Review of Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson

October 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Slimy UnderbellySlimy Underbelly (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., Book 4)
By Kevin J. Anderson; Narrated by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 19 minutes

Themes: / zombies / detectives / urban fantasy / humor / wizards / thieving lawn gnomes /

Publisher summary:

There’s something fishy going on in the Unnatural Quarter. Bodies are floating face-down, the plumbing is backing up, and something smells rotten – even to a zombie detective like Dan Shamble. Diving into the slimy underbelly of a diabolical plot, Dan comes face-to-tentacles with an amphibious villain named Ah’Chulhu (to which the usual response is “Gesundheit!”). With his snap-happy gang of gator-guys – former pets flushed down the toilet – Ah’Chulhu wreaks havoc beneath the streets. While feuding weather wizards kick up storms and a gang of thieving lawn gnomes continues their reign of terror, Dan Shamble is running out of time – before the whole stinking city goes down the drain.

The cases don’t solve themselves so Dan ‘Shamble’ is back with a whole new set of cases to solve in the unnatural quarter. Many familiar faces make appearances as in previous novels but this can be read on it’s own with no prior knowledge of the series. If you can’t tell from the cover and premise, this is a supernatural humor novel with a diverse cast of supernatural creatures, chock full of puns that could even make your crazy uncle groan. If that sounds like something fun to you or you’ve enjoyed previous novels in this series – you will like this novel. If that doesn’t sound great to you or you’re on the fence….you’ll probably hate this book because it doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

You can tell Kevin J. Anderson probably had fun writing this novel. He puts a lot of tongue-in-cheek commentary about book writing, publishing, and the nature of best sellers in here (more than previous novels). He goes to great lengths to set up a scene for things happening just to slip a one liner in there.

As for the audio side of things, Phil Gigante continues to shine in this series. The cartoony nature of the characters lets him use a wide range of voices. He really handles the comedic nature of the novel well and puts a good amount of inflection in his tone.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

July 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

cavesCaves of Steel (Robots #1)
By Isaac Asimov, read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 43 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / science fiction / robots / detectives / over-population / colonization /

Publisher summary:

A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.

“Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the ” R” stood for robot.”

I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.

Many years later, listening to William Dufris’ splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey’s personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov’s imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.

I’m not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn’t deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.

I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person’s consciousness.

All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.

Highly recommended.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE
Wikipedia notes:

It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov’s Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.

All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher

August 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Age AtomicThe Age Atomic (Empire State #2)
By Adam Christopher; Performed by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / parallel universe / urban fantasy / superheroes / detectives / noir / airships /

Publisher summary:

The Fissure connecting the alternate New York to its counterpart has vanished, plunging the city into a deep freeze. The people are demanding a return to Prohibition and rationing as energy supplies dwindle. Meanwhile, in the real 1954 New York, the political dynamic has changed. Nimrod finds his department subsumed by a radical new group, Atoms For Peace, led by the mysterious Evelyn McHale. Their goal is simple: total conquest – or destruction – of the Empire State. Adam Christopher returns with the thermonuclear sequel to Empire State – the superhero-noir fantasy thriller set in the other New York.

The Age Atomic continues where Empire State left off. Some time has passed since the events of Empire State but the fissure has disappeared from the Empire State. Since the fissure in Battery Park is the source of sustenance to The Empire State, the climate begins to edge toward an ice age as time goes on. While this is happening, Rad Bradley uncovers a plot involving robots. On the other side of the fissure in New York City, a mysterious blue woman made purely of energy (I’m looking at you Watchmen) heads up a secret organization that seems to be researching Empire State technology for no good.

It would be hard to comment on this book without comparing it to Empire State. The Age Atomic is a little lighter on the detective noir and heavier on the robots, airships, and odd superheroes. I found the story much easier to follow than it’s predecessor because the plot was a bit more direct and the character’s loyalties weren’t in such a state of flux. I enjoyed the book more because of these differences – especially the more straight forward plot.

In the end, the book was a fun listen, the characters were enjoyable, and I had some serious flashbacks of Watchmen (down to the blue energy character). I especially like Captain Carson/Nimrod as the old-timey adventurer and would love to see a book involving his adventures. I would recommend this book to people who like comic books, robots, super heroes, and detective stories…or at least a decent subset of that group.

