Review of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

August 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO - Dark Matter by Blake CrouchDark Matter
By Blake Crouch; Read by Jon Lindstrom
10 Hours 8 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: July 26, 2016

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

So, the only other experience I have with Blake Crouch is through the ridiculously insanely pulpy, Drakulas … written by three other authors. I can’t say I was able to tell who wrote what, so it really wasn’t a huge help. Other than that I had good feelings going in because Drakulas is amazing. Read it, do it.

Dark Matter is difficult to explain without spoilers, but let’s just say it involves … science. Wow, could this review get more boring than that. Okay, there’s got to be a minor amount of spoilers to get this review moving, so let’s say spoiler warning for the first quarter of the book.

Our protagonist, Jason Dessen, has the perfect life and, more importantly, the perfect family. Okay, his marriage isn’t perfect, but it’s a place he loves being in more than anything. In fact, it’s something he gave up a budding science career to pursue.

Like anyone, he always imagines what it would be like if he’d made different choices. The only difference is that he actually gets to see for himself.

While tightly plotted with one heck of a twist at the end (I thought), this book packs more of a punch in the psychological aspects. Considering the implications of the science (which I’m really trying not to spoil), the questions addressed by Dessen are what really got me. Thinking about what I would do in the same situation is what will keep this book in my brain for some time.

What would you do for your family? What lengths would you go to to be with them? To save them? To permit them to be happy? What if that choice makes you miserable?

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Note on the narrator: Jon Lindstrom is one of those voices that really needs to fit the character if that makes any sense. I feel like there are some books that his voice wouldn’t work for. It worked for Jason Dessen. Craig Wasson (11/22/63 and many others) is one of those voices for me as well.

I received an audio copy from the publisher for review.

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

April 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - Change Agent by Daniel SuarezChange Agent
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Audiobook Download – 14.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: Apr 18, 2017

In 2045 Kenneth Durand leads Interpol’s most effective team against genetic crime, hunting down black market labs that perform “vanity edits” on human embryos for a price. These illegal procedures augment embryos in ways that are rapidly accelerating human evolution—preying on human-trafficking victims to experiment and advance their technology.

Executive Summary: Despite a bit of a bumpy start, I think this is my favorite book by Mr. Suarez since Daemon.

Audiobook: Jeff Gurner continues to be a good fit for Daniel Suarez books. He reads well, and does a few voices to add that little extra something to the audiobook. These are exactly the kind of books I think are well suited to doing in audio.

Full Review
I picked up Daemon a few years back on the recommendation of a co-worker. It was kind of remarkable that I hadn’t found it on my own earlier. That book was totally in my wheelhouse. A near-future sci-fi thriller about a computer program gone crazy? Yes please. However unlike many people I found the sequel Freedom™ to just be too over the top for me to read it without constantly rolling my eyes.

In fact, I’ve found most of his work after Daemon just a little too ridiculous at times for me, but always good for a fun quick listen. I’d say this book is no different, except I found myself enjoying this one a lot more by the end than the last few.

Bioengineering seems to be a pretty popular topic for near-future science fiction recently, but I found Mr. Suarez’s take on things to be pretty interesting and unique. I did struggle a bit in the beginning with the whole “Wrongfully accused Fugitive” trope. It felt too generic for me, and I found myself starting to grow bored.

However once things got past the setup, I found that the sci-fi elements that Mr. Suarez added in made his spin on the story unique enough to be quite enjoyable. As with most of his books, things start of in the realm of believability and end up veering into the realm of ridiculousness at times.

I sometimes struggled with Kenneth Durand as a protagonist, but overall I thought his story does a good job of posing interesting questions about how much of who we are is biology vs. our upbringing. The whole nurture vs. nature debate. The book as a whole brings up some interesting ideas of what should be allowed and what should be illegal in terms of biological engineering.

I don’t pretend to have the same level of comprehension about biology and what’s possible in that field as I do in computers, but some parts of the story were just a bit too much for me to not to roll my eyes. I’d be curious to find out if Biology folks will have the same kinds of issues with this book that I had with Freedom™. Maybe they’ll tell me that Mr. Suarez isn’t too ridiculous after all. I sure hope not, because it would be pretty terrifying.

Like all of his books, he takes interesting science, extrapolates on what might be, and uses that to frame an over the top thriller story. It was a fun book, and I’ll be eager to pick up his next book when that comes out as well.

