Review of A New Dawn

October 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Star Wars New DawnA New Dawn (Star Wars)
By John Jackson Miller; Narrated by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 2 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 43 minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / Dark Times / rebels / Jedi / Empire /

Publisher summary:

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

“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.” (Emperor Palpatine)

For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights brought peace and order to the Galactic Republic, aided by their connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force. But they were betrayed – and the entire galaxy has paid the price. It is the Age of the Empire.

Now Emperor Palpatine, once Chancellor of the Republic and secretly a Sith follower of the dark side of the Force, has brought his own peace and order to the galaxy. Peace through brutal repression, and order through increasing control of his subjects’ lives.

But even as the Emperor tightens his iron grip, others have begun to question his means and motives. And still others, whose lives were destroyed by Palpatine’s machinations, lay scattered about the galaxy like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off….

The first Star Wars novel created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn is set during the legendary “Dark Times” between Episodes III and IV and tells the story of how two of the lead characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels first came to cross paths. Featuring a foreword by Dave Filoni.

This is it: The beginning of the new Star Wars content after the entire expanded universe became “legends” and it is….decent. Not awesome but also not bad. It’s hard to be objective because John Jackson Miller is charged with kicking off all new characters with all new adventures, and that feels much different from previous stories with established characters. I was kind of disappointed with the characters because this was an opportunity to be unique and they chose to make recycled versions of previous Star Wars characters. That said, the book was the normal action packed Star Wars adventure you’d expect and didn’t actually end the way I assumed it would – which I liked. I’d recommend this book to Star Wars fans or those interested in the new Rebels show (since this precedes it in the timeline) but would still point to Timothy Zahn’s work as a real gateway drug into Star Wars books.

Miller does a great job getting the feel of Star Wars in this book but the story also feels a bit like the characters from Star Wars have been recycled a bit:

Kanan Jarrus: A bit of a rogue with budding jedi powers kept hidden. He comes of like 30% Luke and 70% Han. Marc Thompson didn’t use either his Luke or Han voice for this character but I noticed him slipping somewhat into a Han voice on some of the more roguish moments.
Hera: Leia meets Mara Jade. She’s all about investigating wrong doing by the Empire, runs around with a hood up, and does some spy-type stuff.
Count Vidian: Evil cyborg guy that works for the Empire. I guess you always need an evil guy that is mostly machine (Vader/Grievous) to show how much they’re lost their humanity.
Skelly: This guy’s hi-jinks just make me think of Jar Jar Binks. No weird accent at least.

The main plot of the story revolves around the Empire wanting to increase efficiency of their mining of a mineral they need for expanding the fleet. The Empire shows up with the ruthless efficiency expert Count Vidian to make the miners be more efficient or else. Action and drama ensue from there and I always find it amazing how many times an author can get all the good and bad guys together only to have people escape / not get hurt and continue on with their plans. I thought the story was pretty well thought out and there were interesting revelations about characters and their motivations throughout the story so it wasn’t just straightforward action.

One thing that kind of annoyed me was a fairly major thread that seems to serve as an allegory to all the leaks in the media lately. There are contractors that monitor citizens (a la 1984) via hidden cameras and microphones but that monitoring has gotten out of hand since the emperor came to power. There is even a “military contractor” that is a whistle blower….. All of this may not have been intentional but it sure felt like it.

As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson did a great job as usual. If you’ve listened to a Star Wars book narrated by him before, you’ve heard his different voices and know what to expect. All the great Star Wars sound effects, atmospheric sounds, and music are there too. I may be less critical now, but I thought all of that was better done, less distracting, and contributed a bit better to this story than in some others I’ve listened to in the past.

And just a fun treat, this isn’t from this particular Star Wars novel but the same narrator:

 

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of A Good Marriage by Stephen King

October 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

A Good MarriageA Good Marriage
By Stephen King; Narrated by Jessica Hecht
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 30 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 33 minutes

Themes: / horror / numismatists / hidey-holes / secrets /

Publisher summary:

What happens when, on a perfectly ordinary evening, all the things you believed in and took for granted are turned upside down?

