By John Sandford and Ctein; Narrated by Eric Conger
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 6 October 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 hours, 35 minutes
Themes: / spaceship / aliens / first contact / thriller /
For fans of The Martian, an extraordinary new thriller of the future from number-one New York Times best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Sandford and internationally known photo-artist and science fiction aficionado Ctein.
Over the course of 37 books, John Sandford has proven time and again his unmatchable talents for electrifying plots, rich characters, sly wit, and razor-sharp dialogue. Now, in collaboration with Ctein, he proves it all once more in a stunning new thriller, a story as audacious as it is deeply satisfying.
The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope – something is approaching Saturn and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.
A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least 100 years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.
The race is on, and a remarkable adventure begins – an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this Earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect – and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.
You will want to love this book. And it’s easy to understand why. There’s a space race to Saturn, the promise of cool alien tech, and a whole mess of us versus them as China and America reach for the stars (sorry, but the pun had to be). The writing and story are solid. They don’t break new ground, but the read is fun, and if you experience disappointment, it’ll be due to what isn’t here rather than what is here. This is to say, you will look up after reading/listening and want more as opposed to wanting less. You will, in the end, like this book.
I wanted more character development. This could have occurred in a longer story, but as it is, the narrative feels too hurried. Yes, pacing in thrillers is essential, but this story would have benefited with more attention to character and less use of political stereotypes.
If you’re in the market for a fun and fast-paced space thriller that teases you with alien technology, I’m pretty confident you’ll enjoy what Saturn Run offers. In the author’s note, it calls attention to the desire to stay as near to science as possible while projecting technology into the year 2066. And so for those of you who enjoy hard science with respect to velocity and gravity, I think you might appreciate the science presented. I’m not an engineer, so I don’t know if the technical specs discussed for one of the spaceship’s engines are accurate, but they are intriguing.
Eric Conger narrates the audiobook. Conger does a fantastic job at reading and staying out of story’s way. I highly recommend the audiobook.
The first half of this book promises more than the second half delivers. And since the fun factor is slightly more than the disappointment factor, I leave feeling mildly amused and entertained.
Posted by Casey Hampton.
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals
Talked about on today’s show:
Aftermath: Star Wars (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens) by Chuck Wendig, read by Marc Thompson, not a curse fest, the crawl, grief, The Geeks Guide To The Galaxy, one star reviews, diversity up down left and sideways, a pink lightsaber, a rainbow lightsaber, Timothy Zahn, sounds like Star Wars names, Heirs Of Empire by Evan Currie, read by Deric McNish, Brilliance Audio, it sounds like a Stars Wars book (but isn’t), a 47 North Novel, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick, read by Luke Daniels, drugs!, sounds trippy, re-reading Philip K. Dick (for The SFFaudio Podcast), different assumptions, by the inventor of Science Fiction… In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells, read by Walter Covell, the salvation of the human race, cynical then preachy, The Star by H.G. Wells, The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1906, The World Set Free, The Sea Lady by H.G. Wells (a mermaid in Edwardian society), Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, a comedic bicycling novel, military SF, David Weber, The Child by Keith F. Goodnight, read by Nick Podehl, Tam’s macho voice, Adam Christopher’s The Burning Dark, Event Horizon, hyperspace as a Hellraiser universe, this all goes back to H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond, drugs plus radar shadowing, a terrific adaptation The Banshee Chapter, the 1980s adaptation of From Beyond, fear of the dark in a lighted world, The Oncoming Storm by Christopher G. Nuttall, read by Lauren Ezzo, the youngest captain in naval (future) history, what is 47 North? it’s Amazon’s publishing house, synergy, PlayStation has it’s own TV show (based on a comic book called Powers), an Honor Harrington novel with the serial numbers filed off, fantasy (non epic), Locke And Key by Joe Hill, adapted by Elaine Lee and Frederick Greenhalgh, audio drama, AudioComics, 13.5 hour audio drama, Gabriel Rodriguez, Paul needs to get Welcome To Lovecraft, horror, dark fantasy, hyper-imaginative, Joe Hill looks and writes like his dad (Stephen King), kids in a creepy situation, the manipulation of power, more fantasy elements, the origins of the keys at Key House, back stories, Fred Greenhalgh as a champion of field recorded audio drama, a film production unit without cameras, listening with headphones, this could be the star of something really amazing, the business model, word-of-mouth then the long tail?, Elaine Lee’s Starstruck, William Dufris, epic fantasy, Twelve Kings In Sharakhai (Song of Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu, read by Sarah Coomes, Paul is a fan of Bradley P. Beaulieu’s writing, “his best novel yet”, it is impossible to promote books you aren’t enthusiastic about, “the ones that sing to the song in your blood”, Paul is a long term epic fantasy fan, true