Review of Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

June 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

griftersStarship Grifters (Rex Nihilo #1)
By Robert Kroese; Read by Kate Rudd
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 24 June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / witty SF / robot sidekick / Chaotic Equilibrium / galactic irony /

Publisher summary:

A space-faring ne’er-do-well with more bravado than brains, Rex Nihilo plies the known universe in a tireless quest for his own personal gain. But when he fleeces a wealthy weapons dealer in a high-stakes poker game, he ends up winning a worthless planet…and owing an outstanding debt more vast than space itself!

The only way for Rex to escape a lifetime of torture on the prison world Gulagatraz is to score a big payday by pulling off his biggest scam. But getting mixed up in the struggle between the tyrannical Malarchian Empire and the plucky rebels of the Revolting Front—and trying to double-cross them both—may be his biggest mistake. Luckily for Rex, his frustrated but faithful robot sidekick has the cyber-smarts to deal with buxom bounty hunters, pudgy princesses, overbearing overlords, and interstellar evangelists…while still keeping Rex’s martini glass filled.

The answer is yes.
The question? Should I read this book?

Funny SF is tricky. Funny SF that holds up over an entire novel is a rarity. The writing in this book is sharp, tight, and clever. I laughed out loud enough to lose track of tally or occurrence. In a word, this novel is SMART.

Robert Kroese delivers an action-stuffed SF adventure packed with funny acronyms, believable and outlandish characters, and a plot with more twists than a page of calligraphy or a barrel of monkey tails. Set in a future galaxy, far far away, Starship Grifters tickles our nostalgia with SF references that most should recognize. From those expendable red shirt wearers to large starships that have the capacity for destroying planets, this book is accessible. It is also wonderfully layered for you deep-rooted SF aficionados. I mean when a starship is named Flagrante Delicto, which is Latin, it’s hard to go wrong.

Now, does this mean you’ll love this as much as me? Nope, it don’t. Humor is painfully relative, but I imagine you’ll at least crack a smile or whack a knee. I laughed, often, at times uproariously. It’s been a while since I’ve had such fun with an SF adventure. The key is that this doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we.

Kate Rudd narrates the audiobook, and I highly recommend this for listening. Rudd is amazing! She infuses each character with a sense of individuality and the breath of life. At first I was a little anxious, but within five minutes Rudd had won me over, and within ten, I was a staunch Rudd believer.

Now, go grab a martini and let the listening begin. “It’s time for piggy to go to market!”

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Redshirts by John Scalzi

January 2, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Redshirts by John ScalziRedshirts
By John Scalzi; Performed by Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 11 June 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / Star Trek / humor / space /

Publisher summary:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more thrilled to be assigned to the ship’s xenobiology laboratory, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers. Life couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranked crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I’ve been kind of on a Scalzi kick lately. I guess I’ve needed some light sci-fi without too much brain interaction. And I don’t say that as a bad thing. I know so many times “light” and “fun” come off in the pejorative, but I rarely mean it that way. Honestly, I think that’s the high watermark of fiction. I’m not trying to learn anything, although I always do. I’m not trying to to do anything but enjoy my free time.

I value other aspects of a novel plenty. I love a complex plot, great characters, beautiful prose. But the most important thing to me is fun. Entertainment. How wrapped up I am in a book is the most important aspect. Obviously many things contribute to that including plot, characters, prose, etc. However, a lack of any of these is also possible.

Redshirts is just that. It’s fun. It’s a story that keeps you turning pages, or in the case of this audiobook, that keeps you in your car longer than necessary. It’s far from perfect, in fact I had plenty of problems with the narrative and they mainly fall in the codas, but I’ll get to it.

The way Redshirts is laid out, it is a main story followed by three codas at the end called First Person, Second Person, and Third Person. The main story is an exciting mystery where the characters realize someone dies off each time there’s a mission. It’s funny at times, a bit overdone at other times**, but mostly a fun ride with an intriguing mystery I wanted to see solved. It had me until the end when I just couldn’t suspend disbelief anymore.

