Colorado Springs, Colorado United States | Member Since 2011
Tim Powers has composed a super spy novel with more than a touch of the supernatural. Told in long story sections out of chronological order, you often learn the reasons why things happen long after you witness them when they occur. Powers has made the editorial choice to tell Andrew Hale’s story out of sequence, and it is very effective; for situations that may at first seem to have a simple explanation take on an entirely new meaning when the full machinations of the plot are revealed. DECLARE has a plot that is intricately baroque in its complexity and interconnectedness and a quixotically satisfying conclusion that pulls in lose strings from every major character. This, to me, is an exceptional Tim Powers novel, displaying all the elements I expect from him: immense historical detail, quirky characters, and a well-ordered sense of the fantastic. The spook business verifiably earns its nick-name here. The characters seem to be real people placed in unreal circumstances so bizarre that you find yourself buying into the weirdness just for the privilege witnessing the story unfold . Some of the players in fact are real historical figures from the world of international espionage. The way Powers manages to weave a complex story under and around the life of Kim Philby, the notorious cold-war spy, is fascinating and gives the novel an air of credibility. I had read the print version of this book years ago and found it to be eerie and unsettling. This audio version seems much less creepy and more accessible. Perhaps I have become desensitized, but I think not. I think it is the very nature of having someone read the book to you. The phenomena is more likely attributed to the sense that you are not alone; the narrator is a companion, your steady voice of reason and a buffer between you and the strangeness of the underworld.
Simon Prebble is a fine narrator for this book and imparts a steady pace to the story and a much needed link to reality in a tale that could become absurd with a more melodramatic performance. His portrayal of Kim Philby is particularly good, giving him a vulnerable stutter than brings him down to life. The book does start slow, first building the relationship with the protagonist, but when the dialog and the supernatural plot begin to open up Prebble’s performance elevates his inflection to match.
The continuing saga of trigger happy Specialist James McGill This time Legion Varis, fresh from the disaster on STEEL WORLD, are thrown into another crisis that could mean the end of humanity if the Galactic Empire is not pleased with the outcome. There is some witty banter, but this is not at all comedy. This is a serious attempt at forecasting what a military engagement might be like in the future where humanity is the new kid on the block and can only offer our guts and glory. I like the direction this story is going and will look forward to future installments.
Mark Boyet gives this Space Opera an air of authenticity. He has great diction and can project unique inflections for all the different characters. He helps to make this an entertaining listening experience.
This was my second John Scalzi book and was quite a relief after enduring the annoying character identifiers of ANDROID’S DREAM. Either Scalzi was taken to the woodshed by the audio producers and ordered to eliminate all the “he said,” “she said” repetitions in the dialog scenes; or he was tired of playing practical jokes on his listeners and allowed the characters to be recognized by the context of their words. In any event, the character identifiers in the dialog scenes are completely transparent. Now you can focus on the story.
Here Scalzi writes like a Hollywood insider. He seems to know all the moves that occur behind the scenes. His protagonist is a talent agent thrust into the midst of the historic first contact with an alien species. It is a fun idea and plays like a comedy.
Wil Wheaton is becoming one of my favorite narrators. I will always be amazed that Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher, the most annoying character on Star Trek the Next Generation, could become such an excellent voice actor. Wheaton gets the audiobook medium like few others. He seems to sense the different characters to the degree that even when he doesn’t employ a distinct character voice, he is still able to set off each character apart by distinct pacing and diction. He’s one of the best. Don’t miss him.
This was my first taste of John Scalzi. I heard that he is one of the most popular Science Fiction writers in the realm of Sci-Fi fandom. A quick search revealed that he is a very popular blogger who made good becoming a successful published writer. Listening to this book it is clear that he understands the SF world inside and out. It is nice to get all the insider jokes and well loved SF tropes. His sense of humor is much appreciated. It is clear that tongue-in-cheek is standard operating procedure for Scalzi. I like that.
That said, there is an element of this book that almost caused me to bail. The numerous reviews mentioning the obnoxious repetition of “he said,” “she said” is truly annoying. The repeated use of these dialog identifiers as first seems to be just a beginner’s mistake. Such markers are easy to ignore visually when reading a book in print, but with a narrator charged with speaking every word on the printed page the listener is forced to endure every “he said” until it becomes a dreaded anticipation, like waiting for that pesky mosquito to lite on your leg again after shooing it away for the umpteenth time.
