Review of The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

August 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The GreyfriarThe Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1)
By Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith; Narrated by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: April 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

1870. A time known as The Great Killing.The vampire clans arose and slaughtered humanity with unprecedented carnage in the northern parts of the world. Millions perished; millions were turned into herd animals. The great industrialized civilizations of the world were left in ruin. A remnant fled south to the safety of the ever-present heat which was intolerable to vampires. There, blending with the local peoples, they rebuilt their societies founded on human ingenuity, steam and iron.The year is now 2020. The Equatorian Empire, descendant of the British Empire, stretches from Alexandria to Cape Town. Princess Adele, quick witted, combat trained, and heir to the throne, is set to wed the scion of the American Republic, a man she has never met. Their marriage will cement an alliance between the nations and set the stage for war against the vampires in an attempt to retake the north. Prepared to do her duty, she finds herself caught in a web of political intrigue and physical danger. The Greyfriar, a legendary vampire hunter from the north, appears ready to rescue the Princess and return her home—but he harbors secrets of his own. As the power struggle between the vampires and humans increase, Adele and the Greyfriar are caught in the middle, on the run, being hunted and fighting for not just their own lives, but for the future of humanity.

The Greyfriar is a surprisingly good book. I listened to this book mainly because I like James Marsters as a narrator and wasn’t sure what to expect from the story. The authors came up with an interesting way of treating vampires that thankfully does not involve making them out to be some sex symbols as seems to be the norm these days. The story makes use of several familiar tropes but they are combined to good effect and in such a way that the story was quite good. The authors’ prose and choices of wording give the book an aged tone that fits the setting of the story.

The premise of the story is that vampires attacked in great numbers just before humans had the industrial revolution and much of the human populace has been wiped out. There are some surviving empires/governments that have lasted the 100 or so years since the attack and mankind is ready to go to war to reclaim what they’ve lost. The story is not urban fantasy but more like…vampire steampunk as best I can describe it. The humans aren’t so advanced in technology that they completely outclass the vampires and the vampires aren’t so powerful that humans can’t have some successes in fighting back.

Vampires in the Vampire Empire series are not exactly your normal vampire – and that’s a good thing. Much of what you and I would think are traits of vampires turn out to be silly human superstitions cultivated over a century of fighting and/or staying isolated from them. They don’t die in the sun, they have retractable claws and fangs, can change their body mass so they can fly, can heal rapidly, etc. These traits leave the authors plenty of room for aerial fights on air ships and all kinds of fun scenes.

While I liked how the groundwork for the world was set up, the characters themselves were probably the weakest part for me. Everyone except for a few of the main characters were fairly one dimensional and caricatures of the proper English nobility, the American cowboy, etc. The main characters make up for this in how they grow through the course of the book but man. The majority of humans harbor some strange prejudices on vampires that’s kind of hard to believe (the biggest for me was that they seem to think they’re not much more intelligent than animals). This was a stretch just because they’re clearly in contact with people who know better and have plenty of evidence to the contrary. These were minor complaints and I’m still looking forward to starting the next book.

On the audio side of things, James Marsters does not disappoint. I have enjoyed his performances in the Dresden series and you will hear many similar voices to what he uses there. His characters are easily distinguishable and his narration is clear.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Metro 2033

August 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

metroMetro 2033
By Dmitry Glukhovsky; Performed by Rupert Degas
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 21 hours

Themes: / disaster / nuclear / post-apocalypse / underground tunnels / survival /

Publisher summary:

The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory. Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metro—the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion. VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro’s best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metro—and maybe the whole of humanity.

Without question, I would recommend this book. I strongly suggest you listen to the audiobook. You might feel a little bummed at the end, but the writing is strong enough to support its fumbled conclusion.

Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, book 1 in the Metro Series, offers an interesting take on the travel/road narrative. Draw your own academic conclusions, but for the most part, humans yet blindly stumble in the dark, face self-inflicted nuclear/biological disaster, and unseen things are hungry. But worry not; man yet possesses fire, fear, weapons, and hatred. What we do not possess appears to be an accurate map, foresight, or the ability to think outside our own skull.

