Colorado Springs, Colorado United States | Member Since 2011
This is a review of the four volume THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN (TBNS) by Gene Wolfe; which traces the coming of age of Severian, once a member of The Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence.
In printed form the earlier works of Gene Wolfe can be quite challenging and this is the quintessential Wolfe novel. The esoteric language employed forces your eyes to slow down and read with great care. So many of the words, while supposedly all authentic English words, are unfamiliar that looking up at least a handful of them is necessary to understand the text. As a result, the reader’s mind has time to explore Severian’s world as the protagonist himself is doing. The printed books are heavy in the hand and the weight of the pages fore and aft serve as constant reminders of what has come before, and what is yet to be.
The most telling observation I can give about the audio book is that it transforms a massive tome into a much more personal narrative. As an audio book TBNS takes on a less intimidating, much more intimate and even more friendly character. The inexorable pacing of the narrator, Jonathan Davis, does not permit pauses for reflection, or speculation, the story plows on, without pausing to try to pronounce a word, without going back to regain the flow of the plot after a difficult flashback. And it is just fine.
Jonathan Davis is a most excellent narrator for TBNS. His voice has a deep calming quality that is well suited to recounting Severian’s story. He gives each character their own individual voice. He gives a fine performance ranking this among my favorite audio books. I can recommend all four of the volumes of TBNS here on Audible without reservation.
Note: The short afterwards that are part of each of the four volumes are not included in the audio versions. They should be read to get the full effect intended by the author Gene
In the style of Isaac Asimov this novel is about “the idea.” The characters are just necessary elements of the plot to advance the idea. Sawyer does well in giving the characters logical motivation but they behave in a fashion that is so clearly useful to the story that they never seem real. But, after all, this is an idea story and not literary fiction. This book sometimes feels like a noir mystery. The writing style is very stark and spares few words that don’t advance the plot. There are several ideas here; the key ones both related to a quantum leap in the resolution of brain scan technology.
The first “idea” is the scientific discovery of the human soul. This allows Sawyer to explore several moral questions: We are challenged to explore the consequences of the effect such a scientific announcement would have on society. Sure, many people are religious and such a discovery would only confirm their beliefs, but many materialists would be forced to reevaluate their concept of reality. Sawyer also interjects the morality of abortion, given the fact that the soul enters the fetus at an early stage in gestation. Animal lovers have to cope with the fact that Old Yeller has no soul.
The other key “idea” that drives the story is that of computer artificial intelligence (AI). This is a spin-off technology from the brain-scan that discovered the soul. Now a personality can be captured. All this happens by the half-way point in the novel.
This book does what a good book should do: It provokes deep thought. Some novels accomplish this by means of great insights into the way people think and feel; expressing that humanity with great depth of characterization. Some non-fiction books do this by revealing something profound about the way the world works. This novel qualifies as a good book by raising some of the grand themes of all time: When does human life begin? Is there life after death? And on top of it all is a satisfying mystery thriller.
I have read several of Sawyer’s books and find that he is typical of many Science Fiction writers. Like Arthur C. Clarke and the aforementioned Isaac Asimov, Robert Sawyer, although a supposedly a materialist in his personal life, he often writes stories dealing with spiritual, ethical and moral questions. Clarke wrote the stories “The Star” (Christ’s natal star), and “The Nine Billion Names of God” (God is real) both revolving on religious matters. Asimov’s famous story “The Last Question” postulates the origin of God Himself. Sawyer, too, explores such themes. His novel CALCULATING GOD revolves around the idea of an advanced race of aliens that are theists, in contrast to the scientific community on earth which is largely atheistic. Sawyer’s FLASH FORWARD deals with determination and free-will. I raise this subject to make the observation that such curiosity is probably endemic to the human condition. Moral questions, like those investigated by Sawyer, and his fellows, form the basis of their most compelling work. It seems that the poetic muse for atheistic writers is thoughts of God.
