Review of Saturn Run by John Sandford

January 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Saturn Run by John SandfordSaturn Run
By John Sandford and Ctein; Narrated by Eric Conger
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 6 October 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 hours, 35 minutes

Themes: / spaceship / aliens / first contact / thriller /

Publisher summary:

For fans of The Martian, an extraordinary new thriller of the future from number-one New York Times best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Sandford and internationally known photo-artist and science fiction aficionado Ctein.

Over the course of 37 books, John Sandford has proven time and again his unmatchable talents for electrifying plots, rich characters, sly wit, and razor-sharp dialogue. Now, in collaboration with Ctein, he proves it all once more in a stunning new thriller, a story as audacious as it is deeply satisfying.

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope – something is approaching Saturn and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.

A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least 100 years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.

The race is on, and a remarkable adventure begins – an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this Earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect – and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

You will want to love this book. And it’s easy to understand why. There’s a space race to Saturn, the promise of cool alien tech, and a whole mess of us versus them as China and America reach for the stars (sorry, but the pun had to be). The writing and story are solid. They don’t break new ground, but the read is fun, and if you experience disappointment, it’ll be due to what isn’t here rather than what is here. This is to say, you will look up after reading/listening and want more as opposed to wanting less. You will, in the end, like this book.

I wanted more character development. This could have occurred in a longer story, but as it is, the narrative feels too hurried. Yes, pacing in thrillers is essential, but this story would have benefited with more attention to character and less use of political stereotypes.

If you’re in the market for a fun and fast-paced space thriller that teases you with alien technology, I’m pretty confident you’ll enjoy what Saturn Run offers. In the author’s note, it calls attention to the desire to stay as near to science as possible while projecting technology into the year 2066. And so for those of you who enjoy hard science with respect to velocity and gravity, I think you might appreciate the science presented. I’m not an engineer, so I don’t know if the technical specs discussed for one of the spaceship’s engines are accurate, but they are intriguing.

Audiobook:
Eric Conger narrates the audiobook. Conger does a fantastic job at reading and staying out of story’s way. I highly recommend the audiobook.

The first half of this book promises more than the second half delivers. And since the fun factor is slightly more than the disappointment factor, I leave feeling mildly amused and entertained.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos

August 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Angles of AttackAngles of Attack   (Frontlines #3)
By Marko Kloos; read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 21 April 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / military sci-fi / weird aliens / combat power armor / humanity uniting /

Publisher summary:

The alien forces known as the Lankies are gathering on the solar system’s edge, consolidating their conquest of Mars and setting their sights on Earth. The far-off colony of New Svalbard, cut off from the rest of the galaxy by the Lanky blockade, teeters on the verge of starvation and collapse. The forces of the two Earth alliances have won minor skirmishes but are in danger of losing the war. For battle-weary staff sergeant Andrew Grayson and the ragged forces of the North American Commonwealth, the fight for survival is entering a catastrophic new phase.

Forging an uneasy alliance with their Sino-Russian enemies, the NAC launches a hybrid task force on a long shot: a stealth mission to breach the Lanky blockade and reestablish supply lines with Earth. Plunging into combat against a merciless alien species that outguns, outmaneuvers, and outfights them at every turn, Andrew and his fellow troopers could end up cornered on their home turf, with no way out and no hope for reinforcement. And this time, the struggle for humanity’s future can only end in either victory or annihilation.

The more I read Marko Kloos, the more I am impressed. This is military SF done right. The writing is solid, the story is solid, and the longer his Frontline series continues, the better it gets.

Angles of Attack is the third book in the Frontline series, and it is by far the best written and executed story. Kloos delivers truly strange aliens known as the Lankies that force a divided humanity to unite. The year is 2116, and it appears that Earth is about to fall.

When you begin navigating the military SF genre, you quickly, all too quickly, encounter massive info-dumps politely known as exposition, really super extra bad melodramatic writing, and fossilized tropes that just won’t die. And while Marko Kloos does employ some well-known tropes, he does so in such a way that it feels fresh, and the reader doesn’t mind the slight manipulation because the story is engaging.

Here’s the down and dirty of this book. The first four-fifths is stunning. The final one-fifth is comparable to something sticky stuck to the bottom of your shoe. You wish it wasn’t there, but you’re not sure how best to remove it, so you keep walking and hope that eventually it will simply go away. This is to say, even with the not so great last act of this book, it is a damn good story that is well written and worth your while to read.

