Review of The Legend of Drizzt

December 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Legend of DrizztThe Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories
By R. A. Salvatore
Publisher: Audible Studios
Publication Date: 12 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 27 minutes

Themes: / Forgotten Realms / dark elf / fantasy / short stories /

Publisher summary:

The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories expands upon the epic legend of the dark elf with 12 tales performed by the all-star cast of Felicia Day, Dan Harmon, Greg Grunberg, Tom Felton, Danny Pudi, Sean Astin, Melissa Rauch, Ice-T, Wil Wheaton, Al Yankovic, Michael Chiklis, and David Duchovny!

For years, the Legend of Drizzt has included short stories published in Forgotten Realms anthologies and Dragon magazine. Available here for the first time in audio are all the classic stories by the New York Times best-selling author R. A. Salvatore!

From the startling origin of Drizzt’s panther companion, to the tale of Jarlaxle and Entreri’s first encounter with the dragon sisters, the tales in The Collected Stories enrich this vividly-imagined series by building the world around Drizzt through exploring the backstories of side characters and magical locations.

Wizards of the Coast outdid themselves on this one and brought in a cast that’s actually hard to believe unless you start listening.
I thought the stories were excellent and for the most part the readings were well done. Ice-T was decent, but extremely slow and kept pronouncing the “w” in “sword” and that word is used a ton in his story. It drove me nuts.

Weird Al did a good job, especially with the voices, but his voice is a little too … bubbly … silly … there’s got to be a better word … for this type of serious story.

Usually Wil Wheaton does a good job, but I don’t rate him super high as a narrator because he never does different voices for the characters, at least not well. This one he did an excellent job with the voices. He’s another, however, that might have too much sarcasm in his voice for this type of story. Which is why he is the perfect narrator for anything from John Scalzi.

Last one and I’m done talking, biggest surprise was Michael Chiklis, who did an insanely good job with EVERYTHING. I hope he does tons more audiobooks and quits acting for the real money … in audiobook narration! We all know Scott Brick is rollin’ in it, amiright?

Overall, it’s more than worth the price I paid and then some and pretty cool to have these celebrities reading names like Drizzt and Zaknafein and Menzoberranzan and I’m not even touching the dwarf names of the top of my head that us geeks love oh so much.

4 out of 5 stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Ilium by Dan Simmons

December 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Ilium by Dan SimmonsIlium (Ilium #1)
By Dan Simmons; Narrated by Kevin Pariseau
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 25 Discs; 30 hours
Themes: / Mars / gods / ancient Greece / scholars / Shakespeare / fantasy /
Publisher summary:
From the towering heights of Olympos Mons on Mars, the mighty Zeus and his immortal family of gods, goddesses, and demigods look down upon a momentous battle, observing—and often influencing—the legendary exploits of Paris, Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, and the clashing armies of Greece and Troy.Thomas Hockenberry, former 21st-century professor and Iliad scholar, watches as well. It is Hockenberry’s duty to observe and report on the Trojan War’s progress to the so-called deities who saw fit to return him from the dead. But the muse he serves has a new assignment for the wary scholic, one dictated by Aphrodite herself.With the help of 40th-century technology, Hockenberry is to infiltrate Olympos, spy on its divine inhabitants…and ultimately destroy Aphrodite’s sister and rival, the goddess Pallas Athena. On an Earth profoundly changed since the departure of the Post-Humans centuries earlier, the great events on the bloody plains of Ilium serve as mere entertainment.Its scenes of unrivaled heroics and unequaled carnage add excitement to human lives devoid of courage, strife, labor, and purpose. But this eloi-like existence is not enough for Harman, a man in the last year of his last 20. That rarest of post-postmodern men—an ‘adventurer’—he intends to explore far beyond the boundaries of his world before his allotted time expires, in search of a lost past, a devastating truth, and an escape from his own inevitable ‘final fax.’ Meanwhile, from the radiation-swept reaches of Jovian space, four sentient machines race to investigate—and, perhaps, terminate—the potentially catastrophic emissions of unexplained quantum-flux emanating from a mountaintop miles above the terraformed surface of Mars.

