Review of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

May 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Firefight by Brandon SandersonFirefight (The Reckoners #2)
By Brandon Sanderson; Performed by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 17 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / YA / fantasy / magic / superpowers /
Publisher summary:

Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Words of Radiance, coauthor of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and creator of the internationally bestselling Mistborn Trilogy, presents the second book in the Reckoners series: Firefight, the sequel to the #1 bestseller Steelheart.Newcago is free. They told David it was impossible, that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart—invincible, immortal, unconquerable—is dead. And he died by David’s hand. Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers. Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic—Firefight. And now he will go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

I really liked Steelheart and this book was a good continuation of the story even though I didn’t like it quite as much. A new location, different situations, new epics, and even worse similes come together for a new adventure for David and The Reckoners. If you enjoyed the first book you will almost certainly like this one too…unless you throw the book through a window due to one of David’s many terrible similes.

The story is kind of similar as Steelheart except that it takes place in the remnants of Manhattan where many strange things are happening. I had more trouble following the details of the world this time around because the descriptions of the world are a bit harder to imagine. The world as described is really interesting in concept but it’s hard to follow sometimes with how things actually play out.

Sanderson is known for magic systems and he is no slouch here. The new powers and weaknesses of epics coupled with the the heck is going on with Calamity (the light in the sky that coincided with people attaining super powers) makes for interesting developments in the overall plot. I do like how Sanderson always has a plan for developing the magic system with each book and we definitely learn more in this book. I still really love the concept of a world with super heroes that are all corrupted – it’s such an interesting spin on the normal super hero story.

On the audio side of things MacLeod Andrews does a fine job narrating the story. He does some good voices that fit the characters well and puts sufficient emotion in his delivery. I think the audio version of this book is a great way to experience it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Breach Zone by Myke Cole

September 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Shadow OpsBreach Zone (Shadow Ops #3)
By Myke Cole; Read by Korey Jackson
Publisher: Recorded Books
Publication Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 54 minutes

Themes: / military sci-fi / special powers / flying /

Publisher summary:

In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign ” Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’ s ever known. In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’ s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil.

Breach Zone is the conclusion to the Shadow Ops Trilogy, which begins with Control Point and Fortress Frontier. As much as Control Point is Oscar Britton’s book and Fortress Frontier is Bookbinder’s, Breach Zone was firmly Lt. Col. Jan Thorsson’s, aka “Harlequin.”

This is an interesting perspective. I doubt Harlequin is close to the top of anyone’s list of favorite characters in the series, but after seeing the world from his perspective, the Jaime Lannister effect takes place. Not only do you begin to respect his actions, you begin to see that he’s changed quite a bit through this whole ordeal from his initial stark, rule-following persona.

I can’t deny, I wanted to see more of Oscar Britton and Allan Bookbinder. They’re present, just not in the forefront as they once were, but I really enjoyed their powers and wanted to see more of each at play. At the same time, I, somehow, never really thought of the implications of being an Aeromancer and I can’t say I’d complain if I was suddenly given the power of FLIGHT. Not to mention control over the elements such as wind, lightning, and generally the power of Zeus. Yeah, that’s cool too.

Overall, Breach Zone is an excellent conclusion to the entire trilogy. The action is superb and the setup through the trilogy is just about perfectly satisfied in this final volume.

My only real complaint I have is with the audio narration of this novel. I have to admit that at first I thought the narrator, Korey Jackson, was perfect for the part. He’s great at the different voices, does the military stuff well, and he’s convincing. What could possibly go wrong right? Well, first off, he reads really slowly. A book this size is normally 9 to 10 CD’s, but this one is 12. I thought the book was just longer at first, but I checked it against the printed version and it’s not really a typical 12 disc size novel. Believe me. I know this.

If I had the ability to speed it up, I would have used it. As a reviewer, however, I tend to avoid speeding up audiobooks because I want to be able to  hear a book in its natural state. But what the slow-reading narrator does is kill a good amount of the tension. It’s hard to believe that events are ramping up when the narrator doesn’t seem to care.

At the same time, he sounded detached. This could have been a result of the slow reading or very closely tied, but he just seemed to be going through the motions and I didn’t hear the passion like I hear in the really good narrators.

Luckily, the strength of the narrative shines through and for the parts that didn’t require a high degree of tension Jackson was great. Honestly, his voices were spot on and I can tell why he was chosen.