Paul Hecht reads this novel in straight fashion. His tone is deep and pleasant. I usually gravitate toward the narrators who give flamboyant performances, but I found that Paul Hecht here allowed me to fully engage with the words of the story. His performance was unobtrusive and very enjoyable. As a bonus he does something that most narrators get wrong: he correctly pronounces the word “sentience” as SEN-shunce; for that alone he gets kudos.
Tim Powers offers up an alternative mythology that is more intriguing than the inanity of the pop-culture version of Greeks and Romans that infest the social dialog. Tim Powers builds a complex world where the Biblical Nephilim are at once a source of immortality and the lamia and succubae of vampire lore. Counter that with other forces whose foresight cancels human volition and you have this odd fantasy novel. My mind was fascinated by the complicated inter-workings of the fantastical rules that govern Powers’ world; so much so, that the story lost any aspect of horror it might otherwise have had for me. It is a vampire story that is so detached from the real world that it retains nothing scary. But that is not a bad thing unless you are looking to be frightened. I was looking for Tim Powers to show off his capacity for strangeness and intricate plotting; that I did find. Powers effectively weaves his love for poetry throughout this novel. As is the case with most of his work, each section is introduced with quotes that are quite appropriate with the times and the themes of the book. Incidentally, if you are of a mind to trace the quotations, realize that the poet William Ashbless is a fabrication of Tim Powers and his friend Jim Blaylock that both draw upon to provide period citations whenever required in their books.
Simon Vance provides a journeyman effort. His delivery is soothing and so very British. Sometimes I found that I was momentarily confused at some of his gender voicings. As soon as I thought I was able to recognize his typical intonation for one of the female characters one would turn out to be a male. His talent is that of having a great accent and excellent enunciation. He is not always consistent with giving each characters his own voice, or being consistent with a voice at every appearance.
When your mother warned you not to play poker with Tarot cards, this is exactly what she was afraid of. Typical Tim Powers weirdness accompanies this extraordinary novel populated with ordinary people in the most strangely supernatural circumstances. This novel has a lot of common elements with Powers’ later novel THREE DAYS TO NEVER: set in an earlier decade of Americana, where cigarettes are smoked in every public gathering, characters changing bodies to prolong their weary existence, alcohol used to alter the connection to the spirit realm, but here in LAST CALL it all has an unforced harmony that is lacking in the later book. As in most Powers novels the story gets very complicated as we get to know the characters and then begins to come together as it approaches the climax, feeling somehow like an inevitable force of nature.
Bronson Pinchot has very good voices for all the quirky people and sometimes goes over the top as is required by the story. He helps make this a very entertaining audiobook.
Tim Powers is one of the best writers in the genre. Which genre you ask? That is not easy to answer. I am primarily a fan of Science Fiction and consider him to be an SF writer. And if you consider SF to be whatever SF readers read, then that is what it is. The Lord of the Rings was first discovered by SF readers and made popular by the SF community. Now, Tim Powers is usually considered a Fantasy writer. And in this book you will find swords and sorcery, but the work of Powers has more of the feel of horror than anything else. All I can tell you with certainty is that his books all have fantastically convoluted plots that weave in and out of different genre stereotypes effortlessly. This novel is one of his best and in it you will find bizarre situations only possible in fiction yet that are populated by characters who react in a manner that feels real.
What you will not find in this 1987 book, other than the Fountain of Youth, is much commonality with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie of the same name. I think that Disney had long ago pirated the basic ideas from this novel in the earlier movies in the series and finally thought they owed Tim Powers a tip of the hat to that fact and put paid to that debt by giving the fourth movie in the franchise the title from this book.
Bronson Pinchot performs this book like a swashbuckler with a patch over one eye, a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder. He gives every character a voice that is not only instantly distinguishable from the other characters, but gives them a voice that is perfectly suited to their personality. This is one of those audiobooks that I could recommend based on the strength of the narration performance alone; the fact that this is a fine novel to boot makes this a truly grand listening experience.