If someone were to describe this book to me (if they even could), I don’t know if I would believe how much I absolutely enjoyed it. Dan Simmons is a mad genius.

Shakespeare-quoting humanoid robots, Greek Gods, post-humans, and old-style humans somehow make the craziest awesome story imaginable.

Ilium is a story told through essentially three unrelated viewpoints. First, there’s Hockenberry. This is told in first person. Hockenberry is called a “Scholic,” a human from our the 20th century (our time) who was rebirthed in a future where Homer’s Trojan War is being fought. His job is to report on the war … to the Greek Gods.

At first, this is completely confusing. Why? is a question I asked myself over and over, but it begins to make sense with time. Plus, it’s hard not to be fascinated with the events of the Iliad. It’s also impressive how much research went into it, though that’s only an assumption since my knowledge of the Trojan War is essentially from the movie, Troy (but I have read the Odyssey!).

The second viewpoint is the humans, mainly Daemon. Daemon is a self-involved fool who is unlikeable to say the least. But who wouldn’t be when you have everything handed to you on a silver platter by robots called servitors (sp – I did listen to the audio so forgive me), like all humans everywhere. Pleasure is their life, knowledge … is lacking.

The third viewpoint is that of a sonnet-loving humanoid robot called a “moravec” and named Mahnmut. Specifically, and only, Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s work consists of exploring the moon of Jupiter called Europa. Mahnmut is called in on a mission with a group of moravecs to explore some occurrences on the planet mars.

At first, I was highly entertained, though confused, with the events of the Trojan war and the other parts were just above boring. Slowly, the story takes hold and it had me hook, line, and sinker.

Listening to the audiobook, I was looking forward to my morning and evening drives and not too sad to do errands on my lunch hour either. Somehow, it ALL makes sense even though it sounds like the oddest collection of classics to make up a cohesive story all its own. What does Shakespeare have to do with the Iliad or Proust (his work makes appearances too) for that matter, all set in the future with technology that gives humans everything they ever want or need?

It’s crazy I tell ya. Crazy! How did I like this book this much? I’m telling you, Simmons is a mad genius. I will just sit back and let him take me on his journey. It’s amazing. I question not.

Kevin Pariseau is the narrator of this audiobook and while at first I thought he over-acted the part of Hockenberry, though somehow not the other parts, I really grew to like him and found out that it was literally just the character of Hockenberry that he was playing. And it’s impressive given how many Greek words and names he’s got to …erm… name.

The only problem is that Ilium is only half the story. It stops at a huge cliffhanger and I’m already heading to Olympos to see how this ends.

5 out of 5 Stars (Mind … blown)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Impulse by Steven Gould

December 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Impulse by Steven GouldImpulse (Jumper #3) \
By Steven Gould; Narrated by Emily Rankin
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 Discs; 12 hours
Themes: / teleportation / off-the-grid / jumpers / teenage angst /
Publisher summary:

Cent has a secret. She lives in isolation with her parents, hiding from the people who took her father captive and tortured him to gain control over his ability to teleport. Her parents are also hiding Cent from the government agencies who want to use them for their own purposes. She’s connected; movies, TV, Internet, but Cent’s parents are absolutely firm: no one can know where they live. There can be no images of them, or of Cent, anywhere.Cent has seen the world, but only from the safety of her parents’ arms. Her mother has not neglected her daughter’s education. She’s been all over, met people rich and very poor, has worked on her mother’s global relief projects. Cent has teleported more than anyone on Earth, except for her parents, Davy and Millie, but she’s never been able to do it herself. Her life has never really been in danger. Until the day she went snowboarding without permission and triggered an avalanche. When the snow and ice thundered down on her, she suddenly found herself in her own bedroom. That was the first time. The second time will change all their lives forever.

