Review of Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

April 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - Change Agent by Daniel SuarezChange Agent
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Audiobook Download – 14.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: Apr 18, 2017

In 2045 Kenneth Durand leads Interpol’s most effective team against genetic crime, hunting down black market labs that perform “vanity edits” on human embryos for a price. These illegal procedures augment embryos in ways that are rapidly accelerating human evolution—preying on human-trafficking victims to experiment and advance their technology.

Executive Summary: Despite a bit of a bumpy start, I think this is my favorite book by Mr. Suarez since Daemon.

Audiobook: Jeff Gurner continues to be a good fit for Daniel Suarez books. He reads well, and does a few voices to add that little extra something to the audiobook. These are exactly the kind of books I think are well suited to doing in audio.

Full Review
I picked up Daemon a few years back on the recommendation of a co-worker. It was kind of remarkable that I hadn’t found it on my own earlier. That book was totally in my wheelhouse. A near-future sci-fi thriller about a computer program gone crazy? Yes please. However unlike many people I found the sequel Freedom™ to just be too over the top for me to read it without constantly rolling my eyes.

In fact, I’ve found most of his work after Daemon just a little too ridiculous at times for me, but always good for a fun quick listen. I’d say this book is no different, except I found myself enjoying this one a lot more by the end than the last few.

Bioengineering seems to be a pretty popular topic for near-future science fiction recently, but I found Mr. Suarez’s take on things to be pretty interesting and unique. I did struggle a bit in the beginning with the whole “Wrongfully accused Fugitive” trope. It felt too generic for me, and I found myself starting to grow bored.

However once things got past the setup, I found that the sci-fi elements that Mr. Suarez added in made his spin on the story unique enough to be quite enjoyable. As with most of his books, things start of in the realm of believability and end up veering into the realm of ridiculousness at times.

I sometimes struggled with Kenneth Durand as a protagonist, but overall I thought his story does a good job of posing interesting questions about how much of who we are is biology vs. our upbringing. The whole nurture vs. nature debate. The book as a whole brings up some interesting ideas of what should be allowed and what should be illegal in terms of biological engineering.

I don’t pretend to have the same level of comprehension about biology and what’s possible in that field as I do in computers, but some parts of the story were just a bit too much for me to not to roll my eyes. I’d be curious to find out if Biology folks will have the same kinds of issues with this book that I had with Freedom™. Maybe they’ll tell me that Mr. Suarez isn’t too ridiculous after all. I sure hope not, because it would be pretty terrifying.

Like all of his books, he takes interesting science, extrapolates on what might be, and uses that to frame an over the top thriller story. It was a fun book, and I’ll be eager to pick up his next book when that comes out as well.

Review by Rob Zak

The SFFaudio Podcast #300 – READALONG: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