Review by Rob Zak

Blackstone Audio’s $5 audiobook sale – STUNNING DEALS

January 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, News 

SFFaudio News

Blackstone Audio Five Dollar Overstock SaleBlackstone AudiobooksCan anyone resist Blackstone Audio’s just announced $5.00 clearance sale?

This comes not a month after they announced their $9.99 overstock sale!

$5 for an audiobook.

That’s the deal of the year people!

Admittedly, not all of the available titles in this sale are unabridged, but they mostly are. There are a dozen SFF titles, plenty of crime, mystery and noir as well as a shelfload of history audiobooks. There are even a couple of audio dramas in there.

Here’s just a smattering of what excited me:

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; read by Ben Kingsley
THE AENEID by Virgil; read by Frederick Davidson
BABYLON BABIES by Maurice G. Dantec; read by Joe Barrett
THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London; read by Ethan Hawke
CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming; read by Simon Vance
CHRISTOPHER’S GHOSTS by Charles McCarry; read by Stefan Rudnicki
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT by Mark Twain; read by Carl Reiner
CRIMINAL PARADISE by Steven M. Thomas; read by Patrick Lawlor
THE DEAL by Peter Lefcourt; read by William H. Macy
DEATH MATCH by Lincoln Child; read by Barrett Whitener |READ OUR REVIEW|
DON QUIXOTE DE LA MANCHA by Miguel de Cervantes; read by Robert Whitfield
EVIL, INC. by Glenn Kaplan; read by Glenn Kaplan
THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX by Elleston Trevor; read by Grover Gardner
FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley; read by Julie Harris
FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS by Mary Shelley; read by Simon Templeman, Anthony Heald, and Stefan Rudnicki
HOW TO SURVIVE A ROBOT UPRISING by Daniel H. Wilson; read by Stefan Rudnicki |READ OUR REVIEW|
HUCK FINN AND TOM SAWYER AMONG THE INDIANS by Mark Twain and Lee Nelson; read by Grover Gardner
I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson; read by Robertson Dean |READ OUR REVIEW|
I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves; read by Frederick Davidson
THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS by Jack Finney; read by Kristoffer Tabori
IT’S SUPERMAN! by Tom De Haven; read by Scott Brick
JAMES BOND BOXED SET by Ian Fleming; read by Simon Vance
KING KONG by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper; novelization by Delos W. Lovelace; read by Stefan Rudnicki |READ OUR REVIEW|
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE by Richard Condon; read by Christopher Hurt
THE MARTIAN CHILD by David Gerrold; read by Scott Brick
MARTIAN TIME-SLIP AND THE GOLDEN MAN by Philip K. Dick; read by Grover Gardner
MILDRED PIERCE by James M. Cain; read by Christine Williams
MYSTIC WARRIOR by Tracy and Laura Hickman; read by Lloyd James
PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie; read by Roe Kendall
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde; read by Simon Vance
THE PRESTIGE by Christopher Priest; read by Simon Vance
QUANTUM OF SOLACE by Ian Fleming; read by Simon Vance
RINGWORLD’S CHILDREN by Larry Niven; read by Barrett Whitener |READ OUR REVIEW|
ROCKET SHIP GALILEO by Robert A Heinlein; read by Spider Robinson |READ OUR REVIEW|
SUPERMAN RETURNS by Marv Wolfman; read by Scott Brick |READ OUR REVIEW|
SWEENEY TODD AND THE STRING OF PEARLS by Yuri Rasovsky; read by a full cast
TARZAN OF THE APES by Edgar Rice Burroughs; read by Ben Kingsley
THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE by David Hajdu; read by Stefan Rudnicki
THERMOPYLAE by Paul Cartledge; read by John Lee
THE THREE MUSKETEERS by Alexandre Dumas; read by Michael York
THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells; read by Ben Kingsley
THE TRIAL by Franz Kafka; read by Geoffrey Howard
UTOPIA by Sir Thomas More; read by James Adams
V FOR VENDETTA by Steve Moore; read by Simon Vance |READ OUR REVIEW|
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H.G. Wells; read by Christopher Hurt
WHERE’S MY JETPACK? by Daniel H. Wilson; read by Stefan Rudnicki |READ OUR REVIEW|
THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE by Don Winslow; read by Dennis Boutsikaris
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO NARNIA by Jonathan Rogers; read by Brian Emerson

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

April 14, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

WWW: Wake by Robert J. SawyerWWW: Wake
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Jessica Almasy, Jennifer Van Dyck, A. C. Fellner, Marc Vietor, and Robert J. Sawyer
Audible Download – 12 hours 13 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2009
Themes: / Science Fiction / Artificial Intelligence / Cyberpunk / Cybernetic Implants / Technothriller / Consciousness /

