Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




The Bronze Skies: Another adventure in the undercity

The Bronze Skies by Catherine Asaro

The Bronze Skies (2017) is the second book in Catherine Asaro’s MAJOR BHAAJAN series. In the first book, Undercity, we met Bhaajan, a private investigator who recently retired from military service. When she is hired by the royal family to track down a runaway prince, she must descend into the grimy tunnels under the capital city of Cries. This is where the lowest cast of citizens live — in the city’s underbelly — and this is where Bhaajan grew up before escaping into the military. As Bhaajan searches for the prince, it’s easy to draw parallels between the class system of Cries and our own world’s socioeconomic hierarchies.

In The Bronze Skies Read More

Exhalation: A strong collection by Ted Chiang

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant,... Read More

Empress of Forever: Thrilling space opera, but it is science fiction?

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever (2019) is definitely space opera. In a far distant future, tech genius, entrepreneur and loner Vivian Liao travels from planet to planet and system to system trying to find an advantage in a losing war against an all-powerful space empress. Viv, who is plucked by that same empress out of her our-present-day life (and planned rebellion), draws to herself the usual strange pack of uneasy allies in this battle. The book is complicated, fascinating, fast-paced, and star-and-planet hopping. I’m not sure it’s science fiction.

Viv Liao is a titan of tech, a brilliant, quirky creator who has made billions of dollars and finally, become a threat to the wrong people. On the night of her birthday party she flees, enacting her own personal plan for a... Read More

The Outlaws of Sherwood: A strong contender in an overstuffed genre

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

Robin Longbow, a lowly apprentice to the forester of Nottingham Forest, is on the way to Nottingham fair when he is waylaid by bullies. After he accidentally kills one of them, he is forced to flee and go into hiding. If he’s discovered by the sheriff of Nottingham, he’ll be hung by the regent who is sitting in for King Richard the Lionheart while he’s away fighting in Palestine.

But Robin’s friends Much and Marian see Robin’s exile as an opportunity to strike back at the regent and his Norman allies. They convince Robin to gather and lead a band of ragtag Saxon rebels against their enemies. Thus, Robin Hood becomes a symbol and a rallying point for Saxon resistance against Norman tyranny.

The Outlaws of Sherwood is a strong contender in the overstuffed Robin-Hood-legends genre. Read More

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse: A fun feminist SF fairytale

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason

Billed as “The Princess Bride meets Princess Leia” and “a feminist reimagining of familiar fairytale tropes,” How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse (2019) is a science-fantasy starring the first princess born to the royal family of her planet in generations (usually they have boys).

At her naming ceremony, the fairies bless Rory with all the usual fairytale drivel: golden hair, blue eyes, sweet disposition, embroidery and harp-playing skills, and all the other things she’ll need to please a husband. The last two fairies, though, give her some actually useful skills: the ability to always see what is true, and the ability to always find a way out.

Childhood is easy for Rory until her father is assassinated and a war begins. To ... Read More

Jinx High: Like a cheesy horror movie

Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey

Jinx High (1991) is the third novel in Mercedes Lackey’s DIANA TREGARDE trilogy, following Burning Water and Children of the Night. This series stars Diana Tregarde, a romance novelist and witch who protects humans from supernatural harm. The novels and short stories in this series can be read in any order.

In Burning Water we watched Diana catch a serial killer inspired by an ancient Aztec god and in Children of the Night she confronted vampires that were sucking the life out of people in her city.

Now... Read More

Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon: A charming historical fantasy

Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon by Lisa Goldstein

Alice Wood, a recently widowed middle-aged woman, is continuing her husband’s bookselling business in his stall in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Though Alice is liked by the other vendors in the courtyard, most think that, as a woman, she’s not equipped to run a business by herself. One of her competitors, a man named George, insists that she should sell her stall to him, or at least that she should marry him and let him run their combined businesses. Everyone knows that, with the exception of Queen Elizabeth, a woman needs a man around to run things.

But Alice is determined to prove George and her other detractors wrong and she continues to work with publishers to sell books and pamphlets (such as those by Thomas Nashe) to Londoners. Things are going well until her... Read More

Children of the Night: Not rewarding enough

Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey

Children of the Night (1990) is the second novel in Mercedes Lackey’s DIANA TREGARDE trilogy, following Burning Water. Each of the novels can stand alone, so you don’t need to read Burning Water first. In fact, it could be argued that this one is a better starting place because it’s set earlier in Diana’s life and we learn more about her in this novel. I should mention that though this series is a trilogy, there are also several short stories about Diana that can be found in magazines or collections.

Diana Tregarde reluctantly writes insipid romance novels (but not enough to make a living at it) and, since she's a witch and a G... Read More

SHORTS: Cho, Machen, Rambo, Scalzi, Andrews

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've recently read that we wanted you to know about.

“Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon” by Zen Cho (2018, free on the author’s website)

This short story is a delightful sequel to Zen Cho's Hugo award-winning novelette, “If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again.” And both are free online, so win-win!

