Once thought to have been written by Lord Byron, The Vampyre is one of the earliest fictions about vampires. It precedes Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 78 years!
In the summer of 1816 Europe suffered a climate abnormality. Holed up in a chateau near Lake Geneva, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont and Dr John Polidori were kept inside by three days of rain. To pass the time indoors yhe five romantics read aloud from a French anthology of German ghost stories, Fantasmagoriana. Inspired by these, and their own experiences, both Mary Shelley and Dr John Polidori would produce their own fantastic tales. Mary Shelley’s was of course Frankenstein, Polidori’s was The Vampyre.
Check out narrator Gregg Wagland‘s worthy reading of The Vampyre by Dr John Polidori.
Posted by Jesse Willis
This UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK (9 hours 23 minutes) comes to us courtesy of LibriVox.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray was first published in the July 1890 issue of Lipincott’s magazine, and then in 1891, in an expanded and revised edition. This audiobook is made from the latter publication.
The next SFFaudio Podcast will feature our discussion of it!
Posted by Jesse Willis
By Neal Stephenson; Read by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 May 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 31 hours 55 minutes
Themes: / science fiction / apocalypse / space station / humanity / disaster /
What would happen if the world were ending?
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain….
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown…to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
Executive Summary: Another interesting book from Mr. Stephenson, that was somehow a bit too short for me despite its 32 hour duration. This one won’t be for everyone, but I’d put it on par with many of his previous books.
Audio book: This was my first time listening to a book narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal. She’s really excellent. So excellent, that I was pretty disappointed when it changed to Will Damron for Part 3. I’m not sure why they did this. Was Ms. Kowal too busy to finish recording? Was it intentional?
That isn’t to say Mr. Damron is a bad narrator. I just didn’t like him as much as Ms. Kowal, and the change in narration was jarring. If there was any place in the book it was appropriate to change, it was with Part 3, but I think it would have been better suited if they had just stuck with Ms. Kowal.
I’ve been a fan of Mr. Stephenson ever since picking up Snow Crash back in college. I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve enjoyed all but one of those that I have.
I had no idea what this book was about when I volunteered to review it. Much like most of his work, it’s long. The start is a bit slow, and as usual it goes off on tangents and into way more detail than is necessary on things. In some of his books, I’ve enjoyed those tangents and the excess of detail. In others, less so. This one was somewhere in the middle for me.
This is the kind of thing that will turn many readers away early on. I was never bored myself, but I wasn’t really engaged in the book until nearly halfway. In a book this long, that will be too much of a commitment for many. However, I suspect if you enjoy the detail and tangents, you’ll be engaged much sooner.
This book is split into three parts. The first part is essentially a present day disaster story. The second is largely a space opera, and the third is a bit of a post apocalyptic tale.
Many authors might have focused on one aspect of this story. Instead of giving us bits of history that help shaped the world of part 3, we live many of the details in parts 1 and 2. For me personally, I would have liked part 1 to be shorter with more time spent on part 3. Part 2 was my favorite of the book, but that may be because I felt despite being a third of the book, part 3 ended too soon.
I have questions still. A lot of them. Is Mr. Stephenson planning a sequel that will contain some of these answers? I hope so.
This isn’t a case of a long book that abruptly ends though. For me the issue is that Mr. Stephenson did such a good job with the world building that I want more. I felt like there wasn’t enough. I would have happily sacrificed much of the present day (which I found slower anyways), for more time in the future story with the world he created.
Mr. Stephenson doesn’t spend all the time on world building either. He develops several interesting characters that are used to make most of the story character-driven. We have a largely female cast, and somewhat diverse background for most of them.
Overall, while this isn’t my favorite Neal Stephenson book, I really enjoyed it, and I hope we get another book set in the same world that he built in part 3.
Review by Rob Zak.
Archangel (Book One of the Chronicles of Ubastis)
By Marguerite Reed; Narrated by Dina Pearlman
Audible Studios via Resurrection House
Release date: 17 June 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 5 minutes
Themes: / military sci-fi / grief / humanity /
The Earth is dying, and our hopes are pinned on Ubastis, an untamed paradise at the edge of colonized space. But such an influx of people threatens the planet’s unstudied ecosystem – a tenuous research colony must complete its analysis, lest humanity abandon one planet only to die on another.
The Ubasti colonists barely get by on their own. To acquire the tools they need, they are relegated to selling whatever they can to outside investors. For xenobiologist Vashti Loren, this means bringing Offworlders on safari to hunt the specimens she and her fellow biologists so desperately need to study.
Haunted by the violent death of her husband, the heroic and celebrated Lasse Undset, Vashti must balance the needs of Ubastis against the swelling crush of settlers. Vashti struggles in her role as one of the few colonists licensed to carry deadly weapons, just as she struggles with her history of using them. And when she discovers a genetically engineered soldier smuggled onto the surface, Vashti must face the nightmare of her husband’s murder all over again. Standing at the threshold of humanity’s greatest hope, she alone understands the darkness of guarding paradise.
