Technomancer (Unspeakable Things, Book One)
By B.V. Larson; Read by Christopher Lane
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 discs – 11 hours
Themes: / mystery / thriller / magic /
When Quentin Draith wakes up in a private sanatorium, he has no memory of who he is or how he received the injuries riddling his body. All he knows is that he has to get out, away from the drugs being pumped into him and back to the real world to search for answers. His first question: How did his friend Tony’s internal organs fill with sand, killing him in a Las Vegas car crash? After a narrow escape, he tracks down the basic facts: he is an investigator and blogger specializing in the supernatural — which is a good thing, because Quentin’s life is getting stranger by the minute. It seems he is one of a special breed, a person with unusual powers. He’s also the prime suspect in a string of murders linked by a series of seemingly mundane objects. The deeper he digs and the harder he works to clear his name, the more Quentin realizes that some truths are better off staying buried….
This one had a lot of potential, but in the end didn’t live up to it. Technomancer starts off strong with the main character, Quentin Draith, waking up in a hospital, not remembering any details about his life…not even his name. From there, the reader (listener, in my case) is taken on a bit of a “mystery-thriller” type book with science fiction/supernatural elements thrown in. The reader learns about Quentin as he learns about himself. That part of the story is actually kind of fun, the act of discovery. Unfortunately, the book breaks one of my cardinal rules for books in a series: it doesn’t stand very well on its own and didn’t wrap up the story line in any satisfying way. At the end of the book, I was left bored and annoyed that I’d read the entire thing, let down by what it was compared with what it could have been.
Quentin discovers that there have been a variety of bizarre deaths in Las Vegas, odd happenings. Through one of the people he meets, he finds that he’s a blogger who writes about these strange things. As the story goes on, he meets a somewhat shady police officer who is the lead investigator for these events and comes to piece more of the story together. There are some people in the community who have special objects. These objects give them powers, or can be used against others. For example, one of the objects Quentin learns about early-on is a ring that makes the person wearing it lucky in games of chance (such as blackjack). Another power is used for a sort of mind control. Some of these powers have a limited range over which they can work; others can work anywhere. Some objects even allow the owner to create “rips” to other worlds or other places in this world, portals that can be used to travel around the Vegas area. These “rips” can lead to worlds, though, where other beings live, beings who can come through similar rips to our world. Quentin suspects that these beings (called “grey men”) are responsible for all the odd events in Vegas. Through his travels, he also learns that there are two groups of users of these special objects: the “community,” and the “rogues” or the “cultists.” The “community” are people who, to some extent, have banded together to collect objects. The “cultists” have objects of their own, but seem generally more interested in using them for new study. They compare the objects to witchcraft in the 1600′s: if you don’t understand the science behind something, then it is seen as magical, no? Eventually, Quentin forms a plan to destroy the grey men, and the story ends more or less after his attempt to do so…
All of that sounds like it has the potential to be an interesting story. Sadly, the book, taken on its own, didn’t form much of a complete story. Over 9 CD’s (10.5 hours), the book spent the first 8 with Quentin wandering around, finding objects and meeting people. Only three of the people he met (out of many) ended up being truly relevant by the end of the book. The final “battle” as it were didn’t start until the end of the 8th CD and was wrapped up 2/3 through the final CD; that is, the climax was only about 30 minutes long in total, and came right at the end. Instead of describing more of the how’s and why’s, Larson spent most of this book world- and character-building. Even the “battle” was rushed. It wasn’t clear, at the end of the story, if the battle made any difference. Or why Quentin survived. Or what happened to the others who went to battle with him. Or why some of them mattered. A quick look on Amazon indicates that this is the first in the “Unspeakable Things” series. This book was unsatisfying enough to me that I won’t go on to read the others. I kept holding out hope that the climax would come and the story would be resolved, but in the end, it wasn’t. It just felt like a very long introduction to a short book.
As this was an audiobook, I should probably mention something about the narration. In short, it was a pretty average narration, nothing to write home about, but nothing particularly bad or unpleasant, either. Lane did a fine job with the voices; there was never a question of which character was speaking, and his female voices weren’t as over-the-top as some male narrators do. In the end, when a narrator doesn’t distract from the book, they’re doing an alright job in my book, and that was the case here. I think it was probably better to listen to this book instead of reading the print version, so that I could do other things while reading.
Review by terpkristin.
Themes: / thriller / marriage / diary / writers /
Marriage can be a real killer. On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
This audiobook was 19 hours and I finished listening to it in three days. That’s on my 3 mile commute. I just couldn’t stop. I’d make up reasons to listen. This is a very well-written thriller that I can hardly discuss without giving things away. I almost hate myself for liking it because of all the hype, but it really pulls you in and makes you want to know where it is going. I don’t read many thrillers, but this was a good one!
