Audiobook Review: The Chronicles of Amber Books 6-10: The Merlin Cycle by Roger Zelazny

3 12 2012

When I discovered that Audible was releasing the entire 10 book Chronicles of Amber series, I knew I would have to start hording some credits, and take advantage of a some sales in order to re-experience nearly 60 hours of one of my favorite Fantasy series in audio form. While I considered reviewing each book separately, I decided that due to the nature of this series, full of twists and cliffhangers, I had to listen to each cycle of stories together, instead of one at a time. The overall series is broken into two cycles, the first being the Corwin Cycle, which I reviewed earlier this year. The Corwin Cycle is a wonderful mind bending Fantasy experience, and I loved listening to each audiobook back to back. Yet, I was a little hesitant about the next 5 books, which follow the adventures of Merlin, Corwin’s son. When I originally read this series, I found myself a bit let down by the latter 5 books. Yet, this series of novels was narrated by Wil Wheaton, so, I decided to give it a chance.

When I first read The Merlin Cycle, I had many issues with the overall tale, yet most of it came down to one issue, I found Merlin incredibly naive. Now, in the Corwin Cycle, there is some of this naiveté, but there are reasons essential to the story that make Corwin this way. In the Merlin Cycle, I found that the naiveté was a part of his character, in general. Now that I have experienced this series again, I come away with a new perspective on Merlin that totally enhanced my impression of the series. What I believed to be naiveté in Merlin, I see was more a sense of strict focus. Merlin came at things from an entirely different perspective than his father. There are many reasons for this. The is an essential difference, with Merlin being of Amber and Chaos, but I think most of it comes from his earth bound education. Merlin, in his Earth Shadow persona, if a computer designer, and approaches things in a more analytical, yet dispassionate manner. Also, not being raised with the potential for the Throne, gave him a less paranoid nature. Understanding this allowed me to enjoy the sporty more finding a new beauty to Amber, Chaos, and the Shadow worlds through this shifted perspective.

One of my favorite aspects of the Merlin Cycle is the totally craziness of the plot.  Zelazny layers conspiracy on top of conspiracy on top of a struggle between the very nature of the universe itself. As the plot progresses from one book to the next, nothing stays static. You very worst enemy from one book becomes you greatest enemy, and visa versa. Any assumptions you may have made about the very nature of Amber, Chaos or Shadow is stripped away. In many ways the physics of the universe that Zelazny creates become even greater characters then the players on the board. It’s mind numbingly complex, yet Zelazny manages to keep it all together in a plot that works. I have always been disappointed that a third cycle was never completed. While the overall story is wrapped up well in Prince of Chaos, it leaves so much left to be explored. I know there were some shorts written by Zelazny and a prequel series written by another author, but I have been scared top give them a try. For now, I think I will stay with what I have read, occasionally letting my mind wander through shadow for what could have been.


After experiencing Alessandro Juliani’s wonderful narration, Wil Wheaton had the much more difficult job of making Merlin’s story just as engaging. Wheaton is a skilled first person narrator, bringing humanity to the characters he portrays. When paired with the right protagonist, his readings come alive. In The Merlin Cycle Wheaton gave me a new perspective on Merlin. I think imagining Merlin more as a geekish character as opposed to his more Alpha male father really opened the story up for me. Wheaton found the right mixture of humor and angst in Merlin and actually made me like the character much more than I did when reading the print version. There is an almost old school quest style video game feel to some of the books within The Merlin Cycle, and it works to have an iconic voice leading you through it. There are some small issues with the production. One of them is the vast number of characters who appear throughout both segments of the series and the fact that many of these characters are very similar, being they are all part of the same family. Wheaton uses subtle changes in his characterizations. He doesn’t have the wide array of character voices as some narrators, and this makes some moments of dialogue a bit confusing, particularly when jumping between Merlin’s fist person inner dialogue and another character talking in the first person. There was quite a few moments where I had to figure out exactly who was saying what, and whether is was spoken or thought that I was taken out of the story for just a bit. Yet, this is more then made up for my by Wheaton’s impeccable sense of pace that gives the story a real feel, while moving it forward. While I loved The Corwin Cycle, and enjoyed Alessandro Juliani’s narration, this was expected. What surprised me was that a combination of me being a bit older and the excellent narration by Wil Wheaton made me enjoy the Merlin Cycle more that I did when originally reading them.

Trumps of Doom by Roger Zelazny

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 34 Min

In Trumps of Doom we meet up with Merlin, son of Corwin, living on the shadow earth, working as a Computer Engineer in California. Despite his status as a son of both Amber and Chaos, he’s living a relatively normal life, except for one thing. Every year on April 30th, someone tries to kill him. Determined to find out the mysteries behind these attacks, Merlin is lured to an ex-girlfriends house, who he finds dead at the hands of a strange creature. As he investigates this further, he discovers that people know more about him than he expected, including his real name. Betrayed, and not knowing who to trust, Merlin must head back to Amber, with his troubles following behind. Trumps of Doom starts this series off with a bang. Its sets the deck for the series introducing us to new enemies, and allies, while building on the foundation set in the Corwin books.