confessions, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, epic fantasy as a lifestyle choice, Kate Elliot, The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher; read by Euan Morton, Penguin Audio, urban fantasy, airships!, a new steampunk secondary world, beautiful endpapers and maps Priscilla Spencer, books in the middle of series: Darken the Stars (Kricket #3) by Amy A. Bartol, read by Kate Rudd, The Ciphers of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood #2) by Jeff Wheeler, read by Kate Rudd, Unholy War (The Moontide Quartet #3) by David Hair, read by Nick Podehl, Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2) by Jeff Wheeler, read by Sue Pitkin, Jenny’s favourite section “dystopia, unrest, destruction, apocalypse”, an interesting theory about zombies and dystopias, it fits in with the Christian end times, Revelations and rapture theology, the 1950s optimism, we’re not in Star Trek times anymore, 2 Walking Dead TV series and Z Nation, zombies never die, The Heart Goes Last: A Novel by Margaret Atwood, read by Cassandra Campbell and Mark Deakins, an economic and social collapse, the “Positron Project”, what is the point of the premise?, allegory not SF?, an Asimovian word, she doesn’t really care about the consequences of science, people who are interested in science, Ted Chiang, what if…, doesn’t that mean XYZ?, let her write her books, paranormal romance, Dark Ghost (Dark Saga #28) by Christine Feehan, read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross, a bounty hunter, a vampire slayer, a geologist, fairy tales, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie, read by Robert G. Slade, history and folklore, “the time of the strangenesses”, a djinn, 1,001 nights (two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights), a Nobel Prize for Literature, a print book, Joy To The Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction For The Holidays, a mix of mystery and speculative fiction and Christmas, Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak, G. Clemans, upcoming authors, Andy Weir, that’s how the young people are reading, get of Tam’s lawn, House Of M, Marvel Comics, why is Thor a girl now?, Scarlet Witch can re-write reality, annoying-off people(?), the $1 floppy deals, Free Comic Book Day, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is fun and fabulous, her squirrel sidekick, a silver age happy go lucky superhero in our cynical grim age, she’s got squirrel blood!, writing comics for kids, Genosha, kids Squirrel Girl cosplaying looks fun, making your own costume, Princess Leia (Marvel Comics/Star Wars), there’s something wrong with Princess Leia, Disney is making so much more product than Lucas, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s Providence (Avatar comics), Neonomicon, when will the first Providence trade come out, what Moore is doing and saying with Providence, an examination and meditation on H.P. Lovecraft stories, Providence doesn’t seem to have a very important plot, Herbert West’s equivalent, if you are deeply involved in Lovecraft…, if you don’t know Lovecraft can you still enjoy Providence?, the turns!, not merely visually shocking, The Dunwich Horror, a trans-dimensional invisible character, Moore is wrestling with Lovecraft, Watchmen, Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade’s Crossed Plus One Hundred, “124C41+”, “Return Of The King”, “Glory Road”, “A Canticle For Leibowitz”, “Tyger, Tyger”, “Foundation and Empire”, the difference between crossed zombies and regular zombies, the Crossed series, Alan Moore is about thinking deeply about things, evolution, “the big surprise of 2008”, bone piles, the change of language, AFAWK, Moore has reconstructed English in the way of A Clockwork Orange or Anathem, zombies as a fear of death, zombies as a fear of loss of individual volition and personality, a fear of Alzheimer’s, we don’t talk about death, The Walking Dead Volume 12 (hardcover), everybody’s infected, no matter what happens you become a zombie, zombies as a non-scary version of momento mori, Brian K. Vaughn and Steve Skroce’s We Stand On Guard, the invasion of Canada by the United States, the only time Canada has ever been invaded was by the United States, reading for writers not for artists, the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre series, The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, DART The Horror At Red Hook, a straight up adaptation of The Horror At Red Hook by H.P. Lovecraft, DART Dagon: War Of Worlds, Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft, imagine War Of The Worlds not from Space but from beneath, X-COM: UFO DEFENSE, X-COM: Terror From The Deep, aliens at the bottom of the ocean, the Orson Welles style War Of The Worlds, mapping out all of Lovecraft’s squiddy watery fears, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Call Of Cthulhu, “I love that!”, attention to detail, if it says it in the story they take it seriously, The Whisperer In Darkness, Infocom games included props, H.P. Lovecraft The Spirit Of Revision Lovecraft’s Letters To Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, David Michelinie and Brett Blevins’ The Bozz Chronicles, originally from Epic Comics, a 19th century Sherlock Holmes alien mashup, lots of nudity, The New Mutants artist, Dover Publications, a 200 page trade-paperback for $20, a feel of the new Doctor Who, Madame Vastra, what if Sherlock Holmes was not Sherlock Holmes, Fred Saberhagen’s Bezerker story, Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula novels, Conan Red Sonja, a lack of attention to details, 1980s sensibilities vs. 20teens sensibilities.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1)
By Jim Butcher; Narrated by Euan Morton
Imprint: Penguin Audio
Release Date: September 29, 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 21 Hours and 30 Minutes
Themes: / steampunk / magic / airship / fantasy /
Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake.
