Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format.




Exhalation: The very best kind of speculative fiction

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, and told in a series of nested vignettes, this thoughtful novel... Read More

Steel Beach: Did Not Finish

Steel Beach by John Varley

I hate giving up on books I plan to review but, unfortunately, this is the second one in a month that I’ve had to abandon.

Steel Beach (1992) is the second in John Varley’s stand-alone novels set in his EIGHT WORLDS universe in which vastly superior aliens have kicked humans off of planet Earth so they can commune with the dolphins and whales (who are more intelligent, in their eyes, than humans). I liked the first EIGHT WORLDS book, The Ophiuchi Hotline, because, though it had its share of problems — weak characterization, confusing plot, uneven p... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the... Read More

The Invasion: This Hugo finalist has some issues

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

The Invasion (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is the sequel to Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which you’ll need to read first. (This review will spoil some of the plot of that first novel.) Once again I listened to the audiobook version (Scholastic Audio) which was nicely performed by Irish actor Amy Shiels.

At the end of The Call, our hero, Nessa, had been changed by the Sidhe. They made her fireproof. Because of her crippled legs, nobody expected Nessa to survive her Call, so now she’s un... Read More

The Labyrinth Index: The American president is missing and that’s a bad thing

The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

The Labyrinth Index (2018) is the ninth novel in Charles’ StrossLAUNDRY FILES epic. This installment features Mhari, Bob Howard’s psycho ex-girlfriend who we met back in The Rhesus Chart when she and her colleagues at a bank accidentally developed some software that turned them all into vampires.

Now she’s Dame Mhari Murphy – she’s been elevated to Baroness and she works for the new government in England. Her boss is N’yar Lat-Hotep, the Black Pharaoh, who’s been reincarnated as the new Prime Minister of England after the country was forced to make a lesser-evil type of deal with the ancient god to prevent the rise of Cthulhu.

Th... Read More

The Call: Scary sadistic sidhe

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

I picked up Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call (2016) because its sequel, The Invasion, is a finalist for a Hugo Award this year (Best YA Fantasy Novel). Though I often enjoy Young Adult fiction, this book is probably not something I would have noticed had it not been for the Hugo nomination.

The Sidhe are finally taking revenge on the Irish for banishing them to The Grey Lands centuries ago. Ireland has been cut off from the rest of the world and every Irish teenager will, on some random day at some random time during their teenage years, receive “The Call.” At that moment, they disappear from earth and arrive naked in The Grey Lands where they will spend a day being chased, toyed with, and tortured by the Sidhe. Then they will be sent back to wherever they disappeared from, usually grossly deformed and dead. It will appear to the humans around them... Read More

The Dragon Token: Did Not Finish

The Dragon Token by Melanie Rawn

I tried and failed to finish The Dragon Token, the second book in Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE trilogy (really the fifth book in her DRAGON STAR trilogy). These novels are currently being released in very nice audio formats by Tantor Audio who has generously sent them to me for reviews. I feel bad for quitting, because these are such excellent audio productions narrated by Christa Lewis, but I am just so bored with them and each book is quite long.

Readers who enjoy or feel nostalgic for a medieval-style fantasy epic with a huge cast of white nobles who try to gain power, keep power, or scheme with others to wrest power from someone else, will certainly get more enjoyment out of these books than I did.

While Rawn attempts to flip th... Read More

In the Shadow of Spindrift House: One day, we will all go into the water

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant

Zoinks, Scoob. Like, this is one crazy mixed-up book.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House (2019) is a lot like if Mystery, Inc. — you know, those four meddling kids, their talking dog, and that giant green van — stumbled into investigating a Lovecraftian tale. The difference being, of course, that Mira Grant’s novella is deadly, deadly serious, with little chance that any shambling or creeping horrors will be unmasked to reveal an old amusement-park owner who would have gotten away with his nefarious plan if not for said meddlers.

