Review of The Peripheral by William Gibson

December 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Peripheral by William Gibson audiobook coverThe Peripheral
By William Gibson; Narrated by Lorelei King
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 28 October 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 5 minutes

Themes: / future / time travel / drugs / veterans / crime /

Publisher summary:

Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do – a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.

Reading a new William Gibson novel is both delightful and exciting. He delights with the cool, sardonic yet imaginative visions of the present and future. He excites with his uncanny glimpses of the future, grounded in canny selections from our time.

The Peripheral offers another pleasure, that of Gibson trying something new. His recent brace of novels looked at the very near future, each following a normal linear path. His classic cyberpunk or Sprawl trilogy envisioned a medium-term future, also tending to thriller linearity.

But in The Peripheral we see a very different conceit and narrative structure. This novel relies on two timelines, one in the near-to-medium term future, and one almost a century away. At first we follow these in parallel, trying to infer connections. Then we learn that the further-along future has discovered a form of time travel – well, information exchange with the past, to be precise. The far-future signals the closer-to-us future, and has a proposition. Or two. Then more, which aren’t propositions but assassinations.

This dual-track time-travel-ish idea owes much to Gregory Benford’s 1980 novel Timescape. Other parallels appear; see spoiler section at the bottom of this post.

The future-near-to-us characters are also the more sympathetic. They focus on a young, poor Southern woman, Flynn Fisher, and her family. They live in a postwar backwater, where the economy barely exists apart from illegal drug manufacture. Flynn helps her vet brother, Burton, with an online job and witnesses what seems to be a strange murder. In the future-farther-away we see a PR flack, Wilf Netherton, working with a Russian crime family and their staff. Wilf has made an unspecified bad move, and is trying to improve his situation.

The plot ratchets up slowly and steadily to climax in a party, where multiple schemes intersect. Some, not all, is revealed, and the Fishers end up alive, very rich, and with a powerful edge on their present. Wilf somehow survives, and ends up in a relationship. This is too brisk and cursory a summary, but will do for now.

One of the pleasures of reading William Gibson is tracking his experimental words and phrases. These are concentrated projections of a possible future. Let me list some that caught my eye: klepts, artisanal AIs, battle-ready solicitors, court-certified recall, the viz, hate Kegels, autonomic bleedover, continua enthusiasts, drop bears, period trains, neo-primitivist curators, quasi-biological megavolume carbon collectors, heritage diseases, directed swarm weapons, a synthetic bullshit implant, surprise funeral, mofo-ettes, and a neurologer’s shop. One near-future treat is the “freshly printed salty caramel cronut”.

Some of today’s words mutate in these two futures. For example, poor folks don’t cook, but build drugs with some form of 3d printers. “Homes” refers not to homies or residences, but to Homeland Security. A very bad crisis happened between now and 2025 or so. People afterwards refer to it as the Jackpot.

Some of the language is simply cute. One character has her name changed slightly, and refers to it as “amputating the last letter of her name.” Another speaks of “cleaning up the afterbirth of Christmas ornaments”. The Fisher family shops at a Hefty Mart.

In a sense The Peripheral is Gibson’s gloomiest novel. Like the recent film Interstellar (my notes), this story begins in a bad situation, then gets worse. The Fishers are poor and ill (the brother has seizures, the mother seriously ailing) in a society that clearly doesn’t care for them at all. Their story reads like something from a late 19th-century Southern backwater, or like today’s worst countryside. Characters have little help for the future. What we learn about the Jackpot not only makes things horrible, but sets up a future that’s inhumane. Across all of these times looms the specter of vast economic inequality, of a society caring only for the <1%.

There is a powerful sense that the far-future is a kind of 1% taken to an extreme: a lonely elite, casually breaking off temporal worlds as a hobby, easily committing murders. Our lack of information about the world around London’s far-future elite disturbs me, the more I think of it. Conversely, the far-future world is situated in such total surveillance that they see our/Flynn’s sense of surveillance as charmingly antique.

Overall, The Peripheral offers solid future thought in an engaging narrative. Recommended.

I didn’t read this one, but listened to it on audiobook. Lorelei King was the reader and did a fine job, with the whole file running a touch over 14 hours. King does different nationalities well, which matters in the kind of multinational world Gibson loves. She reads with the right level of cool, too – not a thriller’s burning pace, but with a kind of observation acuity that I always associate with Gibson.

