Review of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review
Jurassic ParkJurassic Park
By Michael Crichton; read by Scott Brick
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] 12 CD’s; 15 hrs. 9 min

Themes: / dinosaurs / adventure / cloning / DNA /

Publisher summary:

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.Until something goes wrong.…

I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this book. I guess I’ve always had my reservations because of what an impact the movie had on me as a kid. I was about 9 or 10 when the movie first came out and it blew my mind. As the book likes to point out, boys love dinosaurs and that was true.

As a side note, I’m loving how much my son (5 y.o.) loves dinosaurs. He knows so much more about them than I do, in fact his favorite is the Giganotosaurus, a dinosaur I learned existed from him.

(the hipster’s T-Rex)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit my memory of of the movie is a tad hazy, but from what I do remember, the movie actually follows the book quite a bit, at least up until about 2/3 of the book where either my memory is bad or the books is completely different (oh and Grant loves kids in the book, which is … opposite). More than I would have guessed, which was not a lot.

There’s a little more detail to the initial attacks we see in the movie and it’s not quite as gruesome in parts (and much more gruesome in others). The girl gets attacked by the Compsognathus (little green dinos), or **”compys” as they’re known. **excuse my spelling, I listened to the audio and like Fox news, I don’t feel the need to fact check.

The park is just about ready to open and it’s time to get all the consultants together to make sure it’s on the right track. Thus, Grant and Sattler, Ian Malcolm, the attorney Jennaro, and a couple others are flown in.

Of course, nefarious doings are going on and a competitor wants in on the dinosaur action. In comes Dennis Nedry, who is pretty much spot on copied in the movie. Excellent job Wayne Knight. He’s pretty much built the entire IT system for the park and thus has quite a bit of control over pretty much everything. I don’t remember his involvement in the park being this extensive, but then again, I was 9. There’s a frikkin’ T-REX!!!

As we all know, everything goes to pot and we all know what goes from here. Even though the movie diverges from the book, we all know what goes on from here.

And it’s awesome. I had a blast listening to this book and Scott Brick is such a talented narrator, you don’t even notice him reading. It’s just pure story.

A couple *important* things I wanted to point out… some spoilers for the book:

1. The lawyer, Jennaro, is not as spineless as in the movie, does not get eaten while he’s sitting on the toilet by a T-Rex (okay, that was an awesome addition), and even saves the day at one point by pointing out law that doesn’t exist. (No, this sudden support for the lawyer has nothing to do with the fact that I have an Esq. on the end of my name … perish the thought)

2. Was Lex Murphy that annoying in the movie? I really don’t remember that. She’s super duper annoying in the book.

3. Ian Malcolm’s Chaos Theory should have been cut down like in the movie. There are a number of times he’s going off about it and you’re literally thinking, aren’t there dinosaurs around the corner about to eat them? Does anyone care about any theory at this time besides the theory of escaping dinosaurs? Still a great character, just weird timing of his rants about corporations and such, which I’m not disagreeing with.

(literally the only image you’re allowed to use when referring to Ian Malcolm)

4. So this book was published in 1990 and this book had maybe a total of 15 to 20 people at risk, not counting the rest of the world that could potentially be at risk by dinosaurs escaping. We’re talking people you’re honestly worried about dying or not throughout the book.

Jump to 2015, Jurassic World, and we’ve got an entire park open with thousands and thousands of people at risk. Does that say something about how our society’s penchant for destruction?

5. But seriously, back to Malcolm, Chaos Theory essentially comes down to – because dinosaurs are an unknown, and much like the weather – unpredictable – you’re all screwed and nothing will work right. And then Malcolm gloats. Even while dinosaurs are stalking him.

Now, the opposing argument in the book is that zoos exist so why can’t dinosaurs be kept in a zoo? My problem is that if everyone gave up because there was an unknown then we’d have just about nothing. People go forward with the unknown all the time. Many fail, but that’s how great success comes as well. I guess I’m saying I needed more to this theory and preferably when I can think about the theory and not when DINOSAURS ARE LITERALLY AROUND THE CORNER TRYING TO EAT YOU.

6. Jurassic Park gets lots of crap for providing false ideas as to what dinosaurs actually looked like (see raptors). While it’s true, if you ignore the story, it is explained. You know that whole science part toward the beginning, well they talk about only finding partial DNA and having to graft in DNA from other animals (which actually becomes a huge problem). This would lend toward dinosaurs that don’t actually look like they’re supposed to and I’m fine with that explanation.

