Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




Strange Monsters: An entrancing musical/literary performance

Strange Monsters by Peter Brewer & Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

I’ve been a fan of Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s short fiction for a few years. She captures a lovely intersection between the mundane and the mythic in her stories, so when she asked if I’d like to review her newest collection, I jumped at the chance. Strange Monsters (2016) is a music-and-words collaboration between Stufflebeam and Peter Brewer, a jazz musician and Stufflebeam’s partner. Over melodies both slow and easy, and chaotic and exciting, a cast of actors reads five short stories and five poems by Stufflebeam. The resulting listening experience is fulfilling, funny, and ultimately haunting.

The first story, “The Stink of Horses,” was inspired by a real-life quote from Chekhov about how dancers stink like horses. It tells the story of Marina Golovina, a mysterious Russian ballerina who inspires obsession, posses... Read More

Rage of the Fallen: Tom et al go to Ireland

Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

In Rage of the Fallen, the eighth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES horror series for children, Tom flees with Alice and the Spook to Ireland to avoid the war that has engulfed their county. The evil creatures who live in Ireland are different from those they’re used to, so Tom gets to learn about, and attempt to defeat, these new threats to the world. Basically it’s the same sort of trouble he’s always been dealing with, just more Celtic-inspired. There are Irish gods, Irish witches, Irish mages, Irish ghosts, Irish blood-suckers, etc.

In addition to these new challenges, the old ones remain. The Fiend continues to dog him as we wait for their final confrontation. Witches are trying to get revenge on Tom.... Read More

Blindsight: Mind-blowing hard SF about first contact, consciousness

Blindsight by Peter Watts

This is ‘hard science fiction’ in the truest sense of the term — hard science concepts, hard-to-understand writing at times, and hard-edged philosophy of mind and consciousness. Peter Watts aggressively tackles weighty subjects like artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, genetic modification, sentience vs intelligence, first contact with aliens utterly different from humanity, and a dystopian future where humans are almost superfluous and would rather retreat into VR. Blindsight (2006) is also a tightly-told story of an exploration vessel manned by five heavily-modified post-humans commanded by a super-intelligent vampire, and a very tense and claustrophobic narrative that demands a lot from readers. If that sounds like your kind of book, you’ll find this is one of the best hard science fiction books in the last 10 years.

I try to avoid using the... Read More

Down and Dirty: Lacks cohesion, but still entertaining

Down and Dirty edited by George R.R. Martin

Jube: Hear who won the Miss Jokertown Beauty Pageant last week?
Croyd: Who?
Jube: Nobody.


I continue to listen to the new audiobook version of the WILD CARDS books as they are released by Random House Audio. Down and Dirty, the fifth volume, was published a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read the previous volumes (Wild CardsAces High, Jokers Wild, Aces Abroad), you should do so before reading this review. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the format of these anthologies / mosaic novels, and the story so far.

Down and Dirty (originally published in 1988) has a strange structure which, as George R.R. Martin admits in the boo... Read More

The Bridge: Lucid dreams with a Scottish flair

The Bridge by Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks is a versatile Scottish writer, equally skilled in far-future space opera (the CULTURE series), dark contemporary novels (The Crow Road, The Wasp Factory, Walking on Glass), and a host of novels in between. The Bridge is one of his earlier books, and the late author’s personal favorite according to an interview. It was also selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. I’ve had it on the TBR list for about two decades, and finally got around to listening to it on audio.

The Bridge (1986) is narrated by Peter Kenny, the highly talented narrator of most of Banks’ novels, who is a master of British and Sc... Read More

Feersum Endjinn: An eclectic far-future science fantasy

Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Sometimes a book has so many incredible elements that it defies easy summary. Compound that with the fact that it shares themes with some of your favorite genre classics, and that it is written by the incredibly-talented Iain M. Banks, and you have the recipe for a very unique reading experience. As I read the story, I was forcibly reminded of some classic books in the genre, particularly Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Read More

Parable of the Sower: A new religion born from societal collapse

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower (1993) is the first book in Octavia Butler’s PARABLE (EARTHSEED) series. It is one of her most well-regarded novels, along with Kindred (1979) and Wild Seed (1980), and depicts a near-future United States that has collapsed due to environmental catastrophe into roving bands of thieves, drug addicts, rapists, murderers, scavengers, corporate towns that impose wage slavery, and gated communities protected by armed guards that strive to survive amidst the chaos.

