Review of The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes

December 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Gardens of StoneThe Garden of Stones (The Echoes of Empire #1)
by Mark T. Barnes, read by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 CDs; 16 hrs, 53 min.

Themes: / epic fantasy / dynasties / civil war / warrior-mage /

Publisher summary:

An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters.

With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death.

Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain—by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.

I was a little hesitant approaching The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes in audiobook form as I’d heard it was a bit akin to Steven Erikson (more than Garden in the titles) where the reader is simply thrown into the action without much, if any explanation. It turns out my fears were not unfounded and yet I would still highly recommend this book.

I’ve noticed in reading books or listening to audiobooks, there are some books I have a harder time with given the medium through which I am experiencing them. I had the hardest time getting into Dune by Frank Herbert when I tried it in paperback because I kept feeling like I had to look up every single word I didn’t understand and I quickly grew tired of it and gave up.

Later, I picked up the audiobook thinking I needed to at least finish this classic of the genre and not only did I do so, I loved the crap out of it. It’s still one of my favorite books and I’ve been meaning to go back and read it in paperback again.

I know, this isn’t a Dune review, but it illustrates the point that some books are more accessible if you just let go, trust that the author will lead you where you need to go, and leave your worries behind. You’ll get it, even if it’s tough. And audiobooks allow you to do so because you don’t have that handy dandy glossary to look through. That’s also not to say that all books and stories work this way.

With The Garden of Stones, I wonder if I would have stalled in my reading. I’m no stranger to being thrown into the action having survived (and thoroughly enjoyed!) Erikson’s masterpiece, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, so that probably wouldn’t have been a problem. I did, however, have a difficult time keeping a lot of the characters, names, and races straight through listening only. Had I had my eyes on this one, I probably would have enjoyed it even more than I already did.

I’m sure I missed a lot of the connections that were being made early on, but I did get my bearings by the end and quite enjoyed this world that Barnes has created. It’s full of wonder and imagination, tons of creatures, and races that were well-crafted and constantly interesting. I enjoyed exploring each new thing in this world and many kudos to Barnes for that. The characters are also highly interesting, Barnes even plays with an Erikson-like main character who is supremely powerful and someone you really don’t want to mess with. I love a good character like that and feel many shy away because it’s easier to write about characters with many weaknesses.

In the competition between paper and audio, I really do think The Garden of Stones would probably work better in paper, though it’s definitely enjoyable in audio.

Another hesitation I had when starting this audiobook is that it’s read by Nick Podehl. The only experience I had with Podehl prior to this was his reading of Kemp’s A Discourse in Steel. In Discourse, there’s quite a bit of banter and it’s overall a light-hearted piece with lots of jokes and humor even in the most deadly situations.

Hearing that same voice again brought back those memories of slapstick from Discourse, when Garden is actually a serious piece lightly sprinkled with humor if at all. It was about midway through the book when I realized that I no longer thought of Podehl that way, as the joke-telling, razzing narrator, but instead I heard him as the serious purveyor of piety. Okay, not that far, but suddenly I was sucked into Podehl’s storytelling and the story itself. I think that says a lot about both Podehl’s strengths as a narrator and the book’s story as well.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

The SFFaudio Podcast #060

May 31, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #060 – Jesse and Scott talk about recently arrived audiobooks!

