Review of A New Beginning by Craig Brummer

February 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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.

Review of Alien Honor by Vaughn Heppner

February 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Alien Honor by Vaughn HeppnerAlien Honor (A Fenris Novel #1)
By Vaughn Heppner, Read by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / interspecies slavery / telepathic FTL spaceships / galactic colonizing / Philosoraptors / science fiction / space / aliens /

Publisher summary:

2457 AD. The longest space voyage in history has begun: 230 light years from a ravaged Earth to the pristine star system of New Eden — a beacon of hope following the Doom Star days. Aboard the ship are human colonizers, the Space Navy, fierce “Monitors” once bred to fight Cyborgs, and four “Specials” — humans with psionic abilities, capable of ripping holes in space to jump vast distances. But one Special has his own agenda and when an alien presence makes an offer he can’t refuse, the entire mission takes a deadly turn. Cyrus Gant, a former Dust-dealing gang member from Earth’s subterranean slums, is onto the renegade Special. And while his psi powers aren’t as strong as he might like, Cyrus’s street smarts more than make up for this seeming disadvantage. This will be crucial, because as the ship makes the final, frightening leap toward New Eden, Cyrus is everyone’s last hope for survival.

Alien Honor is Vaughn Heppner’s opening book in the Fenris series, which is set in 2457 AD. Humans are using telepaths to power FTL (faster-than-light) spaceships. The majority of the book focuses on Cyrus Gant, a gritty gang boss who was plucked out of the slums and trained in a special program for the development of telepathic humans. Earth sends a colonizing ship 230 light years to the New Eden star system with hope for a new beginning. Of course, things go horribly wrong and we encounter dinosaurs in space posing as philosopher-kings, as one does when venturing into space.

Vaughn Heppner is ambitious. SF is a genre known for tackling issues of social inequality set against an alien backdrop as a means of providing alternative perspective. We encounter interspecies slavery, telepath typecasting, and military stereotypes reinforcing the old misguided mantra of stronger=bigger=better. Unfortunately, Heppner’s near continual use of contemporary language/slang became an increasing source of irritation. The story is set over four hundred years in our future, yet Heppner has characters dropping insults like “prick” and “bastards.” Anytime I stumbled across characters using present-day language and contemporary idioms, it yanked me out of Heppner’s world.

Jeff Cummings narrates the audiobook and does a fair job. As a reader, he never becomes bigger than the story. There were times when I felt his delivery was overdramatic and slower in pace than I am accustomed to, but this is minor.

Personally, I felt things picked up nicely when the dinosaurs came on the scene. I mean come on, space Velociraptor cast as philosopher-king. You know what that means, right? Philosoraptor, YEAH-BABY!!!

And yes, I’m a proud owner of a Philosoraptor t-shirt.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Redshirts by John Scalzi

January 2, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Redshirts by John ScalziRedshirts
By John Scalzi; Performed by Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 11 June 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / Star Trek / humor / space /

Publisher summary:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more thrilled to be assigned to the ship’s xenobiology laboratory, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers. Life couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranked crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I’ve been kind of on a Scalzi kick lately. I guess I’ve needed some light sci-fi without too much brain interaction. And I don’t say that as a bad thing. I know so many times “light” and “fun” come off in the pejorative, but I rarely mean it that way. Honestly, I think that’s the high watermark of fiction. I’m not trying to learn anything, although I always do. I’m not trying to to do anything but enjoy my free time.

I value other aspects of a novel plenty. I love a complex plot, great characters, beautiful prose. But the most important thing to me is fun. Entertainment. How wrapped up I am in a book is the most important aspect. Obviously many things contribute to that including plot, characters, prose, etc. However, a lack of any of these is also possible.

Redshirts is just that. It’s fun. It’s a story that keeps you turning pages, or in the case of this audiobook, that keeps you in your car longer than necessary. It’s far from perfect, in fact I had plenty of problems with the narrative and they mainly fall in the codas, but I’ll get to it.

