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 City of Devi by Manil Suri

19 03 2013

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

Read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Literary Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

Grade: A-

I always use this opening paragraph of my reviews to talk about something that stood out to me during my experience of an audiobook. Whether it be an issue within the novel, the reason why I decided to read it, or just an idea that percolates within my brain as the tale is being told. With The City of Devi there we a lot of potential topics to discuss. As a post apocalyptic fan, The City of Devi explored many themes that fascinate me, particularly the intermingling of the international economy,  reliance of modern technology for information, the importance of the balance of power among nuclear states, and how all these things can be manipulated into causing significant, even apocalyptic damage to a world increasingly balanced on a razor’s edge. I could discuss another of my favorite topics, religion or even tackle the importance of popular culture in propagandizing the masses. All of these are wonderful, fascinating ideas that are beautifully explored in The City of Devi, but I, like most red blooded males, want to talk about the sex. I want to believe I am a mature adult, well into his 30’s who can discuss matters of sexual relationships with a frank honesty. Instead, though, I fall somewhere between socially awkward and a giggling junior higher who just happened to stumble onto a Shannon Tweed movie on late night TV. When listening to an audiobook, there is an intricate relationship formed between listener, narrator and author, and when the audiobook is full of the sexin’, well, that can lead to some strange situations. I tend to listen to my audiobooks while at work, typically alone, but often near others, and when that audiobook talks about a newly married couples tentative sexual explorations, or one cousin donkey slapping another during naked wrestling, I find myself unable to make eye contact with those around me. I know what you think, “Grow Up Bob! Sex is a Natural Part of Life!! Who Hasn’t Donkey Slapped Their Cousin?” Yet, if there is one thing my ultraconservative Baptist upbringing taught me, it’s that listening to any form of Boy on Boy on Girl action in mixed company, well, may lead to awkward situations in which it is best to simply avert your eyes.

The City of Devi tells the tale of one woman’s search to find her husband amidst the chaos of war ravaged Mumbai, on the eve of a potential nuclear strike from Pakistan.  As she makes her way through the streets full of religious discord, apocalyptic paranoia and roving gangs, she encounter’s a young Muslim man with a secrets of his own, which may affect her directly. As the two search for her husband, they encounter many colorful and dangerous characters, one of which may be a manifestation of the cities patron goddess, Mumba Devi. The City of Devi is an absurdist romp through apocalyptic Mumbai that explores love, religion, pop culture and war in strange and brilliant new way. Its part Bollywood, part porn mixed into a screwball comedy yet set in a dark, and strikingly realistic near future dystopia. The two main characters, Sarita and Ijaz or “the Jazter” were lovingly explored and intricately developed forcing such a guttural reaction from me that caused me to question aspects of myself. I had such a negative early reaction to Jaz, his predatory nature, his brashness about sex, how it is just as much of a primal need to him as breathing and sustenance. I had to wonder if this reaction was due to some level of homophobia, on my part. Equally, my vision of Sarita as almost a victim, someone who needed to be protected from the likes of Jaz, caused me to wonder if that reaction was due to some misogyny on my part. Despite my personal conflicts with these characters, I found them fascinating. Even more so, I was blown away by the world created by Suri, how economics, religion and politics all contributed to a slow burn apocalypse. This multilayered exploration was so brilliantly done, it was almost scary. Add to this Suri managed to make what seemed to be almost an absurdist idea, the contribution of an over the top action movie about the goddess Devi to the chaos, seem strikingly plausible and even timely. Yet, the core of all this, the essence of the novel is a love story, in fact, a love triangle unlike any one I have experienced before. This was no Hollywood love tale, no easy love at first sight fallacy, but true love involving hard work, sacrifice, betrayal and self deception. The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

I think one of the major reasons this tale worked so well for me was the excellent performances of the two narrators, Priya Ayyar and Vikas Adam. The tale starts off in Sarita’s POV which is handled lovingly by Ayyar. Her narration is rich and beautiful, capturing the flavor of Mumbai, while also deftly showing the chaos and mayhem of a city steeped in desperation. Ayyar captures the frantic pace of the city, and she moves you from situation to situation, and then transitions to the back story of her relationship with her husband with a gentle intensity. Then comes Jaz. The transition is almost a punch in the face, as Vikas Adam takes an almost instantly confrontational tone with the listener. It’s as if he’s saying, “This is who I am. Deal with it.” Adam reads with the vocal equivalent of a sneer, yet as the two characters begins to interact, it softens and changes from outwardly aggressive, to an inner exploration. The interplay between the two narrators truly accentuated the story that Manil Suri seems to be telling. You can feel the reluctant bond form between the two characters. The pacing is sharp and distinct, carrying the listener along from situation to situation with ease, allowing us to fully follow each step on the journey. As with many multi-narrator productions, there is a slight disconnect in the voicing of shared characters, but in some ways that plays into the strength of the tale, showing how point of view affects perception. The City of Devi was a wonderful production of a fascinating novel that made me think almost as much as it made me laugh.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy for review.

