Review of Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

July 31, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Dark Disciple Star Wars cover imageDark Disciple: Star Wars
By Christie Golden; Foreword by Katie Lucas; Read by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 7 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / Star Wars / Clone Wars / Sith / bounty hunter / Jedi /

Publisher summary:

The latest story never told in The Clone Wars television saga: A tale of trust, betrayal, love, and evil starring the hugely popular ex­ Sith/ never­ Jedi female bounty hunter, Asajj Ventress! A tale written but never aired, now turned into a brand­ new audiobook with the creative collaboration of the Lucasfilm Story Group and Dave Filoni, Executive Producer and Director of Star Wars: TheClone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels!    

When the Jedi decide to target Count Dooku­­Darth Tyranus­­himself, they turn to his ex­apprentice, Asajj Ventress, for help in getting close to the slippery Sith Lord. But when unexpected sparks fly between Ventress and Quinlan Vos, the unorthodox Jedi sent to work with her, the mission becomes a web of betrayal, alliances, secrets,and dark plotting that might just be the undoing of both Jedi and Sith­­ and everything in between.

Where did this book come from? I’ve never been much of a prequel person and didn’t get into the Clone Wars TV show but man this book is one of my favorite Star Wars books to date. It has a lot more emotional depth to it than your typical Star Wars book and a lot transpires in such a small novel. Yes it still feels like your typical action pulp novel but with even a bit more. This is the novel that will finally get me to go back and watch the Clone Wars.

The general premise of the book is that the Jedi are concerned about the toll the Clone Wars are taking on the galaxy and decide that taking out the head of the snake will reduce the casualties. That means assassinating Count Dooku. If you can get past the very un-Jedi like premise of this, the ride is worth taking. They decide to send one of their most covert Jedi masters, Quinlan Vos, to team up with Asajj Ventress in going after the Sith Lord. Apparently she decided to become a bounty hunter at some point and he needs to stoke the flames of her hate for Count Dooku so she joins the cause…should be interesting!

The story chronicles everything from concept to courting Ventress (choice wording) all the way to conclusion of things. There are some cameos from the mainstream Star Wars characters but overall this story focuses on Vos and Ventress – which I love. It is a breathe of fresh air to see some other characters take center stage. They have a certain spark for each other and play off one another really well. I think their different backgrounds and their issues add much more of a dynamic to what happens.

We all know how Episode 3 starts but I genuinely did not know where this book was headed. I knew that they couldn’t be the ones who finally did the deed, but wondered if they set up circumstances at the beginning of Episode 3 (I won’t tell you if that happened though). The only reason I bring it up is because I’ve seen reviews of other Star Wars books where people said they almost believed Vader would turn against the Emperor (Lords of the Sith) or that some rebellion could succeed even if you knew it couldn’t because of the movie. I guess this book was that to me where the others were just a fun ride I knew couldn’t succeed.

I wouldn’t say the book is perfect. A lot of things happen in a short period of time or at least I didn’t feel the passage of time as the story progressed. The characters go through a LOT of change in that time and sometimes it felt a bit rushed, but I give Golden credit for pushing for that much change out of them. Other things typical of a pulp novel are here too; like meeting the bad guy and everyone getting away fine.

As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson did a great job as usual and the sound engineers added all the sound effects and music we’ve come to expect from a Star Wars audiobook. My one minor gripe is that Thompson’s Mace Windu sounds a hell of a lot like Lando Calrissian. That kept throwing me off when the Jedi would convene but apart from that, the audio was great!

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City

July 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Blumhouse House of NightmaresTHE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: The Haunted City
Edited by Jason Blum; Read by Various
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 7 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours

Themes: / horror / short stories / ghosts / demonic possession / violence / murder /

Publisher summary:

Emmy Award-winning producer Jason Blum has ushered in a new dawn of horror with franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Insidious, and Sinister. Now he presents THE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: THE HAUNTED CITY, a stunning collection of original, terrifying fiction from a unique cast of master storytellers.   

