Review of Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

August 28, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo BacigalupiPump Six and Other Stories
By Paolo Bacigalupi; Read by Jonathan Davis, James Chen, and Eileen Stevens
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: December 1, 2010
ISBN: 9781441892201
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Biopunk / Politics / Society/ Environmentalism / Technology / Food / Death / Thailand / Asia /

The eleven* stories in Pump Six chart the evolution of Paolo Bacigalupi’s work, including the Hugo nominated “Yellow Card Man,” and the Sturgeon Award-winning story “The Calorie Man,” both set in the world of his novel The Windup Girl. This collection also demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Bacigalupi’s work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience.

Let me get the praise out of the way first: Paolo Bacigalupi is an imaginative genius with a message. At times the writing is brilliant. “The Fluted Girl” is excellent, well-written, surely a classic. Every idea in every story is worthy of exploration and consideration and the three narrators are just fine, thanks. His views of dystopia are clever warnings; his ideas endlessly fresh and characters sympathetic. Slow pace is forgivable in his stories, like home-cooked food, worth the wait. James Chen’s reading of the Chinese accents is a great addition to the appropriate stories.

But there are problems. I don’t like having a book of short stories that doesn’t list the names – I shouldn’t have to look on-line for names of the stories and the order in which they appear. I also feel strongly that there is a missing editor. Some of the stories feel as though they are not in final draft version. If I had the print version, my teacher’s red pen would have been in hand marking suggestions for edits. Some information seemed more than unnecessary to the stories (these are short stories after all). It is disappointing that such genius is allowed “out” without polish. Is it possible that the world he created in Pump Six, where literacy has all but disappeared, is actually at its beginning, or did Paolo do it on purpose to see if we are paying attention?

Should you listen to this audiobook? Yes. Brilliant, not perfect, but should definitely not be missed.

*Only ten stories included in the audiobook:
Pocketful Of Dharma • (1999) • novelette • read by James Chen
The Fluted Girl • (2003) • novelette • read by Eileen Stevens
The People Of Sand and Slag • (2004) • novelette • read by James Chen
The Pasho • (2004) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
The Calorie Man • [The Windup Universe] • (2005) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
The Tamarisk Hunter • (2006) • short story • read by Jonathan Davis
Pop Squad • (2006) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
Yellow Card Man • [The Windup Universe] • (2006) • novelette • read by James Chen
Softer • (2007) • short story • read by James Chen
Pump Six • (2008) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis

Posted by Elaine Willis

Review of Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

August 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Spell or High WaterSpell or High Water (Magic 2.0 #2)
By Scott Meyer; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / hacker / time travel / fantasy / humor / Atlantis /

Publisher summary:

The adventures of an American hacker in Medieval England continue as Martin Banks takes his next step on the journey toward mastering his reality-altering powers and fulfilling his destiny. A month has passed since Martin helped to defeat the evil programmer Jimmy, and things couldn’t be going better. Except for his love life, that is. Feeling distant and lost, Gwen has journeyed to Atlantis, a tolerant and benevolent kingdom governed by the Sorceresses, and a place known to be a safe haven to all female time-travelers. Thankfully, Martin and Philip are invited to a summit in Atlantis for all of the leaders of the time-traveler colonies, and now Martin thinks this will be a chance to try again with Gwen. Of course, this is Martin Banks we’re talking about, so murder, mystery, and high intrigue all get in the way of a guy who just wants one more shot to get the girl. The follow-up to the hilarious Off to Be the Wizard, Scott Meyer’s Spell or High Water proves that no matter what powers you have over time and space, you can’t control rotten luck.

I’m convinced Luke Daniels could read the phone book and make it sound interesting. When given a funny book to read he shines even more. He may be my favorite audio book reader. His voices are great and seems to really bring the characters to life.  I grabbed the first book in this series a few months ago because partially because it sounded interesting, but mostly because it was read by Luke Daniels. I grabbed this book however because I really enjoyed the first one and was excited to see that a second book was out.

My favorite character in the series is probably Philip, and he seemed to get more focus in this book. This book also addressed my major criticism of the first book: Where are all the women? This book sees us visit Atlantis, which was used as the explanation for why there was almost no women. I enjoyed the female characters introduced in this one, especially the Brits.

Time travel stories are really hard to write well as it can all be very confusing. I think Mr. Meyer does a great job of handling this by having the characters be just as confused as everyone else. They offer several theories to explain things, but seem just as unsure of the plausibility as I was. This is definitely not a hard sci-fi book.

The humor in this book probably wasn’t as good as the first one, but that didn’t make the story any less fun. I did find the parts focused on Jimmy to be less enjoyable than the stuff with Philip and Martin however.

Overall I think this was another great entry in this series. Almost everything was nicely wrapped up, while the epilogue planted the seeds for a possible third book. I hope he does write a third because I’ll happily listen to it. If not, maybe I can get Luke Daniels to read me the phone book.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Marshall versus the Assassins by M. Harold Page

August 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Marshal vs. the Assassins by M. Harold PageMarshal versus the Assassins (A Foreworld SideQuest)
By M. Harold Page; Performed by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 13 minutes

Themes: / Foreworld / Mongoliad / crusades / fantasy / assassins /

Publisher summary:

Sir William the Marshal, legend in his own time, has promised to go on crusade, a vow made to his Young King as he lay dying. But when the Oliphant, legendary war horn of Roland, is stolen by the lethal Assassins, he’s charged with returning the relic in order to stop the very thing he’d vowed to undertake—a crusade; this one engineered by the thieves. With his small band of trusted companions—Sir Baldwin, his tourney compatriot; Eustace, his squire; and Henrik, the giant Norseman—William sets out to take back the relic. But treachery abounds, and when William loses two of his companions, he discovers an unlikely ally—Da’ud, an Assassin himself, bent on taking the Oliphant from the heretic faction that has stolen it. The three fight their way across land, sea, and desert, only to find themselves facing an army…and the Oliphant within their grasp.

This is another book in the Foreworld Sidequest world, another story based on the a real-life character in a real-life time. This time, the character is William the Marshal, a knight who served Henry the Young King. The story grounds itself it William’s time with Henry the Young King, about a relic that Henry earned and William’s promise to Henry on Henry’s deathbed. William promised he would lead a crusade, though while trying to gather the funds to do so, the Oliphant (a supposed relic from the time of Charlemagne) that was buried with Henry is stolen by assassins. The Knights Brethren charge William with its recovery, declaring that failure to do so would give rise to a new crusade.

The self-contained story finds William set out on this task, coming across new crosses and double-crosses and creating alliances with some of the most unlikely characters. The tale was entertaining with many fight scenes–indeed, it seemed that William travelled primarily from scuffle to scuffle and had some semi-mystic power to not only survive but survive victoriously in each skirmish. To be fair, in such a short story, it can be difficult to keep track of motives and characters, and sometimes this was the case here, but in general, it was a short and fun story.

Simon Vance narrated this story, another diversion from series regular Luke Daniels. As usual, Vance’s work was not only fantastic, but with his English accent, it felt like he “belonged” in the world. Unlike other stories, this one didn’t reference characters or places mentioned in other books/stories, minimizing the chance for confusion with pronunciation differences. This makes the story more “stand-alone” but may also be frustrating for those hoping for more stories from well-known characters. Regardless, it was an entertaining way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

August 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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
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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.

Review of Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

August 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
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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.

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