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 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.

Review of Edgar Allen Poe Collected Stories and Poems

October 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Poe Stories and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe – Collected Stories and Poems
By Edgar Allen Poe; Performed by Ralph Cosham
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours
Themes: / short stories / poems / horror / classics/ locked door mystery / suspended animation / mesmerism /
Publisher summary:

Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Edgar Allan Poe. Even so, no one is really sure who Poe was. Many people say that he was as crazy as the characters he wrote about. Others say that Poe was a driven man with a simple wish. He wanted to write and to make a living by his writing. Even though Poe lived a miserable life, he wrote some of the most interesting and original literature ever created. This collection of his stories and poems includes:“The Raven”“The Cask of Amontillado”“The Fall of the House of Usher”“The Pit and the Pendulum”And more!

Table of Contents:
* The Raven
* The Cask of Amontillado
* The Tell-Tale Heart
* The Black Cat
* The Bells
* The Fall of the House of Usher
* Manuscript Found in a Bottle
* The sleeper
* The Man of the Crowd
* The Pit and the Pendulum
* Annabel Lee
* The Man that was Used Up: A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign
* The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether
* The Oval Portrait
* Eleonora
* The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
* Berenice
* The Murders in the Rue Morgue

This Edgar Allan Poe collection is accessible, and leans heavy to the short story with a smattering of poetry. Readers will recognize many of the titles, but some may discover new Poe within this volume.

One of my favorite Poe works to contemplate, “The Cask of Amontillado,” still resonates. Two new pieces that struck a pleasing chord were the poem “The Bells” and the short story “Manuscript Found in a Bottle,” which made me grin in readerly delight. I enjoyed most of the selections, and only a few felt soured with age or redundant verbosity.

The audiobook is both wonderful and slightly choppy. Ralph Cosham is the narrator, and his pacing, his timbre, his ability to capture and project Poe’s atmosphere of the strange and macabre renders an intimate listening experience. But it sounds as if the various pieces were lifted from separate audio productions and then spliced together. I distinctly heard discrepancies between selections in recording clarity, recording volume, and the sense that Cosham’s voice reflected the reader at different ages. In one piece, Cosham sounds like a vigorous young man barely out of his thirty’s; in another his voice sounds as if two decades vanished. You should definitely give this a listen, and come to your own conclusions.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Clean Sweep by Ilona AndrewsClean Sweep
By Ilona Andrews; Narrated by Renee Raudman
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / urban fantasy / Texas / magic / bed and breakfast / werewolves / vampires /

Publisher summary:

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast.

But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….

Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Clean Sweep is an urban fantasy-type book with some interesting twists. Unfortunately, the narrator of the audiobook had a voice that didn’t fit the character and was so out of place that it made the book very difficult to listen to.

Dina is an innkeeper, a woman who runs a B&B in Texas. Her inn has magical properties and she has magical capabilities, her role being that of a neutral protector in a version of Earth/USA that includes normal humans but also has vampires, werewolves, and other magical beasts. The main thrust of the story is that Dina’s inn becomes the site for a showdown between two sides in a big family disagreement, though the book was more than halfway through before any of this became evident. The first half (or slightly more) of the book was world building and character introduction more than it was purely essential to the plot.

In Clean Sweep, Ilona Andrews has some interesting ideas about magic. I think I might be persuaded to read another book set in this world/series, assuming it was quicker to get to the point/didn’t do as much world-building, and assuming that I read it, not listened to it (or that the narrator was someone else). In Ms. Andrews’ world, the magical entities are by and large aliens from other worlds who find themselves on earth for a variety of reasons. What appears to be magic to “normal” people is actually uber nanotechnology or other futuristic technologies at work from alien worlds. There are many aggressive entities, such as the werewolves and vampires, but there are also places like the Inns, the Switzerland’s of the magical world. Innkeepers are to take no sides and to protect whoever signs the contract and pays to be a guest at the inn.

All of this goes awry when some creatures known as stalkers start killing dogs in the town where Dina’s inn is. At first, she believes that a local werewolf named Sean is to blame, but after killing two (with the help of Sean) and studying them, she comes to find out that these creatures may have been hired by vampires as part of a massive (and deadly) family feud. The world-building is mainly done by Dina explaining how the “magic” came to be to Sean, who knows nothing of the history of his species’ home planet or how his species came to earth. Through these explanations and through Dina’s preparations to help protect the vampires who are staying at the inn, the reader learns about other worlds, wormholes, and the true source of “magic.”