January 19, 2015 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #300 – Jesse, Jenny, and Paul talk about Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Talked about on today’s show:
Jenny Beta+, Paul (caste unknown), f-minus, double plus, A-, Beta-, 1932, double plus good, a different dystopia, Orwell read Brave New World, the Aldous Huxley radio drama (CBS Radio Workshop), negative utopia, Nineteen-Eighty Four is hella-dystopia, Paul has read Brave New World five times, drugs and sex and happiness, conditioning, programming, society engineered, identifying with Bernard, Helmholtz, the Falkland Islands, Huxley’s introduction to the CBS Radio Dramatization, 200 years (not 600) in the future, why so obsessed with Henry Ford?, This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, Christ, Marx, Wood, and Wei, Henry Ford as a political and intellectual force, efficiency, modernization, consumerism, pricing the model-t, absenteeism equals losses, Brave New World‘s society is about production efficiency, the 1998 TV movie, what society really is, no Helmholtz, Henry Foster, Lenina, Peter Gallagher, the 1980 TV movie, 1990s hipsters, the reservation, white trash zone, the outlands of Zardoz with mini-vans, The Children Of Men, Los Angeles, very few deviations in the 1980 TV movie, pushing the Shakespeare connection, whatever happened to Lenina?, a definite weakness, Mustapha Mond gave John Savage the conflict he really wanted, I want to be unhappy, the ultimate political act, the suicide solution, the little boy with the cotton balls in his ears, the hope for reform, the stability of the society, an interesting change, how unstable is the social structure, more soma, more conditioning, A World Out Of Time by Larry Niven, hydrolic empires, John as a catalyst, society returns to normalcy, soma rations forever, freethinkers are sent to outlying islands, an Omni magazine story about dissident clones being killed again and again, Edge Of Tomorrow (2014), cloning novels, this is the cloning novel, “it’s clones all the way down”, the caste-system tells us this is a dystopia, seeing the world from the alpha point of view, betas vs. alphas, are betas autistic?, the 1998 adaptation, intelligent, high-producing, and efficient, mentored and disciples, sex-slaves and baby-makers, good tech, the Malthusian belt, helicopters, WWII, a proto-flying car, their Model-T, the sign of the T, “switching on the synthetic music”, the visual medium, the character names, Bernard Marx probably isn’t named after Groucho Marx, Bernard is pathetic by the end, George Bernard Shaw, Lenin -> Lenina, Darwin Bonaparte, Mustafa Mond <- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, so much Shakespeare, the audiobook is a weird experience, an infantilized world, I drink to the greater being, the plot, the scent organ, the feelies, the perfume tap fauceting cologne all day, drinking fountains full of Shasta, a constantly refilled mini-bar, the economy in Brave New World, overturning the soma tables, want what you can have, deltas, epsilons, the purple eyes, Amazon Prime for soma tablets, drone delivery, Lenina’s obsession, chastity means neurasthenia, plenty of pleasant vices, “engaging”, oiling the machine, a male fantasy utopia, women never say no, “promiscuity is a citizen’s duty”, no females above beta (in the book), yellow from lupus, social hierarchy, male dominance, John the Savage is sexist too, a product of Huxley’s time, a flash of semi-nudity, why the book gets banned -> children engaging in erotic play, the downfall of TV movie versions, how the world is, books old ideas and marriage are pornographic, “motherfather!”, “fight!”, “hate!”, everyone comes from a bottle, mother as a dirty word, outed as a father, a shameful thing, Miguel Ferrer was re-engineered as a delta, a Machiavellian character turned into a smiling idiot, Linda’s story, the reaction to her appearance, the Death Center, ice-cream when someone dies, such strong pathos, death brings us phosphorus, the 1998 Linda, Tommykins, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, the first test-tube baby, birth control, freemartins, a sterilization bonus, Brave New World Revisited (is non-fiction), Walden Two by B.F. Skinner, an expanding horrible utopia, growing up in the soviet union what would we think of Brave New World?, power and control, I love Big Brother, rewind ten years, people are drugging themselves up with drugs TV and the internet, a spy-biography, why don’t they care more about the outlying society, communism, when everyone shares the vision, a step to becoming Mustapha Mond, 1984-ish, assimilation has a cost, the island of all alphas, engineered to be in that place, the temptation of the reader is subversive, are we doing this stuff?, I wanna be more like Helmholtz, Marx gets co-opted by Mond, the shit-disturbers become the leaders in This Perfect Day, you have to see it to believe it, look we’re in the future!, a sick enjoyment, no sense that this world can be destroyed, the benefit of social instability, why Shakespeare is still relevant, we have the analogues for kings and merchant princes, the feelies, a cross-between pornography and reality television, Idiocracy (2006), Three Weeks In A Helicopter, farts, one human need, surrogate pregnancy, violent passion surrogate, The Prisoner‘s secret club within a club, more surreal than it is about something, spies be weird, suddenly in dreamland with giant breasts chasing you down the beach, the world is still for men, we’ve done We and Nineteen Eighty Four

Brave New World (1980)

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Rule Breaker by Lora Leigh

March 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Rule Breaker by Lora LeighRule Breaker (A Novel of the Breeds #29)
By Lora Leigh; Narrated by Brianna Bronte
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 4 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 17 hours, 50 minutes

Themes: / romance / genetic engineering / breeding /

Publisher summary:

Lion Breed and enforcer Rule Breaker has just a few rules he doesn’t break. Not for anything. Not for anyone – like never have sex with a woman outside his own breed, especially a human woman. Especially someone too helpless, too fun loving and too full of life to ever be able to protect herself, let alone help him to protect her. If the damned animal inside him insists on a mate, then why pick her? A woman who is an easy target and who can be used as a weapon against him at any time. But what he suspects is mating heat may not be that at all.

Rule Breaker is the 29th book in the Breed series by Lora Leigh. Our feature couple is Rule, a lion breed and Gypsy a human. The story starts off very sad, we witness Gypsy the night her brother is murdered. For Gypsy her brother feels like the only family she really has and losing him almost breaks her.  Gypsy is consumed with guilt and she takes up her brother mission to find purpose. Unfortunately she becomes emotionally suspended in time, closing off all of her emotions, which was rather heart breaking. Meanwhile Rule is determined to never mate and he is sure that Gypsy is nothing more than sexual attraction. As you can imagine the road to being mated was full of bumps.