When her husband of more than 20 years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband. It’s a horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, and it definitively ends a good marriage.

The audio version of this longish short story clocks in at three hours and thirty-three minutes. It harbors no SF, fantasy, or supernatural components, which frequently inhabit King’s works. This is a straightforward horror/suspense piece. But for a few slack portions of the narrative, the pacing is pleasing, the exposition is handled briskly and cleanly, and the characters feel genuine rather than clunky marionettes.

The murder details are gruesome and chilling, and at least one crime involves a child. What would we do if suddenly the person we thought we knew the most turned out to be a psychotic stranger? Well, some of us might fight for justice. Others may simply, and quietly, acquiesce, and hope that the bad things will blow away on a summer wind.

King’s knack for building tension through honest character behavior delivers a deep sense of atmosphere. The writing is typical King, and the absence of flowery adjectives combined with sturdy nouns and verbs only bolsters the work, cracking that bell of authenticity harder.

Jessica Hecht is the narrator. Initially I found her delivery over the top and forced. But as the reading progressed, and I felt my way into her rhythm and style of narration, I realized her interpretation really did feel true to the characters.

I think fans of King will find this appealing, and most likely will have already read this in the collection Full Dark, No Stars . But I doubt that newcomers to King will want to start with this piece.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson

October 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Slimy UnderbellySlimy Underbelly (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., Book 4)
By Kevin J. Anderson; Narrated by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 19 minutes

Themes: / zombies / detectives / urban fantasy / humor / wizards / thieving lawn gnomes /

Publisher summary:

There’s something fishy going on in the Unnatural Quarter. Bodies are floating face-down, the plumbing is backing up, and something smells rotten – even to a zombie detective like Dan Shamble. Diving into the slimy underbelly of a diabolical plot, Dan comes face-to-tentacles with an amphibious villain named Ah’Chulhu (to which the usual response is “Gesundheit!”). With his snap-happy gang of gator-guys – former pets flushed down the toilet – Ah’Chulhu wreaks havoc beneath the streets. While feuding weather wizards kick up storms and a gang of thieving lawn gnomes continues their reign of terror, Dan Shamble is running out of time – before the whole stinking city goes down the drain.

The cases don’t solve themselves so Dan ‘Shamble’ is back with a whole new set of cases to solve in the unnatural quarter. Many familiar faces make appearances as in previous novels but this can be read on it’s own with no prior knowledge of the series. If you can’t tell from the cover and premise, this is a supernatural humor novel with a diverse cast of supernatural creatures, chock full of puns that could even make your crazy uncle groan. If that sounds like something fun to you or you’ve enjoyed previous novels in this series – you will like this novel. If that doesn’t sound great to you or you’re on the fence….you’ll probably hate this book because it doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

You can tell Kevin J. Anderson probably had fun writing this novel. He puts a lot of tongue-in-cheek commentary about book writing, publishing, and the nature of best sellers in here (more than previous novels). He goes to great lengths to set up a scene for things happening just to slip a one liner in there.

As for the audio side of things, Phil Gigante continues to shine in this series. The cartoony nature of the characters lets him use a wide range of voices. He really handles the comedic nature of the novel well and puts a good amount of inflection in his tone.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

October 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Future for Curious PeopleThe Future for Curious People
By Gregory Sherl; Narrated by Heather Corrigan and Justin Torres
Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Publication Date: 2 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / near future / technology / relationships / librarians /

Publisher summary:

