Review of Steel World by B. V. Larson

July 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Steel World steelworldSteel World (#1 in Undying Mercenaries)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 3 December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / dinosaurs / regeneration / military sf / alien bean counters / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed.The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy. As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers…someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a soft and accessible military SF walk-through. If tropes don’t pose a nuisance, this might just graze your fancy.

B. V. Larson’s Steel World is passable military SF, but it’s not a genre standout. If you’re looking to scratch that itch, this will do the trick, but it may not satisfy. All the ingredients are here. We have humans from Earth fighting on a distant planet inhabited by aliens, futuristic weapons, and the technology to make death nearly nonexistent. All the trope-trappings are here of course too, a young recruit, training, deployment, battles, technology, spaceships, etc. But what we don’t have? Genre originality. But it should be said that one doesn’t need break the mold of military SF to have good military SF. In Larson’s case though, it may have helped to step outside the lines in order to make a memorable impression.

For the most part I enjoyed the ride, but I was ready for it to end. The writing affected a forced feel. I was disappointed with the glossed over battle scenes, stereotypical gruff commander, manor in which the recruits fraternized, and the abrupt ending reinforcing the soldier’s inability to “come home” again all felt too prepackaged to ring that bell of authenticity. I struggled with the at times awkward anachronisms. Similes sporting pigs at county fairs, and basic phrases referencing the Internet, the act of brown-nosing, shopping cart wheels, horseshit, and people being pricks kept pulling me out of the future and plunking me back in the contemporary.

Mark Boyett narrates the audiobook, and does a nice job. Boyett has a clean yet slightly senior sounding voice that is incongruous with the main character’s youthful inexperience. While this is feasible to overlook, it never fully leaves the listener’s consciousness. Boyett sounds more like an old man on a porch than a jacked up soldier full of bloodlust and vitality who never stops checking out the backsides of female officers.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

April 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

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.

The SFFaudio Podcast #256 – READALONG: Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

March 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #256 – Jesse, Tamahome, Luke Burrage, Seth, and Mark Turetsky talk about the audiobook of Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (as narrated by Mark Turetsky for Blackstone Audio)!

Talked about on today’s show:
On the book title’s proper spacing and hyphenation; Have Gun, Will Travel TV show; Heinlein’s last “juvenile” novel; Mark “over the moon” about the opportunity to record the book; novel nominated for Hugo in 1959; parts of the novel are hard SF; Philip K. Dick’s completely unrelated story The Father Thing; ways of manipulation in the novel; Mark’s favorite character voices; correlations between the Earth characters and space characters; debunking the possibility that the story was all a dream or imaged à la Wizard of Oz; cross-novel characters in Heinlein’s novels i.e. Space Family Stone; novel followed up by Starship Troopers; detailed description of the space suit possibly inspired by Heinlein’s work on bomber pilot pressure suits during World War II; The Martian by Andy Weir; casual drug use in the novel; Mark didn’t do the helium voice in space suit scenes; comparison to full cast audio version; Kip’s conversations with inanimate space suit bear resemblance to Gravity; on the novel’s setting in time and its world building flaws; slip sticks and slide rules; slide rule “the best invention since girls”; Kip’s dad should “get off his ass and get a job”; Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and its inspiration on Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog via its appearance in this novel’s opening lines; Heinlein’s infallibility; going Galt; the father is an asshole; the father is Heinlein; money in fiction; money baskets in Stranger in a Strange Land; old men hooking up with young women in Heinlein; Podkayne of MarsTime for the StarsTunnel in the Sky is a mash-up of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games; the story’s narrative perspective; on learning outside of school, “I’m gonna learn this shit on my own”; novel encapsulates Luke’s life philosophy, “There’s no such thing as luck. There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.”; the novel’s accelerating plot; The Puppet Masters; on adapting the novel to the silver screen; PBS’s adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven; the relative weakness of the novel’s last section; Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; time travel “breaks” fiction; Lisa Simpson would read this book; John Scalzi’s blog post An Anecdotal Observation, Relating to Robert Heinlein and the Youth of Today; people today don’t read books (or read the wrong kind of books); is science fiction the most enlightened of fiction genres?; phone books are useful for starting fires; Luke tells an inspiring story about the Magellanic Cloud; “the cure for boredom is curiosity”; where animals keep their brains.