Grade: B+

Blood of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Length: 6 Hrs 37 Min

While Blood of Amber suffers a bit from the problems many second books in Fantasy series seem to have, it also pushes the mythology of the series in an interesting new direction. Here Merlin is unsure of who to trust, with several key people seeming forgetting their past encounters with him. While dealing with this, Amber and Merlin get a history lesson of a near Shadow Kingdom where the past indiscretions of the Princes of Amber in the past contribute a lot to the current issues facing them today. This novel tends to be heavy on the exposition with Zelazny creating interesting ways to dump info on the readers. This causes the pace to suffer, but asks a lot of questions whose answers will be vital to the rest of the series. Despite any problems, Blood of Amber is full of stunning imagery and ends with one of the most creative cliffhangers of the series.

Grade: B

Sign of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Length: 5 Hrs 53 Min

Signs of Chaos is the transitional novel of the series, tying up most of the human based conflicts. Amber is embroiled in a diplomatic and military conflict with one of the Shadow worlds, and Merlin must join up with past enemies to find a way out of the situation. While this is happening, Merlin finds that he may be a pawn in a battle for the balance of the universe itself. Yet, before he can deal with this, he must defeat and reveal the masked sorcerer who has been plaguing his every step. As an uneasy alliance forms, new characters reveal there nature, and old rivalries turn deadly, and Merlin finds that with each problem solved, new ones spring up in it place. The novel leads to a great confrontation, a splendid magical battle and a shocking reveal, and changes the scope of the entire series.

Grade: B

Knight of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Length: 6 Hrs 3 MIn

Knight of Shadows is my favorite novel of the series. It has strange, steam of consciousness style that has Merlin involved against his will in a quest style mission through the essence of shadow itself. Here, the very nature of everything is challenges, with the inanimate taking on personality, forces revealing their sentience, and the images of the players of the game becoming mere tools in a battle between Order and Chaos. It is perhaps the most lyrical and darkly beautiful tale of the series, where nothing that is shown can be trusted. As Merlin is being manipulated in taking sides, with his choices having the potential to change everything, each decision he makes has epic consequences. Merlin must find a way to change the rules of the game, and take control of his fate, knowing that he will conflict with the greatest powers in the universe.

Grade: A-

Prince of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Length: 6 Hrs

Not only does Prince of Chaos bring together the wildly converging plot into a satisfactory ending, but it gives us the best look at the Court of Chaos. You can just tell how much fun Zelazny is having playing with the very nature of the expected physics of the world, shaking them around in the heart of Chaos. Merlin is now returned to the place of his upbringing, only to discover that the elaborate game of thrones has left him in with a possible claim to the Throne. Yet, he also discovered a conspiracy to turn him into a puppet leader. With his greatest enemies, now allies, and those he believed he could trust plotting against him, Merlin must decide whether or not he wants the offered power. While being pushed by family, friends, and perhaps even god himself, Merlin must rely on the tools he has, an artifact of power, the erratic AI he created and the few people he trusts to overcome the plot against him and keep the universe in balance. Prince of Chaos is a wonderful conclusion to this great series that ties up all the ends delivers a stunning final battle, and left me wanting more.

Grade: A-

In Conclusion:

I really enjoyed listening to this series, and was quite glad I decided to do it in two chunks. Both narrators working on this series gave excellent performances, and the productions were top notch. Fans of fantasy series who want to relive one of the classics and those who have yet to visit Amber, I totally recommend giving this a listen. It’s quite a commitment in time and credits, but it is one worth taking.

Audiobook Review: V Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry

11 10 2012

V Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry

With stories by Jonathan Maberry, Nancy Holder, John Everson, Yvonne Navarro, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Nicholson, Gregory Frost, and James A. Moore

Read by Stefan Rudnicki, John Rubinstein, Gabrielle de Cuir, Roxanne Hernandez, Lisa Renee Pitts, Arte Johnson, Cassandra Campbell, Wil Wheaton and Grover Garner,

Blackstone Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Vampire Shared World Anthology

Quick Thoughts: V Wars is a must for all horror fans, especially those seeking Vampires that are truly monsters. Maberry creates a horrific tapestry and then sets loose some of the most twisted minds of the horror genre. Each story works both as a self contained vision of some variant of Vampire mythos, while also expanding the overall world.  I for one hope that V Wars is only the first shot in the War to reclaim the Vampire.