As for the audiobook performance, Phil Gigante did a great job as usual. He was easy to understand and did some good voices for the different characters. I also found this book much easier to audiobook than it’s predecessor because of the straightforward plot. I didn’t feel the need to back up as if I missed anything this time around.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Empire State by Adam Christopher

July 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Empire State by Adam ChristopherEmpire State (Empire State #1)
By Adam Christopher; Performed by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / parallel universe / urban fantasy / superheroes / detectives / noir /

Publisher summary:

The empire state is another New York,. It’s a parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is the twisted magic mirror to our bustling Big Apple. It’s a city where sinister characters lurk around every corner while the great superheroes who once kept the streets safe have fallen into deadly rivalries and feuds. Not that its colourful residents know anything about the real New York… until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants. Playing on the classic Gotham conventions of the Batman comics and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, debut author Adam Christopher has spun a smart and fast-paced superhero-noir adventure that will excite genre fans and general readers alike.

Empire State is a novel that sounds really great in concept but comes off a bit confusing in execution. This novel has it all – superheroes, detective noir, gangsters, prohibition, robots, alternate dimensions, you name it. If any or all of that sounds cool to you, this may be a book for you.

The story generally takes the form of a detective noir once you get into it except that the story’s perspective does not only stick with the detective all the time. As with detective noir stories, you don’t know who is on which side all the time and things are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. Unfortunately, the story became confusing as things developed and the loyalties and motivations of characters seemed constantly in flux. The characters didn’t have a whole lot of depth past being exactly what you’d expect from their role in the story (detective, gangster, old-timey adventurer, reporter, etc). Despite the confusion, I really liked the ideas and world that Christopher created in this novel. The world of the Empire State is a dark, foggy equivalent of New York that had me picturing scenes from Dick Tracy. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Christopher does in this world.

Phil Gigante did a great job narrating Empire State. Voices for different characters were distinct and gave a great vocal aspect to the nature of the character being done. That said, I don’t know if I would actually recommend this as an audio book. There were quite a few times I wanted to rewind a bit because I had no idea what just happened (I actually did rewind a few times which is rare for me). I think the ability to easily look back a page or two in a book would probably have helped with the confusion.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Identity Theft by Robert J. Sawyer

March 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Beginning the fourth week of this SFFaudio 7th Anniversary Story-a-Day Celebration! Be careful out there…

Science Fiction Audiobook - Identity Theft by Robert J. SawyerIdentity Theft
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Anthony Heald
2 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2010
ISBN: 9781441716729
Themes: / Science Fiction / Robots / Consciousness / Mystery / Detectives /

This is a great story. It originally appeared in Down These Dark Spaceways, and anthology edited by Mike Resnick and published by the Science Fiction Book Club. This version is read by Anthony Heald, a terrific narrator who was once the voice of choice for the Star Wars universe. He reads with energy and verve, great characterization and accents as needed.

Sawyer has said before that he feels that science fiction has more in common with the mystery genre than it does the fantasy genre, and this isn’t the first time he’s written an effective science fiction mystery. In the future Mars he presents, people can trade their bodies in for artificial ones, providing long life and more reliable body parts. The process requires making a copy of a person’s conscious mind, and imprinting that copy into the brain of the new body.

Like in many Sawyer stories, many of the implications of such a world are explored. What happens to the originals? What about unauthorized copies? In addition, there is a very interesting human settlement on Mars, and some fossil finding there. “Identity Theft” is a very entertaining novella, very well presented.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison

April 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

White Witch, Black Curse by Kim HarrisonWhite Witch, Black Curse
By Kim Harrison; Read by
Marguerite Gavin
15 CDs – Approx. 18 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 1433270314
Themes: / Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / demons / vampires / banshees / pixies / memory / detective / romance /

White Witch, Black Curse is the seventh entry in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, also called the Rachel Morgan series after its protagonist. For the sake of full disclosure, I should state that I haven’t read the previous books in the series. It’s a testament to Harrison’s storytlling that I was still able to jump into the tale with only a minimal perusing of Wikipedia for character background. That said, purists will probably want to start with the first book in the series,  Dead Witch Walking, as indeed I intend to do.

