Audiobook Review: Pilot X by Tom Merritt

29 04 2017

Pilot X by Tom Merritt

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Studios

Grade: B+

Many yeas ago a reviewer called the latest release by a band I liked “a blatant U2 ripoff.” The members of that band took those words as a compliment. So, in that vein, Tom Merritt’s novel, Pilot X is a blatant Dr. Who ripoff in the best possible way. It’s a timey whimey high stakes adventure full of colorful aliens, a main character whose engaging and charmingly out of his depths, a spaceship with more personality than most human literary characters and enough head spinning, reality altering time travel shenanigans to keep the reader unsure if they are even supposed to be guessing. Merritt balances seriousness and absurdist human at a level at least in the ballpark of Douglas Adams and delivers a clever engaging story to boot. 
I always enjoy Kevin T. Collins, and you could just tell he was having a lot of fun with this book. From Cyborgs and Alien Hive Minds to officious bureaucrats Collins delivers without ever going cartoonishly over the top but still managing to capture the humor in the text. His pacing is crisp, building the tension, keeping the listening engaged in the story. If you want so good old fashion science fiction fun, you can’t really do better than Pilot X. 

Audiobook Review: Rewinder by Brett Battles

22 01 2015

Rewinder by Brett Battles

Read by Vikas Adams

Audible Studios

Genre: Time Travel Adventure

Grade: B

Brett Battles seems to enjoy writing Thrillers, no matter the subgenre. In his latest standalone thriller, Rewinder, Battles gives time travel a go with solid results. Rewinder reads like a cross between Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, and Steven Jay Gould’s Jumper series. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking entry into the fray of time travel adventure, in fact, if anything, Battles quickly infuses the story with the feel of a pair of comfortable jeans. Instead of trying to create some clever new way to spin the genre, he puts his own spin onto time honored tropes. Like Jumper, Rewinder can work equally well as a Young Adult or Adult novel. While Battles main character Denny Younger is, well, younger, he doesn’t instantly fall into the character trapping of many young adult protagonist. Battles offers some interesting sociological insights, yet does it as a plot point, where his goal isn’t social commentary but just telling a damn good story. Battles creates a fast paced, exciting tale, with plenty of twists, that fans of old school time travel adventure novels will find perfect for an afternoon reading.

Narrating is more than just having a pleasant voice, and the ability to do character voices. A good narrator finds the right feel for a novel, and pushes the narrative in the right direction. Vikas Adams gives a strong textured performance, with a crisp reading that gives homage to the pulp nature of the tale. I have always admired Adams ability to handle both adult and children characters smoothly, something that isn’t really easy to do. I like that Adams gave Denny a youthful feel, yet still acknowledged that he was an adult doing an adult job. He captures the right blend of coming of age naivete, with a hardened edge of young man who grew up in the fringes of his society. Rewinder isn’t going to blow your mind, or have you rethink everything you knew about time travel, instead it will give you 8 hours of solid entertainment.

Audiobook Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

24 04 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenney

Hachette Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A-

Here’s the thing: Give me a book about someone reliving their life over and over again, while maintaining their memories, and I’m gonna read it. And, more than likely, love it. People often say that there are no new plots, like that’s a bad thing. Maybe I’m strange, but often when I read a really good book, I want to read something just like it again. Maybe it’s the experience. You can never really re-experience a book again for the first time, but you can try and recapture that experience again through something else.

One of my all time favorite books is John Grimwood’s Replay. I friggin’ love that book for so many reasons. It’s time travel without the stupid machine. It’s a chance to fix your mistakes, or make new ones. So, when I heard about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, I knew I had to listen. It reminded me of Replay, and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. So, it’s hard to truly evaluate how much of my reaction to this novel is a reflection of the shared experience and how much was an appreciation of this specific experience.

Yet, I really liked Harry August, both the character and the novel, for many reasons. One of my favorite aspects is how Harry used each life to investigate a certain aspect of condition. Through science, religion, drugs whatever, he explores what it means to be a man reliving his life. This gives the novel a whole lot of metaphysical and scientific time travel speculation stuff that I always enjoy. I like novels that make my brain jump through hoops, consider strange possibilities, while maintaining character that I find engaging. The plot was full of moral complexities. How much influence should Harry and his like have on world events? Are they responsible to make the world a better place, or obliged to keep history flowing as close to the original path as possible? North explores these questions in interesting ways. I liked all this thinky stuff. The basic plot itself was fine. Harry receives a message from the future that something is happening to speed up the end of the world, and he investigates it. He works, at differing levels, with a group of others reliving lives called The Chronos Club. The investigation serves the purpose of creating conflict, and does it pretty well. All in all, I felt it came together well. In fact, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a novel that stuck in my brain for a long time after finishing.

