Review of Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

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

SFFaudio Review

Lords of the SithLords of the Sith (Star Wars)
By Paul S. Kemp; Narrated by Jonathan Davis
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 28 April 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 56 minutesThemes: / Star Wars / space / sith / spice /Publisher summary:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice Darth Vader find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.

“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters – and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.

On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice”, an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources – by political power or firepower – and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.

For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.

Lords of the Sith is a decent entry in the Star Wars universe with a familiar setup but good execution. As this takes place before Episode IV, we know this story has many limitations that Kemp works within well. We get a good amount of action both in space and planet-side and a surprising amount of insight and introspection from Darth Vader along the way.

The beginning feels like so many others that have come before: random resistance/rebellion is causing trouble and the Empire must respond. If more books are written in this time period, I really hope some oter source of tension is found because the perpetual rebellions are getting kind of tired (not to say that shouldn’t be happening but there were far more creative issues hitting the New Republic in the expanded legends universe). A lot of time is spent developing characters and their reason for a rebellion that we know won’t be sticking around very long when I really want to see more of the Sith. I kind of felt the same way with the time spent on characters I didn’t care about in Kenobi when I wanted more of the wizened old Jedi Master. Thank goodness that lightens up a good way into the book.

Things really start to get interesting when Vader and the Emperor show up to shut things down in a Star Destroyer only to suffer a pretty crazy attack prepared by the resistance. I enjoyed this part because of Kemp’s clever usage of many of the different technologies and capabilities seen in Star Wars over the years. It was also fun to see Vader flying around in a craft with limited capabilities with only the Force as his weapon. How do you kill a jedi or a sith? Lots and lots of back up plans would give you a shot!

Speaking of using the Force for a weapon, we really get to see Vader and the Emperor unleash a bit on their abilities in this novel. Early on, Vader infiltrates a ship on his own and is scary efficient at cutting his way through everyone on board. It’s kind of like when they storm the blockade runner in Episode IV except just Vader running through the place taking people out. We also get to see the two sith working in tandem to face all kinds of scenarios that range between cool/plausible to just putting random indigenous threats through the meat grinder (that part kind of felt like a, “lets just show how totally badass these guys are by making them kill meaningless things”). There are a bunch of moments where I wondered how they were fooled by something dumb, didn’t just kill someone that was being a nuisance the whole time, etc but overall it was pretty good.

The book isn’t all violence and craziness because we get to see Vader struggling with serving his master. Episode III ended with Vader having submitted to Palpatine but their master/servant relationship wasn’t exactly fleshed out by the end of the film. Vader still struggles with the repercussions of previous events and contemplates attacking his master at regular intervals…as every sith should. It’s interesting to hear his thoughts and struggles and knowing what he’ll become.

On the audio side of things, Jonathan Davis did a great job as usual and the sound effects/music were great. Jonathan Davis always puts on a great performance with high energy and does not disappoint here. Some of the sound effect got to me – mainly the squelching noises that one would normally associate with a sith crushing enemies or smashing an enemy into a wall, but such sounds should make you cringe.

Overall this was not my favorite Star Wars book but was still a decent entry in the universe. If you’re looking for more sith action, definitely check out the Darth Bane book that start with Path of Destruction.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

July 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Half-off RagnarokHalf-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid #3)
By Seanan McGuire; Performed by Emily Bauer and Ray Porter
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: December 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 17 minutes
Themes: / fantasy / urban fantasy / cryptozoology / basilisks / cryptid /

Publisher summary:

What do gorgons, basilisks, and frogs with feathers all have in common? They’re all considered mythological by modern science, and some people are working very hard to keep them that way. Alexander Price is a member of a cryptozoological lineage that spans generations, and it’s his job to act as a buffer between the human and cryptid worlds—not an easy task when you’re dealing with women who have snakes in place of hair, little girls who may actually be cobras, and brilliant, beautiful Australian zookeepers. And then there’s the matter of the murders.…Alex thought he was choosing the easier career when he decided to specialize in non-urban cryptids, leaving the cities to his little sister, Verity. It turns out that he had no idea what he was getting himself into. It’s a family affair, and everyone—from his reanimated grandfather to his slightly broken telepathic cousin—is going to get involved before things get any better.