The audiobook is a great way to “read” this, because the chapters are divided between Amy, who has gone missing, through her diary, and Nick, her husband who is a key suspect. The two readers, male and female, really bring the story to life. I’m used to Kirby Heyborne reading zombie novels, so it was hard to ever think of Nick as good, but the author does that anyway.
Posted by Jenny Colvin
By Edward M. Lerner; Read by Grover Gardner
Length: 10.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Themes: / Science! / satellites / engineers / NASA / terrorists / oil / energy / space / thriller /
The SFFaudio crew pegged me to read this book because the description says that one of the main characters is a NASA engineer. I always think it’s funny when people specify “NASA” engineer. It’s like on TV shows when you see people working near the space shuttle, they’re all wearing NASA hats. Nobody does that. The description could just as easily said “aerospace engineer” and the meaning would be the same…but less sexy, somehow. I admit, I was weary of reading this one at first. My experience with people who write about “NASA engineers” is that they have no idea what they’re talking about excepting cursory research. I’m happy to report that Edward M. Lerner does know what he’s talking about with regards to the space and satellite stuff (looking at his bio, it’s no surprise). That said, I went into this thinking it was going to be a science fiction book. It’s much more a mystery/thriller with science fiction elements. It’s as much “science fiction” as Daemon is (which is to say, not much).
In the interest of full disclosure, it’s probably worth mentioning that I am currently employed by a company that (among other things) designs and builds satellites, both for the government and the commercial sector. I currently work on the commercial side of things and have never worked on a NASA contract. There are definite holes and inaccuracies with the science and engineering in this book. But most people won’t recognize them, and they don’t impact the overall enjoyment of the story.
That disclaimer done with, Energized was pretty entertaining. Set in the near-future United States, the world has gone through a “crude-tastrophe” and the price of oil has skyrocketed to the tune of $20+/gallon to fill up a car. There is a fixed market, controlled mostly by Russian interests, for oil, so naturally the US explores alternate energy sources. Unfortunately, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s virtually impossible to produce enough energy via alternate sources overnight. NASA has been working on a large-scale satellite that can beam solar energy to earth from space.
The first third of the book (maybe closer to the first half) deals with the public (and private sector) reactions to this kind of a satellite and introduces the reader (listener?) to the concept and its risks. Admittedly, this section could have been shorter without sacrificing much of the story; it did seem to drag on a bit.
The second section of the book introduces the “thriller” aspect. As anybody in the aerospace industry is aware, the stuff built “for the powers of good” in/for space can usually be used to do evil. Sure enough, terrorists find a way to take over the satellite and use its harnessed energy to destroy ground-based and air-based targets. As is typical for thrillers, there are some good guys in the area, capable of stopping the terrorists. In this case it’s Marcus Judson, NASA engineer, one of the lead consultants for the power satellite project, along with some of his colleagues. Yet again, this section seemed overly long and drawn out.
However, the length of the first two sections may only seem long in relation to the final section–the part where the final “battle” occurs and either good or evil triumphs. This part felt a bit rushed, comparatively. In retrospect, I think it was probably the right length and that the other two parts were just a bit too long. I won’t spoil it for you, but the final “battle” involves maneuvering (literally and metaphorically) on the ground and on the 2 mile-on-a-side power satellite. It stretches the belief but still left me interested and wanting to listen to see what happened next.
As I stated previously, the book was enjoyable. It was a bit far-fetched but not so far-fetched as to be completely unbelievable. The science fiction elements are there and create an atypical setting for most mystery/thriller type books, and I’d recommend this to anybody that enjoys the mystery/thriller genre.
Grover Gardner is one of my favorite narrators and he shines in this type of book. He also narrates the Andy Carpenter books, another mystery/thriller series, so it feels natural for him to read Energized. The only “weirdness” I had is that the Andy Carpenter books have a character named Marcus as well, so hearing of two very different “Marcus” characters read by the same narrator was a bit jarring at times.
All in all, this is a popcorn-type book, easily consumed and digested. It does have its flaws (with the technical side of things as well as story length), but they’re not so big as to ruin the fun. If you’re in the market for a hard science fiction book with far-reaching themes, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re in the mood for a thriller with science fiction elements, you’ll probably enjoy Energized well enough.
Review by terpkristin.
Our friend David Stifel, of the Fantastic Worlds Of Edgar Rice Burroughs, has a new audiobook up on Audible.com. Sez David:
“Originally published in 1980, it’s a wonderful 17 hour epic that I’d best describe as a really fine Tom Clancy style geopolitical thriller, with a Chariots of the Gods type foundation.”