I was glad to finally get to listen to a audiobook narrated by Peter Kenney that I actually liked. I had listened to him once before, and his performance was the main thing that kept me in that game. Again, Kenney gives a wonderful performance. OK, some of his American voices sounded weirdly like Daffy Duck, but his handle on international accents was excellent, and he added so much texture to the reading. He moved effortlessly between long bouts of exposition and dialogue seamlessly, keeping the listener actively engaged. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an experience I won’t soon forget, and the next time I see a book about someone living their life over and over again, I’ll probably be all over that as well.

Audiobook Review: The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

16 04 2014

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Read by Rich Orlow

Recorded Books

Length: 21Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A

OK, so this may get weird.

The other day, I was finishing up a particularly disappointing listen. I had been in a strange cycle of awesome followed by awful in my audiobook listening, and needed to balance out the latest heartbreaking letdown with some new brain-busting goodness. Scanning through my pile of yet to be listened to audiobooks, my brain was screaming “NO NO NO!” at each one I perused. So, as normal people are known to do, I started to scan my extremely packed Audible Wishlist for something, anything that may tickle my malleus. Then, I saw this:


“What the fuck is this?” I asked myself in my typically profane way. I had no recollection of adding this title to my Wishlist. While I have been known to add some weird stuff to Wishlist, this book didn’t seem to be some strange hedgehog porn title, or an Apocalyptic Robot Unicorn Spatterpunk Anthology, and I had no clue how it got onto my Wishlist. Immediately I went to my list of go to possibilities.

Drunk Wishlisting: This is of course, the cousin to Drunk Texting for the more socially awkward.

Hacker Pitches: Maybe some Author/Hacker gave up pitching their novels to me through email, and used the Heartbleed Bug to access my Audible Passwords to add their book to my wishlist.

The Pets: I know these bastards use my computer when I’m not home to fuck with me.

But, being curious I read the Publisher Summary. This book seemed really good. Like, something I would really like. Then it hit me.

Maybe, future Bob went back in time and added this book to my Wishlist, because it was so damn good.

But then, this creates a weird Paradox. How exactly would future Bob know this books was so good if it was never on his Wishlist and yet how was it added to my Wishlist unless future Bob knew it was good? Maybe, it wasn’t actually future Bob. Maybe, one night I faced a choice, embrace my extroverted side and go out and engage in some social activity like a normal person, or give in to my introverted half and spend the night researching audiobooks like some hermit auditory entertainment addict. Now, in the past, I tended to feed the introverted side, and stay home, but lately I have been more social. So, what if when I made this latest decision, the choice created an alternate timeline, where alt-Bob stayed home and discovered THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS, read it, became fascinated by temporal paradoxes, created a dimensional spanning time machine, traveled to the timeline where I actually engaged in social activities, and accessed my Audible Wishlist, adding THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS to it, knowing at some point I will be looking for an alternative to my latest disappointing listen.

I know, right! Makes sense.

So, I did listen to THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS and goddammit, Future Alt-Bob was on to something here. When a book starts with the utter annihilation on one existence, and get weirder from there, well, I’m in for the ride. THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS is tale of regular, everyday people, who just happen to be cross dimensional temporal superheroes who must come together to prevent the destruction of the multiverse. It’s like Markus Sakey’s Brilliance meets Fringe, with a touch of the Superfriends. You have all the typical superhero cliches, the tragic beginnings, the broken heroes, the discovery of their powers, the struggle with the ethical issues of power, silver glowing force field ball things, over the top action sequences and awkward romantic tension, yet added into it is some bizarre physics/timey wimey meta-mystical weirdness. Oh, and an isolationist alt-America that is rife with Xenophobia because WHY NOT!. To make it better, Daniel Price has the writing chops to pull what could be an incoherent mess, into a fast paced, exciting chase story. His characters are lovingly constructed, and come alive in your brain. His action sequences are so well put together, and detailed that at times they seem to go on a bit too long, but still keep you utterly enthralled. My only real complaint is that as part of a series, my brain wanted a bit more resolution. Sure, the story had a lot of strong reveals at the end, and it was pretty well contained, but Price utilized his temporal plotting to create lots of foreshadowing of potential things to come and I wanted to know NOW! THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS grabbed me from the apocalyptic beginning, and held onto me with it’s giant white fist through all the multidimensional time weirdness, to the exciting finale. It was pretty damn good.