Grade: A-

Is there any monster more polarizing within Horror fandom than the Vampire? Personally, I don’t think so. I, like many other horror fans, went through a period where I totally wrote off Vampires. Many people point at Stephanie Meyer’s as the Antichrist of Vampires, destroying a once beloved monster, but, in all honestly, I was pretty much off Vampires well before Twilight came out. As a kid, I loved Vampires. I read and reread Salem’s Lot and I Am Legend throughout my teenage years. Yet, I think seeing Tom Cruise being interviewed, as just one in a long line of charming, Euro-Vamps began my plummeting opinion of the inhuman bloodsucking beasts. I really didn’t want my monsters to become sex symbols. I think, this is why I turned full forced into a Zombie guy. Zombies are a monster that just is simply not sexy at all. There is no need for teen angst about whether that hot new boy that showed up in school may be a Zombie. If he’s not shambling, easting your tasty insides, and moaning while smelling like month old lunch meat, well, you probably just got one of the normal boys. Yet, I think recently, for me at least, The Vampire has had a bit of a resurgence. I think there has been a concerted effort among those who love Vampires, and remember them before they became the gothy crush worthy boy toys, to bring back the monsters that lurks at night. Jonathan Maberry is a big reason for my happy return to The Vampire legend. His Pine Deep Series reminded me that the stereotypical Vampire is only one example in a huge cache of Vampire Mythology. This resurgence of the monstrous Vampire is good, because it gives authors the ability to examine the humanity that still resides in these monsters, while not forgetting what they truly are. This is why Maberry’s shared world anthology V Wars, was a must have for me.

I think, with its title, and the imagery it brings, there will be a lot of people comparing V Wars to Max Brooks hit Zombie novel World War Z. While this comparison is quite apt, I feel V Wars is more in line with George Martin’s Wildcard series. As a shared world anthology, Maberry creates the ground rules with his set piece “Junk.” In “Junk,” Global Warming leads to the melting of the ice caps. A virus long frozen into the Glaciers is released, affecting human’s on a genetic level, triggering long dormant Junk DNA that contains codes from offshoots of humanity. These offshoots are the variants of Vampires that exist in our lore and legends. With this setting, Maberry has created a smorgasbord of opportunity for some of the top horror writers working today. There are eight stories within the pages of V Wars, and while they all stand alone, they connect together creating an overall vision of the world now changed by the introduction of these monsters.  My favorite stories include John Everson’s “Love Less”, where a tabloid TV anchorwoman discovers she in now a Wurdulak, a Russian Vampire variant that can only feed off people they have a close bond with.  In James A. Moore’s  “Stalking Anna Lei” we meet a Jiangshi, or Chinese hopping Vampire who is searching for his sister who he believe was captured by a green ghoulish Vampire that has been brutally murdering it’s opponents. This is a great example of what is so good about this anthology. When we think of Vampires, we don’t picture hairy, shape shifting cat faced monsters who are forced to hop due to rigor mortis, but this is one Vampire variant that has been forgotten in the slew of emo vampire stories.  Perhaps my favorite story of the collection is “The Ballad of Big Charlie” by Keith RA DeCandido. “The Ballad of Big Charlie” explores the changing political landscape of this new world, through the eye of those involved in the campaign of a Bronx DA, who discovers he is a Lugaru. I found this story to be fascinating because it examined the human reaction to the new offshoots more so than any other story in the novel. Now, I could go on a list all the other stories, because, there really isn’t a week one on the batch, but I won’t. V Wars is a must for all horror fans, especially those seeking Vampires that are truly monsters. Maberry creates a horrific tapestry and then sets loose some of the most twisted minds of the horror genre. Each story works both as a self contained vision of some variant of Vampire mythos, while also expanding the overall world.  I for one hope that V Wars is only the first shot in the War to reclaim the Vampire.

V Wars contains a virtual Dream Team of Rock Star narrators, who wondrously bring this tale to life. I was so excited to see some of my favorite horror authors finally get a chance to have their stories finally brought to audio. I practically geek squealed when I discovered one of my favorite horror authors, James A. Moore, was going to have his story read by one of my favorite audiobook narrators, Wil Wheaton. Stefan Rudnicki was the perfect choice to narrate Maberry’s Junk. Rudnicki sets the bar for each narrator high, and they all seem to rally around their leader and give wonderful performances. Gabrielle Du Cuir brings just the right amount of cold bitchiness to her reading of “Love Less” creating one of the more memorable characters of the anthology. Cassandra Campbell once again shows off her talent at accents and characterization in her reading of Gregory Frost’s “Vulpes.” V Wars also contained a new discovery for me in Lisa Renee Pitts, who gave a flavor filled performance of “The Ballad of Big Charlie” that had me scanning audiobook sites to see what else she has narrated. Add to this the excellent work of Roxanne Hernandez, John Rubinstein, Arte Johnson and even a brief appearance by Grover Gardner, and V Wars should be the audiobook event of the Halloween season.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. V Wars is currently available at Blackstone’s new download site, Downpour.