Half-Off Rangarok is the third book in the InCryptid series and has a change in narrators and locations. No longer are we in New York with Verity but with her brother Alex, in Ohio.

The story line picks up maybe a month or two after book two. Alex Price is living with his grandparents and Sarah trying to have some semblance of a life while overseeing a secret basilisk breeding program. For Alex some things are going well – Sarah is getting better; other things are challenging like keeping secrets from his girlfriend Shelby about who he really is. It all goes downhill when Alex is faced with dead bodies that are turning to stone and the realization someone is trying to kill him too.

This book is interesting with a band of characters. Shelby and the grandparents are total hits. We learn about new cryptids which were kind of fascinating.  Things that I missed were the mice; I liked all of their crazy holidays. While they are in the book it is more like a passing thing. I also preferred the New York setting. This was supposed to be in Ohio but I think the setting could have been anywhere. For me, I had trouble relating.

I listened to the book on audio and the narrator made it feel like the book was evenly paced. His voice was interesting enough to keep me interested without losing me.  I am not sure if it was because I listened to the book on audio verses reading but this book has a different kind of feel. Perhaps this is due to the change in narrator …I cannot really say.

My biggest overall challenge of the book was despite how good the writing is for me there is something missing between characters for some reason I was just not as vested in the outcome.

Still a good read 3 ½ stars

Posted by Dawn V.

Review of Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan

July 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Queen of FireQueen of Fire (Raven’s Shadow #3)
By Anthony Ryan; Read by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 7 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 26 hours, 43 minutes

Themes: / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant – those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark – and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named battle lord of the realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the realm is to prevail – a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power that has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent.

After how much I enjoyed the last two, it was almost going to be impossible for this book to live up to my expectations.

Some of this is probably on me. I read Blood Song and Tower Lord back to back. It’s been about a year since then, and my memory on the details were fuzzy. I should have reread. I wish there was a wiki or something with plot points and character bios I could have used to refresh myself.

I struggled at the start remembering many of the minor characters. I think all books in a series (and really all audio books in general) should have a list of the important characters with maybe a 1 sentence reminder of who they are. It would really help a lot. There are just too many books to reread previous books every time a new one comes out, even books I loved as much as the last two.

Both of those books grabbed me early on and never let go. That never really happened here. I was always happy to pick it back up, but I wasn’t making excuses to listen longer or counting down the time until I could get back to listening. So unfortunately I can’t give the whole series 5 stars.

I also found myself wondering for much of the second half of the book if there would be enough time to resolve everything. For the most part I think he does a good job of converging the different story lines, but it required a fairly large info-dump near the end to do so.

That said, I really love the world Mr. Ryan has built, and I’m especially fond of the characters. It’s always great to read about them, and this book is no different. Much like Tower Lord, I think Frentis and Riva both sort of steal the show again. However Vaelin’s chapters are pretty interesting as well. Lyrna’s story was still enjoyable, just not as much as the others.

Overall this has been one of the best series I’ve found in the last few years. I’d happily read another series set in this world, especially if we can visit again with some of the characters. This is definitely a series I’ll revisit down the road on a reread. Maybe reading all 3 back to back I won’t struggle as much as the start and enjoy it more the second time.

Either way, I’ll be looking forward to checking out what Mr. Ryan has in store for us next.

Much like the last 2 books, I enjoy Steven Brand as a narrator, save for the fact that he’s so QUIET. Thankfully my audiobook app lets me increase the volume, or it would be incredibly frustrating. I wonder if the publishers listens to the book with noise canceling headphones only or something, or if even that would be sufficient.

If you’ve done the previous two in audio, you should know what to expect. Hopefully like me you have a way to increase the volume so you can enjoy Mr. Brand’s otherwise excellent narration.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Mountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams

July 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Mountain of Black GlassMountain of Black Glass (Otherland #3)
By Tad Williams; Narrated by George Newbern
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 17 March 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 27 hours, 17 minutes

Themes: / techno-thriller / science fiction / Greek mythology / game simulation /

Publisher summary:

Mountain of Black Glass is the third volume of Tad Williams’s highly acclaimed four-book series, Otherland. A truly unique reading experience combining elements of science fiction, fantasy, and techno-thriller, it is a rich epic tale in which virtual reality could prove the key to a whole new universe of possibilities for the entire human race – or become the exclusive domain of the rich and the ruthless as they seek a technological pathway to immortality.