There is a scene early in this book, where Amanda, a nurse and one of the future SILVERS, is trapped in her protective bubble as the world is being destroyed around her. It’s a brilliant and poignant scene between her and her somewhat estranged husband that has emotional resonance throughout the rest of the book. Listening to this scene, I felt like I was there, witnessing a conversation between two distinct people. It literally gave me chills. This is when I said to myself, “Rich Orlow is a pretty badass narrator.” And, really, he is. There are performances to remember, and Rich Orlow gives one here. His handling of the many characters was wonderful. From the sociopathic creeper Evan to the strange otherly beings that seem to be directing each step the Silver take, Orlow nails them all. His pacing is spot on, allowing each sequence to move at just the right speed. While we are only a few months in, this is definitely one of my favorite performances of the year. Dammit, the man even sings a bit. If you like science fiction, time travel, shiny awesome things, or have a soul trapped somewhere in your flesh cocoon, give THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS a listen.

Audiobook Review: The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

24 09 2013

The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

Read by Peter Marinker

Audible, Inc.

Length: 24 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Alternate History

Quick Thoughts: The Company of the Dead was a tough one for me. I could have probably spent a thousand words writing about things I loved about the book, and another thousand complaining about the things I hated. In the end, it’s a wonderful tale of alternate history and time travel set against the backdrop of The Titanic bookended around an overly long, overly elaborate and often boring and confusing mess of an action novel.

Grade: B-

You would think a book involving The Titanic, Roswell, a time traveler named Wells, a Kennedy with an aim to establish his own personal Camelot, an alternate history where The United States was broken up and partially ruled by Japan, where the German Empire remains strong and the world is on the edge of nuclear annihilation would be so full of awesome it couldn’t possible be contained within a 15 hour audiobook, right? Well, probably so. The Company of the Dead is full of lots of awesome.  Lots. Sadly, it’s also full of overly elaborate scenes involving a cross country chase, mystical Indians, heavy handed world building and intricately detailed alternate history that fills up a production of over 24 hours. Honestly, I love long books. I used to dismiss books that came in under 300 pages. I used to evaluate a book based on the size of its type print, yet while The Company of the Dead had a wonderful start and a brilliant finish. The 20 hours between dragged on way, way too much.

Daniel Kowalski takes an ambitious plot, and manages to pull off a book that both thrills and bores. As a fan of alternate history novels, I have a lot of respect for what he does here. Much of Alternate history revolves around the "What if." An author will take one moment in time, and change it just slightly, and allow the ball to roll off course in fascinating ways. Here, a lone man, lost in his own past, decides to attempt to make the world a better place. One of his goals is to prevent the sinking of the Titanic. Sadly, despite his plans, he only alters its fate by a few hours. His attempts allow one man to live, industrialist and war hero John Astor, who goes on to become President. He uses his influence to keep the US out of The Great War, allowing the German Empire and the Japanese Empire to become global superpowers. After multiple wars with Mexico, Texas leads another succession from the Union, giving rise to The Confederate States of America. Now, Joe Kennedy, agent for the Confederate Bureau of Investigation,   armed with the diary of the time traveler Wells found in the wreckage of Titanic, is attempting to set the course of the world right.

Sounds complicated, right? Well it is. Yet, the alternate history, the time traveling angle, the look at the political, social and technological changes weren’t the issue for this novel. Kowalski actually creates a fascinating world, full of intriguing concepts spanning the historical, scientific and metaphysical. The problem for me was everything else. Kowalski tacks on an internal power struggle within the CBI, a complicated chase across the country where Kennedy is being hunted by his former lover and the first women to achieve agent status, and honestly, I got totally lost. There were times where I wasn’t even sure who just died, which characters were where and why people were shooting, surrounding, blowing up and threatening. Allegiances changed faster than a con man playing three card Monte. Kennedy had side deals going with the Japanese Germans, British, shamanistic Indians, Negroes, The Union, mobsters, and I think maybe even a Samurai or two. For me, it all meshed into an indescribable miasma of concepts and action, and if I wasn’t so intrigued by where it was all going, I may have given up on it.

What kept me in the game were the fascinating concepts he was playing with. I have to admit, I am a sucker for the philosophy of time travel. Kowalski asks so many intriguing questions. If you knew that the time stream you where living in wasn’t the true time stream, how would affect your decisions? Could the horrors that wee coming be due your actions based on your knowledge? Just how much do little decisions and innocuous changes affect reality? Kowalski takes on these concepts and so many more. In reality, I should have loved this book. If the book was a bit leaner, with a more coherent plot in the thick of the novel, I could easily see this becoming one of my favorite all time alternate history novels. Kowalski definitely knows how to create characters that you become invested in. This was one of the reasons I was so disconcerted when I got lost within the plot, losing touch with characters that I actually cared about within the rapidly moving, and ever shifting framework of the tale. The Company of the Dead was a tough one for me. I could have probably spent a thousand words writing about things I loved about the book, and another thousand complaining about the things I hated. In the end, it’s a wonderful tale of alternate history and time travel set against the backdrop of The Titanic bookended around an overly long, overly elaborate and often boring and confusing mess of an action novel.