**I think reading the jokes that were overdone may have been funnier. Sometimes a joke that is funny on paper just isn’t quite so funny spoken aloud. Tis a fact of life I continually relearn. :)

Then come the codas. First Person was okay. It was an odd continuation of the story that kind of makes sense. Second Person is just an annoying way to read anything. Please no one write second person ever again. Ever. Who is “you” when it’s both the narrative and the protagonist using it? Third Person was also unnecessary. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Scalzi got to the end of the main story, realized it was the dreaded novella length (unsellable) instead of a full novel and started to explore some side issues and threw them onto the end.

Wil Wheaton

I’m not making any friends with this, but I had a hard time with Wheaton’s narrating in this one. He’s obviously perfect for the job, he’s a Star Trek star and his personality on The Big Bang Theory, Twitter, you name it, is as snarky as it gets. Perfect for a book about the redshirts that die off every episode. The only problem is he doesn’t really do voices. He changes his voice when people are slurring words or yelling, but not by character. I’ve grown a bit spoiled by this probably, but I really need that now to tell characters apart. I rely on it and when it’s not there, it’s tough.

Luckily, here there are not too many characters, but I continued to confuse people throughout the entire book and that doesn’t happen normally. Otherwise, sans dialogue, Wheaton’s incredible.

The Hugo Award

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with the choice of Redshirts for the Hugo Award this year even before I’d read it. Halfway through reading this, my mind hadn’t changed. After reading the codas nothing’s changing. However, the thing I’m actually quite happy about with Redshirts winning a Hugo is for the same idea I started this review explaining.

Fun. Entertainment.

I’m glad Redshirts won because I think entertainment is a great reason to win an award. I know the voting process for the Hugos has its own problems and it comes down much of the time to the author having a loyal following, but I’m still glad a book like this can win an award at all. I hope more do.

3 out of 5 Stars (recommended with reservation)

Posted by Bryce L.

The Hedgehog by Saki

October 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

One can easily imagine a story like this actually happening at an upper-crust English country seat like the fictional Downton Abbey – Ruth Golding’s fabulous narration is spot on for this cute little “ghost story” by Saki.

LibriVoxThe Hedgehog
By Saki; Read by Ruth Golding
1 |MP3| – Approx. 15 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox
Published: 2012
The busybodies at a vicarage garden party invite a one Miss Ada Bleek, from the “Society for Psychical Research”, to have a bit of a snoop at their local ghosts – she finds a very large and rather pale one.

And here’s a five page |PDF| version.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez

October 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

emperorEmperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain
By A. Lee Martinez; Performed by Scott Aiello
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
ISBN:978-1480527423
[UNABRIDGED] – 6 CDs, 7 hours 18 minutes

Themes: / evil genius / world domination / humor /

Publisher summary:

“Intergalactic Menace. Destroyer of Worlds. Conqueror of Other Worlds. Mad Genius. Ex-Warlord of Earth. Not bad for a guy without a spine. But what’s a villain to do after he’s done . . . everything. With no new ambitions, he’s happy to pitch in and solve the energy crisis or repel alien invaders should the need arise, but if he had his way, he’d prefer to be left alone to explore the boundaries of dangerous science. Just as a hobby, of course. Retirement isn’t easy though. If the boredom doesn’t get him, there’s always the Venusians. Or the Saturnites. Or the Mercurials. Or . . . well, you get the idea. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are also the assassins of a legendary death cult and an up-and-coming megalomaniac (as brilliant as he is bodiless) who have marked Emperor for their own nefarious purposes. But Mollusk isn’t about to let the Earth slip out of his own tentacles and into the less capable clutches of another. So it’s time to dust off the old death ray and come out of retirement. Except this time, he’s not out to rule the world. He’s out to save it from the peril of…THE SINISTER BRAIN!”

“But, history is written by the winners. Especially winners with access to global mind control devices.”

This line toward the beginning of the book is just one of the many lines from Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain that had me chuckling to myself.

Emperor Mollusk is a Neptunan who has done it all when it comes to defeating and subjugating races, ruling in tyranny and oppression, and downright being evil. Neptunans are the most intelligent of the solar system, at least according to them (and that’s really all that matters right?), but kind of all look the same, in fact they can barely tell each other apart, let alone who their clones are, and they are mollusks (think octopus for those like me who didn’t love biology classes).

Of course it gets boring after a while being the mad genius and having everyone around you worship the ground you allow your mechanical suit to walk on. That is until someone tries to assassinate you. I guess that’s not all true because one of the things I found hilarious was how Emperor Mollusk keeps walking into dangerous situations because he actually thinks there’s no way for anyone to outsmart him.