It is an unforgiving world in which the strong, violent, and ruthless dominate the weak and powerless. The story centers around Lauren Olamina, a 17-year old girl born to a Black Baptist preacher and Hispanic mother. Due to drugs... Read More

Aces Abroad: Aces and Jokers tour the world

Aces Abroad edited by George R.R. Martin

Aces Abroad is the fourth WILD CARDS anthology edited by George R.R. Martin. It was originally published in 1988, released in a new print edition by Tor in 2015, and released in audio format by Random House Audio in March 2016. It would be best to read the previous volumes (Wild Cards, Aces High, Jokers Wild) first, not only because they introduce the most important characters and provide a lot of background information that you’ll need to fully appreciate Aces Abroad, but also because those first three books are more entertaining than this one is and represent the series better, I think.

WILD CARDS is a shared universe written by sev... Read More

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: Amiable but superfluous

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams

The original HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY trilogy was a massive hit, so it was inevitable that fans would clamor for more. The first three books ranged across the galaxy, a wild ride carried along by an eclectic cast of comic characters, held together by Douglas Adams’ droll British humor, intergalactic hitchhiker Ford Prefect, former President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin the Paranoid Robot, and grounded by befuddled English everyman Arthur Dent. This time Adams has taken a very different tack, returning to that little backwater planet in an unfashionable corner of the Milky Way known as... Earth.

But hang on, you say, Earth was destroyed by the Vogons at the opening of the first book to make way for an intergalactic bypass, right? Well, when Arthur ... Read More

Rise of the Huntress: Bony Lizzy escapes

Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney

Rise of the Huntress is the seventh of Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES popular horror series for children. The series deservedly has legions of young fans and it’s likely that nothing I, a jaded adult, has to say about a seventh book will mean anything to anybody, so I’ll make this short.

Rise of the Huntress delivers exactly what we expect. The formula has become clear by now. Each book is a scary little adventure which gives Tom and his friends an evil foe to fight while advancing the overall plot slightly. This time Tom, the Spook, and Alice flee the Spook’s house because it has been overrun by soldiers involved in the war we keep hearing about. Bony Lizzy, the evil witch that th... Read More

The Knights of Crystallia: Targeted at a YA audience

The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

The Knights of Crystallia (formerly published as Alcatraz Versus The Knights of Crystallia) is Brandon Sanderson’s third book in this YA series and I have several confessions to make. One is that I haven’t read the first two Alcatraz books. The second is that I am not Y. Not even close. Usually, I don’t feel that hinders my reviews of YA books. But as I read much of The Knights of Crystallia, I started to wonder if I’d become the old guy in a bathrobe yelling “Get off my lawn ya lousy kids!” while waving a hairy-knuckled fist in the offenders’ general direction. Maybe, gasp, I just didn’t get the “Y” in YA anymore.

What tipped me off? Maybe the occasional reference to farts or “potty breaks,” the character who thinks curses in the Hushworld (our world) are phrases l... Read More

Life, the Universe, and Everything: Still funny, but losing coherence

Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams

I loved THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series when I read it back in 5th grade. It was one of the first science fiction series I read, shortly after THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. I was just forming my taste in fantastic fiction, and this was the first series I read that was truly funny, featuring dry, ironic British humor no less. It was completely new to a kid growing up in sunny Hawaii, pretty much as far from rainy, overcast England as you can get. In many cases I knew it was clever dialogue, but had no idea what Adams meant.

Listening to the audiobook read by Martin Freeman more than 20 years later, working with several very British co-workers who love to debate about the Tory & Labor parties, cricket (especially The Ashes), how rubbish Man U is this year, and whether Diego Costa is... Read More

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: Serious philosophy camouflaged as comedy

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

The HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series can be enjoyed on many levels, so it’s tough to decide how to review it. On the surface, it’s just a zany series of dry British humorous skits ala Monty Python, but when you dig deeper, Douglas Adams has a lot to say about life, the universe, and everything. Taken as a whole, he presents a consistent philosophy that our universe is impossibly huge beyond our comprehension, and our attempts to understand it are woefully inadequate. But we shouldn’t get too upset about it, because it’s much better not to take things overly seriously. Just sit back and enjoy the show, folks. It’s an amazing place.

