Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War (The Chronicles of the Pneumatic #2)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 31 minutes
Themes: / snow / steampunk / zeppelin / airship / aliens /
The frozen wasteland of Snow World – known as Southern California before an alien invasion decimated civilization – is home to warring steampunk clans. Crankshafts, Imperials, Tinskins, Brineboilers, and many more all battle one another for precious supplies, against ravenous mutant beasts for basic survival, and with the mysterious Founders for their very freedom. Through this ruined world soars the Pneumatic Zeppelin, captained by the daring Romulus Buckle. In the wake of a nearly suicidal assault on the Founders’ prison city to rescue key military leaders, both the steam-powered airship and its crew are bruised and battered. Yet there’s little time for rest or repairs: Founders raids threaten to shatter the fragile alliance Buckle has risked everything to forge among the clans. Even as he musters what seems a futile defense in the face of inevitable war, Buckle learns that the most mysterious clan of all is holding his long-lost sister in a secret base – and that she holds the ultimate key to victory over the Founders. But rescuing her means abandoning his allies and praying they survive long enough for there to be an alliance to return to.
So if you are reading this, it means you’ve suffered through the first book, Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, and thought, “Well, here’s a series with no where to go but up.” Turns out you were right. After an unexpected opening on a snowy mountain with an obligatory action scene, Preston gets back to the business of the war brewing against the Founders Clan. And while it’s still not a great book, it is much more confident than the last and delves deeper into Buckle’s world.
Like the first book, the story relies a lot on excess for its appeal. Sure, the Crankshaft Clan is arranging an alliance with the other clans to go to war against the Founders who are trying to take everyone over. But now there is also a love triangle, a long-lost sister, and an alien having visions while in a coma. We are also shown some the ordinary goings on of clan life which is reminiscent of frontier life the West. It is unclear how society managed to revert back a couple centuries when they have little to no knowledge of twenty-first century life, but it is nice to feel like the events of the first novel have some sort of background. Once again, the characters were stereotypical and underdeveloped. The women all seem to be in love with Buckle for no real reason while he is completely oblivious. Preston still tells us about about the characters but this book also shows us a little to backup his claims. Still, he would have been better served by shortening the middle to keep the plot moving. The last chapter was again the most interesting part but it shows that Preston will continue to include whatever fantastical elements he can think of to keep his audience interested regardless of how muddled it makes his story.
Although better than the first novel, this book still doesn’t come up to scratch. Luke Daniels continues his admirable narration but it is not enough to make it worthwhile.
Posted by Rose D.
Brad Lansky and the Alien at Planet X
(Brad Lansky, Episode 1)
1 hour 16 minutes – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Themes: / Audio Drama / Science Fiction / artificial intelligence / Space Travel / cybernetics / aliens /
It’s difficult to believe that Protophonic is ten years old. I know it is because there’s a notice on their website that says so, and, in celebration, they are giving away this remake of the first installment of the Brad Lansky series for free – for a short time. I urge you to go check it out.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. At Protophonic, the sound is the thing. Each track Protophonic produces is a rich soundscape that needs to be enjoyed using a pair of good headphones. I also recommend that you give it your full attention – turn everything off, and let this audio work magic.
As each track starts, the sound sets the scene. More than once, I was surprised by the images in my mind. How easily they appeared in reaction to the sound, and how vivid the scenes were in my imagination. Much to the credit of Protophonic, no time at all is spent in dialogue establishing the setting. Actors never say things like, “My, just look at this blue spaceport!” The rich audio in cooperation with my imagination provided the setting. Indeed, Protophonic has trusted the listener with more than a typical audio drama would, and I found it an exhilarating experience. I enjoy the feeling of collaboration, and I like knowing that my mental picture of this story is sure to be different from another listener’s. It’s also wonderful that the story both depends on and works with whatever the listener brings to the table.
This first Brad Lansky production opens with a Ship AI (called Echolocator) telling co-pilot Dieter Rothman news of a distress call. Dieter and Captain Sandy Larkin meet at the main control console to discuss the situation, and things get tense quickly. Soon after, at Shanghai Spaceport, Brad Lansky and co-pilot Alex John meet with Zara, a life-form scientist, who tells them that Sandy Larkin is missing. Lansky and John immediately start searching. What follows includes alien life, artificial intelligences, cybernetic persons, and space travel.
In short: Brad Lansky and the Alien at Planet X is a very enjoyable work of science fiction, highly recommended for superior audio presentation. This is a remake of the first installment, and there are currently four other episodes to enjoy. The last two (episodes 4 and 5) are winners of the Mark Time Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Production of the Year.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
By H. Beam Piper; Read by Jim Roberts
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 11 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours
Themes: / alien intelligence / human intelligence / corporate greed / pipe smoking / science fiction / aliens /
On the planet Zarathustra, a sunstone prospector named Jack Holloway receives a strange guest at his door one night – a mysterious, small, fuzzy alien – which promptly makes itself at home. Before long, “Little Fuzzy’s” whole family joins him. Hardened Jack is transformed into their “pappy” and chief protector, and his life is forever changed. The creatures, however, turn out to be quite intelligent. Sapient life on Zarathustra, however, would be disastrous; this leads Jack and his friends on a quest to discover the answer. The quest becomes a matter of urgency when the company that has been growing rich from mining the planet decides to exterminate the Fuzzies to protect their contract. What follows is murder, deceit, kidnapping and intrigue at its best.
