Review of Puttering About in a Strange Land

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Puttering About in a Strange Land PKDPuttering About in a Strange Land
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Luke Daniels, Kate Rudd, Amy McFadden
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / marriage / boarding school / literary / infidelity /

Publisher summary:

When Roger and Virginia Lindhal enroll their son Gregg in Mrs. Alt’s Los Padres Valley School in the mountains of Southern California, their marriage is already in deep trouble. Then the Lindhals meet Chic and Liz Bonner, whose two sons also board at Mrs. Alt’s school. The meeting is a catalyst for a complicated series of emotions and traumas, set against the backdrop of suburban Los Angeles in the early fifties. The buildup of emotional intensity and the finely observed characterizations are hallmarks of Philip K. Dick’s work.This is a realistic novel filled with details of everyday life and skillfully told from three points of view. It is powerful, eloquent, and gripping.

Puttering About in a Small Land (written 1957 but first published in 1985) feels very different from Philip K Dick’s usual stuff. It’s a dark and funny slow-burn set in 1950s Southern California, but there are no simulacra, no time slips, and no telepaths, and the only artificial reality is the one built out of society’s expectations of suburban married life.

It also seems unusually sensitive for PKD – not in a corny or sentimental way but just finely tuned into human relationships. He captures the subtle and imperfect communications of a dysfunctional marriage where two people are pretending to work together but are really pushing and pulling below the surface, wanting different things and resenting each other for it.

“I’ll be back pretty soon,” he said. From his eyes shone the leisurely, confident look; it was the sly quality that always annoyed her.

“I thought maybe we could talk,” she said.

He stood at the door, his hands in his pockets, his head tilted on one side. And he waited, showing his endurance, not arguing with her, simply standing. Like an animal, she thought. An inert, unspeaking, determined thing, remembering that it can get what it wants if it just waits.

“I’ll see you,” he said, opening the door to the hall.

“All right,” she said.

The story is told in three alternating points of view: Roger, his wife Virginia, and the “other woman” Liz. All three are trapped, one way or another, in self-made realities they don’t enjoy.

Some readers complain that PKD writes unflattering female characters, and as usual these ones aren’t much to admire: Virginia is gossipy and judgmental, her mother is a controlling nag (who often corners Roger and has some of the funniest scenes in the book), and Liz Bonner is so naïve and childlike she verges on the idiotic.

“She’s sort of a—” Mrs Alt searched for the word. “I don’t want to say lunatic. That isn’t it. She’s sort of an idiot with a touch of mysticism.”

But even so, Virginia has her strengths, and Liz Bonner is lovely in a quirky way. Her flaws and naïve unpredictability are exactly what free her from society’s expectations, and are what attract Roger. Despite the deceit and infidelity, their love story is somehow still beautiful.

And to be fair, PKD also writes pretty unflattering men. For example, Roger not only cheats on his wife, he also abandoned his previous wife and daughter and seems to be a compulsive liar. He’s a bristly, bad-tempered, and indifferent to his wife’s gestures of love and compromise. All he really cares about his TV retail-and-repair business, which is where the book title comes from: he’s a little king “puttering about in a small land.”

The waning of a marriage and infidelity appear in a lot of PKD’s stories, but in this one they really drive this plot. Normally I wouldn’t try to detect an author’s own life in his fiction, but since PKD has openly admitted he weaves autobiographical details into all his stories, it seems safe to see something of him in Roger.

His essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” might give some more clues to his approach to fiction set in the real world. Just because the characters’ universe is based in reality doesn’t mean PKD won’t try to disintegrate it.

I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. … Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live.”

I listened to Puttering About in a Small Land on audio and read the print version too. The audiobook was read by Amy McFadden, Kate Rudd, and Luke Daniels, one for each of the main characters. All three were great, although using three narrators didn’t work so well for me since the story is in third-person. Hearing the same characters read three slightly different ways gave the audiobook a patchwork feel and was a bit jarring and distracting sometimes.

I’d recommend Puttering About in a Small Land for PKD fans but not so much as an entry to his works. For anyone who knows his style, it’s very cool to see a more subtle side of him and to see how beautifully he can write about human relationships in the artificial universe we call reality. Definitely worth the read.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

 

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 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.

Review of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

May 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Firefight by Brandon SandersonFirefight (The Reckoners #2)
By Brandon Sanderson; Performed by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 17 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / YA / fantasy / magic / superpowers /
Publisher summary:

Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Words of Radiance, coauthor of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and creator of the internationally bestselling Mistborn Trilogy, presents the second book in the Reckoners series: Firefight, the sequel to the #1 bestseller Steelheart.Newcago is free. They told David it was impossible, that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart—invincible, immortal, unconquerable—is dead. And he died by David’s hand. Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers. Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic—Firefight. And now he will go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

I really liked Steelheart and this book was a good continuation of the story even though I didn’t like it quite as much. A new location, different situations, new epics, and even worse similes come together for a new adventure for David and The Reckoners. If you enjoyed the first book you will almost certainly like this one too…unless you throw the book through a window due to one of David’s many terrible similes.

The story is kind of similar as Steelheart except that it takes place in the remnants of Manhattan where many strange things are happening. I had more trouble following the details of the world this time around because the descriptions of the world are a bit harder to imagine. The world as described is really interesting in concept but it’s hard to follow sometimes with how things actually play out.

