Audiobook Review: Shift by Hugh Howey

26 07 2013

Shift Omnibus Edition (The Silo Saga, Bk. 2) by Hugh Howey

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Hugh Howey

Length: 18 Hrs 22 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: While not overall as affective as Wool, Shift does a good job broadening and enriching the story that began in the original novel. Howey has some difficult tasks to perform to tell this story in a way that will be fresh, even to those who thinks they know all the novel’s secrets. and he manages to pull it off for the most part. For fans of Wool, and any fan of apocalyptic fiction, Shift is a definite must-listen.

Grade: B+

Humanity is just not good people. They do all sorts of bad things, like get into fights over dirt, the proper way to talk to their imaginary friends, and combustible viscous liquids. They exploit everything they touch, believe the earth is just a plaything for their amusement, and quite possibly may be the instrument of their own demise. Really, humanity sucks… except, well for that fact that they make my favorite stuff. There seems to be a theme popping up more and more often in Post Apocalyptic fiction that the world may be better off without so many of us around. That us humans are the fleas on Gaia’s corpse and every once in a while the best thing for the world is to give the earth a nice flea bath. Yet, it’s not just the removal of humanity that’s needed, but the destruction of all the knowledge of its toys. Our society had become too dependent on its technology, and forgot the responsibility is has to the earth. That the only way humanity can survivor is in close harmony with Mother Nature. It sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy bullshit, but it’s slowly starting to permeate into books and philosophies not solely run by those crazy hippies. These ideas have been around a while but slowly they have started to transform. I remember reading books like A Canticle for Leibowitz or The Long Tomorrow, where the Luddites where the villains attempting to send society back to the dark ages, and now they are becoming the heroes saving humidity from its own foibles. Yet, these ideas have always made me uncomfortable. It seems that we often strive for the easiest answers, which at its basest levels is, kill them all and start over. I have trouble thinking this much death could be beneficial, that while we may save the world we will damn our soul. This idea of mass cleansing is to close to Eugenics and Social Darwinism for my taste. Plus, more than likely, I’d be one of the casualties, and really, that would just suck.

Shift is the follow-up to Hugh Howey’s mega-whatever big-time independent whozawhatzit, Wool. Basically, if you haven’t heard of Wool, then you probably have no clue about one of the biggest success stories in the latest iteration of independent publishing. It’s a fun and fascinating publishing story, plus, it doesn’t hurt that it’s also dang good novel. Now, in Shift, Howey takes us back to how it all starts. Congressman Donald Keene was a bit uncomfortable when he was pulled into a secretive project headed by a powerful senator, but he also saw it as a way to get ahead while using his skills as an architect. Yet, as he fiends himself more and more involved in the project to build a series of Silos for nuclear storage, he hears more and more about a super nano-weapon that may be being developed by America’s enemies. Shift is a solid follow up to Howey’s excellent Wool. Shift is told through three separate novels, each showing a different aspect of the progression of the Silos up to the time of the happenings of Wool. Howey often jumps between perspectives from different timelines, each time playing off the other to slowly reveal the hidden truths of the situation. In the first novel, Howey deftly moves between Donald’s slow discovery of the truth behind the Silo project and a Silo worker’s first Shift. Howey effectively uses this technique here to build tension. Even though most readers will have an idea about what is going on, since this is a prequel, Howey still manages to keep a few aces up his sleeve. As we move to the second book, Howey has to fight harder to keep the story together. It’s not as fluid, and the less distinctiveness between the timelines leads to some confusion. It’s still effective storytelling, and for the most part works. The third novel is the biggest treat for fans of Wool, showing us new perspectives to iconic scenes of the first book, while expanding some familiar characters’ stories. It also Howey’s best development of Donald’s character, where you begin to get some idea of who he is becoming. While not overall as affective as Wool, Shift does a good job broadening and enriching the story that began in the original novel. Howey has some difficult tasks to perform to tell this story in a way that will be fresh, even to those who think they know all the novel’s secrets. and he manages to pull it off for the most part. What there are no qualifiers for is how ell he builds anticipation for the final novel in the series, Dust. Howey ends Shift in a very interesting way, that makes me quite excited to see where all this will be going next.