So, I am about to go on an ugly American rant. Being an ugly American, I feel entitled. Why when an author is not American but British or Australian or some denizen of the Empire which the sun never set on, do we tend to get a British narrator for a novel set mostly in America with the majority of the characters being American? I don’t believe that American pronunciations are inherently better, but if a book is set in America with American characters, I would like a narrator that pronounces things like an American. There is something disconcerting to me to hear a man with a deep southern draw say "cu-PILL-a-ree" instead of CAP-ill-air-ee." I understand that Peter Marinker is a respected voice and stage actor but his narration didn’t work for me and  for a nearly 25 hour production, I would have loved a narrator that made me want to listen, and not one that I continued listening despite of. I hate giving the "I just didn’t like their voice" kind of reviews. I try to give well reasoned explanations for why I didn’t like a narrator. Yet, between the use of British pronunciations in American accents, an awful lot of mouth sounds, minimal character differentiation in a novel with a lot of characters and just an overall unengaging performance, "I didn’t like their voice" is about the best I can do. My issues with the narration was enough to get me to wonder  how many of my issues with the novel itself were due to the writing, or whether I would have actually been more engaged with a dfferent narrator. Sadly, that’s a question that can’t be answered. 

Audiobook Series Review: The Infinity Ring: Books 1 & 2 by James Dashner and Carrie Ryan

3 07 2013

A Mutiny in Time: The Infinity Ring, Bk. 1 by James Dashner

Length: 4 Hrs 30 Min

Divide and Conquer: The Infinity Ring, Bk. 2 by Carrie Ryan

Length: 4 Hrs 28 Min

Read by Dion Graham

Scholastic Audio

Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Infinity Ring series is a fun science fiction adventure tale, with some likeable kid protagonists, and full of things that would have enthralled me back in my middle school days. For adults, it’s definitely a bit cutesy, and some of the twists are quite obvious, but I think the interplay between Dak and Sera’s perceived history and the realities we are taught add a bit of intriguing mystery to the tale that makes the series stand out.

Grade: B

Set in an Alternate Timeline where history is slightly altered from our own, The Infinity Ring series tells the story of two brilliant kids Dak Smyth and Sera Froste, who manage to perfect Dak’s parents’ time travel device, and are sent on a mission to restore the timeline from the manipulations of a shadowy group. As the world falls into chaos, Dak and Sera along with a surly teenage language expert Riq, must discover the inconsistencies of the time line to restore order. The Infinity Ring series is a fun action filled time travel adventure perfect for children looking to learn about history outside of what you would read in a text book. There is an almost afternoon TV feel to the story, and I think adults will be able to have some fun with the series despite some rather simple character development and well telegraphed twists. I have listened to the first two novels, the first of which takes our heroes to the time of Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic, which in their timeline is interrupted by a successful mutiny. What I found interesting about this first story was how Dak and Sera was forced to battle against history as they know it, which painted Columbus as the villain in their history. I actually enjoyed book two even more, due to its more obscure historical epoch, dealing with the Viking Invasion. I found the second book, Divide and Conquer, full of some truly fun and funny scenes, plus, a dog. I always like a dog. All together, I found both books to be fun a science fiction adventure tale, with some likeable kid protagonists, and full of things that would have enthralled me back in my middle school days. For adults, it’s definitely a bit cutesy, and some of the twists are quite obvious, but I think the interplay between Dak and Sera’s perceived history and the realities we’re taught add a bit of intriguing mystery to the tale that makes the series stand out.

One of the big reasons I decided to check this out was that it was narrated by Dion Graham, and it’s so outside the typical Dion Graham audiobook experience I have had previously that I was intrigued to see if it would even work. Well, Graham brings such enthusiasm to the reading, infusing it with a sense of fun adventure. It’s not easy for adult narrators to voice kids, but Graham doesn’t go all squeaky and annoying, instead just puts a lot of energy into his voice, mimicking the competing enthusiasm and cynicism in children’s voices perfectly. The historical elements gives Graham a lot of opportunity to create various accents and characters which he takes full advantage of.  There is a truly cinematic feel to his reading where all the characters come alive and you find yourself more than just a bystander but fully immersed in all the action and history. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this series as much in print, but Graham adds so much to the story, you can’t help but sit back and enjoy the ride.

Audiobook Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

1 07 2013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, Jenna Hellmuth

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Time Travel Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special.