The way Redshirts is laid out, it is a main story followed by three codas at the end called First Person, Second Person, and Third Person. The main story is an exciting mystery where the characters realize someone dies off each time there’s a mission. It’s funny at times, a bit overdone at other times**, but mostly a fun ride with an intriguing mystery I wanted to see solved. It had me until the end when I just couldn’t suspend disbelief anymore.

**I think reading the jokes that were overdone may have been funnier. Sometimes a joke that is funny on paper just isn’t quite so funny spoken aloud. Tis a fact of life I continually relearn. :)

Then come the codas. First Person was okay. It was an odd continuation of the story that kind of makes sense. Second Person is just an annoying way to read anything. Please no one write second person ever again. Ever. Who is “you” when it’s both the narrative and the protagonist using it? Third Person was also unnecessary. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Scalzi got to the end of the main story, realized it was the dreaded novella length (unsellable) instead of a full novel and started to explore some side issues and threw them onto the end.

Wil Wheaton

I’m not making any friends with this, but I had a hard time with Wheaton’s narrating in this one. He’s obviously perfect for the job, he’s a Star Trek star and his personality on The Big Bang Theory, Twitter, you name it, is as snarky as it gets. Perfect for a book about the redshirts that die off every episode. The only problem is he doesn’t really do voices. He changes his voice when people are slurring words or yelling, but not by character. I’ve grown a bit spoiled by this probably, but I really need that now to tell characters apart. I rely on it and when it’s not there, it’s tough.

Luckily, here there are not too many characters, but I continued to confuse people throughout the entire book and that doesn’t happen normally. Otherwise, sans dialogue, Wheaton’s incredible.

The Hugo Award

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with the choice of Redshirts for the Hugo Award this year even before I’d read it. Halfway through reading this, my mind hadn’t changed. After reading the codas nothing’s changing. However, the thing I’m actually quite happy about with Redshirts winning a Hugo is for the same idea I started this review explaining.

Fun. Entertainment.

I’m glad Redshirts won because I think entertainment is a great reason to win an award. I know the voting process for the Hugos has its own problems and it comes down much of the time to the author having a loyal following, but I’m still glad a book like this can win an award at all. I hope more do.

3 out of 5 Stars (recommended with reservation)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Crucible by Troy Denning

October 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Crucible Star WarsCrucible (Star Wars)
By Troy Denning; Read by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 9 July 2013
ISBN: 9780385362924
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 8 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Star Wars / Jedi / space / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

When Han and Leia Solo arrive at Lando Calrissian’s Outer Rim mining operation to help him thwart a hostile takeover, their aim is just to even up the odds and lay down the law. Then monstrous aliens arrive with a message, and mere threats escalate into violent sabotage with mass fatalities. When the dust settles, what began as corporate warfare becomes a battle with much higher stakes—and far deadlier consequences.
 
Now Han, Leia, and Luke team up once again in a quest to defeat a dangerous adversary bent on galaxy-wide domination. Only this time, the Empire is not the enemy. It is a  pair of ruthless geniuses with a lethal ally and a lifelong vendetta against Han Solo. And when the murderous duo gets the drop on Han, he finds himself outgunned in the fight of his life. To save him, and the galaxy, Luke and Leia must brave a gauntlet of treachery, terrorism, and the untold power of an enigmatic artifact capable of bending space, time, and even the Force itself into an apocalyptic nightmare.

Star Wars Crucible takes place after the Fate of the Jedi series and is the furthest in the Star Wars timeline to date. I came to this book without having read Fate of the Jedi but didn’t have any trouble what was going on in the story and Denning explained sufficiently for those of us not in the know. Luke, Han, and Leia are getting pretty old at this point, and this novel seems to represent something of a retirement for them or a passing of the torch to the new generation. Denning plays to the characters’ strengths throughout most of the novel. You can’t have Han getting up to his full antics without a buddy, so a healthy dose of Lando is also in there too. If anyting, I liked how this is a nice standalone Star Wars book from that era of Star Wars instead of being part of some 9+ book series.