It apparently has a “huge international set of very colorful characters, a really fun plot and really good writing!” And of course with David doing the narration it should sound terrific. As for the plot, it seems reminiscent of Scott Sigler’s first novel, Earthcore, but Catacombs was written earlier. It might make a nice comparison.
By John Farris; Read by David Stifel
Audible Download – Approx. 16 Hours 51 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Published: September 27, 2012
Deep within the volcanic rock of Mt. Kilamanjaro lie the Catacombs, the enormous hidden burial caves of a vanished African society more sophisticated and technologically advanced than ours. A civilization that has left the formula for present-day domination by a world power etched into blood-red diamonds – the rarest gemstones known. When a prestigious archaeological expedition discovers the valuable ‘bloodstones’, the stage is set for a duel between agents of superpowers and powerful Africans that will be fought to the death deep within the caverns of the ancient ‘Lords of the Storm’.
Here’s the paperback cover put out by Dell books in the 1908s:
Posted by Jesse Willis
Written by Marie Lu; Read by Steven Kaplan & Mariel Stern
9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: November 2011
Themes: / dystopia / thriller / romance / YA /
A dystopian novel set in a future where The United States of America is a forgotten memory, Legend is part science fiction, part thriller, and part romance aimed at young adults.
The story is set sometime in the future in what is now California. The USA is apparently long-gone and instead, North America is divided into The Republic and The Colonies, which seem to be at odds. Generally it seems that The Republic is the western part of the US while The Colonies are the eastern part. From clues in the text, the reader is also lead to believe that The Colonies have more technology than does The Republic, at least in terms of weapons and possibly medicine. The reader doesn’t learn much else about The Colonies in this book, since the story is centered on two youth in The Republic. However, it is the first in a planned trilogy and it’s possible that future books will explore The Colonies more.
The Republic seems to be a militaristic state. The poor are looked down upon and the “rich” seem to be the ones running the police/militia. Through context clues, we find that nobody–not even the “rich”–are safe from government snooping. There is a plague that seems to mostly impact the poor; the rich get vaccines every year for protection. As a result of the plague, there are regular inspections and “plague checks” of those in the poor areas of town. There are also a lot of natural disasters. Hurricanes occur quite frequently, with co-commitant flooding. Earthquakes are also somewhat regular happenings. Most of this, though, forms the background for the main story.
The bulk of the story surrounds two youths, Dey and June, who are on opposite ends of the class spectrum. Relatively early, we learn that all youths have to go through “The Trials” at age 10. These trials affect ones position in society. Those who do well are allowed to go on to high school and a sort of college, to become leaders in politics and the military. Those who do average are given blue-collar jobs. Those who fail become wards of the state, destined to do menial tasks for their government. Dey failed his trials. June is the only one known to have aced them. Rather than be resigned to his fate, Dey has escaped from the government and spends his time as a bit of a loner, working to help the poor–in particular, his family–by stealing from the military/government. He’s particularly good at this and is actually the most wanted criminal in The Republic.
The story itself builds in a rather predictable fashion from there. Dey’s family is marked as one that gets the plague. Realizing this, Dey decides to steal the necessary antidote from the hospital. As he escapes, he ends up killing June’s brother, Metteaus. June, a top student in the militaristic school, is graduated early and put on the case to try to catch her brother’s killer. While trying to find the murderer, June goes undercover and ends up getting rescued from a fight by Dey. At this point, she doesn’t realize that Dey is who he is, and they strike up a sort of friendship. Eventually, June figures out Dey’s identity and aids in his capture by the police. However, having spent time with him, she has a hard time believing that Dey killed Metteaus. She ends up doing more investigation and learning many uncomfortable truths about The Republic and many of her long-held beliefs are called into question. I won’t spoil any more plot details here…
Legend is a fairly typical dystopian novel. It centers on an oppressed lower-class in society and a privileged upper class that mostly is kept in the dark about how the society works and what is really going on. As with many books like it, the protagonists (June and Dey) are resourceful and intelligent…and to some extent, rebellious. Lu doesn’t explain all of the mysteries in this book. At one point, a character calls “The United States” a legend of the past, and the reader isn’t told how society has gotten to the state its in. It seems reasonable, though, to assume that most of the society doesn’t know its own history, since they barely know the reality of the current state of affairs.
