Review of An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

March 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

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.

The SFFaudio Podcast #307 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 1 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

March 9, 2015 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #307 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa talk about The Lord of the Rings Book I (“The Ring Sets Out”) by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Talked about on today’s show:
On the comparative merits of the book, movie, and the BBC audio drama; the similarity between the audio drama and the film; Ian Hom as Frodo in the audio drama (elder Bilbo in the film) and Michael Hordern as Gandalf; Rob Inglis’s superb audiobook narration and singing; poetry and singing as a reflection of Tolkien’s mythological influence; Kenneth Morris’s influence on Tolkien; The Silmarillion and the creation of Middle Earth; The Tolkien Professor and Michael Drout as resources for further Tolkien scholarship; Jesse’s first encounter with The Hobbit; the birth of Jesse’s fascination with audiobooks; the depth of Tolkien’s world-building and lack of depth in fantasy successors; Aragorn is unsung hero; on how the audio helped Jenny get a handle on the series; Seth’s regular reading of the novels; Maissa has questions as a new reader; the cliffhanger ending of Book I; on the making of the rings; the ring as an analogy to modern technological addiction; Steve Jobs as Sauron; Maissa envisions true palm technology and Jesse envisions a real technological ring; Doctor Who; Socrates, Gyges, and a ring of invisibility, how much agency does the Ring have?; religious subtext; more on the ring’s agency; “more than one power at work”; on how Tolkien had to retcon The Hobbit; Tolkien’s letters and his attention to detail; Frank Herbert’s similar world building process in Dune; on Middle Earth’s historical depth; the cats of Queen Berúthiel; Farmer Maggot vs. the Black Rider; hobbits make the story relatable; Gandalf as rabble-rousing priest and prophet (Moses, Jeremiah); “birthday presents” and the circularity of the tale; “The Conspiracy Unmasked” and the power of friendship; the untold tale of Fredegar Bolger; on the faults of hobbits; parallels with modern military conflicts; economics in the books (or lack thereof); the varieties of goodness and evil; the Prancing Pony has free wi-fi; a time of transition and the Elves’ pilgrimage to the Gray Havens; on Gollum’s possession of the ring; Tom Bombadil as unexplained phenomenon; Jesse wants a Tom Bombadil Bed and Breakfast; on the importance of Frodo’s encounter with the Barrow White; Tolkien could have written weird fiction; Sam’s selfless sacrifices; Tolkien’s impact on our real lives; we are all Butterburs wanting to be Sams; Sam learning his letters; class differences in the Shire, Hobbiton as Downton Abbey; “the road goes ever on”; does Sauron have corporeal existence?; no Harry Potter style set pieces in favor of a much more organic feel; Jesse tells us the definition of scrumping; Tolkien’s descriptions of nature; on Tolkien and fantasy tropes; influence on Dungeons and Dragons; Bombadillo cadence; comparisons with contemporary writing of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series and Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories; Tolkien’s preference for allegory over history; the power of words in Tolkien and its parallel with Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea; on the novel’s slow opening; on the film’s simplification of plot and characters, Merry and Pippin in the film are Dumb and Dumber; if Gandalf can make fireworks, why are there no guns in Middle Earth?; for a wizard, Gandalf doesn’t do much magic; (who let the dogs out?); Tolkien and World War I; on Gandalf’s refusal to take the ring; on the etymology of wraith and the origin of the ring wraiths; more on Plato and Socrates’s Ring of Gyges parable; Gollum’s fascination with roots and beginnings; Aragorn’s healing power (foreshadowing!); giving the ring to the wrong person is “like giving a machine gun to a baby”; Saruman twisted by even the idea of the ring; Maissa is a prescient reader.