Progression of the Jumper series:

Book 1, Jumper: Let’s take a simple concept and weave a cool story that’s brilliant in its simplicity.

Book 2, Reflex: Let’s take that simple concept and add to it by restraining it, but while also pushing boundaries. Also, let’s add a cool mystery and some spies.

Book 3, Impulse: Let’s take all the great things we’ve built up so far … and add teenage angst! A forced romance! A holier-than-thou attitude for all the characters!


(Okay, these are misleading, cause it’s not teen angst in the hilarious or awesome way.)

Impulse takes up a number of years after Reflex, enough time for the jumping couple to have a daughter, Cent, who is now a teenager. She’s repressed to say the least, especially owing to the family’s understandable obsession with secrecy. Cent doesn’t even have a birth certificate, they’re so afraid of word getting out about them.

Also understandable. However, she’s a teenager now and she’s dying for friends, so she finally convinces her parents she can go to school without screwing things up.

Of course, there are bullies, and love interests, etc. and it’s just about impossible to not screw things up like we already knew.

First, I felt judged much of the time. This family of jumpers spends most of its time doing humanitarian things, keeping all it’s actions green and reducing it’s carbon footprint. Usually, I’m all for this stuff, but I felt like the message was, if you stray in the least you’re the worst person in the world.

Second, it was a little hard to believe the tale from Cent, who is this shut-in who immediately befriends some girls, has guys crushing on her, and is the absolute best at everything in the world. And add to that the paragraph above and it gets a tad annoying.

Third, there wasn’t really any plot going on. Midway through the book, nothing’s really happening because Cent’s just barely getting things going at school and facing bullies and whatnot, but nothing that amounts to an overall plot to keep you glued. Nothing that pushes you to keep going because you have to find out what happens!

At the very end, I was finally entertained, and that’s why I can’t completely hate this book. If I weren’t listening to it on audiobook, I probably would have given up at the midway point. It’s a case of too little too late.

Speaking of audio, I thought the narration was great, though a bit jarring at first. It’s been the same male narrator for the first two books and now it switches, again understandably, to a female narrator. It’s just weird hearing a woman do Davy and even Milli for that matter, but only for the first disc or two. It’s quickly forgotten.

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Dream-quest of unknown kadathThe Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath
By H. P. Lovecraft; Performed by Jim Roberts
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 6 hours
Themes: / cats / ghouls / dark shapes that meep / a lost city / horror /
Publisher summary:
Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it.” Randolph Carter embarks on an epic quest across a world beyond the wall of sleep in search of an opulent and mysterious sunset city. When he prays to the gods of dream to reveal the whereabouts of this magical city, they do not answer, and his dreams stop altogether. Undaunted, Carter resolves to go to Kadath, where the gods live, and beseech them in person. However, no one has ever been to Kadath, and no one even knows how to get there—but that won’t stop Randolph Carter from trying.
We all love the quest story. Without some sort of a quest, the story falls into introspective navel gazing, and becomes as interesting as reading about someone’s cup of tea growing cold near a rain-soaked window overlooking a drab landscape of bent grass fading in the waning light of gloaming. Quests are good, in literature, games, and life. H.P. Lovecraft gives us a quest, and I liked it, for the most part. Those of you familiar with Lovecraft will undoubtedly nod your chin when I suggest that this story is a little weighted with those wonderfully complex names of gods, of places, of rites practiced in secret darkness. If you can overlook the name thing and concentrate on the story, it’s nice enough. While I don’t believe this is Lovecraft at his best, I do feel it’s a must for those Lovecraft enthusiasts.The audiobook is roughly four and a half hours, and I’ll admit it, I increased the speed by a factor of three, sometimes four. Jim Roberts is the narrator, and I feel this is an example of mismanaged casting. Roberts is a competent narrator, and I have enjoyed some of his readings in the past. But his voice sounds like your grandfather’s brother, which is just fine if the narrative follows such a gentlemen. But it doesn’t work well when the protagonist is for all intensive purposes, a younger man full of vigor and drive. It’s a minor grouse, but I never managed to rid myself of this incongruity between reader and main character.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of The Peripheral by William Gibson

