Review of Alive by Scott Sigler

July 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Alive by Scott SiglerAlive (Generations Trilogy *1)
By Scott Sigler; Narrated by Emma Galvin
Publisher: Empty Set Entertainment
Publication Date: 14 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 44 minutes

Themes: / young adult / survival / horror /
Publisher summary:

A teenage girl awakens to find herself trapped in a coffin. She has no idea who she is, where she is, or how she got there. Fighting her way free brings little relief – she discovers only a room lined with caskets and a handful of equally mystified survivors. Beyond their room lies a corridor filled with bones and dust but no people and no answers.

She knows only one thing about herself – her name, M. Savage, which was engraved on the foot of her coffin. She finds herself in charge. She is not the biggest among them or the boldest, but for some reason the others trust her. Now, if they’re to have any chance, she must get them to trust one another.

Whatever the truth is, she is determined to find it and confront it. If she has to lead, she will make sure they survive. Maybe there’s a way out, a rational explanation, and a fighting chance against the dangers to come. Or maybe a reality they cannot comprehend lies just beyond the next turn.

“A stabbing pain jolts me awake.” So begins the story of a girl on what is an exciting day in her young life; her twelfth birthday. Maybe the pain was just from a dream, she thinks. But when she realizes she is surrounded by “total darkness” and is unable to move thanks to metal bars, she is forced to make a decision. It will be the first of many choices to be made.

Scott Sigler’s Alive is all about momentum and what I like to call structured discovery. With that in mind, I am going to do my best to keep things as spoiler free as possible. Our main protagonist has virtually a blank slate and nothing to help her as she begins her journey. She is thrust into an unfamiliar situation and doesn’t even know her name. Answers will not come easy for her or anyone else she meets on her quest. The unknown is everywhere. The only way is forward. We (as listeners) are inside her head and learn things as she learns them. For the impatient, this could be frustrating, a tad jarring, and bewildering since the story is told not only in first person but in the present tense as well . If you stick with M. (as she comes to be called), you will be rewarded in time. Be prepared for a slow burn which calls to mind British films as far as the pacing is concerned. This isn’t a bad thing since we are normally conditioned to have everything presented all in a rush with no time to process. It is refreshing to have things unfold naturally. You will feel like you are thrown into the deep end but that is okay because so is M. You are not alone.

This being the audio version of the 368 page novel, the narrator is very important; this can’t be over stated. He or she has to convey all the emotions of not only M. but anyone else, help pull us into Sigler’s world, and adapt to the fluidity of the story. Luckily, Emma Galvin is more than capable of handling the various subtleties. Words change meaning, (the names of certain objects for example), as does the physical and emotional landscape. This is Scott Sigler at his best. The perilous puzzle is well constructed, contains a myriad of vivid descriptions, and keeps you guessing throughout. If this were done as a film, first person point of view would be highly appropriate for the presentation.

If William Golding’s Lord of the Flies comes to mind while you are listening as it did for me, the comparison aptly fits. Questions are explored in depth. What is a leader? What makes a good one verses a bad one? Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of those that who have gone before or can we as a society break the cycle? How and where does a religious/belief system fit into the equation? Do we follow something because of blind faith or because we connect the dots? How do we handle fear? What is the right way to address conflict? Should we hold ourselves accountable because of the choices we have made or should we chalk things up to mere accidental outcomes? When does the life of an individual outweigh the lives of the entire group?

This story doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. Long-time Scott Sigler fans may be asking themselves, “Is there gore?” The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.” However, this isn’t bloodshed and carnage purely for the sake of it. Everything serves a purpose even if we don’t understand it’s function when we come into contact with it at first. In the same token, things are presented with a deft sensativity to the target YA audience. There are many, many lessons to be learned. There’s a lot for teachers to work with if this book were to be used in a school environment.

As far as the science in this book, I can’t say much without revealing plot points. I will say, however, that technology of all sorts is represented nicely. Scott Sigler’s attention to detail, (another one of his trademarks), is present but skillfully subdued because of the limited knowledge of the main character. Observations are kept simplistic unless finer details are absolutely necessary.

