Review of Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

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

SFFaudio Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Willful Child by Steven Erikson

March 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Willful Child by Steven EriksonWillful Child
By Steven Erikson; Read by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours

Themes: / science fiction / space / spoof / homage /

Publisher summary:

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the.…And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

Willful Child by Steven Erikson tells the rambling adventures of Captain Hadrian Sawback and his crew after his appointment to the A.S.F. Willful Child. It’s a broad comedy Star Trek spoof that feels as episodic as the TV show with no bigger story arc to tie everything together. What begins as an often interrupted quest to bring an AI to her home system (a quest that turns out to be pointless as the AI neither learns nothing of her origins nor cares) becomes a haphazard rescue mission requested by the seemingly unrelated, quickly forgotten characters from the prologue. But in a book like this, the plot is obviously a vehicle for the antics of our heroic captain.

Hadrian Sawback, the recently assigned starship captain, is much like if Captain Kirk was played by Stan Smith from American Dad. While possessing all of lewdness of Captain Brannigan, he lacks his naivety and instead acts with reckless abandon and no thought as to the consequences of his actions. His crew, chosen from head shots, is either incompetent or disapproving. Like most of the secondary characters, they are underdeveloped and reactionary. One of the exceptions is the rather disgusting, mucus-y aliens who are the main villains of the story. While their body fluid-based comedy is not to my taste, they do have their own goals and help provide a sense of continuity. However, they do not provide much of a challenge to Sawback, who, to be fair, experiences little difficulty with anything.

The whole story relies heavily on science fiction tropes and gets more and more slapstick as it goes. Erikson is a good writer but your enjoyment of the book will be dependent on your sense of humor. If you enjoy excessive alien mating, awkward cross-dressing and frequent Star Trek parodies, this you’ll love this book. MacLeod Andrews does a wonderful job with the narration and manages to bring life to even the most minor characters. It’s a perfect light summer read.

Posted by Rose D.

Review of Steel World by B. V. Larson

July 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Steel World steelworldSteel World (#1 in Undying Mercenaries)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 3 December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / dinosaurs / regeneration / military sf / alien bean counters / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed.The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy. As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers…someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a soft and accessible military SF walk-through. If tropes don’t pose a nuisance, this might just graze your fancy.

B. V. Larson’s Steel World is passable military SF, but it’s not a genre standout. If you’re looking to scratch that itch, this will do the trick, but it may not satisfy. All the ingredients are here. We have humans from Earth fighting on a distant planet inhabited by aliens, futuristic weapons, and the technology to make death nearly nonexistent. All the trope-trappings are here of course too, a young recruit, training, deployment, battles, technology, spaceships, etc. But what we don’t have? Genre originality. But it should be said that one doesn’t need break the mold of military SF to have good military SF. In Larson’s case though, it may have helped to step outside the lines in order to make a memorable impression.

For the most part I enjoyed the ride, but I was ready for it to end. The writing affected a forced feel. I was disappointed with the glossed over battle scenes, stereotypical gruff commander, manor in which the recruits fraternized, and the abrupt ending reinforcing the soldier’s inability to “come home” again all felt too prepackaged to ring that bell of authenticity. I struggled with the at times awkward anachronisms. Similes sporting pigs at county fairs, and basic phrases referencing the Internet, the act of brown-nosing, shopping cart wheels, horseshit, and people being pricks kept pulling me out of the future and plunking me back in the contemporary.

Mark Boyett narrates the audiobook, and does a nice job. Boyett has a clean yet slightly senior sounding voice that is incongruous with the main character’s youthful inexperience. While this is feasible to overlook, it never fully leaves the listener’s consciousness. Boyett sounds more like an old man on a porch than a jacked up soldier full of bloodlust and vitality who never stops checking out the backsides of female officers.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

April 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Dark Eden by Chris BeckettDark Eden (Dark Eden #1)
By Chris Beckett; Read by Matthew Frow, Jayne Entwistle, Ione Butler, Robert Hook, Heather Wilds, Nicholas Guy Smith, Hannah Curtis, Bruce Mann
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 April 2014[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours, 10 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / dark alien world / humanity /  luminescence / space / patois / free love /

Publisher summary:

On the alien, sunless planet they call Eden, the 532 members of the Family shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees. Beyond the Forest lie the mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it.

