Review of Ilium by Dan Simmons

December 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Ilium by Dan SimmonsIlium (Ilium #1)
By Dan Simmons; Narrated by Kevin Pariseau
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 25 Discs; 30 hours
Themes: / Mars / gods / ancient Greece / scholars / Shakespeare / fantasy /
Publisher summary:
From the towering heights of Olympos Mons on Mars, the mighty Zeus and his immortal family of gods, goddesses, and demigods look down upon a momentous battle, observing—and often influencing—the legendary exploits of Paris, Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, and the clashing armies of Greece and Troy.Thomas Hockenberry, former 21st-century professor and Iliad scholar, watches as well. It is Hockenberry’s duty to observe and report on the Trojan War’s progress to the so-called deities who saw fit to return him from the dead. But the muse he serves has a new assignment for the wary scholic, one dictated by Aphrodite herself.With the help of 40th-century technology, Hockenberry is to infiltrate Olympos, spy on its divine inhabitants…and ultimately destroy Aphrodite’s sister and rival, the goddess Pallas Athena. On an Earth profoundly changed since the departure of the Post-Humans centuries earlier, the great events on the bloody plains of Ilium serve as mere entertainment.Its scenes of unrivaled heroics and unequaled carnage add excitement to human lives devoid of courage, strife, labor, and purpose. But this eloi-like existence is not enough for Harman, a man in the last year of his last 20. That rarest of post-postmodern men—an ‘adventurer’—he intends to explore far beyond the boundaries of his world before his allotted time expires, in search of a lost past, a devastating truth, and an escape from his own inevitable ‘final fax.’ Meanwhile, from the radiation-swept reaches of Jovian space, four sentient machines race to investigate—and, perhaps, terminate—the potentially catastrophic emissions of unexplained quantum-flux emanating from a mountaintop miles above the terraformed surface of Mars.

If someone were to describe this book to me (if they even could), I don’t know if I would believe how much I absolutely enjoyed it. Dan Simmons is a mad genius.

Shakespeare-quoting humanoid robots, Greek Gods, post-humans, and old-style humans somehow make the craziest awesome story imaginable.

Ilium is a story told through essentially three unrelated viewpoints. First, there’s Hockenberry. This is told in first person. Hockenberry is called a “Scholic,” a human from our the 20th century (our time) who was rebirthed in a future where Homer’s Trojan War is being fought. His job is to report on the war … to the Greek Gods.

At first, this is completely confusing. Why? is a question I asked myself over and over, but it begins to make sense with time. Plus, it’s hard not to be fascinated with the events of the Iliad. It’s also impressive how much research went into it, though that’s only an assumption since my knowledge of the Trojan War is essentially from the movie, Troy (but I have read the Odyssey!).

The second viewpoint is the humans, mainly Daemon. Daemon is a self-involved fool who is unlikeable to say the least. But who wouldn’t be when you have everything handed to you on a silver platter by robots called servitors (sp – I did listen to the audio so forgive me), like all humans everywhere. Pleasure is their life, knowledge … is lacking.

The third viewpoint is that of a sonnet-loving humanoid robot called a “moravec” and named Mahnmut. Specifically, and only, Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s work consists of exploring the moon of Jupiter called Europa. Mahnmut is called in on a mission with a group of moravecs to explore some occurrences on the planet mars.

At first, I was highly entertained, though confused, with the events of the Trojan war and the other parts were just above boring. Slowly, the story takes hold and it had me hook, line, and sinker.

Listening to the audiobook, I was looking forward to my morning and evening drives and not too sad to do errands on my lunch hour either. Somehow, it ALL makes sense even though it sounds like the oddest collection of classics to make up a cohesive story all its own. What does Shakespeare have to do with the Iliad or Proust (his work makes appearances too) for that matter, all set in the future with technology that gives humans everything they ever want or need?

It’s crazy I tell ya. Crazy! How did I like this book this much? I’m telling you, Simmons is a mad genius. I will just sit back and let him take me on his journey. It’s amazing. I question not.