Audiobook Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

8 06 2012

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Redshirts is the sort of accessible, fun science fiction that I feel should easily pull in readers who may have loved Star Trek, but don’t really consider themselves science fiction fans. It’s full of recognizable character archetypes, bizarre meta-concepts and just enough nostalgia to lead to hours of rousing discussions. Yet, it’s also a whole lot of actiony fun with robots, ray guns and space worms, and that is a good thing.

Grade: B+

Years ago when I was on vacation I was visiting some friends who were hardcore trekkies. Now, I like Star Trek. I really liked Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. Yet, I liked it with the sane restraint of one not willing to adjust their whole philosophy of life to match up with the values taught by their favorite television program. My trekkie friends were a bit more enthusiastic. While at my friend house, I discovered a book called The Nitpickers Guide to Star Trek: TNG or something along that line. It was an episode by episode analysis of the inconstancies and continuity errors of the entire series. I was never much of a nitpicker. I expect inconsistencies in television. Sure, I always thought the alien parasite at Star Fleet Command episode fit uncomfortably into the overall story of the series, but typically, I was happy in my oblivion. Yet, I became obsessed with this book. I spent hours that weekend reading it, scoffing at something they called mistakes while also occasionally shocked I missed such obvious blunders. At the end though I realized, you know, I just want to be entertained. I don’t want to sit there, examining the show scene by scene, looking for flaws. I want my 48 minutes of fun, knowing by the end Picard would still be telling people to “make it so.” Maybe this is another thing that separates the causal fan from the Trekkie.

In Redshirts John Scalzi tells the story of those unsung heroes of the Star Trek franchise. Those characters that never will see their name in the opening credits. They don their red uniforms and head on away missions and seldom return. Yet, on the Intrepid, these lowly peons of dramatical sacrifice are beginning to figure out the score. They know that heading on an away mission with certain members of the bridge crew will lead to a painful and pointless death and one member of the crew is planning to do something about it. John Scalzi has become the king of the novelty novel, and to me, this is a good thing. Redshirts is an outrageously meta romp through classic science fiction, that will have the ultra serious hard science fiction fans pulling their hair out. Scalzi has found a way to take the standard “a wizard did it” excuse for poorly plotted fantasy and apply it to scifi with absurd results. Its fun, action filled and often times hilarious. Yet, despite all the craziness of the plot, Scalzi manages to pull it together in a bittersweet way. I’ll be honest with you, I had mixed feelings about the three codas. It’s one of those weird moments in literature where you both like and hate what and author does. I enjoyed it, and was frustrated by it at the same time, particularly in the ending of the overall base story. In some ways it was an authorial gut punch by Scalzi, and looking back at it has me asking frustrated by my unanswered questions. Yet, while I was in the midst of the listening experience, I enjoyed every minute. Redshirts is the sort of accessible, fun science fiction that I feel should easily pull in readers who may have loved Star Trek, but don’t really consider themselves science fiction fans. It’s full of recognizable character archetypes, bizarre meta-concepts and just enough nostalgia to lead to hours of rousing discussions. Yet, it’s also a whole lot of actiony fun with robots, ray guns and space worms, and that too is a good thing.

Wil Wheaton is not the greatest technical narrator, and there were a few, a few mind you, moments where Redshirts played into some of his weaknesses. Wheaton takes a minimalist approach to characterization, which usually works quite well in the concept heavy, action based science fiction he reads. He does well with unique characters, but the typically mundane characters tend to be read in slight versions of his natural voice. There were a couple dialogue intensive moments, full of he said/she saids that came off inorganic. This was a combination of a bit of clunkiness in the writing, and Wheaton’s approach. Also, early in the book, the names Dahl and Duvall had a sound a like quality that caused a bit of confusion. Sometimes, I wish writers would take things like that into consideration when naming characters, but not every author writes with the audio version in mind. Yet, all negatives aside, there is a reason why Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite narrators. Wil Wheaton uses his grasp of the material and understanding of the characters, and the writer’s intent, to bring the world created in Redshirts to vivid life. One of my major peeves when evaluating audiobooks is narrators inserting themselves into the narrative, yet, with Wheaton, it just works. I can’t help but imagine Andrew Dahl, without a bit of Wheaton in him. Wheaton chooses his audiobooks wisely, taking on roles that suit him and his skills. He bring a wry wit that highlights the absurdist nature of John Scalzi’s plot, and adds to the overall listening experience better than almost any narrator I can think of. Redshirts is the perfect blend of science fiction fun and nostalgia that will have an across the board appeal similar to Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One. You don’t have to be a huge scifi fan to enjoy Redshirts, but having a touch of the geek inside you won’t hurt.