I have to say, after 25 years, Jurassic Park really held up well. Lots of the communication issues would be the same problem nowadays because of the fact that they’re on a remote island that cell phones would be problematic on anyway. It helps that a book doesn’t have to actually reproduce computer screens so you can picture those as high tech as you want as long as you ignore the amounts of memory they mention. At least they’re in the gigabytes still.

And most of this I just point out because of how into the book I was. I really had a blast listening to Jurassic Park and I can highly recommend a reading of this classic. One of the few book/movie combinations where I can honestly say I loved both for their own reasons. Now, I need to go track down a copy of that movie. If only there were some online subscription service like Oyster for movies.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

August 31, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Seveneves by Neal StephensonSeveneves  
By Neal Stephenson; Read by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 May 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 31 hours 55 minutes

Themes: / science fiction / apocalypse / space station / humanity / disaster /

Publisher summary:

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain….

Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown…to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

Executive Summary: Another interesting book from Mr. Stephenson, that was somehow a bit too short for me despite its 32 hour duration. This one won’t be for everyone, but I’d put it on par with many of his previous books.

Audio book: This was my first time listening to a book narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal. She’s really excellent. So excellent, that I was pretty disappointed when it changed to Will Damron for Part 3. I’m not sure why they did this. Was Ms. Kowal too busy to finish recording? Was it intentional?

That isn’t to say Mr. Damron is a bad narrator. I just didn’t like him as much as Ms. Kowal, and the change in narration was jarring. If there was any place in the book it was appropriate to change, it was with Part 3, but I think it would have been better suited if they had just stuck with Ms. Kowal.

Full Review
I’ve been a fan of Mr. Stephenson ever since picking up Snow Crash back in college. I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve enjoyed all but one of those that I have.

I had no idea what this book was about when I volunteered to review it. Much like most of his work, it’s long. The start is a bit slow, and as usual it goes off on tangents and into way more detail than is necessary on things. In some of his books, I’ve enjoyed those tangents and the excess of detail. In others, less so. This one was somewhere in the middle for me.

This is the kind of thing that will turn many readers away early on. I was never bored myself, but I wasn’t really engaged in the book until nearly halfway. In a book this long, that will be too much of a commitment for many. However, I suspect if you enjoy the detail and tangents, you’ll be engaged much sooner.

This book is split into three parts. The first part is essentially a present day disaster story. The second is largely a space opera, and the third is a bit of a post apocalyptic tale.

Many authors might have focused on one aspect of this story. Instead of giving us bits of history that help shaped the world of part 3, we live many of the details in parts 1 and 2. For me personally, I would have liked part 1 to be shorter with more time spent on part 3. Part 2 was my favorite of the book, but that may be because I felt despite being a third of the book, part 3 ended too soon.

I have questions still. A lot of them. Is Mr. Stephenson planning a sequel that will contain some of these answers? I hope so.

This isn’t a case of a long book that abruptly ends though. For me the issue is that Mr. Stephenson did such a good job with the world building that I want more. I felt like there wasn’t enough. I would have happily sacrificed much of the present day (which I found slower anyways), for more time in the future story with the world he created.

Mr. Stephenson doesn’t spend all the time on world building either. He develops several interesting characters that are used to make most of the story character-driven. We have a largely female cast, and somewhat diverse background for most of them.

Overall, while this isn’t my favorite Neal Stephenson book, I really enjoyed it, and I hope we get another book set in the same world that he built in part 3.

Review by Rob Zak.

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.

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.

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.

Review of The Martian by Andy Weir

August 4, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

MartianThe Martian
By Andy Weir; Narrated by R.C. Bray
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 22 March 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 53 minutes

Themes: / astronaut / Mars / engineering / space exploration / NASA /

Publisher summary:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Five stars for pure entertainment and because math made it suspenseful.

That’s right, math made it thrilling. Look at it this way, you’re stranded on a planet that’s essentially trying to kill you. You could just keel over and die … like I would most likely do in the same situation, or you could figure out how to stay alive.

Start with the math. NASA planned for 30 days worth of food for 6 people. The next time someone will be on the planet is in 4 years. Even rationing that food only gets you a little over a year’s worth.

