Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




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

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 Healer’s War is a fictional ... Read More

Troika: Russian cosmonauts explore a BDO

Troika by Alastair Reynolds

Troika is a stand-alone hard science fiction novella that was first published in the 2010 anthology Godlike Machines edited by Jonathan Strahan. In 2011 it was published on its own by Subterranean Press. The story is Alastair Reynolds’ take on the Big Dumb Object trope.

In Reynolds’ future, Russia is the world’s only major superpower and has sent three cosmonauts to examine an alien object, which they call the Matryoshka, which has arrived in Earth’s solar system through a wormhole. The story takes place years after the cosmonauts return and one has escaped the mental institution he’s been imprisoned in to visit the female astronomer who was part of their crew and now lives in poverty. Through their conversation, a... Read More

The Pool of Fire: Wraps up the TRIPODS trilogy

The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The Pool of Fire is the third book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS dystopian series for children. If you haven’t yet read The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead, you need to go back and read those first. (And expect mild spoilers for those previous books in this review.)

At the end of The City of Gold and Lead, Will had escaped from the Masters and was heading back to the rebels in the White Mountains with the important knowledge he gained while he was a slave. In The Pool of Fire, the rebels are using Will’s intelligence to plan a way to defeat the Masters. The scientists and engineers, who are starting to re-learn some of the “ancient”... Read More

Dragon Bones: Despite falling short at times, still an entertaining read

Dragons Bones by Patricia Briggs

Dragon Bones is the first book in Patricia Briggs’ HUROG duology. Ward, our main character, has lived the past seven years of his life playing the role of a simpleton, ever since his father nearly beat him to death. His pretending has kept him alive all these years, but when his father dies in a hunting accident Ward is suddenly declared the heir of Hurog. He now has to convince his remaining family and friends that he has what it takes to rule Hurog, while also keeping his eyes on the threat posed by his uncle, who he isn’t sure he can trust.

Although I’m a big fan of Briggs’ MERCY THOMPSON books, I often find myself wishing she would return to the high fantasy novels she produced earlier in her writing career. Dragon Bones and its sequel aren’t my favorite of her earlier works (in my opinion the later... Read More

Camouflage: Species meets The Abyss

Camouflage by Joe Haldeman

How did Joe Haldeman’s Camouflage beat Susanna Clarke’s monumental work Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the Nebula Award in 2005? Granted, I haven’t read that book, but I have read many glowing reviews from my fellow FanLit reviewers and Goodreads friends. It was also made into a major BBC miniseries and received many accolades. Clarke’s book is incredibly long and filled with dense footnotes that show the depth of research and creative energy, perhaps too much for some readers but showing great effort on the author’s part. It is a major literary work of speculative fiction, and won the Hugo, World Fantasy, Locus, and Mythopoeic awards, and was even nominated for the Man Booker Prize and... Read More

The City of Gold and Lead: Will infiltrates the Tripod city

The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

This is the second book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series, one of (if not THE) first dystopian series for children. If you haven’t read The White Mountains yet, you should start there first, though there is a short recap in this instalment.

At the end of The White Mountains, the boys Will, Henry, and Beanpole had fled their towns because they didn’t want to be “capped” by the alien Tripods who had conquered Earth and turned humanity into docile sheep. After much adventure, the boys finally arrived at the rebel base in the White Mountains where they’ve been learning and training for a year. The rebels are not content to just hide out. They hope to overthrow the Tripods and restore humanity to its rightful place as Earth’s ruler.

To do this, they’ll need information. Th... Read More

The White Mountains: One of the first dystopian novels for kids

The White Mountains by John Christopher

The White Mountains, the first book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series for children, has been sitting on my TBR list (and in my Audible library) forever. I was finally inspired to pick it up when Gary K. Wolfe, in his series of lectures entitled How Great Science Fiction Works, mentioned the book as probably the first YA dystopian novel (though Middle Grade is more accurate, I’d say).

The White Mountains was published in 1967 and takes place in an alternate version of our world where aliens called Tripods have conquered Earth and enslaved humans. (These tripods were inspired by the Martians in H.G. Wells’ Read More

Witches of Lychford: Appealing setting

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Witches of Lychford is a novella that was published by Tor.com last year. You can find a fairly long excerpt at the Tor.com website, but you’d need to purchase the Kindle version ($2.99) or paperback to read the entire story. I acquired the audio version at Audible during a special sale. It’s 3.25 hours long and beautifully read by Marisa Calin who has just the right voices and accents for a story set in a quaint English village.

