Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




Red Planet: A children’s adventure on Mars

Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve mentioned several times how much I loved Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” when I was a kid. I found them on my dad’s bookshelves (I don’t think he’s ever gotten rid of a book) and I read some of them several times. If you had asked me last week which was my favorite, I would have said “Red Planet.” I remember loving this book, though all I could recall about it was a cute fuzzy round alien named Willis who bounces around like a basketball, and a couple of boys crossing the desolate landscape of Mars.

Last week, with much anticipation, I downloaded Red Planet (1949) from Audible so that I could listen to it with my 12 year old daughter, Tali. I was so excited to share this story with her. In the opening scene we met Willis, and Tali loved him as mu... Read More

Fiendish Schemes: Delightfully droll

Fiendish Schemes by K.W. Jeter

Fiendish Schemes is a recent (2013) sequel to K.W. Jeter’s classic steampunk novel Infernal Devices which I have previously reviewed. Jeter, who inadvertently coined the term “steampunk” and writes in a style similar to his friend James P. Blaylock, is probably an acquired taste. Personally, I love his droll overblown style, his eccentric and morose characters who tend to be paranoid and suicidal, and his absurd plots. If you’re a fan of Blaylock, Jack Vance Read More

Ascendant Sun: A weird mix of hard SF and erotica

Ascendant Sun by Catherine Asaro

This review will contain spoilers for previous books.

I keep working through Catherine Asaro’s SKOLIAN EMPIRE series. I keep expecting to love the next book, but here I am on book five and it’s still not working for me.

Ascendant Sun is a sequel to The Radiant Seas and a direct sequel to The Last Hawk which, frankly, I didn’t like. The Last Hawk was about Kelric, a prince of the Skolian Empire, who crash-landed and was held prisoner for 18 years on a planet with a matriarchal society. I didn’t believe in the society and I didn’t believe in Kelric’s reaction to it. Ascendant Sun, which picks up where The Last Hawk left off, i... Read More

The Short Victorious War: Honor feels more human

The Short Victorious War by David Weber

So far I have not much cared for David Weber’s extremely popular HONOR HARRINGTON series. In the first two books, On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen, I thought there was way too much exposition and that Honor was cold and distant and too much of a Mary Sue (here are my reviews). It’s hard for me to enjoy a series if I don’t like its protagonist unless it has some other excellent qualities that can make up for that. I decided to give Honor Harrington another try, though, because Marion has recently written a review for the fourth book, Field of Dishonor, and I already had the third book, The Short Victorious War, in my Audibl... Read More

Ellison Wonderland: Annoyingly pompous, but still entertaining

Ellison Wonderland by Harlan Ellison®

Harlan Ellison® comes across as pompous, overbearing, aggressive, and obnoxious, but I wouldn’t miss any of his stories. He’s one of the best story tellers in speculative fiction and I have no problem separating the man’s fiction from his personality (though that abrasiveness often comes across in his fiction, too). And, as much as I don’t like his personality, I have to admit that he’s interesting. Partly that’s because he does interesting things such as getting expelled from THE Ohio State University after assaulting a professor who criticized his writing, but mostly it’s because he’s been involved in the SFF scene since a couple of decades before I was even born, so he’s got a lot of stories to tell about the industry and about some of my favorite writers.

That’s what he does for a lar... Read More

Steal the Dragon: Fun, light fantasy with some disturbing subtexts

Steal the Dragon by Patricia Briggs

In Steal the Dragon, Patricia Briggs creates yet another strong, believable female protagonist in Rialla, a horse trainer and ex-slave from the country of Darran, who now lives in Sianim. (In fact, Steal the Dragon is technically part of a series called SIANIM, but as the books in the series do not share a lot of plot or characters, merely a setting, you don’t have to read the others to enjoy it.) She learns from the spymaster of Sianim that an influential lord in Darran would like to outlaw slavery, but that his life is in danger. Against her better judgment, she travels back to her home country in the guise of a slave to Laeth, her trusted friend and the brother to the lord of Darran. They hope to uncover the threat to Laeth’s brother and ensu... Read More

The Thief Lord: My kids love this fantasy set in Venice

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

One thing I love about summer vacation is that my 12 year old daughter Tali and I have time to read together. Our first book for the summer was Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord which, as Tali was thrilled to learn, takes place in Venice, a city she visited a couple of summers ago with my parents.