The general plot of the story has to do with Luke, Han, and Leia going to visit Lando (the ever present entrepreneur) to help him with problems at his mining operation in the outer rim. Cue the bad guys that can even give Jedi problems and the story gets going. The plot is interesting because it pits the gang against highly intelligent organized crime figures (Qrephs) who have an old grudge to settle. There is an element of Battlestar Galactica in here too because anyone could be working for the bad guys so you don’t know who is a cylon…err…agent of the Qrephs. I liked the novel for the most part except near the climactic battle when things to all trippy and weird like anime (Evangelion I’m looking at you).

Luke and Leia were pretty good in this book but Denning really made Han and Lando fun in this book. Since this takes place so far out and they’ve done so many great things, the characters are pretty well revered by people they encounter in the book. Han and Lando setting up a sabaacc game to draw in competition was definitely fun to go through. The sabaacc time goes kind of heavy into logic and tactics sometimes and really makes it look like Han is stronger in the Luck than Luke is in the Force any day.

As for the audiobook, Marc Thompson does as good a job with this book as any other Star Wars book I’ve listened to. All of the background music, ambient sounds, and special effects you’d expect are there and they do a great job of adding that little bit of extra immersion to the experience. Thompson does a great job impersonating the main cast down to Lando pronouncing “Han” with the ‘a’ instead of ‘o’ sound. I also really liked the stoic and simpering voices he used for the Qrephs.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void

July 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the VoidStar Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void
ISBN: 978-0804148153
[UNABRIDGED] 10 hours 18 minutes
Themes: / star wars / space / jedi / force /

Publisher summary:
On the planet Tython, the ancient Je’daii order was founded. And at the feet of its wise Masters, Lanoree Brock learned the mysteries and methods of the Force—and found her calling as one of its most powerful disciples. But as strongly as the Force flowed within Lanoree and her parents, it remained absent in her brother, who grew to despise and shun the Je’daii, and whose training in its ancient ways ended in tragedy.
 
Now, from her solitary life as a Ranger keeping order across the galaxy, Lanoree has been summoned by the Je’daii Council on a matter of utmost urgency. The leader of a fanatical cult, obsessed with traveling beyond the reaches of known space, is bent on opening a cosmic gateway using dreaded dark matter as the key—risking a cataclysmic reaction that will consume the entire star system. But more shocking to Lanoree than even the prospect of total galactic annihilation, is the decision of her Je’daii Masters to task her with the mission of preventing it. Until a staggering revelation makes clear why she was chosen: The brilliant, dangerous madman she must track down and stop at any cost is the brother whose death she has long grieved—and whose life she must now fear.

The “Dawn of the Jedi” series was first produces in comic form and of course the logical progression is novelization. It takes Star Wars back to its roots. As the title says, it’s the origin story to the Jedi, the beginning of our favorite protectors of the universe, users of the force (and lightsabers!), and purveyors of piety.


(It was radioactive spiders that created the Jedi!)

And you’ll never believe how they began. In fact, if I gave you infinite guesses, you’d never get it. And it’s not for the reason you think.

The “Je’daii” have a mysterious society that does its own thing, which tends to be for the betterment of the universe, saying “may the force go with you.”

Yeah, you’d never be able to guess because you’d be going for something new. Also, they use the force and swords and have masters and apprentices. So it’s definitely an origin story and not just an exact replication of the jedi we know and love.

Okay, so if you’re reading Star Wars books, you really can’t go into it expecting a whole lot. And sadly, any of the newer books have the added reputation of being bloated series with little plot.

However, what you can expect is lots of action and lots of fun. Into the Void delivers on both counts. While I make fun of the “origin story” it’s still an entertaining and interesting look at the beginnings of the Jedi. These Je’daii go through an interesting training period on an incredibly dangerous planet.

Into the Void follows Lanoree Brock, a Je’daii Ranger, who spends most of her time on her own in solitary missions ranging around the galaxy. She’s called in for a special mission that could result in the salvation or destruction of the galaxy as they know it, and it’s all because of her brother Dal, once thought dead.