Meet Evelyn and Godfrey. Evelyn is breaking up with her boyfriend, who’s passing out advertisements for his band on a snowy street corner in Baltimore. She’s seen their dismal future together at Dr. Chin’s office: she and her boyfriend, both many years older, singing “Happy Birthday” to a Chihuahua and arguing about cheese. She hopes for more. Meanwhile, Godfrey is proposing to his girlfriend, Madge, who’s not quite willing to take that leap; she wants to see their future together first—just to be sure they’re meant for each other. The Future for Curious People follows Evelyn and Godfrey’s soon-to-be-entwined lives, set in motion by the fabulist premise of a world with envisionists like Dr. Chin. In struggling with their pasts and possible futures, the characters encounter the mysteries of sorrow, love, death, and fate. It’s a story that will capture you with its brightness, its hopefulness, its anxious twists and turns. It is a love story that is ultimately a statement about happiness and how to accept our fleeting existence.

This was a highly enjoyable book about people who can’t help but look into their relationship futures, with great consequences to their current entanglements. The two narrators on the audiobook portray Godfrey Burkes and Evelyn the Librarian very well, alongside distinguishable minor characters with different voices. The varieties of futures don’t get old, in fact they relate to one another and connect to the futures of other characters, as they should.

The book made me laugh quite a few times – it’s the kind of humor that’s just cute, like a romantic comedy. I’m a sucker for light, cute stories when the characters are bookish or quirky or otherwise unusual. This fits the bill!

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Consumed by David Cronenberg

October 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

consumedConsumed
By David Cronenberg; Narrated by William Hurt
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 30 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 50 minutes

Themes: / body horror / technofear / medical / sex / conspiracy /

Publisher summary:

The exhilarating debut novel by iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg: the story of two journalists whose entanglement in a French philosopher’s death becomes a surreal journey into global conspiracy.

Stylish and camera-obsessed, Naomi and Nathan thrive on the yellow journalism of the social-media age. They are lovers and competitors – nomadic freelancers in pursuit of sensation and depravity, encountering each other only in airport hotels and browser windows.

Naomi finds herself drawn to the headlines surrounding Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, Marxist philosophers and sexual libertines. Célestine has been found dead and mutilated in her Paris apartment. Aristide has disappeared. Police suspect him of killing her and consuming parts of her body. With the help of an eccentric graduate student named Hervé Blomqvist, Naomi sets off in pursuit of Aristide. As she delves deeper into Célestine and Aristide’s lives, disturbing details emerge about their sex life – which included trysts with Hervé and others. Can Naomi trust Hervé to help her?

Nathan, meanwhile, is in Budapest photographing the controversial work of an unlicensed surgeon named Zoltán Molnár, once sought by Interpol for organ trafficking. After sleeping with one of Molnár’s patients, Nathan contracts a rare STD called Roiphe’s. Nathan then travels to Toronto, determined to meet the man who discovered the syndrome. Dr. Barry Roiphe, Nathan learns, now studies his own adult daughter, whose bizarre behavior masks a devastating secret. These parallel narratives become entwined in a gripping, dreamlike plot that involves geopolitics, 3-D printing, North Korea, the Cannes Film Festival, cancer, and, in an incredible number of varieties, sex. Consumed is an exuberant, provocative debut novel from one of the world’s leading film directors.

“Let me unbox you…”
-Aristide Arosteguy

This is a novel best suited to two audiences: those looking for innovative horror, and people interested in visionary possibilities of new media. It would also be good for fans of first-time novelist David Cronenberg’s work in film, but I suspect they’d fall into the first two categories.

(I fall into all three, being a lifelong Cronenberg fan since I first saw the mad genius of Videodrome.)

Consumed is, as one might expect from the author, a challenging and strange book. I can describe the plot like this: two journalists investigate a Parisian crime, wherein a husband killed and ate part of his wife. The (former) couple were influential philosophers, Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, and a cute parody of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. They made waves with a theory of consumer society (hence one meaning of the title). Naomi and Nathan are lovers and colleagues, fellow gadget hounds, but they usually live apart, and follow their joint inquiry along separate, parallel lines.

