Review of The Legion Of Flame by Anthony Ryan

July 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - The Legion Of Flame by Anthony RyanThe Legion Of Flame (The Draconis Memoria, #2)
By Anthony Ryan; read by Steve West
25 Hours 50 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: June 27, 2017
ISBN: 9780735206700

For centuries the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood – and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed – to fuel and protect its empire. But now a fearsome power has arisen – a drake so mighty that the world will tremble before it. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and ironship captain Corrick Hilemore embark upon perilous quests to chase down clues that offer faint hopes of salvation. As the world burns around them and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few are the last hope for the empire and for all of civilization.

Executive Summary:
Another solid entry in this series. Here’s to hoping for a good ending with the final book.

Audiobook:
I hate narrator changes. I’m bad with names, so at first I almost didn’t notice the change from Stephen Brand to Steve West. Plus I like Stephen Brand, and he narrated the last four Anthony Ryan books. So Steve West had his work cut out for him because I came into this book heavily biased against him.

I’m happy to report I thought he did a good job. I don’t know why they changed narrators, but Mr. West read with good volume and inflection and he added a few voices into the mix to make for a good audio experience.

Full Review:
This series mixes such a wide variety of themes, it still seems strange that they all work together, but they do. First you have Lizanne, who I always just think of as Jane Bond in my head. Then there is Clay, who’s got a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe to his story. Finally there is sailor Captain Hilemore.

Their narratives are all tied together with Dragon Blood. Added to the mix is Sirius. I don’t recall if he was introduced in the last book as a minor character, but he certainly wasn’t a POV in that. Much like Hilemore in the last book, his story felt mostly disconnected from the other three until near the very end. Unlike Hilemore however, I had a much better idea how his story was going to fit in with the rest well in advance.

I found the start of the book a bit slow. It took me awhile to remember the characters and the details from last year’s The Waking Fire, and even afterwards I didn’t find myself completely sucked in. Once the book got going however I definitely enjoyed it.

Clay’s story started the slowest of the four, although I didn’t find Sirius much better. Even Lizanne who’s definitely my favorite of the series felt like she was meandering a bit before her story got going again.

The world building continues to be excellent. We learn a lot more about the Dragons and the blood blessed, and the nature of many of the mysteries from the first book. Clay’s story in particular reveals quite a bit of interesting details. I really like the world Mr. Ryan built here.

Based on his previous series, I feel like Mr. Ryan’s good at writing both beginnings and middles, but struggles with endings. Queen of Fire felt rushed, and partially spoiled an otherwise perfect series for me.

I hope he takes as much time as he needs (assuming his publisher will let him) to write the final book of this series. I think this book set things up nicely for that. Now I just have to wait and see how it all comes out.

Review by Rob Zak

Hardware review generic Bluetooth sunglasses (model zk42800)

June 29, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

ZK42800 Bluetooth Sunglasses

generic USB Bluetooth Sunglasses
Product #: zk42800
Mini USB
Built-in 150mAh battery
Bluetooth 4.1

User Manual: |PDF|

“Thanks for using our Bluelooth sunglasses! We attached the user manual which can make you operate the player skillfully.”

My mom bought me a virtually identical pair of these Bluetooth enabled sunglasses last year and I liked them so much I ordered a second pair (as backup) earlier this year. The eBay seller I bought them from sold them for $7.44 USD with free shipping to Canada. They took nearly 4 months to arrive – but they’re here and I’m all excited again! The original set cost maybe about $30, showed up in a different box, and came with a little black hard-shelled zipper case. Otherwise they look absolutely identical. I notice the female voice in the software, saying words like “connected” and “on” and “off” are different, and the name of the device when connecting via bluetooth is a different name, but they are otherwise identical.

So why Bluetooth sunglasses? First because Bluetooth. I hate cables – they get tangled – they’re annoying. Second, SUNGLASSES! It is summer and the light is too bright and you need sunglasses. So that’s why.