Fans of The Hunger Games will recognize key elements common to both books/series. That’s not necessarily a bad thing…while Legend is fairly predictable, it was still enjoyable enough. This is a science fiction novel aimed at the young adult crowd and isn’t particularly deep on ideas. Lu wraps themes common to the genre in a fast-paced plot. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but fans of the genre probably won’t mind. That said, I’m not sure I need to read the rest of the trilogy. It will be interesting to see where Lu takes it.
I listened to the audio version of this book. There were two narrators. The book is written from the viewpoints of Dey and June and alternates between these viewpoints. Mariel Stern read the parts from June’s point of view, Steven Kaplan read the parts for Dey’s. The reading was fine, though nothing particular stood out. Where some narrators do a bit of voice acting, trying to put more emotion into the voices and use different voices for each character, neither Stern nor Kaplan seemed to do that here; it was a more flat rather than dramatic reading. The only “excitement” in the narration came during the climax, where it seemed that Stern read more quickly, as if her reading speed was trying to keep pace with the story. The “flatness” of the reading doesn’t detract from the story, though. In fact, it can be far better than the alternative, as sometimes narration can be distracting if too much acting is done.
All in all, this wasn’t a bad book. Sure, it could have gone more deeply into the ideas instead of focusing so much on the plot…but that’s OK. Not every book needs to be deep. This one was decent and an enjoyable enough quick read. Young adults (and not-so-young adults) who enjoyed The Hunger Games will probably enjoy this one as well.
Review by terpkristin.
… He paused. “Tell me again what Scofield said to you. About the river of blood.”
I closed my eyes and found the words. “‘They said that if the rivers didn’t run red with blood, then the blood of my family would run like a river.’”
“Yes. That troubles me.”
“All of it troubles me. The phrasing doesn’t match the rest of what he said. He was clearly quoting, or attempting to quote, something that was said to him. It has a distinctly biblical structure to it. Rivers running red with blood. You’re going to need a different kind of specialist to sort that out. Not my kind of job … I’m a shooter.”
When a huge London hospital is rocked by bomb blasts, thousands are dead or injured. Joe Ledger arrives to investigate and within hours is attacked by assassins and then sent into a viral hot zone during an Ebola outbreak.
Joe has tangled with zombies and he’s battled with dragons. Now he’s up against the seven plagues of Egypt, the best that bio-engineering can provide. What would the seven plagues be without a secret society concocting them for our doom? Not much, of course, and The Seven Kings have a worldwide conspiracy that will test Joe to his utmost.
I especially enjoyed the fact that, unlike the previous two books, readers do not know what the terrorists are planning. Each new attack is experienced along with Joe Ledger as unthinkable plagues descend first upon one place and then another.
That said, the book is still fairly straight-forward about most of the “mysteries” Joe encounters. A young researcher’s family connections seem obvious, as does the source of the final attack that Joe and his team must stop to save the world. Misdirection may be the hallmark of the Seven Kings but it isn’t something that Maberry seems to worry about too much. If it works, then it works. If not, well there is still a ripping good thriller to read.
Interestingly, Maberry includes a henchman with more of a conscience than one expects in a conspiracy of unfathomable evil. This follows the trend of The Dragon Factory where Paris, though capable of committing abominable individual acts, draws the line at mass destruction or EVIL as Maberry would call it. Does this mean there is lesser evil and greater EVIL? Or is it rather like saying that Hitler loved dogs so he had a good side to his personality? I’m not sure just what Maberry is getting at, but it is a very interesting development in his villains.
Villains aside, there is not a lot of character development because it simply isn’t that sort of book, although we do get a bit more light shed on the mysterious Mr. Church. I also enjoyed the addition of Joe’s dog, Ghost, who seems to have almost supernatural abilities of his own as the most perfectly trained attack dog ever. (But, let’s be fair. What other sort of attack dog could keep up with Joe?)
On the negative side, an audio book is not the ideal way to experience some of the torture used on the people forced to help The Seven Kings. It is what one expects from this sort of thriller, but one description was enough and we were treated to several. Also, the description of the Biblical plagues and the contest between Moses and the court magicians was one of the worst I’ve ever heard. It wouldn’t have taken much to remove the idea of “God teaching Moses magic” and tell the original story. It certainly would have taken nothing away from the book. However, this is quibbling and not something that is going to dampen most people’s enjoyment.
Ray Porter continues to do a pitch perfect job narratin the Joe Ledger books. His narration is a key part of the “Joe Ledger experience” for me and, as I’ve noted in other reviews, is the reason I prefer the narration to reading the book myself.
Fast paced and tightly written, The King of Plagues just might be the perfect summer superhero book. If you like your superhero as a hard-bitten shooter, with a white dog named Ghost, who likes nothing better than slaying monsters, that is.
Posted by Julie D.