Grade: A-

I have to admit, there was a small part of me that was hesitant about Lauren Beukes latest novel, The Shining Girls. Mostly I was excited. Very, very excited. For a while it was my must have novel of the summer. Let’s face it, this one falls right into my wheelhouse, a time traveling serial killer. I love time travel novels. I love crime fiction. And I especially love novels that blend my favorite subgenres together into something unique. The Shining Girls was like a gift from some deity saying “Hey Bob, here’s a book you will love.” Yet, part of me was still worried. There was one lingering aspect of the novel that had me concerned, the setting. I have nothing against Chicago. In fact, I think it’s one of the best settings for a crime fiction novel, full of political corruption, superstitions and colorful characters. Yet, my first experience with Lauren Beukes was her wonderful Johannesburg set Zoo City. One of my favorite aspects of Zoo City was a look into a city, although quite changed by Beukes magical shift, that I have rarely encountered in fiction. It offered something unique, beyond Beukes fascinating mythology, to see it play out in a setting I have known existed in mostly a theoretical level. When I learned Beukes was setting her next novel in Chicago, I was like “…but… but… Chicago isn’t in South Africa. I have read tons of stories that took place in Chicago!” I was worried we would be given a touristy glimpse of Chicago where we got to experience the Cubbies, and Ditka jokes and oh my gosh… they love Polish sausage. Yet, I guess I shouldn’t have worried. Sure, I missed the Johannesburg setting but Beukes time shifting trip through Chi-town offered a unique glimpse at this city that I have rarely encountered before.

Harper Curtis is a brutal killer from the past, who finds a strange house that opens him up to strange future worlds, where he encounters girls who shine only for him. He knows the house wants him to kill these girls, he just doesn’t know why but once he kills them all, this should be revealed. Kirby Mazrachi survived a brutal attack that the police believe was random, but she is sure is the work of a serial killer. Together with a former homicide reporter now covering the Cubs, she pieces together a series of brutal murders that could lead her to her attacker. The thing that I love about the Shining Girls is how both aspects of the novel work so well on their own. Strip away the strange paranormal house and time traveling elements, and you have a solid Crime Fiction novel on par with Michael Connelly’s The Poet or Warren Ellis’s Gun Machine. Strip away the crime fiction elements, and you have a seriously spooky ghost house story on par with such dark fantasists and Stephen King or Robert McCammon. It’s how Beukes layers these two elements together that elevates The Shining Girl beyond solid examples of these genres, to something brilliant and utterly beyond simple classification. Beukes has it set up so not even her characters know what kind of book they are in until it all crashes together in a breathtaking finale. Unlike most Serial Killer tales, this isn’t some Cat-and-Mouse game between a brilliant serial killer and those attempting to stop him. Instead, it’s almost as the players are working on their own puzzles, dealing with their own pasts, and putting together their pieces towards goals that eventually force them to the inevitable conflict. It’s not that there isn’t an procedural investigatory arc, there is and it’s quite strong in it’s own right, yet, Kirby and Dan don’t really know what they are looking for, so it’s like that are trying to make a picture out of pieces from many different puzzle boxes. Beukes doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up the mythology of the eerie house that sends serial Killer Harper on his time tripping spree. Instead she tickles around the edges of the paranormal, having the house be a tool not even the wielder understands. He knows he has a mission, and he understands that the girls are shining and must be extinguished, yet even he doesn’t truly understand the whys and hows. In many ways, he is also part victim, while a sadistic and brutal one. It‘s hard to say how much of his mission came from The House, and how much he becomes The House‘s mission. This sort of fluidity may be frustrating to some readers who want solid answers, but I found it to add to the disconcerting charm of the novel. The Shining Girl also reeks of authenticity. The city of Chicago comes alive in a way that you can’t find on tourist guides and her characters just feel real. Even the murder scenes are full of visceral imagery and meticulous detail that gives you insight into both the victim and the perpetrator. The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special. The Shining Girl is a novel I will be thinking about for a long time, too of tem late at night as the darkness begins to creep into my dreams.

Hachette Audio has really made a name for itself by putting together some of the best multinarrator productions in the industry. In The Shining Girls, Hachette has brought together some of the best narrators in the business, and combined them with some new narrators with lots of future potential. All the narrators gave strong, solid performances. Khristine Hvam, as Kirby, is stellar as usual, and Peter Ganim deftly captures the charming yet unstable Harper Curtis. Jay Snyder has a brilliant, crisp almost perfect voice, and the work is so on point that you never really feel any disconnect when the narrators shift. Yet, I think this was also my problem with the audiobook version of The Shining Girls. At times, particularly with Snyder’s work, it seemed all too perfect. Jay Snyder has the vocal equivalent to movie star looks, and I would have loved to see a bit more flavor and grit in his performance of down and out reporter Dan Velasquez. Dan was ethnically Hispanic, and while I don’t expect him to sound like he just came up from Tijuana, I would have liked just a little Hispanic edge in his voice. I though the work of the smaller roles, particularly that of Joshua Boone and Jenna Hellmuth added just the right counterpoint to the other narrators. Dani Cervone was also strong, but her voice was a bit close to Hvams, which didn’t allow it to stand out as much as the work of the other two. Overall, the audio production was excellent. It was well paced, sounded crisp and in the end served the story well. Any issue I had came down ultimately to listener preference.