I love these Bluetooth sunglasses. The fact that the volume level is variable via multiple methods is so great. First, there are the up and down volume buttons (which I generally ignore, but are nice to have I guess), next you can up and down your glasses volume using your phone’s slider or volume up/down buttons (just like regular Bluetooth earphones) but best of all is the third way. A third way that is faster and more demonstrative than all of the preceding methods– the ability to physically pull and/or tilt the speakers towards or away from your ears.

When some fellow human, you know the kind – the ones out in the world, deigns to say something to me unexpectedly, like “beautiful day” or something like it, I can bring up my hand, tilt an earbud away from one ear, and say: “Totally!” This gesture shows the human that I’m listening to them and also allows me to actually hear the creature without necessarily having to turn off or pause my audiobook.

I can see you looking at my sunglasses. You’re looking at them and you’re judging them right now. You’re looking at them and you’re thinking – those– those are ugly. And I know you’re right, they are ugly. But what I say to that is “yeah, they’re ugly – they’re ugly like a Kübelwagen, ugly like a jerrycan, ugly like an Ikea Jerker desk.” The whole point of these generic unbranded sunglasses with built in Bluetooth headphones is they do two jobs and they do their two jobs both beautifully and on the cheap. Whichever Shenzhen designer designed them wanted to incorporate two things that go on your head (sunglasses and headphones) and that designer did it.

ZK42800 Bluetooth Sunglasses

Funny story. For months I walked around, wearing these glasses, and wondering at one particular aspect of the design. I asked myself, “why do they have all this thickness at the bridge of nose and almost no support for the lenses on the edges?” I speculated, idly, wondering if it was for durability. Then, one sunny day, ruminating at the fact that my sunglasses had to be worn atop my head when I went indoors (they are too fiddly and bulky to fit in the pocket of a pair of shorts and to bulky and heavy to hang from my shirt collar), I wished that these terrific cheap sunglasses I was wearing had a feature that would allow me to walk around indoors without the lenses over my eyes. You know what I mean right? I’m talking about those flip up sun-glass lenses that can just clip-on to regular glasses–anyway, I was thinking about this– and thinking about how it would be cool if those amazing iterating Shenzhen wizards could make a design that…. and then suddenly I realized that they already had! Yes friends, my sunglasses had flip-up and flip-down lenses and I had never known!

Bluetooth Sunglasses - FLIP UP!

Now, do I actually walk around looking like a doofus wearing my Bluetooth sunglasses flipped-up when I’m indoors? Yes, I’m afraid I actually do. They do look ridiculous. But they’re doing what I want them to do and that is far more important than me not looking ridiculous.

In terms of other functionalities. I should just say everything works great. There are three buttons atop the right nacelle – the center one (the only one I ever use) is the on/off button – holding it for a few seconds turns the glasses on or off and either connects or disconnects them from whatever phone or tablet is nearby. They work terrifically, always pairing quickly, and get a better signal than my Bluetooth earphones. And the battery lasts all day (for me anyway). Now I should point out that the sunglasses say nothing about being waterproof. In fact I bet they are really not at all waterproof as the charging port is a non-waterproof micro-USB at the bottom of the right nacelle. But I’ve sweated in them, got rained on lightly and they’re still working and the a little LED still shows red when charging and still turns blue when fully charged.

ZK42800 Bluetooth Sunglasses

YouTube reviewer, yaboyboy_Q, captures pretty much everything I had to say above in a video review:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Assassin’s Fate (The Fitz and the Fool, #3) by Robin Hobb

June 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Penguin Random House - Assassin's Fate by Robin HobbAssassin’s Fate (The Fitz and the Fool, #3)
By Robin Hobb; read by Elliot Hill
Digital Download – 39 hours, 15 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: May 9, 2017

More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.

Executive Summary:
There is not much I can say about this book without getting into spoilers, or making statements that may lead people to guess at their meaning. What I can say is much like Ms. Hobb’s previous works, this book made me feel. A lot.

