Audiobook Review: Storm Surge by Taylor Anderson

22 07 2013

Storm Surge (Destroyermen, Book 8) by Taylor Anderson

Read by William Dufris

Tantor Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Storm Surge is very much a transitional book in the series, slowing down the pace and setting the board for what is to come. While that can be frustrating, I still found myself enthralled in the world Anderson has created, enjoying the characters, analyzing the plans, and trying to figure out where the story would go next. Basically, despite the fact that not much really happens, the stuff that happened was intriguing enough, and the characters I love true to form that I never found myself bored.

Grade: B+

There was a point, well past the half point mark of Storm Surge, the latest Destroyermen novel by Taylor Anderson, where I had a sudden thought. "You know Bob," came my sudden thought, "Not much has really happened in this book so far." Now, a caveat, what I believe the sudden thought meant was that not much has happened in terms of overall series progression. This has been a problem with a lot of my Military SF and Fantasy reads lately. The early books are great. A small group of scrappy upstarts enter into a situation, meet new people, deal with new political situations, and fight desperate battles that they should lose, but find a way to win. It’s the traditional scrappy underdog tale that so many books revel in. I love those stories. Then comes book two, three and four, where they meet even more people, fight even bigger battles, become embroiled in greater political plots and become even more adaptable to the situation. The world, the characters, the situations all expand until it’s really friggin’ huge. Then, it becomes not about a scrappy group of upstarts fighting a battle, but how to move your fleet of scrappy upstarts from the Eastern front where you have been fighting one political group to the Western Front in time to assist that group of scrappy upstarts before they get destroyed by another political entity, all while hoping the two political opponents don’t coordinate.  While you are doing this, the scrappy upstarts leader, who is now the Grand Superior General of the combined forces of all your new various allies who don’t trust each other but come together under his leadership, must motivate the scrappy upstart Empire to create bigger armies, faster ships and more explody bombs, while keeping their new alliance as the moral superior. It all becomes so big, so grand, that the book becomes less about the characters, and more about logistics, and closing off subplots involving captured prisoners, rival leaders, potential spies and grand new missions that could mean the end to the war. Yet, despite the fact that nothing really happened in the first two thirds of the book, I never felt bored. Plus, a lot happened. Just not a lot of explody, plot hole closing stuff.

In Storm Surge, while the situation in India seems about to get out of control, Col. Matthew Reddy has returned from a relatively successful mission against the Dominion, while suffering grievous injuries to his person and his ship, the USS Walker. Now, Reddy must prepare for a mission to find the Grik home, which happens to be the sacred lost home of his allied Lemurians on the island we call Madagascar. Yet, before he takes on this mission, he and a fleet of ships must undergo a desperate attack on the Grik forces in India who are under the leadership of unstable Japanese Admiral of the Sea Kurokawa. Storm Surge is very much a transitional book in the series, slowing down the pace and setting the board for what is to come. While that can be frustrating, I still found myself enthralled in the world Anderson has created, enjoying the characters, analyzing the plans, and trying to figure out where the story would go next. Basically, despite the fact that not much really happens, the stuff that happened was intriguing enough, and the characters I love true to form that I never found myself bored, which is more than I can say for some other series like this one. I think one thing that sets this series apart from some series like The Lost Fleet and The Honorverse, is there is still a feeling of jeopardy permeating the series. Each battle comes with a cost, and the Alliance pays in lives and supplies. They never leave a battle unscathed, nor is victory always assured. The battles they win tend to lean closer towards Pyrrhic than the routs of Honor Harrington or Black Jack Geary. Basically, The Destroyermen series, despite expanding the world, manages to maintain suspense. When the big battle at the finale of the book comes, it is well executed, and devastating. Sure, there was some level of frustration. Anderson has been teasing us with a Madagascar strike for two books now, and he has a lot of subplots floating around that you know have their place in the overall plot, but you just wish they would hurry up and fall into place. Yet, despite this frustration, and the largeness of the world, Anderson maintains his intimate core that is the heart of this series. You still have Reddy acting like Reddy, Silva doing his thing, and all your favorite Lemurians, humans, Gris, and other species contributing to the fight in their own quirky ways. Anderson may have even thrown in a few surprises. For fans of this series, Storm Surge may not give you everything you want, but you will simply revel being back among these characters that it takes you a while to think, "Hey…. when is stuff gonna happen."