I liked Gypsy a lot! I think the beginning of the story is what endeared her to me, I think it was easy to identify why she was making choices and it was so easy to root for her. Quickly she became one of my favorite heroines in the Breed series; not only is she smart and resourceful but she has a lot of guts. Then there are times when we can see she is incredibly lonely and alone, which for me made it all the better when she becomes helpless in Rule’s arms. It is like weather she wants to or not she is feeling emotions and it was cute how she would fight it. Meanwhile Rule had his moments of idiocy but they really were not that bad compared to other Breeds. This was a cute couple and you can see how well they fit together.

In this book we get to see a good deal of espionage and breed manipulation. Once nice thing is we get some resolution into Amber. Sadly that was a bit of a letdown because I felt like it should not have taken 8 books for all these scheming people to figure it out.  There were other minor plots that bogged down the story line  and made the plot a bit convoluted and overly complex. To keep them all going we there was a growing cast of characters at times I felt like I needed some kind of appendix just to keep them all straight. At times this made the book a bit challenging.

Normally I read Breed books but this one I listened to on audio. Honestly the narrator just did not work for me, not so much because she was bad but her voice did not fit the story, I think I would have preferred a male reader. Hearing a woman say things like ‘his cock was throbbing’ or ‘ she was indeed wet the scent of her sweet juices…’ just took me out of the story. It did not even sound like good bed room talk you know with husky sounding voices instead it sounds like someone making fun of Captain Kirk in Star Trek you know how he has those dramatic pauses. I also did not think she had good character distinction it just sounded like she had a frog in her throat.

At the end of the day I am left with trying to tease out if my issues with the book are because of the story or because of the narrator. I am sure the romance part of the story worked for me. I am also sure some of the espionage stuff could have been left out. The multiple plots with Dane and Jonas I am not sure if was overly complicated because I was listening and not reading.  In the end it was still a solid story and I am hoping we get Cassie and Dogs story next then maybe Dane’s. I wonder who his mate will be?

Posted by Dawn V.

Review of MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

October 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

MaddAddam by Margaret AtwoodMaddAddam (MaddAddam #3)
By Margaret Atwood; Read by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter and Robbie Daymond
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 3 September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7393-8399-5
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 23 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / post-apocalypse / survival / religion / genetic engineering / megalomania / mythology /

Publisher summary:

Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, newly fortified against man and giant pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. Their reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a debilitating fever, so it’s left to Toby to preach the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.

Zeb has been searching for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. But now, under threat of a Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters. At the center of MaddAddam is the story of Zeb’s dark and twisted past, which contains a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”

Preach, Mother Atwood. This past week has had me reimmersed into the MaddAddam trilogy, starting with a fifth re-read of Oryx and Crake since we discussed it for a readalong.

When you read all the books of a trilogy close together, and you already know the story having read each of them at least once before, it is a lot easier to fill in the gaps and see the intricate detail that Atwood has built into this world. It isn’t just the Waterless Flood causing the dilemmas the Crakers are born into, the world was going to hell for decades before that. This book tells more of that story. While Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood were parallel narratives, MaddAddam starts from where those books end, and then traces back around to tell the story of Zeb. His story is told largely by Toby, to the Crakers, in the form of myth-like bedtime stories. What is the power of myth? The minute someone tells it, it has a high likelihood to change, whether that is to protect the listeners or to make it easier on the storyteller. There is so much about story in this novel.

“People need such stories, Pilar said once, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void.”

I scanned these books for questions I had from the first novel, and I won’t include my discoveries here, but there are definitely answers in this novel.  And more questions.

The audiobook is a real treat – the three narrators do not share the job evenly, and by the time the third narrator comes along, there is a wonderful reason why he has waited so long.  Highly recommended, but do start with Oryx and Crake!

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Beyond This Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein

April 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 
SFFaudio Review

Beyond this Horizon by Robert A. HeinleinBeyond This Horizon
By Robert A. Heinlein; read by Peter Ganim
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
8 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / utopia / revolution / genetic engineering /

Publisher Summary:

Utopia has been achieved. Disease, hunger, poverty and war are found only in the history tapes, and applied genetics has brought a lifespan of over a century. But Hamilton Felix is bored. And he is the culmination of a star line; each of his last thirty ancestors chosen for superior genes. He is, as far as genetics can produce one, the ultimate man, yet sees no meaning in life. However, his life is about to become less boring. A secret cabal of revolutionaries plan to revolt and seize control. Knowing of Hamilton’s disenchantment with the modern world, they want him to join their Glorious Revolution. Big mistake! The revolutionaries are about to find out that recruiting a superman was definitely not a good idea.

Beyond This Horizon is classic science fiction with social commentary thrown in as you may expect from Heinlein.

Mankind has created a Utopian society where poverty and hunger are studied in school but don’t actually happen anymore. Mankind has also worked toward eliminating weaknesses in the human chromosome via gene selection and intentional breeding. There are still some normal people (referred to as “control naturals”) that could potentially provide new genetic mutations for the good of mankind.