Audiobook:
Elliot Hill is a pretty good narrator. He can be a bit soft spoken however. And he’s not great at female voices. I rather wish he didn’t try. Still it’s more good than bad, and I do think he adds something to the narration that makes the audio worthwhile. If you liked him in the previous books, you should like him here.

Full Review:
This book was difficult for me to rate. I don’t give out 5 stars easily, and normally when I do it’s a no-brainer. This one not so much. The book has some pacing issues, especially early on. I have no idea of the final page count, but in audio it’s nearly 40 hours long. Ms. Hobb’s books have always been on the slower side, but there were points in this book where it was a bit too much. That’s only a minor gripe though.

FitzChivarly Farseer is one of the most real characters I ever read. When this series was announced I was both excited and nervous to get to spend more time with him. What terrible things would Ms. Hobb do to him this time? She has really put him through the ringer over the years. However my desire to spend time with him again outweighed my fear.

When the series started, I was not happy about the addition of Bee’s chapters. At its conclusion, I’m still a bit torn on them, but I think the story could not have been told otherwise. I think part of me was just irritated to have to spend any time in the book away from Fitz. In addition to Fitz, it was really great to see some old friends again, some of whom I never expected to see.

This book like Fool’s Quest before it, rewards those who have read the entire Elderlings series, not just the Fitz books. If you haven’t read Liveship Traders and Rainwild Chronicles, I highly recommend you do so first. There is so much that’ll you be missing if you don’t.

There isn’t much else I can say without getting into spoilers beyond this: Ms. Hobb has an incredible ability to make feel strong emotions for fictional characters. Joy, anger, love, hate, cheer, sorrow. I feel so much that I’m drained. Few books do that to me, but hers seem to do it all the time, especially the Fitz books. It is for this reason I decided to give this 5 stars instead of 4.

Prepare yourself for an emotional journey. I hope you’ll find it as worth it as I did.

Review by Rob Zak

Review of Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures, Volume Two: 1: The Reign Of The Robots, 2: Operation Saturn, and 3: Prisoners Of Space

June 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Dan Dare Audio Adventures - Volume 2Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures, Volume 2, 1: The Reign Of The Robots, 2: Operation Saturn, and 3: Prisoners Of Space
Adapted from the Eagle comic strip; Performed by a full cast
3 Episodes – 3 hours, 9 minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Big Finish
Published: April 2017

Dan Dare: Where Space and Opera Meet To Sing

Is there evil in the universe? Yes. Are there tyrants who take great pleasure in enslaving the human race simply to gratify their unquenchable ego? Yes. Is there any hope for this small blue planet where none but the barest few have any idea of the dastardly dangers all around? Absolutely!

All is right with the twenty first century because Dan Dare and his cohorts, Professor Peabody and Digby are out roaming our solar system, vigilantly keeping villainy and tyranny at bay.

Having defeated the evil Mekon at the end of Season One, Volume One, Dan Dare and his crew are finally able to return home after using the transporter to rid themselves of an alien Armageddon virus.

The first problem that besets them at the beginning of Volume Two is a small issue with the return trip through the transporter that lands them ten years into the future. The bigger problem is that Earth has been enslaved by an army of ruthless robots in, The Reign Of The Robots.

A rollicking space faring adventure of daring do and evil don’t sails on through Operation Saturn and Prisoners Of Space.

Dan Dare is an audio drama of old where the good guy is good through and through, and nasty bigheaded megalomaniacs are rotten to their evil cores. But wait, there’s a back-story running in the undercurrent. This world isn’t quite as black and white as it seems.

A beautiful mix of nostalgia with references to coal-fed engines, and forward-ho, with a ship that can whisk the crew off to Saturn in minutes flat, Dan Dare is perfectly situated in the now. And that now is a science fiction gem with classic lines like, “Resist and you will die” and the quintessential, “Take me to your leader.”

The cast is wonderful throughout and the whole thing is brought to life with a thoroughly engaging, immersive soundscape designed by Wilfredo Acosta.

I was not familiar with the Dan Dare comics before listening to the series, but when I heard, “Colonel Dan Dare! But you were dead!” Followed by, “Only delayed,” I learned everything I needed to know.