Shadow Ops is one of my favorite series of recent years. I dearly hope Myke Cole heads back into this world some more because it’s filled with awesome. The superpowers are deftly done, and the politics are highly believable. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill meathead novel. There’s great action and it keeps you thinking as well. I’ll be reading anything and everything Myke Cole puts out.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Jumper by Steven Gould

July 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Jumper by Steven GouldJumper (Jumper #1)
By Steven Gould; Performed by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] 10 hrs. on 9 CDs
ISBN: 978-1469298801

Themes: / teleportation / coming-of-age /crime /

Publisher summary:

What if you could go anywhere in the world, in the blink of an eye? Where would you go? What would you do? Davy can teleport. To survive, Davy must learn to use and control his power in a world that is more violent and complex than he ever imagined. But mere survival is not enough for him. Davy wants to find others like himself, others who can Jump. And that’s a dangerous game.

It’s actually interesting to note the timing for my reading of this book. I’d just finished Larry Correia’s Hard Magic and jumped (pun intended) right into Jumper by Steven Gould, the new SFWA president.

I absolutely loved Hard Magic and Correia’s book dealt with a wide variety of different magics, from the Pale Horse who can make people die to the Heavies who can use magic to move objects (and much more as we find out) and even teleports who can disappear and appear anywhere they want. Jumper, on the other hand, only deals with one power, teleportation. How could this book even compete?

And yet as complicated and well-thought-out as Hard Magic is, even going so far as to explain what happens when you teleport into a bug (it melds with your skin and really hurts), Jumper was an excellent story in its simplicity. Jumper explains some of the nuances of the powers of teleportation, but not nearly as in-depth as Correia (I know, even with all the other powers it deals with).

Davy learns about his powers through some pretty brutal circumstances. His dad is an alcoholic who regularly beats him, but in the middle of one episode, he suddenly “jumps” away to his local library. From there, he decides not to go back, but that doesn’t mean he understands or even knows how to use his newfound skills. Davy gets into more trouble out on his own with scumbags who try to rape him and again he accidentally teleports out of the situation and back to the library.

And so begins Davy’s use of his powers and his fledgling understanding of what he is able to do. This, this right here, is the genius of this story. I can’t imagine finding myself with these powers, especially at a young age and with such brutal circumstances, but I’m sure it would be something very similar to this. Okay, with a few less problems because not everyone encounters one problem after the next, but overall it works so well.  The performance by MacLeod Andrews is a good capture of being a teenager, crackly voice and all.

I’m also happy to report that the book is leaps and bounds better than the movie. With such a cool premise and such great previews, how did that movie suck so much? Oh yeah, they got the worst actor in the world to be the lead.

On the topic of the movie, if you are one of the poor souls who sat through it (it did have its moments of not being terrible I have to admit), the movie follows the book pretty well for the most part although there are some things that are added, but I’m wondering if those elements don’t appear in the sequels to this book which I’ll have to read and get back to you about.

To recap. Jumper is much better than the movie and works well because of its simplicity. It’s nothing that will change the world in terms of ideas or writing, but it’s great for what it’s meant for – action and exploration. It displays a power we all wish we could have and does so brilliantly and realistically.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Wild Cards edited by George R. R. Martin

July 31, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Wild Cards edited by George R. R. MartinWild Cards (Wild Cards #1)
Edited by George R. R. Martin; Read by Luke Daniels
19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 2011
ISBN: 9781455833009
Themes: / alternate history / superpowers / alien virus / superhero / urban fantasy / science fiction / horror /

Publisher Summary:

In the aftermath of WWII, an alien virus struck the Earth, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Originally published in 1987, the newly expanded saga contains additional original stories by eminent writers.

The stories contained in the audiobook are:
“Prologue” by George R. R. Martin
“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” by Howard Waldrop
“The Sleeper” by Roger Zelazny
“Witness” by Walter Jon Williams
“Degradation Rites” by Melinda Snodgrass
“Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace” by Michael Cassutt
“Powers” by David D. Levine
“Shell Games” by George R. R. Martin
“The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner
“Transfigurations” by Victor Milán
“Down Deep” by Edward Bryant and Leanne C. Harper
“Strings” by Stephen Leigh
“Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan” by Carrie Vaughn
“Comes a Hunter” by John J. Miller

There are also a variety of “Interludes” in between the stories, which are short bits mostly written in the form of newspaper or magazine articles or first-hand witness accounts. These interludes are often used to bridge the narrative with real events from US history, to provide the reader with insight as to the feelings in this “alternate history” type world.