SPOILER SECTION

Here I reveal mysteries of the novel.  Do not read any farther if you wish your brain to remain unsullied.

Ready?

Here they come:

First, more on the plot: one agency in the far-off future is manipulating the past for its own reasons, and hires the Fishers as proxies. Another far-off-future group hires others to kill the Fisher family. Ainsley Lowbeer, a London cop, or something like that, appears in the far-future, with unusual connections to the Fishers’ time. Flynn and Burton are able to interact with their far-future employers via telepresence robots, the titular peripherals. Wilf explains the Jackpot to Flynn, describing a series of interconnected, overlapping crises that killed the majority of humans:

droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but just big enough to be historic events in themselves…

Flynn also learns that by intervening in her time, the far-future team has effectively broken off her world from the stream of time, creating a “stub” which can’t affect their future, and avoiding neatly some classic time travel problems.

Second, how does this gloomy novel end, then? Ah, it’s a happy ending, pretty much, although we don’t learn enough about what happens in the future. We – well, the Fisher stub – get to avoid the Jackpot. Whew!

But Gibson doesn’t want us to relax. Note his comments in a Tor interview:

there may be readers who get to the end and they go, “oh, well, that’s okay, everything worked out for them!”
… But these guys had an immensely powerful—if possibly dangerously crazy—fairy godmother who altered their continuum, who has for some reason decided that she’s going to rake all of their chestnuts out of the fire, so that the world can’t go the horrible it way it went in hers. And whatever else is going to happen, that’s not going to happen for us, you know? We’re going to have to find another way. We’re not going to luck into Lowbeer.

Worse, the Fishers seem like good folks. But what will keep them (or their inheritors) from becoming klepts, with their vast power and advantages?

So this book ends up as a cautionary tale, a huge warning, and a goad to get us hauling ourselves away from the Jackpot.

Third, I mentioned earlier that The Peripheral has links to Benford’s Timescape.  Benford’s future world is facing an existential crisis, due to events occurring in the past, so they reach out to communicate with the past to get them to change their ways. Gibson’s far-future has already experienced the Jackpot, but some of the survivors want to change the past to mitigate the experience. I dimly recall Benford’s future coming to an end, somehow, and the past branching off into a new, better world. This recalls Flynn’s world cutting its way into a different, hopefully non-Jackpotted world.

Posted by Bryan A.

Review of Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Martian Time SlipMartian Time-Slip
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance AudioPreview
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours
Themes: / science fiction / outer space / Mars / Martians / time travel /

Publisher summary:

‘The writing is humorous, painful, awesome in its effect on both mind and heart…There are few modern novels to match it.’ —Rolling Stone

On an arid Mars, local bigwigs compete with Earth-bound interlopers to buy up land before the Un develops it and its value skyrockets. Martian Union leader Arnie Kott has an ace up his sleeve, though: an autistic boy named Manfred who seems to have the ability to see the future. In the hopes of gaining an advantage on a Martian real estate deal, powerful people force Manfred to send them into the future, where they can learn about development plans. But is Manfred sending them to the real future or one colored by his own dark and paranoid filter? As the time travelers are drawn into Manfred’s dark worldview in both the future and present, the cost of doing business may drive them all insane.

Martian Time Slip has everything I love about Philip K Dick’s writing: artificial life, unsettling visions, chaos and decay, hilarious satire, and story horizons that stretch into eternity.

PKD’s Mars is a strange and slightly alien version of 1960s California: a desert suburbia where the powerful waste water to show off their status, neglectful housewives pop pills and complain about their “whiny and dreadful” neighbors, and dodgy door-to-door salesmen offer illegal Earth foods like turtle soup and smoked frogs legs.

Since machines degrade quickly in the dry climate and resources for constructing new things are scarce, repair is a big business on Mars. The story starts when Jack Bohlen, a working-class repairman and latent schizophrenic, is diverted from a remote repair job to help some Bleekmen out in the desert.

Bleekmen are the subjugated natives of Mars, apparently related to ancient humans and the sole residents of the planet for thousands of years until the colonists arrived. Now’s they’re left to work menial jobs, and even their mystic practices are being “corrected” by the newcomers. For example, after they give Jack a lovely but creepy gift called a water witch, they explain how it works…

More carefully examining the water witch, Jack saw that it had a face and vague limbs. It was mummified, once a living creature of some sort; he made out its drawn-up legs, its ears . . . he shivered. The face was oddly human, a wizened, suffering face, as if it had been killed while crying out.

