Review of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

May 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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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
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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
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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

Review of An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

March 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

An Unwelcome Quest by Scott MeyerAn Unwelcome Quest (Magic 2.0, Book 3)
By Scott Meyer; Narrated by: Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 10 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 46 minutes

Themes: / hacker / time travel / fantasy / humor / wolves / wenches / wastelands /

Publisher summary:

Ever since Martin Banks and his fellow computer geeks discovered that reality is just a computer program to be happily hacked, they’ve been jaunting back and forth through time, posing as medieval wizards and having the epic adventures that other nerds can only dream of having. But even in their wildest fantasies, they never expected to end up at the mercy of the former apprentice whom they sent to prison for gross misuse of magic and all-around evil behavior.

Who knew that the vengeful Todd would escape, then conjure a computer game packed with wolves, wenches, wastelands, and assorted harrowing hazards – and trap his hapless former friends inside it? Stripped of their magic powers, the would-be wizards must brave terrifying dangers, technical glitches, and one another’s company if they want to see Medieval England – and their favorite sci-fi movies on VHS – ever again. Can our heroes survive this magical mystery torture? Or will it only lead them and their pointy hats into more peril?

Review:

Executive Summary: This series is a lot of fun, and this book might be the best yet. I really hope we’ll get a 4th book.

Audio book: What more can I say about Luke Daniels? I said he’d be good at reading the phone book, and he obliged me. I bet he’d even do a good job of the Begats. He brings this book to life. It may as well be a radio play. Do yourselves a favor and do this book in audio.

Full Review
I sort of fell into this series by accident last year. It’s not going to be winning any awards or anything, but if you want a fun and light series, look no further.

I thought that while the second book addressed my complaints about the lack of women from the first book, the plot and the humor were weaker. This book seems the most polished yet. While probably not as funny as the first book, it’s definitely the best written. The characters are more developed, the plot is tighter, and in general I was always excited to to start listening again.

If you’ve ever played buggy video games, or written buggy code, I think you’ll especially find a lot to like here. I like how some of the supporting characters from Off to Be the Wizard that mostly took a backseat in Spell or High Water were not only more heavily featured, but really had a chance to shine. I especially enjoyed Tyler’s running commentary throughout the book.

That said, my favorite character continues to be Phillip. Especially when he’s talking to Jimmy. And Jimmy of course is as great as ever.

If you liked the first two books, definitely give this one a try. And if you haven’t given this series a try yet, you really should. It’s a lot of fun, and I really hope we’ll get more of them.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

March 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyThe Martian Chronicles
By Ray Bradury; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / Mars / science fiction / short stories /

Ray Bradbury is a storyteller without peer, a poet of the possible, and, indisputably, one of America’s most beloved authors. In a much-celebrated literary career that has spanned seven decades, he has produced an astonishing body of work: unforgettable novels, essays, theatrical works, screenplays and teleplays, and numerous superb short-story collections, including The Martian Chronicles: masterfully rendered stories of Earth’s settlement of the fourth world from the sun. Bradbury’s Mars is a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor—of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a silently destroyed civilization. It is here the invaders have come to despoil and commercialize, to grow and to learn—first a trickle, then a torrent rushing from a world with no future toward a promise of tomorrow. The Earthman conquers Mars…and then is conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race.Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is a classic work of twentieth-century literature whose extraordinary power and imagination remain undimmed by time’s passage. In connected, chronological stories, the grandmaster of science fiction enthralls, challenges, and delights us, exposing in stark and stunning spacelight our strengths, our weaknesses, our follies, and our poignant humanity, on a strange and breathtaking world where humanity does not belong.

I’ve never read anything by Mr. Bradbury before. I’m not really well read in the “classics”. There is too much modern stuff I want to read, and in general I prefer fantasy to Sci-Fi. But when Brilliance Audio was releasing some of his better known works on Audio CD (although the production itself was done by Audible) last year, I jumped at the chance to finally give him a try.