Generally, this is a story of the effects of an alien virus on humanity between the time shortly following World War II through the late 70’s/early 80’s. The virus was brought to earth by aliens from a planet called Takis. It was developed as a device to give Takisians superpowers to be used as a part of large-scale family wars on Takis. The aliens wanted to test it, so sought to release it on Earth, as humans are genetically very similar to Takisians. “Prologue” introduces us to an alien who is called (by the humans, as his name is not well-suited to human speech) Dr. Tachyon and the “Wild Cards” virus. Dr. Tachyon is also a Takisian, but tried to prevent the release of the virus on Earth. “Prologue” sets the scene and tone for the world of the book. It also provides an insight into Dr. Tachyon’s values: he doesn’t ask first for the President of the US, he instead asks for the top scientists and thinkers. This is an obvious nod by George R. R. Martin to those who have true powers in the US.

“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” tells the story of Jet Boy, an American superhero, and the release of the Wild Cards virus over Manhattan in September, 1946. Jet Boy is a true hero, an all-American kid who came back from fighting in World War II with a superhero story of his ace flying abilities. He is the only superhero in the book who wasn’t a superhero because of the virus, but because of his innate abilities and selflessness. In a theme that becomes common through the book, the reader is reminded that a hero is a hero because of what they do, not because of their skills. Jet Boy tries—and fails—to stop the virus from being released.

The virus is brutal. It only impacts humans, with no effects on other species. It kills most of its victims, but those who survive (only about a tenth of those exposed to the virus) are not left unscathed. Through the rest of the book, the reader is introduced to various people impacted by the virus. The first stories tell mainly of “Aces,” those who get super powers from the virus (usually in the form of telekinesis and/or greatly enhanced physical abilities. Later, the reader is introduced to the concept of “Jokers,” who become horribly deformed due to the virus. The first interlude presents the concept of “Deuces,” those who get an “ace-like” ability that is not particularly useful, like “Mr. Rainbow,” whose ability is to change the color of his skin.

The narrative takes the reader through time: each story is a snapshot of a period in US history and provides a sort of “alternate history” of how that time may have been different if there had been these Aces and Jokers were around. Some of the early stories, taking place during the era of HUAC and McCarthyism, show how the aces became subjects of witch hunts and were forced into service in the US military or intelligence agencies. Jokers are looked upon as second-class beings, a theme that plays a large role during the stories set in the 60’s and 70’s, mirroring the US Civil Rights Movement. Some of the stories are sad, such as “The Sleeper” and “Witness.” Some are a bit more uplifting and triumphant, such as “Shell Games.” A lot of the stories, especially the later ones, become a bit creepy, with people using their powers for selfish reasons, as in “Strings.”

All in all, Wild Cards serves as an interesting statement on humanity through the guise of a “what if” scenario. All of the stories are eminently believable—at no time did anything that happened seem overwhelmingly unlikely. To some extent, that’s a bit of a sad statement on humanity—as the book goes on, aces and jokers alike seem to be only interested in helping themselves, looking out for their own (often misguided) interests.

The narration, done by Luke Daniels, was pretty good in the audiobook. He had a good speed and good intonation for most of the characters, and it was easy to tell each character apart. As often happens with male narrators trying to do female voices, some of the females sounded whiny, but it wasn’t so over the top so as to be unlistenable. After listening to this narration, I’ll be keeping Luke Daniels on my radar when looking at audiobooks.

Personally, I preferred the stories in the first half of the book to those in the second half. In the second half, the stories got quite a bit darker, more creepy and violent. After the strong lead-in with the Prologue and “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway,” I quite enjoyed the origin stories and the weaving-in of events in US history. As the book progressed, the stories didn’t seem quite as engaging—for one, I actually repeatedly fell asleep while listening, and ended up having rewind and re-listen to some of the others. There was also one story that was too graphic both in terms of sex and violence for me, “The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner. By the end, I wasn’t interested in more stories of people serving their own interests. There are other books in the series, which I have heard are more like the stories at the end of the book—I’m not sure that they’ll be for me. But I enjoyed this anthology well enough and would recommend it to others interested in a cross of science fiction, general fiction, and horror genres.

Review by terpkristin