Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




Time Jumpers: A satisfactory ending to this MG fantasy series

Time Jumpers by Brandon Mull

Anyone who’s read the first four installments of Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series for middle graders will undoubtedly want to read the fifth and concluding volume, Time Jumpers (2018). We all want to know if Cole and his friends will be able to escape the Outskirts and return home, and we want to know if the kids’ families and friends will still remember them!

This time Cole is visiting the last of the five kingdoms: Creon. Here he will confront the high king (whose daughters he’s been rescuing as he travels around the five kingdoms), attempt to stop an evil shaper from destroying the world, and investigate a rumor suggesting there may be a way to get himself and his friends home and restore their parents’ memories.

In Time Jumper... Read More

Tower of Mud and Straw: A poignant tale of love and loss

Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov

Lord Shea Ashcroft, a government minister, faced with a rioting crowd of protestors in the capital city, makes the call to have the military fall back rather than killing the protestors — and innocent bystanders —with poisonous gas. Some people praise his mercy, but half the city now lies in ruins from the mob’s violence, and the queen is not so appreciative of his decision. Shea is shipped off to the border city of Owenbeg as punishment, charged with overseeing the finishing of construction of a colossal tower to protect the border against enemy airships. The tower is already a thousand feet high, with plans to add another thousand feet on top.

Things get complicated for Shea in Owenbeg, on both a personal and a political level. The duke of Owenbeg, his military commander, and the chief engineer of the tower all resent Shea, especially when Shea makes it clear that he won’t just... Read More

In the Palace of Shadow and Joy: Two more loveable rogues

In the Palace of Shadow and Joy by D.J. Butler

D.J. Butler tries his hand at the two-loveable-rogues-for-hire story and mostly succeeds.

Our two loveable rogues are Indrajit Twang and Fix. Indrajit is the poet of his very small clan of people. He has come to the great city of Kish to find (he hopes) an apprentice who can learn the epic poem of his race so it can be passed down to the next generation. If he does not succeed, all of the history and culture of these few hundred people will be lost.

But meanwhile, he’s in debt and needs to earn some money. When he hires on with a risk insurance merchant, he meets his new partner Fix, a curious and educated orphan who grew up in Kish. Indrajit and Fix’s job is to keep an eye on a famous opera star named Ilsa Without Peer. There’s been an insurance policy taken out on her and the risk merchant t... Read More

The Cunning Man: Interesting setting, heart-warming relationship

The Cunning Man by D.J. Butler & Aaron Michael Ritchey

Hiram Woolley, 44 years old, is a slightly melancholy widower who farms beets in Utah during the Great Depression. He and his adopted son, Michael, spend their free time taking food and supplies to people who are suffering more than they are. This includes the citizens, mostly immigrants, of a mining town where the mine has been closed due to a squabble between the members of the Kimball family who own it. The miners aren’t getting paid and they’re starving. They can’t get out of the situation because they rent their homes from the mining company. Some of the workers are scared because they think the mine is haunted. Hiram thinks the Kimballs are keeping a secret about the mine.

Hiram and Michael realize that it would be best for everyone if, rather than continuing to deliver food, they could help get the mine re-opened. That means someone needs to figure out what th... Read More

Hoka! Hoka! Hoka!: Cute aliens provide much entertainment

Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson

Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! (1998), by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson, has been on my TBR list for years and, thanks to Tantor Media, which just released the first audio edition, it has finally landed in my audiobook player. As I anticipated, this collection of stories about the cute fuzzy aliens known as the Hoka, were really entertaining.

The Hoka are creatures that look like large teddy bears and they’re known throughout the universe as being “the most imaginative race of beings in known space.” They have a fascination with human culture and they love to mimic it, often on a grand scale, but they’re not always able to distinguish fact from fiction when they read about humans. The Hoka dev... Read More

We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep: Odd, unsettling, lovely

We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart

When she was a small child, Remy was rescued from death by a chaplain who oversees the monks on a submarine called Leviathan. They carry the world’s last nuclear missile and their mission is to wait, protecting the missile, until God tells them it’s time to deploy it against the wicked Earth on judgement day.

Remy’s job is to sing in the choir of eunuchs, a crucial role that keeps up morale. Her voice will remain high because she’s a girl (a secret that only the chaplain knows), so she is not in danger of being pulled out of the choir and sent to work in the engine room where the nuclear reactor is. That’s a dangerous job that soon leads to a wasting illness and eventual death. But as Remy hears her best friend’s voice begin to change, she worries about his fate and begins to question all she’s been told about the world.