What follows is a picaresque or road trip, as the two N’s travel the world: Paris, Japan, Canada, Hungary, Cannes, Holland. Cronenberg teasingly refuses to give us much local color, offering instead the thin, usually tech-mediated views of our protagonists, or sketches of the people they meet.

So much for the plot’s initial action. But I’d also need to tell you more about the book’s style. Consumed adores its surfaces and fetishes. It lovingly describes clothing, technologies, record covers (oh yes), body parts, and interior decorating exactly as far as major characters obsess over them. Technology looms large; this is very much a novel about modern digital devices and how we intimately use them.

Consumed is also about pushing against discussing awkward or awful topics, mostly in a horrific way. Without spoilering too much, I can mention offhandedly cannibalism, murder, autocannibalism, apotemnophilia, acrotomophilia, deformed body parts, sexually transmitted diseases, cancerous body parts, and medical fetishism. Which brings us back to Cronenberg’s tone. He doesn’t revel in these topics, but comes to them thoughtfully, from a character’s mind, almost (and sometimes literally) clinically.

In a sense Consumed is an update of Videodrome, a deep dive into our current media obsessions and how they warp (and delight) ourselves. “Naomi was in the screen” is how it begins. In a sense this is about limitation, especially by the end. Yet Cronenberg isn’t simply a techno-skeptic, at least not in the text; he’s too fond of devices and their powers. He sees their depths, and shares them with us through his well-informed, perverse vision.

It’s also a horror novel by any stretch of the term. There’s body horror, dread, suspense, and even a touch of something deeper by the end.

It is also funny, although not everyone laughs with me. There are running gags, like many characters’ obsession with landing a New Yorker story, or in Naomi and Nathan’s banter, or nearly everything the bad Hungarian surgeon says.

I’d recommend this to the audiences mentioned above.

William Hurt does a terrific job with the audiobook overall, handling a wide range of accents. He seems especially at home with Aristide Arosteguy’s voice. Early on Hurt inserts odd, non-Shatnerian pauses into sentences that disconcert, but this ceases by the middle of the book. It’s a pleasure to listen to.

Posted by Bryan A.

Review of Sand by Hugh Howey

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

SandSand: Omnibus Edition
By Hugh Howey; Narrated by Karen Chilton
Publisher: Broad Reach Publishing
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 15 minutes

Publisher summary: / post-apocalypse / sand / survival /

We live across the thousand dunes with grit in our teeth and sand in our homes. No one will come for us. No one will save us. This is our life, diving for remnants of the old world so that we may build what the wind destroys. No one is looking down on us. Those constellations in the night sky? Those are the backs of gods we see.

In his first book book since finishing his Silo trilogy, Mr. Howey does a good job creating another interesting post-apocalyptic world.  In this one the world is buried under sand and water is scarce. The daring and (maybe a bit crazy or stupid) use specialized equipment to dive deep under the sand and recover anything deemed valuable to be traded for money and supplies and just to get by.

The story is once again split up into multiple parts. The early books seems to each focus on a single POV, while the later ones jump around between them. All of our POV characters are from the same family. The children ranging in age from 10 to late 20’s, or so it seems. The oldest, Vic (short for Victoria not Victor) is probably my favorite though all of her younger brothers are interesting in their own right.

It’s a dangerous world full of thieves, murders and revolutionaries. Like his Silo books, the central story is a bit of a mystery. What happened? Why is the world buried under Sand? And on a smaller scale, what happened to the father of kids who walked off into the desert one night 10 years ago and never returned?

This was a short and enjoyable read. As it’s post-apocalyptic it’s more on the dark side so I’m reluctant to call it “light”, but it can certainly be called an easy read. There isn’t a ton of depth here, but it moves along at a quick pace. I’d say if you enjoyed his previous books you’ll likely enjoy this one as well.

Karen Chilton is a fine but mostly unexceptional reader. However I listened at 1.3x speed, which I don’t normally do, so that may played into it slightly. She’s clear and easy to understand, but didn’t really add or detract from the story itself.

Review by Rob Zak.

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