The Oldest among the Family recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross the stars. These ships brought us here, the Oldest say—and the Family must only wait for the travelers to return.

But young John Redlantern will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. He will abandon the old ways, venture into the Dark…and discover the truth about their world.

Eden is a planet covered in darkness, hosting an abundance of familiarly alien flora and fauna, inhabited by Earth descended humans. The only light occurs naturally, there is no sun in orbit, and there are only the far away cold stars that shine in the sky.

The human settlement is known as the Family. They have not migrated from first landing. The original settlers of Eden could be counted on one hand; the women could be counted with one finger. Now everyone in the Family speaks in a childish patois riddled with repetition.

Dark Eden focuses on the splintering of the Family as one group breaks away from tradition and heads out into unexplored territory. The original society is built upon a matriarchal democracy. As the story evolves, this deteriorates into an oppressive system of patriarchy, under which we witness the first ever murder.

I struggled with this book. It’s billed as being a coming of age/YA story, but sex is treated rather peculiar. In the local patois, sex is known as a “slip” or to have sex, is to have a “slip” and to get slipped, is to, well you can figure it out. Free love is rampant and often public with mild attempts at modesty. Of course there is the issue of necessary incest. While the folks on Eden know it’s not good to slip your sister, daughter, or mother, I get the impression that such slips do occur. Personally, I feel that the attitudes and practice of sex on Eden is pretty true to how it would happen. Morality and modesty are after all cultural and malleable in definition. But the phrases “baby juice” and “juicy juice” carries an awkward juvenile humor that outweighs social commentary. I never knew if I was supposed to laugh at the sophomoric double entendres or simply overlook them. One minute it feels like I’m reading a cleverly written work of SF, the next moment I feel like I’m deciphering the bathroom stalls back in sixth grade. And the thing is, you can’t have it both ways. Rarely does one find Shakespeare in the outhouse.

The other irritations? The patois got old, very quick. The childish rhyming felt strange when place so near to sexual coupling. It just felt weird, as if puppets were having a sex education discussion with an ongoing demonstration. In places, it just felt a little creepy-creepy dirty-sneaky. I also feel the storytelling would have benefitted with some non-patois segments, or just something to break up its relentless monotony. The result of only employing local dialect is that exposition/description is reduced to unfamiliar forms of expression that fail to yield a smooth reading experience. Lastly, the plot mirrors Watership Down and Lord of the Flies too close for comfort. If you add the local-lingo and odd beasty theme of Miéville’s Railsea, Dark Eden loses all of its alien faraway feel. This doesn’t mean the book is bad, it just suggests a lack of originality.

The audiobook is narrated by Matthew Frow, Jayne Entwistle, Ione Butler, Robert Hook, Heather Wilds, Nicholas Guy Smith, Hannah Curtis, and Bruce Mann. I enjoyed the various narrators, each reading a different character. All readers have a heavy English/UK accent, but it still works, most of the time. I usually don’t care much for multiple narrators, but this production does a nice job.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

The SFFaudio Podcast #256 – READALONG: Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

March 17, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 


TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #256 – Jesse, Tamahome, Luke Burrage, Seth, and Mark Turetsky talk about the audiobook of Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (as narrated by Mark Turetsky for Blackstone Audio)!