Executive Summary: Fast paced action, interesting world building, memorable characters, cool magic system. In a word: fun!
Audio book: This one was coming in with a high bar to meet. Mr. Butcher’s popular Dresden Files gets amazing performances by James Marsters. Meanwhile his Codex Alera series is done by the excellent Kate Reading.
So how does Euan Morton stack up? I’m happy to report quite well. I’ve had this pre-ordered in hardcover for months, but I think I may stick with audio if he continues as the narrator. Great voices and inflections that adds that little extra something that make an audio a great option for this book.
Jim Butcher is my favorite author. I discovered him about 8 years ago, and quickly devoured his Dresden Files books. Then I moved right into his Codex Alera series. For three blissful years there was a Dresden Files book in April and a Codex Alera book in December.
Upon completing Codex Alera, Mr. Butcher’s pace seemed to slow. I found the books as good as ever, or possibly even better, just far less frequent. At first it may anger fans of the Dresden Files that Mr. Butcher is writing something else. I’m here to tell you it shouldn’t.
This book is excellent. I’d be surprised if any fans of Mr. Butcher don’t also enjoy this. And hey, maybe writing two series at the same time will get us more excellent books to enjoy in a shorter period of time. It seems to have worked well for him in the past.
When I first heard of this series, my initial reaction was, Steampunk? Really? I must admit that I never really saw the appeal. I haven’t read a lot of the genre, but what little I had read until recently didn’t seem to be for me. My second thought was Well, I’d read Jim Butcher Twilight fan fiction if that’s what he wanted to write.
The action starts almost right from the beginning. The pace is furious, with very few points of slowing. There was never a good stopping point in my listening and I always hated to put it down. To me that’s what separates a 5 star rating from a solid 4.
We are quickly introduced to several characters. First we meet Gwen Lancaster, a young noblewoman determined to join the Spire Ark’s guard. I had a bit of a mixed reaction to her. There were times I found her frustrating, but it’s good to have a variety of characters, and Gwen helps to round things out nicely.
Next we meet Grim, the Captain of the airship Predator and various members of his crew. Grim is very much of the vein of Harry Dresden, though I see bit of Bernard from Codex Alera in him as well. He’s easily likeable, but far from the best character in my opinion.
Bridget Targwen and her cat Rawl come next. Both are fantastic, especially Rawl. All of the cats are excellent, but especially Rawl. Mr. Butcher’s cats are a bit reminiscent to me of those in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man Trilogy. He seems to nail cats exactly. And apparently the internet is crazy for cats, so instant bestseller, right?
Finally we meet Master Etherialist Ferris, and his apprentice Folly. Folly is absolutely my favorite! She reminds me a bit of Luna Lovegood. All of her scenes are highly entertaining. She’s probably considered more of a secondary character to the first three, but I hope she continues to play a large role in the future books.
And if that’s not enough there are several other secondary and tertiary characters that are all quite good, such as Gwen’s cousin Benedict, members of the Predator: Creedy, Kettle and Journeyman and the Spire Ark himself: Lord Albion.
The antagonists are a bit cartoonish at times, especially Cavendish, but the two main Auroan soldiers felt more nuanced though.
