Review of Willful Child by Steven Erikson

March 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Willful Child by Steven EriksonWillful Child
By Steven Erikson; Read by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours

Themes: / science fiction / space / spoof / homage /

Publisher summary:

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the.…And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

Willful Child by Steven Erikson tells the rambling adventures of Captain Hadrian Sawback and his crew after his appointment to the A.S.F. Willful Child. It’s a broad comedy Star Trek spoof that feels as episodic as the TV show with no bigger story arc to tie everything together. What begins as an often interrupted quest to bring an AI to her home system (a quest that turns out to be pointless as the AI neither learns nothing of her origins nor cares) becomes a haphazard rescue mission requested by the seemingly unrelated, quickly forgotten characters from the prologue. But in a book like this, the plot is obviously a vehicle for the antics of our heroic captain.

Hadrian Sawback, the recently assigned starship captain, is much like if Captain Kirk was played by Stan Smith from American Dad. While possessing all of lewdness of Captain Brannigan, he lacks his naivety and instead acts with reckless abandon and no thought as to the consequences of his actions. His crew, chosen from head shots, is either incompetent or disapproving. Like most of the secondary characters, they are underdeveloped and reactionary. One of the exceptions is the rather disgusting, mucus-y aliens who are the main villains of the story. While their body fluid-based comedy is not to my taste, they do have their own goals and help provide a sense of continuity. However, they do not provide much of a challenge to Sawback, who, to be fair, experiences little difficulty with anything.

The whole story relies heavily on science fiction tropes and gets more and more slapstick as it goes. Erikson is a good writer but your enjoyment of the book will be dependent on your sense of humor. If you enjoy excessive alien mating, awkward cross-dressing and frequent Star Trek parodies, this you’ll love this book. MacLeod Andrews does a wonderful job with the narration and manages to bring life to even the most minor characters. It’s a perfect light summer read.

Posted by Rose D.

Review of Lock In by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton

March 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Lock In by John ScalziLock In
By John Scalzi; Narrated by Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date:
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / virus / near future / body swapping /

Publisher summary:

A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the bestselling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent—and nearly five million souls in the United States alone—the disease causes ‘Lock In:’ Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge. A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as ‘Haden’s syndrome,’ rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an ‘integrator’—someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated. But ‘complicated’ doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery—and the real crime—is bigger than anyone could have imagined.

Lock In is a solid book that has some good action, a bit of mystery, and a solid dose of politics thrown in. The story moves at a rapid pace and Scalzi clearly put some thought into the implications of the world he created. Some of the technology and mysteries that come as revelations are a bit obvious but the story is still a lot of fun. Scalzi also includes a short story (which was also released for free online) that explores the back story leading up to this book. I read that story before this one but I don’t think it would make a big difference reading it before or after since Scalzi explains what’s going on really well. I hope he writes more stories in this world.

The general premise is that a disease/virus spreads wildly and leaves a decent portion of the population “locked in”. Those that are “locked in” are completely aware of everything but can’t move, not even to blink their eyes. People affected by this condition are commonly referred to as “Haydens”. Technology has come up with a solution to this problem by implanting neural networks in the minds of Haydens that allow them to live a virtual life or live through a Threep, a robot they control (yes that name comes from C-3P0 of Star Wars). Everything was built up with the help of government funding but those funds are being cut now and haydens aren’t happy. We start the story following Chris, a rather famous hayden, on his/her first day working for the FBI.

With the change in government funding, there are lots of politics at work in the story. People want to cure the disease to free the people trapped in their bodies but some haydens insist they don’t need a cure. Non-haydens think they’re at a disadvantage to people who can do the same work without physically doing it themselves. Haydens are mad about cuts to public funding that will make it hard for them to get by. Companies are working all different angles to turn a profit. A lot of it is interested, some of it is a little too close to current political events and agendas that it might bother people who read to get away from stuff like that.

The story is structured almost like a mystery in that bad things are happening and they don’t totally make sense. The main character is investigating what’s going on as more and more details are revealed along the way. I thought a number of those revelations were obvious from the beginning and making them revelations instead of common knowledge in that world is a bit contrived, but that might just be because I’m a software engineer. In any case, just think of it like watching a Die Hard movie – go along for the ride, suspend belief a bit, and enjoy yourself.