The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien - Illustration by John Howe
The Fellowship Of The Ring - A Part Of The Shire - MAP

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

March 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review
The Providence of Fire by Brian StaveleyThe Providence of Fire (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2)
By Brian Staveley; Narrated by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 13 January 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 23 hours, 37 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / brothers / monks / assassins / barbarian hordes /

Publisher summary:

Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire, the second novel in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, a gripping new epic fantasy series in the tradition of Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over. Having learned the identity of her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire’s most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable. Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

I gave this book the same rating as The Emperor’s Blades, and I think in many ways it’s better. But I also had higher expectations coming in. I had none for the first book, and found myself pleasantly surprised. So I was looking forward to this.

This book started off slow. With how the last one ended, I guess I was sort of expecting the book to hit the ground running. The last book is largely the “magic school” trope, although there isn’t a whole lot of magic. But there is rigorous training and rivalries and the like. And some of the characters can do magic.

Maybe my love of that trope, or the fact that they were “in training” made me less aware of just how STUPID The Emperor’s kids are. There was no hiding that here. I’m not a big fan of the super smart, super capable protagonist who can’t seem to do any wrong, but I hate the “I’m going to pull a plan out of my ass and somehow things will work out mostly right in the end” protagonist even worse. It would d be bad enough if only one of them did, but all three of them did, and continued to do it. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. They didn’t really seem to grow as characters. They just kept being idiots. And selfish. It got pretty frustrating.

So why did I give this 4 stars? Well two reasons mainly. One the story is interesting. The world building Mr. Staveley does in this book is especially intriguing. The pieces he put in place in this novel look to make for a really interesting third (and final?) book in this series.

Secondly he has some great supporting characters. Some are returning from the first novel, and some are new. In particular I really enjoyed the POV chapters from a former supporting character who was given a chance to shine. They were easily my favorite chapters in the book. I only wish they had started sooner. Maybe even in the last book, but it wouldn’t have made too much sense, so I understand the reasoning.

Overall this book is better, but with higher expectations, I found myself a bit disappointed at the same time. But I’m looking forward to the next book. I think for a middle book there is a lot to like. Hopefully the Emperor’s kids will get a clue by then.

As a narrator, Simon Vance is excellent as always. He was one of the main reasons I decided to try out The Emperor’s Blades. His performance is such that this series remains a must audio for me, even if it means waiting a bit longer to get my hands on the next book.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The CompanionsThe Companions (Forgotten Realms: The Sundering, Book 1)
By R.A. Salvatore; Narrated by Victor Bevine
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours

Themes: / fantasy / magic / Forgotten Realms / wizard /

Publisher summary:

On the dusty plains of Netheril, a young Bedine girl spins a web of forbidden magic, obliterating a pair of assassins with a single lightning strike. On the banks of the Sea of Fallen Stars, a tiny thief walks willingly into battle with a ruthless killer, a wide grin upon his face. In the tunnels of Citadel Felbarr, a dwarfling is ambushed and strikes back with an attack well beyond his apparent strength and years. These three seemingly unrelated commoners, growing up across the far reaches of the Forgotten Realms®, hold the fate of Faerûn’s most famous dark elf, Drizzt Do’Urden, in their hands. But that fate is far from certain. For in the shadows a cunning cabal of wizards is watching, intent on hunting Chosen—mortals blessed by the gods. These wizards know something mere commoners do not: Long-forgotten gods have begun to stir. Long-lost lands have begun to tremble. The world around them is about to change. And these wizards will do whatever it takes to turn the coming chaos to their advantage. In this first book of the six-book Sundering series, New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore launches a major world-shaping event that will revive old favorites, introduce new complications, and move his signature hero Drizzt into a restored era of the Forgotten Realms.

Oh, Salvatore. Never change.

Drizzt Do’Urden is back in The Companions, although in a very limited fashion. The bulk of the story focuses on Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis as they are (I am not making this up) sent back to live again, from birth onwards, in order to help Drizzt far after their original deaths.

Yep. They have adult consciousness in baby bodies. They’re aware of the sensation of being birthed. They have completely adult, mature minds trapped in little toddler dwarf/human/halfling bodies. They have to struggle through relearning how to walk, eat, be toilet trained…let me back up.