Listening to William Dufris narrate Storm Surge confirmed my belief that the man must love his job. He just seems to have so much fun bringing these characters to life, and you can’t help but have fun along with him. He never skimps, or shies away from a character, but goes full gusto, grabbing onto any cue from the author to create these characters. And there is a lot of them. A ton. So many characters, all from different species. It amazes me how he keeps them all straight. And not just remembering what accent to give a gunner verses a mechanic in the steam room, but what cadence to use for a Lemurian from Manilla, to another who was raised on a Great Boat. He keeps all these characters alive, despite race, job or species. Dufris also paces this novel perfectly. He knows just when to give the listener a breath, slowing down his reading. It’s almost like a state of symbiosis between author and narrator, where they both know when to ratchet up the action, and when to dial it down for some well deserved introspection. Under a lesser narrator, The Destroyermen series could fall apart in audio, but Dufris does more than just keeps it afloat but makes it one of the best ongoing scifi audio series in the crowded market.

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The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 13: Earth Below, Sky Above by John Scalzi

12 04 2013

Earth Below, Sky Above by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Episode 13)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 2 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+

PREVIOUSLY ON THE HUMAN DIVISION:

Episode 12: The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads

The Audiobookaneers Episode 12

Welcome to the BIG TWO HOUR SEASON FINALE of The Human Division Listen-A-Long. First off, I want to thank Dave from The Audiobookaneers for being my Listen-A-Long partner. If you haven’t been checking out his thoughts, then you deserve to be sucked out into the vacuum of space without a life protecting Leotard.

I am very happy to hear that John Scalzi has signed a deal for a second season, because this truly makes this feel like a season finale, and not just the end of a book told in a serial manner. I really grew to like these characters, and knowing I should see them again next season makes this parting so much easier to take. Now, on to my thoughts on Earth Below, Sky Above.

I think that any Finale episode, whether it be the end of a TV series, or the last novel in a series, has a greater responsibility and should be evaluated not just as a standalone episode, but also in how it closed out the series. As an episode, Earth Below, Sky Above was awesome. The episode focused on the all important, what we have been building up to all season, conference on Earth position on the CDF and the "B-Teams" role in the negotiation. The first half was fun, sentimental (Harry returning to Earth for the first time) and full of humor, including a fun scene were Harry shows up some meathead soldiers who want to pick a fight with him based solely on the color of his skin (green.) The second half was full of crazy explody action in Space, and on Earth’s Space station. Scalzi knows how to write some of the most accessible, and visual action and he truly gave these scenes a big time blockbuster movie feel. It was so much fun to listen to.

As a finale, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. One of my biggest issues with the series as a whole is that the enemy lacked a face. Scalzi does a great job setting up this mysterious cabal that seems to be pitting Earth, the CDF, and The Conclave against each other for some secret agenda which may simply be the end of the CDF, but may not be. Yet, we never really see any actual conspirators, or if we do, they quickly killed off. I was hoping for some level of reveal, perhaps the theorized spy within CDF, or some player at some level of the conspiracy. Especially with the announcement of the second season, I thought it would be nice if our nameless cabal at least was given a name. Yet, the enemy remained conceptual. That being said, Scalzi did manage to pull a lot of threads together, pulling in bits and pieces of the entire series to bring about this stunning conclusion.

Can we all take a moment and raise our glasses to Mr. William Dufris. I really enjoyed the work he has done on this production, and in this final episode, he once again gave a seamless performance. Scalzi’s writing doesn’t always transfer perfectly to audio and Dufris does a great job minimizing any clunkiness. I loved his ability to slow down the chaos of the devastation of Space Station, allowing us to feel these small heartfelt moments with Harry, Schmidt and Coloma. I really enjoyed experiencing this serial in the audio format. Now, for the long wait to Season 2. What will become of our heroes during the hiatus?

