Review of Steel World by B. V. Larson

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

SFFaudio Review

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

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

Publisher summary:

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Conquest by B.V. Larson

October 8, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

ConquestConquest – (Star Force #4)
By B.V. Larson, Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hoursThemes: / aliens / military sci-fi / fighting bugs / machines / invasion /

Publisher summary:

Conquest is the next chapter in the great interstellar war between all living creatures and the machines. Star Force must stop the machine invaders once again – but how? In the fourth book of the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs has freed Earth from the chains of the Macros – but at what cost? The Macros no longer trust him. He is a mad dog that must be put down – and all Star Force must be stamped out with him. The war expands in this story, and mankind is once again faced with annihilation.

Conquest is the fourth book in the Star Force series by B. V. Larson and, while it continues the well-established tradition of this series for thrilling military action, it also brings several of the flaws of the series into sharp focus.

Over the course of the previous three novels in the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs has made some bad calls. He has sworn Earth to provide troops for a dangerous enemy, ordered thousands of his troops to their deaths, and cast aside strategic alliances with little thought to the long-term consequences of his actions. Throughout it all, I continued to root for Riggs and the rest of his band, even as I questioned his actions. Now, though, I can’t help but wonder if Star Force is the right team for the job.

Of course, they never were supposed to be the first best choice. Riggs and Crow, the co-leaders of Star Force, were plucked from their homes by brutal machines and only came to command the most technologically advanced army in human history because they managed to survive a brutal series of tests, so it should come as little surprise that these two often resort to brute force to solve their problems. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that these two men were woefully unfit for command when the first few chapters of this book consisted of little more than a super-powered grudge match between them. Riggs, as the narrator and protagonist, does his best to justify his actions to the reader, but many of his arguments can be boiled down to, “I did my best, but I’m not really a soldier.” Meanwhile, Crow is written as a chameleon who repeatedly vacillates between careless pirate and brilliant strategist, with little to no transition between.

One might expect that the return of the giant Macro robots would bring some unity to Star Force, or at least some sound strategic planning, but it doesn’t. Instead, Crow runs away (as usual) and Riggs comes up with some brilliant modifications to the Star Force battle equipment, then fails to use them to their potential (as usual). The one piece of brilliant strategizing that Riggs does manage to pull off, which results in the Macros focusing their attacks on Star Force’s home base rather than assaulting the entire planet, backfires spectacularly when he forgets the lessons learned in his previous fights against both the Macros and the Helios Worms. Riggs knows the Macros are underground, but makes no plans to defend against an attack from below. He gives his troops the ability to fly, but rarely uses that to his strategic advantage. Mistake compounds mistake until only nuclear weapons and convenient force-field failures can save Earth.

Apparently I am not the only one dissatisfied with the leadership of Kyle Riggs, as the author included a subplot of ongoing assassination attempts in Conquest. Obviously, I won’t say who or what was behind the attempts, but I like to imagine that there was some level of symbolism to B. V. Larson’s decision to introduce this plot element. I have to wonder if maybe there is some chance that, by the time he reached this book, Larson had realized that Riggs needs to develop further as a leader and a character.

Mark Boyett does an admirable job narrating this series, navigating the wide range of accents with ease. I did think, as I listened, that I caught a few errors, but I am more inclined to believe that these were missed during the editing of the book, rather than introduced in the recording of the audio. At a running time of just over eleven hours, spanning ten CDs, the book is just long enough to tell the story of the second invasion of Earth without overstaying its welcome. I plan to continue reading this series, but I truly hope to see some growth in strategic thinking from Riggs, or I could see myself beginning to feel sympathetic towards Conquest’s failed assassins.

Posted by Andrew Linke

Review of Rebellion by B.V. Larson

August 29, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

rebellionRebellion (Star Force #3)
By B.V. Larson, Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / aliens / military sci-fi / fighting bugs / machines /

Publisher summary:

Rebellion is the turning point in the great interstellar war between all living creatures and the machines. Star Force is on the side of the machines – but for how long? In the third book of the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs learns just what kind of war Earth is caught up in. At the mercy of the Macros, his marines fight against new alien races, big and small. They battle the innocent and the vile alike, until their situation becomes grim.

Rebellion is the third novel in B. V. Larson’s Star Force series starring computer science professor turned interstellar marine Kyle Riggs. It stands on its own better than the previous novel, Extinction, but I would still recommend reading the previous books first as the plot throughout the series thus far has been mostly linear. In Rebellion, Larson takes his Star Force formula, throws in a couple new atomic grenades, and keeps blasting right along with the story of humanity’s fight against alien machines known as the Macros.