Wait, what if you can’t even contact someone to tell them you’re alive and need to be rescued, more math.

It’s the math that made this book exciting. In fact, this XKCD comic pretty much explains it:

Knowing how long until you’re dead is the suspense.

Couple entertaining math (how is this even possible?) with one of the best characters ever created, Mark Watney, and you have an insanely great story.

Mark Watney is an absolutely hilarious character, especially coupled with the situation he’s in (stranded on Mars) and with whom he’s dealing with (NASA, aka the smartest people ever).

Exchanges like this are that much funnier when it’s freaking NASA he’s talking to:

“[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling. [12:07] Watney: That’s what she said. [12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?”

Probably the best part is that it’s not cause he’s going crazy from being alone for so long, it’s just how he is and that’s awesome.

I not only thought of Watney as a close friend, but I felt like I lived on Mars in this book. You’re constantly aware of how much depends on every little thing not screwing up, how dependent someone is on things we take for granted on a planet that’s actually hospitable to life. And then everything goes wrong.

Which brings me to really the only kind of awkward thing about the book. With the way it’s set up (through log entries and third person omniscient when not with Watney), Andy Weir kind of has to go out of his way to tell you how things are going wrong. Suddenly, you’re brought out of the narrative to be informed how the constant pressure on one area caused the wearing down of material and suddenly … HUGE problem occurs.

Otherwise, I had a blast with this book. The narration by R.C. Bray was top notch. Not that I know anything different, but he nailed the sarcasm and wit of Watney and made this book go more than smoothly. I thought of him as Watney and completely forgot about the narration. That’s when you know it’s good.

This is one of those audiobooks I finished in such a short time because it’s all I wanted to do. I usually have audiobooks for the commute, but this is one you find yourself listening to at every possible moment. That’s when I know I’ve found gold. Eureka, put down what you’re reading and jump on The Martian train (I haven’t lost my metaphors have I?).

5 out of 5 Stars (Cause everything worked together to make this one damn fine read)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Puttering About in a Strange Land

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Puttering About in a Strange Land PKDPuttering About in a Strange Land
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Luke Daniels, Kate Rudd, Amy McFadden
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / marriage / boarding school / literary / infidelity /

Publisher summary:

When Roger and Virginia Lindhal enroll their son Gregg in Mrs. Alt’s Los Padres Valley School in the mountains of Southern California, their marriage is already in deep trouble. Then the Lindhals meet Chic and Liz Bonner, whose two sons also board at Mrs. Alt’s school. The meeting is a catalyst for a complicated series of emotions and traumas, set against the backdrop of suburban Los Angeles in the early fifties. The buildup of emotional intensity and the finely observed characterizations are hallmarks of Philip K. Dick’s work.This is a realistic novel filled with details of everyday life and skillfully told from three points of view. It is powerful, eloquent, and gripping.

Puttering About in a Small Land (written 1957 but first published in 1985) feels very different from Philip K Dick’s usual stuff. It’s a dark and funny slow-burn set in 1950s Southern California, but there are no simulacra, no time slips, and no telepaths, and the only artificial reality is the one built out of society’s expectations of suburban married life.

It also seems unusually sensitive for PKD – not in a corny or sentimental way but just finely tuned into human relationships. He captures the subtle and imperfect communications of a dysfunctional marriage where two people are pretending to work together but are really pushing and pulling below the surface, wanting different things and resenting each other for it.

“I’ll be back pretty soon,” he said. From his eyes shone the leisurely, confident look; it was the sly quality that always annoyed her.

“I thought maybe we could talk,” she said.

He stood at the door, his hands in his pockets, his head tilted on one side. And he waited, showing his endurance, not arguing with her, simply standing. Like an animal, she thought. An inert, unspeaking, determined thing, remembering that it can get what it wants if it just waits.

“I’ll see you,” he said, opening the door to the hall.

“All right,” she said.

The story is told in three alternating points of view: Roger, his wife Virginia, and the “other woman” Liz. All three are trapped, one way or another, in self-made realities they don’t enjoy.

Some readers complain that PKD writes unflattering female characters, and as usual these ones aren’t much to admire: Virginia is gossipy and judgmental, her mother is a controlling nag (who often corners Roger and has some of the funniest scenes in the book), and Liz Bonner is so naïve and childlike she verges on the idiotic.

