Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




A Fine and Private Place: A gentle tale of love, death, and lost souls

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A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle is a well-known author of many fantasy novels, including the classic The Last Unicorn. However, I don’t often hear mention of his debut novel, A Fine and Private Place (1960), written when he was only 19 years old. Given his age it’s a phenomenal achievement — the prose is polished, filled with pathos and humor, and the characters’ relationships are deftly described. And yet I couldn’t get into the story at all, because there was almost no dramatic tension of any kind — just two central romantic relations, one between two people lonely and disconnected in the living world, and one between two recently deceased spirits not ready to let go of life.

The story bears remarkable sim... Read More

Sword of Destiny: More great WITCHER stories

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Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sword of Destiny is the second story collection in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER books which are the basis of the popular video game. Sword of Destiny should be read second in the series. (This is confusing because the English translations of the WITCHER books were not published in chronological order.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first WITCHER book, The Last Wish, and was eager to read Sword of Destiny. It did not disappoint. I love Sapkowski’s hero, a man named Geralt of Rivia who... Read More

Death’s End: Truly epic finale to the THREE-BODY trilogy

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Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Listening to Cixin Liu’s THREE-BODY trilogy reminds me of those graphics on cosmology that illustrate our relative scale in the universe. It starts with the microscopic world of individual atoms and molecules (or even subatomic particles like quarks and neutrinos), expands outward to individual cells, organisms, and larger creatures, then jumps out further to continents and the planet Earth, zooming back to encompass our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and then pulling out further to an endless sea of galaxies that make up our universe. But Liu doesn’t stop there. He’s just gotten started, really. After all, there are more universes out there, and we’ve only mentioned three dimensions so far.

This review will contain some mild spoilers for the pr... Read More

A Window into Time: A charming SF novella

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A Window into Time by Peter F. Hamilton

Julian is 17 and, though he looks like a normal teenager and he’s a really nice kid, he’s something of a misfit. He doesn’t have a normal family life, he doesn’t have any friends, he’s a little too smart, and everyone thinks he’s strange. The weirdest part about Julian, though, is that he remembers pretty much everything that ever happened to him.

When Julian starts remembering things that didn’t happen, he decides there must be some twist in the fabric of space-time that’s causing his life to get mixed up with someone else’s. That person seems to be in danger and Julian would like to warn him but, if he gets involved, he’ll be risking his own life. However, if Julian can’t figure out how to straighten things out, without causing a time paradox, he may ... Read More

The Broken Kingdoms: Adventure and tragedy

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The world has changed over the last several years and the opportunities that are now possible are too hard for Oree to resist, so she left home to seek a new life in Sky. Oree is an artist with a gift for seeing magic, but magic is the only thing she can see. She has set up shop in a promenade section of the great city and has created a pleasant life for herself there amongst friends and Godlings. Things start to get ugly, though, when Oree stumbles upon a dead Godling. The gods have become angry and the religious factions are looking for someone to blame. Oree’s unique abilities and proximity to the crime make her a prime suspect.

When I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I was taken completely by surprise. It was one of those rare moments where I read a book ... Read More

Nifft the Lean: Vance’s Cugel reimagined by Hieronymus Bosch

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Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea

Back in 1950, Hillman Periodicals published a little book for 25 cents called The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. It could easily have disappeared into obscurity like thousands of other books, but there was something special about it. There weren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like it, depicting an incredibly distant future earth where the sun has cooled to a red color, the moon is gone, and humanity has declined to a pale shadow of former greatness, and struggles to survive amongst the ruins of the past. The world is filled with magicians, sorcerers, maidens, demons, ghouls, brigands, thieves, and adventurers.

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The Illustrated Man: Grim but touching stories

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Reposting to include Katie's new review:

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man is a  collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories which are sandwiched between the account of the titular man whose tattoos come alive at night and set the scenes for the 18 tales in this collection. All of these stories are classic Ray Bradbury — full of spacemen, Earth-Mars conflict, psychiatrists, spoiled children, bad marriages, book burning, domestic work-saving technologies, and nervous breakdowns. They deal with the fear of atomic war, loneliness, prejudice, madness, and the dangers of automobiles, junk food, and media entertainment (but smoking is okay).

All of the tales are written in Bradbury’s incomparable prose and most of them are emotionally touching. But, not surprisingly, they’re almost all grim, making Read More

I Am Princess X: An exciting YA thriller

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

My 14 year-old daughter (Tali) and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X. We took a look at the print version, too, since the story is part novel, part comic. It’s about a slightly awkward girl named May who, back in fifth-grade, became best friends with a girl named Libby during recess when the two of them, both new to the school, had to sit out. Bored on the playground, together they created a cartoon heroine named Princess X. She has blue hair, wears red Chuck Taylors with her princess dress, and carries a katana instead of a wand (because “anyone can be awesome with magic... Read More

The Naked God: Brings this trilogy to a merciful end

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The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton

Disclaimer: This audiobook, and the series, is extremely popular and has high ratings at Goodreads and Audible. I will explain why I am not enthusiastic about it, but please take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt.