Jin-Dae is an imugi, a magical serpent that can — if it learns and grows in the right way — turn into a dragon. But Jin-Dae has no particular interest in becoming a dragon; she's just fine with her life the way it is. Except that there aren... Read More

Burning Water: Urban fantasy by Mercedes Lackey

Burning Water by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is best known for her VALDEMAR series, a multi-volume epic fantasy that is beloved by many fantasy readers. Some of Lackey’s legions of fans may not know that she also published an urban fantasy trilogy back in the late 80s and early 90s. It stars Diana Tregarde, a romance writer and practicing witch who solves magical murders and helps protect the world from evil supernatural beings. She is a Guardian.

In the first DIANA TREGARDE novel, Burning Water (1989), we meet Diana after her friend Mark Valdez, a police detective, asks for her help with a case. It involves the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, a photographer for a travel magazine, a fashion designer, four... Read More

The Rosewater Redemption: The Weird finale of a Weird trilogy

The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson

Tade Thompson’s WORMWOOD TRILOGY, which is a delightfully Weird take on the Humans vs Aliens trope, ends with The Rosewater Redemption (2019). You’ll need to read the first two novels first: Rosewater and The Rosewater Insurrection. I’ll assume that you have. (If you haven’t, I highly recommend them.)

It’s 2068 and, at this point in the story, nobody knows what to expect from the alien presence named Wormwood. It is trying to take over the earth, but in a gradual, insidious way. Most of humanity is unaware of this and many are enjoying the healing a... Read More

Grave Importance: Greta gets what she deserves

Grave Importance by Vivian Shaw

Grave Importance (2019) is the third DR GRETA HELSING book by Vivian Shaw, following Strange Practice and Dreadful Company. For the best experience, you should read those books first, though it’s not strictly necessary. Each book’s main plot stands alone, but the characters’ relationships (including a romance) develop over the course of the three novels.

After the events of Dreadful Company, Greta is back in England, helping vampyre Varney take care of the new monsters they’ve brought back from Paris. When a colleague who runs a clinic for ... Read More

The Queen of Nothing: A thrilling finale

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Holly Black’s FOLK OF THE AIR series just gets better and better. This final novel, The Queen of Nothing (2019) is a thrilling conclusion. You need to read the first two books, The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King, first. There will be spoilers here for those books. You may also want to read The Lost Sisters, a novella that follows The Cruel Prince and provides another perspective on the events of that book.

When we left Jude at the end of Read More

Dreadful Company: Greta goes to Paris

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Dreadful Company (2018) is the second book in Vivian Shaw’s warm-hearted DR GRETA HELSING series. It follows Strange Practice which, for best results, I’d recommend reading first. The stories are self-contained, but the characters’ relationships with each other evolve a bit throughout the series.

Greta has been asked to present a paper at a medical conference in Paris. She travels to the City of Lights with her vampire friend Lord Ruthven and, on one of the evenings, they plan to attend the opera. As they get ready, Greta notices a little monster in her sink at the hotel and knows that this type must be summoned, meaning that there is a practitioner in Paris.
... Read More

Strange Practice: Great premise, bland plot

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing, a 34 year old doctor, has a discreet medical practice in modern London. Her life’s mission is to study, help, and heal all of the supernatural creatures that most of the world is unaware of and would view as monsters if they did learn about them. As you might expect, this gets her into all sorts of weird situations that have been documented in Vivian Shaw’s DR GRETA HELSING series.

In this opening volume, we meet a couple of Greta’s best friends: Lord Ruthven, an ancient vampire who lives in a large gracious mansion in London, and Fastitocalon, a math-loving accountant’s assistant with COPD who can read minds and happens to be a demon.

When a brooding guilt-ridden vampyre named Sir Francis Varney (of the penny-dreadful called Varney the Vampyre) s... Read More

A Little Hatred: Everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

You have never heard me gush over a novel by Joe Abercrombie, but times have changed and gushing will now commence. A Little Hatred (2019) is fabulous. It’s got everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel.

A Little Hatred is the first book in Abercrombie’s new fantasy series, THE AGE OF MADNESS. It’s set in the same world as his FIRST LAW series (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings... Read More

The October Man: A good introduction to RIVERS OF LONDON

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

My friends here at FanLit love Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series. I haven’t read any of the novels yet, so when The October Man (2019), a related stand-alone novella, was recently released, I thought it might be the perfect place to jump in.

I was right. Though familiarity with the novels might have made things a little easier, I found The October Man to be both perfectly understandable and enjoyable.

The story stars Tobias Winter, a secondary character from the RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series (as I understand it). Tobias, an investigator, is called to the quaint town of Trier in one of Germany’s famous wine regions. He is there to investigate a murder that look... Read More

SHORTS: Larson, Carroll, St. George, Yang

SHORTS: The annual Halloween edition. Our horror-themed column this week, reviewing some recent online short fiction works, features demon babies, slasher film heroines, ghosts and more.