One final note and it’s a suggestion to Mr. Scalzi. There is a series of books called The Dead Man, and while it’s not really a serial, it is episodic storytelling. For the audio version of The Dead Man series, each edition starts off with a Bad TV style theme song. So, I call on Mr. Scalzi, and Audible to create a The Human Division Theme Song to be included in the audio versions. I know Mr. Scalzi, being the literary rock star he is, probably hangs out with the likes of Bono, Axl Rose, Harry Connick Jr. and Paul McCartney, so one of these rock stars should help you put together something on your Banjo. Or, even better, have Seanan McGuire write and perform a little ditty for you. Don’t make me start one of those online petitions.

Thanks to everyone who bothered to stop by a read my thoughts on this series. Remember, I’m here all year round!





The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 12: The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads by John Scalzi

5 04 2013

The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Ep. 12)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 38 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+

PREVIOUSLY ON THE HUMAN DIVISION:

Episode 11: A Problem of Proportion

The AudioBookaneers Episode 11

Welcome to this week’s episode of The Human Division Listen Along. It’s the penultimate episode of the series, and I’m letting you know this because I really love the word penultimate. This week’s episode is titled "The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads." I was looking forward to this episode since I saw the episode name lists, because I thought it was a pretty cool name. Plus, I knew I would get to use the word "penultimate." I am easily pleased.

In this week’s episode we again step away from the B-Team, yet revisit a character from an earlier episode, Danielle Lowen, the daughter of the Secretary of State who was the American reprehensive on the Clarke earlier. And of course, since it was Danielle, Scalzi gets to use the excellent Boozy Expositional trend, where we learn a lot of information during a slightly (or not so slightly) tipsy bar room exchange. In this episode, Danielle is investigating the murder/suicide that occurred during her time on board the Clarke. As she finds out more about the perpetrator, things don’t seem quite right. It doesn’t help that someone seems determined to impede her path, and are willing to go to extreme measures to stop her.

I really liked this episode. It was a change of pace from the intense storyline of last week’s episode, but still had its own intensity. Yet, this episode also frustrated me. It established that there is a secret cabal willing to go to extreme measures for an unknown reason. Yet, this has been well established in Episode 1 and Episode 2 and 3,4,5… The information we received basically only confirmed this. She was investigation an extremely complicated plot, set about by a shadowy group, and all she really confirmed was that the plot was even more complex than she imagined, and the group perhaps even shadowy. It did nothing to shine a light on what we really want to know, which is, who is this shadowy group, and what is their ultimate goal. In fact, I felt this episode was another example of just how complex this overall tale is. On the surface, it’s easy to see this as just another conspiracy tale, like a strange 24 in Space without Jack Bauer running around without bathroom breaks. Yet, for every move and countermove, I find myself making the conspiracy even deeper. Yet, I think when all is revealed, it will be such a simple "I should have thought of that" that I will be annoyed at all the calories I burned coming up with my own complex conspiracy within conspiracy theories. DAMN YOU SCALZI!

I was kinda sad that Dufris didn’t do as much of his drunk Danielle voice as he did in her first appearance, because I really dug drunk Danielle and she really did have a giant fruity alcoholic beverage. As an earth bound tale, Dufris wasn’t required to do much in the way of creepy aliens. Nor was there much true action, just lots of dialogue, some Brazilian’s and not-as-drunk Danielle. Still, it was a whole lot of fun, and Dufris has to rest up a bit for the big two hour commercial free season finale next week where all will be revealed!