Audiobook:
Get the audiobook. Luke Daniels hammers this reading out of the park. Seriously, find the audiobook and listen.

For those of you who aren’t entrenched military SF readers, the Frontline series by Marko Kloos is one of the best series to become familiar with the subgenre. I highly recommend this series, and this book.

Rating:
This is a 3.5 out of 5 that I am rounding up to 4 out of 5 because I feel generous.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

The SFFaudio Podcast #329 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

August 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #329 – Jesse, Scott, Jenny, Tamahome and Paul talk about new audiobook releases and recent audiobook arrivals.

Talked about on today’s show:
ecomic, The BOZZ Chronicles by David Michelinie and Bret Blevins, Dover Publications, Iron Man, The New Mutants), a “plucky prostitute”, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, the Guardian Podcast, a tyranny of circumstances, The Cold Equations, The Coode Street Podcast, Interstellar, interestingly depressing, Ali Ahn, Hachette, this is all Paul, City of the Chasch: The Tschai, Planet of Adventure, Book 1 by Jack Vance, interesting language, strange customs, fun books, Blackstone Audio, Resurrection House, Reading Envy, Archangel (Book One of the Chronicles of Ubastis) by Marguerite Reed, beasts, military SF, on a planet?, she’s a mother, Terpkristin, Octavia Butler, Dark Disciple: Star Wars, Marc Thompson, Random House Audio, sound effects?, The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science fiction 7, Infinivox, read by Tom Dheere and Nancy Linari, Bryan Alexander, Elizabeth Bear, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Michael Swanwick, Peter Watts, The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka, Keith Szarabajka, scientists in labs, Robert J. Sawyer, FlashForward, Blackstone Audio, throwing on a throwback, Thorns by Robert Silverberg, Stefan “the great” Rudnicki, Skyboat Media, from 1967, Ultima, Proxima Book 2 by Stephen Baxter, wild galaxy spanning stuff, Tantor Media, Per Ardua Ad Astra = by struggle to the stars, the Xeelee books, “Traditional Fantasy”, no homosexuals or gender swapping, Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb, lots of fantasy, she writes books people really like Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan, read by Steven Brand, “urban or contemporary fantasy”, The City And The City, Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville, WORKING FOR BIGFOOT Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, Buffy, American Harry Potter?, James Marsters, The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1 by N.K. Jemisin, secondary world fantasy, post apocalyptic fantasy, City Of Stairs, Deceptions A Cainsville Novel by Kelley Armstrong, The Tale Of The Body Thief, Anne Rice, The Undying Legion by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, The Conquering Dark: (Crown & Key Book 3) by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, read by Nicholas Guy Smith, paranormal romance, Earth Bound (Sea Haven #4), Christine Feehan, horror/suspense, Finders Keepers, Stephen King, audiobook exclusive, Drunken Fireworks, a sample of Tim Sample’s audio narration, THE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: The Haunted City edited by Jason Blum, The Geeks Guide To The Galaxy podcast, Joel and Ethan Cohen, The Purge, Ethan Hawke, Eli Roth, Alive, Scott Sigler, Empty Set Entertainment, the warping of society, contemporary criticism, nonfiction, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will, Geoff Colvin, could our jobs be replaced by robots or computers?, Tam is their pet, Ex Machina is idea heavy, audio drama or “Audio Dramer”, an Idahoan accent?, And the Sun Stood Still, LA Theatre Works, Dava Sobel, Nicolaus Copernicus, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, how do we get access to plays, television seems insane to Jesse, there should be a Broadway channel, new podcasts: the Black Tapes podcast, SERIAL, NPR-style audio drama, fake pop journalism, The Great Courses’ The Torch podcast, Eric S. Rabkins course, The American Revolution (Great Courses), Neil deGrasse Tyson’s courses on Netflix, the GENRE STOP! podcast (a readalong style podcast), Ancillary Justice, The Martian, engineering fiction, applied science, readalong style, The Writer And The Critic, The Incomparable podcast, Read-A-Long, “when you hear a chime turn the page”, Books On The Nightstand podcast, The Readers podcast, Booktopia, Readercon, Fourth Street Fantasy, deep discussions, book centric panels, reader centric panels, a Roger Zelazny panel, a Jack Vance panel, Anne Vandermeer on Reading Envy, The Guardian Podcast, whooooah!, paperbook: The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath And Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Jason Thompson (adaptor/illustrator) The White Ship by H.P. Lovecraft, Sergio Aragones, Groo, the marginalia in Mad magazine, page composition, J.H. Williams III, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, the final episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a map of the dreamlands, it’s a map man!, illuminated maps,

Dreamlands poster by Jason Thompson

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

March 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

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

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

Publisher summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

The SFFaudio Podcast #286 -AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Red One by Jack London

October 13, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

Jack London's The Red One

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #286 – The Red One by Jack London; read by Oliver Wyman. This is an unabridged reading of the novelette (1 hour 3 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Bryan Alexander, and Oliver Wyman.