Given the title, it should come as no surprise that in this novel Kyle Riggs leads the battered remnants of his Star Force marines in a rebellion against their Macro masters. His reasons for this are many, but the decision point comes when he discovers that, while the Macros are scrupulous in abiding by the letter of their agreements, they have no compunction in their networked silica minds against taking advantage of every loophole in an agreement. In this case, they use Riggs’s nanotized marines to attack a race that had failed to include a prohibition against indirect assault using mercenaries in their peace treaty. Riggs concludes that the Macros will employ similar tactics against Earth and the near future and determines that it is better to restart the war now. On his own terms. With only five thousand men. With no way of alerting Earth.

Draw your own conclusions about Kyle Riggs’s big-picture tactical planning capabilities but, as in the previous novels, it is hard to fault his individual decisions in the heat of the moment. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if Larson intends his hero to be an object lesson in the difficulty of making good choices under stress.

The structure of the Macro / Nano division continues to frustrate me. I’m beginning to accept that Nanos can not simply swarm a Macro and take it apart, though this acceptance is less for any logical reason than just because it continues to not happen, even though there are specific scenes of destroyed Macros being disassembled by Nanos and reprocessed. Perhaps my worst gripe along these lines for Rebellion is the revelation that Macro ships are difficult to pilot because the cockpits are built for pilots with seven arms. Now, I’ll accept that there is some sort of fundamental programming element that requires all Macros to be large, but when their entire command structure is built on networked parallel processing, why aren’t the ships just built into that network? There is simply no reason for the Macros to have physical ship controls, any more than there is a need for their ships to have pressurized compartments.

All complaints aside, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Rebellion features more, and far more interesting, revelations about the Star Force universe than its predecessor. The best of these are the emergence of a new machine intelligence and Sandra finally coming into her own as a character. This new intelligence starts off as little more than another of the nanobot “brain boxes” that Riggs uses in every aspect of his military. Riggs names the over-achieving brain box Marvin, in what I can only hope is an unacknowledged tip of the hat to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the interactions between Marvin and the human characters are probably the best part of this novel. As for Sandra, she spends half the novel in a coma, then wakes up just in time to reprise her roll as Riggs’s shallow, hot-tempered girlfriend. Literally her first action after waking up is to punch another woman for kissing Riggs in a moment of desperation. Fortunately, Sandra seems to blow most of her daft behavior allocation in that first moment as, with the help of some sentient microbes who have been tortured into assisting Starforce, she quickly evolves into a strong, self-motivated character.

Development of characters other than Kyle Riggs has been a weakness for this series from the beginning, and Rebellion does little to change this. Other than the introduction of Marvin and the growth in Sandra, the only supporting characters to see a change are Jasmine, who develops a crush on Riggs, and Kwan, who gets a girlfriend and learns a few new English idioms. But you don’t read Star Force novels for character development or fully coherent plot. If you are a fan of fast-paced science fiction featuring liberal quantities of bloody, laser-scorched human versus robot combat, Rebellion will quench your thirst for action.

The audiobook narrated by Mark Boyett has the usual quality of production and performance. Three books into the series, I do have to admit that I am starting to get annoyed by the accents of characters other than Kyle Riggs, as it seems that any human character who merits a name also has an accent. Mark Boyett does a fine job with his reading, and I do appreciate that B. V. Larson is attempting to show the global nature of Star Force, but the continual shifting of accents and genders from a single male reader grows tiresome after about six hours.

Posted by Andrew Linke

Review of Extinction by B.V. Larson

August 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Extinction by B.V. LarsonExtinction (Star Force #2)By B.V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours
Themes: / aliens / military sci-fi / fighting bugs /

Publisher summary:

Earth’s Star Force Marines invade an alien world! In the second book of the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs has another bad year. The Nano ships have a new mission – one that sentences their pilots to death. Meanwhile, the governments of Earth want to steal Star Force’s Nano technology for their own. Worst of all, Earth has made a promise to the Macros, and the machines are coming to collect. Extinction is the story of Earth’s entry into an interstellar war between living creatures and machines. To buy the peace, we’ve signed up with the machines.

If the first book of B. V. Larson’s Starforce series set humanity at the center of a conflict between Replicators and Terminators, this second entry sticks with that mostly successful formula and improves on it with a healthy dose of Starship Troopers. Kyle Riggs remains the protagonist and narrator of the story and all the important characters from the previous novel return and see some development. The plot of Extinction can be broken into five major acts, which for the purpose of this review I will call Return to Earth, Independence, Exploration, Growth, and Fighting Bugs.

The Return to Earth portion of the story brings Kyle back from the confrontation around Venus that ended Swarm. It essentially serves to reintroduce readers to his character and give some nods to character development. Gone is the mild-mannered university professor of the previous novel. Riggs has been transformed by his experiences in South America and around Venus and is now a hard as nails military commander. Larson devotes just enough time to the deaths of Riggs’s children and the other horrors of Swarm to show that his protagonist still has a human side, despite being enhance by a body full of nanites.