Kevin Pariseau is the narrator of this audiobook and while at first I thought he over-acted the part of Hockenberry, though somehow not the other parts, I really grew to like him and found out that it was literally just the character of Hockenberry that he was playing. And it’s impressive given how many Greek words and names he’s got to …erm… name.

The only problem is that Ilium is only half the story. It stops at a huge cliffhanger and I’m already heading to Olympos to see how this ends.

5 out of 5 Stars (Mind … blown)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Impulse by Steven Gould

December 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Impulse by Steven GouldImpulse (Jumper #3) \
By Steven Gould; Narrated by Emily Rankin
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 Discs; 12 hours
Themes: / teleportation / off-the-grid / jumpers / teenage angst /
Publisher summary:

Cent has a secret. She lives in isolation with her parents, hiding from the people who took her father captive and tortured him to gain control over his ability to teleport. Her parents are also hiding Cent from the government agencies who want to use them for their own purposes. She’s connected; movies, TV, Internet, but Cent’s parents are absolutely firm: no one can know where they live. There can be no images of them, or of Cent, anywhere.Cent has seen the world, but only from the safety of her parents’ arms. Her mother has not neglected her daughter’s education. She’s been all over, met people rich and very poor, has worked on her mother’s global relief projects. Cent has teleported more than anyone on Earth, except for her parents, Davy and Millie, but she’s never been able to do it herself. Her life has never really been in danger. Until the day she went snowboarding without permission and triggered an avalanche. When the snow and ice thundered down on her, she suddenly found herself in her own bedroom. That was the first time. The second time will change all their lives forever.

Progression of the Jumper series:

Book 1, Jumper: Let’s take a simple concept and weave a cool story that’s brilliant in its simplicity.

Book 2, Reflex: Let’s take that simple concept and add to it by restraining it, but while also pushing boundaries. Also, let’s add a cool mystery and some spies.

Book 3, Impulse: Let’s take all the great things we’ve built up so far … and add teenage angst! A forced romance! A holier-than-thou attitude for all the characters!


(Okay, these are misleading, cause it’s not teen angst in the hilarious or awesome way.)

Impulse takes up a number of years after Reflex, enough time for the jumping couple to have a daughter, Cent, who is now a teenager. She’s repressed to say the least, especially owing to the family’s understandable obsession with secrecy. Cent doesn’t even have a birth certificate, they’re so afraid of word getting out about them.

Also understandable. However, she’s a teenager now and she’s dying for friends, so she finally convinces her parents she can go to school without screwing things up.

Of course, there are bullies, and love interests, etc. and it’s just about impossible to not screw things up like we already knew.

First, I felt judged much of the time. This family of jumpers spends most of its time doing humanitarian things, keeping all it’s actions green and reducing it’s carbon footprint. Usually, I’m all for this stuff, but I felt like the message was, if you stray in the least you’re the worst person in the world.

Second, it was a little hard to believe the tale from Cent, who is this shut-in who immediately befriends some girls, has guys crushing on her, and is the absolute best at everything in the world. And add to that the paragraph above and it gets a tad annoying.

Third, there wasn’t really any plot going on. Midway through the book, nothing’s really happening because Cent’s just barely getting things going at school and facing bullies and whatnot, but nothing that amounts to an overall plot to keep you glued. Nothing that pushes you to keep going because you have to find out what happens!

At the very end, I was finally entertained, and that’s why I can’t completely hate this book. If I weren’t listening to it on audiobook, I probably would have given up at the midway point. It’s a case of too little too late.

Speaking of audio, I thought the narration was great, though a bit jarring at first. It’s been the same male narrator for the first two books and now it switches, again understandably, to a female narrator. It’s just weird hearing a woman do Davy and even Milli for that matter, but only for the first disc or two. It’s quickly forgotten.