This story is very character-driven, but Mr. Butcher has created a pretty interesting world for them to inhabit. There is very little steam powered anything though. Instead the main resource of note are Ethereal crystals. They power everything from Airships to hand weapons referred to as gauntlets.
Explanations for the world and magic systems are slowly metered out as the book goes on, but there were thankfully few info dumps. Or if there were, I was too busy enjoying myself to notice.
The book is fairly well self contained. Things end in a pretty good spot, especially considering this is the first book in a series. There are plenty of questions left to be answered, but most of the main conflicts of this book are either resolved, or put on hold nicely.
Overall if you enjoy Mr. Butcher other work, or enjoy character-driven faced paced action packed stories, pick this one up. You won’t regret it.
Now I will once again eagerly have to await the next book in two series by Mr. Butcher, much like when I first discovered him. How lucky for us all!
Working for Bigfoot: Stories from the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher; Read by James Marsters
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 21 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hrs, 45 mins
Themes: / short stories / urban fantasy /
Chicago wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden is used to mysterious clients with long hair and legs up to here. But when it turns out the long hair covers every square inch of his latest client’s body, and the legs contribute to a nine-foot height, even the redoubtable detective realizes he’s treading new ground. Strength of a River in His Shoulders is one of the legendary forest people, a Bigfoot, and he has a problem that only Harry can solve. His son Irwin is a scion, the child of a supernatural creature and a human. He’s a good kid, but the extraordinary strength of his magical aura has a way of attracting trouble. In the three novellas that make up ”Working For Bigfoot,” collected together for the first time here, readers encounter Dresden at different points in his storied career, and in Irwin’s life. As a middle-schooler, in ”B is For Bigfoot,” Irwin attracts the unwelcome attention of a pair of bullying brothers who are more than they seem, and when Harry steps in, it turns out they have a mystical guardian of their own. At a fancy private high school in ”I Was a Teenage Bigfoot,” Harry is called in when Irwin grows ill for the first time, and it’s not just a case of mono. Finally, Irwin is all grown up and has a grown-up’s typical problems as a freshman in college in ”Bigfoot on Campus,” or would have if typical included vampires.
I’m really glad this has been collected together in one book. Each story was originally released in a different anthology last year and they all go with each other. The premise is that a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders has a half human son named Irwin living around Chicago, and can’t check on him, what with being a Bigfoot and all, so he periodically hires Harry to look after him.
These are all fun stories that take place at different points in Harry’s life as Irwin grows up. B is for Bigfoot takes place between Fool Moon and Grave Peril, I Was a Teenage Bigfoot takes place circa Dead Beat, and Bigfoot on Campus takes place between Turn Coat and Changes. They aren’t really anything special though. I’m not a huge fan of short stories in general, and I found these stories weaker than several of the ones in Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files. They are still worth a read if you’re a die hard Dresden fan like I am.
The stories all pull in different beings from the fairly rich Dresdenverse to offer a variety of issues for Harry to solve. Things tie together rather nicely between the three stories, and in some ways could be one longer story with large time gaps between certain events. James Marsters makes it awfully hard for me ever want to read a Dresden book in print again. Listening to them is just so excellent. Likely I’ll mix and match on my initial reads and then do the audio for any rereads. Smart move to release this one in audio.
Overall, in my opinion this is a collection only for the die-hard Harry Dresden fans.
Review by Rob Zak.
