Review of The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

SFFaudio Review

Girl in the RoadThe Girl in the Road
By Monica Byrne; Read by Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 20 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 7 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / near-future / dystopia / road trip / Ethiopia / Djibouti / India / ocean / metallic hydrogen /

Publisher summary:

In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is brewing, two women embark on vastly different journeys—each harrowing and urgent and wholly unexpected.When Meena finds snakebites on her chest, her worst fears are realized: someone is after her and she must flee India.  As she plots her exit, she learns of The Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge spanning the Arabian Sea that has become a refuge for itinerant vagabonds and loners on the run.  This is her salvation.  Slipping out in the cover of night, with a knapsack full of supplies including a pozit GPS system, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof pod, she sets off for Ethiopia, the place of her birth.

Meanwhile, Mariama, a young girl in Africa, is forced to flee her home.  She joins up with a caravan of misfits heading across the Sahara. She is taken in by Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. They are trying to reach Addis Abba [sic], Ethiopia, a metropolis swirling with radical politics and rich culture.  But Mariama will find a city far different than she ever expected—romantic, turbulent, and dangerous.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama’s fates are linked in ways that are mysterious and shocking to the core.

This book defied my expectations at every turn. It is near-future but in two different times and locations. Mariama is in a caravan heading to Ethiopia across land, and Meena is heading to Ethiopia from India, across the Arabian Sea, on a floating road made of metallic hydrogen. Interesting concepts for the near-future, and nice to have African and Indian characters and settings. The writing is my type – emotional, internal dialogue, pondering greater meanings.Everyone keeps calling it sci-fi, I imagine because of the brief technology mentions, but I think it fits more in fantasy – people who may or may not be human/gods/ghosts, the quest/journey, the lesson, the good vs. evil, the superhuman moments – feels like fantasy to me!  The cover also claims the book is like a hybrid of Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern, and Margaret Atwood.   I don’t see Gaiman or Morgenstern except for fantasy, but that is a pretty broad paintbrush, one that seems to grasp at the most popular authors in a genre that has better examples to draw from.  Atwood maybe in the sense of timeline and natural disaster themes.  Otherwise, I see this more like the fantastical imaginings of J.G. Ballard (such as The Unlimited Dream Company) with the setting and world building of Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death?).  So if we have to compare it to something, let it be those two instead.

I want everyone to read this book so we can discuss the ending. I listened to the last disc three times because I’m not entirely sure what happened. I’m still not.  I have questions that will make no sense until you’ve read it.  Questions like, “Where is Djibouti?” and “Is everyone insane?”  I keep telling friends about the book and thinking about it, and it has one of the few five-star ratings I’ve given out in GoodReads so far this year.  A week after finishing, I got into a conversation about metallic hydrogen and man-made floating islands in Facebook because a person had posted about Kiribati, a nation that is destined to disappear into the ocean.  Their leader is seriously considering building a place to keep his people together, because what else can you do if your country slips beneath the sea?  Monica Byrne touches on this same question.

The two readers, Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor, do a brilliant job in the performance of this book, particularly in the slipping between India and Africa the way any immigrant would, and that is crucial to the character of Meena.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

SFFaudio Review

Rivers by Michael Farris SmithRivers
By Michael Farris Smith; Read by Michael Farris Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 28 minutes

Themes: / global warming / post-apocalypse / apocalypse / survival / floods / eco-disaster /

Publisher summary:

It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land.

Following years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast—stretching from the Florida panhandle to the western Louisiana border—has been brought to its knees. The region is so punished and depleted that the government has drawn a new boundary ninety miles north of the coastline. Life below the Line offers no services, no electricity, and no resources, and those who stay behind live by their own rules.

Cohen is one who stayed. Unable to overcome the crushing loss of his wife and unborn child who were killed during an evacuation, he returned home to Mississippi to bury them on family land. Until now he hasn’t had the strength to leave them behind, even to save himself.

But after his home is ransacked and all of his carefully accumulated supplies stolen, Cohen is finally forced from his shelter. On the road north, he encounters a colony of survivors led by a fanatical, snake-handling preacher named Aggie who has dangerous visions of repopulating the barren region.

Realizing what’s in store for the women Aggie is holding against their will, Cohen is faced with a decision: continue to the Line alone, or try to shepherd the madman’s captives across the unforgiving land with the biggest hurricane yet bearing down—and Cohen harboring a secret that may pose the greatest threat of all.

In a near-future apocalyptic Mississippi, hurricanes and flooding are so frequent (nearly constant) that the government has redrawn the southern border of the country above the disaster zone. Anyone living south of The Line has no government assistance, no security, and must fend for him or herself. This setting is one of the most realistic apocalyptic worlds I have read. I’m intentionally not using the word “post” because throughout the novel, destruction continues. People are trying to survive below The Line, but hail and winds and rains are still a bigger enemy than the sprinkling of humans trying to create lives for themselves.

Cohen is a man who holed up in grief until he goes against his instincts and gives a ride to a man and woman on the road. Various events force him to make the next moves in his life in order to survive. I was quite interested in the story in the first half and in the end, but the middle almost lost me as Cohen seems to wander more in his memories than in solving his problems.

