Review of Lock In by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton

March 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Lock In by John ScalziLock In
By John Scalzi; Narrated by Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date:
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / virus / near future / body swapping /

Publisher summary:

A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the bestselling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent—and nearly five million souls in the United States alone—the disease causes ‘Lock In:’ Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge. A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as ‘Haden’s syndrome,’ rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an ‘integrator’—someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated. But ‘complicated’ doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery—and the real crime—is bigger than anyone could have imagined.

Lock In is a solid book that has some good action, a bit of mystery, and a solid dose of politics thrown in. The story moves at a rapid pace and Scalzi clearly put some thought into the implications of the world he created. Some of the technology and mysteries that come as revelations are a bit obvious but the story is still a lot of fun. Scalzi also includes a short story (which was also released for free online) that explores the back story leading up to this book. I read that story before this one but I don’t think it would make a big difference reading it before or after since Scalzi explains what’s going on really well. I hope he writes more stories in this world.

The general premise is that a disease/virus spreads wildly and leaves a decent portion of the population “locked in”. Those that are “locked in” are completely aware of everything but can’t move, not even to blink their eyes. People affected by this condition are commonly referred to as “Haydens”. Technology has come up with a solution to this problem by implanting neural networks in the minds of Haydens that allow them to live a virtual life or live through a Threep, a robot they control (yes that name comes from C-3P0 of Star Wars). Everything was built up with the help of government funding but those funds are being cut now and haydens aren’t happy. We start the story following Chris, a rather famous hayden, on his/her first day working for the FBI.

With the change in government funding, there are lots of politics at work in the story. People want to cure the disease to free the people trapped in their bodies but some haydens insist they don’t need a cure. Non-haydens think they’re at a disadvantage to people who can do the same work without physically doing it themselves. Haydens are mad about cuts to public funding that will make it hard for them to get by. Companies are working all different angles to turn a profit. A lot of it is interested, some of it is a little too close to current political events and agendas that it might bother people who read to get away from stuff like that.

The story is structured almost like a mystery in that bad things are happening and they don’t totally make sense. The main character is investigating what’s going on as more and more details are revealed along the way. I thought a number of those revelations were obvious from the beginning and making them revelations instead of common knowledge in that world is a bit contrived, but that might just be because I’m a software engineer. In any case, just think of it like watching a Die Hard movie – go along for the ride, suspend belief a bit, and enjoy yourself.

As for the audio side of things, Wil Wheaton did a great job as usual. I haven’t encountered a book read by him that I didn’t like and hearing he narrated something automatically makes me more interested in giving something a try. The gender of the main character is never actually revealed so there are two audiobook versions featuring a male or female reader. That makes no difference in the story whatsoever so just pick a reader you like and go with it. If you didn’t hear that the gender wasn’t mentioned, you’d just as soon assume Chris to be the gender of the narrator.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

October 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Future for Curious PeopleThe Future for Curious People
By Gregory Sherl; Narrated by Heather Corrigan and Justin Torres
Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Publication Date: 2 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / near future / technology / relationships / librarians /

Publisher summary:

Meet Evelyn and Godfrey. Evelyn is breaking up with her boyfriend, who’s passing out advertisements for his band on a snowy street corner in Baltimore. She’s seen their dismal future together at Dr. Chin’s office: she and her boyfriend, both many years older, singing “Happy Birthday” to a Chihuahua and arguing about cheese. She hopes for more. Meanwhile, Godfrey is proposing to his girlfriend, Madge, who’s not quite willing to take that leap; she wants to see their future together first—just to be sure they’re meant for each other. The Future for Curious People follows Evelyn and Godfrey’s soon-to-be-entwined lives, set in motion by the fabulist premise of a world with envisionists like Dr. Chin. In struggling with their pasts and possible futures, the characters encounter the mysteries of sorrow, love, death, and fate. It’s a story that will capture you with its brightness, its hopefulness, its anxious twists and turns. It is a love story that is ultimately a statement about happiness and how to accept our fleeting existence.

This was a highly enjoyable book about people who can’t help but look into their relationship futures, with great consequences to their current entanglements. The two narrators on the audiobook portray Godfrey Burkes and Evelyn the Librarian very well, alongside distinguishable minor characters with different voices. The varieties of futures don’t get old, in fact they relate to one another and connect to the futures of other characters, as they should.