I don’t normally inject personal anecdotes or experiences into my reviews. It just isn’t my style. In the case of WWW: Wake, however, I simply can’t resist. I’m legally blind, and Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel concerns itself with ways of seeing, in both the purely physical sense and in more metaphorical ways. It tells the story of 15-year-old blind math genius Caitlin Decter, whose family has just relocated from Austin, Texas to Waterloo, Ontario. She receives an email from a scientist in Tokyo who believes he can restore her sight by means of a behind-the-eye implant linked via Bluetooth to a pocket-sized transmitter and decoder which the ever-witty Decter dubs her “Eye-Pod”. Instead of seeing the real world, Caitlin initially sees only a kaleidoscope of criss-crossing lines and circles transposed on a flashing checkerboard of seemingly random lights. After some initial puzzlement, researchers determine that Decter is actually seeing the inner workings of the World Wide Web.

This premise is already intriguing enough, but add to it a nascent consciousness growing inside the raw data transmitted through cyberspace, and you have the makings of a great technothriller. Fortunately, Sawyer’s writing doesn’t fall victim to many of the clichéd tropes of that genre. There’s very little in the way of the sensationalism of films like Lawnmower Man or Ghost In The Machine. Instead, Sawyer explores the philosophical implications of a growing, learning artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, of course, Caitlin Decter must come to grips with her new “web sight”, as she calls it, in addition to facing the normal teenage challenges of adjusting to a new high school.

WWW: Wake strikes a good balance between the cerebral and the emotional. The novel stops just short of qualifying as “hard science fiction”, but it also, as I said, shies away from becoming a popcorn thriller. Decter is a complex and ultimately likable character. She’s a brilliant mathematician–in the online world she goes by the alias Calculass–and she’s confident in her mental prowess, but at the same time she faces the insecurities caused by her blindness in addition to the standard turbulence of adolescence. The supporting cast of characters in Caitlin’s life are just as three-dimensional. Her mother is loving and generous, while her father, a theoretical physicist, is well-meaning but emotionally distant. The interactions and conflicts between the characters are subtly portrayed, lending WWW: Wake a sense of realism despite the bizarre goings-on behind Caitlin’s eyes.

Is Caitlin’s blindness realistic? This is where my own personal experience comes into play. I’ve been legally blind since birth, although since I have some residual vision the comparison isn’t exact. Even so, it’s evident to me that Robert J. Sawyer has done his homework in this regard. Caitlin’s life is replete with all the trappings associated with blind life: white canes (which I just traded in for my first guide dog), text-to-speech screen-reading software, and braille displays. More importantly, Sawyer understands how the world is conceived and constructed for those of us with either no vision or limited vision. This becomes apparent as Caitlin’s sight changes throughout the novel in interesting ways, and as she struggles to pin names and concepts to the new visual stimuli that are firing down her optic nerves.

The Audible Frontiers production of Wake is stellar in its production value. As the voice of Caitlin Decter, Jessica Almasy does most of the heavy lifting, and her performance shines. Sound and voice is especially important in the world view of a character who, through much of the novel, lacks any kind of visual stimuli, and Almasy deftly handles these complex nuances. Of course, Decter is also a precocious and spunky teenage girl, and Almasy rises to the challenge of matching Decter’s dynamic character. The other narrators also do an excellent job, and Sawyer himself even lends his voice to occasional passages.

The book’s one weakness lies in its plotting. Along with Caitlin’s story and the development of the “web consciousness”, two other storylines weave in and out of the novel. While they’re interesting in their own right, they never come to a satisfying conclusion and never intersect in a meaningful way with the main story. I understand that Wake is merely the first in the WWW trilogy of novels, and that Sawyer will likely resolve them in upcoming volumes. Still, an author as talented as Sawyer should be able to bring these narrative threads to enough of a climax to maintain the novel’s cohesion.

Minor structural shortcomings aside, WWW: Wake is both an emotionally satisfying story of a blind girl coming to grips with ways of seeing, and an intellectually stimulating examination of technology and consciousness. Along with William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash,Wake presents a unique perspective on information technology. I eagerly await its sequels Watch and Wonder.

Update: I didn’t realize this at the time, but apparently I wrote this review on the birthday of Annie Sullivan, who taught the deaf-blind Hellen Keller how to communicate with the world. Sullivan is a strong symbolic and thematic presence in Wake. Coincidence, or fate?

