By Neal Stephenson; Read by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 May 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 31 hours 55 minutes
Themes: / science fiction / apocalypse / space station / humanity / disaster /
What would happen if the world were ending?
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain….
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown…to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
Executive Summary: Another interesting book from Mr. Stephenson, that was somehow a bit too short for me despite its 32 hour duration. This one won’t be for everyone, but I’d put it on par with many of his previous books.
Audio book: This was my first time listening to a book narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal. She’s really excellent. So excellent, that I was pretty disappointed when it changed to Will Damron for Part 3. I’m not sure why they did this. Was Ms. Kowal too busy to finish recording? Was it intentional?
That isn’t to say Mr. Damron is a bad narrator. I just didn’t like him as much as Ms. Kowal, and the change in narration was jarring. If there was any place in the book it was appropriate to change, it was with Part 3, but I think it would have been better suited if they had just stuck with Ms. Kowal.
I’ve been a fan of Mr. Stephenson ever since picking up Snow Crash back in college. I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve enjoyed all but one of those that I have.
I had no idea what this book was about when I volunteered to review it. Much like most of his work, it’s long. The start is a bit slow, and as usual it goes off on tangents and into way more detail than is necessary on things. In some of his books, I’ve enjoyed those tangents and the excess of detail. In others, less so. This one was somewhere in the middle for me.
This is the kind of thing that will turn many readers away early on. I was never bored myself, but I wasn’t really engaged in the book until nearly halfway. In a book this long, that will be too much of a commitment for many. However, I suspect if you enjoy the detail and tangents, you’ll be engaged much sooner.
This book is split into three parts. The first part is essentially a present day disaster story. The second is largely a space opera, and the third is a bit of a post apocalyptic tale.
Many authors might have focused on one aspect of this story. Instead of giving us bits of history that help shaped the world of part 3, we live many of the details in parts 1 and 2. For me personally, I would have liked part 1 to be shorter with more time spent on part 3. Part 2 was my favorite of the book, but that may be because I felt despite being a third of the book, part 3 ended too soon.
I have questions still. A lot of them. Is Mr. Stephenson planning a sequel that will contain some of these answers? I hope so.
This isn’t a case of a long book that abruptly ends though. For me the issue is that Mr. Stephenson did such a good job with the world building that I want more. I felt like there wasn’t enough. I would have happily sacrificed much of the present day (which I found slower anyways), for more time in the future story with the world he created.
Mr. Stephenson doesn’t spend all the time on world building either. He develops several interesting characters that are used to make most of the story character-driven. We have a largely female cast, and somewhat diverse background for most of them.
Overall, while this isn’t my favorite Neal Stephenson book, I really enjoyed it, and I hope we get another book set in the same world that he built in part 3.
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
By Andy Weir; Narrated by R.C. Bray
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 22 March 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 53 minutes
Themes: / astronaut / Mars / engineering / space exploration / NASA /
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
That’s right, math made it thrilling. Look at it this way, you’re stranded on a planet that’s essentially trying to kill you. You could just keel over and die … like I would most likely do in the same situation, or you could figure out how to stay alive.
Start with the math. NASA planned for 30 days worth of food for 6 people. The next time someone will be on the planet is in 4 years. Even rationing that food only gets you a little over a year’s worth.
Wait, what if you can’t even contact someone to tell them you’re alive and need to be rescued, more math.
It’s the math that made this book exciting. In fact, this XKCD comic pretty much explains it:
Knowing how long until you’re dead is the suspense.
Couple entertaining math (how is this even possible?) with one of the best characters ever created, Mark Watney, and you have an insanely great story.
Mark Watney is an absolutely hilarious character, especially coupled with the situation he’s in (stranded on Mars) and with whom he’s dealing with (NASA, aka the smartest people ever).
Exchanges like this are that much funnier when it’s freaking NASA he’s talking to:
“[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling. [12:07] Watney: That’s what she said. [12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?”
Probably the best part is that it’s not cause he’s going crazy from being alone for so long, it’s just how he is and that’s awesome.
I not only thought of Watney as a close friend, but I felt like I lived on Mars in this book. You’re constantly aware of how much depends on every little thing not screwing up, how dependent someone is on things we take for granted on a planet that’s actually hospitable to life. And then everything goes wrong.
Which brings me to really the only kind of awkward thing about the book. With the way it’s set up (through log entries and third person omniscient when not with Watney), Andy Weir kind of has to go out of his way to tell you how things are going wrong. Suddenly, you’re brought out of the narrative to be informed how the constant pressure on one area caused the wearing down of material and suddenly … HUGE problem occurs.
Otherwise, I had a blast with this book. The narration by R.C. Bray was top notch. Not that I know anything different, but he nailed the sarcasm and wit of Watney and made this book go more than smoothly. I thought of him as Watney and completely forgot about the narration. That’s when you know it’s good.
This is one of those audiobooks I finished in such a short time because it’s all I wanted to do. I usually have audiobooks for the commute, but this is one you find yourself listening to at every possible moment. That’s when I know I’ve found gold. Eureka, put down what you’re reading and jump on The Martian train (I haven’t lost my metaphors have I?).