The portion of the story that I think of as Independence finally brings some serious political intrigue to the series. I know that this is Starforce, not Game of Thrones, but it’s nice to see some consideration given to the big picture. In addition to establishing clear political relations between Starforce and the nations of Earth, this second portion of the novel develops the relationship between Riggs and his sometimes-commander Crow. Sandra is back as well and, while Riggs still appears to treat her as little more than a sex machine and foil for exposition, the author at least gives Sandra more freedom to act. She even surprises Riggs a few times throughout the story by taking initiative in difficult situations and pushing him to make the right decisions.

The Exploration and Growth portions of the story race by as quickly as the year of plot time that they encompass. Larson pulls in more elements from the science fiction cannon in these sections, with star gates, inertial suppression (or the lack thereof), and the difficulties of negotiating with artificial intelligences all adding their flavors to the story. Little can be said about this portion of the story without giving away the plot points, so I’ll just say that if you like fast moving exposition about strange planets and alien technology, this part of the story is a great read.

Everything in the book builds up to the final portion of the story, which can be summarized in two words: Fighting Bugs.

The alien enemies in this portion of the story are truly alien, even if we have seen similar creatures from other series, and they give the Starforce marines a good fight. Thousands of nanite-enhanced marines and machine gun-toting aliens are slaughtered on the altar of audience entertainment in a bloodbath of storytelling that rivals the plot of Starcraft. If that sort of action is what you are looking for, then this book will be exactly your cup of energy drink. On the other hand, this section of the book does have a distinctly video game feel to it, as Kyle Riggs slogs neck deep through the blood of literally thousands of other humans and aliens as they are slaughtered all around him. Sure, readers need a hero with which to identify, but at some point you stop caring about Kyle Riggs as a character and just assume that he will survive any situation to get the reader to the next battle.

I think that this book should mark the decision point for readers. Two books into the Starforce series, Larson has clearly established what sort of story he is telling. If you like this particular brand of military scifi, you’re going to get your fill. Larson does little to expand on already existing science fiction tropes, but like a very talented Lego artist, he continues to stick these already existing elements together to build new stories that are quite cool, even if the edges are a bit rough and the construction materials easily recognizable.

The production quality of this audiobook was excellent. Mark Boyett provides the perfect narration for a character who still retains elements of his former life, but is slipping deeper into his role as a cold-hearted commander. The CD version I listened to comes on ten discs, each of which begins and ends with a short musical cue. I started to find the narration a little slow in parts, so about three hours in I set my iPod to double-speed and was much more content. Don’t take this to mean that the narration is too slow. I think it is perfect, as the standard speed is just right for people who are new to audiobooks and long time listeners like me can double it with little distortion.

Posted by Andrew Linke

Review of Swarm by B. V. Larson

June 25, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Swarm Swarm (Star Force #1)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / aliens / military sci-fi /

Publisher summary:

Earth arms marines with alien technology and builds its first battle fleet! Kyle Riggs is snatched by an alien spacecraft sometime after midnight. The ship is testing everyone it catches and murdering the weak. The good news is that Kyle keeps passing tests and staying alive. The bad news is the aliens who sent this ship are the nicest ones out there…. A novel of military science fiction by bestselling author B. V. Larson, Swarm is the story of Earth’s annexation by an alien empire. Long considered a primitive people on a backwater planet, humanity finds itself in the middle of a war, and faced with extinction.

One of the fundamental challenges of writing fiction is the need to make characters and events believable without making them boring, or retreading the same ground as a dozen authors before you. This is especially difficult in genre fiction, such as military sci-fi, where so many wildly imaginative authors have already gone before. Fortunately, B. V. Larson walks the line between realism and action with near perfect balance. Swarm, the first book in his Star Force series, contains little in the way of truly original science fiction material, but the author assembles these familiar pieces into a fantastic roller coaster of a tale.

Our protagonist is Kyle Riggs, who proves to be one of the most resourceful computer science professors in history. When alien machines invade earth he goes from being a mild-mannered single father, eating popcorn and watching movies with his kids, to a hard-hearted military commander in the course of about two weeks. By the end of the novel he is commanding full battalions of augmented marines, guiding the development of devastating weapons, and fighting toe to toe with robots the size of skyscrapers. It is a testament to the author’s skill at narration that all of these remarkable events happening to a single character only seems odd in retrospect. As the tale unfolds, each of Kyle’s actions and decisions makes sense in the moment, if not in the big picture, painting him as an everyman who is continually pulled into extraordinary circumstances.

