Review of Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson

October 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Slimy UnderbellySlimy Underbelly (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., Book 4)
By Kevin J. Anderson; Narrated by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 19 minutes

Themes: / zombies / detectives / urban fantasy / humor / wizards / thieving lawn gnomes /

Publisher summary:

There’s something fishy going on in the Unnatural Quarter. Bodies are floating face-down, the plumbing is backing up, and something smells rotten – even to a zombie detective like Dan Shamble. Diving into the slimy underbelly of a diabolical plot, Dan comes face-to-tentacles with an amphibious villain named Ah’Chulhu (to which the usual response is “Gesundheit!”). With his snap-happy gang of gator-guys – former pets flushed down the toilet – Ah’Chulhu wreaks havoc beneath the streets. While feuding weather wizards kick up storms and a gang of thieving lawn gnomes continues their reign of terror, Dan Shamble is running out of time – before the whole stinking city goes down the drain.

The cases don’t solve themselves so Dan ‘Shamble’ is back with a whole new set of cases to solve in the unnatural quarter. Many familiar faces make appearances as in previous novels but this can be read on it’s own with no prior knowledge of the series. If you can’t tell from the cover and premise, this is a supernatural humor novel with a diverse cast of supernatural creatures, chock full of puns that could even make your crazy uncle groan. If that sounds like something fun to you or you’ve enjoyed previous novels in this series – you will like this novel. If that doesn’t sound great to you or you’re on the fence….you’ll probably hate this book because it doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

You can tell Kevin J. Anderson probably had fun writing this novel. He puts a lot of tongue-in-cheek commentary about book writing, publishing, and the nature of best sellers in here (more than previous novels). He goes to great lengths to set up a scene for things happening just to slip a one liner in there.

As for the audio side of things, Phil Gigante continues to shine in this series. The cartoony nature of the characters lets him use a wide range of voices. He really handles the comedic nature of the novel well and puts a good amount of inflection in his tone.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer, read by Luke Daniels

May 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Off to Be the WizardOff to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0 #1)
By Scott Meyer, read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 discs; 11 hours

Themes: / reality / wizards / hackers / time travel / computer geeks / pop culture /

Publisher Summary:

Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little “tweaks” have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard.What could possibly go wrong? An American hacker in King Arthur’s court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers, discover the truth behind the ancient wizard Merlin…and not, y’know, die or anything.

This book started really slow, despite a cool concept. A computer geek discovers a file that somehow lets him manipulate not only the world and everything in it, but time itself. So of course he decides to go back to medieval times and become a wizard. As a computer geek who (not so) secretly would love to be a wizard I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, the main character Martin isn’t very likable at the start. Despite being good with computers, he doesn’t seem very smart. For me the story finally started to get good when he meets Phillip. I will say Martin did grow on me as the book went on. I don’t plan to say anything else about the plot because I don’t want to ruin the jokes.

I think your enjoyment of the book will largely depend on if you find the humor funny and your willingness to not only suspend your disbelief but throw it right out the window. Things get silly. Really silly.

There is a lot of computer geek humor as well as some pop culture humor from the 80s and 90s that reminded me a bit of Ready Player One, a book I absolutely love. I think fans of that book, may find similar things to like here. Scott Meyer does for fantasy geeks what Ernest Cline did for gaming geeks.

The only real complaint I have apart from the slow start is the general lack of women. That’s a pretty common complaint in fantasy. However as this is a fantasy book based in current time and involves using computers to manipulate the world to pretend to be a wizard this seems like a big flaw for me. Mr. Meyer has a plausible reason to explain away his lack of female characters, but he could have just as easily had a plausible reason for their inclusion instead.

 I‘ll admit that probably more than half of the reason I chose to review this book was because Luke Daniels was the reader. He did not disappoint. Another excellent performance.

Overall though, I really enjoyed listening to this book and I’ll be on the lookout for his next book as well as planning to check out his webcomic in the near future.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

September 30, 2013 by · 1 Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Book Cover for The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni
By Helene Wecker; Read by George Guidall
Audible Download – 19 Hours 43 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / Magical Realism / Contemporary Fantasy / Judaism / Immigration / Reincarnation

Every year brings new books. Some are sequels, new entries in beloved series, like favorite vacation spots we return to again and again. Others are new works by a proven author, a trusted tour guide taking us to someplace new. Still others are entirely new works by unknown authors who have received praise from the critics or the publisher’s marketing juggernaut, like learning that Costa Rica is the new cool place to visit. But every now and then, I stumble upon a new novel completely by chance, as if turning down the wrong alley in a crowded city and finding a new gem. Last year that novel was Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookshop. This year, it’s Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni.