As for the audio side of things, Wil Wheaton did a great job as usual. I haven’t encountered a book read by him that I didn’t like and hearing he narrated something automatically makes me more interested in giving something a try. The gender of the main character is never actually revealed so there are two audiobook versions featuring a male or female reader. That makes no difference in the story whatsoever so just pick a reader you like and go with it. If you didn’t hear that the gender wasn’t mentioned, you’d just as soon assume Chris to be the gender of the narrator.

Posted by Tom Schreck

The SFFaudio Podcast #307 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 1 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

March 9, 2015 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #307 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa talk about The Lord of the Rings Book I (“The Ring Sets Out”) by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Talked about on today’s show:
On the comparative merits of the book, movie, and the BBC audio drama; the similarity between the audio drama and the film; Ian Hom as Frodo in the audio drama (elder Bilbo in the film) and Michael Hordern as Gandalf; Rob Inglis’s superb audiobook narration and singing; poetry and singing as a reflection of Tolkien’s mythological influence; Kenneth Morris’s influence on Tolkien; The Silmarillion and the creation of Middle Earth; The Tolkien Professor and Michael Drout as resources for further Tolkien scholarship; Jesse’s first encounter with The Hobbit; the birth of Jesse’s fascination with audiobooks; the depth of Tolkien’s world-building and lack of depth in fantasy successors; Aragorn is unsung hero; on how the audio helped Jenny get a handle on the series; Seth’s regular reading of the novels; Maissa has questions as a new reader; the cliffhanger ending of Book I; on the making of the rings; the ring as an analogy to modern technological addiction; Steve Jobs as Sauron; Maissa envisions true palm technology and Jesse envisions a real technological ring; Doctor Who; Socrates, Gyges, and a ring of invisibility, how much agency does the Ring have?; religious subtext; more on the ring’s agency; “more than one power at work”; on how Tolkien had to retcon The Hobbit; Tolkien’s letters and his attention to detail; Frank Herbert’s similar world building process in Dune; on Middle Earth’s historical depth; the cats of Queen Berúthiel; Farmer Maggot vs. the Black Rider; hobbits make the story relatable; Gandalf as rabble-rousing priest and prophet (Moses, Jeremiah); “birthday presents” and the circularity of the tale; “The Conspiracy Unmasked” and the power of friendship; the untold tale of Fredegar Bolger; on the faults of hobbits; parallels with modern military conflicts; economics in the books (or lack thereof); the varieties of goodness and evil; the Prancing Pony has free wi-fi; a time of transition and the Elves’ pilgrimage to the Gray Havens; on Gollum’s possession of the ring; Tom Bombadil as unexplained phenomenon; Jesse wants a Tom Bombadil Bed and Breakfast; on the importance of Frodo’s encounter with the Barrow White; Tolkien could have written weird fiction; Sam’s selfless sacrifices; Tolkien’s impact on our real lives; we are all Butterburs wanting to be Sams; Sam learning his letters; class differences in the Shire, Hobbiton as Downton Abbey; “the road goes ever on”; does Sauron have corporeal existence?; no Harry Potter style set pieces in favor of a much more organic feel; Jesse tells us the definition of scrumping; Tolkien’s descriptions of nature; on Tolkien and fantasy tropes; influence on Dungeons and Dragons; Bombadillo cadence; comparisons with contemporary writing of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series and Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories; Tolkien’s preference for allegory over history; the power of words in Tolkien and its parallel with Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea; on the novel’s slow opening; on the film’s simplification of plot and characters, Merry and Pippin in the film are Dumb and Dumber; if Gandalf can make fireworks, why are there no guns in Middle Earth?; for a wizard, Gandalf doesn’t do much magic; (who let the dogs out?); Tolkien and World War I; on Gandalf’s refusal to take the ring; on the etymology of wraith and the origin of the ring wraiths; more on Plato and Socrates’s Ring of Gyges parable; Gollum’s fascination with roots and beginnings; Aragorn’s healing power (foreshadowing!); giving the ring to the wrong person is “like giving a machine gun to a baby”; Saruman twisted by even the idea of the ring; Maissa is a prescient reader.