Talked about on today’s show:
On the book title’s proper spacing and hyphenation; Have Gun, Will Travel TV show; Heinlein’s last “juvenile” novel; Mark “over the moon” about the opportunity to record the book; novel nominated for Hugo in 1959; parts of the novel are hard SF; Philip K. Dick’s completely unrelated story The Father Thing; ways of manipulation in the novel; Mark’s favorite character voices; correlations between the Earth characters and space characters; debunking the possibility that the story was all a dream or imaged à la Wizard of Oz; cross-novel characters in Heinlein’s novels i.e. Space Family Stone; novel followed up by Starship Troopers; detailed description of the space suit possibly inspired by Heinlein’s work on bomber pilot pressure suits during World War II; The Martian by Andy Weir; casual drug use in the novel; Mark didn’t do the helium voice in space suit scenes; comparison to full cast audio version; Kip’s conversations with inanimate space suit bear resemblance to Gravity; on the novel’s setting in time and its world building flaws; slip sticks and slide rules; slide rule “the best invention since girls”; Kip’s dad should “get off his ass and get a job”; Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and its inspiration on Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog via its appearance in this novel’s opening lines; Heinlein’s infallibility; going Galt; the father is an asshole; the father is Heinlein; money in fiction; money baskets in Stranger in a Strange Land; old men hooking up with young women in Heinlein; Podkayne of MarsTime for the StarsTunnel in the Sky is a mash-up of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games; the story’s narrative perspective; on learning outside of school, “I’m gonna learn this shit on my own”; novel encapsulates Luke’s life philosophy, “There’s no such thing as luck. There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.”; the novel’s accelerating plot; The Puppet Masters; on adapting the novel to the silver screen; PBS’s adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven; the relative weakness of the novel’s last section; Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; time travel “breaks” fiction; Lisa Simpson would read this book; John Scalzi’s blog post An Anecdotal Observation, Relating to Robert Heinlein and the Youth of Today; people today don’t read books (or read the wrong kind of books); is science fiction the most enlightened of fiction genres?; phone books are useful for starting fires; Luke tells an inspiring story about the Magellanic Cloud; “the cure for boredom is curiosity”; where animals keep their brains.

Have Space Suit - Will Travel

Have Spacesuit - Will Travel - illustration by Ed Emshwiller

Emsh interior illustration for HAVE SPACE SUIT - WILL TRAVEL

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A New Beginning by Craig Brummer

February 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

A New BeginningA New Beginning
By Craig Brummer; Narrated by Jack Nolan
Publisher: C&S Press
Publication Date: August 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 32 minutes

Themes: / slavery / space / bureaucracy / mega-corporations / politics /

Publisher summary:

A New Beginning is the story of a young woman who is ordered by the courts of Earth to serve as an indentured slave to the corporation that held her college debt. Life as a slave brings her to the brink of suicide and an attempt to kill her tormentor. She is sold to Spacers, who are themselves rebelling against the corrupt control of Earth’s mega-corporations. In space she finds a chance at a new life, a chance to maybe help her sister avoid the same fate, but only if Spacers succeed in gaining their freedom. The course of her life will be determined by the outcome of politics far outside of her control… but she has a chance, however slim, to save her sister and start a new life herself.

In some way, this was a really odd book for me to read. The main character is named Kristin. She works on a space ship as a systems engineer. I work on satellites as a systems engineer. And, honestly, her description is really similar to mine when I was in my early 20’s. So it was seriously trippy to read this at times.

A New Beginning is set in the near future, a future where space travel is common place, as is living in space aboard ships or other space stations. On Earth, it’s a rather bleaker picture of the world today. Corporations have taken over the world, bought out most of the politicians. It’s a society, world-wide, where the class gap is as wide is it can be and only those born into or who marry into privilege have assurance of a “normal” life. The rest are sold into indentured service to pay of their debts, whatever they are; for main character Kristin, this is the price of her college education. It’s also a future where faster-than-light travel has been made possible, but communication–visual and audio (in the form of communiques between spacecraft)–is limited to light speed. I’m not quite sure how that is possible, to be honest, but it sets up some interesting potential so I decided not to worry about it.

As the story starts, a newly formed “Federation,” comprised of those living and working on the ships and stations, those without ties to Earth, decide to break ties with Earth and form their own…well, federation. Think of it like Star Trek. Where once they were tied to Earth, they now consider themselves independent entities, willing and happy to trade with Earth, but not bound by any of their laws–or taxes. This has important ramifications for Kristin Hayes, whose indentured service was just sold from an Earth corporation to a ship in the Federation. She left behind a life of debt and slavery (including sexual slavery) on Earth and, upon joining the ship, was freed. The Federation, her ship The Valiant Lad, bought her indenture contract (along with that of others) and gave her the option to return to Earth as a free woman or to join the Federation, join the ship’s crew. Kristin decided to join the ship’s crew and for the first time in her life, have a real job, earn real wages, and be allowed to be a “normal” person.

