Review of Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos

August 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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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.

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
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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
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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.

Review of Finn Fancy Necromancy

July 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Finn Fancy Necromancy cover imageFinn Fancy Necromancy
By Randy Henderson; Narrated by Todd Haberkorn
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date:10 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 51 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / necromancer / fairies / humor /

Publisher summary:

Finn Gramaraye was framed for the crime of dark necromancy at the age of 15 and exiled to the Other Realm for 25 years. But now that he’s free, someone–probably the same someone–is trying to get him sent back. Finn has only a few days to discover who is so desperate to keep him out of the mortal world and find evidence to prove it to the Arcane Enforcers. They are going to be very hard to convince since he’s already been convicted of trying to kill someone with dark magic.

But Finn has his family: his brother, Mort, who is running the family necrotorium business now; his brother, Pete, who believes he’s a werewolf, though he is not; and his sister, Samantha, who is, unfortunately, allergic to magic. And he’s got Zeke, a fellow exile and former enforcer who doesn’t really believe in Finn’s innocence but is willing to follow along in hopes of getting his old job back.

Finn Fancy Necromancy is exactly as fun as its title suggests. From the second sentence, “We were like a couple of floating melted gummy bears made of unicorn snot and dreams…” I knew I was in good hands. In fact, even before that, in the acknowledgments when Henderson talks about his “butt-slapping doctor” I knew Henderson’s humor was going to click with me, and it did.

Finn Gramaraye is a necromancer who’s just come back from exile to the “Other Realm,” aka the fairy world. He was sent there in 1986 and spent 25 years as punishment for a crime he didn’t commit. Coming back, the problems already begin to add up and he’s already to blame for just about everything under the sun.

Told from the first person, we have no reason to disbelieve him, though his memories have been a source of many of the problems he encounters, whether it’s the fairies sifting his memories (good and bad) and making him relive them, or the changeling’s lack of memories with a botched spirit transfer.

Other than a small overuse of Star Trek references at the beginning, this book hit my funny bone quite nicely. Because Finn has been away since the 80s and this is first person, there are loads of 80s references, including, and I can’t say I recognized every single one, all the chapter titles are 80s song titles.

It’s definitely urban fantasy, but not your tween, new-age kind what with all its 80s focus. And it’s urban fantasy that really worked for me (I’m an on-off fan). The magic was interesting and the different sources make for a well-thought-out world.

The only thing, and I realize I might be the only one on this since I’ve seen it so much, is the incorporation of famous people (like Elvis, etc.) who were actually magic-users/magic creatures whose mysterious factual stories play well into a story like this. Like I said, I’m probably the only one and it wasn’t enough to really throw me out of the story, it was only a couple instances.

One thing I’m torn on is that the “twist” at the end was almost blatantly obvious about midway through the book. I don’t know if it was just the audio narration, or maybe on page would have been more obvious. I enjoyed the book regardless, because it wasn’t really all that big a deal and the major mysteries still needed solving.

Finn Fancy Necromancy is tons of fun and highly readable. I listened to the audio version and Todd Haberkorn did an excellent job. Just vulnerable enough to pull off Finn and nailing all the jokes and off-hand remarks in between voicing Sasquatches and gnomes.

Which reminds me, I highly enjoyed the magical creatures in this one. Not your typical ones, but they played into the story nicely. Read Finn Fancy Necromancy when you’re in the mood for some light-hearted fun with a fast-paced story that will keep you turning pages. Not your typical urban fantasy in the best possible way.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

May 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Firefight by Brandon SandersonFirefight (The Reckoners #2)
By Brandon Sanderson; Performed by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 17 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / YA / fantasy / magic / superpowers /
Publisher summary:

Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Words of Radiance, coauthor of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and creator of the internationally bestselling Mistborn Trilogy, presents the second book in the Reckoners series: Firefight, the sequel to the #1 bestseller Steelheart.Newcago is free. They told David it was impossible, that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart—invincible, immortal, unconquerable—is dead. And he died by David’s hand. Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers. Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic—Firefight. And now he will go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

I really liked Steelheart and this book was a good continuation of the story even though I didn’t like it quite as much. A new location, different situations, new epics, and even worse similes come together for a new adventure for David and The Reckoners. If you enjoyed the first book you will almost certainly like this one too…unless you throw the book through a window due to one of David’s many terrible similes.

The story is kind of similar as Steelheart except that it takes place in the remnants of Manhattan where many strange things are happening. I had more trouble following the details of the world this time around because the descriptions of the world are a bit harder to imagine. The world as described is really interesting in concept but it’s hard to follow sometimes with how things actually play out.

Sanderson is known for magic systems and he is no slouch here. The new powers and weaknesses of epics coupled with the the heck is going on with Calamity (the light in the sky that coincided with people attaining super powers) makes for interesting developments in the overall plot. I do like how Sanderson always has a plan for developing the magic system with each book and we definitely learn more in this book. I still really love the concept of a world with super heroes that are all corrupted – it’s such an interesting spin on the normal super hero story.

On the audio side of things MacLeod Andrews does a fine job narrating the story. He does some good voices that fit the characters well and puts sufficient emotion in his delivery. I think the audio version of this book is a great way to experience it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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