This is my favorite Neal Stephenson novel. I read it years ago and after listening to READY PLAYER ONE by Ernst Cline I thought I would revisit some related virtual reality novels. It has all the street lingo and tech savvy one would expect from state of the art cyber-punk and doesn't get so bogged down in the details to forget to make things fun. The characters are very engaging and easy to relate to, which allows the listener to navigate in and out of situations so foreign to normality that they would otherwise be alienating; Stephenson here handles them in a masterly fashion. He has created a high-tech post-civilized civilization where national governments compete with local business franchises for relevancy in the economy.
Along the way Stephenson manages to take time to deliver a Liberal’s take on some of the cherished truths of Christianity, but don’t let that disturb you too much, it is all part of an involved, and quite ingenious, explanation of Sumerian myth and how it connects to computer virus infestation. Believe it or not, that last sentence will actually make sense after you have listened to the book. It seems more like an intellectual exercise as a plot device than it does as a revisionist assault on the truth. Stephenson is prone to taking the listener on long rabbit trails, but in this book they themselves are interesting and add to the texture of the story. On such diversions your mind sort of places itself on hold and goes with flow until the side-bar is over, then the story can resume, but with the necessary background to enrich it with significance.
Jonathan Davis proves again that he is in the top rank of performers with a reading that is so spot on that it becomes transparent. The book becomes part of your consciousness like a waking dream. If you like this try his reading of Gene Wolfe’s THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN: a completely different book, but masterful just the same on a whole different level.
Beware! The language of this novel is so cool that it will make you think you can effortlessly smooth your way into Gangland USA or hang with nuke-wielding bikers just by mentioning your mad hacking skills. Stick to reality! Remove your earbuds, take twenty deep breaths and order a pizza. And if the delivery guy’s name is Hiro it does not mean that you have lost your grip on reality. It is just a coincidence. Now if he is also wearing a Samurai sword…
This is a fun book with which to play with ideas. I really liked the idea of a secret organization trying to reign in the unrestrained expansion of technology. This is the most Science Fiction oriented of the three Suarez books I have listened to so far and also the most cinematic. There are scenes that remind me of some of the city on edge scenes of the movie Inception. The pace of the book increases steadily throughout until the climax where the big-screen special effects pop up.
Jeff Gurner is the reason this book casts cinematic images in my head. His performance evokes the big screen and a cast of thousands in expert fashion. It is amazing that even though this is a one-man-show it seems at times to be read by a full cast.
If you’re not playing the game. The game is playing you.
A fitting ending the Daemon story. This is in truth a horror novel. Unlike the undead zombies or immortal vampires and urban wizards that are so popular in horror fiction today, this story is horrific because it has the legitimacy of plausibility. Having lived through the dawn of the internet and witnessing its pervasive influence of the lives of people, it is not much of a leap to imagine just such a scenario that this novel puts forth becoming a reality; that makes this very frightening. Thankfully Suarez gifts us with a rousing thriller along with dishing out a look at the future of cyber-terror.
Lest it seem that this book is depressing let me impress upon you that the threat of cyber-terror is countered with the potential of cyber-altruism. It only takes a short search to discover the vast effort people today put into offering their opinion and knowledge in uncompensated internet postings and web-sites. I, for one, am not as optimistic as some of the characters in this book. I see the not only the people posting free information on the internet, I also see the spammers, mal-ware coders, and virus crackers that infest cyber-space as the best indicator of the way this story would play out in reality. If we had a twisted computer genius bent on fundamentally transforming human society like the Matthew Sobel in this book, the ending would not be happy.
As with the previous novel in this series, DAEMON, Jeff Gurner is amazing. He makes this sound like an action movie playing in your head. And like a great movie that you watch over and over, I will be listening to this again. Maybe I’ll wait until my computer crashes from the next virus. It won’t be long.
Here are some related titles in the Cyber-Thriller-SF-Gaming genre you might enjoy:
READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline.