After listening to this book I decided to try another Scalzi book, AGENT TO THE STARS and am pleased to report that no such overuse of “he said,” “she said” is present in that book. This begs the question: Is Scalzi just playing with his audience? From listening to that second book it is clear that Scalzi knows how to write dialog with a minimum of character identifiers, so why all the “he said,” “she said” repetitions here?
Fortunately the wonderfully sarcastic Wil Wheaton is the narrator. When voicing these “he said,” “she said” sections Wheaton lilts his voice to emphasize each one in just the right way as if to say, “I get it. This is really annoying.” Half way into the book I began to look forward to hearing Wheaton speak my frustration. He makes these awkward dialog scenes into an ongoing joke. If the story had been less interesting I would have abandoned the book long before the end, but I realized that I liked Scalzi’s plot construction, and proliferation of SF ideas. If you are new to Scalzi, I don’t recommend listening to this book first. The dialog will likely put you off, and that would be a shame. Try AGENT TO THE STARS for a better example of what he is capable of. But do return to this one if you can handle brushing away those pesky mosquitoes.
It is refreshing to listen to this fantasy where the politicians are trying to do their best for the country and the bad guys are outsiders—not the men in office. In this book the bad guys are supernatural beings bent on pure evil. Luckily the United States has Cade on its side, a vampire with a heart-of-gold. Sure it’s a bit far-fetched, and idealistic but it works as fiction. And because of the talents of Bronson Pinchot, this novel is elevated to first rate entertainment.
This second book in the series continues at the same level as the first. The plot gets more complications including a CIA Shadow Company and an extinction level threat. It is enjoyable tracing the story as it unfolds. Bronson Pinchot is again wonderful pitching his voice perfectly for each separate character. His range of voices is truly amazing—seeming like a multi-voice cast production.
I was drawn to this because Bronson Pinchot is the narrator. This book provides plenty of opportunity for Pinchot to display his characterization skills. For me, a Pinchot devotee, this is enough. I was pleased to discover that this is more like a political thriller than it is a horror novel—think Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan, Mitch Rapp. Plenty of action and life-saving heroics in defense of America. Did I mention sarcasm? There is sarcasm in plenty. This is a fun book. The plot is well constructed with a discernable beginning, middle development, and satisfying ending. Oh yea, did I mention that Bronson Pinchot is excellent? Well he is great. If you have come to the conclusion, as I have, that a great narrator can make almost any book a pleasant listening experience. In this case the book is interesting in its own right—adding Pinchot makes this a movie playing in your head.
Science Fiction is whatever SF readers read. Using this definition you may classify this as Science Fiction. But it is really a mainstream novel with extensive flashbacks involving related characters. Heavy doses of math and internet technology protocol lingo may make this seem like SF to those not accustomed to such nerdification, but there are no other SF trappings. In the 1960’s SF readers began reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS and made it into a Science Fiction classic.
I listened to this book immediately after tackling Stephenson’s ANATHEM—a novel that didn’t strike my fancy. If you read my review of that novel you will know that I am a big fan of Stephenson’s SNOWCRASH, and after being disappointed by his THE DIMOND AGE, decided to give some of his other works a chance in case he had more to offer. ANATHEM almost made me give up on that second chance, but I soldiered on trying to discover the reason so many are so enamored with Neal Stephenson. Listening to CRYPTONOMICON was, for me, a return to the fun and sarcasm that is so evident in SNOWCRASH. The tone of this book is so different than that of ANATHEM that I am left a little baffled as to just what that other book was all about.
This is twice as long as a typical long novel and even some trilogies are shorter. This is because it is really two novels—each novel being told in parallel to the other. One is among the cryptographers in World War II, and the other in the present day of techno-geeks, with some related characters between the two time tracks. As might be expected by such a lengthy book there is a cast of thousands and the plot is complex and multifaceted. There are so many diversions and rabbit trails that as a listener you must be in the frame of mind to go along for the ride, else you will become impatient waiting for the plot to advance. You will hear forays into various methods of code making and breaking, and will gain an smattering of internet technology along the way—and this is completely relevant to understanding the story. Wait until you learn what van Eck phreaking eavesdropping is all about! This novel brought out the nerd in me and if you have any inkling in that direction this book will strike a chord within you as well.