The book also has a side plot that was touched briefly upon, a story of Dina’s parents’ inn vanishing one day. Dina does a bit through the course of the narrative to try to find them, but it seems fairly obvious that it’s a side thread to be explored in later books/as a series arc. While most of the book is purely urban fantasy, there are also some hot and steamy scenes that are typically found in romance novels. Many urban fantasy books these days seem to have these scenes, whether they add to the story or not (in this case, not). There is also a possible threat, the local police officer thinking Dina is up to no good, but that thread is unceremoniously dropped just before the main thread of the story picks up, about halfway through. It’s not clear if this topic will be revisited in later books or if it was just an editing miss.

Clean Sweep is a fairly typical, action-packed urban fantasy story. There aren’t any deeper themes or morals to be had from it, though the idea of magic as uber technology is kind of fun. The book, once the actual plot started, was pretty quick to go through and fairly simple/straight-forward. This isn’t a book that’s going to make you think, or require lots of focused reading time to enjoy.

The only major negative is with the audiobook specifically. Dina is supposed to be a 23 year old woman living in Texas. Unfortunately, she sounds like an old grandmother from the deep south. The voice and the description of the character just don’t align. The narrator’s voices for the men were surprisingly good, but her overall voice just sounded old and tired. In parts where there was a lot of action, she actually sounded even worse, over dramatizing her voice acting. I actually thought she was going to die a few times. It was downright uncomfortable and annoying to listen to, and I cannot recommend the audiobook. If another book in this series is released, I may give it a go in print/Kindle, but won’t be listening again unless the narrator changes.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith

September 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Rift WalkerThe Rift Walker (Vampire Empire #2)
By Clay and Susan Griffith; Read by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy / post-apocalpyse / humanism /

Publisher summary:

The Rift Walker is the second installment in the Vampire Empire book trilogy. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this tale of courage, sacrifice, and heroism takes place against the backdrop of an age of steam and rational humanism, where the social elite have rejected religion and spiritualism as nothing more than quaint superstition.

Brutal Vampire Clans rule half the world keeping human herds for food, and Princess Adele, heir to the throne of Equatoria, is faced with grim choices. War is imminent and her marriage to the odious Senator Clark of America will cement an alliance uniting the Equatorian Empire and the American Republic. This integration of war machines is to be the opening volley in the campaign to reclaim the Northern Hemispheres. Unfortunately, Adele’s betrothed has a bloodthirsty war strategy, one the Princess finds as repulsive as the actions of the vampires they fight.

Moments in advance of the Princess’s marriage to the Senator, the Geryfriar, legendary champion of the human resistance, rescues Adele before vampire assassins can murder her. While on the run from the agents of Prince Cesare, the acting Clan Lord of the Northern Vampires, Adele seeks to discover a way to protect her beloved Equatoria and prevent the genocide Clark intends to implement, all while trying to free herself from an unwanted marriage. Meanwhile, Cesare’s agents have struck deep at the heart of Equatoria and will stop at nothing to keep Adele from ascending to the throne.

Treachery abounds; friendship, loyalties, and allegiances are tested. Will Princess Adele be able, with the help of her beloved Greyfriar, her devoted guard and faithful officer Anhalt, and her mentor Mamarou, to turn the tide before human civilization is forever shattered?

This review is going to read a lot like that of the first book in the series, The Greyfriar. If you read that book and enjoyed it, you’ll like this one too. Where the first book was kind of (Zorro + Beauty and the Beast + Vampires), this one kind of leans more toward Romeo and Juliet. The protagonists love each other but everyone from their respective houses pretty much hates on the other. Wrap all that up with another fantastic narration by James Marsters and this book is over before you know it.

I still like the way these books are written. The vocabulary and use of idioms gives the story an older feel that matches the semi-steam punk world where the story takes place. More of the less important characters even show a bit more depth in this story which was pretty nice. I like that there was clearly a bit of a plan in writing the trilogy and that some things were revealed in this book that I was wondering about since the first one.

I had some minor plot issues with the story but overall the whole thing went by very fast. This is in the description of the book so whatever: I don’t understand why the Greyfriar swoops in to the save the princess when he uncovers a plot to kill her and her betrothed….instead of trying to save them both or ration out the situation without making frenemies. I’m sure it’s something like “all he could think about was saving her” or “he didn’t know who to trust” but the way it was carried out didn’t really work well for me. There were a few other moments like this but they’re minor gripes at best.

As for the audio side of things, James Marsters did a fantastic job. You’ll once again hear many voices you recognize from Dresden but I didn’t have any problem keeping things straight in my head. I started this series because it’s read by him and I’m definitely not sad at the decision.

Book 3 here I come!

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

August 28, 2014 by · 2 Comments
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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

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