Audiobook Review: Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

19 07 2012

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (The Formic Wars, Bk. 1)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, Arthur Morey, Vikas Adams, Emily Janice Card, Gabrielle du Cuir, Roxanne Hernandez

Macmillan Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Earth Unaware is entertaining. full of richly developed characters and intricate world building, yet, if you are looking for an action packed military science fiction tale, you may be disappointed. Earth Unaware is a novel that can’t truly be evaluated until the next edition of the series is released, since its main purpose is the put the pieces into place, and give them just enough of a push to get them moving in the right direction.

Grade: B-

Ender’s Game and the rest of the ‘verse was one of the first audiobook series I listened to. Ender’s Game was a novel that I had been meaning to get to back when the majority of my reading was done in print, yet for some reason I never got around to it. Part of me is glad I didn’t. Ender’s Game is the type of novel that just works so well in audio. I have now listened to a lot of Orson Scott Card, some of which I love and others, well, maybe not so much, but one this is clear, his worlds translate to the audio form well. Most of Card’s work has been given the multi-narrator format. His work lends itself to this because it often combines the perspectives of a multitude of diverse characters. His POV characters are men, women and children (and sometimes other) from a variety of age groups and ethnicities and to limit the reading to one specific narrator would place a huge burden on that person. Ender’s Game itself quickly became one of my all time favorite audiobooks. In Ender’s Game, Card takes on a multitude of topics, from growing up, dealing with bullies, the horrors of war, the intensity of scholastic competition, the political transformation of war based earth, and so much more, yet each topic is handled in a way that you just wouldn’t expect. The most jarring thing about Ender’s Game is that the characters are so young. Yet, one of the things I always wanted to know more about was the actual Formic War. The War itself is basically background to the tale, and despites some hints and exposition, you don’t really know the ins and outs of it.  That’s why I was quite excited to learn that Card, along with co writer Aaron Johnston, were writing a prequel series to Ender’s Game, dealing with the war against the ant like Formic enemy.

I will say straight off, I was sort of disappointed in Earth Unaware. Not that it was a bad book, or boring or that there was anything really wrong with the tale. I was basically a victim of my own expectations. What I wanted was an action packed military science fiction account of the devastating war between humanity and the Formics. Instead, Earth Unaware is a set up novel, an intricate exorcise in world building and character development, creating the setting for what is to come.  I expected maybe an Independence Day, corny alien Invasion style opening. Now, I know enough of the backstory on the Formic War from Ender’s Game to know that any opening sequence on this scale was impossible, but I wanted some action, Alien ships attacking, people scrambling to defend themselves, that sort of thing. Instead, the story opens on a deep space mining platform in the Kuiper Belt. Card and Johnston create a fascinating culture of the mining families, and lovingly develops the characters that go on to play key roles in the tale, but, it’s nearly two thirds of the way into the 14 hour audiobook before there is any direct contact with the enemy. My other disappointment was I wanted to learn more about Mazor Rackham, yet he only makes a brief, unsatisfactory appearance in the story. So, instead of blast ‘em up, alien fighting adventure, we have a look at deep space mining culture, a tale of corporate greed, and some interesting but limited scenes of MOPs (Military Operations Police)  Training. It’s all well done, but the overall value of the book is entirely dependent on how well this set up pays off in the next tale.  Part of me wished I waited until the entire three part prequel series was released, then listened to them all at once, but, I am impatient, and Earth Unaware did enough to keep me anticipation what’s next. In fact, the ending was so well executed, and set so many interesting things in motion, my level of excitement for this series hasn’t diminished. Earth Unaware is entertaining. full of richly developed characters and intricate world building, yet, if you are looking for an action packed military science fiction tale, you may be disappointed. Earth Unaware is a novel that can’t truly be evaluated until the next edition of the series is released, since its main purpose is the put the pieces into place, and give them just enough of a push to get them moving in the right direction.

The narration for Earth Unaware is handled by seven skilled narrators each taking on a particular point of view. The majority of the narration is done by Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, and Arthur Morey, all veteran narrators, and all put in excellent performances here. After that, I really didn’t recognize exactly who took on which of the more minor roles. I know that Emily Janice Card, Vikas Adams and Gabrielle Du Cuir had roles, but in all honesty I can’t say who did what here. Yet, all the performances worked. Of the whole, I think Hoyes performance stands out the most, since it offered the most challenges. Hoye handled the work of the mining clans, and did a excellent job. There was one other performance I believe worth mentioning. The book ends introducing a new character, I believed voiced by Roxanne Hernandez (but I could be wrong), and for me, it was a highlight of the audio production. I’m definitely hoping we see more of this character and Hernandez’s narration in the next  edition. Overall, the production worked. Each narrator brought their skills to the table, and helped create an entertaining listening experience.

Note: Special thanks to Macmillan Audio for proving me with a copy of this title for review.