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of State Of Fear By Michael Crichton

February 16, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook - State of Fear by Michael CrichtonState Of Fear
By Michael Crichton; Read by George Wilson
Audible.com DOWNLOAD – 18 hours and 7 min [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2004
Themes: / Science Fiction / Techno-thriller / Global Warming / Ecology / Tsunami / Ice-Age / Eco-Terrorism /

A review by Guest Reviewer Barry

In Paris, a physicist dies after performing a laboratory experiment for a beautiful visitor. In the jungles of Malaysia, a mysterious buyer purchases deadly cavitation technology, built to his specifications. In Vancouver, a small research submarine is leased for use in the waters off New Guinea. And in Tokyo, an intelligence agent tries to understand what it all means.

I listened to Crichton’s State of Fear mainly because of a nicely done
interview with Crichton by Beth Anderson, available for free on Audible.com.

I’ve always been a bit of a Crichton fan since his first book The Andromeda Strain. The last book I heard of his, Timeline, seemed kind of silly and cartoonish and I was eager to get it over with. But Beth’s interview with Crichton was interesting and I expected something a little more mature. Boy was I wrong.

This is in many, many ways a very childish and often boring book. The characters aren’t even fleshed out enough to call them thin. Thin implies some dimensionality. Their parts in the story, which is no story, are contrived to enable them to give speeches explaining Crichton’s views while fending off killers and eco-terrorists, poisoners, lawyers and interesting dialog.

Crichton is convinced that the ecology movement has been overtaken by greedy lawyers
and that we’re being sold a bill of goods about global warming. While I can’t help but agree that the scenario he paints would be scary if it were real I don’t see much sign of it being real in the world I live in.

He makes some very good points about studies by universities and foundations being as biased as those of industry. But he seems to think that we the people are all firmly convinced that global warming is a reality because of the PR campaigns of these money-seeking foundations and a press who is always willing to jump on any bandwagon that attracts an audience. And while both of those things are easy to believe, I don’t see any sign that everyone believes that global warming is a fact and I don’t think I’ve seen attempts by the media to convince me of that.

Yes there have been pro shows on TV and articles treating global warming as a fact but the majority of those I’ve seen treat it as an open question; as a possibility.

His major point seems to be that we have a lot of questions and not many answers and that we should be asking more questions and studying and learning more before we try to insist on answers. I agree with that and I agree that it often doesn’t happen that way in
life. But it often does happen that way.

The book has almost no story of interest; no characters of interest at all; very little suspense with the exception of a couple of very surprising and tense and exciting scenes; and very little to offer.

To add injury to insult, this is a very badly made audiobook. It’s read by George Wilson, who I’ve heard and liked in other books, and it’s done badly. He doesn’t give us any way to distinguish the characters in a dialog and it’s often not possible to figure out who is
saying what. If there had been a story this would have hindered it terribly.

He sometimes reads a line badly and then reads it over. I guess that’s the editor’s fault, not the narrator’s; but it makes for bad narration from the listener’s point of view.

And, just to make sure the insult and injury were painful, Audible put their section markers right before chapter headings, which consist of the date and time, so that when you lose your place and are trying to find it, if you don’t remember the exact date and time of the section you were in, traversing the sections makes them all sound the same. That made finding my place after drifting off to sleep; a serious problem in this book; very difficult.

Everyone who got their hands on this book seemed to screw it up a little more. I probably even downloaded it badly. For all you Crichton fans, I suggest hearing Airframe if you haven’t already. It’s one of his best.

For you who want to be up in arms about a problem and don’t care if it’s a real problem or not, listen to Rush Limbaugh or something. This book is just too boring.

Review of Death Match By Lincoln Child

November 19, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFF Audio Review

Death Match by Lincoln ChildDeath Match
By Lincoln Child; Read by Barrett Whitener
10 Cassettes – Approx 15 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786128119
Themes: / Science Fiction / Technothriller / Mystery / Computers / Artificial Intelligence / Love /

What was it, exactly, she found so intimidating about the Thorpes? The fact they didn’t seem to need her friendship? They were well educated, but Maureen had her own cum laude degree in English. They had lots of money, but so did half the neighborhood. Maybe it was how perfect they seemed together, how ideally suited to each other. It was almost uncanny. That one time they’d come over, Maureen had noticed how they unconsciously held hands; how they frequently completed each other’s sentences; how they’d shared countless glances that, though brief, seemed pregnant with meaning. “Disgustingly happy” was how Maureen’s husband termed them, but Maureen didn’t think it disgusting at all. In fact, she’d found herself feeling envious.