Have Space Suit - Will Travel

Have Spacesuit - Will Travel - illustration by Ed Emshwiller

Emsh interior illustration for HAVE SPACE SUIT - WILL TRAVEL

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A New Beginning by Craig Brummer

February 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

A New BeginningA New Beginning
By Craig Brummer; Narrated by Jack Nolan
Publisher: C&S Press
Publication Date: August 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 32 minutes

Themes: / slavery / space / bureaucracy / mega-corporations / politics /

Publisher summary:

A New Beginning is the story of a young woman who is ordered by the courts of Earth to serve as an indentured slave to the corporation that held her college debt. Life as a slave brings her to the brink of suicide and an attempt to kill her tormentor. She is sold to Spacers, who are themselves rebelling against the corrupt control of Earth’s mega-corporations. In space she finds a chance at a new life, a chance to maybe help her sister avoid the same fate, but only if Spacers succeed in gaining their freedom. The course of her life will be determined by the outcome of politics far outside of her control… but she has a chance, however slim, to save her sister and start a new life herself.

In some way, this was a really odd book for me to read. The main character is named Kristin. She works on a space ship as a systems engineer. I work on satellites as a systems engineer. And, honestly, her description is really similar to mine when I was in my early 20’s. So it was seriously trippy to read this at times.

A New Beginning is set in the near future, a future where space travel is common place, as is living in space aboard ships or other space stations. On Earth, it’s a rather bleaker picture of the world today. Corporations have taken over the world, bought out most of the politicians. It’s a society, world-wide, where the class gap is as wide is it can be and only those born into or who marry into privilege have assurance of a “normal” life. The rest are sold into indentured service to pay of their debts, whatever they are; for main character Kristin, this is the price of her college education. It’s also a future where faster-than-light travel has been made possible, but communication–visual and audio (in the form of communiques between spacecraft)–is limited to light speed. I’m not quite sure how that is possible, to be honest, but it sets up some interesting potential so I decided not to worry about it.

As the story starts, a newly formed “Federation,” comprised of those living and working on the ships and stations, those without ties to Earth, decide to break ties with Earth and form their own…well, federation. Think of it like Star Trek. Where once they were tied to Earth, they now consider themselves independent entities, willing and happy to trade with Earth, but not bound by any of their laws–or taxes. This has important ramifications for Kristin Hayes, whose indentured service was just sold from an Earth corporation to a ship in the Federation. She left behind a life of debt and slavery (including sexual slavery) on Earth and, upon joining the ship, was freed. The Federation, her ship The Valiant Lad, bought her indenture contract (along with that of others) and gave her the option to return to Earth as a free woman or to join the Federation, join the ship’s crew. Kristin decided to join the ship’s crew and for the first time in her life, have a real job, earn real wages, and be allowed to be a “normal” person.

Kristin’s story comprises most of the book. There are two story lines (that are sort of broken into 3 in places), one of the Federation officers who are actually coordinating the secession from Earth, and Kristin’s story line, telling of her life, both on and off the ship. Kristin’s story is about 2/3 of this book, though I suspect that this is the first in a series and provides decent setup for the rest of the series. Kristin acclimates to life on the ship slowly, but without much adversity. If anything, it seems that everything is just too easy. She finds friends, support, a job she can do…which is interesting, given the description of how the space-ers grow up and are educated compared with how Earth-ers are raised. Growing up in space seems a lot more intense, it seems that anybody from Earth would be at a significant disadvantage. When the Federation makes new laws, allowing families to be on ships and for crew to “fraternize,” she enters into a relationship with a crew mate fairly easily, despite her emotional scars. Kristin decides that she should use this opportunity to earn money (and save it) so that she can get her sister and her father off Earth, to help them avoid the troubles she had. One way she earns money is by selling her journal as a book; the journal she wrote of what her life was like on Earth as a child and then as an indentured servant for one of the corporations. It became an overnight success (almost literally) and made her into a celebrity. As I said, the only “trouble” I really had with this part of the book is how easy everything was. Kristin had a few small stumbling blocks to overcome, but the narrative made it sound like they were easily triumphed over, so overall she didn’t face much adversity.