5 out of 5 Stars (Cause everything worked together to make this one damn fine read)
Talked about on today’s show:
The Lost World is a great read, Tom Barling illustrations of The Lost World, the Ladybird editions, King Kong, The Valley Of Gwangi, full of jokes, slapstick, witty banter, an awesome character, a role model for us all, Professor Challenger is Brian Blessed, every audio drama, every movie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Land That Time Forgot, a sideways angle Gilles deLEuze’s A Thousand Plateaus, Professor Challenger made the earth scream, “his simian disposition”, When The World Screamed, The Poison Belt, The Land Of Mist, The Disintegration Machine, an end of the world story, you could do it as a stage play with a single set, the humiliation chair, Challenger and his wife embracing, The Strand Magazine (U.K. vs. American editions), they knew what gold they’d found, competing with Argosy and the colourful pulps, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, it’s the same story, Lost Horizon, the 1998 quickie movie of The Lost World, other adaptations, Summerlee as a woman, the 2011 2-part BBC Radio drama adaptation, Diana Summerlee, a male book, Dracula, assembling a team of adventurers, the sacrificial American, a mad Texan, Maple White Land, From The Earth To The Moon by Jules Verne, both books have a major role played by a noble, Lord John Roxton, he rocks, the 3 part BBC Radio drama (available as a 3 CD set), the wise sage, comic relief, a double act, a towering bastard, a modern day Munchhausen, the frame story, an evolutionary biology exemplar, the central lake, a vaginal symbol, a 1912 book, becoming soft, the Boy Scouts, a moral equivalent to war, a testosterone shot, it’s a cartoon, Roxton’s test, Boys adventure, a genocide, slavery, the 1960 adaptation, the 2001 adaptation, a romance, ahistorical women, the 1960 adaptation, the prince is turned into a princess, every Edgar Rice Burroughs book makes this change, otherwise we couldn’t go back to our women, ape city from Planet Of The Apes, the Rod Serling scripted movie, one of the great scenes of history, The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, it’s not about gender roles, it’s about racism, these Indians are so degraded their barely above the average Londoner, stupid and wise, every magazine story in the 19teens is about race and going soft and miscegenation, their good negro, the description of rage, the red mist, getting savage, Heart Of Darkness, the white feather, spiritualism, anticipation WWI, Roxton has a ton of rocks (diamonds), evolutionary psychology, Hungerford, proving the ability to care for a large number of children, a classic case (undermined at the end), Gladis Potts, an amazing amount of stuff happens in this book, good scientific analysis, poor Malone, there’s reason to fear reporters of this era, a sophisticated view of the press, that’s always been the case, news was a big business in 1912, wire services, 15 years earlier (in Dracula), The New York Times, TV journalism, pointing at pictures and saying “oh dear!”, Charlie Brooker, Newswipe or Screenwipe, a high information culture, 5 posts a day, 3 editions a day, The War Of The Worlds, Now It Can Be Told by Philip Gibbs, the hoax aspect of the book, Doyle’s problem with science, quasi-hoax in the original illustrations, the way Sherlock Holmes stories are told, the Maple White illustrations, playing with the nature of the evidence, preserving an information and financial monopoly, meticulous description, the British tradition of the novel, a very realistic novel, protestant novel, is Robinson Crusoe real?, The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole, Edgar Allan Poe, The Balloon Hoax, meta-textual questions, assorted deranged individuals, the imitators of H.P. Lovecraft, Dracula is a found footage novel, future proofing the story, At The Mountains Of Madness, Ruritanian romance, Mount Roraima, a partial pterodactyl wing, the trump card, pterodactyl wing, founding a private museum, the Evolution Museum in Kentucky, a fairy museum, The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions, science studies, the Royal Society, “we’ve discovered everything”, “we’re all done inventing”, the aether of the vacuum, “extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence”, an antecedent for Professor Quatermass, Bryan’s beard is intimidating, Bryan with beard and axe, The Horror Of The Heights, star jelly, Eadweard Muybridge, Sherlock Holmes as a the great Asperger’s hero, Neal Stephenson’s new novel is offensively hard SF, Larry Niven, you don’t have to understand science to do it, Jurassic Park, the movie, Steven Spielberg, the betraying geek, what saves them, kids and dinosaurs, American conservative standard American movie, Schindler’s List, A.I., the Americans are very repressed,
“I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.”
C.S. Lewis, Gomez the traitor, Lord John Roxton’s private war, the flail of the lord, half-breed slavers, hewers of word and drawers of water, this is totally colonialism, Rhodesia, Mungo Park, Water Music by T. Coraghessan Boyle, the 1925 silent film version, Willis O’Brien, the Brontosaurus, the 1960 version, the sound effects, the dinosaurs sound like tie fighters, The 39 Steps, show me the lizards, Jules Verne’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth, 1860s paleontology, Ray Bradbury: ‘dinosaurs are awesome’, Ray Harryhausen, creationism, the poor iguanodon, dinosaurs are inherently partly mythical, the dinosaurs are all female, parthenogenesis, Eaters Of The Dead by Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain, The First Great Train Robbery, Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland, Beowulf vs. neanderthals, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, Congo, intelligent apes, Gorilla Grodd, DC Comics, Planetary, Lord Greystoke, loving riffs on SF classics, Doc Savage, The Shadow, too much incident (for a modern book), value for money, Speed, the whole bus gimmick, Interstellar, shallow water planet, weird ice planet, the O’Neil colony, ideas are of primacy, a humorous bombastic semi-psychotic reading, Bob Neufeld’s narration for LibriVox, John Rhys Davies, the 2001 TV adaptation with Matthew Rhys as Malone, The Americans, the science, The Andromeda Strain‘s scientific density, Andy Weir’s The Martian: “we’re going to science the shit out of this”, five-dimensional beings, the Nolan brothers, Elysium, in the geography of the public mind, Conan Doyle’s passions, “I’m obsessed with fairies now!”, FairyTale: A True Story, science runs the risk of P.T. Barnum, we need a Conan Doyle and a Houdini.
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.
This UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK (8 hours 20 minutes) comes to us courtesy of LibriVox.
The Lost World was first published as a serial in The Strand Magazine from April to November 1912.
The next SFFaudio Podcast will feature our discussion of it!
Posted by Jesse Willis