Paul Cornell’s story is about three women who live in this village. Judith Mawson is a crotchety old woman who seems to consider herself the town’s guardian from evil supernatural forces. Lizzie Blackmore, the town’s vicar, is trying to overcome a tragic event from her past. Autumn Blunstone was ... Read More

Time and Again: A leisurely tribute to 1882 New York

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Jack Finney’s Time and Again (1970) has been a long-time favorite among time-travel tales, and has remained in print since its first publication. It was also selected by David Pringle for his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. Since I’ve been on a time-travel trip lately, this was a must-listen. It’s narrated well by Paul Hecht, and is a long, leisurely, and loving tribute to the long-gone New York of the 1880s. Sure, there are some token mentions of poverty among the lower classes, diseases like polio, pocked faces, coal-fired factories spewing smoke, and Horatio Alger street kids scrabbling to survive. But the vast majority of the story is unabashed nostalgia for a more humane time, before modern life had crushed the spirit of man. It also features more rapturous details of classic NY architecture and city life t... Read More

The Junkie Quatrain: Four connected zombie stories

The Junkie Quatrain by Peter Clines

I don’t read much zombie fiction, but I enjoyed Peter Clines14, and his The Junkie Quatrain has been sitting in my Audible library for two years, so I decided to give it a try. It contains four inter-connected zombie stories that are actually the same story told from four different perspectives. Each story starts with the sentence “Six months ago, the world ended” and proceeds to tell of events that have happened since a virus outbreak in China six months previously. Those who’ve been infected quickly lose their humanity and become mindless killer “Junkies” who prey on other humans. They don’t live long. The world’s population has been decimated, most government and civil structures have bee... Read More

Timescape: Intimate but slow-moving story about scientists

Timescape by Gregory Benford

Timescape (1980) has been on my TBR list for 35+ years, I've long wanted to read physicist Gregory Benford, the book won the Nebula Award, and it deals with time paradoxes, which I find fascinating but invariably unconvincing. First off, most of the book’s considerable length is devoted to a slow-moving and detailed portrait of scientists (mostly physicists, but also some biologists and astronomers) at work in the lab as well as their personal relationships with colleagues and wives/girlfriends. So to describe this as a “techno-thriller” would be inaccurate. At the same time, Benford spends a lot more time on character development than most “hard science fiction.” In the end I had mixed feeling about this book. It was interesting at times but too slow-moving to generate much excitement.

The book is set in two time periods — the first is 1962 in La... Read More

The Sunless Countries: Introduces a new heroine

The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder

The Sunless Countries is the fourth book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. This book introduces a new town (inside Virga) and a new protagonist. There are explanations of what’s gone on before, so you don’t have to read the first three VIRGA books (Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, Pirate Sun) first, but you’ll probably feel more at home if you do.

Our new heroine is Dr. Leal Maspeth, a tutor in the history department at the university on the wheel/town of Sere. Sere is compiled of several spinning wheels and it has no sun. Its citizens’ only sources of light are the artificial lamps they use. That’s why Leal got lost one night as she was travelling home... Read More

Permutation City: A staple of transhumanistic fiction

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Permutation City by Greg Egan

What would you give in exchange for immortality? Greg Egan's unabashed answer to that question in Permutation City is simple: Your humanity. Its sounds cliché, but Permutation City is a book that is able to do what only the best science fiction books can: make you think of questions you never knew you had, and imagine futures that seem ever more possible as time passes.

Around the mid-21st century, mind-uploading technology has been perfected, but its use is still limited to those few who can afford it. Moore's law no longer holds, and computing power is an ever scarcer and costlier commodity, so much so that Copies without the requisite funds to run indefinitely are put on hold until the computing resources ... Read More

Pirate Sun: Wants to be a movie

Pirate Sun by Karl Schroeder

Warning: Review contains minor spoilers for the first two books, though nothing not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.