Similarly, the second story line–comprising a third or less of the book–seemed….easy. The main thrust is told from two viewpoints, one of the ship captain (Marshall?) who announced the secession, and one of another ship captain (Matthews? A woman, in either event, which was nice) who oversaw some of the battles between the Earth ships and the Federation ships. This is where I think the book truly had a miss. It was odd enough that it was all too easy–the battles were short, sweet, and rarely with any Federation losses–but there was an opportunity for Brummer to capitalize on some interesting tactics, an opportunity lost in this book. As I mentioned earlier in the review, technology has evolved to a point where faster-than-light travel is possible (and used) but faster-than-light communication is not. This means that when battling on a large scale, your information is only as good as your distance (in light years/hours) from the source. This was touched on briefly in Kristin’s narrative. One of her co-workers mentioned that for spare money, he makes games to teach kids about battle tactics and the math used in FTL travel and war. He mentioned that all kids who grow up in space have to learn this, and have to use it…but then, nobody did. In all of the battles, it seemed like the information at hand was “good enough” and that the Federation mostly won without issue. While the battle scenes were mercifully short (nothing drives me up a wall than too much detail on weaponry or super-detailed tactics), they were almost too dry. It seemed, once again, too easy.

Some of the issues with the battle scenes might have been owed to the narration. The narration, while mostly fine, was just that, fine. Nolan didn’t add much excitement or change in tone for any of the scenes. He didn’t use different voices for the characters (except maybe some of the characters on the primary Federation ship–the Freedom?–they sounded like they were lifted from the scenes in Star Trek). The recording itself occasionally echoed or sounded like it was recorded with an unfiltered microphone. It often sounded like there was a low-level hiss in the background, or air flowing. This was noticeable when I used earphones and in my car audio and was occasionally distracting.

All in all, the book wasn’t a bad entry novel for a first-time author, though the science fiction elements were more window dressing than actual story components. I suspect some of the audio issues were due to it not being one of the larger publication houses, and that’s okay. I would recommend this book to someone looking for some light science fiction that frankly isn’t much of a downer (because let’s be honest, a lot of it can be extremely depressing). It will be interesting to see where Brummer goes with this universe. If all the novels end up having this same tone/lack of adversity, it could get boring, but for a first-in-a-series by a new author, it was pretty alright.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Alien Honor by Vaughn Heppner

February 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Alien Honor by Vaughn HeppnerAlien Honor (A Fenris Novel #1)
By Vaughn Heppner, Read by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / interspecies slavery / telepathic FTL spaceships / galactic colonizing / Philosoraptors / science fiction / space / aliens /

Publisher summary:

2457 AD. The longest space voyage in history has begun: 230 light years from a ravaged Earth to the pristine star system of New Eden — a beacon of hope following the Doom Star days. Aboard the ship are human colonizers, the Space Navy, fierce “Monitors” once bred to fight Cyborgs, and four “Specials” — humans with psionic abilities, capable of ripping holes in space to jump vast distances. But one Special has his own agenda and when an alien presence makes an offer he can’t refuse, the entire mission takes a deadly turn. Cyrus Gant, a former Dust-dealing gang member from Earth’s subterranean slums, is onto the renegade Special. And while his psi powers aren’t as strong as he might like, Cyrus’s street smarts more than make up for this seeming disadvantage. This will be crucial, because as the ship makes the final, frightening leap toward New Eden, Cyrus is everyone’s last hope for survival.

Alien Honor is Vaughn Heppner’s opening book in the Fenris series, which is set in 2457 AD. Humans are using telepaths to power FTL (faster-than-light) spaceships. The majority of the book focuses on Cyrus Gant, a gritty gang boss who was plucked out of the slums and trained in a special program for the development of telepathic humans. Earth sends a colonizing ship 230 light years to the New Eden star system with hope for a new beginning. Of course, things go horribly wrong and we encounter dinosaurs in space posing as philosopher-kings, as one does when venturing into space.

Vaughn Heppner is ambitious. SF is a genre known for tackling issues of social inequality set against an alien backdrop as a means of providing alternative perspective. We encounter interspecies slavery, telepath typecasting, and military stereotypes reinforcing the old misguided mantra of stronger=bigger=better. Unfortunately, Heppner’s near continual use of contemporary language/slang became an increasing source of irritation. The story is set over four hundred years in our future, yet Heppner has characters dropping insults like “prick” and “bastards.” Anytime I stumbled across characters using present-day language and contemporary idioms, it yanked me out of Heppner’s world.

Jeff Cummings narrates the audiobook and does a fair job. As a reader, he never becomes bigger than the story. There were times when I felt his delivery was overdramatic and slower in pace than I am accustomed to, but this is minor.

Personally, I felt things picked up nicely when the dinosaurs came on the scene. I mean come on, space Velociraptor cast as philosopher-king. You know what that means, right? Philosoraptor, YEAH-BABY!!!

And yes, I’m a proud owner of a Philosoraptor t-shirt.

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.

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