Strap on your jet pack if you have. Adventure awaits.

THE REIGN OF THE ROBOTS
Dan Dare and his crew finally return to Earth. Landing in central London, they find the city deserted – or that’s how it seems at first. But soon Dare faces an army of ruthless machines, robots who have conquered the planet and placed the surviving humans in slave camps. The robots are too powerful and too numerous to be resisted, and their invasion is complete. With limited resources, Dare, Digby and Peabody face their greatest challenge yet – to liberate planet Earth. But the task becomes more desperate than ever when Dan discovers the alien force behind the robot invasion…

OPERATION SATURN
As work begins to rebuild planet Earth after the devastation of the robot invasion, Dare and his friends in Space Fleet remain vigilant, certain that it is only a matter of time before the Mekon launches a fresh attack. When the wreck of the Nautilus – an experimental ship lost over a decade before – appears in orbit of the moon, Dare, Digby and Peabody are sent to investigate. They find the ship and its crew were destroyed by advanced alien weapons. All clues lead them to Saturn’s moons. With Earth still vulnerable our heroes must journey to an unknown world – to discover who sent the Nautilus back, not realising that for once the source of their latest conflict comes from a lot closer to home. Not all would-be conquerors of planet Earth are alien…

PRISONERS OF SPACE
After a sequence of near non-stop adventures Dare, Digby and Peabody find themselves in a strange limbo of paranoid calm. Whilst there’s been no sign of the Mekon anywhere in the solar system, Dare is certain Earth hasn’t seen the last of the evil alien. Mysterious spaceship disappearances near Venus, an Academy student accidentally launching a prototype new spacecraft, and a floating prison cell in space… reveal themselves as all part of the Mekon’s latest plan to defeat his archenemy Dan Dare once and for all. The first season of Dan Dare concludes with daring space action, fearless heroics and the revelation of devastating secrets concerning Space Fleet…

Posted by Maissa Bessada

[Find out more about Dan Dare audio adventures, and see the rest of the terrific DAN DARE box-office-style posters, by Brian Williamson, over at the official site: DanDareAudio.com]

Dan Dare - The Audio Adventures - Reign Of The Robots

Hardware review of Sony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones

April 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

SONY MDR-AS200 HeadphonesSony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones [WHITE]
Manufacturer: Sony
UPC: 027242862500

Sony® headphones deliver dependable, quality audio reproduction time after time. Equipped with 13.5 mm high-sensitivity driver units, our MDR-AS200 Sports headphones are no different while also affording a secure, comfortable fit that lets you get close and personal with your workout.

Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones

What I look for in headphones is not so much audio fidelity, or heavy bass, or whatever it is that music listeners are presumably looking for, as much as the reliable and constant delivery of the spoken word to my ears.

I’ve used the same pair of Sony MDR-AS200 “Active” Stereo Headphones, off and on, for a few years now – they’re reliable, lightweight, not-super tangly (though still tangly) and best of all they are cheap. “Active” is Sony’s way of saying these headphones are sweatproof. And they are. In fact, I go through other kinds of headphones very quickly. Listening is such a big part of my life that I don’t mind spending a bit of money on something that might improve my ability to listen, more and more efficiently. But when a pair of my regular wireless bluetooth headphones dies (which they do fairly frequently), and when the sun isn’t shining or I’m not going to be outdoors (that’s when I use my wireless bluetooth sunglasses with headphones) I need some regular backup wired headphones and the Sony MDR-AS200s are those for me.

I don’t like earbuds, I’ve never been able to use any without having them fall out and/or hurt my ears, and while the MDR-AS200 headphones do sit in the same place as earbuds they simply ride there – they don’t rub, or bump, or pop out or fall out. People seem to want to call these “over the ear” headphones, but the MDR-AS200 headphones are more secure than that – they go all-the-way-around-the-ear. The around-the-ear ear loops are marked, right and left, and each has an expandable section, adjustable by friction and able to travel just slightly more than the thickness of a pencil (approx. half an inch). This means if you are a person and you have ears – they can probably fit yours and that they won’t fall off.