If you are looking for a complex story that has mysteries within mysteries to be solved and a well-rounded cast of characters including a strong (yet vulnerable) female protagonist, this book is definitely for you. While the slow burn approach and the first person, present tense narrative may irk some listeners, the payoffs and the overall journey getting to those rewards make it all worthwhile. This being the first book in a trilogy, there is a true sense of discovery as the scope of things expands and the stakes are raised. Loose ends are tied up to a degree by the novel’s conclusion but the dust is far from settled. It is a claustrophobic roller coaster ride with many jolts, bumps, and twists along the way. Alive by Scott Sigler gets five out of five coffins.

Posted by Allen Sale.

Review of The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

March 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Gods ThemselvesThe Gods Themselves
By Isaac Asimov; Narrated by Scott Brick
Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] –  11 hrs, 26 mins

Themes: / science fiction / aliens / annihilation / survival /

Publisher summary:

Only a few know the terrifying truth – an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant of a dying planet, a lunar-born human intuitionist who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun… They know the truth – but who will listen? They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy – but who will believe? These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to the Earth’s survival.

Though a science fiction novel, The Gods Themselves is also primarily about magic.

Throughout the courses I took for my my undergraduate degree in Economics, we talked a lot about the driving forces behind the choices people make. One of the greatest is magic. We all want to find that magical thing that makes us not have to work as hard; magic makes life easier.

This quest for magic has helped us innovate on a grand scale and use the resources around us for our own benefit. Whether it’s been good in the long run, I’ll not get into just this second.

In The Gods Themselves, a magic is found which makes life easier and it’s the Electron Pump. Somehow, some beings have reached across the universe, time, or something, to impress themselves upon our world and made possible an endless energy source, which benefits all of humanity.

The only problem is whether it is really for our benefit and what happens when the worst is found out? Would humanity easily give up such a gift?

It’s interesting to read this book, published in 1972, in light of today’s problems with humanity’s stewardship of the world. I’m sure, actually, that Mr. Asimov thought his day was bad.

This book is told in three separate parts, each of which was published independently in Galaxy Magazine and Worlds of If. They focus on three quite different groups of people and their interaction with the Electron Pump.

The first focuses on the physicists who discover and deal with the Electron Pump. The second focuses on those others and it’s absolutely otherworldly, so much so, that it was quite difficult to read at first until you understood what was going on a bit more. It reminded me a little of Orson Scott Card’s Mithermages series.

The final part focuses on a human colony on the moon. One of the parts I can talk about without spoiling things is the description of gravity on the moon. Those who’ve lived there all their lives are essentially trapped there because their bones couldn’t survive Earth’s gravity and those who travel there have to take frequent, excruciating, trips home to Earth to keep their bodies in shape. After listening to a Star Wars book, it’s interesting to note how little they care about the different gravities of worlds. Must be some hyper-technology that accounts for it right?

Because Asimov is himself a scientist, the physics are competently explained, at least to a lay person like myself, and the dire consequences of humanity’s actions are understood … through science. Amazing!

And a note on the audiobook reader, Scott Brick. Brick has been around the block, I don’t know how many times I’ve come across his recordings. You can always trust him to bring the gravitas to any recording and you’ll find nothing less here.

This cleverly named book won both the Nebula Award in 1972 and the Hugo in 1973. And as the origin of the name of the book says, quoted from Friedriech Schiller, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” (for the German speakers: “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.”)

As apt today as it was … when it was written.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Sand by Hugh Howey

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

SandSand: Omnibus Edition
By Hugh Howey; Narrated by Karen Chilton
Publisher: Broad Reach Publishing
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 15 minutes

Publisher summary: / post-apocalypse / sand / survival /

We live across the thousand dunes with grit in our teeth and sand in our homes. No one will come for us. No one will save us. This is our life, diving for remnants of the old world so that we may build what the wind destroys. No one is looking down on us. Those constellations in the night sky? Those are the backs of gods we see.

