Review of Sphere by Michael Crichton

March 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

By Michael Crichton; Read by Scott Brick
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours

Themes: / aliens / ocean / thriller /

Publisher summary:

The gripping story of a group of American scientists sent to the ocean floor to investigate an alien ship, only to confront a terrifying discovery that defies imagination.

Executive Summary: A strong start and a pretty strong finish, but I found a lot of the last quarter or so on the slow side. This is a pretty solid 3.5 stars that could be rounded up or down depending on my mood at the time.

Audiobook: This book had been released in audio before, but for some reason Brilliance Audio seems to be (re)releasing a bunch of his books recently. Scott Brick does his usual quality job. Whenever you see Mr. Brick’s name on an audiobook, you know you’re going to get a good reading.

Full Review
I came into this book thinking it was a reread. I did a handful of books by Mr. Crichton when I was in high school, and I thought this was among them. As I got further into the book, I became convinced otherwise.

I found the beginning very interesting. A psychologist is brought in to help with a crash that turns out to be a spaceship on the bottom of the ocean. I liked the mystery and investigation aspect of the story, more than the viewpoint of the main character itself though.

As the plot develops and we learn more about not only the ship, but the sphere it contains, I found my mind starting to wander. I didn’t get attached to any of the characters. I found myself annoyed by most of the scientists. Several of them seemed to be more concerned about being published and/or their place in history than the actual investigation itself. I’ve always been more of an engineer than a scientist, but I don’t know why anyone would want to deal with that.

As with the other Michael Crichton books I’ve read, this one takes science and posits some plausible seeming possibilities. He always seemed to have a knack for the techno-thriller in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy and over the top.

I’m not sure if I was disappointed with the truth of the Sphere, or if my detachment from the characters just got to me, but by about the 50% mark, I found my mind starting to wander a bit. The ending was pretty strong though, and probably saved it from me rounding down to a three.

I’ve been wanting to take a break from SFF this year, and while this is definitely still in the Sci-Fi wheelhouse, it’s more of a thriller with a sci-fi premise than a pure science fiction book. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Timeline or Jurassic Park, but I’m glad I finally read it.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Finders Keepers by Stephen King

August 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Finders Keepers by Stephen KingFinders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy #2)
By Stephen King; Read by: Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 2 June 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 5 minutes

Themes: / suspense / thriller / horror /

Publisher summary:

A masterful, intensely suspenseful novel about a reader whose obsession with a reclusive writer goes far too far—a book about the power of storytelling, starring the same trio of unlikely and winning heroes King introduced in Mr. Mercedes.

“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Despite a bit of a slow start, I think I liked this one slightly better than Mr. Mercedes. It’s hard to put my finger on why. Morris Bellamy isn’t nearly as terrifying as Brady Hartsfield, but he’s still a fascinating character. I really enjoyed Pete Sauberg as well.

It might be the premise of this that I think is better. It all centers around reading, and obsession with fictional worlds/characters. That is something I can understand to a lot more than a crazy person with mommy issues.

The first half or so focuses largely on the new characters. For me, things really stepped up once we get back to Bill, Holly, and Jerome. I especially love Holly. She might be one of my favorite characters than Mr. King has written.

Much like its predecessor, this book is certainly more thriller or mystery than Horror. Often times people see Stephen King’s name on a book and assume horror.

The book geek in me really wants to read the Jimmy Gold novels. Or at least the plot summaries. We get dribs and drabs of it as the book unfolds, but not a ton. They sound more literary than my usual fare, but it would be interesting to see Mr. King do a more in depth write-up on the series within the series.

Will Patton is a perfect fit for this series. He does a bit of voices for some of the characters, but really it’s just his normal reading voice that is just the right tone.

Overall, another solid novel from King that makes for great summer reading, and I’m already looking forward to the final novel in the trilogy.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

September 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen KingMr. Mercedes
By Stephen King; Narrated by Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 22 minutes

Themes: / suspense / thriller / horror /

Publisher summary:

In a mega-stakes, high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely and winning heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands.