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Dream-quest of unknown kadathThe Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath
By H. P. Lovecraft; Performed by Jim Roberts
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 6 hours
Themes: / cats / ghouls / dark shapes that meep / a lost city / horror /
Publisher summary:
Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it.” Randolph Carter embarks on an epic quest across a world beyond the wall of sleep in search of an opulent and mysterious sunset city. When he prays to the gods of dream to reveal the whereabouts of this magical city, they do not answer, and his dreams stop altogether. Undaunted, Carter resolves to go to Kadath, where the gods live, and beseech them in person. However, no one has ever been to Kadath, and no one even knows how to get there—but that won’t stop Randolph Carter from trying.
We all love the quest story. Without some sort of a quest, the story falls into introspective navel gazing, and becomes as interesting as reading about someone’s cup of tea growing cold near a rain-soaked window overlooking a drab landscape of bent grass fading in the waning light of gloaming. Quests are good, in literature, games, and life. H.P. Lovecraft gives us a quest, and I liked it, for the most part. Those of you familiar with Lovecraft will undoubtedly nod your chin when I suggest that this story is a little weighted with those wonderfully complex names of gods, of places, of rites practiced in secret darkness. If you can overlook the name thing and concentrate on the story, it’s nice enough. While I don’t believe this is Lovecraft at his best, I do feel it’s a must for those Lovecraft enthusiasts.The audiobook is roughly four and a half hours, and I’ll admit it, I increased the speed by a factor of three, sometimes four. Jim Roberts is the narrator, and I feel this is an example of mismanaged casting. Roberts is a competent narrator, and I have enjoyed some of his readings in the past. But his voice sounds like your grandfather’s brother, which is just fine if the narrative follows such a gentlemen. But it doesn’t work well when the protagonist is for all intensive purposes, a younger man full of vigor and drive. It’s a minor grouse, but I never managed to rid myself of this incongruity between reader and main character.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb

November 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fools FateFool’s Fate (Tawny Man Trilogy #3)
By Robin Hobb; Performed by James Langton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 35 hours
Themes:  / fantasy / Farseer / assassin / dragon /
Publisher summary:

FitzChivalry Farseer has become firmly ensconced in the queen’s court. Along with his mentor, Chade, and the simpleminded yet strongly Skilled Thick, Fitz strives to aid Prince Dutiful on a quest that could secure peace with the Outislands—and win Dutiful the hand of the Narcheska Elliania.The Narcheska has set the prince an unfathomable task: to behead a dragon trapped in ice on the isle of Aslevjal. Yet not all the clans of the Outislands support their effort. Are there darker forces at work behind Elliana’s demand? Knowing that the Fool has foretold he will die on the island of ice, Fitz plots to leave his dearest friend behind. But fate cannot so easily be defied.

Disclaimer: This is a review of the third book in a trilogy and the review will likely include spoilers from preceding books. I’d strongly recommend starting with the first book in the trilogy (Fool’s Errand) or better yet, Assassin’s Apprentice since the Farseer trilogy is very good and all these books are related.

Fool’s Fate is the last book of the Tawny Man trilogy. The story picks up immediately where Golden Fool left off as the Farseers are preparing to travel to the island Aslevjal to kill the dragon Icefire. The Fool has also told FitzChivalry that they must save Icefire to put the world on a better path. Which will Fitz decide: his oath of loyalty and allegiance to the Farseer throne or his role as the Catalyst of the White Prophet? I’ve really enjoyed all of the books in this trilogy leading but this book stands out as something special.

The whole premise of the book is based on a challenge Prince Dutiful was goaded into and that the adults don’t particularly want to do. It’s pretty obvious that something else is at play with the Outislanders in making this challenge and the result is a fantastic conclusion to the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies. As already stated, FitzChivalry’s struggle with his role as the Catalyst while also serving his realm have you wondering what will happen all the way up to the climax.

As I listened to this story, I really felt like a full story was being told in which I couldn’t see the seams. I normally can’t help my mind picking a story apart into its elements to determine what’s going to be important later in the story but things weren’t so obvious here. There are so many things going on that it just feels like an active world as opposed to having just a few conveniently introduced devices to be used later (for instance, you know when Harry Potter learns a new spell that it will almost certainly be the sole thing that gets him out of trouble later. Expecto Patronum!). What will be important here? New understandings of the Wit from Webb? The newly forming Skill coterie? Chade’s blasting powder? Something old Elderling tools? Hobb does a great job working everything together into a good ride.