The book made me laugh quite a few times – it’s the kind of humor that’s just cute, like a romantic comedy. I’m a sucker for light, cute stories when the characters are bookish or quirky or otherwise unusual. This fits the bill!

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

June 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Girl in the RoadThe Girl in the Road
By Monica Byrne; Read by Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 20 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 7 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / near-future / dystopia / road trip / Ethiopia / Djibouti / India / ocean / metallic hydrogen /

Publisher summary:

In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is brewing, two women embark on vastly different journeys—each harrowing and urgent and wholly unexpected.When Meena finds snakebites on her chest, her worst fears are realized: someone is after her and she must flee India.  As she plots her exit, she learns of The Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge spanning the Arabian Sea that has become a refuge for itinerant vagabonds and loners on the run.  This is her salvation.  Slipping out in the cover of night, with a knapsack full of supplies including a pozit GPS system, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof pod, she sets off for Ethiopia, the place of her birth.

Meanwhile, Mariama, a young girl in Africa, is forced to flee her home.  She joins up with a caravan of misfits heading across the Sahara. She is taken in by Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. They are trying to reach Addis Abba [sic], Ethiopia, a metropolis swirling with radical politics and rich culture.  But Mariama will find a city far different than she ever expected—romantic, turbulent, and dangerous.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama’s fates are linked in ways that are mysterious and shocking to the core.

This book defied my expectations at every turn. It is near-future but in two different times and locations. Mariama is in a caravan heading to Ethiopia across land, and Meena is heading to Ethiopia from India, across the Arabian Sea, on a floating road made of metallic hydrogen. Interesting concepts for the near-future, and nice to have African and Indian characters and settings. The writing is my type – emotional, internal dialogue, pondering greater meanings.Everyone keeps calling it sci-fi, I imagine because of the brief technology mentions, but I think it fits more in fantasy – people who may or may not be human/gods/ghosts, the quest/journey, the lesson, the good vs. evil, the superhuman moments – feels like fantasy to me!  The cover also claims the book is like a hybrid of Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern, and Margaret Atwood.   I don’t see Gaiman or Morgenstern except for fantasy, but that is a pretty broad paintbrush, one that seems to grasp at the most popular authors in a genre that has better examples to draw from.  Atwood maybe in the sense of timeline and natural disaster themes.  Otherwise, I see this more like the fantastical imaginings of J.G. Ballard (such as The Unlimited Dream Company) with the setting and world building of Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death?).  So if we have to compare it to something, let it be those two instead.

I want everyone to read this book so we can discuss the ending. I listened to the last disc three times because I’m not entirely sure what happened. I’m still not.  I have questions that will make no sense until you’ve read it.  Questions like, “Where is Djibouti?” and “Is everyone insane?”  I keep telling friends about the book and thinking about it, and it has one of the few five-star ratings I’ve given out in GoodReads so far this year.  A week after finishing, I got into a conversation about metallic hydrogen and man-made floating islands in Facebook because a person had posted about Kiribati, a nation that is destined to disappear into the ocean.  Their leader is seriously considering building a place to keep his people together, because what else can you do if your country slips beneath the sea?  Monica Byrne touches on this same question.

The two readers, Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor, do a brilliant job in the performance of this book, particularly in the slipping between India and Africa the way any immigrant would, and that is crucial to the character of Meena.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Influx by Daniel Suarez

February 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Influx by Daniel SuarezInflux
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 20 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / near future / technology / thriller /

Publisher summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of Daemon–“the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured” –(Publishers Weekly) –imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change. Are smart phones really humanity’s most significant innovation since the moon landings? Or can something else explain why the bold visions of the 20th century–fusion power, genetic enhancements, artificial intelligence, cures for common disease, extended human life, and a host of other world-changing advances–have remained beyond our grasp? Why has the high-tech future that seemed imminent in the 1960’s failed to arrive? Perhaps it did arrive…but only for a select few. Particle physicist Jon Grady is ecstatic when his team achieves what they’ve been working toward for years: a device that can reflect gravity. Their research will revolutionize the field of physics–the crowning achievement of a career. Grady expects widespread acclaim for his entire team. The Nobel. Instead, his lab is locked down by a shadowy organization whose mission is to prevent at all costs the social upheaval sudden technological advances bring. This Bureau of Technology Control uses the advanced technologies they have harvested over the decades to fulfill their mission. They are living in our future. Presented with the opportunity to join the BTC and improve his own technology in secret, Grady balks, and is instead thrown into a nightmarish high-tech prison built to hold rebellious geniuses like himself. With so many great intellects confined together, can Grady and his fellow prisoners conceive of a way to usher humanity out of its artificial dark age? And when they do, is it possible to defeat an enemy that wields a technological advantage half a century in the making?