The Naked God (1999 print, 2016 audio) is the third and final book in Peter F. Hamilton’s NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy. It begins immediately after the events of the previous book, The Neutronium Alchemist which follows the first book, The Reality Dysfunction. At this point in the story, the... Read More

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Different

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

CLASSIFICATION: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is epic fantasy that mixes together court intrigue, mythology, romantic/family drama, and celestial magics. It brought to mind everything from Jacqueline Carey, Lane Robins' Maledicte, and Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come to Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge / Lord Tophet, Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: An evocative return to childhood

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ll start by saying that I’m not hugely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work. I’ve read Stardust and watched his two Doctor Who episodes… and that’s it. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to absorb more of his work before tackling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but decided against it for the sake of a fresh perspective. So consider this a review from someone who has very few preconceptions about Gaiman’s style and themes.

Our middle-aged protagonist (I don’t recall if we ever learn his name) recounts to us his movements after a family funeral. Instead of going to the wake he drives through Sussex to his childhood home where vague memories begin to stir. Going down a little country lane he arrives at the He... Read More

The Obelisk Gate: The weight of history crushes the present

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is the second in N.K. Jemisin’s BROKEN EARTH trilogy and the follow-up to her Hugo Award-winning The Fifth Season; expectations were understandably high for this installment, which promises to shed a little more light on The Stillness and the qualities that make its geology and its people so unique. The Obelisk Gate is compulsively readable, filled with characters and circumstances that will transfix the reader’s attention, and effectively picks up right where Read More

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners by Ellen Kushner

Set in a fictional Georgian-era-type society, Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners is a “fantasy of manners” or “mannerpunk” novel. In contrast to epic fantasy, where the characters are fighting with swords and the fate of the universe is often at stake, mannerpunk novels are usually set in a hierarchical class-based society where the characters battle with words and wit. There may or may not be magic or sorcery involved and, in many ways, this subgenre of fantasy literature is more like historical fiction that takes place in an imaginary universe. The focus is on societal structures and social commentary. Characters may not be changing THE world, but they’re changing THEIR world. If you like Jane Au... Read More

A Deepness in the Sky: Might have been interesting at half the length

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A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep was a big success for Vernor Vinge, winning the 1993 Hugo Award. Seven years later, he followed up with A Deepness in the Sky, set 20,000 years earlier in the same universe, and this captured the 2000 Hugo Award and John W. Campbell Award. I came to both books with high expectations and was eager for a big-canvas space opera filled with mind-boggling technologies, exotic aliens, galactic civilizations, and a big cast of characters. Sadly, the first volume didn’t engage me, and I’m afraid the second didn’t either. At 28 hours, this audiobook became a chore about halfway through, and I mainly forced myself to finish it becau... Read More

Planetfall: An SF exploration of mental illness

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Reposting to include Marion's new review:

Planetfall by Emma Newman

Planetfall, the first science fiction offering from Emma Newman, is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. Suh and her best friend Ren, a brilliant geneticist and engineer, gathered a team of like-minded believers and they landed on the planet 22 years ago. After “Planetfall,” Suh disappeared into “God’s City,” where she continues to live and send yearly messages and instructions to the rest of the colonists. All is going well until a visitor arrives and claims to be Suh’... Read More

The Days of Tao: Checking in with Cameron Tan

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The Days of Tao by Wesley Chu

Warning: Contains mild spoilers for Chu’s TAO trilogy.

Wesley Chu’s TAO trilogy (The Lives of Tao, The Deaths of Tao, The Rebirths of Tao) about two enemy alien species (the Prophus and the Genjix) who’ve been occupying human hosts and battling it out on Earth for thousands of years, came to a satisfying conclusion last year but I was hoping for more because, as I said in Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even Gaiman’s dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints i... Read More

Underground Airlines: A chilling alternate history thriller

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Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

“Time makes things worse; bad is faster than good; wickedness is a weed and does not wither on its own — it grows and spreads.”

Imagine that Abe Lincoln was assassinated before the Civil War started and that the North and South, instead of fighting, compromised, drawing up an agreement that allowed slavery to exist in perpetuity in four Southern states. Fast forward to the modern day and imagine that you were a black man in one of those states, that you had escaped your slavery in a cattle slaughterhouse, and had been living a free life in a Northern state for two years. Imagine that the U.S. Marshals Service finally caught you and gave you the choice of going back to the slaughterhouse or working for the Marshals, hunting down escaped slaves like yourself and turning them over to the government.