If there is one weakness in this book, it’s that it wraps things up too well. When I say too well, I mean that the falling action and conclusion of the book feel like the resolution to both the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogy as so much of what happens even concludes questions you may not even realize you had. The falling action and conclusion also take up about 1/3 of the book which kind of threw me. I was avidly consuming the story through the climax but then felt like things dragged out a bit afterward. Don’t get me wrong – I loved all of it, I just thought it was worth mentioning.

As with the previous installments of this trilogy, James Langton does a fantastic job with his narration of this book. There were times I forgot I was even listening to an audio book because I was just so into it. If I had one gripe it would be that some voices sound quite similar but those that do rarely have scenes together (Hap, Dutiful, Swift). I would definitely look for Langton reading other books.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Tales of Terror

November 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Tales of TerrorTales of Terror Collection
A Night in Whitechapel, Was It a Dream?, Caterpillars, John Mortonson’s Funeral
By: Ambrose Bierce, Guy de Maupassant, E.F. Benson; Performed by Victor Garber
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 1 disc, 1 hour!
Themes: / short stories / horror / classic / supernatural /
Publisher summary:

‘Night in Whitechapel’ French short-story master Guy de Maupassant offers this chilling look into one of the world’s best known cities. When two young men make a trek to London on a cold December evening, they expect to take in the city and maybe a pub or two along the way. But a chance encounter with a mysterious woman soon has them questioning not only the proceedings of their evening but their sanity as well. ‘Was It a Dream?’ Guy de Maupassant once again delivers a spine-tingling narrative. A young man recounts the tragic death of his love, claimed by an unknown illness. In his grief, he wanders the cemetery where she is buried to find a dark secret that she, and many other corpses, share. ‘Caterpillars’ Stories of the supernatural from E.F. Benson have been terrifying audiences for decades—even making the transition to television adaptation. In “Caterpillars,” a man recalls his terrifying stay at a haunted Italian villa. You will never look at caterpillars in the same way. ‘John Mortonson’s Funeral’ Perhaps best known for The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce is a mainstay of nineteenth-century American literature. In “John Mortonson’s Funeral,” Bierce adds horror to his satirical lens. The mourners at this funeral will be forever changed.

“Night in Whitechapel” – Guy de Maupassant
When two young men make a trek to London on a cold December evening, they expect to take in the city and maybe a pub or two along the way. But a chance encounter with a mysterious woman soon has them questioning not only the proceedings of their evening but their sanity as well.

“Was It a Dream?” – Guy de Maupassant
A young man recounts the tragic death of his love, claimed by an unknown illness. In his grief, he wanders the cemetery where she is buried to find a dark secret that she, and many other corpses, share.

“Caterpillars” – E.F. Benson
A man recalls his terrifying stay at a haunted Italian villa. You will never look at caterpillars in the same way.

“John Mortonson’s Funeral” – Ambrose Bierce
The mourners at this funeral will be forever changed.This collection is well named. All of these tales have a certain creepiness factor that will leave your skin crawling if you think about them too much. They also have the virtue of not being the usual “classic” horror tales included in most anthologies, although they are by authors acknowledged as master storytellers.

What enhances the subtlety and creeping horror is Victor Garber’s soft spoken narration. As any good actor would, he reads each tale differently to reflect its own character, but never with obvious technique that draws the listener away from the story itself. My favorite was “Was It a Dream?” in which the protagonist’s lovelorn state gradually gives way to shuddering fear in the graveyard. The transition was so seamless that I couldn’t tell you when it happened and by the end of the tale I myself was horror stricken.