I spent a lot of my time while listening to this book confused, which made it all the more surprising when I realized at the end that I’d liked the book, and am fairly intrigued about what will come next. A book spanning multiple topics/thoughts, it was interesting to see how the various topics mostly worked together.
I think this book served in some ways as world-building/scene-setting for future books, which may explain why I was confused at times. This may be seen as a negative, but since I liked the world, it was okay, once I realized that I hadn’t missed anything with the plot (though at times, I was convinced that I had). I also liked the main character, a researcher on the planet of Ubastis but also one of the one people on the planet with a literal license to kill…anything. So while it seemed that the plot may have moved slowly, or that I was sure I was missing things, in the end it worked out okay for me. But others, especially those who listen, might have similar confusion.
It’s hard to describe what the book is “about” since Archangel covers so many topics. The book is set sometime in the future after the Earth has been effectively destroyed/overused by humans. Humans seem to have escaped to space, though it’s not clear that they had to go far to find other places to live. The book mentions a station at L5, which I presume is the L5 Lagrange point that people who’ve studied physics/astrophysics and sci-fi lovers alike will probably recognize. L5 has long been thought of as a place where space colonization might be feasible, so it seems as if it fits and that it’s not some L5 in relation to the world in the book, separate from our own system. Many humans seem to live in space, while a small handful live on Ubastis. Ubastis is a planet that has seen small waves of colonists; the first two waves of colonists were trained primarily as a military would be trained, though the job was to scout areas of the planet and start setup for more colonists in the future, to establish it as its own world. The other aspect of the colonists’ life is to study the planet and understand the resources it has and the balance between the natural ecosystem and those resources–the colonists do not wish to make Ubastis into another Earth, and so immigration to the planet is heavily controlled, only up for discussion once every 10 years. Archangel takes place just prior to one of these votes, and there is a heavy contingent of “off-worlders” lobbying for the strict limits to be lifted, to open immigration to the planet. In the book, human engineering is also not only possibly but heavily used, and most people have some level of genetic modification; most to dull aggression and many for vanity reasons.
The main character, Dr/Commander Lauren Vashti, is a “natural,” a non-genetically modified human. She was one of the people in the second group of colonists to come to the planet. Her husband was one of the leaders of that second group, and the pair are seen in many ways as a literal mother and father (and in the case of her husband, even a saint) of the planet and its resources. Vashti’s husband was killed by a highly-engineered “assault human,” a BEAST, one who was specifically genetically modified to be a soldier of sorts. This brings me to the first of the interleaved topics that the book touches on–motherhood and, to some extent, single motherhood. Vashti spends much of the book seemingly at odds with her dual role on the world. She has a literal daughter, a toddler, but often sees that being a literal mother is incompatible with being a leader, a voice for the planet as a whole. Because of her natural gifts as well as the reverence given to her, Vashti is also a literal mother to many Ubastians (and off-worlders?), as her eggs were frozen and used to create other offspring. There were striking scenes in the book where Vashti’s grief/memories of her husband are interrupted by her daughter, perfectly capturing the issues with motherhood. Later in the book, as she realizes that she is in some way a mother to the planet, similar memories are jarringly interrupted by the politics of the planet, things she must stand up for.
Obviously, another topic in the book is that of genetic engineering and the…sense…in doing so. I won’t go into details, but Vashti being a “natural” woman actually has a fairly important aspect in the plot. In particular, it seems that BEASTs can only really be “controlled” by natural humans, those without genetic modifications. This speaks volumes to the topic of genetic modification in general, but the topic is also touched upon by human nature. Because Vashti is a “natural,” she has a “normal” level of aggression/willingness to kill. It seems that many people have that particular knob turned down. Vashti is looked down upon by outsiders because she is in fact willing to kill to study the fauna native to Ubastis and willing to kill in self defense. It seems that most others find killing repugnant in general, something to be psychologically educated-away/re-educated away. The people of Ubastis (and also the off-worlders, I believe) are vegetarian. In fact, many are Muslim, though it was never really clear to me why it was important that so many were Muslim (the rest seemed to be Christian of some sort).
Another topic commonly dealt with in science fiction is that of resource use/protection of a planet/avoiding a runaway situation like we have on Earth/that eventually dooms Earth in many books…this book is no different. In her role as scientist and “mother” on Ubastis, Vashti preaches for conservation and minimization of the human footprint on the planet. The Earth is looked to as a sign of the worst that can happen.
In all, Archangel is a book about revolution. There are many types of revolution in the story, both personal revolution for Vashti, but other aspects of revolution, too. Once I came to terms with being “confused” every now and then, it was actually a fun read. The narrator, Dina Pearlman, is one whose name is familiar but I can’t find any other books that I’ve listened to that she’s narrated. Her narration had an odd cadence that was particularly difficult to follow at first. I found speeding up the audio playback helped that significantly, though her pacing may also have contributed to my confusion at times. Once I got “used” to it (at the faster playback speed), I got more into the book, but it did take awhile.