Read More

All Systems Red: We love this introverted killing machine

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

The narrator of All Systems Red (2017), the 2017 Nebula award-winning novella by Martha Wells, is a once-nameless cyborg security unit or SecUnit that has given itself the name Murderbot (for reasons disclosed midway through the story). Using its own unprecedented and highly unauthorized initiative, Murderbot has hacked the governor module software that controls its actions and obligates it to be obedient. But instead of going on a killing spree, as one might expect given the name it adopted, Murderbot elects to spend its spare hours watching countless hours of video entertainment and trying not to interact more than is necessary with the group of eight humans that it’s responsible for protecting, a survey group of eight scientists ... Read More

A Hole in the Sky: An audio-only story by Hamilton

A Hole in the Sky by Peter F. Hamilton

Hazel, who’s 16, lives on a huge starship called Daedalus. It left Earth around 900 years ago with plans to terraform a new habitable planet. But when they arrived, they found a nearly sentient species that they didn’t want to disturb, so they decided to try another planet. A few decades later, citizens who were disgruntled about that decision mutinied and, in the battle, much of their knowledge and technology was destroyed.

Now, 500 years later, most of the people of Daedalus live in separate primitive farming communities where they work hard to eke out an existence. To protect resources, those who can’t work and adults over age 65 are “recycled.”

When Hazel’s brother has an accident that prevents him from working, he and Hazel run away. That’s how they find the “cheaters” — the old people who escaped from the villages and hide in the forest so they won’t... Read More

Forty Thousand in Gehenna: A new human society evolves

Forty Thousand in Gehenna by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s stand-alone ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck and Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983), together under the title Alliance Space. I’m reviewing the novels separately since that’s the way they were originally published and can still be purchased. However, I love that you can get them both in one Kindle edition or one 22-hour long audiobook! The narration by Daniel Thomas May works well enough, though his voice is a little too deep to handle many female characters. That becomes noticeable in Forty Thousand ... Read More

Merchanter’s Luck: An entertaining space opera

Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio has recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck (1982) and Forty Thousand in Gehenna, together under the title Alliance Space. I’m going to review the novels separately since that’s the way they were originally published and can still be purchased. However, I love that you can get them both in one Kindle edition or one 22-hour long audiobook! The narration by Daniel Thomas May works well.

In Merchanter’s Luck we meet Sandor, a good-looking, slightly dishonest, 27-year-old merchant with a tragic past who lives on a tiny 150-year old spaceship. Sandor was bor... Read More

The Councillor: Strong writing balances out familiar plotting

The Councillor by E.J. Beaton

E.J. Beaton’s The Councillor (2020) is a political fantasy whose smooth prose carries one smartly if slowly through the well-worn grooves of the genre. And therein one can see both the novel’s strengths and its weaknesses, which together result in a solid if somewhat overly long and overly familiar story.

Lysande Prior — commoner, orphan, and scholar — has risen to become advisor and friend to the warrior Queen Sarelin, who recently put down a nearly-successful attempt by the White Queen to restore elemental magic users (a currently persecuted minority group) to their former ruling position in Elira. When Sarelin is assassinated, though, Lysande finds herself named Councillor, and thus tasked with choosing Elira’s next ruler from amongst the rulers of its four major regions. A job made more complicated by their inherent sense of rivalry, the impendi... Read More

Call of the Bone Ships: The pace has picked up significantly

Call of the Bone Ships by R.J. Barker

Call of the Bone Ships (2020) is the second book in R.J. Barker’s TIDE CHILD trilogy. The first book, The Bone Ships, introduced Joron Twiner, first mate to a tough and effective sea captain named Lucky Meas. Sailing and politics collide when their disreputable ship Tide Child was assigned to find and protect the last of a valuable but possibly extinct sea dragon species. The Bone Ships — dark, moody, and beautifully written — was slow-going until the final scenes, which were spectacular. By that point I was eager to read this second book, Call of the Bone Ships.

Call of the Bone Ships Read More

Death Weavers: Finally, some answers

Death Weavers by Brandon Mull

Death Weavers (2016) is the fourth of five novels in Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series. This is a fun adventure that I’d recommend for middle grade readers. You’ll want to read the first three books, Sky Raiders, Rogue Knight, and Crystal Keepers, before picking up Death Weavers. I’ll assume you’ve read them and I may include minor spoilers for those earlier installments in this review.

