Review of Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

July 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

cavesCaves of Steel (Robots #1)
By Isaac Asimov, read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 43 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / science fiction / robots / detectives / over-population / colonization /

Publisher summary:

A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.

“Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the ” R” stood for robot.”

I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.

Many years later, listening to William Dufris’ splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey’s personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov’s imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.

I’m not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn’t deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.

I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person’s consciousness.

All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.

Highly recommended.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE
Wikipedia notes:

It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov’s Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.

All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Shattered by Kevin Hearne

July 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Shattered by Kevin HearneShattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #7)
By Kevin Hearne; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 17 June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / druids / urban fantasy / plague /

Publisher summary:

For nearly 2,000 years, only one Druid has walked the Earth – Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, whose sharp wit and sharp sword have kept him alive as he’s been pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities. Now he’s got company. Atticus’ apprentice, Granuaile, is at last a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who now goes by the modern equivalent of his old Irish name: Owen Kennedy. And Owen has some catching up to do.

I’ll start by saying that this is my first foray into the Iron Druid series so this review is from the perspective of someone who hasn’t done the previous books. I would not suggest this book as a great place to start this series. I heard this was a great entry point into the series for fans of urban fantasy but so much of what’s going on in the plot is lost that I missed the overarching significance of what happened in the story. Now that that’s out of the way…

Shattered is an urban fantasy story about one of the last druids in the world trying to live his life while trying to survive the crazy plots of mythical creatures and gods. Hearne’s writing style flows easily and his characters are enjoyable, but I thought the story lacked focus and almost felt like two disjoint stories that didn’t really relate to one another until both ended into a third thread. I liked the use of the urban setting and the creative use of different abilities/powers that characters. There are many quotes and references to geek culture in there but so much that it kept pulling me out of the story.

The first 2/3 of the story has two different threads that are both interesting in their own right but have nothing to do with each other. One thread is about a female druid trying to stop a plague happening in India while the other follows the eponymous iron druid as he introduces someone trapped in time centuries ago to modern culture. Neither story required prior knowledge of the series but the last 1/3 of the story seemed to be a culmination of events from previous stories that was mostly lost on me. I actually thought I was almost done with the audiobook 2/3 of the way through and it felt like a bit of a false ending.

The world and characters in this story are the best part. I liked most characters, thought they were well written, and stayed true to character. I really liked the old druid getting to know modern culture and hearing his take on how he sees things. The comedy relief and quotes/references to geek culture was a bit much at times and took me out of the story too much.

As for the audio side of things, Luke Daniels does a fantastic job reading this book. On one side of things I can hardly believe he does all the voices I heard in the book, on the other side the two main characters sound an awful lot like each other and I would get confused at the beginning of a chapter sometimes until I identified who was speaking. Both voices were great and it didn’t take away from the story, I just thought it was interesting considering how different many of the other voices are. I will definitely be looking for other audiobooks narrated by Luke Daniels.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Jedi Doth ReturnWilliam Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return
By Ian Doescher; Narrated by Marc Thompson, Jonathan Davis, Daniel Davis, Jeff Gurner, January Lavoy, and Ian Doescher
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / full cast / Star Wars /

Publisher summary:

Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. Illustrated with beautiful black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, these two plays offer essential reading for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

The jedi doth return indeed. The final book of the Shakespearean Star Wars trilogy keeps pace with the first two books with regard to author Ian Doescher’s ability to come up with interesting rules for his writing. I enjoyed this book as much as the first and highly suggest experiencing the full performance of the audio book as it works quite well in the form of a radio play.

If you really want to follow all that’s going on, listen to the author’s note after the story first. Doescher explains all of the rules he came up with in previous books and the ones he added for himself in this play. Some rules are more obvious like writing in iambic pentameter and Boba Fett’s prose but others are more interesting. For your assistance and enjoyment, here is a list of those I can remember:

  • Most lines are written in iambic pentameter (including the last two lines of a scene rhyming).
  • Han and Leia speak to each other in rhyming couplets when alone.
  • Boba Fett speaks in prose.
  • Yoda speaks in haiku.
  • Ewoks speak in a mix of Ewok and broken English

Doescher adds a decent amount of literary mechanisms like foreshadowing, aside, foils, and soliloquy to really give this play the Shakespeare feeling. I could go on more about this but a cool benefit these gave is that he’s able to get into character’s heads to show what they’re thinking at times I’ve never thought about while watching the movie. For instance, what is Han thinking when he’s woken up from his carbonite sleep? What is Leia thinking when Luke breaks the news of his family tree? I really like how this was used to highlight the inner struggles that Luke and Darth Vader have during their final confrontation.