Pirate Sun is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. You probably don’t need to read the previous two books (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce) to enjoy Pirate Sun, but the story will make a little more sense if you do. In Sun of Suns we learned of Virga, the huge balloon like structure near the star Vega that contains its own little universe with man-made suns and planets that are often constructed of metal, gears, and cables in a wild steampunk style. Virga’s inhabitants don’t realize they’ve been closed off from the rest of... Read More

Quarantine: Cool quantum mechanics, pedestrian plot

Quarantine by Greg Egan

Greg Egan is an Australian writer of hard science fiction who specializes in mathematics, epistemology, quantum theory, posthumanism, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc. When you pick up one of his books, you know you will be getting a fairly dense crash course in some pretty outlandish scientific and mathematical ideas, with the plot and characters coming second.

The cover blurb advertises Quarantine as “A Novel of Quantum Catastrophe,” and the back describes “an impenetrable gray shield that slid into place around the solar system on the night of November 15, 2034” causing riots and chaos. However, the book mainly takes place in Perth and New Hong Kong, which was relocated to Australia after the Chinese took over. So don’t expect too much galaxy-spanning space travel or c... Read More

How Great Science Fiction Works: A college course for science-fiction fans

How Great Science Fiction Works by Gary K. Wolfe

For years I’ve been a fan of the GREAT COURSES audiobooks, which I usually pick up at my library or at Audible. These are a series of college-level lectures devoted to a specific topic and delivered by an expert in the field. A couple of months ago they released a set called How Great Science Fiction Works. Our teacher is Gary K. Wolfe, a professor of Humanities who received a BA in English from the University of Kansas under the tutelage of science fiction writer James E. Gunn and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago. Wolfe (no relation to Gene Wolfe) is well known in the fantasy and science fi... Read More

Replay: Imagine reliving your prime years over and over

Replay by Ken Grimwood

Replay is a story that every reader can empathize with. Who wouldn’t want to relive their best years over again, with all their memories intact? Fixing all the mistakes, seizing all the missed opportunities. It’s an irresistible thought, a fantasy of “what ifs.” Ken Grimwood’s Replay (1986) predates Groundhog Day (1993) by 7 years, and explores the concept in far more depth, taking it to the extreme to examine what gives our lives meaning. It’s a very appealing story, and delivers some powerful moments in the latter half.

Replay is about 43-year-old Jeff Winston, who dies of a heart attack and finds himself back as an 18-year-old student at Emory University with all his memories intact, reliving this 25 year period over and over. This could easily be simple wish-fulfillment fantasy, and it star... Read More

Queen of Candesce: Characterization is better in this sequel

Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder

“I’m someone infinitely more capable than a mere heir to a backward nation on this backward little wheel.”

Warning: This review contains a minor spoiler for Sun of Suns, the previous volume in the VIRGA series, but the same spoiler is in the publisher’s blurb for the book, so maybe it’s not really a spoiler after all.

Queen of Candesce is the second book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. It’s been four years since I read the first book, Sun of Suns, so I don’t remember all of the details of that story, but I do vividly recall the fascinating world that Schroeder built and I remember that... Read More

Grimm’s Fairy Tales: An all-star cast narrates a new audio version

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly knows as The Brothers Grimm, were German academics who, in the early 19th century, studied, compiled and published hundreds of folklore tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. They published their first edition of tales, titled Children's and Household Tales, or just Grimm's Fairy Tales, in 1812 and many editions have been published since.

Listening Library has just released a new audio version of 21 of the Grimm Brothers’ original fairy tales (not to be confused with the cleaned-up versions they later published as more suitable for civilized children). It’s narrated by a full-cast that includes some of the best and most popular readers in the business.

Here are the stories and narrators:

“Rapunzel” read by Katherine Kellgren
“Cinderel... Read More

Echopraxia: Nowhere near as good as Blindsight

Echopraxia by Peter Watts

I was extremely impressed by Peter WattsBlindsight (2006), a diamond-hard sci-fi novel about first contact, AIs, evolutionary biology, genetically-engineered vampires, sentience vs intelligence, and virtual reality. It is an intense experience, relentless in its demands on the reader, but makes you think very hard about whether humanity’s sentience (as we understand it) is really as great as we generally think it is.

The short answer, according to Watts, is no. It’s an evolutionary fluke, was never necessary for survival, and will actually be a hindrance when we encounter more advanced alien species, most of which may have developed high levels of intelligence without wasting any precious brain capacity on sentience, self-awareness, or “navel-gazing.” It’s a very depressing id... Read More

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