I could try to describe the plot in a linear fashion, but there just isn’t much point. Read More

Imago: Finally, we see the Ooloi perspective

Imago by Octavia Butler

Imago (1988) is the third book in Octavia Butler’s XENOGENESIS trilogy. It concludes the story begun with the human woman Lilith in Dawn (1987) and continued with her Oankali-human ‘construct’ son Akin in Adulthood Rites (1988). Imago takes the bold but logical next step by shifting the perspective to Jodahs, an Ooloi-human construct. The Ooloi are the third, gender-less sex of the Oankali, the alien race of ‘gene traders’ that saved the remnants of humanity on the condition that humanity share its DNA with them and be forever transformed in the process.

Once again Butler doesn’t hesitate to plunge us into the unknown, this time exploring the strangest aspect of the Oankali, the psychically-powerful Ooloi who can manipulate the DNA of living creatures directly... Read More

The Builders: A delightfully unexpected mash-up

The Builders by Daniel Polansky

I'm a huge fan of Daniel Polansky's LOW TOWN series, so I might have claimed that I wouldn't have bought The Builders if he hadn't written it, but that's not completely honest because there is something appealing about a story that features personified animals. I’m sure I’m not the only adult man who hasn’t outgrown them.

As it turned out, this novella is one the wildest stories I've ever read. I can't explain it any better than to quote what other authors and reviewers have already said:

The Wild Bunch meets Watership Down.” ~ Read More

Clash of the Demons: Tom and Alice go to Greece

Clash of the Demons by Joseph Delaney

In Clash of the Demons, the sixth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series, expect more of the same: scary creatures, dark magic, dangerous quests, captures and rescues, Tom’s insecurities, questions about whether Alice is good or evil, the Spook’s insistence that they can’t compromise with the dark, foreshadowing of war, etc.

This time, the quest is to accompany Tom’s mother to Greece where they must fight an ancient witch called Ordeen who threatens a group of monks who for years have held her at bay and protected the world from her evil. The monks are growing weak, though, and they need some powerful help. They may be able to destroy Ordeen once and for all if Tom’s mother can unite the witches and spooks against her.

This... Read More

Adulthood Rites: A human-Oankali child is torn between two species

Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler

Adulthood Rites (1988) is the second book in Octavia Butler’s XENOGENESIS trilogy. It continues the story of Lilith in Dawn (1987), a human woman revived by the alien Oankali centuries after humanity has mostly destroyed itself with nuclear weapons. The Oankali offered humanity a second chance, but at a price — to merge its genes with the Oankali, who are ‘gene traders’ driven to continuously seek new species in the galaxy to combine their DNA with, transforming both sides in the process.

10 years after the events of Dawn, Lilith has given birth to a son named Akin, the first male ‘construct’ to be born to a human woman. There are number of distinct groups in this newly reborn Earth – Oankali who d... Read More

Dawn: Aliens grant humans a second chance — at a price

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Dawn (1987) is the first book in Octavia Butler’s XENOGENESIS trilogy, written after her PATTERNIST series. By this point she had been writing challenging science fiction novels for a decade, and her writing craft and ideas had reached a high level. Dawn is a very impressive book. Imagine that mankind has largely destroyed itself and the planet — it’s a fairly common doomsday scenario. But instead of the survivors scrabbling for survival, what if they were saved and kept in storage for centuries by an alien race, the Oankali? And what if one were awakened first, as Lilith Iyabo was, by these strange and frightening alien beings, covered in sensory tentacles? And what if one wer... Read More

Wrath of the Bloodeye: Tom gets a new master

Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney

Wrath of the Bloodeye is the fifth book in Joseph Delaney’s very popular LAST APPRENTICE (or WARDSTONE CHRONICLES) series for middle graders. This book has also been released in other countries, such as those in the UK, under the title The Spook’s Mistake.