Contents include:

“Geist” by Les Bohem
“Procedure” by James DeMonaco
“Hellhole” by Christopher Denham
“A Clean White Room” by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
“Novel Fifteen” by Steve Faber
“Eyes” by George Gallo
“1987” by Ethan Hawke
“Donations” by William Joselyn
“The Old Jail” by Sarah Langan
“The Darkish Man” by Nissar Modi
“Meat Maker” by Mark Neveldine
“Dreamland” by Michael Olson
“Valdivia” by Eli Roth
“Golden Hour” by Jeremy Slater
“The Leap” by Dana Stevens
“The Words” by Scott Stewart
“Gentholme” by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Do you enjoy ghost, demon, and gore-lit? If yes, then you’ll enjoy this collection of stories ranging from psychological horror to down and dirty violent bloodletting. I feel this anthology does a nice job at covering the various bases in this subgenre, and for those of you interested in such reading material, I think you’ll enjoy the reading experience.

I’m not averse to reading stories that are violent or haunted by ghosts, but I need good writing. Some of these tales are fine examples of solid craft and storytelling. “A Clean White Room” by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill was a delight in the forward lean immediacy of the story. “Gentholme” by Simon Kurt Unsworth is an excellent story rendered in a pleasing unfolding of character exploration, and while the ending is a little flat, it was a pleasure to read.

Regarding recommendations? Yes, if you are a fan of these types of stories. No, if you are only an occasional horror reader. This is not a good collection to start on. It is a great collection if you’re looking to add to your already substantial horror reading catalog.

Several different narrators collaborate on this audiobook. I couldn’t find a list of the readers, but I think all deliver an outstanding reading. I was impressed with the audio quality.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

July 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Lords of the SithLords of the Sith (Star Wars)
By Paul S. Kemp; Narrated by Jonathan Davis
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 28 April 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 56 minutesThemes: / Star Wars / space / sith / spice /Publisher summary:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice Darth Vader find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.

“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters – and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.

On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice”, an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources – by political power or firepower – and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.

For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.

Lords of the Sith is a decent entry in the Star Wars universe with a familiar setup but good execution. As this takes place before Episode IV, we know this story has many limitations that Kemp works within well. We get a good amount of action both in space and planet-side and a surprising amount of insight and introspection from Darth Vader along the way.

The beginning feels like so many others that have come before: random resistance/rebellion is causing trouble and the Empire must respond. If more books are written in this time period, I really hope some oter source of tension is found because the perpetual rebellions are getting kind of tired (not to say that shouldn’t be happening but there were far more creative issues hitting the New Republic in the expanded legends universe). A lot of time is spent developing characters and their reason for a rebellion that we know won’t be sticking around very long when I really want to see more of the Sith. I kind of felt the same way with the time spent on characters I didn’t care about in Kenobi when I wanted more of the wizened old Jedi Master. Thank goodness that lightens up a good way into the book.

Things really start to get interesting when Vader and the Emperor show up to shut things down in a Star Destroyer only to suffer a pretty crazy attack prepared by the resistance. I enjoyed this part because of Kemp’s clever usage of many of the different technologies and capabilities seen in Star Wars over the years. It was also fun to see Vader flying around in a craft with limited capabilities with only the Force as his weapon. How do you kill a jedi or a sith? Lots and lots of back up plans would give you a shot!

Speaking of using the Force for a weapon, we really get to see Vader and the Emperor unleash a bit on their abilities in this novel. Early on, Vader infiltrates a ship on his own and is scary efficient at cutting his way through everyone on board. It’s kind of like when they storm the blockade runner in Episode IV except just Vader running through the place taking people out. We also get to see the two sith working in tandem to face all kinds of scenarios that range between cool/plausible to just putting random indigenous threats through the meat grinder (that part kind of felt like a, “lets just show how totally badass these guys are by making them kill meaningless things”). There are a bunch of moments where I wondered how they were fooled by something dumb, didn’t just kill someone that was being a nuisance the whole time, etc but overall it was pretty good.

The book isn’t all violence and craziness because we get to see Vader struggling with serving his master. Episode III ended with Vader having submitted to Palpatine but their master/servant relationship wasn’t exactly fleshed out by the end of the film. Vader still struggles with the repercussions of previous events and contemplates attacking his master at regular intervals…as every sith should. It’s interesting to hear his thoughts and struggles and knowing what he’ll become.

On the audio side of things, Jonathan Davis did a great job as usual and the sound effects/music were great. Jonathan Davis always puts on a great performance with high energy and does not disappoint here. Some of the sound effect got to me – mainly the squelching noises that one would normally associate with a sith crushing enemies or smashing an enemy into a wall, but such sounds should make you cringe.

