Review of Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson

October 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

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

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

Publisher summary:

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Dead Man’s Hand edited by John Joseph Adams

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Dead Man's HandDead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird WestEdited by John Joseph Adams, by various (see table of contents below)
Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 13 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours, 59 minutes

Themes: / weird / western / short stories / dirigibles / dinosaurs / demons / clockworks /

Publisher summary:

The weird, wild west – an American frontier populated by gunslingers, rattlesnakes, outlaws, zombies, aliens, time travelers, and steampunk! Twenty-three of science fiction and fantasy’s hottest and most popular authors create all-new tales, written exclusively for this anthology. Aliens and monsters, magic and science are introduced to the old west, with explosive results.

Table of contents:

Introduction by John Joseph Adams
The Red-Headed Dead by Joe R Lansdale
The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space by Ben H Winters
Hellfire on the High Frontier by David Farland
The Hell-Bound Stagecoach by Mike Resnick
Stingers and Strangers by Seanan McGuire
Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger by CharlesYu
Holy Jingle by Alan Dean Foster
The Man With No Heart by Beth Revis
Wrecking Party by Alastair Reynolds
Hell from the East by Hugh Howey
Second Hand by Rajan Khanna
Alvin and the Apple Tree by Orson Scott Card
Madam Damnable’s Sewing Circle by Elizabeth Bear
Strong Medicine by Tad Williams
Red Dreams by Jonathan Maberry
Bamboozled by Kelley Armstrong
Sundown by Tobias S Buckell
La Madre Del Oro by Jeffrey Ford
What I Assume You Shall Assume by Ken Liu
The Devil’s Jack by Laura Anne Gilman
The Golden Age by Walter Jon Williams
Neversleeps by Fred Van Lente
Dead Man’s Hand by Christie Yant

I enjoyed this collection of odd tales from the weird west. It may not have knocked my boots off, but I felt them tugged from time to time. And really, what more can we ask from an anthology.

Stuffed with clockworks, vampires, dinosaurs, and aliens, John Joseph Adams (editor) has wrangled some fun stories. Each author strikes a unique set of harmonics on the scale of voice and tone, and yet the individuality of fellow contributors isn’t lost, but rather merged into a larger, primarily singular melody suiting this particular subgenre

My top five IOP (In Order of Printing):
* “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” by Mike Resnick
* “Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger” by Charles Yu
* “Second Hand” by Rajan Khanna
* “Red Dreams” by Jonathan Maberry
* “Dead Man’s Hand” by Christie Yant
* And honorable mention goes to the introduction. John Joseph Adams sets the table for the reader, establishing a foothold on the subgenre through brief and accessible historical context.

The audiobook consists of dueling narrators. Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross take turns, with Gigante reading the majority. And while Ross has a rich and pleasing voice, she lathers on too much thick Southern-sweet for the ear to wholly appreciate.

All in all, a fun anthology.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys tales set in the Ole West with a twist of odd fringed with funny.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher

August 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

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

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

Publisher summary:

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Empire State by Adam Christopher

July 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

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

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

Publisher summary:

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Unnatural Acts by Kevin J. Anderson

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Unnatural ActsUnnatural Acts (Dan Shamble P.I. #2)
By Kevin J. Anderson; Read by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio Approx. 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / urban fantasy / zombies / detective /

Publisher summary:

In the Unnatural Quarter, golems slave away in sweatshops, necromancers sell black-market trinkets to tourists, and the dead rise up — to work the night shift. But zombie detective Dan Shamble is no ordinary working stiff. When a local senator and his goons picket a ghostly production of Shakespeare in the Dark — condemning the troupe’s “unnatural” lifestyles — Dan smells something rotten. And if something smells rotten to a zombie, you’re in serious trouble… Before his way of life, er, death, is destroyed, Dan wants answers. Along the way he needs to provide security for a mummified madame, defend a mixed-race couple (he’s a vampire, she’s a werewolf) from housing discrimination, and save his favorite watering hole, the Goblin Tavern, from drying up. Throw in a hairy hitman, a necro-maniac, and a bank robber who walks through walls, and Dan Shamble’s plate is full. Maybe this time, the zombie detective has bitten off more than he can chew.

This is book 2 of Kevin J. Anderson’s Zombie P.I. series. If you listened to the first book, you pretty much know what to expect from the second book. If you haven’t read the first book, this book is a hard-boiled detective novel with a silly, monster slant on it. The problems being investigated are unique to the “unnaturals” and tend to have some amount of humor involved in a Terry Pratchett/Douglas Adams kind of way. You can easily start with this book but if you care about spoilers, I would definitely recommend starting with the first book since the conclusion of that book is apparent in book 2.

If you like awkward or silly situations dealing with the paranormal, this is your book. If you like groan-worthy puns dealing with the paranormal and sex, this is definitely your book (I’m not kidding when I say I inadvertently groaned at some of them). If those kinds of things can get on your nerves, this may not be your kind of book. That said, the book keeps up a good pace and wraps up to a good conclusion at the end. There are quite a few threads in this book but they weren’t too difficult to follow (Reading the first book helped in knowing a decent number of the characters already). Most of the main characters are likable caricatures of what you’d expect in a typical hard-boiled detective story so they’re easy to relate to and understand.

The book has some themes related to current events within the past couple of years. Issues with the definition of marriage and picketing of events are portrayed in monster fashion here. If you’re tired of hearing about that stuff in the news, this may not be for you although Anderson puts a lighthearted spin on those issues.