TERMINAL EXPERIMENT by Robert J. Sawyer
SNOWCRASH by Neal Stephenson
This is a cautionary tale reminiscent of PRESS ENTER by John Varley in which a computer genius reaches out from beyond the grave. But in this novel the scale goes beyond terrorizing one man, the Daemon in this book by Suarez is bent on world domination. This is an engaging adventure with just the right amount of plausibility to give it a sense of realism. Suarez starts slow then builds to a frantic pace, piling one technological marvel upon another, until the climax where we must examine the very structure of human society and our over-dependence on our toys. Under the microscope is the military industrial complex which has competition from the new Daemon on the block. I was surprised time and again at the ingenuity of the story and how it incorporates cutting-edge tech with the idea of a hostile takeover by a devious minded geek. At the end I was not sure weather to like the villain of cheer him for his genius. Of course I should be cheering Daniel Suarez for penning this fun and thought-provoking story.
This is a great book, and would be very good in print but we are very fortunate to have Jeff Gurner reading the story for us. Gurner’s range first seems limited, with the various voices sounding like mere variations on a theme, but at some point his talent goes on full display when the more flamboyant characters take the stage culminating in a resounding success. The addition of Garrett Scott as the female voice of the some of the connecting sound bites is a nice touch.
This is my first foray into the literary realm of Zombie fiction. Here we are given a dispassionate, matter of fact diary account of the Zombie Apocalypse. It was touted as the best of the Zombie stories yet written. Told strictly through diary entries of a survivor, who remains nameless throughout, the account is nearly devoid of emotion. Unlike another famous horror novel written in the form of diary entries, Bram Stoker's Dracula, this book downplays all feeling, all emotion, all relevance to the human condition.
Never are we given any attempt at an explanation as to how the Zombie plague works. Maybe that is in book two; if so, I'll never find out. No explanation as to how these starving, decomposing damned things can have the energy to scream and chase the living months and months after their last meal. The matter of fact day-by-day journal presentation is an attempt at realism so the supernatural explanation is never suspected. No, we are to just sit back and endure the repetitive explanation of one Zombie encounter after another. There is only so much interest that can be generated relating the attacks of mindless Undead creatures who have lost the capacity to think or even to use fine motor skills to open door knobs. The listener who enjoys this book would have to have a real affinity for the whole Zombie concept to relate to such a story.
This novel contains no dialog. It is completely related to us by a first person narrator. And as a result the characters never take on animated life. The population in the novel has the feel of an assembly of character sketches and do not endear the listener to the story. They are mere place-holders, leaving much too much to the imagination. This is fiction for those who desire mindless relentless open-mouthed, hands outstretched, foot-dragging, Zombie-like action. It is one damn thing after another. It would help to actually be a Zombie to enjoy this book.
Jay Synder is now associated permanently in my mind to this story. He has a rich reverberant voice, that I am sure I would appreciate reading other material. Like it or not, his is now the monotone voice of Zombie fiction. It was Jay Synder's voice that I heard for hour after living dead hour telling me how one guy managed to escape death over and over again persued by the hungry, screeching, limping Zombie hoards. Jay Snyder gives a passable reading that is probably appropriate to the tone of the novel. But the longer I went into the book I kept wishing for some sign of life, for some feeling, some human emotion, some reason to care. It never came. And, unfairly as it may seem, Jay Synder is to blame. Kill the messenger.
This is a series of connected stories set in an alternate universe where the Protestant Reformation never happened. It is a biting critique of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), but has the ring of truth. The excesses and abuse of power , let alone ecclesiastical authority, are well known and this is an extrapolation of actual history. The surprise here is that the characters come alive in your ear. Their actions, motivated by unrequited love or honor, are authentic. This would benefit from multiple listenings. .This novel will help make the case that Science Fiction can deal with grand themes as well as any book I can think of.
Steven Crossley give a fine performance. His portrayal of the many female characters is well played and his tone for the males is always clear; every character getting his own voice, instantly recognizable. His skill is very much evident here.
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