The story is about Boniface (Bo) and his big brother Prosper(o). Their parents are dead and their aunt wants to adopt only Bo because he’s cute and sweet. She plans to send Prospero to boarding school. So the boys run away to Venice, a city their mother loved. There they fall in with a small group of orphans who live in an abandoned theater and claim that a boy named The Thief Lord is their leader. He brings them the loot he steals and they sell it to Barbarosa, a corrupt red-haired shopkeeper. When Barbarosa offers the kids a lucrative job, they decide to take it. But they nee... Read More

Wylding Hall: “It’s all a bit Wicker Man”

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand is one of my favorite writers, prose-wise, and I just love languidly relaxing into her style. I feel like I’m always looking for the same kind of writing in other authors — and having been remiss in reading Hand for the last few years, it was nice to finally enjoy the real thing again with the short novel Wylding Hall. Her prose is actually more spare than usual; it has to be, as the entire story is told in dialogue. Hand makes it work, though, and Wylding Hall is as atmospheric as her earlier works.

The frame story here is a documentary about the folk band Windhollow Faire, who in the early seventies made a brilliant album that was also their downfall. The band had retreated to the crumbling Wylding Hall to record the album and to regrou... Read More

The Last Hawk: I didn’t believe in the matriarchy

The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro

The Last Hawk is the fourth of Catherine Asaro’s SKOLIAN EMPIRE saga, if we’re going in publication order, but it’s the first book about Kelric Valdoria, one of Sauscony Valdoria’s brothers. You don’t have to read the previous three books first (Primary Inversion, Catch the Lightning, The Radiant Seas), but you need to read The Last Hawk before you read Ascendant Sun, its successor.

Kelric, a Jaggernaut with psi powers, crash-lands on the planet Coba and wakes up in one of their medical facilities. Coba, which used to belong to the Ruby Empire, has been forgotten and has managed to stay off the current Skolian Empire’s radar. The planet is a matriarchy with essentially no military and relatively low levels of technol... Read More

The Radiant Seas: Better than previous books

The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro

The Radiant Seas is the direct sequel to Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro’s debut novel which introduces her Skolian Empire. Readers should note that the book Catch the Lightning was published between Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas, its sequel. If you’ve just read Primary Inversion (which you need to read before picking up The Radiant Seas), I advise skipping Catch the Lightning for now (or forever). This review will contain spoilers for Primary Inversion.

The Radiant Seas begins a short time before Primary Inversion ends — ... Read More

Catch the Lightning: Romantic space opera

Catch the Lightning by Catherine Asaro

If we’re talking about publication order, Catch the Lightning is the second book in Catherine Asaro’s SKOLIAN EMPIRE series. It stands between Primary Inversion and that book’s direct sequel, The Radiant Seas. If you’re coming from reading Primary Inversion, I suggest you skip this one for now and read The Radiant Seas first... Actually, it’s not a bad idea to skip this one altogether...

Catch the Lightning is about a gorgeous teenager named Tina who lives in an alternate Los Angeles where the Mayan civilization didn’t die out yet. All of Tina’s family members are dead and she works as a waitress in an impoverished crime-ridden community. She wishes she could go to college, but she doesn’t have any money. W... Read More

Raven’s Strike: A solid sequel

Raven’s Strike by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ second novel in her RAVEN DUOLOGY, Raven’s Strike, picks up where the last novel leaves off. Seraph and her family have been reunited and are back on their way toward Redern, eager to get to the bottom of the mystery that presented itself during Tier’s captivity in Taela, the capital. Namely, what does The Path, the new religion developing in the septs, have to do with Traveler’s Orders? And why are so many ordered Travelers dying, and what is happening to their powers?

This book gives us a more in-depth introduction to new characters, as well. Phoran, the Emporer, is a frightened young man when we meet him in Raven’s Shadow. Here, he has developed a backbone and has decided to accompany Tier and Seraph on t... Read More

Primary Inversion: I should have loved this

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

Dr. Catherine Asaro’s award-winning SKOLIAN EMPIRE series has long been on my TBR list because of its unusual blend of space opera, romance, quantum physics, relativity, genetic engineering, biomechanics, and computer science — all written by a Harvard-educated female physicist. That sounds like something I’d devour.