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

I think last year’s Joyland was one of my favorite Stephen King novels in awhile, meaning this book had a lot to live up to. I don’t this one is nearly as good, but I think most fans of Mr. King will find this enjoyable. Most of the novels by Mr. King I read have some sense of the fantastical to them. This one doesn’t. It’s straight up horror/thriller. No supernatural beings or unexplained phenomena here. That might be why I didn’t like it as much.

The premise is pretty straightforward. A decorated retired cop whose depression is suddenly shelved after being taunted by the perpetrator of one his most high profile unsolved cases. The killer murdered a crowd of people, including a baby using a big stolen gray Mercedes. They are a lot of psychological elements as both cop and criminal attempt to out think one another. While the majority of the story is told from Retired Detective Bill Hodges point of view, we are also given numerous chapters told from the killer’s perspective as well.

The story itself is nothing that special. Where this book shines (as usual) is in the characters. Mr. King always seems to write the most realistic and interesting characters. They aren’t necessarily someone you’d want to hang out with or even know, but they are the type that make it hard to look away (or in this case stop listening to the book).

Holly and Jerome are both memorable characters to add depth to the duel between our retired detective and the killer who got away. I especially enjoyed Holly’s character.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, but far from a must read.

Will Patton seems to be an excellent fit for this story. His natural reading voice just seems to suit the tone of the book. He doesn’t really do voices, but you can tell his characters apart. I’m not sure how I’d like him as a narrator in general, but for this book, he’s an excellent choice.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Influx by Daniel Suarez

February 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Influx by Daniel SuarezInflux
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 20 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / near future / technology / thriller /

Publisher summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of Daemon–“the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured” –(Publishers Weekly) –imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change. Are smart phones really humanity’s most significant innovation since the moon landings? Or can something else explain why the bold visions of the 20th century–fusion power, genetic enhancements, artificial intelligence, cures for common disease, extended human life, and a host of other world-changing advances–have remained beyond our grasp? Why has the high-tech future that seemed imminent in the 1960’s failed to arrive? Perhaps it did arrive…but only for a select few. Particle physicist Jon Grady is ecstatic when his team achieves what they’ve been working toward for years: a device that can reflect gravity. Their research will revolutionize the field of physics–the crowning achievement of a career. Grady expects widespread acclaim for his entire team. The Nobel. Instead, his lab is locked down by a shadowy organization whose mission is to prevent at all costs the social upheaval sudden technological advances bring. This Bureau of Technology Control uses the advanced technologies they have harvested over the decades to fulfill their mission. They are living in our future. Presented with the opportunity to join the BTC and improve his own technology in secret, Grady balks, and is instead thrown into a nightmarish high-tech prison built to hold rebellious geniuses like himself. With so many great intellects confined together, can Grady and his fellow prisoners conceive of a way to usher humanity out of its artificial dark age? And when they do, is it possible to defeat an enemy that wields a technological advantage half a century in the making?

Influx is a techno-thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole way through. The question of what happens when a small group is allowed to hoard technological advances is very interesting here – is it all really for the greater good? The tone of this book reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton but a bit less thriller and a bit heavier on the speculative science/technology. The story kept up a pretty good pace throughout and did not slow down much even once the mystique of the fantastical technology was revealed.

Whenever I read/listen to a techno-thriller, there is this anticipation of what the technology at work is and how it has become this terrible thing that must be defeated or survived for the rest of the book. That anticipation almost always delivers but some books slow down after that reveal happens. There was a moment or two with Influx that I thought that could happen but Daniel Suarez did a great job of keeping parts interesting that could have been pretty dry. It does mention the prison in the description of the book and I didn’t know if I was in store for a The Count of Monte Cristo..thankfully the prison time was just about as interesting as the rest.

There are many technologies at play in this novel and Suarez made great use of them for some good suspense and actions sequences using them. The only small gripe I had with the novel is that the technologies work too well. Sure they have some really bright minds working on these things but to turn around production quality material in so little time, covertly, and for those things to seemingly not have glitches is kind of unbelievable (even for fiction). There were a couple of minor holes in the usage but overall it was really well done.

