Review of Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

July 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Lords of the SithLords of the Sith (Star Wars)
By Paul S. Kemp; Narrated by Jonathan Davis
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 28 April 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 56 minutesThemes: / Star Wars / space / sith / spice /Publisher summary:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice Darth Vader find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.

“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters – and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.

On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice”, an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources – by political power or firepower – and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.

For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.

Lords of the Sith is a decent entry in the Star Wars universe with a familiar setup but good execution. As this takes place before Episode IV, we know this story has many limitations that Kemp works within well. We get a good amount of action both in space and planet-side and a surprising amount of insight and introspection from Darth Vader along the way.

The beginning feels like so many others that have come before: random resistance/rebellion is causing trouble and the Empire must respond. If more books are written in this time period, I really hope some oter source of tension is found because the perpetual rebellions are getting kind of tired (not to say that shouldn’t be happening but there were far more creative issues hitting the New Republic in the expanded legends universe). A lot of time is spent developing characters and their reason for a rebellion that we know won’t be sticking around very long when I really want to see more of the Sith. I kind of felt the same way with the time spent on characters I didn’t care about in Kenobi when I wanted more of the wizened old Jedi Master. Thank goodness that lightens up a good way into the book.

Things really start to get interesting when Vader and the Emperor show up to shut things down in a Star Destroyer only to suffer a pretty crazy attack prepared by the resistance. I enjoyed this part because of Kemp’s clever usage of many of the different technologies and capabilities seen in Star Wars over the years. It was also fun to see Vader flying around in a craft with limited capabilities with only the Force as his weapon. How do you kill a jedi or a sith? Lots and lots of back up plans would give you a shot!

Speaking of using the Force for a weapon, we really get to see Vader and the Emperor unleash a bit on their abilities in this novel. Early on, Vader infiltrates a ship on his own and is scary efficient at cutting his way through everyone on board. It’s kind of like when they storm the blockade runner in Episode IV except just Vader running through the place taking people out. We also get to see the two sith working in tandem to face all kinds of scenarios that range between cool/plausible to just putting random indigenous threats through the meat grinder (that part kind of felt like a, “lets just show how totally badass these guys are by making them kill meaningless things”). There are a bunch of moments where I wondered how they were fooled by something dumb, didn’t just kill someone that was being a nuisance the whole time, etc but overall it was pretty good.

The book isn’t all violence and craziness because we get to see Vader struggling with serving his master. Episode III ended with Vader having submitted to Palpatine but their master/servant relationship wasn’t exactly fleshed out by the end of the film. Vader still struggles with the repercussions of previous events and contemplates attacking his master at regular intervals…as every sith should. It’s interesting to hear his thoughts and struggles and knowing what he’ll become.

On the audio side of things, Jonathan Davis did a great job as usual and the sound effects/music were great. Jonathan Davis always puts on a great performance with high energy and does not disappoint here. Some of the sound effect got to me – mainly the squelching noises that one would normally associate with a sith crushing enemies or smashing an enemy into a wall, but such sounds should make you cringe.

Overall this was not my favorite Star Wars book but was still a decent entry in the universe. If you’re looking for more sith action, definitely check out the Darth Bane book that start with Path of Destruction.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

August 28, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo BacigalupiPump Six and Other Stories
By Paolo Bacigalupi; Read by Jonathan Davis, James Chen, and Eileen Stevens
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: December 1, 2010
ISBN: 9781441892201
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Biopunk / Politics / Society/ Environmentalism / Technology / Food / Death / Thailand / Asia /

The eleven* stories in Pump Six chart the evolution of Paolo Bacigalupi’s work, including the Hugo nominated “Yellow Card Man,” and the Sturgeon Award-winning story “The Calorie Man,” both set in the world of his novel The Windup Girl. This collection also demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Bacigalupi’s work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience.