Tom has been John Gregory’s apprentice for a couple of years now. In the last book, Attack of the Fiend, three witch clans worked together to summon the Fiend (the Devil). Now he roams the earth and would like to kill Tom because the rumor is that Tom will be the most powerful spook in history. Or maybe it would be better for the Fiend if he befriends Tom...
Call me what you will, Tom. I have many names... But none adequately convey my true nature. I... Read More

The Ringworld Throne: Did Not Finish

The Ringworld Throne by Larry Niven

Larry Niven has great ideas but, in my opinion, he’s weak with characters and plot. The Ringworld, a huge artificial ring that surrounds a star, is Niven’s greatest creation and accounts for the success of his most famous novel, Ringworld, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1970. As I explained in my review, it’s the Ringworld itself that’s exciting, not the actual events that happen upon it.

The sequel, The Ringworld Engineers, was written ten years later to address several Ringworld stability issues that scientists, including some rowdy MIT students, leveled at Niven’s creation (pun intended). This sequel did deal with those issues and probably satisfied the friendly d... Read More

The Scrivener’s Bones: Continues to entertain

The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson

My 13 year old daughter Tali and I are enjoying reading Brandon Sanderson’s ALCATRAZ series together. We thought the first installment, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, was clever and funny and I particularly liked how Sanderson had his first-person narrator (Alcatraz) explaining the literary techniques he’s using as he writes his autobiography. This was amusing as well as instructive.

The second book, The Scrivener’s Bones (the book formerly known as Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones), picks up soon after the events of the first book (which you really need to read for maximum enjoyment, though Alcatraz quickly reca... Read More

Version Control: Will probably be my favorite book of 2016

Version Control by Dexter Palmer

“Knowledge is a big subject. Ignorance is bigger... And it is more interesting.” ~Stuart Firestein

Dexter Palmer’s Version Control is my kind of science fiction. I loved every moment of this book. The story is set in the near future and focuses on Rebecca Wright and her small circle of family and friends. Rebecca, who drinks wine at breakfast and works from home as a customer service agent for an online matchmaking company called Lovability, is married to Philip, an ambitious physicist. Early on we realize that the couple has recently suffered a tragedy that affects their relationship. Rebecca’s best friend Kate is a slightly unstable woman who has an on-again off-again relationship with Carson, a postdoc in Philip’s lab. Alicia, another postdoc, seems abrasive a... Read More

The Devil You Know: Saloninus makes a deal with the Devil

The Devil You Know by K.J. Parker

Everything that K.J. Parker writes automatically goes on my TBR list. So when I picked up The Devil You Know, I figured I was in for a treat but I didn’t realize that the novella is a sequel to Blue and Gold, one of my favorite Parker stories. You don’t need to read Blue and Gold to enjoy The Devil You Know, but you may as well, since it’s such a great story. But don’t worry; I won’t spoil it here.

In Blue and Gold we met Saloninus, a wily philosopher and alchemist who was commissioned to perform the two ultimate alchemical feats: creating the elixir of life and turning base metal into gold. In the first sentence of the book, he informed us that he had murdered his wife an... Read More

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: Funny middle-grade fantasy

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Smedry is a troubled boy. He has no parents and, because he breaks nearly everything he touches, he is regularly being kicked out of his foster homes and transferred to new ones. The only constant adult in his life is his case worker. The bag of sand that Alcatraz receives on his 13th birthday as an inheritance from his dead parents further highlights the fact that nobody ever loved him.

But then a strange man shows up, claims to be his grandfather, and announces that Alcatraz is actually the hero of a land called the Free Kingdoms. He further explains that the land that Alcatraz knows of as America is run by evil librarians who control all knowledge, squelch technological developments, and lie to people about reality. It turns out, also, that Alcatraz’s predilection for breaking things isn’t really a curse, but is a magical ability. Grandpa Smedry introduces Alcat... Read More

The Last Witness: A fascinating study of memory

The Last Witness by K.J. Parker

The Last Witness is another of K.J. Parker’s novellas in which an unreliable first-person narrator tells us the story of his unfortunate life. This technique worked brilliantly in Blue and Gold, and it does so again here.

The Last Witness is about a man who, when he was a boy, realized that he had the magical ability to remove people’s memories from their brains. This is a useful skill. When he was young, our narrator used it to remove incriminating memories from those who might punish him or testify against him, but later he begins to earn a living by selling his services to others.

For example, someone might hire him to eliminate a particularly u... Read More