Let’s start with the official blurb:

Helene Wecker’s dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

But a bit of cover copy can’t begin to capture the wonder of Wecker’s world. In theme and tone the novel sits squarely between contemporary fantasy in the vein of American Gods on the one hand and the subtle magical realism of books like Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude on the other. The scope is too intimate and the characters’ aims too prosaic for the novel to fall in line with contemporary or urban fantasy. Yet it’s also too relentlessly magical to keep company with literary fiction only spiced sparingly with magic. I say it sits between these two genres, but in another way it encompasses both at once. It’s both an incredibly human story and an entirely alien one. Yet the human and the mythical coexist comfortably on the streets of 19th-century New York City: they flirt, they fight, they even fall in love.

When I read the synopsis and the novel’s first few chapters, I was afraid The Golem and the Jinni would devolve into a thinly veiled commentary on the plight of New World immigrants or, worse, an anachronistic attack on Middle East cultures clashing in the United States. Fortunately, Wecker indulges in the former only sparingly and the latter not at all. Like most good literature, the book describes rather than proscribes. The poverty of the Jewish Quarter and Little Syria alike, where the respective mythical creatures take up residence, speaks for itself. Historical context and modern analogues are there to find if you dig for them, but ultimately Wecker is telling a story, a story of two beings entirely different in nature, one of Earth and one of Fire, who meet in the unlikeliest of places.

And yes, they do meet, but not until many hours into the audiobook. The novel takes a leisurely pace, but that doesn’t make it any less irresistably compeling. The narrative strikes that perfect balance between plot and characterization, both feeding off of and into one another. With a novel of this length there are the inevitable brief dry spells, but in those rare cases the strength of Wecker’s prose and the beauty of the world she has conjured carry the listener through. The book’s final chapters also felt a bit hurried, as endings often tend to be, but a lovely epilogue allows the listener to linger in the world a little longer and say goodbye to its charming cast of characters, human and otherwise.

I mentioned American Gods earlier, and it’s difficult not to think of Neil Gaiman’s masterwork when reading The Golem and the Jinni, since both novels tell the story of what happens when profoundly magical beings come to this profoundly un-magical land of America. As an audiobook listener, the similarities were all the more difficult to ignore because George Guidall lends his considerable voice talent to both works. His unhurried, understated narration fits the novel’s tone perfectly, and his voice moves mercurially from the demure speech of Chava the Golem to the taut clip of Ahmad the Jinni. It’s hard to imagine a better narrator for bringing this story to life.

I deeply hope this is but the first of many wondrous works to issue forth from the pen, or keyboard, of Helene Wecker. Rarely does a book’s world or characters captivate me so completely. If you’re looking for the next great work of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, or just plain old fiction, look no further.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

May 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen KingThe Eyes of the Dragon
By Stephen King; Read by Bronson Pinchot
11 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Fantasy / Good and evil / Magic / Monarchy / Wizards /

After writing his magnum opus IT, Stephen King briefly stepped away from the genre that defined his career. The result was The Eyes of the Dragon (1987), a fantasy novel. King said that he wrote The Eyes of the Dragon for his daughter Naomi (for whom the book is dedicated, along with King’s friend Ben Straub) who reportedly never liked her father’s terrifying tales.

While that may be true, I also think that King may have thought he had said all that he had to say about horror and was looking to explore other genres. He may also have simply exhausted himself with the tome-like IT and needed to try his hand at something short and simple. Compared with most King novels, The Eyes of the Dragon is a chapbook (it’s nine compact discs in the Penguin Audio version, 380 pages in paperback including illustrations).

In brief, The Eyes of the Dragon is a story about the inheritance of the kingship of the fictional realm of Delain. Roland, the old king, fathers two sons late in life, Peter and Thomas. Peter, the eldest, is slated to inherit the throne. Peter possesses all the qualities you would want in a monarch—he’s smart, just, honest, and brave. Thomas on the other hand is a near clone of his father—an average thinker, prone to vacillations, reluctant to make important decisions. Roland’s adviser is Flagg, a shadowy wizard who has served the kings of Delain for centuries, perhaps longer. Flagg is actually a demonic figure who wants to see Delain in ruins and the world thrown into a dark age of bloody anarchy. He devises a plot to poison Roland, framing the murder so that the blame falls on Peter. When the dust settles, Thomas, only 12 years old, unfit to rule and terrified with his new responsibility, is put on the throne. Flagg knows that Thomas will be a puppet in his hands and the instrument through which he can finally see his centuries-long evil plans come to fruition. Peter is sentenced to life in a prison in the tower of the Needle, a small cell high above the city.