Harlowe Upton-Jones and her three friends, all recent high school graduates, are real-and-true teenage detectives. They’ve spent years solving cases ... Read More

Bewitched and Betrothed: Another fun few days with Lily

Bewitched and Betrothed by Juliet Blackwell

Anyone who’s been following Lily Ivory’s adventures as a witchy vintage dress shop owner who solves murders as a hobby has been looking forward to the tenth installment: Bewitched and Betrothed (2019).

As the title suggests, Lily is preparing for her wedding. The handfasting will be in a few days and Lily’s grandmother and her coven, as well as Lily’s mother, are in town. Of course, as readers have come to expect, nothing ever goes smoothly in Lily Ivory’s orbit. First, an old Alcatraz prisoner’s uniform has come into the shop, and Lily can sense the malice of the thing. Then the cousin of Carlos Romero (the friendly policeman) is kidnapped. These two events converge as Lily and her friends visit Alcatraz and try to solve the mysteries. There are some little romantic concerns, too, as usual. These will have to be taken care of before the day of the h... Read More

Limited Wish: You can’t always get what you want

Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence

As Limited Wish (2019) begins, Nick Hayes, the 16-year-old math genius that we met in One Word Kill (you need to read it first) is being pursued by a pack of drunken Cambridge students bent on beating him up. It’s 1986 and Nick has just been enrolled at Cambridge, thanks to the notice of Professor Halligan, a brilliant mathematician who recognizes Nick’s potential. What Prof Halligan doesn’t know is that Nick has to invent time travel so that when he’s older he can come visit his teenage self in the late 1980s and, in so doing, save Mia, the girl he thinks he loves and has a future with.

But there are several major problems with this scenario. Worst: (1) Nick has no idea how the mathematics of time travel might work, especially when you throw in the time paradoxes he’s ex... Read More

Stronghold: A soap opera

Stronghold by Melanie Rawn

I’ve been reading Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE and DRAGON STAR trilogies because the audio versions of this late 1980s / early 1990s fantasy epic are just now being released in audio format and Tantor Audio has sent me review copies. Stronghold (1990) is the first book in the DRAGON STAR trilogy but it’s really just book four of the DRAGON PRINCE trilogy. I have no idea why the epic was divided into two trilogies since you must read DRAGON PRINCE if you hope to have any clue about what’s going on in DRAGON STAR.

Perhaps the division is signaling a change in focus from Rohan and Sioned’s generation to that of Prince Pol. At this point in the story, Pol has taken on more and more ... Read More

Take a Thief: The backstory of a popular VALDEMAR character

Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey

One of Mercedes Lackey’s most popular characters is Herald Skif, the young former thief who we met in the first two VALDEMAR trilogies (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR and MAGE WINDS). In Take a Thief (2001), a stand-alone prequel novel, Lackey gives us his backstory.

It starts as so many of her stories do. Skif is a young orphaned boy who is basically a slave to his cruel uncle. The uncle owns a dirty and dilapidated tavern where, for a penny, miserly clientele can purchase the cheapest (and vilest) ale and stew in the city. Skif has lots of chores there but he tries to be out from under his uncle’s eye whenever he can. Most mornings he attends classes to learn reading and math, and he spends his afternoons stealing food from rich people... Read More

The Listener: An exciting and emotional drama with a great setting

The Listener by Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon’s The Listener (2018), a finalist for this year’s Locus Award for Best Horror Novel, takes us to New Orleans during the Great Depression. There we meet:

Pearly, a good-looking huckster selling over-priced fakely-engraved Bibles to poor and grieving widows
Ginger LaFrance, a sexy and completely unscrupulous grifter who is tired of her current partner in crime and ready to choose a new one
Donny, Ginger’s violent and crazy nephew
Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who earns a decent wage as a redcap with the Union Railroad
Orchid, Curtis’s mother, a woman who feels that her health has been declining since the death of her husband years ago and who worries about her sons’ insistence that he can hear voices in his head
Nilla and Ja... Read More

The Cabin at the End of the World: Disorientating and brutal

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eight-year-old Wen and her dads, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing in a remote cabin in the woods in New Hampshire. Eric and Andrew are lounging on the back deck, overlooking a lake, trying hard to give Wen some space to play on her own. That almost immediately appears to be the wrong decision, as a large man named Leonard unexpectedly arrives while Wen is catching grasshoppers in the front yard. Wen knows she’s not supposed to talk to strangers, but Leonard is disarmingly nice, and he’s very helpful with the grasshoppers.