Out With The Old, In With the New: 2011 Review

2 01 2012

So, 2011 was a wonderful blogging year for me. I began actively blogging again this year, and its been quite an adventure. The year started a bit slow, posting my reviews, and doing little to promote them beyond an occasional post on my Facebook page. Then, I revived my Twitter Account, began using it to market the blog, and things got better. I’m happy where my blog is now. I don’t have a huge audience, but I know there are people out there that value my reviews, and are often influenced by what I say. My stated purpose has always been to provide a service of offering spoiler free reviews that talk about not just the content of the book, but the production of the audiobook, and I think that I have kept true to that purpose this year.

The thing I am most thankful for as a blogger is all the wonderful people I have met. I have made a lot of strong connections among other bloggers, listeners and people who work in the audiobook industry. I am not a highly social person, yet I have felt welcomed in this community and value all the people I have met. Except for maybe one or two. You know who your are!

Some Highlights of 2011.

My First Review!

My first review of 2011 was What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz, read by Stephen Weber. When I go back to these earlier reviews, I am surprised how much my reviewing style has changed. I feel for the better, but you can all make your own decisions.

Most Popular Review of the Year:

I am quite proud of my review of Ready Player One. My review was one of the first audiobook reviews of the novel to come out. It was responsible for my biggest hot day ever and my loudest nerd squeal when I discovered that Wil Wheaton, the narrator, mentioned the review on Goggle+. I also interviewed the author Ernie Cline which was a pile of awesomeness.

My Most Controversial Post of the Year:

Well, maybe most talked about. My negative review of Roy Dotrice’s narration of George RR Martins A Dance With Dragons has received more comments than any other post. Some agree, and others are flabbergasted at my dislike of Dotrice. One comments even thought I was the books author and flailed me for killing off all the characters on my Contact Page.


2011 was the year of the Zombie audiobook. I personally reviewed around 25 Zombie audiobooks in 2011. In May I focused largely on Zombies with a series of interviews with Zombie authors like Mira Grant, Ian MacDonald, Madeleine Roux, Peter Clines, and others. I plan on putting together a more intensive Zombie Event in 2012, so stay tuned.

Narrator Interviews:

I was blessed with the chance two interview my three favorite audiobook narrators this year, Phil Gigante, Oliver Wyman and MacLeod Andrews. I also had a wonderful interview with Piper Goodeve right after she narrated her first audiobook, Madeleine Roux’s Allison Hewitt is Trapped.

Some other fun Moments in 2011:

I was both replied to, and retweeted by Neil Gaiman on Twitter this year. That was something to cross off my bucket list.

I was interviewed three times in 2011 by other bloggers. Once by Mickey from I’m A Book Shark, Once by Jennifer at Literate Housewife, and Once by Meg from A Bookish Affair. I am always excited to talk about myself (oh, and audiobooks.)

Now, I am pretty much pulling this out of my ass, but I am pretty sure that my 173 Audiobook Reviews this year was the most by any individual blogger. Perhaps, someone posted more on Amazon, or Audible. For all I know Harriet Klaussner has started reviewing audiobooks. But, I am proud of the number of reviews I have posted in 2011.

For 2012:

I am not setting specific goals yet for 2012 until some issues with my job work themselves out. Overall, I would like to listen to or Read 200 books, but we’ll see how life treats me.

I reached my goal of at least 12 and over 10% of my total reads coming from Female Authors. I am slowly but surely moving myself away from literary misogyny. In 2011 I listened to 19 novels by Female Authors, so for 2012, I would like to be over 20.

My last goal is to become more proficient at the technical side of blogging, so I can do some cool stuff. Because I like cool stuff.


I will be participating in the following challenges.




Seven Questions with Ernest Cline

15 09 2011

Some may say that I went a little overboard in my review of Ernest Cline’s geek anthem Ready Player One, comparing it to such genre classics as Stranger in a Strange Land, and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. To that I say , Pshaw!. What’s the point of being a audiobook blogger if I can go all fanboy every once in a while. Ready Player One is the sort of epic science fiction tale I love, with the added bonus of being chock full of pop culture references from my youth. Author Ernest Cline was kind enough to answer a few questions about Ready Player One, geekdom, and the audiobook version of his novel.



Bob: First off, I listen to around 150 audiobooks a year, and read a fair amount of print as well. Ready Player One is easily one of my favorite listening experiences of the year. I think the great appeal of Ready Player One is how much your love of the subject matter shines through the material. You definitely put a lot of yourself into the novel, and readers and listeners have definitely responded. When did the initial idea for the novel leap forward, and tell us a little of the process from idea to an actual physical book you can hold in your hand?