Talked about on today’s show:
Roger Ebert’s review of The Human Centipede, BoingBoing, World Horror Convention 2008, Salt Lake City, how the horror genre has changed, Hater by David Moody |READ OUR REVIEW|, anti-Americanism, Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert, Awake In The Dark by Roger Ebert, Roger Ebert’s review of Reservoir Dogs, recent arrivals, Tantor Media, The Horror Stories Of Robert E. Howard, Pigeons From Hell, Worms Of The Earth, The Cairn On The Headland, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, Dexter as a teenager, Columbine by Dave Cullen |READ OUR REVIEW|, the Writing Excuses Podcast, LUTE Brigham Young University, Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies, science, SETI, Scott’s Pick Of The Week: Goodreads.com, social networking that works, Beowulf by Anonymous, Seamus Heaney‘s translation, The Epic Of Gilgamesh BBC Audio Drama, RadioArchive.cc, City Of Dragons by Kelli Stanley, the Bish’s Beat blog, private investigation, San Fransisco, The Spanish Civil War, Brilliance Audio, High Deryni by Katherine Kurtz, The Tales Of Dying Earth, Rhialto the Marvelous by Jack Vance, Seeing Ear Theatre, The Moon Moth by Jack Vance |READ OUR REVIEW|, social science fiction, Tale Of The Thunderbolt by E.E. Knight, vampires, alien invasion, The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, Lifeforce, Vampires by John Steakley, what Steakley is doing with his novels (examining one small aspect of violence), The Guns Of August by Barbara Tuchman, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Luke Burrage’s review of Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God on the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast, WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, the Nebula awards, reading the Hugo nominees, Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster |READ OUR REVIEW|, Lawrence Santoro, Eros Philia Agape by Rachel Swirsky, Blackstone Audio, Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, Stefan Rudnicki, Sleeping Beauty, Jesse’s Pick Of The Week: Snow Glass Apples by Neil Gaiman, Snow White And the Seven Dwarfs, Bebe Neuwirth, The Dreaming blog, Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman, Nadya by Pat Murphy, werewolves, Poland, California, 19th century, Rachel In Love by Pat Murphy, Vampire Zero by David Wellington, civil war, The Bradbury Report by Steven Polansky, The Island, did Ray Bradbury write a cloning story?, what’s the best cloning novel you’ve ever read?, cloning doesn’t really live in fiction, Surrogates, Kiln People by David Brin, Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh, Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, Mimic by Donald A. Wollheim, Red Dwarf is a great hard Science Fiction series!, “what’s the best cloning novel?”, Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth, Bronson Pinchot, “shadowy conspiracy” = “secret secret”, The Bradbury 13 by Ray Bradbury, radio drama, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy isn’t audio drama’s best exemplar (The Bradbury 13 is), City Of Truth by James Morrow, satire, religion, The Invention Of Lying, This Is The Way the World Ends by James Morrow, PaperbackSwap.com, Dan Carlin’s Common Sense podcast, oligarchy, talking points, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Obamacare, “-gate” is not a suffix meaning scandal, the difference between English and French, words map the world, words are the magic in our world, ZBS Foundation, Dinotopia: The World Beneath (audio drama), Yuri Rasovsky, a kid who doesn’t like dinosaurs?, Blake’s 7: The Early Years: Zen: Escape Velocity, Robin Hood, Zen and the Liberator is like Blake’s Sherwood Forest! Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski’s City Of Dreams.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Rally Cry: The Lost Regiment by William R. Forstchen

June 15, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Rally Cry: The Lost Regiment #1Rally Cry: The Lost Regiment #1
By William R. Forstchen; Read by Patrick Lawyor
11 Cassettes, 12 CDs or 1 MP3-CD – 15 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 0786145056(Cassette), 078617199 (CDs), 078617658X (MP3-CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Civil War / Aliens / Early Civilizations / Alien World /

Click here for an audio sample —

“When Union Colonel Andrew Keane led his blue-coated soldiers aboard the transport ship, he could not have foreseen that their next port of call would be neither in the North nor the South but on an alternate world where no human was free.”

In this exciting Military Science Fiction book, we find a regiment of Union soldiers swept away into a tunnel of light to find themselves on an alien planet. These are battle-hardened and battle-weary soldiers who have paid the terrible price of war. Their leader, Colonel Andrew Keane, has not only lost an arm but also his only brother in conflicts with the South.

Their first encounter on this new world is with a society of humans. The society originally came from Earth through that same tunnel of light that brought Keane and his men to this planet. These people were transplanted out of Medieval Russia. The nobles and the Church rule over the peasant serfdom. Conflict ensues as these two different societies battle with weapons from different eras.

There is also a nomadic alien race that lords over the humans of this planet. They are coming to take one out of every five humans as their tribute. What do they do to these humans? Mostly they eat them.

This is the first novel in a long series known as The Lost Regiment. The action is strong and convincing. Patrick Lawford reads the novel with a good range of voices and accents. The story is written in third person omniscient, so we get into the heads of many of the characters. Each character has their own motivations that justifies their actions.