The audio book performance is great. All the character voices are done superbly, the sound effects are all there, and the music is well used. The use of a cast definitely lends well to the presentation of this as a play. There are even a few…musical surprises. The note on the audio version is that the lines are read for performance and not to emphasize the iambic pentameter…so Doescher’s efforts in keeping the pattern aren’t really noticeable (you remember from English class right? da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA). This isn’t a detractor since most would prefer this to be acted but just noting it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

June 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Girl in the RoadThe Girl in the Road
By Monica Byrne; Read by Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 20 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 7 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / near-future / dystopia / road trip / Ethiopia / Djibouti / India / ocean / metallic hydrogen /

Publisher summary:

In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is brewing, two women embark on vastly different journeys—each harrowing and urgent and wholly unexpected.When Meena finds snakebites on her chest, her worst fears are realized: someone is after her and she must flee India.  As she plots her exit, she learns of The Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge spanning the Arabian Sea that has become a refuge for itinerant vagabonds and loners on the run.  This is her salvation.  Slipping out in the cover of night, with a knapsack full of supplies including a pozit GPS system, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof pod, she sets off for Ethiopia, the place of her birth.

Meanwhile, Mariama, a young girl in Africa, is forced to flee her home.  She joins up with a caravan of misfits heading across the Sahara. She is taken in by Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. They are trying to reach Addis Abba [sic], Ethiopia, a metropolis swirling with radical politics and rich culture.  But Mariama will find a city far different than she ever expected—romantic, turbulent, and dangerous.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama’s fates are linked in ways that are mysterious and shocking to the core.

This book defied my expectations at every turn. It is near-future but in two different times and locations. Mariama is in a caravan heading to Ethiopia across land, and Meena is heading to Ethiopia from India, across the Arabian Sea, on a floating road made of metallic hydrogen. Interesting concepts for the near-future, and nice to have African and Indian characters and settings. The writing is my type – emotional, internal dialogue, pondering greater meanings.Everyone keeps calling it sci-fi, I imagine because of the brief technology mentions, but I think it fits more in fantasy – people who may or may not be human/gods/ghosts, the quest/journey, the lesson, the good vs. evil, the superhuman moments – feels like fantasy to me!  The cover also claims the book is like a hybrid of Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern, and Margaret Atwood.   I don’t see Gaiman or Morgenstern except for fantasy, but that is a pretty broad paintbrush, one that seems to grasp at the most popular authors in a genre that has better examples to draw from.  Atwood maybe in the sense of timeline and natural disaster themes.  Otherwise, I see this more like the fantastical imaginings of J.G. Ballard (such as The Unlimited Dream Company) with the setting and world building of Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death?).  So if we have to compare it to something, let it be those two instead.

I want everyone to read this book so we can discuss the ending. I listened to the last disc three times because I’m not entirely sure what happened. I’m still not.  I have questions that will make no sense until you’ve read it.  Questions like, “Where is Djibouti?” and “Is everyone insane?”  I keep telling friends about the book and thinking about it, and it has one of the few five-star ratings I’ve given out in GoodReads so far this year.  A week after finishing, I got into a conversation about metallic hydrogen and man-made floating islands in Facebook because a person had posted about Kiribati, a nation that is destined to disappear into the ocean.  Their leader is seriously considering building a place to keep his people together, because what else can you do if your country slips beneath the sea?  Monica Byrne touches on this same question.

The two readers, Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor, do a brilliant job in the performance of this book, particularly in the slipping between India and Africa the way any immigrant would, and that is crucial to the character of Meena.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

April 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Dark Eden by Chris BeckettDark Eden (Dark Eden #1)
By Chris Beckett; Read by Matthew Frow, Jayne Entwistle, Ione Butler, Robert Hook, Heather Wilds, Nicholas Guy Smith, Hannah Curtis, Bruce Mann
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 April 2014[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours, 10 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / dark alien world / humanity /  luminescence / space / patois / free love /

Publisher summary:

On the alien, sunless planet they call Eden, the 532 members of the Family shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees. Beyond the Forest lie the mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it.