The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 11: A Problem of Proportion by John Scalzi

29 03 2013

A Problem of Proportion by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Ep. 11)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 1 Hr 2 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B+

PREVIOUSLY ON THE HUMAN DIVISION:

Episode 10: This Must Be the Place

The Audiobookaneers Episode 10

If you read my review last week, you will know that I was right… No, no, not about Schmidt being eaten by a swarm of Robo-Beatles (although there’s still time.) I was right that Scalzi was trying to lull is into some sense of complacency then hit us up with the underlining mythology of the series, getting us ready for the final two episodes. This week’s episode starts us off right in the midst of a space battle. I mean, right in the midst. I mean, I was wondering if I screwed up and accidentally started my audiobook halfway through. Luckily, I didn’t and we see that both the Clarke and a ship from the Conclave are being attacked. They are there for a secret meeting to figure out why the other seemed to be making their ships disappear and are ambushed. All this leads to some more clues about just what’s going on… well, sort of.

You see, Scalzi has my brain all twisted into gushy loops. On the obvious level, the purpose of the episode seemed that the secret enemy’s plan fails, allowing both the CDF and the Conclave to realize that they may have a common enemy and work together. Or is it…? [ominous pause] Because this seemed like a sort of dumb plan by a highly motivated enemy, overly complicated and doomed to fail. The enemy seemed awfully prepared for what would happen when the plan failed. Perhaps, someone wants the Conclave and the CDF to seem like they are working together. I can’t help but think that this whole situation is a shadow battle for the loyalty of Earth, and perhaps someone doesn’t want Earth to hook up with the CDF or The Conclave. Or perhaps, they are simply preparing the way for the Robo-Beatle Overlords to take over Earth while The Conclave and CDF are distracted with dogs with crowns, backchannels, Wildcat Colonies, Harvest Day dinners and the mind numbing unreality of the potential for the Chicago Cubs to win the world series in one of the sub dimensions inhabited by skip drive enabled species.

I enjoyed this episode. I like my science fiction a little bit weird with things like sentient brains in boxes. Plus, there were some real heart felt good guy moments for Harry Wilson. It was all sentimental tripe by an author trying to get me to feel something in my cold robotic heart for a poor brain in a box, and, I swear, it didn’t work. I was a brick. But still…. It had humor, adventure, space battles, conspiracy and diplomatic give and take, basically, it was one of the more complete episodes, pushing the story in a direction but not giving any easy answers.

I thought this was one of Dufris better episodes. He transitioned well between the obvious humor and the obvious emotional segments with ease. The early action segment was a little rough, with the quick fire dialogue not feeling natural, but I think this was more a problem with writing than narration. He offered a nice range of characters from the early disembodied style of Rayth Ablant, to the cocky tongue in cheek with a touch of Eastern European voice of Navill Werd. It was all a lot of fun to listen to, and again Dufris shines as a storyteller.





The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 10: This Must Be the Place by John Scalzi

22 03 2013

This Must Be the Place by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Ep. 10)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 44 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

PREVIOUSLY ON THE HUMAN DIVISION:

Episode 9: The Observers

The Audiobookaneers Episode 8 and 9 Double Feature

Well, we’re into double digits people! It’s Week 10 of The Human Division, and that Scalzi is a tricksey bastard. I have this strange feeling that he’s lulling us into some sense of complacency, each week moving us a bit away from the overriding conspiracy, until WHAM! He gets all mythological on us. Or, I could be wrong. Also this week Dave is back, after taking a few weeks off due to some crazy made up thing like a new baby or something, our listen along host now has his priorities straight. So, let’s get to the episode.

Synopsis:

Thanksgiving Dinner

My Thoughts:

OK, OK, so, really this wasn’t actually Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving, as we all know, takes place on Earth. This holiday, Harvest Day, takes place on Phoenix, where Diplomatic Assistant Hart Schmidt must deal with his powerful family, all of whom seem to want him to drop out of the Diplomatic Corp, marry a nice girl and take up the family business which is running a whole damn planet. It was nice to learn a bit more about Hart, see a different side to him. That’s basically what this episode was… nice. Nothing really happens. When the episode ends, no real achievement has been unlocked, except for maybe Hart getting the grudging tentative respect of his father. There were no dogs electrocuted. Smart Blood wasn’t used to cook the Turkey. It seemed this episode had no purpose other than make us like Hart a bit more, which of course means HE WILL BE EATEN BY ROBOTIC SPACE BEATLES next episode.