“How does it work?” he asked the young Bleekman.

“Formerly, when one wanted water, one pissed on the water witch, and she came to life. Now we do not do that, Mister; we have learned from you Misters that to piss is wrong. So we spit on her instead, and she hears that, too, almost as well. It wakes her, and she opens and looks around, and then she opens her mouth and calls the water to her.”

While on this mission, Jack runs into Supreme Goodmember Arnie Cott, the leader of the Water Works Union (one of the most powerful positions on Mars). Arnie is an obnoxious, manipulative, and racist schemer. He decides he can use Jack and so brings him in on one of his schemes to harness the precog abilities of an autistic boy, thus giving Arnie an advantage in real estate investment.

However, once he brings the autistic boy Manfred Steiner and Jack together, things start to gets very, very weird (in the best kind of way).

Originally, I was almost going to give this book a low rating, thinking it might be the first PKD book I’ve read that I didn’t really like. I kept going back to the audiobook and thinking I’d re-started in the wrong place, or that I’d zoned out and missed something the last time. It wasn’t until I decided to try a print version that I realized the reason I was losing my way was a side-effect of the novel’s beautiful and crazy structure, which spirals around and folds back in on itself.

Once I had a handle on this, I fell in love with it. This novel doesn’t reward broken up or distracted reading, but if you can give it dedicated attention, it’s brilliant.

I thought the audiobook I listened to, narrated by Jeff Cummings for Brilliance Audio, was well performed and the characters were easily differentiated, even though personally the narrative style wasn’t for me. In my mind, I tend to hear PKD’s characters as sort of dry and indifferent, so some of the characters in this version seemed too enthusiastic for my taste. But this is a very subjective thing and I imagine this reading would work well for lots of listeners. Just check out the sample audio before you buy.

This is a funny, eerie, and unforgettable story and definitely recommended, especially for PKD fans!

Posted by Marissa van Uden

The SFFaudio Podcast #291 – READALONG: Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

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

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #291 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, and Marissa van Uden talk about Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick.