The saga is about the Skolian Empire and their long-time enemies, the Eubian (Trader) Empire. They are distant spacefaring civilizations that must have been seeded by humans from Earth many millennia ago, though we don’t yet know how that happened. The Skolian Empire used to be run by a monarchy called The Ruby Dynasty that has the psionic powers of empathy and telepathy. At this point the monarchy is mainly a figurehead while politicians run the empire, but the descendants of the Ruby Dynasty are still needed because they are the only ones who can control ... Read More

Blood Red: Cool premise, but disappointingly simple

Blood Red by Mercedes Lackey

Each book in Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS series is a stand-alone re-told fairy tale set in a world where some humans are elemental masters — magicians who have control over an elemental power. Some of the stories are more closely tied to the original fairy tale than others. For some, the source material is almost unrecognizable.

Blood Red, the tenth ELEMENTAL MASTERS novel, starts out sounding exactly like Red Riding Hood — there’s an Austrian girl (Rosamund) wearing a red cape who’s bringing a basket of food to an old lady that she thinks of as her grandmother. When she arrives, a werewolf, who has already ingested Granny, is waiting for her. This tragic event is foundational for Rosamund’s development. Next time we see her, she... Read More

Ready Player One: The best 80s gamer geek trivia romp yet written

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Were you a hard-core nerd or geek in junior high and high school in the 80s? You know, the ones who clustered at the library or at benches far from the jocks and cheerleaders, who thrilled at quoting lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, War Games, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Short Circuit, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, Legend, Dark Crystal, Krull, Star Trek, Conan the Barbarian, etc. The nerdy, awkward, pimply guys with the Members Only jackets and calculator watches whose closest contact with girls was ogling female goddesses in the Deities and Demigods Handbook. Or worse, an uber-nerd who was so uncool that even the other D&D guys wouldn’t accept you – not ME, of course, but A FRIEND, you know. Or perhaps you were a girl equally into the same pop references. I’m sure yo... Read More

Raven’s Shadow: A fun, easy read with good worldbuilding

Raven’s Shadow by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ novel Raven’s Shadow begins with a rescue and a romance. Tier, a Rederni ex-soldier, saves young Seraph, a Traveler girl, from murder at the hands of some ruffians in a tavern and a strange, dangerous man in the forest. Intrigued by this brave, foolhardy girl, Tier takes her home to his village to protect her from the forces that follow. Travelers are Briggs’ answer to Patrick Rothfuss’ Edema Ruh or Robert Jordan’s Tuatha’an... you know, your typical “gypsy” stereotype that seems to pop up in most high fantasy novels with lots of worldbuilding. In Raven’s Shadow, they are known for their innat... Read More

Prince of Chaos: It’s over!

Prince of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Prince of Chaos is the final (hooray) novel in Roger Zelazny’s AMBER CHRONICLES. I really liked the first five AMBER books. These are often referred to as the Corwin Cycle because they detail events that happened to Corwin, one of the nine princes in the “real” world of Amber (our world is just a Shadow world that they visit). The remaining five books are called the Merlin Cycle because their protagonist is Merlin, son of Corwin. The last of these, Prince of Chaos, was published in 1991, 21 years after the first AMBER book, Nine Princes in Amber, and just a few years before Zelazny’s death at age 58 in 1995.

Merlin has just found out that he is third in line for the throne of the Courts of... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Demon Barker of Wheat Street by Kevin Hearne

The Demon Barker of Wheat Street by Kevin Hearne

When you need your next Atticus and Oberon fix from Kevin Hearne, I recommend The Demon Barker of Wheat Street. This short IRON DRUID CHRONICLES story first appeared in Carniepunk, an anthology devoted to urban fantasy stories about carnivals. It can be purchased separately in a 35-page ebook format for ... Read More

Edge: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is probably Kurt Vonnegut’s most famous novel, and has been analyzed and debated by readers and critics alike for almost 50 years. It’s been listed as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century by several organizations, and it’s fatalistic catchphrase “So it goes” is an iconic expression of Vonnegut’s view of the death and destruction of World War II, embodied in the firebombing of Dresden that he survived as a POW in an underground slaughterhouse. The b... Read More

Knight of Shadows: I don’t care anymore

Knight of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

The usual spoiler warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous novels.