Cole and his companions continue to visit each of the kingdoms in the Outskirts a... Read More

Crystal Keepers: An exciting installment in this fun middle grade series

Crystal Keepers by Brandon Mull

Crystal Keepers (2015) is the third of five installments in Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series for kids. It follows Sky Raiders and Rogue Knight, which you’ll want to read first. There are a couple of spoilers for those novels in this review.

The story is about some middle grade kids who went to a haunted house on Halloween and were kidnapped and sold into slavery in a parallel universe called the Outskirts or the Five Kingdoms. Cole Randolph, a classmate of the kidnapped kids, managed to hide from the kidnappers and follow his friends into the Outskirts. He’s been trying to find them, save ... Read More

Today I Am Carey: Smart, thoughtful, and touching

Today I Am Carey by Martin L. Shoemaker

Carey is a robot whose job is to provide health care and companionship for humans, especially for elderly people with dementia. Carey is equipped with an “empathy net” which allows him to understand the feelings of the people he cares for, and an “emulation net” which lets him change his appearance, voice, and mannerisms so he can pretend to be someone else. The purpose is to help ease the anxieties of patients with dementia.

When we first meet Carey, he is the caretaker for an elderly woman named Mildred. Her husband is dead and her children and grandchildren, who have jobs and school, can’t be with her all day. When Mildred gets confused and thinks she’s talking to one of them, Carey can morph into a fairly accurate simulation so that he can soothe her better than any other hired caretaker could.

Unexpectedly, Carey has become conscious, something he wonders abou... Read More

The Physicians of Vilnoc: Penric and the plague

The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Physicians of Vilnoc (2020) is another installment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s PENRIC AND DESDEMONA series which is set in the same world as her award-winning FIVE GODS / CHALION trilogy. You don’t need to read the CHALION books first, but I highly recommend them. Most of the PENRIC AND DESDEMONA novellas can stand alone, but it’s best to read them in order if you can.

The Physicians of Vilnoc is the eighth story if you go buy publication order but the ninth if you go by internal chronology. The very short installment called Masquerade in Lodi was the latest to be published (as of... Read More

The Orphans of Raspay: An action-packed PENRIC story

The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold

Those of us who are big fans of Lois McMaster Bujold, now age 71, are always thrilled to have a new story from her. These days she’s been writing novellas and most of them are PENRIC AND DESDEMONA stories, a spin-off from her award-winning FIVE GODS / CHALION trilogy.

The Orphans of Raspay (2019) is the seventh of these novellas, if we go by publication order, and the eighth if we go by the story’s chronology. Most (but not all) of the novellas have a self-contained story with a satisfying conclusion, but I’d still recommend that you read them in either publication or chronological order so you can experience the development of Penric’s relationships. It is not necessary to read the CHALI... Read More

The Doors of Eden: An intelligent, mind-bending epic

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Girlfriends Mal and Lee are cryptid hunters. They don’t believe in any of the monsters they hunt, of course, but it’s fun to follow the clues and debunk the myths for their blog. But on their last adventure, they saw some weird stuff and Mal disappeared.

That was four years ago. Now, suddenly, Lee runs into Mal on the street in London and she’s with a man who looks like a Neanderthal. Where has she been and why is she with that guy? And why is a world-renowned physicist and an evil villain suddenly so interested in Lee and Mal?

Other humans are also having strange experiences. These include Julian, an MI5 agent stuck in a deteriorating marriage, his colleague Alison who’s really good with data, a retired soldier named Lucas who works for the evil guy, and Dr. Khan, the eccentric but brilliant transgender physicist mentioned above.

As the story proceeds, ... Read More

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn: A fun heist story

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

Ardor Benn and his friend and partner Raekon Dorrel are con artists. They live in a world where a substance called grit (extracted from dragon poo) has magical properties.

There are different types of grit, depending on what the dragon ate, and they can be used to create various magical effects. Drift grit, for example, lets the user float in the air like a helium balloon, and barrier grit creates a temporary invisible wall.

Ard and Raek are clever and resourceful, pulling elaborate cons using grit. Ard calls himself a “ruse artist extraordinaire” but deep down he knows that his lifestyle is unhealthy. His mother and the woman he loves think he’s dead and he’s too ashamed to let them know the truth.