“She’s sort of a—” Mrs Alt searched for the word. “I don’t want to say lunatic. That isn’t it. She’s sort of an idiot with a touch of mysticism.”

But even so, Virginia has her strengths, and Liz Bonner is lovely in a quirky way. Her flaws and naïve unpredictability are exactly what free her from society’s expectations, and are what attract Roger. Despite the deceit and infidelity, their love story is somehow still beautiful.

And to be fair, PKD also writes pretty unflattering men. For example, Roger not only cheats on his wife, he also abandoned his previous wife and daughter and seems to be a compulsive liar. He’s a bristly, bad-tempered, and indifferent to his wife’s gestures of love and compromise. All he really cares about his TV retail-and-repair business, which is where the book title comes from: he’s a little king “puttering about in a small land.”

The waning of a marriage and infidelity appear in a lot of PKD’s stories, but in this one they really drive this plot. Normally I wouldn’t try to detect an author’s own life in his fiction, but since PKD has openly admitted he weaves autobiographical details into all his stories, it seems safe to see something of him in Roger.

His essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” might give some more clues to his approach to fiction set in the real world. Just because the characters’ universe is based in reality doesn’t mean PKD won’t try to disintegrate it.

I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. … Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live.”

I listened to Puttering About in a Small Land on audio and read the print version too. The audiobook was read by Amy McFadden, Kate Rudd, and Luke Daniels, one for each of the main characters. All three were great, although using three narrators didn’t work so well for me since the story is in third-person. Hearing the same characters read three slightly different ways gave the audiobook a patchwork feel and was a bit jarring and distracting sometimes.

I’d recommend Puttering About in a Small Land for PKD fans but not so much as an entry to his works. For anyone who knows his style, it’s very cool to see a more subtle side of him and to see how beautifully he can write about human relationships in the artificial universe we call reality. Definitely worth the read.

Posted by Marissa van Uden


Review of Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

July 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Half-off RagnarokHalf-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid #3)
By Seanan McGuire; Performed by Emily Bauer and Ray Porter
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: December 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 17 minutes
Themes: / fantasy / urban fantasy / cryptozoology / basilisks / cryptid /

Publisher summary:

What do gorgons, basilisks, and frogs with feathers all have in common? They’re all considered mythological by modern science, and some people are working very hard to keep them that way. Alexander Price is a member of a cryptozoological lineage that spans generations, and it’s his job to act as a buffer between the human and cryptid worlds—not an easy task when you’re dealing with women who have snakes in place of hair, little girls who may actually be cobras, and brilliant, beautiful Australian zookeepers. And then there’s the matter of the murders.…Alex thought he was choosing the easier career when he decided to specialize in non-urban cryptids, leaving the cities to his little sister, Verity. It turns out that he had no idea what he was getting himself into. It’s a family affair, and everyone—from his reanimated grandfather to his slightly broken telepathic cousin—is going to get involved before things get any better.

Half-Off Rangarok is the third book in the InCryptid series and has a change in narrators and locations. No longer are we in New York with Verity but with her brother Alex, in Ohio.

The story line picks up maybe a month or two after book two. Alex Price is living with his grandparents and Sarah trying to have some semblance of a life while overseeing a secret basilisk breeding program. For Alex some things are going well – Sarah is getting better; other things are challenging like keeping secrets from his girlfriend Shelby about who he really is. It all goes downhill when Alex is faced with dead bodies that are turning to stone and the realization someone is trying to kill him too.

This book is interesting with a band of characters. Shelby and the grandparents are total hits. We learn about new cryptids which were kind of fascinating.  Things that I missed were the mice; I liked all of their crazy holidays. While they are in the book it is more like a passing thing. I also preferred the New York setting. This was supposed to be in Ohio but I think the setting could have been anywhere. For me, I had trouble relating.

I listened to the book on audio and the narrator made it feel like the book was evenly paced. His voice was interesting enough to keep me interested without losing me.  I am not sure if it was because I listened to the book on audio verses reading but this book has a different kind of feel. Perhaps this is due to the change in narrator …I cannot really say.

My biggest overall challenge of the book was despite how good the writing is for me there is something missing between characters for some reason I was just not as vested in the outcome.

Still a good read 3 ½ stars

Posted by Dawn V.

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