Audiobook Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

13 11 2013

Steelheart (Reckoners, Bk. 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult SuperVillian Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness. Steelheart is a good start to an intriguing new series.

Grade: B+

Over the past few years there seems to be a real glut of superhero tales in prose form. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am one of those weirdos who loves superheroes, grew up on Superman and Batman and the Superfriends, but never really got into comic books. So, despite all my comic book loving friends telling me about all the awesome, dark and twisted tales being told in the comic book medium, I stuck to my books. Yet, there has always been a part of my brain that loved superheroes, that wanted to explore the many twists and turns people the subgenre can explore, without all the awesome artwork, and trying to figure out just who was supposed to be talking. So, now all these superhero books have come out, from a wide variety of authors exploring many aspects of advanced beings with powers that seem to defy traditional human limitations. So many, that you’d think that one would sort of start getting sick of them or at the very least that the various angles and twists on the genre would be totally used up. Luckily, so far, this hasn’t been the case.

With Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson has once again flipped the genre on its head, exploring the darker sides of enhanced humans, embracing the super but reassigning the concept of heroes. In Sanderson’s world, there are no selfless heroes using their powers for the betterment of humanity. Instead, Epics, people who have manifested superpowers, all use their power to subjugate and rule over those without powers. With Steelheart Sanderson explores the idea of the corruption of power, and looks at whether these powers enhance humanities dark side or some other force is at work.

When David was young, he witnesses Steelheart, the seemingly invulnerable Epic who would come to rule an apocalyptic Chicago with a steel fist, kill his father. He also saw Steelheart bleed. Years later, David dreams of joining the Reckoners, a group of regular humans looking to take down Epics. David believes with their help, he can finally discover the Steelheart’s weakness, and kill him. Yet, when he finally meets up with the group, he finds his desire for revenge and his core belief in the essence of Epics challenged by one intriguing girl, and the group of odd characters.

While Steelheart had a lot of awesome in it, some cool characters, a wonderful set up, and some really brisk, high concept action, overall it felt a bit uneven. At times, I felt it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There were definitely a lot of YA tropes used, but they seemed to fit awkwardly within the overall scope of the novel. The use of situational slang came off as annoying, instead of a natural evolution of the world Sanderson created. The fact that everyone used the exact slang in the exact same way, whether they are a younger person who grew up in the world of Epics, or an older person spanner both the pre and post Epic world made it feel a bit forced. The world of Newcago, came off a bit too clever. Luckily, the unevenness of the book was more than made up for by the sheer fun of the novel. You could tell Sanderson was having fun creating new and interesting Epic types, and allowing them to wreak havoc. I also liked the fact that there were no superheroes, yet an almost religions group who believed that eventually heroes will come was a nice touch. Mostly, I enjoyed the way he flipped the concept of "with great power comes great responsibility" on its head, exploring the corrupting influence that may be the true essence of the tale. Overall, despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness.

To make matter even better, one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews brought his many talents to the reading of Steelheart. Andrews managed to give the book a true blockbuster feel, with characters that jumped, action the ripped across your mind and a feel of something bigger than reality, yet he did it all with a bit of an edge that defied the polishness of most big screen movies. Andrews does a great job with David, a young man hovering between the naiveté of youth and the forced maturity of someone who grew up orphaned in a changed world. Andrews has a way of giving characters a unique spin that makes than stand just a bit taller.  It was a highly affective performance that allowed me to care more about these characters than I might have in print. Steelheart is a good start to what can become a truly intriguing series.

Audiobook Review: Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

7 08 2013

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 35 Min.

Genre:Thriller with Science Fiction Elements

Quick Thoughts: Brilliance is a smart blockbuster movie for your brain, with a complex and engaging main character, a stunningly created world, and so much action you should probably keep your cardiologist on Speed Dial. It’s a a straight thriller with enough science fiction elements that I want to force all my Speculative Fiction friends to read, at gun point if necessary. I absolutely loved this book.

