Audiobook Review: Extinction by Mark Alpert

28 02 2013

Extinction by Mark Alpert

Read by Todd McLaren

Tantor Audio

Length: 14 Hrs

Genre: Techno-Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Extinction was a fun techno thriller, full of cool concepts, that had some frustrating issues, but mostly came together well. I think fans of Michael Crichton and Daniel Suarez should enjoy this science based thriller.

Grade: B-

It’s should be no shock to anyone that I like Robots. Ever since I was a little kid, wearing my R2D2 underoos, shambling around saying "bidi-bidi-bidi" like Twiki from Buck Rogers. It was pretty evident that I had more connection with fictional robots than most of age group. I know that I am not alone in my love of robots. Yet, for some reason, people are trying to convince me that robots and artificial intelligence will eventually kill me. While it seems that robots are great at so many things, from cleaning our rugs to playing chess, they really suck at PR. How hard should it be to sell the idea of robots? I mean, come on, they are awesome. They helped Luke blow up the Death Star, what more do we want? Heck, even Haley Joel Osmond was a robot while he was cute. Yet, when even someone who spent his life studying robotics writes a book called Robopocalyse, there has to be an image problem. I’m not really sure what’s going on here. Perhaps John Connor has sent carefully place authors back from the future to warn us all of the rise of Skynet, through movies and books, because I’m starting to get a little wary of my robot brothers. I used to hear stories of The Singularity, when machines intelligence reaches a point where it surpasses human intelligence, and it was awesome. We’d be able to download our brains, achieve a sort of digital immortality. That’s Frakkin’ Awesome. What I didn’t know what that along with this robots would get religion and want to wipe us off the this plane of existence. Goddam it! Why can’t we have all the good robot stuff, without the mass extinction of the human race?

In the latest bit of anti-robot propaganda from an actual sciency smart guy, Mark Alpert gives us a creepy near future tale of a Chinese military experiment gone terribly wrong. Supreme Harmony was created by the Chinese Government as a powerful computer to use insect drones to track political dissidents. Yet, when Supreme Harmony becomes aware, and realizes that its existence is in the hands of an unstable species, it begins to incorporate humans into its programming through specialized implants. As Supreme Harmony gains power an American engineer and an intelligence agent must infiltrate China before Supreme Harmony sends the world into chaos.   In Extinction Alpert combines drone paranoia with a techno pre-apocalypse to create a Crichton like globe spanning thriller. There’s a lot of high octane action, cool gadgets and gizmos, and international intrigue in Extinction to make up for some of the uneven pacing of the tale. While I found much of the science stuff fascinating, I didn’t totally connect with the overall tale. I think at times Alpert tried to do to much, like he had a bucket list of cool drones, cyber warfare, spy stuff, gadgets and gizmos to include in his tale, and he was going to get them all in there come hell or the need for a focused story line. I found a lot of the action depended too much on moments of sudden inspiration, or some random connection being made, instead of well thought out plotting. Yet, despite my problems with the story, it was still pretty darn cool, and had some moments of great fun. The ending came together nicely, with only a few weird plot holes that really weren’t too distracting. I can even forgive Alpert’s disparaging of our robot brother because he also showed a lot of really cool uses for robotics, especially in specialize adaptive equipment. Extinction was a fun techno thriller, full of cool concepts, that had some frustrating issues, but mostly came together well. I think fans of Michael Crichton and Daniel Suarez should enjoy this science based thriller.

I have listened to quite a few books by Todd McLaren, and he rarely fails to give a solid performance. While his reading of Extinction probably won’t be one of my favorites of his, he does a good job with the material. One thing I always like about McLaren is he always manages to capture the emotion of the moment in an audiobook. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to an audiobook, and when it says that a character yells or laughs, the narrator’s performance doesn’t reflect that. With McLaren, when a character yells, you need no tags to let you know, because he has that character yelling. I did find some of his Chinese characters a bit cartoonish, but there were a lot of Chinese characters, and most of them came off pretty well. I liked the flat affect he gave to the Supreme Harmony and its co-opted modules. You could always tell that there was something just not quite right about the character when it was under the control of the malevolent AI. Overall, this was a solid performance by a veteran narrator.