The tension posed by this scenario is already ratcheted up to 11 on a 10 point scale, but it’s only the beginning; three more people show up with strange and menacing weapons. Wen runs inside and she and her dads attempt to keep the strangers out. They fail. The strangers, however, do not immediately slaughter the family. Instead, after immobilizing the men... Read More

Embers of War: A pleasant but forgettable space opera

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell

Embers of War (2018), which is a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, is the first book in Gareth L. Powell’s EMBERS OF WAR series. The story is set in the far future, after humans were welcomed into the Multiplicity.

In the prologue we meet Captain Sally (“Sal”) Konstanz and the sentient spaceship she captains, Trouble Dog. They belong to the House of Reclamation, an ancient organization that serves the Multiplicity by rescuing the crews and passengers of injured or stranded spaceships. Trouble Dog used to be a warship but after being ordered to nuke the planet Pelapatarn, killing a sentient forest and many people, Trouble Dog felt remorse and left the military.

Also aboard the Trouble D... Read More

Exile’s Valor: Important events occur, but there’s a lot of down-time

Exile’s Valor by Mercedes Lackey

Exile’s Valor (2003) is the sequel to Exile’s Honor (which is the best VALDEMAR novel I’ve read so far). Both of these books are prequels to Mercedes Lackey’s first VALDEMAR trilogy (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR). You should read Exile’s Honor before starting Exile’s Valor but you don’t need to read any other VALDEMAR novels in order to understand and appreciate Exile’s Valor.

Alberich, formerly an enemy of Valdemar, is now the weapons master of its heralds and is a chief advisor and bodyguard to queen Selenay. He also continues to en... Read More

One Word Kill: A tale of teens, time travel, D&D, and cancer

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill (2019) is a tale of 1980s British teenagers, time travel (bonus: with branching universes), Dungeons & Dragons, and cancer. As the first book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy, it sets things up nicely, and we’re all three looking forward to the next two novellas.

We know that the first-person narrator of the story has cancer ― leukaemia, to be precise ― from the very first paragraph of the story. Fifteen-year-old Nick is something of a genius, though his smarts don’t show much yet except in his choice of reading material during chemotherapy sessions. He has a group of close friends with whom he plays Dungeons & Dragons every Saturday, which group has recently been augmented by the addition of ― gasps of a... Read More

We Sold Our Souls: Heavy metal horror

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Here at FanLit we’re working together to get all the Locus Award finalists reviewed. I’m not a fan of horror, but when I learned that Grady Hendrix’s horror novel We Sold Our Souls (2018) was about a woman who used to be the lead guitarist for a metal band, I knew this novel was for me. Hard rock and metal are my favorite music genres, I love to attend live shows, and I have often fantasized that being a guitarist for a metal band could have been an alternative career path if my mom had allowed me to take guitar instead of piano lessons. So, I was ready to love We Sold Our Souls.

The story starts by introducing a teenage Kris Pulaski in the late 1980s as she discovers metal and hard rock music and begins learning to play electric guitar in her bedroom. I could totally relate to Kris and her friend Terry (a singer) as they ... Read More

Creatures of Want and Ruin: Original and entertaining

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

At first glance, based on the title and cover art, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018) looks and sounds like it’s a sequel to her earlier novel Creatures of Will and Temper, but it’s not. The stories have different characters and settings, so I’m going to treat Creatures of Want and Ruin as a stand-alone novel.

During prohibition, Ellie West is a bootlegger in Amityville, a village on New York’s Long Island. Due to her father’s declining health and inability to work at his trade as a fisherman, her family struggles to make ends meet but is unwilling to accept charity. Ellie’s brother Lester, a smart young man wh... Read More

Deep Roots: A successful sequel

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Deep Roots (2018), a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, is the sequel to Ruthanna EmrysWinter Tide. This Lovecraft-inspired story is about a race of Americans living in the 1940s who worship, and are related to, the eldritch gods. They are long-lived and, when they eventually mature, they may grow gills and return to the sea.