This penultimate novel in Roger Zelazny’s famous AMBER CHRONICLES is a mercifully short continuation of the lackluster drama that this series has become since the POV changed from Corwin to his son Merlin.

The story opens after Merlin is fighting a sorcerer named Mask and realizes that Mask is actually his dead girlfriend, Julia. I have to admit that I was surprised at this, though I shouldn’t have been. I fully expected we’d be seeing Julia again, since nobody ever seems to stay dead in this series, but I guess I figured she’d be female when we saw her again. But, Zelazny seems to break all the rules in this story, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that Julia was impersonating ... Read More

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The funniest SF novel of all time

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I can’t think of any other SF book which is this incredibly funny, in that droll British way that Americans can never emulate. In 5th grade I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and three of its sequels, but it’s this book that stays most in memory. I’ve always wanted to revisit Douglas Adams’ story, even though I was a bit worried it might not be quite as brilliant as I remembered, but I can report that the audiobook narrated by English comedian and actor Stephen Fry is the perfect comic voice to capture the spirit of the book. Since the audiobook clocks in at just under six hours, I decided it would be a good companion for a day hike in the mountains an hour from Tokyo. Hopefully none of the other hikers were disturbed by the strange tall gaijin chuckling to himself on the trail.

The story (as most of... Read More

Sign of Chaos: A really bad soap opera

Sign of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Note: You must read the previous seven AMBER CHRONICLES before picking this one up. Expect spoilers for those previous books in this review.

Sign of Chaos (1987) is book eight in Roger Zelazny’s ten-book AMBER CHRONICLES. It starts right where book seven, Blood of Amber, ended: with Merlin and his frenemy Luke in the midst of an LSD drug trip that has conjured up the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. (Zelazny delights in literary allusions. Expect plenty of Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare, Kuttner & Moore, as well as Arthurian legend and Celtic mythology.)

When Merlin finally escapes Wonderland, he is once again plunged into the political and personal machinations of his extended family, including step-brothers and half-brothers, a couple of bastards, and some people who will undoubtedly be revealed in the f... Read More

Blood of Amber: Nice try, Wheaton.

Blood of Amber by Roger Zelazny

It’s at this point in Roger Zelazny’s AMBER CHRONICLES that things start going downhill. Don’t even try to pick this up if you haven’t read the previous six books. It will make no sense. Expect spoilers for those earlier books in this review.

Blood of Amber (1986), the seventh book, begins right where Trumps of Doom left off. Merlin, like his namesake, is trapped in a crystal cave. Then he escapes. During the rest of this short story, he finds out more about his frenemy Luke, who now needs his help after deceiving and even trying to kill Merlin for many years, not to mention imprisoning him in the cave. Merlin, who I’m starting to realize isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, or who at least has some pathological need to trust people who don’t deserve it, or who maybe is simply at the mercy of an author who needs to... Read More

Lady-Protector: A little better than the predecessor

Lady-Protector by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Lady-Protector is the last (so far) book in L.E. Modesitt’s COREAN CHRONICLES and a direct sequel to The Lord-Protector’s Daughter. You can read this duology without having read the first six COREAN CHRONICLES books, but you do need to read The Lord-Protector’s Daughter before picking up Lady-Protector. This review will necessarily spoil some of the plot for that earlier novel.

In The Lord-Protector’s Daughter, Mykella (the titular character) discovered that her father’s brother was stealing money from the treasury and planning a coup. Thanks to the magical powers that Mykella recently acquired, she was able to kill him and her schemi... Read More

The Midwich Cuckoos: The dangers of telepathic children

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Midwich was just another quiet English town until the Dayout — when an invisible dome surrounds Midwich for one day. Afterward, all of the women discover that they are pregnant. Since not all of them are married (or sexually active), it soon becomes clear that these women are being used to bring strange creatures to life on Earth.

When the children are born, it’s obvious that their genes do not come from this world. The children have golden eyes, silver hair, and pale skin. If that’s not proof enough, the children can telepathically communicate with each other (though only with members of the same sex). They can further telepathically create impulses in the minds of the townspeople. The children grow up alarmingly fast and their telepathic powers allow them to learn very quickly. It seems that one of their first lessons is self-preservation, and they use their powers to attack anyone they ... Read More