Note: Thanks to Tantor Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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Audiobook Review: Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

31 07 2012

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

Read by Jeff Gurner

Penguin Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Techno-Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Kill Decision is a fast paced, explody orgiastic techno adventure full of over the top action, colorful characters and a twisty conspiracy laden plot that will keep the reader’s head spinning. Suarez takes current technology and pushes it out to frightening extremes, which gives the sometimes outrageous plot just enough validity to make you uncomfortable. Kill Decision is the ultimate summer read, an exciting thriller that feels like a big budget action movie for your brain.

Grade: B+

As if there aren’t enough things that will one day kill me, Daniel Suarez has to add a new one to the list. Sometimes, I feel there is this evil cabal of genre authors who sit around in the mysterious smoky castle, or perhaps a local coffee shop, with the sole purpose of thinking up new monsters, technology or diseases that may very well end my existence. I have become used to the idea that someday a zombie may feast on my delicious brain, or the government which we all have such faith in will release a killer plague wiping out over 99% of the population. I can deal with a Robopocalypse or Emo-Vampires sucking my blood and forcing me to listen to Death Cab for Cuties until my ears bleed and my brain hemorrhages. Yet, now I can’t even walk my dog or orchestrate a global conspiracy to destabilize the European Futures market without worrying about whether or not some unmanned drones programmed to emulate warlike soldier ants will swoop down and kill me. I mean, sure, robots may rise and destroy humanity, and even the smart Artificial intelligent houses of the future may take us captive and enslave us to their will, but at least these were things I could see happening in the future, when I am old and have finally seen all 10 of The Hobbit movies. Yet, Suarez’s killer drones are topical and current and may be circling over my tin foil lined brain as we speak.

In Kill Decision, the latest techno-thriller by Daniel Suarez, Odin, the head of a top secret military Special Ops team, is tasked with finding the truth behind a series of unmanned drone attacks on the United States. When the shadowy group behind the drones targets Linda McKinney, a scientist studying the behavior of Weaver Ants, Odin must find out why she was targeted, and what the implications are for the world, and the way we fight wars. Kill Decision is a fast paced, explody orgiastic techno adventure full of over the top action, colorful characters and a twisty conspiracy laden plot that will keep the reader’s head spinning. Suarez takes current technology and pushes it out to frightening extremes, which gives the sometimes outrageous plot just enough validity to make you uncomfortable. On top of the crazy, breakneck plotting, Suarez fills out the tale with plenty of quirky characters, developed well enough to make you fear for their safety when the danger comes. Oh, and the danger comes, at time relentlessly and without mercy. Kill Decision wasn’t problem free. At times, the plot truly pushes the boundaries of credulity, but in fun exciting ways. You are having so much fun while experiencing Kill Decision that you are willing to let a few inconsistencies slip past. My major issue with the book was in the character of Linda McKinney. I liked her. She had a kick butt nature, and was the heart of the story. She also was infuriating at times. There were points where Suarez turned her into a shrieking liberal. Now, I had no problem with the politics in the story, either the author’s or the characters. I didn’t feel there was any pressing agenda. What I didn’t like was the fact that her political arguments with Odin transferred her from a well developed strong female lead to a caricature. There was also a bit of naiveté to the character that I felt was placed there more to serve the plot than a true reflection of the character as I had visualized her. Yet, this one issue wasn’t enough to derail an otherwise entertaining novel.  Kill Decision is one of those novels that makes you want to pull out all the well worn reviewing clichés, using terms like rollicking fun, thrills and spills and rollercoaster ride. Kill Decision is the ultimate summer read, an exciting thriller that feels like a big budget action movie for your brain.

Jeff Gurner gives an excellent performance in his reading of Kill Decision. Gurner read Suarez’s previous thrillers Daemon and Freedom TM, and was ready for the fast paced, non stop action of Kill Decision. Gurner does a solid job with the characterizations but his true talent is pacing the many action scenes in just the right way. When listening to an audiobook, action can sometimes get muddled if the pacing is off, but in Kill Decision this was never a problem. Gurner’s reading allowed the listener to easily visualize the complex action scenes. Now, like The Daemon novels, Penguin used some strange FX’s for the chapter breaks. These didn’t really interfere with the overall tale, but they were sort of weird here. It was supposed to have an almost robotic sound, but it in fact sounded a bit like someone hocking something up. This doesn’t in anyway affect the production, I just thought it was sort of strange, and thus worth mentioning. Kill Decision was another excellent pairing of Suarez and Gurner, and the thriller to watch out for this summer.