Talked about on today’s show:
Bryan and Ollie, 1918, WWI, Jack London in Hawaii, a super science fiction story, H.G. Wells, existential concerns, the misogyny and racism, “unbeautiful”, London was racist and anti-racist, Lovecraft, cosmic science fiction, a beautiful sad ending, a transcendent ending, the motifs (motives), head and finger injuries, head blown off, his guide loses his head, the final head chopping, the devil devil house, twisting in the smoke, breadfruit, banyan, God’s Grace by Bernard Malamud, the Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, the mosquitoes, headhunting, blackbirding is essentially slavery, giant butterflies, the Atlas Moth, it’s not an alien spaceship is it?, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Philip K. Dick, unresolved endings, a potential stage production of Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, a giant alien head, the striker has helmeted figures, ancient astronauts is the next year, 1919, Charles Fort, Erich von Däniken, Jack London’s 10 Sex Tips, Cosmopolitan -> cosmos -> cosmetology, Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke, a tripwire, a Lovecraftian sense of the universe, explorer narratives, Mungo Park, Bassett,

“And beneath that roof was an aerial ooze of vegetation, a monstrous, parasitic dripping of decadent life- forms that rooted in death and lived on death.”

Robert E. Howard, Solomon Kane, Mexico, London stole from others and his own life, journal writing, Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, “the abrupt liberation of sound”, the walls of Jericho…, two score feet in length, an alien ark, the libraries of supermen from other stars?, the Jungian analysis, a giant egg with Bassett as a sperm, Earle Labor, the ending resonates, the red one as a mandala, from a distance it appears lacquered, fever dreams, childhood hallucinations and visions, what’s the logic behind head-hunting, mortification, the other white man’s head, helmeted figures sitting inside the mouths of crocodiles, a labour of thousands of years, the twelve tribes, breadfruit is called “nimbalo” in the Solomon Islands -> “nimbus”, ringmanu -> Manu -> the progenitor of all humanity, the twelve apostles, the red one is a voice, twelve deaf apostles, gospel = good news, cure it well, immortality, London was a super-atheist, Lovecraft was an atheist, the harsh horrifying reality of death, “the serene face of the Medusa. Truth.”, Lovecraft’s poems, Alethia Phrikodes, “Omnia risus et omnia pulvis et omnia nihil”, Thomas Ligotti, True Detective, “I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. … species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction”, Edgar Allan Poe, Songs Of A Dead Dreamer, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race, Pseudopod The Bungalow House, being a narrator doesn’t give you time to read, comics maybe, The Manhattan Projects, dealing with the problem of physical, Rainbow’s End, Geoffrey Household, Limbo by Bernard Wolfe, not enough physical volume in the universe, books with maps, books with art, Eadweard Muybridge, Jeff Bezos, ebooks are notorious for not having good art in them, the art of Alex Ross as a PDF, London as a tangible writer, “a mighty cry of some titan of the elder world”, Olaf Stapledon, Starmaker, the separation of the soul and the body, you are your head, the martians in The War Of The Worlds, who is telling this story?, feelings and questions, The Call Of The Wild, he’s a basset hound chasing after a big red ball, London was a dog man, the two dog books, The Sea Wolf is an intense book, To Build Fire, “the cold of space”, a hypnagogic state, the physical and the philosophical, The Iron Heel, so many writers never leave the room where they write the book, the premise for The Red One was suggested by George Sterling, A Wine Of Wizardry, what if aliens sent a message to the earth and it was not understood, if it had been shot, the gun that doesn’t go off, King Kong and Skull Island, a cynical take on religion, the Cosmopolitan illustrations, definitely an artifice, the core of a star that fell to Earth, aliens came out and they killed them, ships or jet fighters, organic ships, the spore of the organic ships, Prometheus, worth looking at and listening to, the most expensive work of fan fiction ever made, the autodoc scene, this is the thing that didn’t need to be made, Alien, Ron Cobb and Geiger, 1966, the year of Star Trek and Batman, Alan Dean Foster, Alien: The Illustrated Story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, recent alien invasion fiction, Footfall, Protector by Larry Niven, infantilized aliens, the fruit of the tree of life, Forge Of God by Greg Bear, “I have bad news”, Orson Scott Card, reared by robots, astrogation, Anvil Of Stars by Greg Bear, Sundiver by David Brin, Forbidden Planet, Glen Cook‘s Starfisher series, Captain Harlock, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, William Dufris, the glossary, Gateway by Frederik Pohl, mushrooms, characters in therapy, one of the greatest works of Science Fiction period, the serialization of Gateway in Galaxy, Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft, 1920, The Temple, black muck, they’ve got cults going.