The sequel to City of Golden Shadow and River of Blue Fire, this is the third installment (of 4) in the Otherland series. As with River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass picks up where the last one left off. Where I rated River of Blue Fire 3 stars (it was a solid “middle book” in a series), this one gets 4 because of the time spent in Greek mythology, something I’ve always loved.

As a “middle book” in a series, it’s hard not to say things about Mountain of Black Glass that I didn’t say in my reviews for City of Golden Shadow or River of Blue Fire. The story started with key characters still separated (as they were at the end of River of Blue Fire), though much of the book was spent either a) moving them back together, b) exploring their pasts, learning more about their history, or c) giving the reader more insight into the Otherland network itself and the motivations of the people running the network. Unlike River of Blue Fire, in this book, many details seemed to “finally” be pieced together, so more complete histories of characters were formed. It was also a transformative time for some of the Otherland network owners/operators, as they put the final pieces together to try to gain immortality. Other characters, such as the psychopathic servant of the Otherland founder also get a lot of time in this book, as do the police officers looking into his murderous ways. Sellers, the old man who remains quite a mystery but seems to be some of the force that brings the heroes together, also has a key storyline, though it took quite a different turn from what I expected going into the story.

An adventure from proverbial cover to cover (since I listened to the audiobook), a lot of time in this book was spent with the characters all trying to reach the Otherland‘s version of Troy. One of the characters is actually Odysseus, while others play key characters in the Trojan War, including Achilles, his companion Patroclus, and even Diomedes. The character who became Odysseus was forced through the Otherland simulation to re-enact Odysseus’ story somewhat in reverse, having seemingly gone through the events of The Odyssey prior to living through the Trojan War, as told in The Iliad. Our other heroes also eventually ended up in Troy, but not without enduring some trying circumstances in a few different worlds. As one might expect, though, these experiences allowed them to learn more about the network itself, and will undoubtedly help them in their quest to overthrow the Otherland founders (The Grail Brotherhood) and save the children who seem to be trapped by the network.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. After finally learning more about each character, becoming significantly more invested in each of them, it seems that one or more of them may have actually died through the course of the narrative. It’s hard to tell for sure, and I suspect I’ll find out what exactly happened when I finish the series with Sea of Silver Light, but the emotional gut punch was harder than I expected it would be. It’s a credit to Williams’ writing that I could simultaneously know how literally frail each of these characters are, playing a life and death game where they don’t know the rules and the rules seem to change, yet still be surprised and saddened when harm (or death) comes to a character. Or how much I really hate Dredd, the servant turned monster, preying on Otherland users/members for his own fun and games.

Tad Williams again seemed to have fun with the simulation worlds, making alternate worlds of popular stories such as the previously-mentioned The Iliad and The Odyssey. There were at least two other worlds explored in this book. One seemed to be an “empty” world, what someone might consider the null space of code to be…since the Otherland network is only code, after all, it does make some sense that the users (our heroes and our villains) would sometimes find literally empty space. There was another world, a world of a house, the reference I didn’t connect (if there was a literary reference, which I suspect that there was). Still, the worlds all felt real, were able to bring me in. This is especially true for the Trojan War. I have long been a fan of Greek mythology, and it was a fun but unexpected surprise to spend so much of this book in that world…at least, that simulated world.

The audiobook was great to listen to, if the narration was slightly slow. I listened to it slightly sped up (using the 1.5x feature for spoken word playback on my iPhone) and it seemed perfect. George Newbern does a great job making the characters come to life. Where some narrators can seem flat or one-note, he always makes it clear which character is talking, and further engages the listener by taking on the exclamation, the feeling of the words. If someone is surprised, for example, his voice lets you know it, you don’t have to rely solely on supporting descriptors. He brings the book to life.