Overall this was not my favorite Star Wars book but was still a decent entry in the universe. If you’re looking for more sith action, definitely check out the Darth Bane book that start with Path of Destruction.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

March 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Gods ThemselvesThe Gods Themselves
By Isaac Asimov; Narrated by Scott Brick
Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] –  11 hrs, 26 mins

Themes: / science fiction / aliens / annihilation / survival /

Publisher summary:

Only a few know the terrifying truth – an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant of a dying planet, a lunar-born human intuitionist who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun… They know the truth – but who will listen? They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy – but who will believe? These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to the Earth’s survival.

Though a science fiction novel, The Gods Themselves is also primarily about magic.

Throughout the courses I took for my my undergraduate degree in Economics, we talked a lot about the driving forces behind the choices people make. One of the greatest is magic. We all want to find that magical thing that makes us not have to work as hard; magic makes life easier.

This quest for magic has helped us innovate on a grand scale and use the resources around us for our own benefit. Whether it’s been good in the long run, I’ll not get into just this second.

In The Gods Themselves, a magic is found which makes life easier and it’s the Electron Pump. Somehow, some beings have reached across the universe, time, or something, to impress themselves upon our world and made possible an endless energy source, which benefits all of humanity.

The only problem is whether it is really for our benefit and what happens when the worst is found out? Would humanity easily give up such a gift?

It’s interesting to read this book, published in 1972, in light of today’s problems with humanity’s stewardship of the world. I’m sure, actually, that Mr. Asimov thought his day was bad.

This book is told in three separate parts, each of which was published independently in Galaxy Magazine and Worlds of If. They focus on three quite different groups of people and their interaction with the Electron Pump.

The first focuses on the physicists who discover and deal with the Electron Pump. The second focuses on those others and it’s absolutely otherworldly, so much so, that it was quite difficult to read at first until you understood what was going on a bit more. It reminded me a little of Orson Scott Card’s Mithermages series.

The final part focuses on a human colony on the moon. One of the parts I can talk about without spoiling things is the description of gravity on the moon. Those who’ve lived there all their lives are essentially trapped there because their bones couldn’t survive Earth’s gravity and those who travel there have to take frequent, excruciating, trips home to Earth to keep their bodies in shape. After listening to a Star Wars book, it’s interesting to note how little they care about the different gravities of worlds. Must be some hyper-technology that accounts for it right?

Because Asimov is himself a scientist, the physics are competently explained, at least to a lay person like myself, and the dire consequences of humanity’s actions are understood … through science. Amazing!

And a note on the audiobook reader, Scott Brick. Brick has been around the block, I don’t know how many times I’ve come across his recordings. You can always trust him to bring the gravitas to any recording and you’ll find nothing less here.

This cleverly named book won both the Nebula Award in 1972 and the Hugo in 1973. And as the origin of the name of the book says, quoted from Friedriech Schiller, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” (for the German speakers: “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.”)

As apt today as it was … when it was written.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Tarkin: Star Wars

January 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Tarkin Star Wars coverTarkin: Star Wars
By James Luceno; Narrated by Euan Morton
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 4 November 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 27 minutes

Themes: / star wars / empire /

Publisher summary:

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly….and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel – by intimidation…or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin – whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy…and its enemies’ extinction.

Tarkin is one of the first books in the rebooted Star Wars expanded universe. The story gives us a lot of Tarkin’s back story and how he came to be a Grand Moff of the Empire. The story started a bit slow but picked up as less back story and more plot took place. Tarkin is a very interesting character because of his intelligence and ruthlessness (he actually reminds me strongly of Grand Admiral Thrawn in some ways). Star Wars fans will like this book but I will say that it felt more like the prequels than the original trilogy.

The plot of the story isn’t a linear narrative and spends a lot of time giving flash backs of Tarkin’s youth. These flash backs give interesting perspective into how he thinks but also kind of disrupt the story happening in the present. The flash backs show that Tarkin isn’t just some plain old officer in the Empire but he has had his trials and tribulations to earn his place.

I think one large reason why I liked this book instead of “really liked” is how much the prequels are brought into the plot. Everyone who has seen the prequels saw the Death Star plans came from Geonosys and saw the younger version of Tarkin in the movies, so this story definitely has a place in the prequels…except I don’t really like the prequels.