King has professed a love for the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien (The Stand is a semi-homage to The Lord of the Rings, and The Dark Tower series draws its inspiration from that book as well). The Eyes of the Dragon shares a lot in common with The Hobbit. Roland’s ancient heirloom is the arrow Foe-Hammer, one of the names given to Gandalf’s sword Glamdring. It’s also an allusion to the black arrow Bard uses to bring down the dragon Smaug. King tells the tale using an omniscient narrator who speaks with a pleasant, conversational voice, and seems to be relaying the tale years later and from some other time and place. This authorial voice is another hallmark of The Hobbit, written initially for Tolkien’s children and meant to be read aloud.

In general I liked The Eyes of the Dragon very much. As with all of King’s stories it’s wonderfully told with a compelling narrative. It feels like a fairy tale with an edge, in which the events will likely work out for the good in the end but with blood spilled and hearts broken along the way.

Peter is a great character and is easy to root for. Despite his unjust sentence and the fact that he knows he will likely never leave the Needle alive, he refuses to succumb to despair. Peter is a born leader with a carriage of command. Guards who initially spit in his soup or try to bully him, believing that as a convicted murderer he will be humbled and easy prey, are cowed by his regal bearing. His captors begin to question whether he indeed murdered his father. Peter has truth on his side and maintains his innocence with a quiet certitude that inspires awe. After his first week in the Needle he makes up his mind to live, and to not relinquish his kingship. Though he’s been convicted and stripped of his regalia and title he is in all respects still the uncrowned King of Delain.

If you’re a fan of King’s world and works you’ll recognize the name of Flagg, who is also the main villain of The Stand and The Dark Tower. While menacing in The Eyes of the Dragon, I found Flagg not as terrifying as he is portrayed in The Stand. Perhaps it’s because he’s less mysterious here and more of a prototypical evil dark wizard. He only reaches the truly insane level of depravity and malice I came to associate with Flagg of The Stand at the very end of the novel.

The Eyes of the Dragon is a moral tale and uses the fantasy trope of pitting opposing sides of good and evil against each other (Peter is almost stainlessly pure, while Flagg is an unredeemable monster who wants to see Delain thrown into a 1,000-year reign of anarchy and blood-soaked chaos). In between are characters with shades of gray, and just like The Lord of the Rings the outcome is decided by a few average folk who have to make difficult choices that run at odds with their own best interests.

But The Eyes of the Dragon is not without a few flaws. In my opinion King is far more comfortable and convincing when he’s writing about our world and in particular his Maine birthplace. Fictional small towns like Derry and Castle Rock feel real because King knows their environs and peoples. In contrast, the kingdom of Delain is unremarkable and without character (it’s a typical monarchy with kings and a servant class, whose technology is roughly high medieval). Any truly fantastic elements are at a minimum: Flagg is the only person who has access to magic and his spells are more alchemy than spellcraft. The only monster we see is a single smallish dragon in a flashback sequence whose head is mounted on the wall of Roland’s sitting room (from this trophy we get the title of the novel).

There are some holes in the plot, too. For someone who is incredibly ancient, powerful, and brilliantly evil, how does Flagg let Peter live for more than five years, letting him patiently spin his escape plot from the top of the Needle? Flagg recognizes Peter almost from birth as a formidable threat: Why wouldn’t he poison him, or pay the guards to murder him, or simply do it himself? When Flagg finally does catch on to Peter’s escape plan and comes racing up the stairs of the Needle swinging his monstrous double-bladed axe like a medieval version of Jack Torrance, I wondered why he had chosen to wait so long.

The second plot hole is Peter’s method of escape. I won’t spoil it here, but it seemed unrealistic that one of the omnipresent guards (who frequently pop their heads into the window on Peter’s cell door) wouldn’t have caught him in the act at some point during his five-plus years of imprisonment.

Still, a few problems aside, The Eyes of the Dragon is, like most of King’s material, a great read and highly recommended. Bronson Pinchot does a wonderful job as narrator and in particular delivers a wonderfully-voiced Flagg, delivering his lines with a whispering malice.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of Guardians Of The West by David Eddings

February 28, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Guardians of the West by David EddingsGuardians Of The West (Book #1 of the Malloreon)
By David Eddings; Read by Cameron Beierle
14 CDs , 1 MP3 CD or Cassettes- Aprox. 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books in Motion
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1596072377 (MP3-CD), 1596072369 (CDs), 1596072350 (Cassettes)
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / War / Magical Creatures / Wizards / Gods /

Guardians Of The West is the first book in a five book series called the The Malloreon. There’s a previous five volume series, The Belgariad, that takes place in this same fantasy setting. In fact, Guardians Of The West picks up shortly after The Belgariad’s ending. I had never read The Belgariad series, so I had to play catch-up listening to this title.