I’m looking forward to starting into Sea of Silver Light, which is queued up and ready to go. It’s a good bit longer than any of the other books in the series (~10 hours longer than this one), but that just means I’ll have to find more excuses to listen.

Posted by terpkristin.

The SFFaudio Podcast #324 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch

July 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #324 – This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch; read by Gregg Margarite. This is an unabridged reading of the novel (3 hours 30 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and John Feaster.

Talked about on today’s show:
the only public domain novel by Robert Bloch, a member of the Lovecraft circle, fans of Lovecraft vs. the public at large, The Shambler From The Stars, a sense of humour, Leffingwell = livingwell, a Nazi-esque character, Paul F. Thompkins, 1958, Make Room, Make Room, 1968, overpopulation, The Population Bomb, the baby boom, the Asiatics, a terrible book, a monster of a book, the yardsticks aren’t a metaphor for racism, “midgets”, The Lonely Crowd, the women in this story…, housewives and pretend nurses, not a pure SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a sociological novel, Jesse isn’t a fan of Psycho, Yours Truly Jack The Ripper, mainstream hack solutions, Bloch is a fan of science fiction, he’s talking about Clifford [D.] Simak here, the solution to overpopulation is to make everybody smaller, you have to lean into that, a weird pacing, Game Of Thrones, an underground secret society, the meta stuff is pretty good, the opening chapter, 70s era Jack [L.] Chalker, caesarian section is the solution?!, an entertaining story, why the heck is little Harry Collins named Harry Collins?, “you’ve dropped your premise”, western wildernesses, why is the President of The United States so excited about 20 pounds of hamburger, really undercooked (hamburger), the 7 hour workday, the 5 hour workday, the 4 hour workday, a 15mph commute, population efficiency, just fix the trains in this world, Soylent Green, not enough room (physical space), telecommuting, personal transport laws, a mash-up of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Project Mayhem portion of Fight Club and The Wizard Of Oz, Collins is constantly searching for the wizard, mistaking Beatniks for a religious order, a high-Daddio, The Planet Of The Apes premise, a dog and cat disease, accepting the premise, playing with science fiction tropes, an impressionistic idea of the world and the path it is on, the naturals or naturalists, its almost hippies, a generational metaphor, drug use, everybody takes yellow jackets, barbiturate, mixing with alcohol, a one child policy is IMPOSSIBLE?, emigration is IMPOSSIBLE, faster maturity faster death, living on Mars would make you barrel chested, island isolated animals change their size (Island gigantism or Insular dwarfism), pilots need to be short, small people and women endure g-forces better, little people on generation starships, food consumption, he follows through with his own joke, a buffet of ridiculous premises, a strange buffet, an entertaining buffet, politics and the super-rich go hand-in-hand, “the little plan”, “small government”, “it’s a small world after all”, Little John, silly, packed with a lot of weirdness, like a season of Star Trek, written over a weekend?, such a little apartment, “he’s living in a closet”, this would have to be a cartoon if it were a film, the world is a Flintstones background, if there had only been a female character who…, Stephen King loves westerns but can’t write them, lean into it, so why is this world not our problem?, LosSisco, William Gibson’s the Sprawl, Chicago and Milwaukee, well crafted characters (for talking heads), Pol Pot, no actual shitbags, the story of a 15 year old, sociologically and emotionally, the Goodreads reviews, Isaac Asimov’s the Hari Seldon plan, Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth, breeding a crazy man, West End Games, Paranoia, the crappy text adventure games (that were fun to play), walking off to the unmapped areas, what about this bugbear?, in a future where cows are caviar, “bring your wife, we’ll have a party”, I’ll bang off something for Planet Stories, Psycho, 1959 and 1960, John defends Psycho, Bloch’s Star Trek script “Wolf In The Fold“, Bloch’s obsession with Jack The Ripper, Richard Matheson’s Night Gallery episode, Time After Time, a future thrill kill story [sounds somewhat like The Roller Coaster by Alfred Bester], before The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal, charismatic serial killers is a trope now, Ed Gein, H.H. Holmes (not H.H. Munro), the Chicago murder castle, a writer re-writing and thinking about an idea over and over again, serial writers must do it again, to “recreate it”, seeing a writer writing outside of his main genre, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, it’s a little 15-year old, simply written to pay a bill, finally Scotty gets his own episode, I canna remember, Star Trek with a serial killer is weird, That Hellbound Train, The Gold Key The Twilight Zone comics, an EC Comics knockoff, I’m being published for crappy reasons, nobody’s going to read this in two weeks so read it now, this story is a bird-house made by a talented mechanic, a giant truck that is the internet, 60s and 70s era Robert Bloch are sealed up outside of the trunk that is the internet, accept it within its boundaries, a character from the 1950s in a crazy 1950s future, how does the story affect you?, a Rorschach test, it doesn’t care about you, this story is a friend of yours off in the corner playing with LEGOs and the only thing you can do is criticize what he’s building.