As to the sound quality, I must stress that these headphones do not in any manner form a seal between your ear canal and the speakers that ride just outside of them. What this means is that at all times you can hear the outside world. This is perfect for navigating the stacks at a library, but possibly not so great for noisy environments like the gym (they’re sweatproof), the mall, or your own home (depending on your home).

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and listen to audio from YouTube videos, and sadly, not everyone who produces podcasts and YouTube videos has loud enough audio in their productions. If you’re in the same situation as me you must be aware that these MDR-AS200 headphones do not seal you off from the world – and so too-quietly-recorded podcasts and video audio will be nigh unhearable in anything like a noisy environment.

Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones and earmuffs

One last thing. The other reason I need to keep my Sony MDR-AS200 headphones on hand is for a specific in-home use. I don’t like vacuuming, but I will do it (when necessary) if I have these “active” headphones in my ears. They allow, when paired with some cheap plastic over-the-head ear protection earmuffs, a somewhat pleasant vacuuming experience.

A little feature from Sony’s design department:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - zipper

And a cute little hard plastic clothing clip, designed to prevent the cord from dangling or moving where you don’t want it to:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - clothing clip

Usage and features from the manual:
Sony MDR-AS200 Headphones - usage and features

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

April 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - Change Agent by Daniel SuarezChange Agent
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Audiobook Download – 14.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: Apr 18, 2017

In 2045 Kenneth Durand leads Interpol’s most effective team against genetic crime, hunting down black market labs that perform “vanity edits” on human embryos for a price. These illegal procedures augment embryos in ways that are rapidly accelerating human evolution—preying on human-trafficking victims to experiment and advance their technology.

Executive Summary: Despite a bit of a bumpy start, I think this is my favorite book by Mr. Suarez since Daemon.

Audiobook: Jeff Gurner continues to be a good fit for Daniel Suarez books. He reads well, and does a few voices to add that little extra something to the audiobook. These are exactly the kind of books I think are well suited to doing in audio.

Full Review
I picked up Daemon a few years back on the recommendation of a co-worker. It was kind of remarkable that I hadn’t found it on my own earlier. That book was totally in my wheelhouse. A near-future sci-fi thriller about a computer program gone crazy? Yes please. However unlike many people I found the sequel Freedom™ to just be too over the top for me to read it without constantly rolling my eyes.

In fact, I’ve found most of his work after Daemon just a little too ridiculous at times for me, but always good for a fun quick listen. I’d say this book is no different, except I found myself enjoying this one a lot more by the end than the last few.

Bioengineering seems to be a pretty popular topic for near-future science fiction recently, but I found Mr. Suarez’s take on things to be pretty interesting and unique. I did struggle a bit in the beginning with the whole “Wrongfully accused Fugitive” trope. It felt too generic for me, and I found myself starting to grow bored.

However once things got past the setup, I found that the sci-fi elements that Mr. Suarez added in made his spin on the story unique enough to be quite enjoyable. As with most of his books, things start of in the realm of believability and end up veering into the realm of ridiculousness at times.

I sometimes struggled with Kenneth Durand as a protagonist, but overall I thought his story does a good job of posing interesting questions about how much of who we are is biology vs. our upbringing. The whole nurture vs. nature debate. The book as a whole brings up some interesting ideas of what should be allowed and what should be illegal in terms of biological engineering.

I don’t pretend to have the same level of comprehension about biology and what’s possible in that field as I do in computers, but some parts of the story were just a bit too much for me to not to roll my eyes. I’d be curious to find out if Biology folks will have the same kinds of issues with this book that I had with Freedom™. Maybe they’ll tell me that Mr. Suarez isn’t too ridiculous after all. I sure hope not, because it would be pretty terrifying.

Like all of his books, he takes interesting science, extrapolates on what might be, and uses that to frame an over the top thriller story. It was a fun book, and I’ll be eager to pick up his next book when that comes out as well.

Review by Rob Zak

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