Grade: A+

Being that I grew up on a steady dose of shows like The SuperFriends, The Greatest American Hero and a plethora of superhero movies, I have always had a soft spot for tales about humans with super powers. To me, the gaining of superpowers is one of the greatest fantasy staples today. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if one day you woke up and you could shoot fire out of your eyes, or produce a temporal bubble allowing you to shift through time out your ass. The great thing about Superpower tales is they didn’t have to make sense, that the color of the son could allow you to violate all sorts of physical laws so you can fly, see through walls and wipe a women’s memory out with a kiss. To me this embodies the awesomeness of fantasy. Tales of super humans also create a wonderful tool to look at an alternate history, or tackle current issues. Myke Coles Shadow Ops and Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series both do these things wonderfully, examining the social, historical, military and political changes that would happen if suddenly some humans become more than human. Yet, these stories have always been fantasies for me, because, well, the stories aren’t really plausible. They require some sort of magical force to be the catalyst for these powers. Even something like The X-Men which cites the cause to be genetic mutations have powers so beyond reality that it’s hard to translate them into any true physical reality. Yet, then I read Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance, and well, simply stated, the concept blew my mind. In many ways Sakey applies Clarke’s Law to superpowers. What if there were humans so advanced that their abilities were practically indistinguishable from superpowers. What if their natural abilities to recognize patterns, to read body language, to pick up on empathic tells or to write code, perform mathematical equations or things like that where so advanced that they revolutionized the world. These abilities are not unnatural, just supernatural in the truest definition of the word. We have had savants in our culture who have pushed us towards great leaps in our development, yet what if something happens to increase the percentage of these brilliant world changing people, who in every other way are normal. This is the world that Marcus Sakey creates, and it’s is a really doozy.

Since 1980, a marked increase in humans with savant like abilities began. Now, nearly one in every hundred people born are Brilliants. Nick Cooper is the top agent with a Federal Agency given extreme powers to hunt down Brilliants who actively disrupt the functioning of the Government. Cooper himself is a brilliant, with the ability to read people’s body language with an almost psychic like prescience. Now Cooper is on the hunt for John Smith, a mastermind Brilliant terrorist responsible for mass atrocities. Brilliance is perhaps the ultimate genre bending novel. It is a thriller that Speculative Fiction readers will love, and accessible science fiction for thriller fans. In many ways, it is the collision of everything I love in books, bringing together a true thrilling ride full of car chases, shadowy government agencies and cinema quality fight scenes, with world building that would be the envy of any speculative fiction author. The world that Sakey creates is astounding. He doesn’t just go and say, “Hey, here’s a book with superheroes in our world” but pushes the technological, social and political extrapolations to logical and fascinating places. I loved how Sakey flipped the current political war on terror on its head, showing a world very different from the one we currently inhabit, but with many of the same issues. Sakey doesn’t shy away from the dirty side of the equations, showing how the government’s treatment of the Brilliants, particularly in the schools they create for the most dangerous Brilliants discovered through mandatory testing, yet also doesn’t shirk off the potential for havoc the Brilliants can have on society. Sakey uses his world to ask lots of questions, but never force feeds the reader the answers.  Sakey gives his characterizations just as much loving detail as his world. Nick Cooper is a wonderfully complex character, someone who takes his patriotism and loyalty seriously. Though he is using extreme means to fight the potential for chaos that some Brilliants could cause, he believes he is doing it for the right reasons. Yet when things become not as cut and dry and he believed, and when his loyalty puts him in conflict with his ability to protect his family Cooper truly suffers a sort of psychic dissonance. I like how Sakey doesn’t every step away from the core of Cooper’s character, even when his whole world is sent reeling. Yet, the true beauty of Brilliance is the way Sakey brings together his world, and characters and creates some extremely stunning action scenes. There is a reason Brilliance is labeled a thriller, the action drives the pace, leaving the reader struggling to find the next opportunity to safely take a breath.  Not since Trevor Shane’s Children of Paranoia have I found a thriller that I wanted to force all my science fiction friends to read, at gun point if necessary. I absolutely loved this book. It was a smart blockbuster movie for your brain, with a complex and engaging main character, a stunningly created world, and so much action you should probably keep your cardiologist on Speed Dial. Brilliance is not just my favorite thriller of the year, but it’s destined to find a place near the top of my year end Favorites.

I have listened to a lot of Luke Daniel’s narrations. He takes on quite a few series I follow, of many different genres. I am quite comfortable with his narrations, to the point where he rarely surprises me. Yet, he did with Brilliance. It’s not just his precise pacing, or impeccable characterizations. This is something I come to expect with any of Daniel’s performances. Sometimes, there is just some intangible extra in a narrator’s performance that comes when they know they are narrating something special, and that is evident in Daniel’s reading of this novel. I tend not to be a very visual in my listening. I have a general concept of character physical types and a rough layout of the action, yet, typically that is all I need. Yet, Brilliance was like a movie in my head. I didn’t just hear the characters, but saw them. I didn’t just listen as two characters held onto a speeding train, but stood there with them feeling the wind in my hair. Daniels performance was truly cinematic. From the moment I hit play, I was enthralled, risking physical harm and dereliction in my work duties, as I walked around in body, but never in mind, because my mind was totally absorbed in this world. Brilliance is one of those great audiobook moments that make me thankful that I have embraced this medium, and fair warning, is a book I will be force recommending to anyone who asks.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.