This book might not be for everybody–and certainly might not be for everybody in audio form–but as for me, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next on Ubastis.
Posted by terpkristin.
Fool’s Quest (Fitz and the Fool #2)
By Robin Hobb; read by Elliot Hill
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 11 August 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 33 hours, 13 minutes
Themes: / epic fantasy / magic /
The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope.
Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter.
Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon.
But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten.
Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.
Executive Summary: I loved this book. It’s everything I had hoped Fool’s Assassin would have been. There are a things I didn’t like, that will understandably be much more off putting for some than they were for me.
Audio book: Elliot Hill once again does an excellent job. He does a variety of voices and inflections that make doing this book in audio a good option.
I absolutely loved Fool’s Fate. I’d have been perfectly content if the series ended there. Last year’s Fool’s Assassin was enjoyable, but not as much as I’d have liked. It left me apprehensive for this book. I shouldn’t have been. That isn’t to say bad things don’t happen to our beloved Fitz. Any fan of the Ederling books won’t be surprised by that. Ms. Hobb sure loves to torment Fitz, though probably not as much as he torments himself.
This book grabbed me from the start, and never let me go. I hated every time I had to stop listening. In fact once my hardcover copy arrived, I augmented my audio time by reading the print as well.
For reasons I can’t fathom, many people seem to skip the excellent Liveship Traders series and more have skipped the quite enjoyable Rainwild Chronicles. While I wouldn’t call it a prerequisites for this book, I would highly recommend reading those books first. There are so many great rewards in the book for people who have. If you haven’t, I doubt you’ll be lost, but you won’t get the same enjoyment in my opinion.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to get into why I loved this book more than the last one without massive spoilers, however I suspect most longtime fans will share my excitement.
That said, despite getting one of my rare 5 star ratings (this is only the second book by Ms. Hobb I’ve given that to), there are some complaints. Or maybe not complaints so much as things I wish weren’t in this book. I found them very upsetting. I’d have preferred some kind of alternative reason used to drive the plot forward. I suspect some people may be more upset than I was, and others may be more indifferent.
Overall though, those were very minor things to me in an absolutely fantastic book. I will warn that if you hate cliffhangers, you may wish to avoid reading this book until we’re much closer to the release of the next book. It is a pretty big one. With it being the second book of a trilogy, and how the first book ended, I can’t say I’m very surprised.
Much like the last one, I am both nervous and excited to read the next one and see what Ms. Hobb has in store.
Review by Rob Zak.
Angles of Attack (Frontlines #3)
By Marko Kloos; read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 21 April 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours
Themes: / military sci-fi / weird aliens / combat power armor / humanity uniting /
The alien forces known as the Lankies are gathering on the solar system’s edge, consolidating their conquest of Mars and setting their sights on Earth. The far-off colony of New Svalbard, cut off from the rest of the galaxy by the Lanky blockade, teeters on the verge of starvation and collapse. The forces of the two Earth alliances have won minor skirmishes but are in danger of losing the war. For battle-weary staff sergeant Andrew Grayson and the ragged forces of the North American Commonwealth, the fight for survival is entering a catastrophic new phase.
Forging an uneasy alliance with their Sino-Russian enemies, the NAC launches a hybrid task force on a long shot: a stealth mission to breach the Lanky blockade and reestablish supply lines with Earth. Plunging into combat against a merciless alien species that outguns, outmaneuvers, and outfights them at every turn, Andrew and his fellow troopers could end up cornered on their home turf, with no way out and no hope for reinforcement. And this time, the struggle for humanity’s future can only end in either victory or annihilation.
The more I read Marko Kloos, the more I am impressed. This is military SF done right. The writing is solid, the story is solid, and the longer his Frontline series continues, the better it gets.
Angles of Attack is the third book in the Frontline series, and it is by far the best written and executed story. Kloos delivers truly strange aliens known as the Lankies that force a divided humanity to unite. The year is 2116, and it appears that Earth is about to fall.
When you begin navigating the military SF genre, you quickly, all too quickly, encounter massive info-dumps politely known as exposition, really super extra bad melodramatic writing, and fossilized tropes that just won’t die. And while Marko Kloos does employ some well-known tropes, he does so in such a way that it feels fresh, and the reader doesn’t mind the slight manipulation because the story is engaging.
Here’s the down and dirty of this book. The first four-fifths is stunning. The final one-fifth is comparable to something sticky stuck to the bottom of your shoe. You wish it wasn’t there, but you’re not sure how best to remove it, so you keep walking and hope that eventually it will simply go away. This is to say, even with the not so great last act of this book, it is a damn good story that is well written and worth your while to read.
Get the audiobook. Luke Daniels hammers this reading out of the park. Seriously, find the audiobook and listen.
For those of you who aren’t entrenched military SF readers, the Frontline series by Marko Kloos is one of the best series to become familiar with the subgenre. I highly recommend this series, and this book.
This is a 3.5 out of 5 that I am rounding up to 4 out of 5 because I feel generous.
Posted by Casey Hampton.