Talked about on today’s show:
1964, first serialized as All We Marsmen, a pair of boxing insects, threads that lead nowhere, “a wonderful train-wreck of a novel”, the two audiobook versions, repeating scenes are disconcerting in the audiobook, repeating moments, at Arnie’s apartment, is this a byproduct of the writing process?, problems with marriage and plumbers, The Search For Philip K. Dick by Anne R. Dick, “Goodmember Arnie Kott Of Mars”, Chinatown, The Two Jakes, developers, Heliogabalus, time travel, the broken Friendly Dad robot, the school is monitoring, when you’re reading your Kindle Amazon is watching you, school is to make you conservative, preserving Earth culture, the time gate anthology, Robert Silverberg, autonomous robots, door to door salesmen, teaching machines, the different robot teachers, Immanuel Kant robot, with certainty he pointed down the hall, a western bias (the interests of Philip K. Dick), Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, Julius, Winston Churchill, Tiberius, Thomas Edison, warfare, history, a million neat ideas, Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great, schizophrenia and autism, experiencing time at a different rate, derangement in a sense of time, A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., Camp BG, setting your watch by the stars and by the seasons, schizophrenia as a tendency but not a disability, daylight savings time, recipe for going to jail: act as if daylight savings isn’t real, its what the novel is about, the Soviets, an American Mars, a Bradburyian Mars, Martians as elves, the Bleekmen, water witch, hunter/gatherers nomadic culture, the “tame” Bleekman, the dream-quest is payback, a “pilg” (pilgrimage), Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny, the trek through the desert, Tibor, Psychology Today, “oh, boy!”, thiotimoline, reconciling realities, “gubble gubble”, sharped tongued secretary, bicycles in outer space, she’s the predator, he’s the predator, Arnie and Manfred, sniffing around Doreen, they’re from the “TOMB WORLD”, Silvia is the most common female character name PKD uses, an analogy (or metaphor) for marriage, uppers and downers, drugs and coffee, back to the keyboard, Dr. Glaub is desperate to make some money, Dick’s own financial concerns, Anne, webbed fingers, inside the minds of horrible people, the dialogue driven sex scene is kinda creepy, why is she with this guy?, access to all the booze, why does Jack go back to his wife?, the perfunctory affairs are unbelievable, unredeemable, somehow it seems to all work, the Swiss rocket, Bleekmen are homo-sapiens, the S.M. Stirling Lords Of Creation novels, Mars as California, Australian aborigines, “dreamlines dreamsongs and dreamtime“, Ludwig Binswanger, psychiatry, psychology, Ellen had split her life, the “tomb world”,” degenerate and degenerating”, being trapped in your own body, “a narrowing a contracting”, gubble as a marker, Being John Malkovich, “Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich!”, our bodies with their low needs distract them from our purposes (if we have any), oblivious to suffering, depression, it’s all brain chemistry, anorexia, obsession with death, Mafred’s “sick” drawing, Amweb as the “tomb world”, the Manfred illustration, the nightmare woman, “her tongue wants to cut”, seeing into the future is seeing death, awesome imagery, a recurring image, The Minority Report, armless and legless (limbless characters), the movie adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, dialogue driven storytelling, what are they reacting to?, mental processes, “it was there to be found”, Virgil Finlay, reading it harder, a post apocalyptic zombie novel, building up a picture, open to being expanded, PKD is concise, most books aren’t dialogue driven, creative writing classes, showing off descriptive skills, novels vs. poetry, is J.R.R. Tolkien responsible for this?, a reverence for the landscape, what color is the dust?, visuals are everything has colonized Science Fiction and Fantasy in the last 30 years, eating meals and walking the landscape, this book isn’t a distraction from life, a meta-description of life, what makes this a SF story?, “the chamber”, the technology is your mind and your brain, even Mars isn’t very different, mars rats, what do the bleekmen hunt?, water witches!, does the water witch protect Jack?, the pistol, the real SF idea behind this is PKD is trying top figure out what déjà vu is, the “I know what is going to happen next” feeling, we are very poor at capitalizing on our future knowledge, the slipped gear, “Oh, little Jackie.”, Philip K. Dick’s science fiction is Psychology Today, an ansible, this problem in science and the social situation between these characters, lying in bed in a hypnagogic state, doing dream style processing of mental white noise in a semi-conscious state, “all different all equally true”, different angles, the broken mosaic, the fact that these books are dated doesn’t age the books, the Brilliance Audio audiobook narrated by Jeff Cummings, Grover Gardner (Tom Parker) narration of Martian Time-Slip, the bicycles floating into space, a horrible human being (he wastes water), Heliogabalus -> Helio (sun -> son) will Gabalus (gubble) less, Elagabalus, the religion of the Roman Empire, a scene, W.A. Mozart, “I love Mozart!”, Bruno Walter conducting, that hideous racket, encoding messages, Manfred Steiner, is this the sign?, they emerged from her pores, whoever’s perspective we see the scene from they all enter the “tomb world”, “teeming with gubbish”, “he wanted to bite her lip”, the pivot point, screeches, the screech of the bus, music, what do dogs think of music?, what do autistic people think of music?, trance music, a Dickian idea, music and sound, the bus brakes screech, “fire!”, bears at the zoo cavorting for peanuts, the suicide, “more evidence that Arnie is a horrible human being”, we just need a little bit of hope, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Galactic Pot-Healer, Fair Game by Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made, there are 36 public domain Philip K. Dick stories, Time Out Of Joint (is Paul’s favourite Dick novel), a constructed town,

Martian Time-Slip WORD CLOUD

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #285 – READALONG: The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Triptree, Jr.

October 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #285 – Jesse, Scott, Luke, and Jenny talk about The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Triptree, Jr.