Mielikki, a goddess of nature, allows the Companions to chose whether to be reborn in order to help Drizzt in a time of great need. Wulfgar appears to chose not to, electing to go to his heavenly reward instead, but the others are all reborn and go through childhood. They constantly work to hide their identities while being somewhat torn in their loyalties. The story culminates with their reunion with a wounded Drizzt and his magical panther, Guenhwyvar. Even Wulfgar shows up at the end, and it’s nicely set up for the next book in the series.

Did I mention the vampire drow? Or the dolphins? This book has it all.

Except for the beginning and end, Drizzt is not part of the action. He has escaped capture and is considered lost, so instead each chapter begins with a letter of his, a seeming memoir, on a theme that is then touched upon in Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis’s new lives.

I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend this book, as it was very odd. I did enjoy it, even as I laughed at some of the parts, and would definitely listen to the next one.

The narrator did a really good job, even managing to pull off a falsetto for the female characters voices without it turning off-putting. There was a short bit of music in between each disc, and they repeated the first few sentences from the last disc in the first track of the next disc.

Posted by Sarah R.

Review of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest Aguirre

February 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Heraclix and PompHeraclix and Pomp: A Novel of the Fabricated and the Fey
By Forrest Aguirre; Narrated by Brandon Massey
Publisher: Audible Studios (via Resurrection House)
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours and 7 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / golem / magician / magic / faery /

Publisher summary:

Heraclix was dead and Pomp was immortal. That was before Heraclix’s reanimation (along with the sewn-together pieces and parts of many other dead people) and Pomp’s near murder at the hands of an evil necromancer. As they travel from Vienna to Prague to Istanbul and back again (with a side-trip to Hell), they struggle to understand who and what they are: Heraclix seeks to know the life he had before his death and rebirth, and Pomp wrestles with the language and meaning of mortality. As they journey across a land rife with revolution and unrest, they discover that the evil necromancer they thought dead might not be so dead after all. In fact, he might be making a pact to ensure his own immortality….

There are some books that are just magical, that are written in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn into a new world even if it’s set against our own. Neil Gaiman writes this way and so does Susanna Clark in Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Forrest Aguirre, World Fantasy Award winner for his editorial work in the Leviathan 3 anthology, has created such a tale. The story of Heraclix and Pomp is magical before the magic even begins, or possibly just at the same time.

Because this is the story about a golem, who has been fabricated by a magician, and Pomp, a faery.

They go on a journey to find out what exactly Heraclix is made of … in more ways than one. Being a golem, he’s been formed from different parts of various bodies and some behave abnormally to say the least.

I knew I would enjoy this tale right away, however, my main problem actually has nothing to do with the writing or the story itself, it’s the audio narration.

I almost put the book down because the narration was just plain hard to listen to. Brandon Massey’s narration was dull and monotone, almost robotic even, with words over-pronounced so that each letter is sounded out. I don’t like listening to audiobooks on faster speeds, because I like to appreciate the acting and the reading itself, but 1.75 speed actually made this much better to listen to. At least there was a reason for the robot-sounding voice.

As much as I wanted to love every moment of the book, I was so off-put by the narration that it made it really hard to enjoy the story. I didn’t look forward to my car rides and sadly I don’t have the time to go back and read, which I’m sure I will enjoy much more.

Despite these facts, I could still see the glimmer of lyrical beauty in the narrative. It’s a great story and wonderfully written and my reduced rating is mainly a factor of the audio presentation.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended, but not on audio)

Posted by Bryce L.

The SFFaudio Podcast #305 – AUDIOBOOK: The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson

February 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastLibriVoxThe SFFaudio Podcast #305 – The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson, read by Mark Nelson.

This UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK (18 hours 40 minutes) comes to us courtesy of LibriVox.

The Night Land was first published in 1912.

For our discussion of The Night Lands check out episode #288

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson

Posted by Jesse Willis

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