The Oldest among the Family recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross the stars. These ships brought us here, the Oldest say—and the Family must only wait for the travelers to return.

But young John Redlantern will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. He will abandon the old ways, venture into the Dark…and discover the truth about their world.

Eden is a planet covered in darkness, hosting an abundance of familiarly alien flora and fauna, inhabited by Earth descended humans. The only light occurs naturally, there is no sun in orbit, and there are only the far away cold stars that shine in the sky.

The human settlement is known as the Family. They have not migrated from first landing. The original settlers of Eden could be counted on one hand; the women could be counted with one finger. Now everyone in the Family speaks in a childish patois riddled with repetition.

Dark Eden focuses on the splintering of the Family as one group breaks away from tradition and heads out into unexplored territory. The original society is built upon a matriarchal democracy. As the story evolves, this deteriorates into an oppressive system of patriarchy, under which we witness the first ever murder.

I struggled with this book. It’s billed as being a coming of age/YA story, but sex is treated rather peculiar. In the local patois, sex is known as a “slip” or to have sex, is to have a “slip” and to get slipped, is to, well you can figure it out. Free love is rampant and often public with mild attempts at modesty. Of course there is the issue of necessary incest. While the folks on Eden know it’s not good to slip your sister, daughter, or mother, I get the impression that such slips do occur. Personally, I feel that the attitudes and practice of sex on Eden is pretty true to how it would happen. Morality and modesty are after all cultural and malleable in definition. But the phrases “baby juice” and “juicy juice” carries an awkward juvenile humor that outweighs social commentary. I never knew if I was supposed to laugh at the sophomoric double entendres or simply overlook them. One minute it feels like I’m reading a cleverly written work of SF, the next moment I feel like I’m deciphering the bathroom stalls back in sixth grade. And the thing is, you can’t have it both ways. Rarely does one find Shakespeare in the outhouse.

The other irritations? The patois got old, very quick. The childish rhyming felt strange when place so near to sexual coupling. It just felt weird, as if puppets were having a sex education discussion with an ongoing demonstration. In places, it just felt a little creepy-creepy dirty-sneaky. I also feel the storytelling would have benefitted with some non-patois segments, or just something to break up its relentless monotony. The result of only employing local dialect is that exposition/description is reduced to unfamiliar forms of expression that fail to yield a smooth reading experience. Lastly, the plot mirrors Watership Down and Lord of the Flies too close for comfort. If you add the local-lingo and odd beasty theme of Miéville’s Railsea, Dark Eden loses all of its alien faraway feel. This doesn’t mean the book is bad, it just suggests a lack of originality.

The audiobook is narrated by Matthew Frow, Jayne Entwistle, Ione Butler, Robert Hook, Heather Wilds, Nicholas Guy Smith, Hannah Curtis, and Bruce Mann. I enjoyed the various narrators, each reading a different character. All readers have a heavy English/UK accent, but it still works, most of the time. I usually don’t care much for multiple narrators, but this production does a nice job.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

March 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Veronica MarsVeronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1)
By Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham; Read by Kristen Bell
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 25 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 42 minutes

Themes: / crime / mystery / kidnapping / girl detective / spring break /

Publisher summary:

From Rob Thomas, the creator of the television series and movie phenomenon Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling mystery series that picks up where the feature film left off. 

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case. Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

This is a book for Veronica Mars fans, to listen to after seeing the crowd-funded movie (I watched it last weekend and was not disappointed! While I’ve been watching Kristen Bell’s new show, House of Lies, I miss Veronica and her many mishaps). The story picks up a few months after the movie ends, and Veronica is still in Neptune when a college student disappears during the Spring Break season.

Logan is missing for the entire story (for reasons the movie details) but another person from Veronica’s past shows up that I wasn’t expecting to see again. I hope in the future we see more new characters because I personally am getting a little weary of some of the same old people, but maybe I do not fully appreciate the importance of repetition in a girl detective narrative.

The audio is great fun because it is read by Veronica herself, Kristen Bell.  Her voice carried us through the narration of the tv show and movie, and having anyone else read the book would have been a real tragedy.  She does different voices for the characters, as well as distinguishing the narrative voice from the character of Veronica Mars. I hope they continue to have her read the future Veronica Mars audiobooks (and I hope there will be future Veronica Mars books).

Posted by Jenny Colvin

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