It’s no secret that narrator Tim Gerard Reynolds’s has been responsible for some of my favorite all time narrator performances and I am a huge fan of his work. That being said, I was a little perplexed when I discovered he had been tapped to read Shift. He’s an excellent narrator, no doubt, but an excellent IRISH narrator. Being what I remembered about Wool, it was set in an apocalyptic version of the US. I had wondered if maybe I had missed something. That, maybe Shift was being set in the UK. Well, it’s wasn’t. Shift is a decidedly American novel, full of many Southern characters, and the south isn’t known for its Irish accents. Yet, Reynolds’s is also a talented professional, and it took almost no time to get past that little peccadillo and just enjoy his work. Reynolds’s actually does a really good job capturing the characters of Shift. His Southern accents were subtle when they needed to be, and brazen when they didn’t. He did a wonderful job capturing the unique cadence of the smarmiest of beasts, the American politician. His pacing is impeccable. Shift isn’t full of balls to the wall action, yet Reynolds’s managed to fill the narrative with tension, keeping the reading glues to their various listening devices. For fans of Wool, this Audio Omnibus Edition is a must listen, and I am sure that Dust, which will also be narrated by Reynolds’s, will be another audiobook to watch out for.

Audiobook Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

5 03 2013

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelation, Bk. 1)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Recorded Books

Length: 22 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Theft of Swords managed to be two sides to an intriguing coin, both a light heated traditional fantasy tale, as well as a unique spin on traditional fantasy with surprising depth. Sullivan manages the old hook and spin, getting you in the door, then locking it and laughing evilly once you are trapped inside, ready to tell you a tale you may not have been expecting.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

It’s Armchair Audies time *cue cheers* and once again I embark on my journey through the speculative fiction categories. This year, I am starting with the Fantasy Category, and am listening to them in order of length. So up first is the epic fantasy The Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan, the first book in the Riyria Revelations. Last year, one thing I complained about in the Audies Fantasy category was a lack of epic fantasy. In fact, the only titles nominated that was even closely related to epic fantasy was Richard K. Morgan’s The Cold Commands and it was nominated in the Science Fiction category and Walter Moers Rumo & His Miraculous Journey which featured a dog like protagonist, which is far from traditional.. Yet, honestly, I was sort of relieved as well. Epic Fantasies are a huge commitment. They tend to be door stopper novels, in huge series. Now, I don’t mind a 40 -50 hour audiobook, but if I have to listen to 10 40-50 hour audiobooks to get to it, then there’s a problem. I also have to admit, I’m quite picky when it comes to Epic Fantasies. Even though I loved Lord of the Rings, often my mind goes blank when I hear of elves and dwarves and the like. I’m not even sure why. Outside of Tolkien, I never really got into big fat fantasies until The Dark Tower tickled my fantasy fancy, and I discovered Stephen Donaldson and George R. R. Martin, and by this time, the Wheel of Time series was at something like 100,000 pages and 2,000 hours in audio, and I wasn’t going to jump into that mess. So, instead I jumped on the occasional new series, like Rothfuss’ Kingkiller series, and The Lies of Locke Lamora, So, I was quite interested when I saw a real honest to goodness Epic Fantasy had been nominated, and it was the first of a series. Mayhaps I would find another series to enchant me.

Theft of Swords tells the story of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, two gentleman thieves who find themselves mixed up a Kingdom’s murky royal succession, and century old church conspiracies. I think if I could pick just one word to explain my feelings about The Theft of Swords it would be "comfortable: yet, that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Sullivan writes a classic fantasy tale full of all the tropes that fantasy fans have come to both love and loathe. There are plenty of Tolkenesque qualities, even *gasp* Elves and Dwarves, yet, I didn’t find myself turned off by it. Sure, there was an initial cringe when I heard tell of elves, but as the story played out, I though the inclusion of Elvin mythology worked here. I think that Sullivan made a conscience teffort to tell a light hearted fantasy tale in the first portion of this tale. As a reader, I didn’t need a lot of character development and world building, because in many ways I felt like I already had a grasp on the character and world, and we could get right to the cool adventury type stuff. Yet, slowly, Sullivan began filling in the edges of his world, adding more depth and mystery to the tale. He handed out the pieces bit by bit, so they became integrated with the plot of the tale. Now, this book is actually two novels combined into one volume. I really enjoyed the first story, titled The Crown Conspiracy. The plot, while light and fun still had me guessing along the way. The second tale, Avempartha, had more depth and, while still relying of traditional tropes, started to break the story into some intriguing new areas. I found the true beauty of the tale was the way the two pieces fit together, and seemed to set up for more to come in the future volumes. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my need to tackle all these Audie nominees, I would have been tempted to jump right to the next volume of the series. Theft of Swords managed to be two sides to an intriguing coin, both a light heated traditional fantasy tale, as well as a unique spin on traditional fantasy with surprising depth. Sullivan manages the old hook and spin, getting you in the door, then locking it and laughing evilly once you are trapped inside, ready to tell you a tale you may not have been expecting.