I reveled in the atmosphere. A bunch of people crammed into underground tunnels, forced to keep watch by firelight, eating mushrooms, pork, and rodents, became nearly a corporeal experience. Different metro stations setting up their own community, the need for passports for those wishing to travel between stations, and the various creation/destruction myths surrounding each group, delivers a strong sense of fractured and desperate realism.

The story is okay, but for me, the writing is what shined brightest. The only character I felt remotely invested with was a man named Hunter. The other players in this tale, while multifaceted to a degree, lacked a depth and drive that I feel is paramount for memorable characters worth investing in. I loved the library excursion. So good! Really wished there’d been more story in this setting. The scene with the librarian playing with the flashlight was surprisingly moving.

As the narrator, Rupert Degas is amazing. His rhythm and talents for infusing mood into speech takes flight in this reading. I can’t speak for the accent accuracy, but I can tell you that Degas’s delivery drew me in and made me feel the darkness.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

The SFFaudio Podcast #277 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker

August 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker
The SFFaudio PodcastDowncastThe SFFaudio Podcast #277 – Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker; read by Robert White (of LibriVox). This is an unabridged reading of the story (30 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and John Feaster.

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Downcast, a wonderful podcast app for iPhone and iPad.

Talked about on today’s show:
1914, Dracula’s Guest And Other Weird Stories by Bram Stoker, our SPONSOR: Downcast, an app for iPhone and iPad, a super-customizable podcast app, Mark Maron’s WTF, Comedy Bang! Bang!, The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast and the premium feed, swapping out of the Music app (aka the old iPod app), an incredibly intuitive app with deep features, download on the go, and lock episodes, awesome, is the narrator Jonathan Harker?, if Dracula wasn’t in the title…, Leslie S. Klinger, a sore throat, having Dracula in the background, Countess Dolingen of Gratz, Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, Styria, Austria, shout-outs used to be called homages or allusions, striking images, “the dead travel fast”, the wolf itself, the spike or stake, knives, fully formed vampire features, Varney The Vampire, the soldiers, the figure on the road, what is Dracula’s motivation?, is he learning how to be English?, Walpurgisnacht, the “Borgo pass”, adaptations, enigmatic reactions and situations, rescue, Dracula is the puppet master behind virtually everything in the story, Dracula’s colonial mission, why is Dracula going to England?, a veneer of normalcy in Castle Dracula, They Thirst by Robert R. McCammon, Lifeforce, Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, Lovecraft’s description of the plot of Dracula, The War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells, getting inside, “precious bodily fluids”, a threat from the East, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft, a threat from a more ancient time, out of fairy tales, a desperate victory, omnipresent, the weather, vampires can control the weather, the white shroud of the snowstorm, non-epistolary approach to Dracula, evocative and visceral, explaining cheesecake, was there a Countess Dolingen?, The Games Of Countess Dolingen (1981), chilling stories, the women, a “he” being rescued, sexuality, the caress of the weather, bier, a whole set-piece, is the tomb scene a glamour?, a seduction, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, counts and countesses, working class vampires, Eric S. Rabkin on vampirism and lycanthropy, the sailors are Dracula’s Big Mac, the Demeter, Walpurgis Night, are Dracula’s powers expanded on Walpurgisnacht?, superpowers added on the fly, the villagers are always right, The Dreams In The Witch-House, The Haunter Of The Dark, The Lurker In The Crypt, “The Thing In My Coffin”, shared tradition, tradition as superstition, the ancient extinction of the mega-fauna may have engendered a hunting ethos in the native North Americans, The Woman In Black by Susan Hill, Harker is sent by his boss to Transylvania, at the crossroads with the inarticulate driver, thousands of tiny eyes watching Jonathan Harker, is Countess Dolingen aware of Dracula’s plan?, “the dead travel fast”, Russian, a warning from a previous vampire slayer?, a left-handed compliment, the rod, unanswered questions, the lack of clarity makes it evocative, effective accidents, August Derleth-style, what do we really know about Socrates?, water elemental?, meaning was not the point but rather he intended effect, such a good story, a delicious bon-bon sitting on a silk pillow, “interminable”, Dracula’s Guest ought to always precede Dracula itself, had Dracula’s Guest been released as the first chapter of a novel today…

Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker

Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker - Word Cloud

Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories by Bram Stoker (1914)

Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker

DURKIN HAYES - Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker - read by Victor Garber

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

August 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

towerlordTower Lord (Raven’s Shadow #2)
By Anthony Ryan; Narrated by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 24 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / warrior /

Publisher summary:

Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’ vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm.

But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’ wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do. The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.

How do you follow up a debut novel that seems to be almost universally loved by those who have read it? By writing a book that may be even better in my opinion.  My opinion may not be shared by everyone who loved Blood Song. This is definitely a different book from that.

Instead of a single narrative about Vaelin told in the form of a flashback, we are instead given three new point of view characters in addition to Vaelin and the interludes from the perspective of the chronicler.  Two of the characters, Frentis and Lyrna, will be instantly familiar from the first novel. The fourth, Riva, was probably my favorite. As a new character she probably got the most character development of the four. I think having two male POVs and two female ones gave the novel a good balance.

I found Lyrna’s story to start a bit slow, but I was quickly grabbed by the book as a whole and eventually sucked into her narrative as well. Much like Blood Song this is one of those books that grabbed hold and didn’t let go. I hated to put it down and loved to pick it back up.

I’m glad for the format change as I think Mr. Ryan was able to tell a much larger story as a result. There were parts of the story where the various POV’s overlapped, but there were also a lot of things that would have gone otherwise unmentioned if he stuck with just Vaelin’s story.

There are some excellent action scenes, though probably fewer overall than the first. While the first book was more a hero’s journey, this book is more epic fantasy with larger implications to the realm as a whole.

There are answers to many of the big questions I had from the first novel. Often times it seems like authors jealously guard all their book’s secrets and wait until the last possible minute to reveal them. Not so with this series. I felt there were several big reveals in parts 2 and 3 that other authors might have held back.  There are plenty of new questions to take the place of those that are answered that kept me wanting to keep listening and find out what would happen next.

Mr. Ryan has put himself in a precarious position of writing two really excellent novels in what I believe is supposed to be a trilogy. Now the expectations are that much higher for the finale of what has quickly become one of my favorite series.

Stephen Brand is a great narrator that could stand to have his volume boosted. He does an excellent job with voices and inflections, but can be frustratingly quiet in places.

If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. And if you haven’t read/heard of this series you should check out Blood Song as soon as you can.

Review by Rob Zak.

The SFFaudio Podcast #276 – READALONG: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

August 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastDowncastThe SFFaudio Podcast #276 – Jesse, Tamahome, and Fred discuss Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway.

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Downcast, a terrific podcast app for iPhone and iPad.