Most of the People of the Water were exterminated or dispersed when the American government, spooked by their foreignness, rounded them up and put them in detention camps. As far as Aphra and her brother Caleb know, they are the only ones who survived.

Now, with the help of the FBI, Aphra and Caleb are trying to track down any lost re... Read More

Severance: These aren’t the zombies you’re looking for

Severance by Ling Ma

Candace Chen, daughter of Chinese immigrants, lives in New York City and works for a book publisher (Bibles are her specialty). Photography is her hobby so, in her spare time, she takes photos of people and places in the city and posts them to her blog.

Candace is one of the last people in Manhattan after a viral epidemic rages across the globe, turning most of the world’s population into mindless automatons who get stuck doing some little rote routine until they starve. She joins up with a small group of survivors who are being led by an authoritarian guy named Bob to some place he calls “The Facility” where they can start a new civilization. As the group travels to The Facility, Candace tells us her story, weaving in a series of near-past and far-past flashbacks.

In Ling Ma’s Severance (2018), which is up for a Locus Award for Best First Novel... Read More

Record of a Spaceborn Few: Third time’s not the charm

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018) is the third book in Becky ChambersWAYFARERS trilogy but it can stand alone. You don’t need to read the previous books and reading my review will not spoil any of them for you.

Record of a Spaceborn Few follows several future humans living on the Exodus Fleet, the spaceships that left a ruined Earth centuries ago. Kip is a teenager who is exploring himself and his world in the ways many teenagers do. Tessa is a mom who’s worried about her brother and trying to raise her kids while her husband is away for his job. Isabel is an archivist, recording human history in the fleet. Eyas is a caretaker — she recycles dead human bodies by composting them. Sawyer, who has no fami... Read More

The Cruel Prince: Starts a new YA series by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

When they were young, Jude and her twin sister witnessed the murder of their parents by their older stepsister’s father, Madoc. Feeling some responsibility for the girls, Madoc took all of them to live with him in the High Court of Faerie. Bullied by the fae nobles, and made to feel like a worthless mortal, Jude learned that’d she’d have to fight to survive. Now she’s scrappy, ambitious, clever, and an opportunist. But she still has a soft side.

It took me a while to warm up to The Cruel Prince (2018), the first novel in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series for young adults. There are two reasons for that. The first is that Jude is pretty one-dimensional for a significant part of the novel. She is angry. Very angry. Angry about her parents’ murders, an... Read More

The Everlasting Rose: A disappointing sequel

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

The Everlasting Rose (2019) is the sequel to Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, a novel that is a finalist for the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Young Adult novel this year. I enjoyed The Belles despite some problems with characterization such as a boring romance and a totally over-the-top villain. If you haven’t yet read The Belles, but intend to, it’d be best to skip this review since I can’t help but spoil some of its plot here.

The Everlasting Rose picks up right where The Belles ends. Camellia, Amber, Edel and Remy have escaped the palace and are hiding in another ... Read More

Exile’s Honor: One of the best VALDEMAR novels

Exile’s Honor by Mercedes Lackey

Alberich had been an honorable, loyal, and effective officer in Karse’s army for many years until the day the Karsite sunpriests discovered that part of his success was due to the flashes of foresight he sometimes gets. When they attempted to burn him alive as a witch, Alberich was saved by a white horse that turned out to be one of the blue-eyed mind-speaking Companions of Valdemar, an enemy of Karse. Now Alberich is in Valdemar being trained as a Herald and, since he’s such a good fighter, he’s being groomed to be the Heralds’ next weapons master.

Alberich has a lot of adjusting to do because everything about Valdemar is different from Karse. It’s more comfortable, more tolerant, the government works better, and there is far more freedom and justice, even for Alberich, an immigrant who doesn’t speak the language well.

As Alberich continues to consider his new life and... Read More