Jack Holloway is a human prospector on the planet Zarathustra. As Holloway works his claim, he encounters an indigenous life form dubbed Little Fuzzy. These creatures appear quite intelligent. But if the Little Fuzzy proves to hold sapient intelligence, it’ll cram a giant monkey wrench into the industrial machine that is planetary mining and mineral extraction. It’s Little Fuzzy verses big money in this quaint 1962 SF adventure.
While H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy might show its age, its message still holds an edge. At what point do we as sentient beings stop exploiting natural resources/habitat for profit. Since we are still struggling to come to terms with this question today, it’s fun to examine this problem when set against a distant planet with cute fuzzy tool-wielding prawn-eating creatures.
I discovered Piper’s Little Fuzzy through John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation. Scalzi wrote his book in tribute to Piper’s work, and I can see why. Piper writes a fun SF story that evokes thought and problem solving. Scalzi’s book possesses more immediacy than Piper’s Little Fuzzy, and Scalzi creates a character in Holloway that is less heroic than Piper’s Pappy Jack. I prefer Scalzi’s interpretation to Piper’s, but that is due to writing style more than anything else. Piper’s work possesses more content while Scalzi’s work holds more character intimacy and action.
Jim Roberts narrates this audiobook, and initially I wasn’t thrilled with his slow-paced delivery. It seemed too deliberate and too aged for my perception of Holloway. But then I realized that my mental image of Jack Holloway was from Scalzi, and Piper’s Pappy Jack is different. When I concluded this, I realized that Roberts was a great match for Piper’s Holloway. And while the POV doesn’t entirely rest upon Pappy Jack’s shoulder, it does for the majority of the story. Roberts and Holloway became one, and I came to truly enjoy the reading style of Jim Roberts.
I recommend this to anyone who enjoys classic SF. It’s more thought-provoking than action driven, and in this light, it succeeds.
Posted by Casey Hampton.
To Honor You Call Us (Man of War #1)
By H. Paul Honsinger; Read by Ray Chase
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 18 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours
Themes: / military SF / swords in space / rat-faced aliens /
The Terran Union is engaged in a vast interstellar war against the KragRuthless aliens intent on exterminating humankind. In 2315, the wily Max Robichaux is given command of the USS Cumberland, a destroyer with state-of-the-art capabilities but a combat record so bad, she’s known as the “Cumberland Gap.”Capt. Robichaux’s first mission: to take his warship to the Free Corridor, where the Krag have secretly been buying strategic materials, and to seize or destroy any ships carrying enemy cargo. Far from the fleet and under enforced radio silence, Max relies only on his determination and guile…and the support and friendship of his chief medical officer, the brilliant Dr. Sahin.Because even as he deals with the ship’s onboard problems and the stress of carrying out her risky assignment, Max and the doctor discover that the Cumberland and her misfit crew are all that stands in the way of a deadly Krag attack that threatens to end the war—and humanity—once and for all.A far-future story in the tradition of “ships of wood, men of iron” novels, To Honor You Call Us and the Man of War series combine the adventure of exploration, the excitement of war, and the dangers of the unknown through the eyes of a ship and her crew.
H. Paul Honsinger’s To Honor You Call Us is on the softer side of Military SF. Rat-faced aliens religiously motivated and determined to exterminate humans play the role of villain. The stage is the stars, and the stars teem with alien life. Some species resemble catfish; others appear to mirror carnivorous teddy bears.
The year is 2315. Rough and tumble Max Robichaux is promoted to Captain, and the story follows his journey into deep space to fight the dreaded rat-faced Krag. In this era of FTL (Faster Than Light) space jumps, pulse cannons, and universal interspecies translators, we also encounter boarding parties, cutlasses, traditional firearms, beer and liquor rations, and battle-axes.
I struggled with this book. The characters are not very engaging, the dialogue feels clunky, and neither of these are helped by a novel written entirely in passive voice. Honsinger overloads his prose with anachronistic stumbling blocks jarring the reader from the 2315 present-day. I didn’t want to at first, but I was willing to accept sword wielding boarding parties in space. I drew the line at the ships commissary selling t-shirts (all sizes), ball caps, pins, coffee mugs, pillowcases, pendants, charm bracelets, polo shirts, shotglasses, workout shorts, throw pillows, Christmas tree ornaments, etc. When I encounter a character saying, “Maybe Santa Claus will come by in his sleigh and act as a missile decoy,” I stop and scratch my noggin. The year is 2315, what character drops this antiquated holiday reference? And why does a character observe, “The sounds reminded Max of a child playing with his oatmeal by using a drinking straw to make bubbles.” Are there really still straws and oatmeal in 2315? Don’t get me wrong, I like oatmeal, but I’ve never used a straw with it before.