Sanderson is known for magic systems and he is no slouch here. The new powers and weaknesses of epics coupled with the the heck is going on with Calamity (the light in the sky that coincided with people attaining super powers) makes for interesting developments in the overall plot. I do like how Sanderson always has a plan for developing the magic system with each book and we definitely learn more in this book. I still really love the concept of a world with super heroes that are all corrupted – it’s such an interesting spin on the normal super hero story.

On the audio side of things MacLeod Andrews does a fine job narrating the story. He does some good voices that fit the characters well and puts sufficient emotion in his delivery. I think the audio version of this book is a great way to experience it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters

May 20, 2015 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Kaiju RisingKaiju Rising: Age of Monsters
By Peter Clines, Larry Correia, Timothy W. Long, Howard Andrew Jones, Peter Rawlik, James Swallow, James Maxey, James Lovegrove, J. C. Koch, Jonathan Wood, C. L. Werner, Joshua Reynolds, David Annendale, Jaym Gates, Shane Berryhill, Natania Barron, Paul Genesse, Patrick Tracy, Nathan Black, Mike MacLean, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Kane Gilmour, Peter Stenson, Erin Hoffman, Sean Sherman, Edward M. Erdelac
Performed by Jeff Woodman, Marc Vietor, Simon Vance, Gabra Zackman, Nicola Barber, Bronson Pinchot, Ray Porter, Jennifer Van Dyck, Sean Runnette
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 9 December 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 18 hours
Themes: / monsters / short stories / robots / Nazis / dirigibles / samurai /
Publisher summary:

Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is a collection of 23 stories focused around the theme of strange creatures in the vein of Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Cloverfield, and more. The anthology opens with a foreword by Jeremy Robinson, author of Project Nemesis, the highest selling Kaiju novel in the United States since the old Godzilla books—and perhaps even more than those. Then, from New York Times best sellers to indie darlings, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters features authors that are perfectly suited for writing larger-than-life stories, including: Peter Clines, Larry Correia, James Lovegrove, Gini Koch (as J.C. Koch), James Maxey, Jonathan Wood, C. L. Werner, Joshua Reynolds, David Annandale, Jaym Gates, Peter Rawlik, Shane Berryhill, Natania Barron, Paul Genesse & Patrick Tracy, Nathan Black, Mike MacLean, Timothy W. Long, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Kane Gilmour, Peter Stenson, Erin Hoffman, Sean Sherman, Howard Andrew Jones (The Chronicles of Sword and Sand tie-in), Edward M. Erdelac (Dead West tie-in), and James Swallow (Colossal Kaiju Combat tie-in).

Most might read the title and glance at the cover, and dismiss it as schlock genre fiction, just more monster stories. But I know you aren’t one of these quick-to-judge readers, that’s why you’re reading this review. You want to know more. You’re a responsible reader. “Good on you,” I say.

The first ¾ of this anthology is well-written monster stories that deliver fresh and new takes on an old idea. And really, there’s something here for everyone. Whether you like huge robots, or want to be inside the head of a Kaiju, you’re going to be happy with what this collection delivers. There are stories set in the past, the future, and the present-day. There are even Nazis, and dirigibles.

The diversity surprises the reader. I mean how many different ways can we explore giant monsters? More than I might have first imagined, and it’s exciting to find fresh angles on old tales. As stated above, there is some terrific writing on display, and while I personally feel the last handful of stories lacked in writerly craft, the overall experience of this anthology is a resounding thumbs-up!

Audiobook:
This was an enjoyable audiobook experience. There’s a large cast of readers, most do a fantastic job, and the less polished narrators are quickly forgotten in the mix of solid reading performances. I understand that the print version is illustrated, but this is in itself an outstanding audio production.

Lastly, understand that you don’t need to be a Kaiju enthusiast to appreciate this work. Unless you just absolutely hate hate hate giant monsters, I’d encourage you to give this a try. You don’t have to read it from beginning to end, most all of the stories are self-contained and few, if any, take themselves too serious. This is what I’d call a fun nightstand book. It’s something to pick up and peruse when the mood strikes.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

May 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews, Uncategorized 

SFFaudio Review
Magician's LieThe Magician’s Lie
By Greer Macallister; Performed by Nick Podehl and Julia Whelan
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 13 January 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / magician / illusion / crime / unreliable narrator /

Publisher summary:

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder—and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence. The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear. But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free…and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

The description for this book says it’s a blending of Water for Elephants and The Night Circus but I really get much Night Circus from this. It really was more The Prestige (movie version) in a Water For Elephants setting because it’s all about a traveling illusionist. The description had me expecting more in the realm of fantasy but I still enjoyed it over all. While not a big part of the book, this isn’t for the squeamish as there were a few moments that I almost turned it off because of some sadistic/masochistic moments and female assault in the book.

Why is this book more like The Prestige than The Night Circus? The Night Circus had fantastical, unexplained magic happening while The Prestige is all about illusionists who are competing for audiences. There are several illusions described in this book that got me thinking about The Prestige. Another big element in here was the unreliable narrator. Much of the book is a frame story told from the perspective of the main character in the first person so you are often wondering if what they’re telling is true…just like in the movie version of The Prestige (the book was a bit different).

As for the audio side of things, the narrator performance was passable but nothing fancy. Julia Whelan has a neutral, flat tone that I didn’t like so much at first but I acclimated to as the book went on. Nick Podehl did a good job but wasn’t what I hoped for from him compared to others I’ve heard him narrate. I could go either way on recommending this for audio or paper, but the usage of two narrators for a frame story is pretty nice; especially since each part is from a different persons perspective so that the voice of the narrator is essentially their voice.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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