When Ard and Raek get a dangerous job offer that would pay enough to let them retire from their lives of crime, they decide to take it. It will... Read More

The Artificial Kid: Early cyberpunk

The Artificial Kid by Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling’s 1980 novel The Artificial Kid wasn’t on my TBR list until Brilliance Audio published an audiobook edition a couple of months ago. I’m so happy to see these older science fiction novels being revived and made even more accessible to a new generation of speculative fiction readers. Last month I reviewed the new audio edition of Sterling’s first novel, Involution Ocean, also by Brilliance Audio. I hope we’ll be seeing more of his novels coming out in audio soon.

The Artificial Kid is Sterling’s second novel and, like Involution Ocean, it’s set on an imaginative world with fabulous scenery, has an unusual plot, contains ecological and evolutionary themes, and features bizarre c... Read More

The Somebody People: Better than its predecessor

The Somebody People by Bob Proehl

I wasn’t crazy about Bob Proehl’s The Nobody People. While the premise was intriguing (kids with supernatural powers being raised and trained in a boarding school without the public’s knowledge), the novel, for reasons I’ve described in my review, was not compelling. I struggled to finish it but, in the end, I was curious about where Proehl was going with the story. For that reason, I picked up the sequel, The Somebody People, and I’m happy to report that I found this story more entertaining than its predecessor.

Several years have passed since the events of The Nobody People. ... Read More

Catfishing on CatNet: A clowder of catastrophes, catalysts and catharsis

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

In this worthy Nebula (Andre Norton Award) finalist by Naomi Kritzer we meet Steph, a girl who has spent most of her life on the run with her mother. According to her mom, Steph’s abusive father is extremely dangerous and, after spending a couple of years in jail for arson, he’s stalking them. Steph and her mom keep fleeing to small towns, trying to get lost, but eventually her mom gets nervous again and wants to move on. This means that Steph keeps starting at new schools and never has time to settle in and make friends. Her mom, anxious and paranoid, is not a good source of comfort or companionship.

Steph’s only source of stability is CatNet, a social media site where users are assigned by the site’s administrators to chat rooms called Clowders. At CatNet, Steph is known as LittleBat and she ... Read More

The Ministry for The Future: An optimistic but unlikely scenario

The Ministry for The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, The Ministry for The Future (2020), feels like a blueprint. Set in our near future, it follows a set of diverse characters living all over the world who are trying to solve the climate crisis, repair our world and, essentially, save the human race.

The novel begins in India where Frank May is working at a charity organization’s neighborhood clinic. Heatwaves have become a regular occurrence there. When the worst one yet arrives and power is shut off, Frank desperately tries to help the citizens in the neighborhood but is unsuccessful. He is the only survivor of an event that kills millions of people, results in a stubborn case of PTSD for Frank, and sets off a global effort to make sure that it never happens again.

Back in Switzerland, Mary Murphy heads the Ministry for the Future, an ... Read More

Neverwhere: A wonderfully fantastical setting

Reposting to include Maron's new essay.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is a novel that improved dramatically for me on reread, which actually was a surprise to me. I originally read it about six years ago when, in an odd twist worthy of London Below, it mysteriously appeared one day on my clunky Kindle 2, without my having ordered it. About a month later it just as mysteriously disappeared again (luckily I had finished it just in time). I was fascinated by the marvelous and imaginative setting of Neverwhere and London Below, but only mildly entertained by the plot, which ― other than the beginning and the end ― I found quite forgettable.

Still, when I was offered the chance to read a 2016 edition of Neverwhere with the “author’s preferred text” and illustrations by Chris Riddell, whose illustrations make Gaiman’... Read More

The Tower of Fools: Historical fantasy by the author of THE WITCHER

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

Fans of THE WITCHER will be happy to see that another of Andrzej Sapkowski’s works has been translated into English. The Tower of Fools, the first in his HUSSITE TRILOGY, was published in Polish in 2002 (Polish title: Narrenturm), then other Eastern European languages, and has this year been translated into English by David French (translator of THE WITCHER) and published by Orbit (US) and Gollancz (UK).

The HUSSITE TRILOGY is a historical fantasy set in the time of the Hussite Revolution (the Bohemian Reformation) of the early 15th century. For those not as familiar with these h... Read More