Also of note is the fact that both of these two books are narrated by William Dufris. In ANATHEM Dufris adopts, correctly I believe, a far-away sequestered-monk tone of voice with mystical quasi-philosophical Socratic dogmatic smugness. Here in CRYPTONOMICON Dufris has the freedom to fully explore his full range of voice characterization. He is most excellent when portraying various English dialects, clearly differentiating at least a half dozen different dialects—and his Germans immediately put images of crisp SS uniforms and monocles in your mind. I think that because this novel is full of quirky characters that Dufris was given free reign to portray , being allowed to go completely over-the-top in his voicings. His performance here reminds me of another wonderful Dufris-narrated book: WOKEN FURIES. He has delivered a truly wonderful performance that made this a very entertaining listening adventure.
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away lived a race of bipedal humanoids that had survived a slightly different history that that of Earth. Here they engaged in lengthily philosophical discussions on the fine points of logic that exactly mirrors the philosophy of Earth. On this far away planet these people even have historical archetypes that have exact parallels to our Newton, Emerson, Locke and Darwin. So, what this really is amounts to an alternate history of our Earth but with different political forces. For me this is less a Science Fiction novel than it is a Mainstream novel that includes some SF elements. I liken this to the many Romance novels that include SF elements but which are correctly categorized as Futuristic Romance pieces and not really Science Fiction.
After listening to the amazing SNOWCRASH I felt that Neal Stephenson deserved a second listen. SNOWCRASH is fast-paced, energetic, fanciful, farcical and fun. ANATHEM is extremely slow-paced, ponderous, mundane and tedious. I am now going on to tackle Stephenson’s CRYPTONOMICON just because SNOWCRASH is so good that I want to give him every opportunity to display the brilliance that he is capable of achieving.
William Dufris is a fine narrator. He has a limited range of character voices, which he recycles on occasion, but these work well for most any conversations. He is easy to understand and always energetic, making a good effort to make this a rewarding listening experience.
I would classify this as a coming-of-age tale, but it does not feel like YA fiction. This is a decent unpretentious entry in the thriving category of formulaic military SF. Of course, there’s a reason there are so many examples of this sub-genre—the almost constant bristling-with-ordinance-action keeps the listener eager to find out what happens next. Kloos provides plenty of stereotyped Drill Sergeant and gung-ho Jar Head types to satisfy us Full Metal Jacket fans. Just don’t expect much deep soul-searching introspection here.
Luke Daniels’ performance elevates this rather pedestrian Starship Troopers clone into an engaging entertainment that feels like a summer block-buster action movie. The most notable characteristic of Daniels’ performance is that his normal third-person voice-over tone is so different and distinctive from his character voices that when the characters are on stage they really pop out of the background. Based on this performance I will seek out other Luke Daniels books. If I do buy the next book in this series it will be less for the Marko Kloos writing that the Luke Daniels reading.
I listened to this immediately after finishing INHERITANCE by Sharon Moalem, another fine book concerning genetics and its impact to our lives. This was a great follow-up and interesting in its own right; focusing of athletic ability. I really enjoyed Epstein’s foray into this topic, which provided some plausible explanations for what even we amateurs can plainly see: that different disciplines in sport favor certain body types.
Towards the end of the book Epstein investigates the effects that breeding for endurance can have on Alaskan sled dogs. One breeder tailored his team by breeding for dogs that had the trait that they pulled for the shear love of running, and not for top speed, as was the conventional wisdom. His team won that thousand-mile race and changed the sport of sled dog racing forever. The results are instructive to understanding the genetically based differences in athletic ability between different people groups: Yes there are some genetic advantages some people groups have over others—but also, yes, these distinctions are essentially the result of breeding to select for genetic characteristics, and potential, that are already present within the genome. What Epstein does not realize is that this is far from support for evolution—it is a problem—because is does not explain how that genetic trait, which when expressed became so beneficial, was present in the genome long before it was needed.
Another lesson I learned form Epstein’s account of sled-dog breeding was that: dogs are much better athletes than are humans. Sometimes I go to Manitou Springs, Colorado and hike up the Manitou Incline. I am always amazed how the people are always pushing themselves at the very limit of their ability, joking with one another about just trying to survive, but that every dog I have ever seen is just running up and down the railroad ties as if to say to their master, “this is fun, come on go faster so we can have more fun!” Some abilities are genetic.
David Epstein narrates his own book. This is an advantage, since he is clearly familiar with the material. I always prefer this when the author of a non-fiction book is capable of narrating. Epstein is easy to understand and knows just what words to emphasize to make his point. What is more: Epstein is that rare non-fiction narrator who will even attempt doing different character voices; oftentimes for people he has met. For this he gets kudos. His accents are always distinctive, and at times, provide some unintentional, but welcome, comic relief.
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