December 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Peripheral by William Gibson audiobook coverThe Peripheral
By William Gibson; Narrated by Lorelei King
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 28 October 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 5 minutes

Themes: / future / time travel / drugs / veterans / crime /

Publisher summary:

Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do – a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.

Reading a new William Gibson novel is both delightful and exciting. He delights with the cool, sardonic yet imaginative visions of the present and future. He excites with his uncanny glimpses of the future, grounded in canny selections from our time.

The Peripheral offers another pleasure, that of Gibson trying something new. His recent brace of novels looked at the very near future, each following a normal linear path. His classic cyberpunk or Sprawl trilogy envisioned a medium-term future, also tending to thriller linearity.

But in The Peripheral we see a very different conceit and narrative structure. This novel relies on two timelines, one in the near-to-medium term future, and one almost a century away. At first we follow these in parallel, trying to infer connections. Then we learn that the further-along future has discovered a form of time travel – well, information exchange with the past, to be precise. The far-future signals the closer-to-us future, and has a proposition. Or two. Then more, which aren’t propositions but assassinations.

This dual-track time-travel-ish idea owes much to Gregory Benford’s 1980 novel Timescape. Other parallels appear; see spoiler section at the bottom of this post.

The future-near-to-us characters are also the more sympathetic. They focus on a young, poor Southern woman, Flynn Fisher, and her family. They live in a postwar backwater, where the economy barely exists apart from illegal drug manufacture. Flynn helps her vet brother, Burton, with an online job and witnesses what seems to be a strange murder. In the future-farther-away we see a PR flack, Wilf Netherton, working with a Russian crime family and their staff. Wilf has made an unspecified bad move, and is trying to improve his situation.

The plot ratchets up slowly and steadily to climax in a party, where multiple schemes intersect. Some, not all, is revealed, and the Fishers end up alive, very rich, and with a powerful edge on their present. Wilf somehow survives, and ends up in a relationship. This is too brisk and cursory a summary, but will do for now.

One of the pleasures of reading William Gibson is tracking his experimental words and phrases. These are concentrated projections of a possible future. Let me list some that caught my eye: klepts, artisanal AIs, battle-ready solicitors, court-certified recall, the viz, hate Kegels, autonomic bleedover, continua enthusiasts, drop bears, period trains, neo-primitivist curators, quasi-biological megavolume carbon collectors, heritage diseases, directed swarm weapons, a synthetic bullshit implant, surprise funeral, mofo-ettes, and a neurologer’s shop. One near-future treat is the “freshly printed salty caramel cronut”.

Some of today’s words mutate in these two futures. For example, poor folks don’t cook, but build drugs with some form of 3d printers. “Homes” refers not to homies or residences, but to Homeland Security. A very bad crisis happened between now and 2025 or so. People afterwards refer to it as the Jackpot.

Some of the language is simply cute. One character has her name changed slightly, and refers to it as “amputating the last letter of her name.” Another speaks of “cleaning up the afterbirth of Christmas ornaments”. The Fisher family shops at a Hefty Mart.

In a sense The Peripheral is Gibson’s gloomiest novel. Like the recent film Interstellar (my notes), this story begins in a bad situation, then gets worse. The Fishers are poor and ill (the brother has seizures, the mother seriously ailing) in a society that clearly doesn’t care for them at all. Their story reads like something from a late 19th-century Southern backwater, or like today’s worst countryside. Characters have little help for the future. What we learn about the Jackpot not only makes things horrible, but sets up a future that’s inhumane. Across all of these times looms the specter of vast economic inequality, of a society caring only for the <1%.