The only real problem with Swarm is the nature of the threat that humanity faces. Essentially, the entire planet is placed at the center of a struggle between microscopic robots, which are obviously named Nanos, since they don’t have a name for themselves, and gigantic robots, which are immediately dubbed Macros. It doesn’t take long before the action of the novel descends into the most visceral, mindless sort of fights that we have seen before in countless robots versus humans films. I won’t deny that all of that is fun to read, but I couldn’t help wondering why the Nanos didn’t just build some big robots to blow up the Macros, or the Macros build some macroscopic robots and start turning everything they touched into grey goo. Or why the Nanos didn’t just infest the Macros and take them apart. Or why the Macros didn’t start strip mining the entire planet from beneath the safety of their shields, instead of fighting humanity in the field.

But that’s a debate for another time. It doesn’t matter whether the two strangely, intractably, even inexplicably different robots behave appropriately any more than it matters how an alien can have a silicon-based biology and acid for blood. I suppose we can also overlook, for this book at least, the rapid changes in Kyle’s character, the incredulous, borderline Stockholm Syndrome, relationship between Kyle and his girlfriend Sandra, and the sudden, mildly disappointing ending. What matters is that B. V. Larson uses all of these pieces to tell a fun story. I just hope to see some more character development as the series continues.

The audiobook of Swarm is produced by Audible, published on CD by Brilliance Audio, and as a whole meets the usual quality I expect from these companies. Each disc begins and ends with brief musical backgrounds which, while they do little to enhance the story, are not distracting. The last few sentences, about five to fifteen seconds, of each disc are repeated at the beginning of the next disc, which is a feature I always appreciate to draw me back into the story after pausing to change discs. Mark Boyett’s skillful narration perfectly portrays the voice of Kyle Riggs, whether he is calmly describing the procedures for programming an alien computer, or speaking in a panicked, but still clear, tone to convey the terror of facing an alien machine on the battlefield.

Posted by Andrew Linke

The SFFaudio Podcast #210 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

April 29, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #210 – Jesse, Tamahome, and Jenny talk about audiobook NEW RELEASES and RECENT ARRIVALS.

Talked about on today’s show:
Jenny’s list of recent arrivals,

Into The Void: Star Wars Dawn of the Jedi by Tim Lebbon, Seak (Bryce L.) has reviewed Star WarsInvincible (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier) by Jack Campbell, Steve Gibson likes it, Swarm (Star Force Series #1) and Extinction (Star Force Series #2) by B.V. Larson, maybe Terpkristin will do it, Nosferatu (Area 51) by Bob Mayer (or Robert Doherty?), World War Z: The Complete Edition, An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks, more diverse narrators, SFF Audio review of original edition in 2007, “We Are The World”, Titanium Rain: Episode One by Josh Finney (graphic novel) and Kat Rocha (adaptation) – starring full cast (motion comic trailer), Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge, hey that’s where Rainbows End came from, |OUR READALONG OF RAINBOWS END|, Island 731 by Jeremy Robinson, Jeremy’s interview on Sfsignal, it’s like Michael Crichton, The Far Time Incident by Neve Masklakovic, Mary Kowal blogs about it, we think it’s first written in English, Finch (Ambergris #3) by Jeff Vandermeer, (I read a summary from Dan Schwent’s review on Goodreads), ambergris is a solid waxy substance from sperm whales, (this video is why I said ambergris came from a whale’s butt), Widow’s Web (Elemental Assassin #7) by Jennifer Estep, spider-woman, Through the Door (The Thin Veil #1) by Jodi McIsaac, “this one’s in the woods”, a Freakonomics podcast about namesThe Exiled Blade (The Assassini #3) by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Da Vinci’s Demons gets the animals wrong, What’s a macaw?Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen #3) by Steven Erikson, it’s a big one at 44 hours, The God Patent by Ransom Stephens is science fiction programmers, Neal Stephenson gets more fiction with science like he asked forA Maze Of Death, gelatinous cube-shaped beings, Clans Of The Alphane Moon, “get me a young Jack Nicholson”, Deus Irae (with Roger Zelazny), a play on “Dies Irae“, Dr. Futurity, Galactic Pot-Healer |OUR READALONG|, and Our Friends From Frolix 8 by Philip K. Dick, giant aliens, outside sff, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (narrator too), Pollan on Colbert, kimchi is Korean fermented vegetablesSafe Journey: Prayers and Comfort for Frightened Flyers and Other Anxious Souls by Julia Cameron, books are Jesse’s drug, she-crab soupmale vs female crab, Jenny’s accent talent, Consequences (Stone Barrington #26!) by Stuart Woods, a male Jacqueline Suzanne, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick is historical non-fiction, new Barry Malzberg audio, most known for Enemy Mine, hermaphrodite, Robert Aspirin, comic fantasies, The Drought (The Burning World) by J.G. Ballard, “what the hell?”, readalong?, Crash book and movie, Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell on Downpour, is YA usually first person?, Why We Read Fiction by Lisa Zunshine, Jenny has already read The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, I’m waiting for Joe Hill’s Nos4a2, “do you know who I am??”

The SFFaudio Mug!

Posted by Tamahome

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