This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch - illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Finn Fancy Necromancy

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

SFFaudio Review

Finn Fancy Necromancy cover imageFinn Fancy Necromancy
By Randy Henderson; Narrated by Todd Haberkorn
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date:10 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 51 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / necromancer / fairies / humor /

Publisher summary:

Finn Gramaraye was framed for the crime of dark necromancy at the age of 15 and exiled to the Other Realm for 25 years. But now that he’s free, someone–probably the same someone–is trying to get him sent back. Finn has only a few days to discover who is so desperate to keep him out of the mortal world and find evidence to prove it to the Arcane Enforcers. They are going to be very hard to convince since he’s already been convicted of trying to kill someone with dark magic.

But Finn has his family: his brother, Mort, who is running the family necrotorium business now; his brother, Pete, who believes he’s a werewolf, though he is not; and his sister, Samantha, who is, unfortunately, allergic to magic. And he’s got Zeke, a fellow exile and former enforcer who doesn’t really believe in Finn’s innocence but is willing to follow along in hopes of getting his old job back.

Finn Fancy Necromancy is exactly as fun as its title suggests. From the second sentence, “We were like a couple of floating melted gummy bears made of unicorn snot and dreams…” I knew I was in good hands. In fact, even before that, in the acknowledgments when Henderson talks about his “butt-slapping doctor” I knew Henderson’s humor was going to click with me, and it did.

Finn Gramaraye is a necromancer who’s just come back from exile to the “Other Realm,” aka the fairy world. He was sent there in 1986 and spent 25 years as punishment for a crime he didn’t commit. Coming back, the problems already begin to add up and he’s already to blame for just about everything under the sun.

Told from the first person, we have no reason to disbelieve him, though his memories have been a source of many of the problems he encounters, whether it’s the fairies sifting his memories (good and bad) and making him relive them, or the changeling’s lack of memories with a botched spirit transfer.

Other than a small overuse of Star Trek references at the beginning, this book hit my funny bone quite nicely. Because Finn has been away since the 80s and this is first person, there are loads of 80s references, including, and I can’t say I recognized every single one, all the chapter titles are 80s song titles.

It’s definitely urban fantasy, but not your tween, new-age kind what with all its 80s focus. And it’s urban fantasy that really worked for me (I’m an on-off fan). The magic was interesting and the different sources make for a well-thought-out world.

The only thing, and I realize I might be the only one on this since I’ve seen it so much, is the incorporation of famous people (like Elvis, etc.) who were actually magic-users/magic creatures whose mysterious factual stories play well into a story like this. Like I said, I’m probably the only one and it wasn’t enough to really throw me out of the story, it was only a couple instances.

One thing I’m torn on is that the “twist” at the end was almost blatantly obvious about midway through the book. I don’t know if it was just the audio narration, or maybe on page would have been more obvious. I enjoyed the book regardless, because it wasn’t really all that big a deal and the major mysteries still needed solving.

Finn Fancy Necromancy is tons of fun and highly readable. I listened to the audio version and Todd Haberkorn did an excellent job. Just vulnerable enough to pull off Finn and nailing all the jokes and off-hand remarks in between voicing Sasquatches and gnomes.

Which reminds me, I highly enjoyed the magical creatures in this one. Not your typical ones, but they played into the story nicely. Read Finn Fancy Necromancy when you’re in the mood for some light-hearted fun with a fast-paced story that will keep you turning pages. Not your typical urban fantasy in the best possible way.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

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