Talked about on today’s show:
Alice Sheldon, why no audiobook?, how James Triptree, Jr. died, the award, the Virginia Kidd agency, the PDF version, who owns it?, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips, Her Smoke Rode Up Forever, she was a spy, Racoona Sheldon, a murder/suicide or a suicide pact?, nearly blind, what would Seth think of that?, Huntington D. Sheldon, OSS -> CIA, Cordwainer Smith, Jesse is glad “new wave” is dead, re-reading, you must pay close attention, grammar, a potential audio version, caps and italics, Scott’s proto-cyberpunk, story summary, holographic TV, a “waldo” system, product placement advertizing, the 1998 TV adaptation for Welcome To Paradox (was very faithful), emotional, internal, the weird framing style device, is it NEW WAVE?, J.G. Ballard, an ancient version of the singularity, the reader needs to do a lot more work, Day Million by Frederik Pohl, who is the narrator talking to?, “Listen zombie, believe me…”, the truth is in question, Scott is falling down the Jesse Well, Evel Knievel, media and money, someone goes time traveling, the sharp faced lad, Luke goes biblical, why do we need firm ground?, P. Burke, a media controlled dystopia, post-modern stream of consciousness, its set in the 1970s, “Nixon Unveils Phase 2″, a loopy temporal anomalyizer project, bringing the horrible future into being, investment opportunities, what do people do in this future?, the Wikipedia entry on product placement, “gods”, media consumers, Kyle Marquis @Moochava tweet: “Yearly reminder: unless you’re over 60, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.”, dystopic is this?, reserving the word dystopia, “a bad place”, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, a world community, “the world is a dystopia for poor people”, buying into it, required consumption, a softer opt-in dystopia, Wool by Hugh Howey, the lack of truth, the six people in the GTX tower, Rupert Murdoch, government control vs. corporate control, biography of Anonymous, Wikileaks, Amazon.com, PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, Russia, Jony Ive, Jeff Bezos, Google, this one person, this relationship, the emotional part of the story, a suicide attempt, “her eyes leak a little”, the godlings, media stars, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, the family and the fourth wall, a tax-dodge marriage, the narrator is full of contempt for everything, a soap opera and the show around that, Jean Harlow‘s story, the actress in that movie vs. the person in that life, her Prada bag, her Jimmy Choo, her iPhone 6, the meta-story, the movies remind us why they’re famous, South America, they’re just shows that happen to love soap (not soap operas), another allusion, Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson, Rima the Bird Girl, Audrey Hepburn, tragic end, “your brain is a dystopia for you”, tragedy, what of the empty body?, the best expression of the system, a plastic brain, a red herring?, was she trying to kill her biological body?, plugged in emotionally, I Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. Heinlein, old man becomes young woman, grandfatherly lust, P. Burke thinks she is Delphi, The Matrix, if this is the start of the technology, The Beautiful People by Charles Beaumont, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, vat-grown avatars, Wii miis, World Of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, unique trumps beauty, the second smartest man in the world, scars are cool, trans-humanism, did anyone enjoy this book (story)?, Jenny loves this story, Scott liked it, the value of short fiction, James Triptree, Jr. writing is not like other people’s, it feels like an artifact, hey you daddy-o, Luke is the dissenting voice, Luke doesn’t like short fiction very much, Rudy Rucker’s Software and Wetware, Cory Doctorow, the futuristic patois, Luke doesn’t like the punk in cyberpunk, “it kind of just flops there”, KCRW’s Bookworm, Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, using people, “the real hairy thing…love?”, the narrator’s cynicism, Isaac Asimov’s thoughts on New Wave, New Wave as the literary version of SF, style over content, what Rudy Rucker was doing, what is the first cyberpunk book?, Anne McCaffrey’s short story The Ship Who Sang, what it’s not, who wants straightforward?, addressing the reader directly, Peter Watts, infodumping, “As you know Jim…”,

On this day I want to tell you about, which will be about a thousand years from now, there were a boy, a girl and a love story. Now although I haven’t said much so far, none of it is true. The boy was not what you and I would normally think of as a boy, because he was a hundred and eighty-seven years old. Nor was the girl a girl, for other reasons; and the love story did not entail that sublimation of the urge to rape and concurrent postponement of the instinct to submit which we at present understand in such matters. You won’t care much for this story if you don’t grasp these facts at once. If, however, you will make the effort, you’ll likely enough find it jam-packed, chockfull and tiptop-crammed with laughter, tears and poignant sentiment which may, or may not, be worth while. The reason the girl was not a girl was that she was a boy.

“There’s a great future there”, All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein, it’s not a time travel story?, newspapers, typewriters, telegrams, has writing gotten worse or is it just evolving?, brid -> bird, Luke thinks it’s all cyclical, this is just another princess, this is Princess Diana’s story, we are complicit, the message, everyone should have to read the news in a second language, being two steps removed from current events, the value of the short story (it’s short), speed dating books, good luck.

The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Triptree, Jr.