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals
Talked about on today’s show:
ecomic, The BOZZ Chronicles by David Michelinie and Bret Blevins, Dover Publications, Iron Man, The New Mutants), a “plucky prostitute”, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, the Guardian Podcast, a tyranny of circumstances, The Cold Equations, The Coode Street Podcast, Interstellar, interestingly depressing, Ali Ahn, Hachette, this is all Paul, City of the Chasch: The Tschai, Planet of Adventure, Book 1 by Jack Vance, interesting language, strange customs, fun books, Blackstone Audio, Resurrection House, Reading Envy, Archangel (Book One of the Chronicles of Ubastis) by Marguerite Reed, beasts, military SF, on a planet?, she’s a mother, Terpkristin, Octavia Butler, Dark Disciple: Star Wars, Marc Thompson, Random House Audio, sound effects?, The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science fiction 7, Infinivox, read by Tom Dheere and Nancy Linari, Bryan Alexander, Elizabeth Bear, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Michael Swanwick, Peter Watts, The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka, Keith Szarabajka, scientists in labs, Robert J. Sawyer, FlashForward, Blackstone Audio, throwing on a throwback, Thorns by Robert Silverberg, Stefan “the great” Rudnicki, Skyboat Media, from 1967, Ultima, Proxima Book 2 by Stephen Baxter, wild galaxy spanning stuff, Tantor Media, Per Ardua Ad Astra = by struggle to the stars, the Xeelee books, “Traditional Fantasy”, no homosexuals or gender swapping, Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb, lots of fantasy, she writes books people really like Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan, read by Steven Brand, “urban or contemporary fantasy”, The City And The City, Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville, WORKING FOR BIGFOOT Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, Buffy, American Harry Potter?, James Marsters, The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1 by N.K. Jemisin, secondary world fantasy, post apocalyptic fantasy, City Of Stairs, Deceptions A Cainsville Novel by Kelley Armstrong, The Tale Of The Body Thief, Anne Rice, The Undying Legion by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, The Conquering Dark: (Crown & Key Book 3) by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, read by Nicholas Guy Smith, paranormal romance, Earth Bound (Sea Haven #4), Christine Feehan, horror/suspense, Finders Keepers, Stephen King, audiobook exclusive, Drunken Fireworks, a sample of Tim Sample’s audio narration, THE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: The Haunted City edited by Jason Blum, The Geeks Guide To The Galaxy podcast, Joel and Ethan Cohen, The Purge, Ethan Hawke, Eli Roth, Alive, Scott Sigler, Empty Set Entertainment, the warping of society, contemporary criticism, nonfiction, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will, Geoff Colvin, could our jobs be replaced by robots or computers?, Tam is their pet, Ex Machina is idea heavy, audio drama or “Audio Dramer”, an Idahoan accent?, And the Sun Stood Still, LA Theatre Works, Dava Sobel, Nicolaus Copernicus, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, how do we get access to plays, television seems insane to Jesse, there should be a Broadway channel, new podcasts: the Black Tapes podcast, SERIAL, NPR-style audio drama, fake pop journalism, The Great Courses’ The Torch podcast, Eric S. Rabkins course, The American Revolution (Great Courses), Neil deGrasse Tyson’s courses on Netflix, the GENRE STOP! podcast (a readalong style podcast), Ancillary Justice, The Martian, engineering fiction, applied science, readalong style, The Writer And The Critic, The Incomparable podcast, Read-A-Long, “when you hear a chime turn the page”, Books On The Nightstand podcast, The Readers podcast, Booktopia, Readercon, Fourth Street Fantasy, deep discussions, book centric panels, reader centric panels, a Roger Zelazny panel, a Jack Vance panel, Anne Vandermeer on Reading Envy, The Guardian Podcast, whooooah!, paperbook: The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath And Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Jason Thompson (adaptor/illustrator) The White Ship by H.P. Lovecraft, Sergio Aragones, Groo, the marginalia in Mad magazine, page composition, J.H. Williams III, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, the final episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a map of the dreamlands, it’s a map man!, illuminated maps,
Posted by Jesse Willis
Themes: / science fiction / cyberpunk / virtual reality / virtual worlds / serial killer / Otherland /
A group of adventurers searching for a cure for comatose children find themselves trapped in a sequence of virtual worlds, the only opponents of a conspiracy of the rich to live forever in a dream. Now, they are forced to make an uneasy alliance with their only surviving former enemy against his treacherous sidekick Johnny Wulgaru, a serial killer with a chance to play God forever. Few science fiction sagas have achieved the level of critical acclaim-and best-selling popularity-as Tad Williams’s Otherland novels. A brilliant blend of science fiction, fantasy, and techno thriller, it is a rich, multilayered epic of future possibilities.
The finale to the Otherland series, Sea of Silver Light wraps up the multitude of story lines that began in City of Golden Shadow. While the book dragged in places, and some may find that the book (and the series, especially in the middle books) wanders a bit too much, it is hard not to appreciate Tad Williams’ amazingly prescient series, especially if you’re a fan of a) the internet and b) classic literature. It’s probably safe to say that the wandering will not be for everybody, but for those that enjoy the mystery and the references to other works, the series could be a lot of fun.