Influx is a techno-thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole way through. The question of what happens when a small group is allowed to hoard technological advances is very interesting here – is it all really for the greater good? The tone of this book reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton but a bit less thriller and a bit heavier on the speculative science/technology. The story kept up a pretty good pace throughout and did not slow down much even once the mystique of the fantastical technology was revealed.

Whenever I read/listen to a techno-thriller, there is this anticipation of what the technology at work is and how it has become this terrible thing that must be defeated or survived for the rest of the book. That anticipation almost always delivers but some books slow down after that reveal happens. There was a moment or two with Influx that I thought that could happen but Daniel Suarez did a great job of keeping parts interesting that could have been pretty dry. It does mention the prison in the description of the book and I didn’t know if I was in store for a The Count of Monte Cristo..thankfully the prison time was just about as interesting as the rest.

There are many technologies at play in this novel and Suarez made great use of them for some good suspense and actions sequences using them. The only small gripe I had with the novel is that the technologies work too well. Sure they have some really bright minds working on these things but to turn around production quality material in so little time, covertly, and for those things to seemingly not have glitches is kind of unbelievable (even for fiction). There were a couple of minor holes in the usage but overall it was really well done.

As for the audio performance, Jeff Gurner did a good job doing voices for the character and narration. He was always clearly understood and the voices were distinct enough that I could usually tell which character was doing the talking. I would enjoy listening to other books narrated by Jeff Gurner.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Archetype by M.D. Waters

February 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

ArchetypeArchetype (Archetype #1)
By M.D. Waters; Read by Khristine Hvam
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 2 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 22 minutes

Themes: / dystopia / reproduction / romance / near future / suspense / thriller /

Publisher summary:
Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men – one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which….

This audiobook kept me listening until I finished. I couldn’t stop! Comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood are unavoidable with this book, but in this world where women are valued and imprisoned in order to bear children, M.D. Waters has also added in an element of romance. This means descriptions of the men Emma is interested in, and sex. I don’t mind romance, but I think if I were a woman being controlled and manipulated by men, I would be less obsessed with marriage and sex. But Emma has very little memory, and at first no reason not to trust her husband. All she wants is to get past her accident and back to normal life.  She can’t fully recover because of her dreams.

I can’t say much more without giving it away, and the best part about the book is how all the details are revealed. Archetype is suspenseful and creepy up until the end, and the end leads nicely into the setup for the next novel (Prototype) while being its own self-contained story.

I enjoy Khristine Hvam as a narrator – I had listened to her performance of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and her voice is well suited to a near-future dystopian romance.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge

June 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fast Times at Fairmont HighFast Times at Fairmont High
By Vernor Vinge; Performed by Eric Michael Summerer
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 2 April 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours

Themes: / near future / virtual reality / young adult / techie /

Publisher Summary:

In a near future where wireless mind links and wearable computers blur the line between artificial reality and ‘real’ reality, it’s final exam time at San Diego’s Fairmont Junior High. Juan Orozco and his friends have a killer idea for their off-line project. But can a bunch of 13-year-olds really figure out the secret of what’s going on at Torrey Pines Park?

As this is a novella, it’s quite short. I just couldn’t get into it. The technology in it was interesting, but that was about the only part I found enjoyable. It’s about a bunch of middle school kids at a high-tech school.

The main character Juan has been convinced by his friend to partner up with Miriam, a girl he doesn’t know for their “offline” project, where they aren’t allowed to make use of net that is even more prevalent in their lives as it today with today’s smart phones.

I’ve been told this is set in the same world as Rainbows End, which I haven’t read (link goes to SFF Audio readalong). Mr. Vinge does set up an interesting world, even if this particular story isn’t very interesting, so if that’s true, maybe I would enjoy that novel better.

The reader, Eric Michael Summerer, was alright, but nothing special. His accent for William kept reminding me of George Takei.

Review by Rob Zak.

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