I listened to the audiobook read by the author. I didn’t realize he was the reader until the end, and thought he must just be a voice actor I hadn’t heard before. His accent is subtle but places the listener within the region, and he sounds slightly worn, slightly tired, which fits the character completely.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins; Read by Carolyn McCormick
Audible Download – 11 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Scholastic Audio
Published: 2009
Themes: / Science Fiction / Global Warming / Reality Television / Government / Oppression / Survival / YA /

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

The thing that impressed me the most about this book is how unpredictable it was. I have never listened to anything like it. Every time I expected a certain thing to happen it almost always happened the exact opposite.

The reader of The Hunger Games, Carolyn McCormick, was a very good reader, better than most I have listened to. Her ability to not only read the words, but put so much emotion into them was astounding.

The story is told from Katniss Everdeen’s point of view. Katniss lives in the twelfth district of a country which used to be North America, however due to multiple circumstances is now a country called Panem.

Long before Katniss was born, the districts rebelled against the capital, the capital eventually won. They subdued twelve of the districts and the thirteenth they completely obliterated. This is how the hunger games came about. The capital created the hunger games as a way to show the districts that they are still in control. To me this seems to be a kind of dictatorship.

When this story takes place Katniss is sixteen years old. She is fatherless and being the oldest, she provides food for her family. Since she and her family live on the very edge of District Twelve, which is called the Seam, she and her friend Gail regularly venture out into the wilderness to hunt for food. Katniss is excellent with a bow, and fairly handy with a knife.

To select the participants in each year’s Hunger Games, they have what is called The Reaping. The Reaping is when a representative from the capital comes to the district and calls two names, a boy and a girl. At this particular Reaping, Katniss’s little sister Prim, whom she loves above all else in the world, is called. Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place, and is taken into the battle that is expected to cost her her life.

The author expertly wove action, tragedy, romance, and suspense all into one book. The book on many occasions had every one of my muscles tensing up because I was scared for Katniss, or it had me crying because of so many bad things happening. It called almost every emotion to come fourth while I listened.

The only thing that disappointed me about this book was the ending. It was a good ending, but it was a sort of cliffhanger. I wanted more, the spot that it left off was very unsatisfactory to me. However this does not damage my opinion of the book very much. I am hoping desperately for a sequel. Five stars all the way.

Posted by DanielsonKid (Age 14)

Review of Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook: Julian Comstock by Robert Charles WilsonJulian Comstock: A Story of the 22nd Century
By Robert Charles Wilson; Read by Scott Brick
21 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2009
Themes: / Science Fiction / Government / Aristocracy / History / Politics / Global Warming / Civilization / Theocracy /

The United States of America has changed. Global warming fears have come to pass, Christian groups have become a stronger part of the government (practically its own branch, called The Dominion), aristocracy has ascended because fewer and fewer have access to so much. The average citizen in this 22nd century view of the future have taken a step backward. The scientific past has retreated into myth, and superstition rules the day.

In short, Robert Charles Wilson has taken a particular view of what the United States is and has taken it to extremes in “if this should continue” science fiction tradition. The characters do not feel futuristic – instead they feel historical. Like Firefly in a way, the characters are straight from the 19th century. This creates a very interesting juxtaposition of time: A possible future that’s really a look at the present, but with characters that feel historical. Sci-Fi Wire quotes Wilson on this:

The past regarding the present from the future—that’s a literary effect only science fiction can achieve, and that’s what I was aiming for, a kind of simultaneous triple perspective. We think of the past as quaint and the present as mundane and the future as, well, futuristic—but so did our great-grandparents, and so will our great-grandchildren. ‘All times have been modern,’ as the French composer Nadia Boulanger said.

The novel is told by Adam Hazzard, a friend of Julian Comstock, who is aristocrat (the Comstock family has held the Presidency for years and years). Hazzard tells us right up front that he’s writing this biography of Comstock because Comstock has become a great man.

The first scenes have the two as young men looking through a pile of discarded books. They take what they can carry, but Comstock gives a specific book to Hazzard; a history of manned exploration of the Moon. Hazzard doesn’t believe such things actually happened, but accepts the book anyway, and wonders.

From there, Hazzard uses events like this one to show readers the life of Comstock, but everything is colored through Hazzard’s point of view. In a way, the book is like a Sherlock Holmes novel, but Wilson has created a much more interesting character in Hazzard than Doyle ever did with Watson.

Scott Brick takes full advantage of the Hazzard character, and does well with the 19th century sensibility of all the characters. This book has a whole lot of detail and a whole lot of lengthy conversation between the main characters about various subjects. Brick keeps it interesting, like he always does. We even get to hear him speak French when the characters spend time in Montreal.

This novel is rich and draws on a rich tradition. A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Postman, and Earth Abides all leap to mind, but this isn’t a homage or a retelling of those books. This is a story that looks at the present in a way that only science fiction can.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of State Of Fear By Michael Crichton

Science Fiction Audiobook - State of Fear by Michael CrichtonState Of Fear
By Michael Crichton; Read by George Wilson 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

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.