Kristin’s story comprises most of the book. There are two story lines (that are sort of broken into 3 in places), one of the Federation officers who are actually coordinating the secession from Earth, and Kristin’s story line, telling of her life, both on and off the ship. Kristin’s story is about 2/3 of this book, though I suspect that this is the first in a series and provides decent setup for the rest of the series. Kristin acclimates to life on the ship slowly, but without much adversity. If anything, it seems that everything is just too easy. She finds friends, support, a job she can do…which is interesting, given the description of how the space-ers grow up and are educated compared with how Earth-ers are raised. Growing up in space seems a lot more intense, it seems that anybody from Earth would be at a significant disadvantage. When the Federation makes new laws, allowing families to be on ships and for crew to “fraternize,” she enters into a relationship with a crew mate fairly easily, despite her emotional scars. Kristin decides that she should use this opportunity to earn money (and save it) so that she can get her sister and her father off Earth, to help them avoid the troubles she had. One way she earns money is by selling her journal as a book; the journal she wrote of what her life was like on Earth as a child and then as an indentured servant for one of the corporations. It became an overnight success (almost literally) and made her into a celebrity. As I said, the only “trouble” I really had with this part of the book is how easy everything was. Kristin had a few small stumbling blocks to overcome, but the narrative made it sound like they were easily triumphed over, so overall she didn’t face much adversity.

Similarly, the second story line–comprising a third or less of the book–seemed….easy. The main thrust is told from two viewpoints, one of the ship captain (Marshall?) who announced the secession, and one of another ship captain (Matthews? A woman, in either event, which was nice) who oversaw some of the battles between the Earth ships and the Federation ships. This is where I think the book truly had a miss. It was odd enough that it was all too easy–the battles were short, sweet, and rarely with any Federation losses–but there was an opportunity for Brummer to capitalize on some interesting tactics, an opportunity lost in this book. As I mentioned earlier in the review, technology has evolved to a point where faster-than-light travel is possible (and used) but faster-than-light communication is not. This means that when battling on a large scale, your information is only as good as your distance (in light years/hours) from the source. This was touched on briefly in Kristin’s narrative. One of her co-workers mentioned that for spare money, he makes games to teach kids about battle tactics and the math used in FTL travel and war. He mentioned that all kids who grow up in space have to learn this, and have to use it…but then, nobody did. In all of the battles, it seemed like the information at hand was “good enough” and that the Federation mostly won without issue. While the battle scenes were mercifully short (nothing drives me up a wall than too much detail on weaponry or super-detailed tactics), they were almost too dry. It seemed, once again, too easy.

Some of the issues with the battle scenes might have been owed to the narration. The narration, while mostly fine, was just that, fine. Nolan didn’t add much excitement or change in tone for any of the scenes. He didn’t use different voices for the characters (except maybe some of the characters on the primary Federation ship–the Freedom?–they sounded like they were lifted from the scenes in Star Trek). The recording itself occasionally echoed or sounded like it was recorded with an unfiltered microphone. It often sounded like there was a low-level hiss in the background, or air flowing. This was noticeable when I used earphones and in my car audio and was occasionally distracting.

All in all, the book wasn’t a bad entry novel for a first-time author, though the science fiction elements were more window dressing than actual story components. I suspect some of the audio issues were due to it not being one of the larger publication houses, and that’s okay. I would recommend this book to someone looking for some light science fiction that frankly isn’t much of a downer (because let’s be honest, a lot of it can be extremely depressing). It will be interesting to see where Brummer goes with this universe. If all the novels end up having this same tone/lack of adversity, it could get boring, but for a first-in-a-series by a new author, it was pretty alright.

Posted by terpkristin.

Next Page »