The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien - Illustration by John Howe
The Fellowship Of The Ring - A Part Of The Shire - MAP
MAGNUM - The Fellowship Of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings volume 1 (Interplay Productions, 1990)
(Interplay Productions, 1990) - MAP OF THE SHIRE
(Interplay Productions, 1990) - MAP OF ERIADOR

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

March 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review
The Providence of Fire by Brian StaveleyThe Providence of Fire (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2)
By Brian Staveley; Narrated by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 13 January 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 23 hours, 37 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / brothers / monks / assassins / barbarian hordes /

Publisher summary:

Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire, the second novel in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, a gripping new epic fantasy series in the tradition of Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over. Having learned the identity of her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire’s most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable. Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

I gave this book the same rating as The Emperor’s Blades, and I think in many ways it’s better. But I also had higher expectations coming in. I had none for the first book, and found myself pleasantly surprised. So I was looking forward to this.

This book started off slow. With how the last one ended, I guess I was sort of expecting the book to hit the ground running. The last book is largely the “magic school” trope, although there isn’t a whole lot of magic. But there is rigorous training and rivalries and the like. And some of the characters can do magic.

Maybe my love of that trope, or the fact that they were “in training” made me less aware of just how STUPID The Emperor’s kids are. There was no hiding that here. I’m not a big fan of the super smart, super capable protagonist who can’t seem to do any wrong, but I hate the “I’m going to pull a plan out of my ass and somehow things will work out mostly right in the end” protagonist even worse. It would d be bad enough if only one of them did, but all three of them did, and continued to do it. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. They didn’t really seem to grow as characters. They just kept being idiots. And selfish. It got pretty frustrating.

So why did I give this 4 stars? Well two reasons mainly. One the story is interesting. The world building Mr. Staveley does in this book is especially intriguing. The pieces he put in place in this novel look to make for a really interesting third (and final?) book in this series.

Secondly he has some great supporting characters. Some are returning from the first novel, and some are new. In particular I really enjoyed the POV chapters from a former supporting character who was given a chance to shine. They were easily my favorite chapters in the book. I only wish they had started sooner. Maybe even in the last book, but it wouldn’t have made too much sense, so I understand the reasoning.

Overall this book is better, but with higher expectations, I found myself a bit disappointed at the same time. But I’m looking forward to the next book. I think for a middle book there is a lot to like. Hopefully the Emperor’s kids will get a clue by then.

As a narrator, Simon Vance is excellent as always. He was one of the main reasons I decided to try out The Emperor’s Blades. His performance is such that this series remains a must audio for me, even if it means waiting a bit longer to get my hands on the next book.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The CompanionsThe Companions (Forgotten Realms: The Sundering, Book 1)
By R.A. Salvatore; Narrated by Victor Bevine
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours

Themes: / fantasy / magic / Forgotten Realms / wizard /

Publisher summary:

On the dusty plains of Netheril, a young Bedine girl spins a web of forbidden magic, obliterating a pair of assassins with a single lightning strike. On the banks of the Sea of Fallen Stars, a tiny thief walks willingly into battle with a ruthless killer, a wide grin upon his face. In the tunnels of Citadel Felbarr, a dwarfling is ambushed and strikes back with an attack well beyond his apparent strength and years. These three seemingly unrelated commoners, growing up across the far reaches of the Forgotten Realms®, hold the fate of Faerûn’s most famous dark elf, Drizzt Do’Urden, in their hands. But that fate is far from certain. For in the shadows a cunning cabal of wizards is watching, intent on hunting Chosen—mortals blessed by the gods. These wizards know something mere commoners do not: Long-forgotten gods have begun to stir. Long-lost lands have begun to tremble. The world around them is about to change. And these wizards will do whatever it takes to turn the coming chaos to their advantage. In this first book of the six-book Sundering series, New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore launches a major world-shaping event that will revive old favorites, introduce new complications, and move his signature hero Drizzt into a restored era of the Forgotten Realms.

Oh, Salvatore. Never change.

Drizzt Do’Urden is back in The Companions, although in a very limited fashion. The bulk of the story focuses on Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis as they are (I am not making this up) sent back to live again, from birth onwards, in order to help Drizzt far after their original deaths.