A series written in the mid-late 90’s, the books cover amazing breadth of topics with a wide cast of characters in this world and in a parallel online world. What started as a cyberpunk story quickly unfolded into a much larger world with many players with significantly different motivations–on all sides of the story. With unlikely/atypical heroes (a South African woman, an African “bushman”, a blind woman, two teenagers, a mom, and a guy who doesn’t know his own past, not to mention a 5 or 6-year old girl, an ancient man…the cast is huge!) and a sprawling world, it’s easy to see why some people are overwhelmed. The more intriguing part, though, is trying to piece together the entire story, trying to figure out who’s involved in the world and for what purpose…and what the online world really is. I will admit that when the world was pieced together, it seemed pretty out there…but I was so engrossed that I didn’t really mind. The only part I really did mind was the end; the book felt maybe a little too neat, and a little too drawn out at the end. That said, it does leave an opening for Williams to return to the world (and looking on Goodreads, it seems as if he may have done just that with a short story in Legends II.
It’s hard to describe the book and what happened in the series without venturing into spoiler territory. Basically, Renie, a young South African woman who is a sort of professor or teacher of computer engineering-type classes at a local university, finds one day that her brother is in a coma of sorts, a result of playing an online game. Games in the future world that Williams created are played online in a virtual reality simulation type schema, where users have different levels of gear that immerse them (fully or to varying degrees) into a virtual world. Some users go so far as to get neural cannulas, so that they can “jack in” and have the VR system provide a direct link to their brain, become fully immersed. Renie, wanting to try to find out more about how her brother came to be in the coma, went online to try to learn what she could of what he got into. Unsurprisingly, she found herself sucked into and literally stuck in a virtual world, unable to disconnect (sort of like Sword Art Online). While there, she meets others who have family members with the same affliction as her brother, and still others who have been recruited by an unknown agent to help Renie and those who are trying to help their children/family members. In parallel, there is the story of the Grail Brotherhood, a private group of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest elite, who wish to achieve immortality, and invest heavily in a system to do so. In a third story line, there is additional intrigue about a psychopath who calls himself “Dread” and seems to seek out ways to torture and kill others, online and in reality. His story ends up weaving and in some ways connecting the Grail Brotherhood and those of the people trying to help the children. Throughout, there are a multitude of worlds created by various users of the online system, many with literary references (such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The War of the Worlds) or other evolving schema (such as a virtual rainforest that actually begins to evolve in the simulation world, similar to how it might have on earth). Williams uses cyberpunk, the idea of virtual/simulation worlds, and some more fantastical elements (some characters have special abilities, particularly abnormal/special mental powers) to weave a tale that leaves the reader picking up puzzle pieces and slowly piecing things together, just as the heroes do in the story.
I’m most amazed at how prescient Williams was. The book was written in the mid-90’s, yet there are references to things in the world today, innovations that were barest ideas of science fiction in the 90’s. The first and most obvious observation is that the VR world, while more immersive than anything we really have today, is very much akin to the internet of today, with people spending entire lives and making entire livelihoods on the internet. People use tablet-like devices to connect to the networks, to make calls, to shop, to go into their simulation worlds–much like an iPad or other tablet of today. People watch movies on the internet, so-called “Net Flicks” (I really wonder if that’s how Netflix’s name came to be), and an automated robotic floor-sweeping robot (Roomba, anyone) makes an appearance or two. Kids have “storybook sunglasses” which sound a bit like more immersive (and frankly more fun) versions of Google Glass. Just today, I read an article on Slashdot about body hacking through the vagal nerve, a topic that’s actually brought up in the book (as a therapy that is abused, oddly enough). There are other examples, which reading in 2015, are fun nuggets to pick up along the way. It’s crazy how forward-thinking this book was, how much it got “right” even for 2015 (I think the book is supposed to take place closer to 2050).
I liked this book and really enjoyed the series. I think that listening was a fantastic way to experience the book, to be able to lay back and shut my eyes and become immersed in the book as the characters are immersed in their world. The narration was (as I’ve said in my other reviews) great, if a little slow. But that meant that I could speed the book up slightly in the playback, cutting down some of the listening time.
The book (and series) may not be for everyone. I think it’s fair to criticize this book for going on a little “too long” or for being a little “too neat,” and it’s equally fair to think that Book 1 started slow or that books 2 and 3 wandered a bit (they absolutely were “middle books” in a series, which not everybody enjoys). But I still really liked the series. I look forward to reading it again in the future, maybe in a few years, to see how much I can pick up in advance, knowing as I do now, how the book ends.
Posted by terpkristin.