On the audio side of things, Euan Morton brings a different style of narration to this story from what I’m used to in a Star Wars book. I think the idea is that he’d do well with a British accent to match that of Tarkin from the movies and he pulls it off well. All the usual music and sound effects are present as you’d expect and I still think they’re doing a better job with the use of music lately. I should also add that I don’t remember any annoying/repetitive/distracting background ambiance sounds as in some other Star Wars audio books.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of A New Dawn

October 21, 2014 by · 2 Comments
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SFFaudio Review

Star Wars New DawnA New Dawn (Star Wars)
By John Jackson Miller; Narrated by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 2 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 43 minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / Dark Times / rebels / Jedi / Empire /

Publisher summary:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.” (Emperor Palpatine)

For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights brought peace and order to the Galactic Republic, aided by their connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force. But they were betrayed – and the entire galaxy has paid the price. It is the Age of the Empire.

Now Emperor Palpatine, once Chancellor of the Republic and secretly a Sith follower of the dark side of the Force, has brought his own peace and order to the galaxy. Peace through brutal repression, and order through increasing control of his subjects’ lives.

But even as the Emperor tightens his iron grip, others have begun to question his means and motives. And still others, whose lives were destroyed by Palpatine’s machinations, lay scattered about the galaxy like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off….

The first Star Wars novel created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn is set during the legendary “Dark Times” between Episodes III and IV and tells the story of how two of the lead characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels first came to cross paths. Featuring a foreword by Dave Filoni.

This is it: The beginning of the new Star Wars content after the entire expanded universe became “legends” and it is….decent. Not awesome but also not bad. It’s hard to be objective because John Jackson Miller is charged with kicking off all new characters with all new adventures, and that feels much different from previous stories with established characters. I was kind of disappointed with the characters because this was an opportunity to be unique and they chose to make recycled versions of previous Star Wars characters. That said, the book was the normal action packed Star Wars adventure you’d expect and didn’t actually end the way I assumed it would – which I liked. I’d recommend this book to Star Wars fans or those interested in the new Rebels show (since this precedes it in the timeline) but would still point to Timothy Zahn’s work as a real gateway drug into Star Wars books.

Miller does a great job getting the feel of Star Wars in this book but the story also feels a bit like the characters from Star Wars have been recycled a bit:

Kanan Jarrus: A bit of a rogue with budding jedi powers kept hidden. He comes of like 30% Luke and 70% Han. Marc Thompson didn’t use either his Luke or Han voice for this character but I noticed him slipping somewhat into a Han voice on some of the more roguish moments.
Hera: Leia meets Mara Jade. She’s all about investigating wrong doing by the Empire, runs around with a hood up, and does some spy-type stuff.
Count Vidian: Evil cyborg guy that works for the Empire. I guess you always need an evil guy that is mostly machine (Vader/Grievous) to show how much they’re lost their humanity.
Skelly: This guy’s hi-jinks just make me think of Jar Jar Binks. No weird accent at least.

The main plot of the story revolves around the Empire wanting to increase efficiency of their mining of a mineral they need for expanding the fleet. The Empire shows up with the ruthless efficiency expert Count Vidian to make the miners be more efficient or else. Action and drama ensue from there and I always find it amazing how many times an author can get all the good and bad guys together only to have people escape / not get hurt and continue on with their plans. I thought the story was pretty well thought out and there were interesting revelations about characters and their motivations throughout the story so it wasn’t just straightforward action.

One thing that kind of annoyed me was a fairly major thread that seems to serve as an allegory to all the leaks in the media lately. There are contractors that monitor citizens (a la 1984) via hidden cameras and microphones but that monitoring has gotten out of hand since the emperor came to power. There is even a “military contractor” that is a whistle blower….. All of this may not have been intentional but it sure felt like it.

As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson did a great job as usual. If you’ve listened to a Star Wars book narrated by him before, you’ve heard his different voices and know what to expect. All the great Star Wars sound effects, atmospheric sounds, and music are there too. I may be less critical now, but I thought all of that was better done, less distracting, and contributed a bit better to this story than in some others I’ve listened to in the past.

And just a fun treat, this isn’t from this particular Star Wars novel but the same narrator:

 

Posted by Tom Schreck

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