In his first book book since finishing his Silo trilogy, Mr. Howey does a good job creating another interesting post-apocalyptic world.  In this one the world is buried under sand and water is scarce. The daring and (maybe a bit crazy or stupid) use specialized equipment to dive deep under the sand and recover anything deemed valuable to be traded for money and supplies and just to get by.

The story is once again split up into multiple parts. The early books seems to each focus on a single POV, while the later ones jump around between them. All of our POV characters are from the same family. The children ranging in age from 10 to late 20’s, or so it seems. The oldest, Vic (short for Victoria not Victor) is probably my favorite though all of her younger brothers are interesting in their own right.

It’s a dangerous world full of thieves, murders and revolutionaries. Like his Silo books, the central story is a bit of a mystery. What happened? Why is the world buried under Sand? And on a smaller scale, what happened to the father of kids who walked off into the desert one night 10 years ago and never returned?

This was a short and enjoyable read. As it’s post-apocalyptic it’s more on the dark side so I’m reluctant to call it “light”, but it can certainly be called an easy read. There isn’t a ton of depth here, but it moves along at a quick pace. I’d say if you enjoyed his previous books you’ll likely enjoy this one as well.

Karen Chilton is a fine but mostly unexceptional reader. However I listened at 1.3x speed, which I don’t normally do, so that may played into it slightly. She’s clear and easy to understand, but didn’t really add or detract from the story itself.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Metro 2033

August 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

metroMetro 2033
By Dmitry Glukhovsky; Performed by Rupert Degas
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 21 hours

Themes: / disaster / nuclear / post-apocalypse / underground tunnels / survival /

Publisher summary:

The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory. Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metro—the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion. VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro’s best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metro—and maybe the whole of humanity.

Without question, I would recommend this book. I strongly suggest you listen to the audiobook. You might feel a little bummed at the end, but the writing is strong enough to support its fumbled conclusion.

Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, book 1 in the Metro Series, offers an interesting take on the travel/road narrative. Draw your own academic conclusions, but for the most part, humans yet blindly stumble in the dark, face self-inflicted nuclear/biological disaster, and unseen things are hungry. But worry not; man yet possesses fire, fear, weapons, and hatred. What we do not possess appears to be an accurate map, foresight, or the ability to think outside our own skull.

I reveled in the atmosphere. A bunch of people crammed into underground tunnels, forced to keep watch by firelight, eating mushrooms, pork, and rodents, became nearly a corporeal experience. Different metro stations setting up their own community, the need for passports for those wishing to travel between stations, and the various creation/destruction myths surrounding each group, delivers a strong sense of fractured and desperate realism.

The story is okay, but for me, the writing is what shined brightest. The only character I felt remotely invested with was a man named Hunter. The other players in this tale, while multifaceted to a degree, lacked a depth and drive that I feel is paramount for memorable characters worth investing in. I loved the library excursion. So good! Really wished there’d been more story in this setting. The scene with the librarian playing with the flashlight was surprisingly moving.

As the narrator, Rupert Degas is amazing. His rhythm and talents for infusing mood into speech takes flight in this reading. I can’t speak for the accent accuracy, but I can tell you that Degas’s delivery drew me in and made me feel the darkness.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Dust by Hugh Howey

June 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

DustDust (The Silo Saga #3)
By Hugh Howey; Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Publisher: Broad Reach PublishingPublication Date: October 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 34 minutes

Themes: / destruction / apocalypse / survival / engineering / politics /

Publisher summary:

Wool introduced the silo and its inhabitants. Shift told the story of their making. Dust will chronicle their undoing. Welcome to the underground.

Final books in a series are always tough. Endings are difficult. Not everyone may be happy.

The ending to this series was good, but not great. I think it really comes down to what you’re expecting. Wool really sets the stage of a mystery series with a post-apocalyptic setting. By the end of it I had a ton of questions. Some of those questions were answered or at least explored by Shift, but a few more were posed as well. For me more than anything I wanted my questions answered to my satisfaction in this final book.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me. I still have questions. A few of the things that were explained, weren’t done to my satisfaction. The clarification I was hoping might be in this book never really came. We do get some answers. Just not enough. When discussing it with others I found that some of my lingering questions hadn’t occurred to them at all. Your mileage may vary.