The struggle lies in Honsinger’s earnest desire for his story to be taken seriously. If this had been presented as a farce, a jape upon the genre of Military SF like the film Galaxy Quest poked good-naturedly at its contemporary counterparts, I could have better rolled with the punches. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Honsinger’s incessant desire to drop knowledge in the form of military history on the reader is tiring, and does nothing to advance the story. When it’s all said and done, this reads like fanfic, poorly written fanfic.
I listened to the audiobook. Ray Chase is the narrator, and damned if he didn’t make this book better.
Since To Honor You Call Us is the first in the Man of War series, I fully expect Honsinger’s writing to improve as the story continues. And while I do feel burned by this book, I might be willing to pick up the next volume, in time, if Honsinger figures out what he is writing, drops the passive voice, and commits to more intensive revision.
Posted by Casey Hampton.
The SFFaudio Podcast #256 – Jesse, Tamahome, Luke Burrage, Seth, and Mark Turetsky talk about the audiobook of Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (as narrated by Mark Turetsky for Blackstone Audio)!
Talked about on today’s show:
On the book title’s proper spacing and hyphenation; Have Gun, Will Travel TV show; Heinlein’s last “juvenile” novel; Mark “over the moon” about the opportunity to record the book; novel nominated for Hugo in 1959; parts of the novel are hard SF; Philip K. Dick’s completely unrelated story The Father Thing; ways of manipulation in the novel; Mark’s favorite character voices; correlations between the Earth characters and space characters; debunking the possibility that the story was all a dream or imaged à la Wizard of Oz; cross-novel characters in Heinlein’s novels i.e. Space Family Stone; novel followed up by Starship Troopers; detailed description of the space suit possibly inspired by Heinlein’s work on bomber pilot pressure suits during World War II; The Martian by Andy Weir; casual drug use in the novel; Mark didn’t do the helium voice in space suit scenes; comparison to full cast audio version; Kip’s conversations with inanimate space suit bear resemblance to Gravity; on the novel’s setting in time and its world building flaws; slip sticks and slide rules; slide rule “the best invention since girls”; Kip’s dad should “get off his ass and get a job”; Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and its inspiration on Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog via its appearance in this novel’s opening lines; Heinlein’s infallibility; going Galt; the father is an asshole; the father is Heinlein; money in fiction; money baskets in Stranger in a Strange Land; old men hooking up with young women in Heinlein; Podkayne of Mars; Time for the Stars; Tunnel in the Sky is a mash-up of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games; the story’s narrative perspective; on learning outside of school, “I’m gonna learn this shit on my own”; novel encapsulates Luke’s life philosophy, “There’s no such thing as luck. There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.”; the novel’s accelerating plot; The Puppet Masters; on adapting the novel to the silver screen; PBS’s adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven; the relative weakness of the novel’s last section; Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; time travel “breaks” fiction; Lisa Simpson would read this book; John Scalzi’s blog post An Anecdotal Observation, Relating to Robert Heinlein and the Youth of Today; people today don’t read books (or read the wrong kind of books); is science fiction the most enlightened of fiction genres?; phone books are useful for starting fires; Luke tells an inspiring story about the Magellanic Cloud; “the cure for boredom is curiosity”; where animals keep their brains.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Themes: / military sf / basic training / overpopulated earth / battle armor combat / aliens / marriage / mutiny / mathematics /
In the sequel to Terms of Enlistment, a desperate battle for interstellar supremacy pits man against man and humanity against aliens in an epic tale of vicious combat and political deception.
Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the solar system…
Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is Commonwealth Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go.
After surviving a disastrous spaceborne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony—and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun.
In Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos picks up where Terms of Enlistment left off. Earth is overpopulated, various terrestrial governments are still warring with one another in space as people colonize the stars, and there’s a new nearly indestructible alien species that appears determined to exterminate mankind.
The combat scenes are crisp and the action flows at a nice clip. For the majority of the narrative, we tag along with Andrew Grayson as he along with his fellow NAC troopers battle the Lanky, the new aliens on the block. Again we are plunged into a universe where the Chinese, Russians, and North American Commonwealth manage to still fight one another in space as they simultaneously battle the eighty-foot tall Lanky.
Kloos writes a nice sequel, but unlike many others, I didn’t feel that Lines of Departure was as strong as Terms of Enlistment. Still, this is a good Military SF book and worth your time. I like the military hardware, interactions between troops and civilians, and the realistic paradoxical bureaucracy that apparently still plagues humanity’s future.
My favorite scene? Andrew Grayson having breakfast with his mother in a small Vermont diner. I like Military SF combat, and Kloos writes good combat scenes. But the breakfast is something special. Character development happens seamlessly, dialogue feels effortless and natural, and there is some genuine emotional growth occurring. I could almost taste the food, smell the coffee, and feel the heft of the menu and napkins.
The ending is good, maybe not surprising, but it’s true to the story and well written. Nice Job, Mr. Kloos. Thank you for not overreaching. You gave me what the story needed, and you resisted the temptation of adding too many whirly-bangs.
Luke Daniels narrates the audiobook, and turns in another outstanding reading.
I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. If you’ve read Terms of Enlistment, you’ll want to give this a go.
Posted by Casey Hampton.