There is a powerful sense that the far-future is a kind of 1% taken to an extreme: a lonely elite, casually breaking off temporal worlds as a hobby, easily committing murders. Our lack of information about the world around London’s far-future elite disturbs me, the more I think of it. Conversely, the far-future world is situated in such total surveillance that they see our/Flynn’s sense of surveillance as charmingly antique.

Overall, The Peripheral offers solid future thought in an engaging narrative. Recommended.

I didn’t read this one, but listened to it on audiobook. Lorelei King was the reader and did a fine job, with the whole file running a touch over 14 hours. King does different nationalities well, which matters in the kind of multinational world Gibson loves. She reads with the right level of cool, too – not a thriller’s burning pace, but with a kind of observation acuity that I always associate with Gibson.

SPOILER SECTION

Here I reveal mysteries of the novel.  Do not read any farther if you wish your brain to remain unsullied.

Ready?

Here they come:

First, more on the plot: one agency in the far-off future is manipulating the past for its own reasons, and hires the Fishers as proxies. Another far-off-future group hires others to kill the Fisher family. Ainsley Lowbeer, a London cop, or something like that, appears in the far-future, with unusual connections to the Fishers’ time. Flynn and Burton are able to interact with their far-future employers via telepresence robots, the titular peripherals. Wilf explains the Jackpot to Flynn, describing a series of interconnected, overlapping crises that killed the majority of humans:

droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but just big enough to be historic events in themselves…

Flynn also learns that by intervening in her time, the far-future team has effectively broken off her world from the stream of time, creating a “stub” which can’t affect their future, and avoiding neatly some classic time travel problems.

Second, how does this gloomy novel end, then? Ah, it’s a happy ending, pretty much, although we don’t learn enough about what happens in the future. We – well, the Fisher stub – get to avoid the Jackpot. Whew!

But Gibson doesn’t want us to relax. Note his comments in a Tor interview:

there may be readers who get to the end and they go, “oh, well, that’s okay, everything worked out for them!”
… But these guys had an immensely powerful—if possibly dangerously crazy—fairy godmother who altered their continuum, who has for some reason decided that she’s going to rake all of their chestnuts out of the fire, so that the world can’t go the horrible it way it went in hers. And whatever else is going to happen, that’s not going to happen for us, you know? We’re going to have to find another way. We’re not going to luck into Lowbeer.

Worse, the Fishers seem like good folks. But what will keep them (or their inheritors) from becoming klepts, with their vast power and advantages?

So this book ends up as a cautionary tale, a huge warning, and a goad to get us hauling ourselves away from the Jackpot.

Third, I mentioned earlier that The Peripheral has links to Benford’s Timescape.  Benford’s future world is facing an existential crisis, due to events occurring in the past, so they reach out to communicate with the past to get them to change their ways. Gibson’s far-future has already experienced the Jackpot, but some of the survivors want to change the past to mitigate the experience. I dimly recall Benford’s future coming to an end, somehow, and the past branching off into a new, better world. This recalls Flynn’s world cutting its way into a different, hopefully non-Jackpotted world.

Posted by Bryan A.

Review of Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley

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

SFFaudio Review

ChimpanzeeChimpanzee
Written and narrated by Darin Bradley
Publisher: Resurrection House via Audible
Publication Date: 9 October 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 5 hours, 46 minutes

Themes: / dystopia / unrest / cognitive theory / virtual reality / revolution /

Publisher summary:

Unemployment has ravaged the U.S. economy. Foreclosures are rampant. People struggle everywhere, exhausted by the collapse that destroyed their lives . . .

Benjamin Cade is an expert in cognition and abstract literature, and before the flatlined economy caught up to him, he earned his living as a university instructor. Now, without income, he joins the millions defaulting on their loans—in his case, the money he borrowed to finance his degrees. But there are consequences.