That is the disturbing ... Read More

The Last Wish: Engaging dark fantasy stories

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The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (1993 in Polish, 2007 in English) is the first book in the WITCHER series by best-selling Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. You might recognize the name from the popular video games based on the books. The series features a hero named Geralt of Rivia who, when he was an orphaned child, was transformed into something more than human through a process involving magic and drugs. Now he has white hair and some subtle superhuman powers — for example, he can see in the dark and he is stronger and faster than other men. He roams the world looking for odd thankless jobs that only a Witcher can do.

This first WITCHER book is a series of relat... Read More

The Neutronium Alchemist: Like a soap opera

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The Neutronium Alchemist by Peter F. Hamilton

Warning: Contains a few spoilers for the previous book, The Reality Dysfunction.

“Jesus, I can’t believe that’s all there is: life and purgatory. After tens of thousands of years, the universe finally reveals that we have souls, and then we have the glory snatched right back and replaced with terror. There has to be something more, there has to be. He wouldn’t do that to us.”

The Neutronium Alchemist is the second book in Peter F. Hamilton’s massive (and I mean massive) NIGHT’S DAWN science f... Read More

A Toxic Trousseau: Every summer I look forward to visiting Lily in San Francisco

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A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell

Every summer I look forward to spending a few days in San Francisco with Lily Ivory, her employees at her vintage clothing shop, her gluttonous familiar Oscar, her sexy boyfriend Sailor, and various other inhabitants of the Haight district where Lily works and lives. These are charming folks who, since they’re set in a paranormal cozy mystery series, tend to bumble into a crime scene every few weeks.

This time, Lily goes to visit a woman who owns a competing vintage clothing shop and who has filed suit against Lily for something Oscar did. Readers won’t be surprised that the woman dies soon after this confrontation and that Lily is, once again, being questioned by the San Francisco police. Being a bit nosey, and having a flexible working schedule, Lily (again) sets out to uncover the culprit and, in the process, explores more of San Francisco (sh... Read More

The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway: It’s hard to believe in Cherry

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The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway by Karina Cooper

I picked up The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway (2013) because it was free at Audible a while back. It’s the prequel to Karina Cooper’s ST. CROIX CHRONICLES which is set in Victorian London and begins with the novel Tarnished. In The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, we meet Cherry St. Croix, an opium-addicted tomboyish teenage orphan who lives with a wealthy benefactor and sneaks out at night to earn money to support her addiction. She does this by being a “collector,” which is something like a bounty hunter.

This is the story of her first collection attempt. She must bri... Read More

The Reality Dysfunction: A long rambling science fiction epic

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The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton

The Reality Dysfunction, first published in 1996 but just recently released in audiobook format by Tantor Audio, is the first book in Peter F. Hamilton’s NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy which is set in the 27th century in his Confederation universe. Technological and scientific advances have allowed humans to spread throughout the galaxy, colonizing and taming planets, and setting up thriving communities. People are healthy, long-lived, and happy.

For the most part they are at peace, though there are still religious and cultural differences that cause dissension and, of course, there are still people who prey on others. The major cultural divide is between the Adamists and the Edenists. The Adamists are regular ol... Read More

Cyteen: Exhausting study of clones, identity, and power

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Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

After enjoying C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station, it was a natural thing to move on to her 1989 Hugo winner, Cyteen. I know that Cyteen is a very different creature, of course. It is a hefty 680 pages long, and extremely light on action. In fact, if you removed the extensive dialogue and exposition, I think the story would be about 50 pages long. That means the story had better be pretty compelling or it could be quite an ordeal to get through. Unfortunately, at 36 hours in audiobook format, I found Cyteen to be more of a chore than a pleasure. There’s no question of the seriousness and rigor of its exploration of power politics, the ethics of cloning, genetic engin... Read More

Lone Star Planet: The Wild West in space

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Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper

Lone Star Planet (1957) is a fun science fiction murder mystery novella by H. Beam Piper. The murder occurs on a planet colonized in the future by the citizens of Texas who wanted to escape the intrusive United States government on Earth. They set up a system where there’s not much centralized government and it doesn’t have much authority, for they all agree on this tenet:

Keep a government poor and weak and it’s your servant; let it get rich and powerful and it’s your master. We don’t want any masters here on New Texas.

Thus, New Texas looks a lot like the Wild West. Men wear Levis and cowboy hats and carry pistols on each hip. Everything is super-sized and even the cattle whose beef they export (which they... Read More