Then there are the different societies based on which planet they are from. Minor spoiler warning for this sentence: Those from essentially Earth are highly litigious (of course) and there’s a great scene where they save the day and in going to help one of the wounded, a law suit is threatened.

This was a really fun book and my first by the author, I will definitely be going back to A. Lee Martinez in the future. There are some authors who can just go from one line to the next and keep you not only amused but chucking from time to time. A few I can think of are Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams and I’m in awe of their talent. Martinez may not be quite to their level, but he’s right up there.

Here’s another where Mollusk is attacked by a group of Venusians who are a highly honor-bound society who won’t give up no matter how difficult the task or how much they are injured:

“The female did give me a kick. Considering she could barely breath that’s probably worth a commendation or something. ‘Bravery in the face of foolish short-sightedness’ or something. I assume there’s such an award on Venus though it probably has a less accurate name.”

I think these lines were even better because of the great job Scott Aiello does in this audiobook. He’s got Mollusk’s sharp, but oblivious character down pat. One of the signs of a great narrator is when you stop noticing he’s even there and that’s Aiello all the way.

Emperor Mollusk is a hilarious character, this book kept reminding me of the movie Megamind with Will Farrell and I’m sure you can guess why if you’ve seen it (highly recommended btw!). Again, this will not be my last Martinez book, I’m looking forward to jumping into the rest.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Dear Girls Above Me by Charlie McDowell

August 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Dear Girls Above MeDear Girls Above Me
By Charlie McDowell; Read by Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Random House Audio
ISBN: 9780804164207
Published: 4 June 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 6 minutes
Excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / neighbors / twitter / apartments / memoir / humor /

Publisher summary:

When Charlie McDowell began sharing his open letters to his noisy upstairs neighbors—two impossibly ditzy female roommates in their mid-twenties—on Twitter, his feed quickly went viral. His followers multiplied and he got the attention of everyone from celebrities to production studios to major media outlets such as Time and Glamour.  Now Dear Girls breaks out of the 140-character limit as Charlie imagines what would happen if he put the wisdom of the girls to the test.
 
After being unceremoniously dumped by the girl he was certain was “the one,” Charlie realized his neighbors’ conversations were not only amusing, but also offered him access to a completely uncensored woman’s perspective on the world. From the importance of effectively Facebook-stalking potential girlfriends and effortlessly pulling off pastel, to learning when in the early stages of dating is too presumptuous to bring a condom and how to turn food poisoning into a dieting advantage, the girls get Charlie into trouble, but they also get him out of it—without ever having a clue of their impact on him.

I admit that I procrastinated for a while over writing this review. Not because I didn’t like the book, which I did in a weird way, but more because I’m not quite sure what I thought of it.  I found out about the Dear Girls Above Me Twitter meme some time ago and I was always amused by the dry-witted observations of the author’s upstairs neighbors, two 20-something girls who say really stupid things.

“Dear Girls Above Me, ‘Like why isn’t the 4th of July on the 2nd of July? Who makes up when these holidays are gonna be anyway?’ Will Smith.”

“Dear GAM, ‘Mom, how are you not hearing me?! I forgot to send dad flowers because THERE’S A NEW KARDASHIAN!’ Happy Father’s Day, Kanye.”

A lot is said in less than 140 characters. Anyone who has ever had to live in close proximity to other people in an apartment complex can certainly relate. Goodness knows I can! This might explain why the meme became popular in the first place.

Does that make for a compelling book?  I’m not entirely sure.

I hesitated to try this book because I wondered how on earth the author was going to make a linear and compelling storyline out of the 140-character observations of his upstairs neighbors. The original meme had no linear storyline to begin with and seemed to serve as an outlet for Charlie’s frustrations at how inane his neighbors could be. So how was this going to be turned into a book?

By creating a small bit of a plot.

You have this mid-20-something who lives in Los Angeles with a longtime roommate who may or may not be gay (a constant source of speculation on the part of the author) named Charlie. Charlie and his longtime girlfriend break up. As he is getting over the pain of his breakup, he notices that he has some new upstairs neighbors, two very loud and very bubble-headed early-20 something girls named Cathy and Claire. Charlie can hear them in his apartment but they, for some odd reason, cannot hear him. So he is forced to hear every inane topic of conversation they have and he turns his rage at their loud conversations into Twitter gold. Eventually he gets to know them a little bit more after he goes upstairs to talk to them and gets sucked into a loud party the girls are hosting, and the girls never seem to remember who he is.