The narrative switches between the present where Lanoree is in pursuit of her brother in her current mission and her past training where she and her brother participated together. It’s a great way to introduce Dal and find out what his motivations are for his dark pursuits later in his life.

Lebbon does a great job with these characters and his narrative structure works well to set things up for an exciting ending while providing plenty of excitement throughout the training on this dangerous planet. I’m interested to try out Lebbon’s other works because he obviously knows what he’s doing.

Like other Star Wars audiobooks, Into the Void is filled with suspenseful music and every type of sound effect they can possibly fit in. Like a movie in your head, I can’t recommend Star Wars audiobooks enough. And January LaVoy does an excellent job bringing Lanoree and every other character to life.

But what I really can’t wait for the origin of the origin story. That’s where the money is.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of More Than Honor by David Weber, et al

July 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

More than HonorMore Than Honor (Worlds of Honor #1)
By David Weber, David Drake, S. M. Stirling; Read By Victor Bevine, L. J. Ganser, Khristine Hvam
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 21 May 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4805-2813-0
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 discs; 11 hours

Themes: / telepathic tree cats / short stories / military sci-fi / Honor Harrington /

Publisher summary:

New York Times bestselling author David Weber invites David Drake and S.M. Stirling, two of today’s top writers of military science fiction, to join him in an exploration of Honor Harrington’s universe.

 More Than Honor consists of the following four parts.

  1. A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber, narrated by Khristine Hvam.
  2. A Grand Tour by David Drake, narrated by Victor Bevine.
  3. A Whiff of Grapeshot by S.M. Stirling, narrated by Khristine Hvam.
  4. The Universe of Honor Harrington by David Weber, narrated by L. J. Ganser.

This collection starts and ends strong, but unflatteringly sags in the middle.  The story “A Beautiful Friendship” is a short work introducing Stephanie Harrington and the first bonding between humans and treecats.  It’s a powerful piece and Khristine Hvam narrates it with skill and style.  David Weber later lengthened this short story into a novel, which now is on my to-read list.  This collection is worth picking up if for no other reason than to simply read this first story.  I know for those of you who aren’t familiar with Honor Harrington and treecats, the idea of a six-legged cat might seem weird, it’s not, well not really.  Trust me on this, just go with it and all shall become groovy.

The following two works in this collection were in my opinion, unneeded baggage that added little and entertained less.  “A Grand Tour” by David Drake, narrated by Victor Bevine, tells the story of a largely forgettable cast of characters doing stuff that really doesn’t matter to anyone outside of the narrative.  Going from “A Beautiful Friendship” to this was like going from steaming jets of hot water shooting from the showerhead to being sprayed down in county lockup with a fire hose gushing ice water.  Victor Bevine as narrator gives a solid effort though at times, I felt he was overdoing it and this contributed to my overall sense of “Mehh” for this piece.  “A Whiff of Grapeshot” by S.M. Stirling, narrated by Khristine Hvam, wasn’t as bad as “A Grand Tour” but still, not great.  Stirling does tie this into the Honor Universe and Khristine Hvam gives another outstanding performance as reader.  Others may find this short story enjoyable and if you are one of these individuals, I can understand why you may like this.  I however found it lacking any sense of urgency and as a result, I felt unengaged for the duration of this short work.

This collection concludes with an appendix providing a wealth of historical reference to the Honor Universe.  For those of you who are into this series, I highly recommend reading this.  L. J. Ganser narrates this final section, “The Universe of Honor Harrington” by David Weber.  And for what it’s worth, Ganser does a great job of reading mostly historical exposition.  I found some of this material to be fascinating while some of it was dry and skim-worthy but still, good stuff to read through.

In the end, I’d say it’s an okay expansion pack but falls short of what it promises.  Sadly, this collection doesn’t even come close to scratching the military SF itch like Weber has done in the past with his earlier Honor Harrington books.  I was left wanting more treecats and more space battles.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

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