Yep. They have adult consciousness in baby bodies. They’re aware of the sensation of being birthed. They have completely adult, mature minds trapped in little toddler dwarf/human/halfling bodies. They have to struggle through relearning how to walk, eat, be toilet trained…let me back up.

Mielikki, a goddess of nature, allows the Companions to chose whether to be reborn in order to help Drizzt in a time of great need. Wulfgar appears to chose not to, electing to go to his heavenly reward instead, but the others are all reborn and go through childhood. They constantly work to hide their identities while being somewhat torn in their loyalties. The story culminates with their reunion with a wounded Drizzt and his magical panther, Guenhwyvar. Even Wulfgar shows up at the end, and it’s nicely set up for the next book in the series.

Did I mention the vampire drow? Or the dolphins? This book has it all.

Except for the beginning and end, Drizzt is not part of the action. He has escaped capture and is considered lost, so instead each chapter begins with a letter of his, a seeming memoir, on a theme that is then touched upon in Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis’s new lives.

I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend this book, as it was very odd. I did enjoy it, even as I laughed at some of the parts, and would definitely listen to the next one.

The narrator did a really good job, even managing to pull off a falsetto for the female characters voices without it turning off-putting. There was a short bit of music in between each disc, and they repeated the first few sentences from the last disc in the first track of the next disc.

Posted by Sarah R.

Review of The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

March 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Gods ThemselvesThe Gods Themselves
By Isaac Asimov; Narrated by Scott Brick
Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] –  11 hrs, 26 mins

Themes: / science fiction / aliens / annihilation / survival /

Publisher summary:

Only a few know the terrifying truth – an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant of a dying planet, a lunar-born human intuitionist who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun… They know the truth – but who will listen? They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy – but who will believe? These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to the Earth’s survival.

Though a science fiction novel, The Gods Themselves is also primarily about magic.

Throughout the courses I took for my my undergraduate degree in Economics, we talked a lot about the driving forces behind the choices people make. One of the greatest is magic. We all want to find that magical thing that makes us not have to work as hard; magic makes life easier.

This quest for magic has helped us innovate on a grand scale and use the resources around us for our own benefit. Whether it’s been good in the long run, I’ll not get into just this second.

In The Gods Themselves, a magic is found which makes life easier and it’s the Electron Pump. Somehow, some beings have reached across the universe, time, or something, to impress themselves upon our world and made possible an endless energy source, which benefits all of humanity.

The only problem is whether it is really for our benefit and what happens when the worst is found out? Would humanity easily give up such a gift?

It’s interesting to read this book, published in 1972, in light of today’s problems with humanity’s stewardship of the world. I’m sure, actually, that Mr. Asimov thought his day was bad.

This book is told in three separate parts, each of which was published independently in Galaxy Magazine and Worlds of If. They focus on three quite different groups of people and their interaction with the Electron Pump.

The first focuses on the physicists who discover and deal with the Electron Pump. The second focuses on those others and it’s absolutely otherworldly, so much so, that it was quite difficult to read at first until you understood what was going on a bit more. It reminded me a little of Orson Scott Card’s Mithermages series.

The final part focuses on a human colony on the moon. One of the parts I can talk about without spoiling things is the description of gravity on the moon. Those who’ve lived there all their lives are essentially trapped there because their bones couldn’t survive Earth’s gravity and those who travel there have to take frequent, excruciating, trips home to Earth to keep their bodies in shape. After listening to a Star Wars book, it’s interesting to note how little they care about the different gravities of worlds. Must be some hyper-technology that accounts for it right?

Because Asimov is himself a scientist, the physics are competently explained, at least to a lay person like myself, and the dire consequences of humanity’s actions are understood … through science. Amazing!

And a note on the audiobook reader, Scott Brick. Brick has been around the block, I don’t know how many times I’ve come across his recordings. You can always trust him to bring the gravitas to any recording and you’ll find nothing less here.

This cleverly named book won both the Nebula Award in 1972 and the Hugo in 1973. And as the origin of the name of the book says, quoted from Friedriech Schiller, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” (for the German speakers: “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.”)

As apt today as it was … when it was written.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

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