Ernest: I had the initial idea for the story way back in the summer of 2001. I was working tech support at the time, helping people use the Internet, and so I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of the Internet, and I imagined it evolving into a sprawling virtual universe, sort of a cross between World of Warcraft and Facebook. When I start imagining what sort of person would create such a virtual world, I pictured a Willy Wonka-eque video game designer holding a Golden Ticket-like contest inside his creation. The rest of the story grew out of that first idea.

Bob: Now, as a member of the geek culture, you must have some idea of what you are in for now that you made the leap from consumer to producer of geek products. You should expect emails detailing and discrediting your work down to the last bit of minutiae. Add to that calls for a sequel, a trilogy, animated versions, big screen movies, action figures, lunch boxes, video games and of course, an actual working version of OASIS, all of which, if not provided, will be your fault.  So far, how has the geek culture treated you, and have you received any particularly odd requests or suggestions?

Ernest:  Your prediction is spot on. I’ve been receiving many such emails, pointing out small errors and making demands for an immediate sequel. And I love them all! Being a geek myself, I take it as the highest form of flattery. When a geek cares about something enough to pick it apart, it’s usually done out of love.

Bob: As an audiobook blogger, I must note the awesomeness that is Wil Wheaton and go all fanboy on his performance of the audio version of Ready Player One. One thing I like about Wil as an audiobook narrator is that he is very selective in what he chooses to take on. Ready Player One was the perfect fit for him. How much influence, if any, did you have on bringing Wil into the project, and how excited were you to find out that he would be narrating? Also, any plans for an 8 Track version of the audiobook?

Ernest: I get to take all of the credit for choosing Wil to do the audio edition. Initially, Random House planned to have me read the audiobook, because I’d done some spoken word performance a long time ago. But I’m not an actor, and I knew I wanted someone who could bring all of the characters to life. I also needed an actor of my generation, who would be familiar with (and be able to properly pronounce) all of the pop culture and video game references in the story. That’s a tall order. Before I even finished the book, I think I knew I wanted Wil to do the audio book. I was certain he’d be perfect, and I was right. When I heard the first clips of his performance, I squeed like a little girl.

If we put the audio book out on 8-track, it would have to be spread across fifteen or more tapes. Unwieldy. On the plus side, then we could listen to it on the 8-track player in Leopardon!

Bob: Besides having the frakkin’ awesomest author website I have ever seen, you have a site for your car, The ECTO88, which is a totally geeked out DeLorean (of Back to the Future fame) which is similar to Wade’s OASIS vehicle in Ready Player One. Tell me some of the amenities of the ECTO88 and what you had to go through to get it just how you wanted it.

Ernest: Well, when I bought the car, I knew I wanted to trick it out like Parzival’s DeLorean in the book, which combines elements from Doc Brown’s Time Machine, KITT from Knight Rider, the Ghostbusters Ecto-1, and Buckaroo Banzai’s Jet Car. So I went on the Internet and found a Flux Capacitor, and Oscillation Overthruster, and a wide array of Ghostbusting equipment, including a screen accurate Proton Pack (which rides shotgun). Then I installed a blue KITT scanner on the front of the car and got some personalized ECTO88 license plates. Then I took my time traveling, Knight Riding, Ghostbusting Jet Car out on the road. It was a big hit on my tour.

Bob: On a totally unrelated question (OK, maybe not totally) Do you think that Dan Aykroyd can actually pull off a somewhat decent Ghostbusters 3 whether or not Bill Murray participates?

Ernest: Definitely! Actually, I already think of the Ghostbusters Video Game that just came out as the Ghostbusters sequel I’ve always wanted to see. All of the original actors (including Murray) do the voices, and Aykroyd and Ramis wrote the script.

The notion of a new Ghostbusters feature film both excites and terrifies me. It could be amazing, or it could be a train wreck like GB2. Fingers crossed that it’s the former.

Bob:  Were there any uber-geekish ideas or products that you wanted to fit into Ready Player One, but just couldn’t or ended having to edit out that you would like to share with us?

Ernest: No, I didn’t have to leave out anything. I threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Of course, now that the book is published and out in the world, I keep discovering that I somehow failed to mention several of my favorite bands or movies. Like the Talking Heads, for example. They’re one of my favorite 80s bands, but somehow I left them out of the book. I would like to publicly apologize to David Byrne..

Bob: Finally, what does the future have in store for Ernest Cline? Any upcoming projects that you are able to talk about?

Ernest: I have a lot of different irons in the fire. Right now I’m working on a geeky coming-of-age movie set in the late 80s. Sort of my version of Dazed and Confused, but instead of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, my characters are steeped in Dungeons & Dragons, arcade games, and comic books.

Ready Player One is produced by Random House Audio and is available for Download through The print version is available through your local bookseller.