Hamilton Felix genetically represents the best of what humanity has to offer. He gets wrapped up in a group plotting to overthrow the government that thinks only the best of humanity should thrive in society while the control naturals are destroyed or used for experiments. There is little risk or adventure in this society, so a bored Hamilton decided to act as a mole within this organization. It’s not really surprising that this novel came out in the 1950’s when eugenics and superiority of different races was a current topic.

While their society is Utopian and futuristic, they also have notions of honor and violence such that people can get into gun duels when slighted. I found Heinlein’s debate of honor and privilege in this to be interesting in much the same way as his notions of earning rights by military service in Starship Troopers.

I liked the main plot as described but thought it could have happily ended about halfway through. The main plot of the story wraps up and the second half of the book felt like a really long epilogue to me. Heinlein seems to spread himself a bit thin on so many different issues like government influence of the market, government spending, the meaning of life, telepathy, duels for honor, and the afterlife. There were a few long monologues/dialogues going into painful detail of chromosome selection where I had trouble paying attention and following the book.

On the audio book side of things, Peter Ganim does a good job. I thought he had a good conversational tone, did some decent voices (they didn’t differ much though), and was easy to understand. If you’re trying to decide whether reading or listening is preferable, I don’t think there is much benefit either way.

Helpful tip if listening to this book: Hamilton Felix (superman, star line, game making guy) is referred to as “Hamilton” in the first half of the book but people start calling him “Felix” later for some reason. This wouldn’t be confusing except that his friend Monroe-Alpha Clifford (finance, mathematician guy) also goes by “Monroe-Alpha” and “Clifford” at different times. Since Ganim’s voices aren’t very distinct, there were some moments where it took me a little bit to realize which character was talking.

Posted by Tom Schreck.

Review of Methuselah’s Children by Robert A. Heinlein

March 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Methuselah's ChildrenMethuselah’s Children
By Robert Heinlein; Read by MacLeod Andrews
6 CDs – 7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: July 2012
ISBN: 9781455878987
Themes: / space / genetic engineering / genetic modification / aging / death / interstellar travel / aliens /

Publisher Summary:

After the fall of the American Ayatollahs as foretold in Stranger in a Strange Land and chronicled in Revolt in 2100, the United States of America at last fulfills the promise inherent in its first Revolution: for the first time in human history there is a nation with Liberty and Justice for All.

No one may seize or harm the person or property of another, or invade his privacy, or force him to do his bidding. Americans are fiercely proud of their re-won liberties and the blood it cost them; nothing could make them forswear those truths they hold self-evident. Nothing except the promise of immortality….

This 1941 novel by Robert Heinlein is a short but epic space adventure about the Howard Families, a population of people who can live very long lives thanks to a history of selective breeding. Over the centuries, they took on different identities to hide their long-life nature from “short-lifers,” but eventually some of them decided to share their scientific achievement with the public.

However, instead of celebrating the Howard Families’ scientific achievement, the short-lifers suspect them of concealing the true secret to long life. This is where the story starts: when the government and the public begin to persecute the Howard Families, Lazarus Long (the kilt-wearing leader of the group who is more than 200 years old and who always has a knife strapped to his thigh) hijacks a city-sized starship so the families can flee Earth and go in search of a new home.

Despite its short size, this book covers a long length of time, is packed with ideas, and manages to explore deep themes such as aging, death, human genetic modification, and individualism, among others. There’s bound to be something in here for everyone, although personally I struggled with the first half because of the lengthy democratic meetings and the seemingly endless strategizing about what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I also thought the discussions about the technicalities of interstellar travel or alien biology were a little tedious, but I’m sure hard-SF fans will love every moment.

I really got into the story later, when the families started arriving on other planets and things got weird. The alien cultures, worlds and philosophies were brilliant and often eerie. How can you not love aliens who say things like, “My people will like to see you and smell your skin.”

The human characters, on the other hand, were less lovable for me. They lacked depth and tended to speak literally and directly, without subtext. The narration on the audiobook didn’t help warm the dialog up either, because in the reading the characters sometimes sounded like they were barking lines at each other, and at other times odd words in the dialog were emphasized that I don’t think should have been.

The narrator McLeod Andrews did give a very clear reading though, and once I got used to his style the odd emphases were less noticeable. He did an awesome job of embodying the voice of grumpy but optimistic Lazarus Long, who was the most developed and interesting character.

Ultimately, even though not everything might be to your taste, there are just so many great ideas and themes squished into this book that you’re bound to find a ton to enjoy, despite its short length.

Review by Marissa VU

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