Using advances in cognitive science and chemical therapy, Ben’s debtors can reclaim their property—his education. The government calls the process “Repossession Therapy,” and it is administered by the Homeland Renewal Project, the desperate program designed to salvage what remains of the ravaged U.S. economy. The data Ben’s repossession will yield is invaluable to those improving the “indexing” technology—a remarkable medical advance that has enabled the effective cure of all mental disorders. By disassembling his mind, doctors will gain the expertise to assist untold millions.

But Ben has no intention of losing his mind without a fight, so he begins teaching in the central park, distributing his knowledge before it’s gone in a race against ignorance. And somewhere in Ben’s confusing takedown, Chimpanzee arrives. Its iconography appears spray-painted and wheat-pasted around town. Young people in rubber chimpanzee masks start massive protests. A new use of the indexing technology shows up in bars across the country. It’s called “chimping” . . . named after the mysterious protest movement, and it uses goggles and electrodes to reverse the curative indexing process, temporarily (recreationally) offering those inclined a mental illness of their own choosing.

As Ben slowly loses himself, the Chimpanzee movement seems to grow. And all fingers point to Ben . . . or maybe the voice that speaks to him every time he uses the chimping rig. As civil unrest grows, and Homeland Security takes an interest, Ben finds himself at the center of a storm that may not even be real. What is Chimpanzee? Who created it? What does it want?

And is there even enough of Ben left to find out?

What I prefer in my dystopia is realism and possibility, that it could happen here, in my lifetime. I read dystopia for the horror, for the thrill. That is the brilliance Darin Bradley brings to his novels, both in Noise and in Chimpanzee. It helps that Chimpanzee takes place in a town an hour from where I live, a place I visit often, particularly the arts district, where quite a bit of the action takes place. The events are very vivid to me, described in that place. They will be vivid to others for different reasons, but basically anyone watching the news in the last few years will feel they know the world of this novel.

The premise of Chimpanzee (see description above) may be even more chilling to those of us working in academia, who have seen the impact of the various economic downturns on expensive liberal arts educations. Now that there are no job guarantees, and no guarantee on the investment made (often by the students through hefty loans), people are starting to question the benefit of the system we have maintained for so long. I hate this conversation, because I work at one of those schools, and depend on it for my livelihood. So did the author, for a while. And that’s where reality and the terror of this possible future start to blur within the novel.

There is a lot in this novel that might feel over the reader’s head.  I would encourage people who don’t understand every word from the rhetoric of cognitive theory to press on –  treat it like a classic science fiction info dump.  Let it wash over you, grasp what you can. You will be in the same place as the students in the story, who also are put into a position of creating their own meaning, applied to their real situations.

There is a concept of virtual reality in this novel that I liked, called chimping, something you can do at a bar with your friends.  It becomes an important part of the story in ways I will not give away here.

The audiobook has a story to its making. In the insert, it talks about the initial difficulty Resurrection House had in distributing the audio version.  It includes a warning:

“Because some books aren’t meant for sedans on highways. They may have too many voices, or they may have jagged corners that snag plots, or they may have things with no business being in stories… like symbols or formulae or languages we don’t understand. You can listen to them, if you’re ready to pay attention.”

I did not heed the warning and listened to some of this audio production while driving around. The first time I encountered a repossessed memory, the sound used to represent the hole, the deletion, it almost sent me off the road.  When I played it at home, my husband jumped out of his skin. It would be remiss not to warn you.

Otherwise, the audio moves back and forth between a radio-play style performance from multiple readers with sound effects and music, and the author’s own narration.  I liked the music choices and the sound effects were generally effective.  Having sound effects in some parts magnifies the silence of the others. Benjamin Cade spends a lot of time inside his head, and losing what is in his head, so I think that silence is well warranted.  It takes some getting used to, but I ended up appreciating it.  The author also does a good job delivering his narration in a noirish tone, where short sentences shine.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

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