Audiobook Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

18 08 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Read by Wil Wheaton

Random House Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Easily one of my favorite listening experiences of the year, Ready Player One was an exciting adventure tale, as well as a trip through the icons of my teenage years. Be prepared for an utterly fanboyish review.

Grade: A+

I was never much of a geek. I grew up in a household where my entertainment choices were highly monitored. So, I probably was more of a wannabe geek. I would have loved to hang out with the geekiest among my school mates, playing Dungeons & Dragons and quoting lines from cheesy movies. The problem was Dungeons & Dragons was a tool to get children into Satanic Cults, and any movie over PG and not vetted by an responsible adult was totally not allowed. Yet, still I was a child of the 80’s, born in 1974. The first real news event I remember was the Reagan Assassination attempt. I spent much of my afternoons watching Transformers, GI Joe and my all time favorite Star Blazers. I read approved Books like The Chronicles of Narnia multiple times, and experience my first big screen moments with movies like ET, Superman and The Empire Strikes Back. My first game system was an Atari 2600 and my first computer was a Commodore 64. So, despite my limited Geek cred, I still fell right into the perfect target audience for Ernest Clines, genre bending Geek epic Ready Player One. Ready Player One is a quest tale that takes place in a highly sophisticated virtual reality program called OASIS. Wade, a young geek, living in a community of stacked trailer homes, sees his only way out of poverty is completing the complex contest set up by James Halliday, the OASIS founder in lieu of a will. The winner of the quest will inherit the vast fortune of the 80’s obsessed recluse programmer, as well control of OASIS.

I loved every minute of Ready Player One. It would be easy for me to simply state this was one of my favorite audiobooks of the year, yet, in my opinion this is selling the experience short. From the opening moments of the books, when Halliday presented his funeral using clips from the movie Heathers, I knew that I would love the book. In many ways, listening to the book, I felt like I was walking through a museum of my own memories of my teenage years, pointing at the iconic images as they appeared within the book with an excited reverence. Yet, there is a problem with this as well. As a reviewer, I cannot remove myself from my own connection with this book enough to give an objective take on the novel for those who don’t share my love of 80’s pop culture. Yes, there is adventure, romance, awesome fight scenes, tragic dystopian images of our future, and an evil corporation to hate, but would this overall plot work for someone who doesn’t remember the days when joystick controllers only had one button. Personally, I think it works no matter what era the reader comes from, but I also know it could be wishful thinking. So, now that I gave that bit of a disclaimer, could I reiterate that… I frakkin’ loved this book. I think that Ready Player One has the potential to be more than just a great book, but a true cultural Icon. Ready Player One is the Stranger in a Strange Land of the Atari generation, the Hitchhikers Guide for those who wished the Keatons were their family. And for everyone else, it was a whole lot of fun.

To make matters even better, uber-Geek extraordinaire Wil Wheaton narrated Ready Player One. You could tell through the listening of this book that Wheaton was having a hell of a time reading it. What I really enjoyed about his reading was that he didn’t overdo it. With such an outrageous premise, some narrators may have brought an over the top reading style to the project. Wheaton instead allowed the world to come to life on its own, without any needs to push it. Wheaton’s knowledge of 80’s pop culture served him well, allowing him to capture the rhythms and cadence of Monty Python, as well as imitate precisely the beeps and whistles of 80’s arcade games. Ready Player One allowed me to finally live out some of my desired geek status and reached out and awakened my inner fanboy.

Audiobook Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

27 05 2011

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Read by Kate Reading and Wil Wheaton

Macmillan Audio

Genre: Steampunk

Quick Thoughts: Boneshaker is a well produced audiobook that will be entertaining to readers whether they know what Steampunk is or not.

Grade: B+

I was a little hesitant to listen to Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Boneshaker has been on my radar for a while, due to recommendations, and the books use of zombies. When searching for zombie novels, this book came up repeatedly and a few people whose opinions I respect gave it praise. Yet, I’m not sure about this whole Steampunk thing. In actuality, I’m not sure exactly what Steampunk is. I’ve asked for explanations, but all I really got was something about funky gadgets and blimps, which sort of sounded like the Fringe Alternate universe. Yet, many factors came together encouraging me to finally take the Boneshaker plunge. This is my zombie theme month. I am trying to read and listen to more female authors. Wil Wheaton is one of the narrators and most of all, Mira Grant mentioned the novel in my interview with her. With all these factors lining up like stars in a constellation, I felt that I just had to finally listen to Boneshaker.

