from there.

As for getting to people to take it seriously, that’s yet another bit of serendipity.  I’d sold two short stories to Permuted Press for different anthologies and hung out for their Thursday night chatroom sessions.  One night it was just me and Jacob Kier, the publisher, and as we talked it came out that he also thought the previously-mentioned comic series was a wasted opportunity and that he’d love to see it done right.  So when I was about 20-30,000 words into the book that would be Ex-Heroes I approached him, reminded him of the conversation, and asked if he’d be interested in looking at it.  He said sure, I delivered it a few months later, and he accepted it a month after that.  Three days before Christmas 2008, if memory serves.

Bob: Super Heroes, in my opinion, are the epitome of American Icons. How hard was it to come up with plausible and diverse hero characters that didn’t come off as ripoffs of existing Icons?

Peter: It’s always a bit of a challenge because there’s only so many plausible powers out there and there are so many heroes already.  I think if you try to make the superhero side completely original you end up with that sort of X-Men/mutant silliness back in the early ’90s where everyone had to have a completely unique power and we ended up with mutant translators and mutant inventors.  So on the surface, yeah, my character Stealth is a lot like Batman, Zzzap is like the Human Torch (or maybe X-Ray from the U-Foes (geek reference)), Gorgon is like Rogue, and so on.  It’s almost impossible to get away from.

The trick, like any piece of writing, is the character side of it.  If they come across as real people with their own quirks and personalities, it doesn’t matter if they’ve got the same power as someone else.  No one’s ever going to confuse Charlie from Firestarter with the Human Torch or the Green Knight with Wolverine, even though they’ve got pretty much the exact same powers, because they all have very different personalities.  Mack Bolan is not James Bond, and neither of them is Chuck Bartowski. 

Probably a great example of this is St. George.  I’ve seen a ton of people in reviews refer to him as "the Superman" of the book.  Which I find interesting because from a powers point of view he’s nothing like Superman.  He’s far, far weaker (as is pointed out, Spider-Man could kick St. George’s ass), he can barely fly, and he’s not so much invulnerable as very tough.  The parallel everyone sees is in the type of person they both are, not the powers they have.

Bob: For me, oftentimes action sequences in books can become muddled and hard to visualize, let alone follow. Yet your action scenes were crisp, and highly visual. What is your process when writing action scenes?

Peter: I’m a big believer that less is more when it comes to action.  If it takes me thirty seconds to read something that would only take one second to happen, I feel it really starts to slow the pace.  Once a writer’s done that four or five times on the same page, the story is draggggging.  So action is where I always try to cut and tighten when I’m editing.  I have this unwritten rule, though, that Stealth is the only person who gets long action scenes because she’s moving so fast and doing so much that I wouldn’t be able to write them otherwise.  So, from a cinematic point of view, she’s the one character in bullet-time.

I also try not to overcomplicate stuff with a lot of weapons or martial arts terminology that the average person isn’t going to know and doesn’t need to know.  They’re going to be forming their own mental picture of what’s happening, and if I intrude on that image too much it gets disruptive and knocks them out of the story.  I can tell you this guy delivers a stunning ushiro geri to that guy… or I can just say he back-kicks the guy in the stomach.  That sort of technical stuff is great in small doses, but if there’s too much of it all it does is make the reader stumble.  That’s just slowing the pace again.

Bob:  If you could choose, what superpowers would you like? I would like two answers, the first would be a power that would make you a true crime fighting hero, and the second, one that was basically useless, but would be really cool to have.

Peter: Hmmmm.  Good question.  I think if I was actually going to fight crime the only possible options would be either invulnerability or super-speed (so the bad guys either can’t hurt me or can’t hit me).  Without those you’re pretty screwed.  Between the two, I’d probably go with super-speed.  I always liked the Flash.

If it was just for me, it’d probably be something like Spider-Man’s agility.  Or time travel.  Because time travel is cool.  Especially if you’ve got a fez.

Bob: If I could somehow sneak into your house and take a picture of your bookshelf, what books are given the highest place of honor and what may I be shocked to find?

Peter: You’d find they’re alphabetized, which is pretty shocking to anyone who knows me and my girlfriend.  We’re disorganized on so many other levels…

There’s a bunch of Stephen King and piles of Ray Bradbury.  Fair amounts of Neil Gaiman, Dan Abnett, and Lee Child.  There are a lot of graphic novels and sci-fi by people like Asimov, Clarke, and Hogan.  I’ve got a lot of older Anne Rice stuff, before her books started feeling so repetitive.  I don’t know about shocking, but it might be surprising how much classic and children’s literature I have.  I love Dumas, Hawthorne,  Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter rules!). East of Eden is spectacular, and so is To Kill a Mockingbird.  I think you’ve got to know the past to appreciate the present, and it never hurts a writer to have a broader base than their chosen genre.

Some of the kid stuff is books I’ve kept since I was little (like the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander or the Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald) and some of it’s things I’ve found again.  A few years back my girlfriend found two of my favorite childhood books for me– The Forgotten Door and Stranger from the Depths.  I think it’s important to keep hold of that primal sense of wonder and excitement and fear.  You look at people like Bradbury or King and it’s pretty apparent there’s a large part of them that’s still a little kid.

Bob: Without giving too much away, what should we expect from Ex-Patriots, the sequel to Ex-Heroes?

Well, more of the same, on one level.  Everyone who made it out of the first book will be there, and now that they’re established I get to do a bit more with them.  There’s going to be lots of zombies (some of them famous).  There’s also going to be a few new super-characters.  One of them we’ll meet briefly is the Driver, another escapee from my childhood sketchbooks.  I thought it would be funny and a bit sad if someone had a superpower that was completely useless after the apocalypse.

There’s also going to be a large Army presence, and our heroes are going to be away from the Mount for a while because of it.  I was frustrated by the way the military almost always gets portrayed in zombie stories.  Either they’ve gone mad or they’re deserters.  Or both.  The general impression is that, one way or another, the military is the worst group to be associated with in a crisis, which is kind of unfair.  So I wanted to show the soldiers as solid and dependable and heroic.  Which isn’t to say there won’t be issues when the Army and civilian survivors find each other, but none of those issues are coming out of incompetence or a "Muahh-hah-hah, now we’ll take all your food, fuel, and women back to our base and abandon you to the zombies" sort of thing.

And I got to set up a lot of stuff for a third book, too.  But we’ll talk about that later…

You can purchase the Audiobook Version of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines at AUDIBLE.COM.