Rima the bird girl

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

August 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Spell or High WaterSpell or High Water (Magic 2.0 #2)
By Scott Meyer; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / hacker / time travel / fantasy / humor / Atlantis /

Publisher summary:

The adventures of an American hacker in Medieval England continue as Martin Banks takes his next step on the journey toward mastering his reality-altering powers and fulfilling his destiny. A month has passed since Martin helped to defeat the evil programmer Jimmy, and things couldn’t be going better. Except for his love life, that is. Feeling distant and lost, Gwen has journeyed to Atlantis, a tolerant and benevolent kingdom governed by the Sorceresses, and a place known to be a safe haven to all female time-travelers. Thankfully, Martin and Philip are invited to a summit in Atlantis for all of the leaders of the time-traveler colonies, and now Martin thinks this will be a chance to try again with Gwen. Of course, this is Martin Banks we’re talking about, so murder, mystery, and high intrigue all get in the way of a guy who just wants one more shot to get the girl. The follow-up to the hilarious Off to Be the Wizard, Scott Meyer’s Spell or High Water proves that no matter what powers you have over time and space, you can’t control rotten luck.

I’m convinced Luke Daniels could read the phone book and make it sound interesting. When given a funny book to read he shines even more. He may be my favorite audio book reader. His voices are great and seems to really bring the characters to life.  I grabbed the first book in this series a few months ago because partially because it sounded interesting, but mostly because it was read by Luke Daniels. I grabbed this book however because I really enjoyed the first one and was excited to see that a second book was out.

My favorite character in the series is probably Philip, and he seemed to get more focus in this book. This book also addressed my major criticism of the first book: Where are all the women? This book sees us visit Atlantis, which was used as the explanation for why there was almost no women. I enjoyed the female characters introduced in this one, especially the Brits.

Time travel stories are really hard to write well as it can all be very confusing. I think Mr. Meyer does a great job of handling this by having the characters be just as confused as everyone else. They offer several theories to explain things, but seem just as unsure of the plausibility as I was. This is definitely not a hard sci-fi book.

The humor in this book probably wasn’t as good as the first one, but that didn’t make the story any less fun. I did find the parts focused on Jimmy to be less enjoyable than the stuff with Philip and Martin however.

Overall I think this was another great entry in this series. Almost everything was nicely wrapped up, while the epilogue planted the seeds for a possible third book. I hope he does write a third because I’ll happily listen to it. If not, maybe I can get Luke Daniels to read me the phone book.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer, read by Luke Daniels

May 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Off to Be the WizardOff to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0 #1)
By Scott Meyer, read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 discs; 11 hours

Themes: / reality / wizards / hackers / time travel / computer geeks / pop culture /

Publisher Summary:

Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little “tweaks” have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard.What could possibly go wrong? An American hacker in King Arthur’s court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers, discover the truth behind the ancient wizard Merlin…and not, y’know, die or anything.

This book started really slow, despite a cool concept. A computer geek discovers a file that somehow lets him manipulate not only the world and everything in it, but time itself. So of course he decides to go back to medieval times and become a wizard. As a computer geek who (not so) secretly would love to be a wizard I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, the main character Martin isn’t very likable at the start. Despite being good with computers, he doesn’t seem very smart. For me the story finally started to get good when he meets Phillip. I will say Martin did grow on me as the book went on. I don’t plan to say anything else about the plot because I don’t want to ruin the jokes.

I think your enjoyment of the book will largely depend on if you find the humor funny and your willingness to not only suspend your disbelief but throw it right out the window. Things get silly. Really silly.

There is a lot of computer geek humor as well as some pop culture humor from the 80s and 90s that reminded me a bit of Ready Player One, a book I absolutely love. I think fans of that book, may find similar things to like here. Scott Meyer does for fantasy geeks what Ernest Cline did for gaming geeks.

The only real complaint I have apart from the slow start is the general lack of women. That’s a pretty common complaint in fantasy. However as this is a fantasy book based in current time and involves using computers to manipulate the world to pretend to be a wizard this seems like a big flaw for me. Mr. Meyer has a plausible reason to explain away his lack of female characters, but he could have just as easily had a plausible reason for their inclusion instead.

 I‘ll admit that probably more than half of the reason I chose to review this book was because Luke Daniels was the reader. He did not disappoint. Another excellent performance.

Overall though, I really enjoyed listening to this book and I’ll be on the lookout for his next book as well as planning to check out his webcomic in the near future.

Review by Rob Zak.

Next Page »