Talked about on today’s show:
Fredösphere’s (Fred Heimbaugh’s) choice, the Ann Arbour Science Fiction And Fantasy Literary Discussion Group (founded by Eric S. Rabkin), the audiobook, the confusing and scatter first half of the book, the audio version, Daniel Wayman is one of the best narrator’s Fred’s ever heard, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (read by Paul Giamati), some books are better as audiobooks and some are better as textual books, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, Tony C. Smith, StarShipSofa, the glossary takes 30 minutes, Angelmaker is 18 hours, you have to pay close attention, do you listen to podcasts?, our SPONSOR: Downcast, the new iOS, Apple’s Podcasts App sucks, Downcast allows you to ultra-customize your podcast feeds, Levelator, volume booster for podcasts are too quiet, Protecting Project Pulp, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and Common Sense, noisy environments, the Downcast app is $3, updating feeds on the go, a podcast queue, if it isn’t in the iTunes store …, your custom HuffDuffer feed works great with Downcast, the SFSignal Three Hoarsemen Podcast, Tamahome uses Downcast, back to our regular programing, Jesse has no opinion about Angelmaker, this is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere by somebody else, the Neverwhere BBC TV adaptation, Nick Harkaway’s writing voice and actual voice are similar to Neil Gaiman’s, a completely undisciplined novel, a meandering through-line, the prose was “too plummy”, an editor with a strong whip-hand, Harkaway is enamored with great ideas, Goodreads has angry and bitter four and five star reviews for Angelmaker, unfinished novels don’t often get reviewed, books take a lot of time, why is it present third person every day tense?, breezy and informal sixteen-hour shaggy dog story, really really good writing, Ted Chiang, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good, Tam is surprised, history and science, Neil Gaiman’s wild son?, talking about interesting things in interesting ways with interested characters, sexually aggressive women, a pulp fiction novel, Fred lays out the plot, Joe Spork, Matthew “Tommy-Gun” Spork, the grandfather, clockwork bees, a doomsday device, a female James Bond, the evil Asian mastermind, absurdly competent, Remo Williams, the Opium Khan aka Shem Shem Tsien, a brilliant French scientist (a Hakote), the “Apprehension Engine”, fundamentally transform human consciousness, waves, “step one: steal underpants”, instantly intuit the truth of reality, Nick Harkaway is interested in interesting things, the throwaway ideas, Project Habakkuk, a WWII project in a WWII setting, an aircraft carrier built out of ice, the u-boat service, cool and interesting, the frozen submarine and the frozen air-craft carrier, if Jesse wrote fiction…, a submarine and an elephant in the same sentence, this book has dream-logic, Harkaway wanted the submarine encased in ice and didn’t care if it was implausible (a rumour), torture, sex, a Saint-Crispin’s speech, an adventure book, humour?, funny?, a romp?, silly?, allusions, The Gone-Away World, Tigerman, steam-punk, clock-punk, the etymology of the word “punk”, coming from the street, about the visual, about the body, Neuromancer, looking and acting like a punk, steampunk is about dressing up, form and colour over function, Hayao Miyazaki, an obsession with body parts, an obsession with torture, “fingers getting cut-off”, one of the Goodreads reviews, the toe obsession, Polly’s sexy and knowledgeable toe, this book is a thousand Chekhov’s guns, the toothless dog, the Snowy of this novel, Tin Tin, Tam should read Tin Tin, Angelmaker would be a really good HBO show, the names, Spork, Friend, Cradle, realism is not being strived for, a word cloud for Angelmaker, what words are being used, over description, the main character looks at himself in a mirror, not a mirror but polished brass, very clever Nick Harkaway, René Descartes, a steam-punk pulp adventure spy thriller, Robert E. Howard’s muscular description of colour, Howard wrote short, a serious issue, very interesting and difficult reading, the tense, Nick Harkaway is Neal Stephenson by way of P.G. Wodehouse, people drowning in a world of epic fantasy, Grimm’s Fairy Tales characters are puppets, over-description, Joshua Joseph Spork embraces his gansterhood, Luke Burrage’s complaint about American Gods, the character arc, false or indulgent, decapitating the evil mastermind, the Thompson sub-machine gun, aggressively turning off a large portion of one’s brain, Ada Lovelace, trains are cool, cheap complaints, an unplugged wild adventure book, Blood Music by Greg Bear (short story and novels), what is he trying to say here?, science fiction writers, Eon, The Wind From A Burning Woman is an amazing author collection, despite the caveats, the “grey goo problem” and the nature of consciousness, is it the case we are not seeing the world directly?, medium sized objects, trucks and trees, Jesse found it very frustrating, the movie people, a comic booky plot, animation?, John le Carré, paging Dr. Freud, no editors, do editors even exist any more, Marissa Vu works for the author, enjoy a ride and live in a world and drown in an environment, the reader makes an investment in the world building, Darkon (2006), LARPing (live action role playing), Cory Doctorow, Jim Butcher, regular people, Elidor and Aquilonia, more fun to play than to watch, Dungeons & Dragons, more word-play and less shield-taping, escaping from a horrible day job, Thomas Jefferson’s idea for state-names, Fred’s novel, “you’re not like most people you read books”, to each there own, make it shorter and better, a unit of Jesse (7 hours), Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, the modern medieval romance, Game Of Thrones, why Fred fully forgives Angelmaker‘s failings, scenes that don’t just advance the plot, when Jesse wrote fiction it was terrible, being blind to your own faults, self-blindness, the four boxes, incompetent but self-aware, the inevitable decline, Elmore Leonard, Rum Punch, Stephen King, William Gibson, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, early success, an overflowing fountains of ideas, Tam and Jesse were obsessed, enormous fun, Jesse doesn’t read books for fun but rather for edification, Mike Resnick, instinctual writers, Dean Koontz, Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, writing the same novel over and over again, Neil Gaiman is a discovery writer, sprinkling plot points, Jesse shouldn’t try writing, Jesse’s curation #PUBLICDOMAIN fiction, The Wonderful Window by Lord Dunsany is basically a guy watching Game Of Thrones, like everybody else on Goodreads “this is the worst five star book I’ve ever read”, needs taming, layering done well, The Graveyard Book is a retelling of The Jungle Book, this novel should have spent a few days in the dungeon, rallying the underworld, Angelmaker would make a great Broadway musical.