Let me get the praise out of the way first: Paolo Bacigalupi is an imaginative genius with a message. At times the writing is brilliant. “The Fluted Girl” is excellent, well-written, surely a classic. Every idea in every story is worthy of exploration and consideration and the three narrators are just fine, thanks. His views of dystopia are clever warnings; his ideas endlessly fresh and characters sympathetic. Slow pace is forgivable in his stories, like home-cooked food, worth the wait. James Chen’s reading of the Chinese accents is a great addition to the appropriate stories.

But there are problems. I don’t like having a book of short stories that doesn’t list the names – I shouldn’t have to look on-line for names of the stories and the order in which they appear. I also feel strongly that there is a missing editor. Some of the stories feel as though they are not in final draft version. If I had the print version, my teacher’s red pen would have been in hand marking suggestions for edits. Some information seemed more than unnecessary to the stories (these are short stories after all). It is disappointing that such genius is allowed “out” without polish. Is it possible that the world he created in Pump Six, where literacy has all but disappeared, is actually at its beginning, or did Paolo do it on purpose to see if we are paying attention?

Should you listen to this audiobook? Yes. Brilliant, not perfect, but should definitely not be missed.

*Only ten stories included in the audiobook:
Pocketful Of Dharma • (1999) • novelette • read by James Chen
The Fluted Girl • (2003) • novelette • read by Eileen Stevens
The People Of Sand and Slag • (2004) • novelette • read by James Chen
The Pasho • (2004) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
The Calorie Man • [The Windup Universe] • (2005) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
The Tamarisk Hunter • (2006) • short story • read by Jonathan Davis
Pop Squad • (2006) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
Yellow Card Man • [The Windup Universe] • (2006) • novelette • read by James Chen
Softer • (2007) • short story • read by James Chen
Pump Six • (2008) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis

Posted by Elaine Willis

Review of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Jedi Doth ReturnWilliam Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return
By Ian Doescher; Narrated by Marc Thompson, Jonathan Davis, Daniel Davis, Jeff Gurner, January Lavoy, and Ian Doescher
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / full cast / Star Wars /

Publisher summary:

Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. Illustrated with beautiful black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, these two plays offer essential reading for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

The jedi doth return indeed. The final book of the Shakespearean Star Wars trilogy keeps pace with the first two books with regard to author Ian Doescher’s ability to come up with interesting rules for his writing. I enjoyed this book as much as the first and highly suggest experiencing the full performance of the audio book as it works quite well in the form of a radio play.

If you really want to follow all that’s going on, listen to the author’s note after the story first. Doescher explains all of the rules he came up with in previous books and the ones he added for himself in this play. Some rules are more obvious like writing in iambic pentameter and Boba Fett’s prose but others are more interesting. For your assistance and enjoyment, here is a list of those I can remember:

Doescher adds a decent amount of literary mechanisms like foreshadowing, aside, foils, and soliloquy to really give this play the Shakespeare feeling. I could go on more about this but a cool benefit these gave is that he’s able to get into character’s heads to show what they’re thinking at times I’ve never thought about while watching the movie. For instance, what is Han thinking when he’s woken up from his carbonite sleep? What is Leia thinking when Luke breaks the news of his family tree? I really like how this was used to highlight the inner struggles that Luke and Darth Vader have during their final confrontation.

The audio book performance is great. All the character voices are done superbly, the sound effects are all there, and the music is well used. The use of a cast definitely lends well to the presentation of this as a play. There are even a few…musical surprises. The note on the audio version is that the lines are read for performance and not to emphasize the iambic pentameter…so Doescher’s efforts in keeping the pattern aren’t really noticeable (you remember from English class right? da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA). This isn’t a detractor since most would prefer this to be acted but just noting it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

March 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Empire Striketh BackWilliam Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back
By Ian Doescher; Performed by a full cast (Daniel Davis, Jonathan Davis, Ian Doescher, Jeff Gurner, January LaVoy, Marc Thompson)
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 18 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 25 minutes

Themes: / Star Wars / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / haiku /

Publisher summary:

Hot on the heels of the New York Times bestseller William Shakespeare’s Star Wars comes the next two installments of the original trilogy: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jed Doth Return. Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. These two plays offer essential listening for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

Ian Doescher is back with more Shakespearian Star Wars as he progresses through the original trilogy. The Empire Striketh Back is very similar to Shakespeare’s Star Wars with some minor differences. As before, if you like Star Wars and Shakespeare you will probably enjoy this book…especially if you liked the first one. I think this book comes across a bit more silly than the first which is unfortunate because The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest part of the trilogy and some of that emotion is lost due to the silliness. That said, Doescher once again does a fantastic job putting everything into iambic pentameter and even mixes things up with some prose and even haiku with different characters.