That said, it’s still an enjoyable book with a good, but not great ending. Mr. Howey does a good job in tying the two halves of the story set out in Wool and Shift together.

I found Juliette not as enjoyable in this book as in the first, but I still probably enjoyed it the most. Solo was probably a close second. After Shift I found myself mostly getting tired of Donald however. He’s not exactly the most likable of people. I found myself not really caring what he did except how it affected the others.

Tim Gerard Reynolds is once again a great reader. When deciding between reading or listening to a book, who the reader is often makes a big difference, and Mr. Reynolds makes this a must listen. He does voices and accents that add a little extra something to the story. If you’re deciding between listening and reading the book, I’d recommend listening.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of The Martian by Andy Weir

February 2, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian
By Andy Weir; Narrated by R. C. Bray
Publisher: Podium Publishing (on Audible)
Publication Date: March 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 28 minutes

Themes: / Mars / NASA / survival /

Publisher summary:

I’m pretty much f**ked.

That’s my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe 100 years from now. For the record… I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.” And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did. Let’s see…where do I begin?

This book should be subtitled: Keep It Together. Work the Problem.

Astronaut Mark Watney is marooned on Mars after a freak dust storm literally blows him away from his crewmates. Thinking he’s dead, the mission is scrubbed and the rest of the crew head back to Earth. Mark hopes to survive until the next NASA mission to Mars in four years.

Most of The Martian consists of Mark’s log entries which read like a MacGyver episode. He keeps as lighthearted a mood as possible while recording the details of how he is attempting to grow food, find water, and so forth. It is this lighthearted element which helps keep this from being merely a manual of “how to survive on Mars.” For example, Mark’s selection of entertainment from among the things left behind by his crewmates yields the complete series for Three’s Company. His occasional comments on the series afterwards made me laugh out loud.

Fairly early in the book, NASA’s side of the story begins being interwoven with Mark’s struggle for survival. Since Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies, the comparison is inevitable and irresistible. NASA must juggle PR, competing agencies, rescue plans and more … while we see Mark doggedly surmount one obstacle after another. It is a welcome element because an entire book of Mark’s survival log was going to need some sort of additional depth to make it interesting.

Although I always felt fairly sure that Mark would survive, as the end of the book loomed near I got increasingly tense. What if these were his “found posthumously” logs? The author kept the tension up to the very end.

And at the end? I’m not ashamed to admit it. I cried.

Tears of joy? Tears of sorrow? Read the book and find out.

Or listen to it as I did. Narrator R.C. Bray did a good job of conveying Mark’s sense of humor and absorption in problem solving and survival. He also was good at the various accents of the international cast comprising the rest of the crew and NASA. He had a tendency to read straight storytelling as if it were a computer manual or something else that just needed a brisk run down.

The main thing a bit at fault was Bray’s German accent, which I kept mistaking for a Mexican or Indian accent. Those don’t seem as if they should be that interchangeable do they? My point exactly. However, I always knew who was speaking, I felt emotions as they came across, and it was a good enough narrating job. Not enough to make me look for other books in order to hear his narrations, but good enough.

This novel is not a short story and I felt it would have benefitted from more characterization. Yes, we get to know Mark Watney and, to a lesser degree, his crewmates and the NASA crew. However, to hear Mark’s story for so many days (sols) and get to know so little about him during that time … well, after a while it got a little boring, aside from the new problems to be solved or emergencies from which to recover.

We also got occasional forays into NASA and the spaceship crew, but more about Mark would have enriched the story. It didn’t have to be soul-baring and I realize he was writing a log, but after several hundred days some personalization would have crept in, one would think.

Anyway, that is not a huge factor because I enjoyed the story. But I was not surprised to see that the author is a computer programmer and it did cost the book a star.

Posted by Julie D.

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