As for the audio performance, Jeff Gurner did a good job doing voices for the character and narration. He was always clearly understood and the voices were distinct enough that I could usually tell which character was doing the talking. I would enjoy listening to other books narrated by Jeff Gurner.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Archetype by M.D. Waters

February 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

ArchetypeArchetype (Archetype #1)
By M.D. Waters; Read by Khristine Hvam
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 2 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 22 minutes

Themes: / dystopia / reproduction / romance / near future / suspense / thriller /

Publisher summary:
Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men – one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which….

This audiobook kept me listening until I finished. I couldn’t stop! Comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood are unavoidable with this book, but in this world where women are valued and imprisoned in order to bear children, M.D. Waters has also added in an element of romance. This means descriptions of the men Emma is interested in, and sex. I don’t mind romance, but I think if I were a woman being controlled and manipulated by men, I would be less obsessed with marriage and sex. But Emma has very little memory, and at first no reason not to trust her husband. All she wants is to get past her accident and back to normal life.  She can’t fully recover because of her dreams.

I can’t say much more without giving it away, and the best part about the book is how all the details are revealed. Archetype is suspenseful and creepy up until the end, and the end leads nicely into the setup for the next novel (Prototype) while being its own self-contained story.

I enjoy Khristine Hvam as a narrator – I had listened to her performance of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and her voice is well suited to a near-future dystopian romance.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

October 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Doctor Sleep by Stephen KingDoctor Sleep (The Shining #2)
By Stephen King; Read by Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 24 September 2013
ISBN: 9781442362390
[UNABRIDGED] – 18 hours, 35 minutes

Themes: / Horror / Paranormal / Thriller / Ghosts / Alcoholism /

Publisher summary:

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

I’m not a fan of sequels. I’m not really sure The Shining needed a sequel. Sure there were lingering questions about Danny and Wendy at the end, but they weren’t critical in my mind. That said, Mr. King’s novels tend to interconnect on several levels, so I was curious to see what he would do in a sequel to one of his most popular books.

Doctor Sleep is a very different book from its predecessor. The shining plays a key role of course, but I would categorize this book more as Paranormal Thriller rather than Horror. I would however recommend you read/reread The Shining before this though.

The first part of the book catches you up with Danny, his mother and Dick Halloran, and then proceeds to catch us up to Danny in the present day.

Unfortunately for Danny, Mr. King is a big believer in like father like son. Danny has become an alcoholic and has the same anger issues Jack struggled with in the first story. It hard to blame him given his traumatic childhood coupled with the horrors being so strong in the shinning has exposed to him.

A good part of this story felt like an advertisement for the Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m not sure if that’s how Mr. King got himself sober, but it certainly seems like it, as he talks about it to excess. It does make for an interesting idea of “what might have happened if Jack Torrence sought help?”, but I could have done with less time being spent on that aspect of the story.

Keeping with his themes of the cyclical nature of life, the other main protagonist is a young girl who is even stronger in the shinning than Danny was in his youth.

We are also introduced to the True Knot, a pack of “physic vampires” that are near immortal by traveling the country and feeding on the shinning for their longevity. Can you guess where this is going? I could.

So it wasn’t the most unpredictable of stories, but in many ways I enjoyed it more then The Shining. I’m not a big horror fan. This book explores the shining in much greater detail than its namesake novel. Mr. King introduces some well developed new characters, and doesn’t just retell the same story again with minor changes like many sequels tend to.

Mr. Patton does an excellent job reading this book. He has many distinct voices and accents that adds a little something to the story. I was surprised they used a different reader than the The Shining, but as it turned out to be a fairly different book, I think it was a good decision.

So will you like it? If you’re a big horror fan hoping that Mr. King can scare the hell out of you again, probably not. If you’re like me and enjoy the fantastical nature of Mr. King’s novels then you just might.

Review by Rob Zak.

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