I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk this year, and was trying to figure out what to read AFTER this book to get me out of it. Since it was short, I wanted to listen to it sooner rather than later, write up my review then move onto something else.

Apparently I just needed to listen to this. Apart from one story (Way in the Middle of the Air) which made me really uncomfortable and showed it’s age. It appears to have been eliminated from several of the more recent editions of this book, and I wish I had skipped it as it really adds very little to this collection.

Everything else was enjoyable. A bit depressing, but enjoyable. Mr. Bradbury paints a bleak picture of a future that thankfully never came. This isn’t hard sci-fi by any means, but more like dystopian space opera.

I would have never thought something bleak would lighten my mood, but the stories were that good, and the prose are excellent. They reminded me a lot of the Twilight Zone, although I know these stories predate that show. I think The Silent Towns could easily have been an episode of the show, as could several others.

I think my favorite of the collection is Usher II. I can’t pretend to get all the references apart from Poe and Lovecraft, but his tale of revenge for censorship is quite good. I’ll have to check out the Poe story The Fall of the House of Usher that seems to have influenced it.

Mark Boyett’s voice reminds me a bit of Rod Serling, which as I get into a bit below seemed a perfect fit. I know there are multiple versions of the audiobook. I’m not sure how easy they are to get a hold of, but this one seems like a good option.

Overall this is an excellent collection of stories, and if like me you haven’t read it/anything by Mr. Bradbury, this seems like as good a place as any to start.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Plague Year by Jeff Carlson

March 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Plague YearPlague Year (Plague #1)
By Jeff Carlson; Performed by Jeffrey Kafer
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours
Themes: / plague / disaster / nanotechnology / survivalists /

The nanotechnology was designed to fight cancer. Instead, it evolved into the machine plague, killing nearly five billion people and changing life on Earth forever.The nanotech has one weakness: it self-destructs at altitudes above ten thousand feet. Those few who’ve managed to escape the plague struggle to stay alive on the highest mountains, but time is running out. There is famine and war, and the environment is crashing worldwide. Humanity’s last hope lies with a top nanotech researcher aboard the International Space Station—and with a small group of survivors in California who risk a daring journey below the death line.

The first half of Plague Year grabbed my attention thoroughly. The plight of scattered survivors, barely eking out an existence on mountaintops after a plague has wiped out 99% of human civilization, fascinated me. Carlson described material and psychological conditions with great clarity.

It was also a very disturbing, sometimes horrific first half of a book. The first line welcomes us to cannibalism, and we move on to a variety of privations, torments, and deaths. Shifting perspective from a California mountaintop to a clutch of astronauts in orbit only heightened the sense of agony. This is no cozy catastrophe.

The setting alone would have been compelling, but Carlson adds hefty plot drivers to haul us along with even greater assurance. Our peak survivors learn of another group, and have to work out how to respond. The astronauts might be able to solve the plague, if only they could descend. And one survivor seems to know an awful lot about the end of the world.

The second half advances these plots, yes, and knits them together. But then Plague Year becomes a different book. Things shade from horror into action, from survival to small unit tactics. A political plot arises, but never really receives its due. And then we have a series of gunfights, standoffs, and problem-solving scenes which end up far too optimistically for what I expected. I did enjoy the expansion of the science plot, verging into hard science. But I missed the initial horror, and even the ongoing torment of one character, Sawyer the nano co-instigator, didn’t slake my awful appetite. Heck, I like playing The Long Dark for pleasure.

I listened to this book instead of reading it, and commend the reading by Jeffrey Kafer. He read the novel with mordant intensity, a splendid voice for bitter action. I’d be happy to hear Kafer read noir fiction or, well, anything bleak.

So I recommend listening to this, if possible. If your tastes are as Grand Guignol as mine, focus on the first half. If you are gentler than I, dear reader, rest assured that things do get better.

Posted by Bryan A.

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