Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




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

I Am Princess X: Tense, exciting, a little scary

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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” but “a sword takes skill.”). Libby did the artwork while May created the story. Their friendship, and Princess X, en... 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

Burn: This Nebula winner was inspired by Walden

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Burn by James Patrick Kelly

James Patrick Kelly’s Burn (2005) was a finalist for the Hugo Award and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2007. As Kelly explains in the afterword, the story was inspired by his dislike of Henry Thoreau’s Walden which depicts a pastoral utopian society where simplicity is valued and technology is shunned.

In Kelly’s version of Walden, an entire small planet has been purchased and terraformed into a forested utopia in keeping with Thoreau’s vision. Those who move there from Earth adopt a simplistic agricultural lifestyle, rejecting technology and all influence from the humans who make up all the other planets in space (the “Upside”). The only problem is that Walden was n... Read More

Down in the Bottomlands: Hugo-winning novella

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Down in the Bottomlands by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is known best for his alternate histories. In Down in the Bottomlands, a novella which won the Hugo Award, Turtledove goes with the premise that the Atlantic Ocean did not re-fill the dried-up Mediterranean Sea during the Miocene period. The sea basin becomes a desert, and this alteration in the Earth’s geography affects many aspects of humanity’s genetic and geopolitical evolution.

Radnal vez Krobir, a citizen of the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, is a tour guide in Trench Park, part of the dessert that he knows used to be a sea supplied by the ocean that lies beyond the Barrier Mountains. Now dried up, it has a distinct ecosystem. When we meet Radnal, he is in charge of a diverse group of tourists who w... Read More

The Sudden Appearance of Hope: An SF thriller about self-identity

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The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Hope Arden has an unusual problem: people forget her. It’s not that they don’t see and hear her, but that once she’s out of sight, she’s out of mind. They completely forget her and their interactions with her. This makes it impossible to have friends, colleagues, a career, and even just a job. She survives by stealing what she needs. Hope isn’t happy, but she’s doing the best she can.

Things change after Hope steals a diamond necklace at a fancy party hosted by a software company that produces a popular life-coaching app called “Perfection.” This app monitors all aspects of its users’ lives, making suggestions about what to wear, what and how much to eat, where to go, who to talk to, etc. It awards points for making the right choices and deducts them when a use... Read More

The Summer Tree: Not our favorite work by GGK

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Reposting to include Katie's new review:

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

I absolutely loved everything about Guy Gavriel Kay’s stand-alone novels Tigana and A Song for Arbonne, so it was with great excitement that I downloaded the newly released audio version of The Summer Tree, the first novel in his famous The Fionavar Tapestry.

In The Summer Tree we meet Loren Silvercloak, a wizard who has traveled from the world of Fionavar to Toronto to fetch five university students (three guys and two girls) who are needed to help fight an ancient evil... Read More

Stardance: A dated double-award winner

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Stardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson

Spider & Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance was first published in Analog in 1977 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novella. It was up against Vonda N. McIntyre’s Aztecs, John Varley’s In the Hall of the Martian Kings, Gregory Benford’s A Snark in the Night and Keith Laumer’s The Wonderful Secret. In 1978, Analog published a sequel called Read More

Downbelow Station: Machiavellian intrigue in space

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Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve had C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station on my TBR list for three decades, and was glad I finally got around to it via Audible Studios, ably narrated by Brian Troxell. It’s an intense, claustrophobic, gritty space opera with a huge cast of hard-nosed characters battling to survive the Machiavellian intrigues of freelance Merchanters, Earth bureaucrats, Company fleet captains, Pell station administrators, Union space forces, secret agents, stationers, and (incongruously) cuddly Downer aliens. It's a big, complex story, and not easy to follow on audio, but well worth the effort. I emphasize the word effort, because it takes some serious concentration to keep track of all the moving pieces, and Cherryh’s tough, muscular prose a... Read More

Brain Wave: A fascinating idea

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave has a great premise — for millennia, unknown to scientists, the Earth has been under the influence of some sort of field that dampens the speed of neurons in the cortex. But now the Earth has suddenly passed out of the field and immediately neurons start working faster, making everyone’s IQs (man and animal) escalate dramatically. This sounds like a good thing to me, but perhaps it’s not in Poul Anderson’s mind. In his story, human civilization changes drastically, and mostly not in positive ways.

The story follows several characters: a physicist named Peter Corinth; Sheila, his timid and dull-witted housewife; a mentally-handicapped farmhand named Archie Brock; and an official named Felix Mandelbaum. Each of these characters experiences a large jump in IQ w... Read More

The Terminal Experiment: A substandard Crichton-style thriller

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The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is a very popular Canadian science-fiction author, with many novels under his belt and several major awards, including the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and 2006 John W. Campbell Award for Mindscan. I hadn’t read anything of his so I decided to give The Terminal Experiment a try. It’s about an engineer who creates three artificial copies of his consciousness, and one of them becomes a killer. The audiobook, by Recorded Books, is narrated by the very competent Paul Hecht, and is an easy listen. But how well does it hold up as an award winner?

I’ll freely admit I am not a big fan of ... Read More

When the Tripods Came: A prequel to a popular classic children’s SF trilogy

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When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

When the Tripods Came is the fourth book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS science fiction series for children, but it’s actually a prequel, so you could read it first if you like. When the Tripods Came was published in 1988, 20 years after the original trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire), and after the airing in the UK of a BBC series based on the TRIPOD books.

Young readers of the TRIPODS trilogy may have been wondering how humans had been so stupid as to let the aliens subdue them by “capping” them with metal headgear that contro... Read More

The Healer’s War: Harrowing tale of a Vietnam combat nurse

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The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

This is another Nebula winner I’ve had on the shelf ever since it was published in 1998, but hadn’t got around to reading. So when I found an audio version on Audible narrated by Robin Miles, one of my favorite female narrators after listening to N.K. Jemisin’s phenomenal The Fifth Season, that was enough to pull it to the top of my TBR list. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is mostly known as a writer of humorous fantasy novels, along with several collaborations with Anne McCaffrey, so it was quite a surprise to discover that she was a combat nurse in Vietnam, and The ... Read More