Review of Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

SFFaudio Review

steamRaising Steam (Discworld #40)
By Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 18 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12.5 hours

Themes: / fantasy / Discworld / machines /

Publisher summary:

Change is afoot in Ankh-Morpork. Discworld’s first steam engine has arrived, and once again Moist von Lipwig finds himself with a new and challenging job.

Like other novels in the Discworld series, Raising Steam has a tasty mix of internal referencing, matter-of-fact world bending, and playfulness. Exploring the idea of what the industrial revolution may have been like in a world with magical powers and creatures beings (oh the trollmanity), Pratchett also somehow manages to sneak in the occasional sharply satirical quip (quite a feat given the fantastic nature of the Discworld).

I found that the reader in the audiobook provided a good listening experience as his reading neither distracted from the plot nor made the book boring.  Raising Steam was an overall good reading experience that seemed to slide easily into its place among the Discworld series.

Posted by Trant Thumble.

Review of Conquest by B.V. Larson

SFFaudio Review

ConquestConquest – (Star Force #4)
By B.V. Larson, Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hoursThemes: / aliens / military sci-fi / fighting bugs / machines / invasion /

Publisher summary:

Conquest is the next chapter in the great interstellar war between all living creatures and the machines. Star Force must stop the machine invaders once again – but how? In the fourth book of the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs has freed Earth from the chains of the Macros – but at what cost? The Macros no longer trust him. He is a mad dog that must be put down – and all Star Force must be stamped out with him. The war expands in this story, and mankind is once again faced with annihilation.

Conquest is the fourth book in the Star Force series by B. V. Larson and, while it continues the well-established tradition of this series for thrilling military action, it also brings several of the flaws of the series into sharp focus.

Over the course of the previous three novels in the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs has made some bad calls. He has sworn Earth to provide troops for a dangerous enemy, ordered thousands of his troops to their deaths, and cast aside strategic alliances with little thought to the long-term consequences of his actions. Throughout it all, I continued to root for Riggs and the rest of his band, even as I questioned his actions. Now, though, I can’t help but wonder if Star Force is the right team for the job.

Of course, they never were supposed to be the first best choice. Riggs and Crow, the co-leaders of Star Force, were plucked from their homes by brutal machines and only came to command the most technologically advanced army in human history because they managed to survive a brutal series of tests, so it should come as little surprise that these two often resort to brute force to solve their problems. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that these two men were woefully unfit for command when the first few chapters of this book consisted of little more than a super-powered grudge match between them. Riggs, as the narrator and protagonist, does his best to justify his actions to the reader, but many of his arguments can be boiled down to, “I did my best, but I’m not really a soldier.” Meanwhile, Crow is written as a chameleon who repeatedly vacillates between careless pirate and brilliant strategist, with little to no transition between.

One might expect that the return of the giant Macro robots would bring some unity to Star Force, or at least some sound strategic planning, but it doesn’t. Instead, Crow runs away (as usual) and Riggs comes up with some brilliant modifications to the Star Force battle equipment, then fails to use them to their potential (as usual). The one piece of brilliant strategizing that Riggs does manage to pull off, which results in the Macros focusing their attacks on Star Force’s home base rather than assaulting the entire planet, backfires spectacularly when he forgets the lessons learned in his previous fights against both the Macros and the Helios Worms. Riggs knows the Macros are underground, but makes no plans to defend against an attack from below. He gives his troops the ability to fly, but rarely uses that to his strategic advantage. Mistake compounds mistake until only nuclear weapons and convenient force-field failures can save Earth.

Apparently I am not the only one dissatisfied with the leadership of Kyle Riggs, as the author included a subplot of ongoing assassination attempts in Conquest. Obviously, I won’t say who or what was behind the attempts, but I like to imagine that there was some level of symbolism to B. V. Larson’s decision to introduce this plot element. I have to wonder if maybe there is some chance that, by the time he reached this book, Larson had realized that Riggs needs to develop further as a leader and a character.

Mark Boyett does an admirable job narrating this series, navigating the wide range of accents with ease. I did think, as I listened, that I caught a few errors, but I am more inclined to believe that these were missed during the editing of the book, rather than introduced in the recording of the audio. At a running time of just over eleven hours, spanning ten CDs, the book is just long enough to tell the story of the second invasion of Earth without overstaying its welcome. I plan to continue reading this series, but I truly hope to see some growth in strategic thinking from Riggs, or I could see myself beginning to feel sympathetic towards Conquest’s failed assassins.

Posted by Andrew Linke

Review of Rebellion by B.V. Larson

SFFaudio Review

rebellionRebellion (Star Force #3)
By B.V. Larson, Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / aliens / military sci-fi / fighting bugs / machines /

Publisher summary:

Rebellion is the turning point in the great interstellar war between all living creatures and the machines. Star Force is on the side of the machines – but for how long? In the third book of the Star Force series, Kyle Riggs learns just what kind of war Earth is caught up in. At the mercy of the Macros, his marines fight against new alien races, big and small. They battle the innocent and the vile alike, until their situation becomes grim.