After a prologue that was obviously written as a refresher to those who had read the previous series, the story gets underway. The tale unfolds slowly enough. The large cast of characters are easy to get to know and are varied and interesting in themselves. There is Errand, a naive child with special gifts. Polgara, who is a motherly near-immortal. And her father, Belgrath, a boozing, womanizer, a real Falstaffian character until things get serious.

The novel’s central characters switches to the young king, Garion, who we find to be having trouble with his new spirited queen, Ce’Nedra. The plot really begins to move when there are hints of a new dark power known only as Zandramas. The pacing remains leisure through the first half of the novel. After the climatic ending to the first series, I suppose Eddings needed to maneuver and reintroduce the cast to his readers and create a new major conflict. This could have been frustrating if wasn’t for Eddings’ gift for dialog and characterization.

This book needed a talented voice actor to carry off the large and varied cast. Sprawling fantasy novels may be the most challenging genre for an actor to convey. Cameron Beierle does it all with unequivocal panache. His very intonations carry enough characterization that Eddings’ descriptions of characters become redundant. He uses many accents that seem entirely appropriate to the characters. Like Harry Potter’s narrator, Jim Dale, he has a seemingly endless repertoire of voices. I’d go so far as to call Cameron Beierle the American Jim Dale.

If you haven’t read or listened to Eddings’ Belgariad series, I’m sure that’s the place to start. The first book in the series is called Pawn of Prophecy and it along with all the books in the two series are available from Books In Motion. And all narrated by Cameron Beierle!

Review of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

May 12, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Author of the Month

ed. – Here’s another audiobook narrated by, but not written by, Harlan Ellison

Fantasy Audiobooks - A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea
By Ursula K. Le Guin; Read by Harlan Ellison and Ursula K. Le Guin
Audio Download – 6 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio (downloaded from Audible.com)
Published: 2003
ISBN: 1574535587 (Audio CD version)
Themes: / Fantasy / Series / Magic / Dragons / Wizards /

Just minutes into this audio book, the Kargs are attacking the village of Ten Alders, confused by a fog a young wizard has woven into an impenetrable shield, harried by invisible weapons and diaphanous shapes in the mist, and headed for certain destruction. You realize, as Harlan Ellison’s already non-standard voice rises in pitch and his words pile up against one another as he charges faster and faster through the narrative, pausing only to slurp back the fevered spittle he has worked up, that this is not your average narrator. His voice doesn’t resound with the Stradivarius polish of most professional performers, and his characterizations are neither entirely distinct nor consistent, but you can’t help yourself. He has you spellbound. And why? Because his is the authentic voice of a reader, one so caught up in the story that you can’t resist being pulled along with him on his journey.

And what a journey it is! A Wizard of Earthsea is brilliant, a notable gem even among the manifold wonders of such an accomplished author as LeGuin. It is the origin story of Ged, one of the most famous sorcerers in the world of Earthsea and a lesson in both the imprisoning power of our own dark deeds and the redemption that comes through facing them. It follows Ged from his home village of Ten Alders to the City of Gont, from there on to the great school for wizards on the central island of Roke, and then on a fearful, bold chase across the whole of Earthsea. Most island settings fairly drip with the damp richness of the Pacific Northwest, and the characters span a veritable rainbow of colors and cultures. This is epic fantasy in the European tradition, but with a distinctively American flavor.

As in so many of LeGuin’s works, truth is of paramount importance on Earthsea. The old language of Earthsea, like the psychic language that unites the planets in her science fictional Hainish universe, is a language in which men cannot lie. It is also the language in which the true names of all things are recorded, which makes it the basis of all magic on Earthsea. But this latter property also gives the old language of Earthsea Platonic overtones of ideal forms lurking behind every imperfect manifestation in nature, and lends A Wizard of Earthsea a palpable sense of great truth buried just below the surface of what we see. Thus, LeGuin subtly exhorts us to explore beyond the level of the richly imagined fantasy action. And what she has placed there is well worth spending the time to think about.

There are only two off-key notes in this work and its production. The first is that, though LeGuin is given co-narration credits, she only reads a very brief poetic prologue and an only slightly less brief prose epilogue. If you’re looking to experience the author interpreting a major work with her own voice, you’re not going to find that here. The second is that, though LeGuin is noted for her progressive, feminist opinions, some of what we see in this story seems almost misogynistic. There is only one female character who seems not to harbor outright selfishness, evil, or temptation; and female magic is given an unrepentant indictment in several places. I’m new to the series, so maybe these issues are redeemed in the later books. I certainly hope so.

In any case, this production of Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea offers a dark, compelling glimpse at the forces behind the turning of the world as told in the raw, earnest voice of Harlan Ellison. My recommendation: Skip the TV miniseries—which LeGuin apparently hated—and spend your time marveling at the wonders of this quirky, enthralling audio book.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

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