Word Cloud for Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott

August 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Pilo Family CircusPilo Family Circus
By Will Elliot; Read by Mark Stephens
Publisher: Audible Studios for Underland Press
Publication Date: 27 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] 11 hours 5 minutes

Themes: / horror / circus / psychotic clowns /

Publisher summary:

“You have two days to pass your audition. You better pass it, feller. You’re joining the circus. Ain’t that the best news you ever got?” Delivered by a trio of psychotic clowns, this ultimatum plunges Jamie into the horrific alternate universe that is the centuries-old Pilo Family Circus, a borderline world between Hell and Earth from which humankind’s greatest tragedies have been perpetrated. Yet in this place – peopled by the gruesome, grotesque, and monstrous – where violence and savagery are the norm, Jamie finds that his worst enemy is himself. When he applies the white face paint, he is transformed into JJ, the most vicious clown of all. And JJ wants Jamie dead! Echoes of Lovecraft, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, and early Stephen King resound through the pages of this magical, gleefully macabre work nominated as Best Novel by the International Horror Guild.

I almost hate to recommend this book because … what does that say about me?

The Pilo Family Circus is both completely creepy and absolutely fascinating. If you like clowns, you might change your mind after this. If you already don’t like them, you’ll probably think I knew it!

Jamie almost runs down an odd-looking clown and quickly finds his life changing forever. He has 48 hours to pass his “audition” and failing is not an option.

With some creativity, he finds himself in a circus that’s strange even for circus standards … and deadly. Monsters lurk in dark corners and out in the open too and you don’t even want to mess with the proprietor of the whole thing.

Then there are the factions, some of whom absolutely despise each other, such as the Clowns and the Acrobats and what happens in the circus, even a death or two, is overlooked for the most part.

Couple the imaginative world-building with a knack for storytelling and a dark sense of humor (you know, where you laugh and cringe at the same time) and you’ve got a book I couldn’t put down.

I know I go into sales-pitch mode when I talk about a book I really enjoyed, but this one’s highly recommended. The audio on this was astounding too. Mark Stephens does a wonderfully creepy job with his Australian accent. Fishboy alone killed me. This character has a high voice, such as when someone inhales helium, and Stephens stuck it perfectly.

This is an unusual book for me to love, but it’s a true love. It’s different and gruesome and somehow I couldn’t put it down. I stayed longer in the car on my drives, I brought headphones to bed when I usual save bedtime reading for my eyes. This is one of those unique books that really stunned me.

4.5 out of 5 Stars (very highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

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