The Shakespeare/literary side of this book is really well done, almost to the point that I would say this book would be a great device for teaching disinterested kids about Shakespeare without them reading Shakespeare. Doescher is more varied in his use of literary tools and explains a few of the differences in this book from the first in an afterward. I really wish that was at the beginning so I could be on the lookout for Boba Fett’s use of prose (I noticed that), Yoda speaking in haiku (I didn’t notice that), and his relying less on the chorus to explain scenes (I noticed this a bit since the characters explained more of what’s happening). The fact that he was able to do the whole book in iambic pentameter (complete with rhyming couplets) and also integrated some haiku is an impressive feat of work. Doescher also makes really good use of soliloquy and aside to explain character motivation for things like the budding relationship between Han and Leia, Lando’s motives, and what R2D2 is thinking at times. This allows him to flesh out things left to physical acting in the movies or description/narration in the novels.

While the book is technically impressive, the writing is approached like Renaissance faire Shakespeare and has a bit of a silliness aspect to it. This works great normally but definitely takes away from the emotion of things happening, especially later in the story (in Cloud City). The main silly aspect that got me was the singing. Shakespeare did have songs in many of his plays but singing ugnaughts and a song from Leia and Chewbacca come across as silly (at least they definitely did in the audiobook). The ugnaughts (picture the pig faced short guys working the incinerator room and carbon freezing chamber of Cloud City) came across like Oompa Loompa’s from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. The Leia and Chewbacca song also comes at a time of great loss and just feels out of place. There is other silliness that works well (a discussion of why places like the Death Star and Cloud City need to have large open spaces adjacent to walkways is one) so just consider me overly sensitive with my Empire Strikes Back. ;-)

I really enjoyed this as an audiobook and think it’s the preferred way to experience this telling of the story. The cast does a great job with all impressions and the music and sound effects are some of the best you’ll find in a Star Wars book. I mainly say that because all the sound effects and especially the music have a place that goes along with what’s happening in the story (I’m big into soundtracks and this was a huge factor for me). I have to admit that I was a little sad that it was over so soon because the performance was very enjoyable. I’m definitely looking forward to the conclusion of this Shakespearian trilogy.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Lockdown: Star Wars (Maul) by Joe Schreiber

February 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Maul Lockdown Star WarsLockdown: Star Wars (Maul)
By Joe Schreiber; Read by Jonathan Davis
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 24 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Star Wars/ Sith Lords / horror /

Publisher summary:

Set before the events of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, this new novel is a thrilling follow-up to Star Wars: Darth Plagueis.

It’s kill or be killed in the space penitentiary that houses the galaxy’s worst criminals, where convicts face off in gladiatorial combat while an underworld gambling empire reaps the profits of the illicit blood sport. But the newest contender in this savage arena, as demonic to behold as he is deadly to challenge, is fighting for more than just survival. His do-or-die mission, for the dark masters he serves, is to capture the ultimate weapon: an object that will enable the Sith to conquer the galaxy.

Sith lords Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious are determined to possess the prize. And one of the power-hungry duo has his own treacherous plans for it. But first, their fearsome apprentice must take on a bloodthirsty prison warden, a cannibal gang, cutthroat crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and an unspeakable alien horror. No one else could brave such a gauntlet of death and live. But no one else is the dreaded dark-side disciple known as Darth Maul.

Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown is a Science Fiction/Horror prominently featuring Darth Maul that shows some of the darkest sides of prison life and organized crime the Star Wars universe has to offer. The story and characters are interesting but the sheer violence really seems to be the main point behind this novel. Don’t discount that “horror” part either – this book features some serious violence, gore, and other things that will make many cringe…especially with some of the sound effects that accompany the audiobook version.

The premise of the novel is that Darth Maul goes to a prison undercover for Darth Sidious to find an arms dealer running out of that prison. The prison makes money by running a gambling racket pitting inmates against each other in fight to the death. The twist is that Sidious has forbidden Maul from using the Force so that observers don’t know he is really a sith lord in disguise.

When you were a kid, did you ever sit around with friends talking about who would win in a fight between two of your favorite comic book characters? Batman vs. Superman, Wolverine vs. Cyclops, etc? Those would sometimes devolve into arguments like, “well what if Batman didn’t have kryptonite while fighting Superman” or something like that. Well this novel is the Star Wars equivalent of that in which Darth Maul is pitted against a gamut of different creatures from the Star Wars universe that get more and more difficult. While the danger of these fights is definitely recognizable, this becomes more of a question of how Darth Maul defeats his foe than if he will survive since we all know when his character really dies.

Truth be told, I did not realize this novel was horror when I first started it. Joe Schreiber also wrote Death Troopers and Red Harvest but I didn’t realize this until I was a bit into the book. Star Wars is not a universe in which you’d expect to encounter horror but I have to say that Schreiber pulls it off well in this book with a fairly believable premise. It didn’t feel like a horror novel shoe horned into the Star Wars universe. My only gripe would just be that some things mentioned are more from our world and felt like anachronisms in a Star Wars novel. They didn’t detract much from the story but nagged me a bit at times.

Jonathan Davis did a great job as usual with his work in the Star Wars universe. There weren’t really any impersonations for him to work with here except for Maul and Sidious so voices were mainly left up to him to make up. The sound effects and music were up to par with any Star Wars novel but I have to say, they really went big on the squelching, breaking, smashing sounds that accompany many of the violent/gore filled scenes in the book…to the point that I think I may have cringed a few times.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

November 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

William Shakespeares Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars
By Ian Doescher; Read by Daniel Davis, Jonathan Davis, January LaVoy, and Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 October 2013
ISBN: 9780804191791
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 31 minutes

Download excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Star Wars / Shakespeare / poetry / saga / iambic pentameter /

Publisher summary:

Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the audiobook you’re looking for.

What if you went to your local Renaissance Fair expecting to watch a Shakespearean play that ended up being Star Wars: A New Hope? Shakespeare’s Star Wars is pretty much what you’d get. If you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted take on Star Wars that’s fun to listen to but can also come off a bit silly, you might enjoy this book. Don’t be intimidated by the Shakespeare part, it isn’t difficult to follow. We’re talking Renaissance Fair level of difficulty in understanding what’s going on.

This book follows the events of the first movie (Episode IV) and was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Some fan service is paid out to small things like whether Han Shot first and Luke’s whining while on the farm. Too much fan service can be bad but I thought this was handled well and not overdone too much. It was just enough that it made me smile or laugh as the story progressed.

As for the Shakespearean side of things, Doescher does a great job of incorporating many of the more well known phrases and devices known from the more well known plays. I have to give him due credit for writing the whole thing in iambic pentameter and making fantastic use of asides (when characters speak to the audience). The asides are really great to show what characters are thinking and I especially like how they are used for R2D2 (and how he “plays the fool”). Doescher makes prolific use of many well known phrases from Shakespeare that work in most places but can be a little too jarring in others when too much of the quote is used (“we few, we happy few…”).

Audiobook: As for the audio performance, I couldn’t have been happier. I expected the Shakespearean dialogue to be difficult to follow but since it’s more like “Renaissance Fair” Shakespeare, it was no problem to understand. The cast did a great job with all the voices and I genuinely laughed after the first couple of R2D2 lines. I should note that I didn’t really like January LaVoy’s performance so much in Razor’s Edge but I thought she did great in this book. All the normal sound effects and music were also present and enjoyable as usual.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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