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

Audiobook Review: The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic

27 06 2013

The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic

Read by Mary Robinette Kowal

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Science Fiction, Time Travel

Quick Thoughts: The Far Time Incident isn’t going to blow your mind with some sciencey high conceptual trip through time, but instead is a fun little adventure story with engaging and likeable characters and some nice unexpected touches along the way.

Grade: B

One of the things that always bothers me about Time Travel novels is the obsessive need to protect the timeline. You go through all the trouble of inventing a machine that violates the known laws of physics, but when you finally do take that trip back in time, you pansy ass around worried that if you accidentally brush up against one butterfly, it will cause a storm in the Atlantic, forcing Columbus to turn back in his journey, allowing the Aztecs to take over the land we call The United States and because of this Dorothy will never get to Oz. Well, screw Dorothy and her little dog too! If time is so malleable then it deserves to be screwed with. I always prefer the alternate timeline theory, where once you kick that butterfly’s ass then it breaks off a whole new timeline yet leaves the one you left intact. Me, I’d go all Homer Simpson on time’s ass, kicking everything I see and going genocidal on butterflies. Then, just to be ornery, I would go and kill my own grandfather, just to see what happens. I mean, hell, it’s my time machine! If I defeated time, shouldn’t then I reap the rewards? Hell, yeah! So, I know, this sounds all militarist and belligerent of me, totally different from the persona I try to adapt on social media and in my blog. I’m a nice guy. I really wouldn’t want be responsible for a butterfly genocide. Butterfly’s are pretty, unlike their evil worthless cousin’s the moth. Those bastards deserve to die. And I really don’t want to humiliate and abuse time. I just think, if you are going to time travel, you might as well kill Hitler, warn Pearl Harbor and ask Cleopatra out on a date, and damn the ultimate consequences. All this observation and discovery, well, I guess that’s nice for Dr. Professor Von Adjunct, but for us everyday grunts, time travel should be fun!

When one of the professors responsible for the development of the time machine at St. Sunniva University suffers a seemingly fatal mishap the shatters his being throughout time, the Dean asks his assistant, Julia Olsen to monitor the campus security chief’s investigation. When evidence turns up indicating it may not be an accident, Julia and Chief Kirkland ask to be taken on a demonstration of how time travel works. Yet, another act of sabotage sends Julia, the Chief and their team on a journey through histories darkest moments. The Far Time Incident is a entertaining and unique time travel adventure, adding enough little twists to a popular subgenre to allow it to standout. Maslakovic takes a less is more approach to the physics of time travel, infusing it with pop sensibilities, allowing us lay people to grasp the concepts without having to truly know the math. In fact, Maslavokic spends more time and detail on the intricacies of campus politics, allowing that to influence the outcome of the adventure more than the physics of time travel ever did. She does add some nice touches along the way. I love the idea of time travel as a murder weapon, sending people to their ultimate doom by transporting them into moments of historical tragedies, like the Vesuvius volcano. She also treats time itself like a character, where instead of relying on us faulty humans to protect it, time acts to prevent interference with its progression. Two other nice touches was the acceptance that our grasp on history is flawed, and that our past is more foreign to us than we may believe. All this makes the concepts and ideas behind The Far Time Incident intriguing, but what makes the story enjoyable is the relatable characters. While some of the characters lack depth, for the most part they were likable and ordinary. We get to travel with everyday people, not braniac scientist and highly trained agents of asskickery. Here, a simple scratch can be the difference between life and death, where as most story protagonist laugh in the face of tetanus. I really enjoyed the relationship between Julia and Chief Kirkland, which had a mature adult romantic undertone, but was never the focus of the novel. If you wanted some romance, it was there, but is more along the lines of mutual admiration than hearts a-fluttering’.  The mystery wasn’t really mind blowing, but did offer a few little twists along the way.  The highlight of the novel was the fast paced sequence of bouncing through ghost zones, periods in history where a person’s presence was unlikely to change anything due to some disaster. This sequence offered a fast series of historical mini-mysteries which was a lot of fun. Overall, The Far Time Incident isn’t going to blow your mind with some sciencey high conceptual trip through time, but instead is a fun little adventure story with engaging and likeable characters and some nice unexpected touches along the way.