The only disappointment was the lack of alien-ness to the aliens and setting. Sure the aliens are tall fangy creatures that eat humans, but their culture is not much different than many primitive nomadic warrior tribes. They measure their virtue in bravery and prowess in battle. Maybe it’s not fair to expect an alien culture to be different, after all I haven’t encountered any real ones. Maybe primitive cultures of different planets would share many of the same traits, if they are universally advantageous to that species. The setting also lacks in alieness and is very much like Earth except that it has two moons.

Overall, this is a rousing tale with plenty of action. The battle scenes are exciting without glorifying war. The characters suffer real losses, and we feel their anguish. If you are Civil War buff or like Military SF this is a book not to be missed.

The audiobook is only available in library editions. This means the packaging is sturdier and more permanent. Unfortunately this makes the price expensive. A more affordable download version is available at audible.com. Better still, make a request to your local library to carry it (with dozens of other SFF titles, of course).

Review of No Truce with Kings by Poul Anderson

February 3, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook - No Truce With Kings by Poul AndersonNo Truce With Kings
By Poul Anderson; Read by Tom Teti
4 Cassettes – 4 Hours 40 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dercum Press Audio [ActiveBooks #ABS02]
Published: September 1987 – OUT OF PRINT
ISBN: 1556562675
Themes: / Science Fiction / Exploration / Sea Voyage / Civil War / Military / Galactic Civilization / Telepathy /

DERCUM ACTIVE BOOKS
Dercum’s Active Books are a contemporary approach to classic literature. This collection, when complete, will number over sixteen volumes and will be one of the most comprehensive anthologies of science fiction and fantasy stories ever produced. Book Notes are and exclusive feature of all Dercum Fantasy Listening Cassettes. At key points in our stories, musical accents are added for your listening pleasure.

Though it doesn’t state it in the title, this audiobook actually contains two tales by Poul Anderson, the 1961 Hugo winning novelette “The Longest Voyage” and the 1964 Hugo winning novella “No Truce With Kings”. “The Longest Voyage” follows a junior officer on board the ship of a latter day Magellan. But this global circumnavigation is on a faraway planet, populated by humans who have lost their ancient technologies. As their society has rebuilt itself it builds new caravels that can take them farther and farther afield. But the new civilizations they discover on a distant shore hold a secret to both their past and their future.

“No Truce with Kings” is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, a feudal future made up of small nations constantly at war with each other. As the battles and intrigues unfold, hidden societies and shadowy organizations begin to show that their wars do not go unnoticed.

“The Longest Voyage” was enjoyable, it reminded me of Robert J. Sawyer’s Farseer, minus the talking dinosaurs. “No Truce With Kings” was well conceived, a cross between Mad Max and Jeremiah, but the execution was less than I had hoped for. Still and all, I enjoyed both stories and it was a very good listen.

This audiobook is a curious mix of excellence and shoddiness. The stories are certainly very worthy of adaptation, the reader Tom Teti is decent if not spectacular, providing only a minimal performance. But the packaging is just plain bad, missing digits in the ISBN, the reader’s name would be unknown except that the packaging has come unglued and revealed it beneath one of the two cassette holders (a place where no one would ever possibly see it!). They also ignored a title, no mention of the inclusion of “The Longest Voyage” appears except on the cassettes themselves and in small font on the back of the package. The jacket design is almost non-existent giving us only some generic clipart. In addition, the genre is labeled fantasy when both stories are actually science fiction. On the other hand the recording and the sound production is truly excellent! Including as always with Dercum Active Book titles the haunting Dercum Audio music, which starts to play before the story and which re-appears when a story ends or when a tape flip is coming up. It is a truly excellent theme music for science fiction or fantasy audio production and one which I am always pleased to hear. But the best part, the very best part of this audiobook is the added introduction which is so very appropriate and so well written, introducing the stories and the author, really enhancing the experience. Overall I’m very glad to have finally found a copy of this out of print and obscure audiobook, but I can’t say its perfect, I have to wonder if some of the reasons for the fall of Dercum Audio have anything to do with their lack of follow through? To get such a great property, to execute the recording so well, to produce it with such forethought and then to package it in an unattractive and poorly designed package… its a real tale of what might have been.

Posted by Jesse Willis