From the title you might guess that Death Match is a novel set in the world of first person shooter computer games, and while that isn’t a bad idea in itself, this one has a premise even more unusual. Frankly, I’m amazed that no one else came up with this tale before now. It is so fundamental a science fiction idea – and so obviously possible in the near future, if not now – that it should have been explored in science fiction long before this. The premise goes something like… “What if you could use advanced computer technology and deep psychological testing to create a computer avatar of your own psyche – and then, using high speed data matching, run millions of pair bonding scenarios with other people’s avatars?” The purpose is to find the perfect match for a REAL life together. Once the two avatars are matched, each person associated with that avatar is given each other’s real life phone number and the knowledge that they are already perfectly matched! But this core idea isn’t on center stage, instead this is a mystery novel that reads like a technothriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton’s recent novels.

Christopher Lash, an ex-FBI forensic psychologist is hired by Eden Incorporated, the worlds premier couple matching service, to solve a mysterious double suicide of one of the company’s customers, the first “supercouple” created by avatar matching. To do the job properly Lash is familiarized with Eden’s patented software, going through the process of avatar creation himself, and then begins his “psychological autopsy” of the couple, which involves investigating what could have caused the world’s happiest couple to kill themselves. Just as his investigation gets into full swing – another couple dies! This can only mean that either something is wrong with Eden’s process or someone is murdering the world’s happiest people!

A few years ago I realized that eventually computer technology will solve a big pile of interesting problems. For instance, isn’t it a shame that Sean Connery couldn’t have done all of the James Bond films? Well, with computer technology it will be possible…. current celebrities and dead ones too will someday be reanimated, and recast in new movies. Imagine Humphrey Bogart paired with Harrison Ford for The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre: The Next Generation(hey it might be good). We’re practically ready to do it with their physical images now, the big hurdle is voice mimicry – computer software is still very primitive when it comes to recreating someone’s voice. But mark my words it’ll happen… But I’d never thought of Lincoln Child’s use for computer technology, though it’s an obvious one, and certainly one that is starting to be developed. Websites like www.hotornot.com are using both physical images and keywords to match couples. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the traditional matchmakers of old – and willy-nilly dating (like we have now) are going to be subsumed by computer matches that will find the best possible spouse given our personalities?

The idea of finding that special someone you were always destined to marry is alluring. Myself, Normally I’m someone who believes that the idea of finding your “one and only” is pure fantasy. Just given the sheer numbers of people we’ll never meet during our lifetimes it clearly can’t be that there is only one special someone in the world for everyone. But on the other hand Lincoln Child’s idea here might make that dream a reality. Because, not only does it allow you to select from every person alive, it also runs a lifetime’s worth of lives with each and every possible match in order to find the best match among all good matches. It truly would be heaven, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately we are not given the metaphysical run down on the consequences to this proposition, Lincoln Child’s novel isn’t deep, instead it is merely summer beach reading and ultimately unthoughtful. Myself I’d have much preferred a few fewer plot turns, I figured out whodunit quite early. An idea this good really deserves a truckload of metaphysical explorations: Whatever happened to the idea that marriage is about making an imperfect fit, fit anyway? Now that you mention it what makes people attracted to each other? What is love anyway? And hey, if we can brain map an avatar and run complete life scenarios using artificial intelligence in a computer do we have the right to delete that avatar? If computer programs can run our lives better than we can, what do we do with our time? Yikes! That last one has some truly scary implications.

Now perhaps I’m being to hard on this novel, its has some reasonably interesting discussions about artificial intelligence in it, it all makes sense, there are no leaps of logic and the characters, while a little flat, aren’t altogether unlikable. Child has obviously done some research and the including of such nuggets of detail are good, but I guess I just needed more fire and more thinking. The narrator, Barrett Whitener, does a nice job with the voices, but the essentially humorless nature of the novel doesn’t play to his strengths. Blackstone has used a slight variation on the original hardcover’s cover art, and as plain as it seems, that’s it there pictured above, it is an improvement over the bland layout used in the paper version. This is only Lincoln Child’s second novel written without his writing partner Douglas Preston. Together they wrote the novel The Relic, which was adapted into a decent horror movie of the same name. I can easily see Death Match being made into a TV movie, but honestly I don’t think it’d be one I’d set the VCR to record. Hopefully Child’s third solo novel will concentrate its focus on the science fiction elements rather than the technothriller/mainstream that he went for with this one.

Posted by Jesse Willis