The rest of the story meanders through his fledgling love life, such as his trying to reconnect with the former hot girl from his high school graduating class, and his other observations about apartment life (the neighbor who tries to get her dog to have playdates with Charlie’s dog) and his family, since his mother is apparently an Oscar-winning actress, and punctuating his observations with quotes from the girls above him. Each chapter ends with some of Twitter quotes from the girls.

While his observations are written in that dry style that I like, I kept wondering when an actual story was going to come in. The entire book felt more like the stream-of-consciousness journal of a 20-something guy and I felt myself tuning out sometimes as he went on and on about trying to look on Facebook for the former hot girl he crushed on in high school or having to see as a thirteen-year-old his best friend become aroused at seeing his partially naked mother on a late night movie channel.

I prefer books that have a clear plot to them that leads to a good conclusion and there was nothing like that in this book. There was no story to really drive the book along, so when the end finally did come, it left me feeling more like “wow, that’s it?” It felt so abrupt.

In short, if you enjoy reading rambling books that don’t really have much of a plot to follow, then this would be for you. Do be aware that there is some language and sexual situations, none of which bothered me, but I know some people are sensitive about those things.

As for the audiobook itself, I thoroughly enjoyed the person who read the book. Even if the meanderings of this book left me a little bored at times, I was certainly not bored by the audio reading. I thought that was the best part. Not only did his voice fit the character of the author very well, but also his impressions of Cathy and Claire, the girls who live above Charlie, were hilarious. I found myself cracking up often at hearing his otherwise serious voice speak their dialogue in such a dim-witted Valley Girl voice. It really made the characters in this story come to life.

Review by Cecilee Linke.

Review of Redshirts by John Scalzi

July 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Redshirts by John ScalziRedshirts
By John Scalzi; Performed by Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 11 June 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / Star Trek / humor / space /

Publisher summary:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more thrilled to be assigned to the ship’s xenobiology laboratory, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers. Life couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranked crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

A John Scalzi book making fun of Star Trek? Read by Wil Wheaton? YES PLEASE! I had heard some mixed things about this book (and the audio in particular coming in). That didn’t really deter me, I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Things sort of converged where I got the chance to review it for this site and it was the alternate July pick for the Sword & Laser book club.

This book really cracked me up. I found myself going between chuckling to myself and bursting out into embarrassing fits of laughter. Thank goodness no one was around to see it. And you won’t tell people about it, will you internet?

In the book, Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union. Oh so he’s an Ensign in Starfleet on the Enterprise? Got it. The book extrapolates on the ridiculousness of sending Kirk, Spock, Mccoy and Ensign Timmy, in his bright red shirt, down to the dangerous planet on an away mission. One of them dies. Guess which one?

The original series was before my time (I’m a Next Gen/DS9 Trekker), and I’ve only really watched the movies and very few episodes, but the meme of being the Redshirt on an away mission is well known to just about everyone at this point. The book gets pretty Meta, but I found it to be an enjoyable book, even if it loses a bit of steam as it goes along. The main story was very enjoyable and the three Codas were alright. I liked the first one the most. The second two were OK, but I don’t think either added too much to the story.

This is the second audio book I’ve listened to that is Narrated by Wil Wheaton (The other being Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.) I really enjoy him as a narrator, especially for a book like this. I couldn’t think of a more perfect reader for a Star Trek Parody book.

That said, this book does suffer what I like to call “Unabridgedness”. That’s where the author does something that in print would likely be ignored or read differently (like an image, or specially printed text) that is a bit painful to listen to.

I won’t say the particular issue with this book so as not to plant it in your head (like it had been in mine before listening). Maybe you won’t notice :)

Despite that, I think this is great to listen to in an audiobook, and I especially enjoy the way Mr. Wheaton reads sarcastic statements (of which this book has many). Oh, and he does a great drunk voice!

It’s a quick read (~8 hours for the normal speed audiobook), and the perfect summer/vacation book.

Review by Rob Zak.

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