All in all, I have to admit I liked this book better than the first one. It wasn’t as predictable and I think I’ve had some time to get over the fact that the main character was made a zombie by being shot in the head (I thought you shot people in the head to prevent them becoming a zombie?).

As for the audiobook performance, Phil Gigante did a fantastic job. He has several different types of voices (main character, nervous guy, werewolf, sultry female, etc) that are completely unique. I particularly like his werewolf voice! He was easy to understand and added a bit of a performance to the book. I would definitely listen to books read by him again.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Iced by Karen Marie Moning

April 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Iced by Karen Marie MoningIced (A Dani O’Malley Novel)
By Karen Marie Moning; Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
ISBN: 978-1-4558-1769-6
13 discs; 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / urban fantasy / faerie / Dublin /

Publisher Summary:

Dani “Mega” O’Malley plays by her own set of rules — and in a world overrun by Dark Fae, her biggest rule is: Do what it takes to survive. Possessing rare talents and the all-powerful Sword of Light, Dani is more than equipped for the task. In fact, she’s one of the few humans who can defend themselves against the Unseelie. But now, amid the pandemonium, her greatest gifts have turned into serious liabilities.

Dani’s ex–best friend, MacKayla Lane, wants her dead, the terrifying Unseelie princes have put a price on her head, and Inspector Jayne, the head of the police force, is after her sword and will stop at nothing to get it. What’s more, people are being mysteriously frozen to death all over the city, encased on the spot in sub-zero, icy tableaux.

When Dublin’s most seductive nightclub gets blanketed in hoarfrost, Dani finds herself at the mercy of Ryodan, the club’s ruthless, immortal owner. He needs her quick wit and exceptional skill to figure out what’s freezing Fae and humans dead in their tracks — and Ryodan will do anything to ensure her compliance.

Dodging bullets, fangs, and fists, Dani must strike treacherous bargains and make desperate alliances to save her beloved Dublin — before everything and everyone in it gets iced.

The strict genre shelving in bookstores can be unfortunate for readers. I would guess that many fantasy fans have not read Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series because her books are shelved under romance even though the series is more Urban Fantasy than Paranormal Romance. The new Dani O’Malley series which is a sequel to the Fever series is even less qualified for the romance shelves. The first installment, Iced, has even less romance than the entire Fever series.

The walls separating Faerie and the human world have come down. Rifts in reality can send an unwary person to an entirely different time and place. Unseelie monsters roam the streets and the human race is decimated. There is no power and creatures called “shades” devour any living thing that ventures into the dark. The plants and animals are gone, so food is a problem. Now, there’s a new problem. Around the city, people and objects are being instantaneously frozen. The people seem to be unaware of their impending deaths. Anyone entering these tableaux will freeze to death very quickly.

Dani “Mega” O’Malley is a 14-year-old sidhe seer living on the streets of Dublin. She has some abilities that make her see herself as a superhero. She is very fast, very strong and is keenly observant. However, she’s also an adolescent girl with a disturbing and damaging past. The owner of a popular nightclub forces Dani to work with him to solve the problem of areas around the region getting “iced”. Because she can move at hyperspeed, she better able to move into the frozen areas without suffering hypothermia.

The story is told entirely in first person, 90% from Dani’s point of view. However there are some sections that are told by Kat, the new leader of the sidhe seers, and Christian, a young highlander who is transforming into a sex-addicted unseelie prince.

I really loved Dani and the way she interacted with the insane world in which she lived. In some ways, she was mature beyond her years because of the way she grew up and the world that was thrust upon her. In other ways, she was a very typical young teenage girl. She feels like she’s smarter than the adults around her. She’s becoming aware of her sexuality, vacillating between wanting her first time to be special and thinking that sex is really gross. She feels invincible. I found her to be a very convincing 14-year-old girl. I really liked that Moning seems to be letting Dani be a kid and won’t rush her into a sexual relationship before she grows up. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

At this point, I must point out that this is NOT a young adult novel despite the age of the main character. While Dani may be a virgin, there is a lot of sex in this book, most of it destructive. It’s also fairly gruesome in places. I wouldn’t freak out if an older teen reads it, but I wouldn’t be recommending it to them.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I would not recommend the audio version. This production uses two narrators, Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. By having both a male and female narrator, one would think that the male would do parts told from a male character’s point of view and the female would do the parts from the female points of view. However, over 90% of this book is told from a female first-person perspective, so Phil Gigante’s impressive skills would be wasted if all he had to read were the parts that Christian tells. Instead of the typical method of using two narrators, this production splices Gigante’s voice into every bit of dialogue spoken by a male character. This is really annoying because it throws the listener out to the mode of listening to someone tell a personal story. If I were to tell you about a conversation I had with my husband, I certainly would be using my own voice to tell you what my husband or son said, not having some guy say his words for me.

The female narrator, Natalie Ross, was a poor choice for this particular book. The main reason I didn’t like her narration was that she simply sounded too old to be a 14-year-old girl. She sounds like she’s over 30. There are plenty of female narrators can do teenage voices well, she isn’t one of them. Ross also attempts to use an Irish accent for both Dani and Kat, but she fails miserably. It sometimes sounds fake Irish and sometimes sounds like the American South. She would have been better off not using any kind of accent, just her real voice. There also wasn’t much of a difference in how she voiced Dani vs. Kat. I got confused when the first Kat scene came up and it took me a couple of minutes to realize that it wasn’t Dani speaking.

Overall, I highly recommend Iced to fans of Urban Fantasy. It’s one of the better entries in the genre. It leaves the reader wanting more, but doesn’t leave the primary story hanging. My only suggestion is to read the print version rather than listening to the audio.

Reviewed by Sandi Kallas.