Rebellion is the third novel in B. V. Larson’s Star Force series starring computer science professor turned interstellar marine Kyle Riggs. It stands on its own better than the previous novel, Extinction, but I would still recommend reading the previous books first as the plot throughout the series thus far has been mostly linear. In Rebellion, Larson takes his Star Force formula, throws in a couple new atomic grenades, and keeps blasting right along with the story of humanity’s fight against alien machines known as the Macros.

Given the title, it should come as no surprise that in this novel Kyle Riggs leads the battered remnants of his Star Force marines in a rebellion against their Macro masters. His reasons for this are many, but the decision point comes when he discovers that, while the Macros are scrupulous in abiding by the letter of their agreements, they have no compunction in their networked silica minds against taking advantage of every loophole in an agreement. In this case, they use Riggs’s nanotized marines to attack a race that had failed to include a prohibition against indirect assault using mercenaries in their peace treaty. Riggs concludes that the Macros will employ similar tactics against Earth and the near future and determines that it is better to restart the war now. On his own terms. With only five thousand men. With no way of alerting Earth.

Draw your own conclusions about Kyle Riggs’s big-picture tactical planning capabilities but, as in the previous novels, it is hard to fault his individual decisions in the heat of the moment. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if Larson intends his hero to be an object lesson in the difficulty of making good choices under stress.

The structure of the Macro / Nano division continues to frustrate me. I’m beginning to accept that Nanos can not simply swarm a Macro and take it apart, though this acceptance is less for any logical reason than just because it continues to not happen, even though there are specific scenes of destroyed Macros being disassembled by Nanos and reprocessed. Perhaps my worst gripe along these lines for Rebellion is the revelation that Macro ships are difficult to pilot because the cockpits are built for pilots with seven arms. Now, I’ll accept that there is some sort of fundamental programming element that requires all Macros to be large, but when their entire command structure is built on networked parallel processing, why aren’t the ships just built into that network? There is simply no reason for the Macros to have physical ship controls, any more than there is a need for their ships to have pressurized compartments.

All complaints aside, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Rebellion features more, and far more interesting, revelations about the Star Force universe than its predecessor. The best of these are the emergence of a new machine intelligence and Sandra finally coming into her own as a character. This new intelligence starts off as little more than another of the nanobot “brain boxes” that Riggs uses in every aspect of his military. Riggs names the over-achieving brain box Marvin, in what I can only hope is an unacknowledged tip of the hat to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the interactions between Marvin and the human characters are probably the best part of this novel. As for Sandra, she spends half the novel in a coma, then wakes up just in time to reprise her roll as Riggs’s shallow, hot-tempered girlfriend. Literally her first action after waking up is to punch another woman for kissing Riggs in a moment of desperation. Fortunately, Sandra seems to blow most of her daft behavior allocation in that first moment as, with the help of some sentient microbes who have been tortured into assisting Starforce, she quickly evolves into a strong, self-motivated character.

Development of characters other than Kyle Riggs has been a weakness for this series from the beginning, and Rebellion does little to change this. Other than the introduction of Marvin and the growth in Sandra, the only supporting characters to see a change are Jasmine, who develops a crush on Riggs, and Kwan, who gets a girlfriend and learns a few new English idioms. But you don’t read Star Force novels for character development or fully coherent plot. If you are a fan of fast-paced science fiction featuring liberal quantities of bloody, laser-scorched human versus robot combat, Rebellion will quench your thirst for action.

The audiobook narrated by Mark Boyett has the usual quality of production and performance. Three books into the series, I do have to admit that I am starting to get annoyed by the accents of characters other than Kyle Riggs, as it seems that any human character who merits a name also has an accent. Mark Boyett does a fine job with his reading, and I do appreciate that B. V. Larson is attempting to show the global nature of Star Force, but the continual shifting of accents and genders from a single male reader grows tiresome after about six hours.

Posted by Andrew Linke

Review of Suicide is Painless by Don Norum

SFFaudio Review

Back in SFFaudio’s first year, a moose bit my sister…

Science Fiction Audiobook - Suicide is PainlessSuicide is Painless
By Don Norum; Read by Paul Campbell
55 Minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Cossmass Infinities
Published: 2010
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military SF / Battles / Aliens /

If you’ve got circuits installed all over your body, does that make you a cyborg? Or do you need to have metal limbs or something? Not sure, but in “Suicide is Painless”, Don Norum presents us with Lucia, a beautiful female plus circuits. Those circuits allow her to interface with her battle machine in a deep way – submerged in fluid to help with shock absorption, she connects with machine and fights with lots of firepower. I loved the descriptions of how she joined with the machine.

Who’s the enemy? Cockroach-like creatures that infest asteroids in the asteroid belt. They’ve been there for millions of years, but they didn’t originate from there. Bring ’em on!

Paul W. Campbell himself performs the narration of this, the third story in his Cossmass Infinities podcast. He’s paying the authors with donations, so be sure to throw a tip their way if you like the story. I enjoyed Paul’s narration here and in Episode One: “Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range” by Matthew Sanborn Smith.

Find Cossmass Infinities |HERE|

And the podcast feed:

Posted by Scott D. Danielson