The collection is short, clocking in at slightly more than an hour, but it is choice. Definitely recommended.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Martian Time SlipMartian Time-Slip
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance AudioPreview
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours
Themes: / science fiction / outer space / Mars / Martians / time travel /

Publisher summary:

‘The writing is humorous, painful, awesome in its effect on both mind and heart…There are few modern novels to match it.’ —Rolling Stone

On an arid Mars, local bigwigs compete with Earth-bound interlopers to buy up land before the Un develops it and its value skyrockets. Martian Union leader Arnie Kott has an ace up his sleeve, though: an autistic boy named Manfred who seems to have the ability to see the future. In the hopes of gaining an advantage on a Martian real estate deal, powerful people force Manfred to send them into the future, where they can learn about development plans. But is Manfred sending them to the real future or one colored by his own dark and paranoid filter? As the time travelers are drawn into Manfred’s dark worldview in both the future and present, the cost of doing business may drive them all insane.

Martian Time Slip has everything I love about Philip K Dick’s writing: artificial life, unsettling visions, chaos and decay, hilarious satire, and story horizons that stretch into eternity.

PKD’s Mars is a strange and slightly alien version of 1960s California: a desert suburbia where the powerful waste water to show off their status, neglectful housewives pop pills and complain about their “whiny and dreadful” neighbors, and dodgy door-to-door salesmen offer illegal Earth foods like turtle soup and smoked frogs legs.

Since machines degrade quickly in the dry climate and resources for constructing new things are scarce, repair is a big business on Mars. The story starts when Jack Bohlen, a working-class repairman and latent schizophrenic, is diverted from a remote repair job to help some Bleekmen out in the desert.

Bleekmen are the subjugated natives of Mars, apparently related to ancient humans and the sole residents of the planet for thousands of years until the colonists arrived. Now’s they’re left to work menial jobs, and even their mystic practices are being “corrected” by the newcomers. For example, after they give Jack a lovely but creepy gift called a water witch, they explain how it works…

More carefully examining the water witch, Jack saw that it had a face and vague limbs. It was mummified, once a living creature of some sort; he made out its drawn-up legs, its ears . . . he shivered. The face was oddly human, a wizened, suffering face, as if it had been killed while crying out.

“How does it work?” he asked the young Bleekman.

“Formerly, when one wanted water, one pissed on the water witch, and she came to life. Now we do not do that, Mister; we have learned from you Misters that to piss is wrong. So we spit on her instead, and she hears that, too, almost as well. It wakes her, and she opens and looks around, and then she opens her mouth and calls the water to her.”

While on this mission, Jack runs into Supreme Goodmember Arnie Cott, the leader of the Water Works Union (one of the most powerful positions on Mars). Arnie is an obnoxious, manipulative, and racist schemer. He decides he can use Jack and so brings him in on one of his schemes to harness the precog abilities of an autistic boy, thus giving Arnie an advantage in real estate investment.

However, once he brings the autistic boy Manfred Steiner and Jack together, things start to gets very, very weird (in the best kind of way).

Originally, I was almost going to give this book a low rating, thinking it might be the first PKD book I’ve read that I didn’t really like. I kept going back to the audiobook and thinking I’d re-started in the wrong place, or that I’d zoned out and missed something the last time. It wasn’t until I decided to try a print version that I realized the reason I was losing my way was a side-effect of the novel’s beautiful and crazy structure, which spirals around and folds back in on itself.

Once I had a handle on this, I fell in love with it. This novel doesn’t reward broken up or distracted reading, but if you can give it dedicated attention, it’s brilliant.

I thought the audiobook I listened to, narrated by Jeff Cummings for Brilliance Audio, was well performed and the characters were easily differentiated, even though personally the narrative style wasn’t for me. In my mind, I tend to hear PKD’s characters as sort of dry and indifferent, so some of the characters in this version seemed too enthusiastic for my taste. But this is a very subjective thing and I imagine this reading would work well for lots of listeners. Just check out the sample audio before you buy.

This is a funny, eerie, and unforgettable story and definitely recommended, especially for PKD fans!

Posted by Marissa van Uden

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