This is my third experience with a novel narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds. My first experience, his reading of Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending intrigues me, but it was his performance in John Connelly’s The Infernals, which I called my Favorite Narrator Performance of 2011, that turned me into a fan. Reynolds has a good voice for Medieval Fantasy, and he puts it to good use here. I thought he was much better suited for the world that Sullivan created than to Donaldson’s The Land. He captured the characters of Royce and Hadrian well. There was definitely a risk of these two thieves coming off a bit caricature in the early part of the novel, but Reynolds manages to give them a distinct voice that served as character development, while Sullivan filled them out on the page. I really enjoyed his reading of Myron the monk. He gave him a quirky feel that both captured the devastation of the monk’s tragedy, while also adding a bit of humor. One of the biggest challenges for any narrators in epic fantasy, where the world exists solely in the mind of the author, is to find the authentic tone to the novel. In many epics, the world has its own voice, and becomes its own character, and Reynolds does a great job capturing this voice. The only complaint I had was hardly Reynolds fault. There is a heck of a lot of characters in this tale, and many of them from the same family, so at times these characters ran together. Yet, Reynolds makes this a rare occurrence, when it could have been a lot worse. Overall, this is a fun start to an intriguing series, and definitely worthy of the award it was nominated for.

Audiobook Review: The Infernals by John Connolly

24 10 2011

The Infernals by John Connolly (Samuel Johnson vs. The Devil, Book 2)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Middle Grade Adventure/Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: This sequel to Connolly’s The Gates is another wonderful, clever and laugh out loud hilarious adventure. The style of the book with its humorous asides and clever footnotes is perfect for translation to audiobook, and Tim Gerard Reynold’s narration only makes it better.

Grade: A

One thing I really wanted to do when planning out my books for Murder, Monsters and Mayhem was find a book that was suitable for children, but also enjoyable for adults. Halloween, despite its origins, and its relationship with the horror genre, is really a light hearted Holiday. Yes, there is a place for body shredding monsters, blood sucking vampires, and brain eating zombies, but, well, that doesn’t need to be the focus. Halloween is a chance for our children to make fun of their fears, to stick their tongues out at the monster in their closet, and of course, score some candy. Growing up in a relatively poor family, we couldn’t afford fancy, custom made Halloween costumes, which was cool because we got to make our own. My go to costume as a kid was a hobo, which probably wasn’t the most politically correct choice, but I got to rip up some old flannels, color some patches on some old jeans, and tie a sack to a stick. Of course, there was one time I went as a thief which was the same basic costume, but I drew a dollar sign on my sack. Yet, I always enjoyed it, because I got to use the favorite tool given to children no matter what their economic status, their imagination. In the end, choosing my fun, child oriented Halloween tale was pretty simple. The Infernals is the sequel to John Connolly’s delightfully quirky novel, The Gates, about a young British boy named Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell, who must save the world when the demon Ba’al creates a portal from hell into our world and possesses a local woman named Mrs. Abernathy.

In The Infernals, Mrs. Abernathy, aka Ba’al, looking to get back into the good graces of The Great Malevolence, again creates a portal, this time with the goal of sucking her greatest foes, 13 year old Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell, into hell. Her plan works, but with a bit of a twist, along with Samuel and Boswell, the portal also sucks in two police officers, an ice cream salesman, and four troublesome dwarfs. Thus begins another wonderful, clever and laugh out loud hilarious adventure. Imagine The Wizard of Oz meets Dante’s Inferno, and you get only a brief idea at the feel of this novel. The Infernals should delight everyone from children, to young teenagers and adults, although surly older teenagers may find it a bit too clever to be cool, which would be their loss.  While Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Abernathy are great characters, it is the huge cast of peripheral characters that make this novel so delightful. There is of course, Nurd, the former scourge of five Kingdoms, Shan and Gath, the beer brewing Warthog Demons, Dan, Dan the Ice Cream Man, and a multitude of other demons, wraiths, imps, demonic bureaucrats, and careless scientists that it was hard to choose a favorite. One of the things I loved about this novel was that Connolly never speaks down to the children reading it, he talks about complex scientific theories in a way that is both funny and educational, and even taught me the meaning of the word “lant” which is something I think I would have been OK with never learning. For parents looking for a read to share with their older children, I highly recommend the Infernals. Heck, for adults looking for a hilarious, heartfelt and a bit scary tale perfect for those chilly October nights, check out both novels in the Samuel Johnson series.