“Growing and Growing” by Rich Larson (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

Ignacio and Hector are on their way home after a night of drinking when they find a baby crying in the middle of the road. Ignacio decides to bring it home for the night so he can take it to the hospital in the morning. But on the way home, the friends begin to realize that something about this abandoned baby is not quite right…

“Growing and Growing” is a very short (12 minute) creepy tale that works great in the audio format performed by Stefan Rudnicki, one of my f... Read More

Wanderers: A suspenseful and emotional end-of-the-world story

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

A nightmarish disease has attacked a small but growing group of people in rural America. They are walking, zombie-like, across the country together. Nobody knows where they’re going or why. They can’t be communicated with and they can’t be stopped. Some of their family and friends follow behind, trying to keep them safe.

The CDC is investigating, trying to track down the origins of this strange outbreak. Homeland Security is worried that it’s a biological weapon. POTUS can’t decide whether or not she should send in the military. The uncertainty is causing panic across the country.

The stress brings out the best in some people, but the worst in others.

Some of these characters are:

the sister of the first sleepwalker, who has struggled with her relationship with their father after her mother left home
the good-hearted science-fiction loving ... Read More

The Red Magician: A moving story about the Holocaust

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

Winner of the National Book Award, Lisa Goldstein’s The Red Magician (1982) is such an unusual fantasy novel. I read it because Tantor Audio has just released the first audio edition of the book.

As the story begins, a young girl named Kisci is growing up in a small, isolated Jewish community in Eastern Europe. Her family’s rabbi is visiting Kisci’s home and expressing his displeasure at the way Kisci’s school is teaching Hebrew as if it were a common language. When Kisci’s father refuses to obey the rabbi’s command to remove his children from the school, the rabbi, who has some magical abilities, sets a curse on the school and its students’ families.

Soon after, a visitor named Voros appears in the village and Kisci’s family extends their hospital... Read More

The Queen’s Advantage: Another jaunty space opera

The Queen's Advantage by Jessie Mihalik

The Queen's Advantage (2019) is the second story in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. These are short and entertaining science fiction novellas. I enjoyed the first one, The Queen's Gambit, because it’s fast-paced, has a strong female protagonist, an appealing love interest, and a nice sense of humor. You’ll want to read it before picking up The Queen's Advantage.

I listened to Tantor Audio’s edition which is narrated by Rachel Dulude. The cover art of the audiobook is horrendous, and Dulude could use a bit of coaching for her prosody, but don’t let this scare you away. It’s a good format for this story.

... Read More

Last Ones Left Alive: Bleak and painful

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Orpen is a young woman who lives with her mother and Maeve, her mother’s partner, on an island off the coast of Ireland. As she is growing up, as far as Orpen knows, they are the only humans left alive. Orpen wants to go to the mainland to see if she can find any other people, and to search for the legendary female paramilitary force that is rumored to be fighting the skrake, vicious zombie-like creatures that hunt and kill humans. Her mother and Maeve warn her against this, but finally Orpen finds the opportunity to set out on her quest. She will need all of the survival and fighting skills that her two mothers taught her.

As Orpen journeys through a bleak and desolate (but sometimes beautiful) landscape, she uses flashbacks to very gradually enlighten us about the world and why she began her quest. We also gradually become aware of the horrible origins of the skrake. We witness Orpen’... Read More

The Queen’s Gambit: Short, fast, fun, and sexy

The Queen's Gambit by Jessie Mihalik

I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed The Queen's Gambit (2017), the first novella in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. It’s about Samara, the queen of a nation that stayed independent in a war between two powerful galactic empires. But, without allies to trade with, the people of Queen Samara’s Rogue Coalition are practically starving.

To earn some money for her country, Samara decides to attempt to rescue emperor Valentin Kos from the Quint mercenaries who are holding him captive, and then to collect a reward from the Kos Empire for his safe return. Things are going as planned until Samara is sold out by her partner. Now she’s in just as much trouble as the emperor is…


The Queen's Gambit
is short,... Read More

Bid My Soul Farewell: The story gets even darker…

Bid My Soul Farewell by Beth Revis

Bid My Soul Farewell (2019) is the sequel to Beth Revis’ novel Give the Dark My Love. You need to read Give the Dark My Love first. There will be some spoilers for that novel here.

When we left Nedra and Grey in Give the Dark My Love, they had uncovered the treachery in their government and exterminated the culprit. Now Grey is working for the emperor as a diplomat. Nedra, meanwhile, has become a necromancer, which is illegal and punishable by death. She has created an army of zombies (one is her sister) and she refuses to give them up.

As Grey is sent on a mission for the emperor, Nedra agree... Read More

Give the Dark My Love: A dark story for young adults

Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis

Nedra Brysstain is a new scholarship student at the Yugen academy in her country’s capital city. She comes from one of the rural villages in the north that have been suffering from the plague. She plans to study medicinal alchemy so she can learn how to heal people who’ve been infected with the plague.

Though most of the school’s wealthy students either ignore or attempt to ostracize Nedra, her talents and kind heart win her two important allies. One is the professor who takes her under his wing after he recognizes her potential. The other is a rich handsome student named Grey who is willing to look past Nedra’s low status.

As the plague continues to sweep the country, Nedra trains hard while she worries for her hometown, especially her parents and twin sister. As Nedra starts to become aware of her country’s political situation, and as the plague gets closer and closer ... Read More