This was my first experience with Mary Robinette Kowal as a narrator although I have read a few of her short stories before. As a writer who narrates other writers (along with her own) work, I was interested to hear one of her performances. I found her to be very well suited to this novel. She has a solid, pleasant voice that I would have no trouble listening to for hours. She gives a really charming performance, while also being technically proficient. She captured engaging qualities of the main character Julia, truly playing off her likeability. Her other characterizations were just as solid. I really enjoyed her abiltiy to display the small bits of dark humor with an almost devilish smirk in her voice.  Her pacing was crisp, and matter of fact, never trying to push the story, but letting it flow naturally. Kowal is someone I definitely will look for in the future, in fact, I recently downloaded one of her own novels that she also narrated.

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

Audiobook Review: The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

6 02 2013

The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

Read by Mauro Hantman


Length: 9 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: As a tale of time travel, with its intermingling concepts of fate and free will Farrell succeeds where so many other tales of time travel fails. Its brilliantly built plot, complicated character and hints of a near future world were enough to keep my brain spinning in a dizzying euphoria. It may not have had the emotional impact of many more character driven tales, but like the best puzzles, it will never truly leave your mind.

Grade: B+

I really have a love/hate relationship with Time Travel. I love Time Travel. From the moment I watched my first Doctor Who episode, and read HG Wells, I knew I was a sucker for the fourth dimension. Some of my favorite novels of all time have time travel elements. There are lots of interesting things you can do with Time Travel, with stories as diverse as Ken Grimwood’s Replay, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, SM Stirling’s Nantucket series and Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories, all offering interesting uses of time travel. Hell, there have even been good time travel movies. Sure, we all had to sit through Van Damme’s Timecop, but we also got to see 12 Monkeys. I also hate time travel. I hate movies and books that place these stupid arbitrary rules on the morality of time travel. My brother and I will always fight over The Prisoner of Azkaban, but in my opinion it’s the worse Harry Potter book simply because of the stupid use of travel. Come on, it’s OK for Hermione to utilize time travel to fit more classes into her schedule, yet using it to stop people being murdered would be against the rules.  Hell, if they could travel back in time without those stupid rules, then Harry Potter never would have become an orphan, Voldemort would have been thwarted early and The Casual Vacancy would never exist, yet, they try to tell us that wouldn’t have been a proper use of time travel. We could have prevented The Casual Vacancy! Instead, Cedric gets killed, Dumbledore remains in the closet, and Rowling decided to try her hand at adult fiction. My point is, if you have the ability to travel in time, either use it, or shut the hell up. I’d totally use it.

Every year, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, a time traveler returns to an abandoned hotel in 2071, where he celebrates his existence with the youngsters and elder versions of himself. On his 39th year, he becomes the celebrated man, wearing the spiffy suit he had always envied. Yet, when he arrives he also discovers that one of the versions of him has been murdered and he has a year to prevent it, or irrevocably harm the timeline. Author Sean Farrell has created a head trippy, mind bending time travel tale that takes all the rules you think you knew about time travel and beats them down like a dead dog. It’s a fascinating set up, with the majority of the interaction taking place between the past and future versions of himself. Yet, each version of himself he interacts with has his own secrets, twists on his personality and hidden agendas. It was brilliantly plotted, yet often confusing. As a reader, I was amazed how Farrell kept it all together, creating these versions of the same character, and sending them off on an intricate dance of paradoxes, predestinations and paranoia. There is a mystery to the tale, but the kind of mystery where each clue can be overwritten, each motivation altered, and no single given aspect of the story can be trusted. There is also a girl, because there is always a girls, and a bit of a tragedy, because, with a girl comes tragedy and remorse. Yet, not everything worked perfectly. I was quite fascinated by the world that Farrell created outside of the party. It had an almost dystopian feel, blending near future technology with old world quaintness that left me feeling like I was missing a key aspect to the story. The world felt like a tease, a nonessential aspect to the story that Farrell threw in for flavor, yet with enough depth that it left me wanting to know more about it, a desire that would go unfulfilled. Also, at times, I felt the multifaceted layering of the story worked as an intellectual exercise, more that an act of storytelling. I was so involved in keeping the pieces straight that I didn’t take the time to enjoy it as much as I could. As a tale of time travel, with its intermingling concepts of fate and free will Farrell succeeds where so many other tales of time travel fails. Its brilliantly built plot, complicated character and hints of a near future world were enough to keep my brain spinning in a dizzying euphoria. It may not have had the emotional impact of many more character driven tales, but like the best puzzles, it will never truly leave your mind.