Rachel Morgan is a witch who, along with her vampire companion Ivy Tamwood, runs a supernatural investigative agency called Vampiric Charms. She’s the supernatural equivalent of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Modern Cincinatti, in Harrison’s alternate history world, knows of the existence of supernatural beings, collectively dubbed inderlanders. Two federal agencies, the human-staffed Federal Inderlander Bureau and the otherworldly Inderlander Services security agency, maintain relations between the human world and that of the “ever-after” whence all other races came. Vampires, pixies, witches, and other strange beings walk the streets of Cincinatti, and not once in White Witch, Black Curse does their presence pass for comment among the book’s human characters. This marks a refreshing departure from other urban fantasy I’ve read, in which supernatural beings live underground, beyond the awareness of most everyday people.

As the novel opens, Rachel is attempting to solve the murder of her vampire boyfriend Kisten. In theory, this shouldn’t pose a problem, since she was present when the crime took place. But someone, somehow, has wiped her memory of that night’s events, and as she examines the crime scene she experiences only brief flashes of recollection and insight. A recent string of attacks apparently connected to a banshee also calls for her attention. As in most mysteries, these seemingly separate plotlines inevitably intersect at certain points as the novel progresses. The narrative hits several satisfying crescendos and climaxes throughout the book, but on the whole the plot plods along without any clear impetus to drive it forward.

The depth and dynamism of protagonist Rachel Morgan, however, redeems the novel from its mediocre plot. Like many heroines of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, she’s a badass. Unlike many other heroines, her character is balanced by a believable measure of insecurity, self-doubt, and even a hint of self-loathing. As a witch, she’s mostly confident in her magical abilities, but even in this realm she sometimes expresses hesitance. In the sphere of romance, she questions her suitability as a partner, calling herself an “albatross” who brings ruin upon those upon whom she bestows her love. No doubt this has something to do with the death of her former lover Kisten, and events in earlier novels might well bear this belief out as well. She also exhibits the tendency to rush bullheadedly into situations without considering the implications for herself or her circle of friends.

And Rachel is blessed with fast friends, family,  and other acquaintances who don’t comfortably fit into a single category. The unlikely highlight among the cast of supporting characters is the pixie Jenx, who often accompanies Rachel on her adventures. The foul-mouthed, irreverent little guy at first appears to serve as nothing more than comic relief, flitting around on a trail of pixie dust and spouting clever obscenities. Yet he stands–flutters?–by her when the going gets tough and many others have abandoned her.

The emotional textures of White Witch, Black Curse further offset the deficit of the novel’s mediocre plot. Rachel’s relationships seldom develop in predictable ways. Her friendships with her partner Ivy, FIB agent Captain Edden, and even the pixie Jenks, all come under occasional strain. The Morgan family dynamics are alo fraught with tension. And then there’s the romance. Rachel seldom devolves into the weak-kneed, crooning damsel of other romance novels. For the most part, she’s remarkably intellectual and circumspect in approaching relationships.

The book’s emotional power even extends to its magic. While not particularly organized or systematic in any “scientific” sense, the magic of the Hollows also hinges on feelings. FIB psychologist Ford has the empathic gift of reading emotional states of those around him. Auras also figure heavily into the plot as an external representation of a character’s internal state. Even a character of sound physical health might be in danger if their aura has been weakened by a recent traumatic experience.

Marguerite Gavin’s performance of White Witch, Black Curse isn’t the best audio rendition of urban fantasy I’ve heard, but it certainly does Harrison’s writing justice. Again, Jenx the pixie is the standout; she lends a nasal, sing-song voice to the spry winged creature which sparkles nearly as much as he does. On the whole, though, the best I can really say about Gavin’s performance is that it’s unobtrusive.

Fans of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series will find White Witch, Black Curse a satisfying continuation to the series. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance enthusiasts will also likely find much to like in Harrison’s unique world. Hardcore fantasy readers, on the other hand, might find themselves put off by a hit-and-miss plot and a lack of any real intellectual depth. Still, the book’s strong characters and emotional power make it a good candidate for some fun summertime reading.

Posted by Seth Wilson

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