Now, there is nothing wrong with nice. I have had many girls tell me I’m a nice guy, pat me gently on the head, then jump on the back of a motorcycle with a guy wearing a leather jacket. I like being patted on the head. It’s nice. Scalzi took a real risk here because if some of the loose ends aren’t tied up, you know someone, not me of course, will point to this episode and yell, THAT WAS JUST FILLER! WHERE’S THE BEEF SCALZI? WHERE’S THE BEEF? Now, I wouldn’t do that, but still. I liked this episode. It exists. When Scalzi does blow us away with an amazing episode, that rips our hearts out and forever changes not just the Old Man’s War Universe but how we view ourselves as humans, I will remember this one fondly, if I remember it at all.

William Dufris read this nice episode. This one was quite dialogue heavy and because of this and all the He said, she said, probably seemed a little smoother in print, but still. Dufris does well at dialogue, but truly how much variety of voice can you use in a family discussion. It was all nice and fun and pleasant, with little touches and flairs along the way, but definitely not the episode to submit for the Audie nomination. Next week’s episode is called A Problem of Proportion, so we all know that means GREAT KILLER ROBOTIC BEATLE SWARMS WITH AN APPETITE FOR DIPLOMATIC ASSISTANTS. At least, I hope it does.





The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 9: The Observers by John Scalzi

15 03 2013

The Observers by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Episode 9)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A-

PREVIOUSLY ON THE HUMAN DIVISION:

Episode #8: The Sound of Rebellion

 

It’s week nine of John Scalzi’s The Human Division, and this week’s episode The Observers is full of MURDER! LAUGHS! EARTHLINGS! DRUNKEN ADVANCES! FUNNY ALIEN NAMES! AND MUCH MUCH MORE!!!!!

If you can tell by my (ab)use of capital letters and exclamation points, I sort of liked the episode… A LOT!!!! This week we are back with Harry Wilson, Abumwe and the crew of the Clarke undergoing a, well, kinda important I guess but not really negotiation with an alien race for some high tech medical equipment. What makes the negotiation important is that some Earth representatives are there to observe. Hence, the name of the Episode… That Scalzi is a cunning one, I tell you. So, when one of the representatives is found dead in his bed, Harry must figure out what happens before THE WORLD GOES UP IN FLAMES AND EVERYONE DIES HORRIBLE DEATHS or something.

I liked this episode. In fact, I may have been seen giving an imaginary hug to this episode. Of all, I felt it was the most balanced between the humor and serious, as well as adding to the whole mythology of the series. Scalzi also managed to fit in some pop culture references from Marvin the Martian to Kermit the Frog while throwing in an Agatha Christie meets Scooby Do style ending. I was actually waiting for someone to invoke meddling kids, or at least give us a mustache twirl. My only complain, and it’s not a real one, more of a thought, is that Harry and his team seem to have just the right crucial piece of info, or specialized equipment to solve each week’s issue. It’s just all too damn convenient! I can’t help but seeing some big Dues sneering down on them saying, "I’m all up in your Ex Machina, bitches." It was all a lot of fun and was the first episode I thought, "Heck, I’d like to listen to this one again!"

To make things even better William Dufris got to do a funny alien name which involved running your fingers over his lips and blowing like a raspeberry. It was wonderful and invoked a crazy man laugh out of me. In fact, every time Dufris said "Dododo" I felt like he was giving a quick finger point and smirking nod to the listeners. Honestly, though, I totally want to crop out Dufris first iteration of "Dododo" actual name pronunciation and make it my Text Notification tone on my cell phone, if I was at all technically savvy. This week was a lot of fun, but I’m sadly coming to the realization that we only have a month left of these stories, then it’s all back to non-serialized books for me. DAMN YOU TRADITIONAL READING!!!