I was quite excited when I discovered that Mauro Hantman was narrating this tale. My last experience with Hantman was positive, but I felt the story didn’t offer a lot for him to work with. Here, Hantman gives a solid, workman like performance. Nothing here will blow you away, yet, I think his subtle reading style fit the narrative well. The Man in the Empty Suit offered an interesting challenge for a narrator, where the majority of the characters were different versions of the same person. Hantman handles this well, using subtle vocalizations to help delineate characters, yet keep a base rhythm of speech consistent among all its versions. I think Hantman made smart decisions when reading this. I think if a narrator tried to hard, this could have been a train wreck of a production. The story itself was hard enough to follow without the narrator distracting you with jarring voices or fluctuating pacing. Instead, Hantman sort of blended into the background, delivering the tale in a simple style, allowing the listener to immerse themselves in the story. It is not a performance that listeners will remember for years to come, but it was the right one for this story.

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

Audiobook Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

29 11 2011

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Read by Craig Wasson

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 30 Hrs 44 Mins

Genre: Time Travel Thriller

Quick Thoughts: People who think they know King from his labels as a horror novelist and pop icon will say that 11/22/63 is a departure from his other work. They are wrong. 11/22/63 is classic Stephen King full of the subtle horror themes that permeate his best works as well as an amazing cast of fascinating characters, all of whom, for good or ill adds something to the overall story.

Grade: A-

The first Stephen King novel I ever read was Christine, and since then, I have always had a bit of a love/"meh" relationship with his work. Unlike many people my age, my first forays into the horror/suspense genre wasn’t through King, but Dean Koontz. I had read The Bad Place, then Watchers and loved them, and often heard the two authors compared, so I began to read King as well. But unlike Koontz, King’s writing truly transformed me as a reader. I can trace the point where I moved from mildly interested in Post Apocalyptic tales to utterly obsessed when I turned my first page of The Stand. The first novel I remember truly scaring me and actually entering my nightmares was It (they all float down here…). The Dark Tower Series became my gateway to epic fantasy, and even what many consider a clunker, Needful Things, fed my love of Dark Comedy. Yet, not all of Stephen King’s novels were a hit with me, sure, I love Alien Invasion novels, but The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher very well could have set that love back years. In fact, Dreamcatcher was my very first audiobook, and I found it quite a useful cure for Insomnia. (Pun?)  After attempting to listen to Dreamcatcher I wouldn’t try another audiobook for over 10 years. So, when I discovered that Stephen King was putting out a time travel novel, I was cautiously excited. This either could be one of his rambling tales full of unnecessary side trips or it could again show me why King is the most influential author of my generation.

I love time travel novels of all sorts, but especially the kind where people travel into the past and change things, yet despite 11/22/63 being exactly that type of novel, I had concerns. I understand that the JFK assassination is a pivotal point in history, especially for people in King’s Generation, I never looked on it as the all encompassing game changing historical moment that some do.  If I found out there was a portal back to the late 1950’s, my first thought wouldn’t be that I just had to save Kennedy. So sure, I was a bit skeptical, but I needn’t have been. 11/22/63 is definitely a novel with peaks and valleys, yet, luckily for the reader the valleys are nice, and the peaks awesome.  For science fiction time travel fans, I think there could be a level of frustration. The main character, Jake Epping jumps ass first into the machinations of time travel without all the obsessive preparations that sci-fi geeks would have made.  In fact, he relies solely of the research of another for the histories he was about to interact with which is something us geeks who grew up on Star Trek and Asimov novels never would have done. Add to that the fact that King practically proselytizes about how much better things are without that annoying internet, or them there cell phones, that I really should have hated this novel. Yet, King won me over with wonderful characters, touching slice of life moments, and a harrowing battle between Jake and the obdurate past which in a very real way is the antagonist of this story. People who think they know King from his labels as a horror novelist and pop icon will say that 11/22/63 is a departure from his other work. They are wrong. 11/22/63 is classic Stephen King full of the subtle horror themes that permeate his best works as well as an amazing cast of fascinating characters, all of whom, for good or ill adds something to the overall story. 

I think it very important for audiobook narrators to not just read novels but perform them. For 11/22/63 narrator Craig Wasson doesn’t just heed that advice, but tackles it, throwing in a few kicks to the balls for good measure. I was so ready to lambaste the narrator for over performing the novel, with his oddly timed laughs and screaming the ends of his sentences, but at some point Wasson’s narration went from annoying to endearing. I would never site this as an example of excellent technical narration, but Wasson created the Jake Epping character with his voice, and never let up. There were a few moments in the novel, where it seemed like a line was picked up in the recording, and it didn’t match the energy of the reading, and that was a bit distracting, but overall the production was well done. Wasson’s reading reminded me of the loud annoying guy at a party who has had one too many drinks, yet eventually you realize that his drunken tales are actually quite fascinating.  Overall, I had a lot of fun with the novel and having an over the top narrator helped to keep some of the lulls in the story interesting, and really, what more can you want?


Note: A Special thanks to the good people at Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.