Connolly’s style of quick funny asides, informative and clever footnotes, and stunningly visual descriptions of the sceneries and residents of hell translates perfectly to the audiobook format. Tim Gerard Reynolds beautiful Irish accented voice brings the magic and wonder of this novel alive, while nailing the humor of the novel as well. I have to say, Reynolds’s reading of this novel was one of my favorite narrator performances of the year. With the huge cast of characters, you think that he would have run out of voices, but every character from a mumbling dwarf to The Great Malevolence itself was voiced with vivid authenticity. Reynolds’s wasn’t afraid to take chances in his reading, adding wild affectations and crazy laughter at just the right moment, never coming off forced or out of place. I loved how he captured the footnotes, taking on the rhythm of a teacher, yet peppered with a wry wit. You could just tell how much fun he was having narrating this tale and that fun bled into every turn of phrase in his reading. The Infernals was a joy to listen to, filled with everything you look for in a Halloween novel, and reminding you what it felt like to have your childlike imagination tickled just right.

Audiobook Review: Against All Things Ending by Stephen Donaldson

25 06 2011

Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson (Book 3 of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Recorded Books

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Donaldson’s latest is not an easy read, and it will try and pull you down into its character’s despair, yet, with its brilliant ending, and beautiful narration it is a worthwhile listening experience.

Grade: B

Against All Things Ending is the third book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and the ninth overall in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever series. The Covenant novels have always been daunting to me. I am not a huge epic fantasy fan, and quickly tire of elves and fairies. Donaldson’s epic fantasy tale about a leper transported to a new land, which he believes to be just his unreal imaginings, is definitely not about elves and fairies. Donaldson has created a world, called The Land, which is both beautiful and terrifying. From the earliest moments of Lord Foul’s Bane, I fell in love with The Land, reveling in its Earth power, yet fearing its many mysteries. Yet, Donaldson’s writing is not easy. While his prose is beautiful, it not only borders of overwritten, but often generously leaps into that territory. It is often said that Donaldson would not use a short word, when a long one would do. For the first eight novels, which I read in Dead Tree form, I would always keep a dictionary next to me, knowing I would need it often. While for many this is a criticism, I often reveled in the overwritten nature of the books. I’ll admit, the vast majority of the books I listen to are written in a straight forward manner, and I tend not to read what is considered “literary fiction.” So, Donaldson’s verbosity is unique for me, yet, so appropriate to The Land I have fallen for, and its plethora of characters that stick in my mind long after the last page is turned.

Against All Things Ending was a tough one for me. Donaldson’s work has always been full of imperfect characters, filled with self loathing and bordering on despair. This is Thomas Covenant’s essential character. Yet, since the first book of the Second Chronicles, The Wounded Land, Donaldson has provided us with a character in Linden Avery who is one of the strongest female characters in Fantasy Fiction. I know, she is a polarizing character among Donaldson fans, but for me, she has been the true hero of The Land for the past six books. Yet, with the ending of Fatal Relevant, when her decisions and actions have lead to such dire consequences, Linden has basically lost her mojo. She spends much of Against All Things Ending doubting herself, and rightly so. This fits well into Donaldson’s theme for the novel, “Only the damned can be saved” yet, it didn’t make for the most uplifting reading experience. The only thing that kept the book from being utterly depressing was the attitude of the Giants, who always bring joy and laughter no matter the situation. Despite Linden’s break down, the company takes on some great foes of the land, in some brilliant action. It was nice to have a corporeal Covenant as well, even with his shattered memory. What truly saves this novel, which is the penultimate tale of the series, is the brilliant and redeeming ending. The last five hours of the audiobook easily makes up for whatever flaws the first 28 hours had.

Before listening to Against All Things Ending, I was a bit skeptical about the choice of Tim Gerard Reynolds as narrator. I know that many people were disappointed, including the author, that Scott Brick no longer narrated the tale. Since I never listened to Brick’s handling of the earlier tales, I didn’t suffer any discontinuity that other listeners may have. My major concern was that Reynolds is Irish and has a strong Irish accent. Now, nothing against Irish narrators, yet, I never liked the fact that many people feel that fantasy novels should be read by those with accents. Even American narrators will pepper their fantasy readings with a bit of an Irish or English tilt. Since the two main characters of Donaldson’s world are American, I just wondered what the point was. Yet, upon listening to Reynolds’s narration, I now have to admit my concerns were unnecessary. I found Reynolds’s narrative tones to truly bring out the beauty of Donaldson’s words. I also loved his characterizations of the Giants and the Haruchai, as well as many other creatures of the land. I didn’t love his take on Covenant, just simply because it didn’t fit the voice in my head for him, and I thought his voice lacked some of Covenant’s brokenness, but this is a minor complaint at best. Where I feel he truly excelled was communicating Linden’s inner turmoil.  Linden’s voice was gruff, bordering on masculine, yet with a surprising feminine tilt at moments that truly fit her character. Donaldson’s latest is not an easy read, and it will try and pull you down into its character’s despair, yet, with its brilliant ending, it is a worthwhile listening experience.