The Human Division Listen-A-Long: Episode 8: The Sound of Rebellion by John Scalzi

8 03 2013

The Sound of Rebellion by John Scalzi (The Human Division, Episode 8)

Read by William Dufris

Audible Frontiers

Length: 41 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

As part of The Human Division Listen-A-Long, hosted by The Audiobookaneers, I will be posting my thought on each episode on the Friday after release. If you are involved in the Listen-A-Long, or Read-A-Long, or just posting your thoughts each week, feel free to leave a link to your post in the comments and I will add it to my weekly roundup of post.

Episode 1: The B-Team
My Review
The Audiobookaneers
Stainless Steel Droppings
Tor.com

Episode 2: Walk The Plank
My Review
Stainless Steel Droppings
Tor.com
The Audiobookaneers

Episode 3: We Only Need the Heads
My Review
Stainless Steel Droppings
Tor.com
Audiobookaneers

Episode 4: A Voice in the Wilderness
My Review
Stainless Steel Droppings
Tor.com
The Audiobookaneers

Episode 5: Tales From the Clarke
My Review
Stainless Steel Droppings
Tor.com
The Audiobookaneers

Episode 6: The Back Channel
Stainless Steel Droppings
Tor.com
The Audiobookaneers
My Review

Episode 7: The Dog King
Stainless Steel Droppings
Tor.Com
The Audiobookaneers
My Review

Episode 8: The Sound of Rebellion
Stainless Steel Dropping
Tor.com

Special Features:

Interview with The Human Division narrator, William Dufris.

It’s week 8 of The Human Division Listen-A-Long and we have started what is commonly referred to as The Home Stretch. This week’s episode was "The Sound of Rebellion" was interesting. For fun, let me give you a timeline of how my reactions went.

  •     Oh, another episode away from the B-Team. I’m cool with that.
  •     What a polite interrogator to promise no torture. Don’t trust her Lt. Whatsyourname.
  •     Damn, this episode has lots of internal dialogue… ho… humm…
  •     Kinda sleepy… the auditory mapping thing is ki…    zzzzzz….  um… nd of cool.
  •     More cool uses for smart blood… I wonder what I should do this weekend…
  •     HOLY SHIT!!!! COOL JACK BAUERESQUE ASS KICKING! KICK ASS! BURN IT WITH BLOODFIRE!!! THIS CHICK IS BAD ASS!!! NUDE SUPER SOLDIERS FUNKY BLOOD BURNING ACTION SEQUENCES ROCK!!!!!
  •     Government conspiracy. Don’t believe the lies!

Honestly, I’m still not sure what to think of The Sound of Rebellion. I liked the character of Lt. Heather Lee, and found it overall kind of clever. I thought the auditory mapping was pretty cool, even if part of me doubted it was a plausible scenario to develop under such a stressful situation. I also thought there was a lot of valuable information being given to us as readers and listeners, I just really couldn’t figure out what that valuable information was or how it would be important later. I think part of me is becoming just a bit frustrated, because I’m still waiting for that "A Ha!" moment that I know will be coming when pieces start falling into place. Yet, with all my problems, I loved the kick ass action scene. The whole episode had a bit of a 24 in Space feel to it, or maybe Alias on another planet, and I always like to see mean ole torturers get their comeuppance. So, this was probably my least favorite episode so far, but it still totally kicked ass, and I know others out there probably loved it.

One of the interesting conundrums with audiobooks is that sometimes there are audio clues to some mystery that can be revealed by a narrator. For instance, there was a novel where the surprise bad guy was the only Irish character in the book, and in some of the scenes where the "mastery" bad guy talked, the narrator used an Irish accent, pretty much telling us all who the bad guy was. In this episode, the main bad guy was called "2" and the character used voice distortion to keep her capture from recording her voice. I think when you become quite familiar with a narrator, you often become to spot their opposite sex characters. Despite the fact that the voice was distorted, I couldn’t help by think, "That sounds like William Dufris’ Lady Voice." Well, I leave it up to you all to determine if that was correct, because no spoilers. That being said, I liked Dufris work in this episodes. He kept me interested in the slower parts, and smacked me with his pacing when the excitement came. Now, next week, it’s The Observers, who will Observe things, probably with multiple senses.