The Red One illustrated by Jim Nelson
The Red One by Jack London COSMO
The Red One by Jack London COSMO
The Red One by Jack London COSMO
The Red One by Jack London COSMO

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

September 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

ConquestConquest (Chronicles of the Invaders #1)
By John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard; Read by Nicola Barber
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 33 minutes

Themes: / aliens / YA / wormhole / romance /

Publisher summary:

The Earth has been invaded by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien race.  Humanity has been conquered, but still it fights the invaders. The Resistance grows stronger, for it is the young people of Earth who battle the Illyri.

Syl Hellais, conceived among the stars, is the oldest alien child on Earth, the first to reach 16 years of age. Her father is one of the rulers of the planet. Her future is assured. And Syl has hidden gifts, powers that even she does yet fully understand.

But all is not as it seems. Secret experiments are being conducted on humans, the Illyri are at war among themselves, and the sinister Nairene Sisterhood has arrived on Earth, hungry for new blood. When Syl helps a pair of young Resistance fighters to escape execution, she finds herself sentenced to death, pursued by her own kind, and risks breaking the greatest taboo of her race by falling in love with a human.

Now the hunter has become the hunted, and the predators become prey. And as Syl Hellais is about to learn, the real invasion has not yet even begun.

Apparently aliens are the new vampires and I guess I’m a sucker for aliens because this is the second YA book about aliens I’ve read in a year’s time.

In this one, out of nowhere, a wormhole appears at the end of the solar system. This spells the doom of mankind because an alien race has come to dethrone mankind, thus, Conquest.

Except, while these aliens take over the governments of Earth, they have also brought technology which can not only cure diseases such as cancer, but expand the human lifespan. I’ve hit on this topic recently, but here it comes again, are the trade-offs worth it?

What makes this one different?

This one takes a different spin than I was prepared for. Usually, and especially with a name like “Conquest,” it’s a story of survival, of a rogue squad who’s fighting back. While there is a bit of that, this story mostly follows the aliens themselves, in fact, one of them who is the first born alien on earth.

So instead of a fight for the world, you really get a bigger glimpse of the nature of the aliens, the culture, and the political machinations and infighting of the political parties.

This is good and bad.

Why it doesn’t quite work

Well, first, why did it work. I thought this was a great take on the alien story … at first. It’s almost like reading a fantasy book because you’re reading more about the society of this alien species and getting to know them and on the side you get some of the story of the rebel humans fighting against them.

What doesn’t work is that some of the tension is gone or really never intended to be there. I know it’s not really fair, but I expected more of a fight, which is there, but it’s in a very small degree. The culture is interesting but I can’t say I cared all that much about it, but that’s probably for a different reason.

The Characters

The characters are for the most part, quite bland. I did listen to this on audiobook, so that could account for some of this, but by the end of the book I was still having to remember and figure out who some of the main people were. You get to know the main character, Syl, who’s as interesting as a prepubescent teen can be to a non-creepy male of 30 (spoiler, there’s not much we have in common).

But, by the end of the book, I really should have been able to keep track of the insurgent boys who help Syl out in the beginning and play a big part in the story, or Syl’s best friend who also played a consistent part in the story.

Again, it’s not all the novel’s fault, I take some of the blame, but I don’t think it’s all mine.

I enjoyed many parts of this book, but for the most part, it didn’t work for me. The alien societies were interesting, but a tad boring. The characters were mostly flat. I wanted to read this because I have some friends who are huge into John Connolly, but I’ll have to check out some of his other works for an actual understanding.

2.5 out of 5 Stars (Okay to good)

Posted by Bryce L.

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