When it comes to good Zombie fiction, you have two categories. Good Zombie Books and good books with zombies. It’s all about the perspective. You have books in which zombies are the plot, and books that include zombies in the plot. Boneshaker is definitely the latter. Boneshaker is an intricately plotted novel about a young man searching for his roots, and a mother who will do anything, including entering a deserted city with toxic air and infested with rotters, to keep her boy safe. The tale is told in intertwining perspective shifts following the paths taken by Zeke, the son, and Briar, his mother. Zeke trying to discover the truth behind his father’s reputation is a brash, cocky youth who can be quite annoying at times. Of course, that makes sense, being a brash, cocky youth. He and his mother travel through a city not quite as dead as expected, often with overlapping paths yet never quite connecting. I found Boneshaker’s world intriguing, but what really sold me what the characters. From the main protagonists, to the smallest of role, the people you meet in Boneshaker are memorable, and, well the best word that comes to mind is, salty. I felt like the author really knew these characters, from their almost musical names, to their hints of depth, it was like each character could have a novel of their own.  The Zombies worked as a background menace, and implement of pacing that played to the heart of the desperation of the characters. While I am still not all that clear what Steampunk really is, I can say that Boneshaker is truly an entertaining listen.

I often have trouble with the two narrator system, where a male and female narrator handle differing point of views, especially when the POV’s intertwine like they do here in Boneshaker. This intertwining will cause minor character’s voices to change due to a switch in narration, and this can be disconcerting at times. Yet, I didn’t have that problem with Boneshaker. Whether it was just perfect casting or good direction, the duel narration of Kate Reading and Wil Wheaton worked. Kate Reading has a gravely, mature voice, unlike many of the perky, go-getter style many female narrators have. With Reading, you can feel the desolation of the situation and the growing desperation of Briar. The female characters you meet are strong women, nothing like the typical Hollywood heroine, and Reading voices them perfectly. Wheaton’s straight forward style works well in this world, and when Reading and Wheaton share character voices there is actually a matching timbre which allows the reader to stay within the story. Boneshaker is a well produced audiobook that will be entertaining to readers whether they know what Steampunk is or not.

Audiobook Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

14 05 2011

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Read by Wil Wheaton

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Fuzzy Nation is a fast, clean, straight forward science fiction adventure with a well plotted and satisfying ending. Wil Weaton again shines as narrator for one of John Scalzi’s tales.

Grade: A

John Scalzi is a writer. He writes science fiction novels, short stories, compelling blog posts, quirky tweets about his cat and his views on sci-fi film. Not only is John Scalzi a writer, but he is also a science fiction fan. You can see that on his writing. The love of the genre shines through his work, with shout outs to modern writers, and past greats as well. John Scalzi’s latest work, Fuzzy Nation, may be his ultimate love letter to classic science fiction yet, a re-imagining and updating of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. Now, I have never read the source material, something I plan to rectify, so my take on the novel will not be a comparison to its predecessor, but a look at how it stands on its own. I don’t feel this is a negative, you don’t have to have seen the 70’s version of Battlestar Galactica to appreciate the more modern version. Yet, I do think it is important for readers and listeners to understand the origins of the work.

Fuzzy Nation is just simply a wonderful novel. It has so many thing I enjoy in novels that it’s almost like someone decided to put something together just for me. Science fiction, with cute fuzzy beings, an awesome dog, a snaky anti-hero, some courtroom drama, and a whole bunch of twists both in characters and plot. One of the things I loved so much about the book is that while at heart it’s a simple science fiction tale about discovering a sentient species, it doesn’t rely on cliché and overused tropes. Jack Holloway is my favorite types of character, not someone whose essence is inheritably good battling against the evil corporate entity, but a selfish schemer who finds ways to make his moral ambiguity actually do a little good. I especially like the fact that our typical bad guy, the exes’ new boyfriend, is actually more of a true hero type than Jack will ever be. Add to that, Carl, the wonderful dog who can set of explosives (for a treat) and we already have a winning basis for a novel. Then we get to the Fuzzies. Oh, those adorable, yet smart creatures that are the heart of this tale. You just cannot help but like them. Yet, they are not just smart teddy bears, they are intricate and active members in driving the plot forward. Through the Fuzzies we see the true nature of the characters, and humanity as a whole. Fuzzy Nation is a fast, clean, straight forward science fiction adventure with a well plotted satisfying ending.

Scalzi and Wil Wheaton are quickly becoming one of the better author/narrator pairings in the business today, on the same lever as Butcher/Marsters. Like James Marsters, Wheaton has a simple reading style not cluttered down with bells and whistles. He was brilliant in Agent to the Stars, which was #5 in my top 20 audiobooks of 2010, and continues to impress here. Wheaton finds the right tone for each character, not overacting, just allowing their voice to shine through. Where Wheaton really shines is the courtroom scenes where he finds the right rhythm for the process of the hearing, and provides a truly great moment, that I don’t want to spoil for the listener. Fuzzy Nation is a great adult Science Fiction Tale, yet it also has enough heart and humor to appeal to even non-science fiction fans.