Clarke is more on the Hard SF side of things, which generally means that his characterizations are, shall we say, lacking. You have a hard time caring about most people you'll encounter in these... though you'll find the ideas compelling.
This is an uneven collection, featuring some excellent work and some iffy inclusions. Examples include his "White Hart" series which are really only shaggy dog stories ending in bad puns. Other stories are just preachy and predictable. In one introduction, Clarke states that he doesn't write message stories, and the one we are about to hear is one of his few. But message stories abound, mostly about how humanity is going to destroy itself (with twist endings easily seen, such as a child watching the rise of a planet destroyed by war... and that planet is Earth!! Gasp!). The very short closing story is another strong example of this tendency.
The readers are similarly uneven, some good, some adequate. A very big problem is the spacing of the stories. Many times, the stories end on a portentious note, and the next begins so close on its heels that you might think it's part of the same story. As some stories feature multiple narrators, this becomes even more confusing. Honestly, some start with less than a full breath's pause after the finish of the last, dampening the impact of a story's climax.
If you love hard SF, add a star.
The narration was great, and the story was well structured, moving us from point of view to point of view. I enjoyed listening to this very long book and finished it fairly quickly.
Never read any others
He did several great characterizations, I'm not sure I had a favorite. I had an extremely least favorite, a southern black man never given a name who gives Swan a pep talk in a patois and accent that would make Jar Jar Binks uncomfortable. So while the reader handled a lot of characters very well and clearly as individuals, the combination of the author's inability to handle non-white characters well and the actual offensiveness of the portrayal of that character knocked stars from this book.
Sister, a character who goes from the lowest depths and finds the strength to be the strength for other characters.
I had mentioned the author's treatment of non-whites. No character is called "the young white man" but if a character was black, boy did you know it. "The tall black man" got used so much that I started to swear every time I heard it. Much as with some of Stephen King, this is an author who doesn't know how to handle non-white characters and McCammon really steps over the line with one Steppin Fetchit character who doesn't even merit a name. The idea of this toadying "sho nuff" character giving a fawning talk to a pretty blonde girl was absolutely off-the-rails awful. Also, at one point a black wrestler character actually thinks "I pity the fool," giving us a nice "he's just like Mr. T!" moment we didn't need.
The writing was beautiful, though sometimes a touch on being overly "writerly." I would give another Marion work a try, especially as I think his style will grow as he does. Kevin Kenerly was a good match for this book, I'd listen to him again happily.
The ending weakened what came before for me. No spoilers, so I can't say more than I felt that the ending felt forced and just a bit nonsensical.
Hard not to choose R, the narrator. Kenerly brings a lot to this character.
This is a question that mystifies me. So I guess the answer must be no.
A good book, not a great one. It kept me interested throughout, though it lost me in the last hour.
If Burton hadn't been such a bad imitation of Sherlock Holmes, with his detecting and disguises and his band of ragged children and his bloodhound. If the hero hadn't been the least interesting character in the book. If the author hadn't fallen into the trap of needing to bring in so many historical characters to shore up a lackluster alternate history.
Hodder obviously sat down and drew up a list of ways to refer to the hero. The King's agent, the famous explorer, the famous Victorian (which undermines part of his own story logic), Sir Richard Francis Burton (if he'd shortened that to Burton every time he used it, the book would have been an hour shorter).
A good reading of poor material.
Burton. A bad sign when you main character is one you cannot bear to be in the company of.
The story is driven by plot devices, things happen because the story needs them to happen and not realistic cause and effect. I made it through, but only because there was a section completely without Burton that kept me interested. Also, the science became ludicrous. It doesn't have to be totally realistic, but at least it has to be believable in the world being created. Some of the characters suffer a side effect of science that makes zero sense, and every time it happened I wanted to scream.
Long but engrossing
Stephen King usually creates great character sketches, both with characters you get to know throughout the entire book and those you only see for a little bit. This book may be the best of his books for this.
Great voice work for the characters, and great acting as scenes shift from quiet to frightening or high action.
At 30-some hours, I don't think I could possibly listen all at once. I did like to listen to a bit each day, and get as much as I could during those listens.
As others may note, there is a scene of a sexual nature that I felt deeply uncomfortable with. I almost never feel this way about language or sexual content, but given the age of the people involved and also the (to me) unconvincing and spurious reason for the act it seemed, well, wrong. As I listened, I was ready to forgive these things, but as the descriptions continued to increase in their graphic nature, I felt incredibly uncomfortable with the act. I'm one who gets irritated with other reviewers who trash a book once they hear the F word or sex enters in, but this one... well, you'll have to make up your own mind.
If you come to this expecting to find something along the lines of His Dark Materials, you'll be disappointed. But I get the feeling some people rate this lower because it's a different sort of book than they wanted... you can't blame the book for misplaced expectations. This is beautifully read with sound effects and effective music which, for once, doesn't overwhelm the reading. This is definitely a children's tale in the great fairy tale tradition, with truly nasty villains, supernatural forces, plucky heroes who triumph over their own foibles, and a happy ending (I'm sure that isn't a spoiler). I've listened twice and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have all of Philip Pullman's books. Come in expecting a charming and fun tale and you won't regret that you did.
This is even talkier than Speaker For the Dead, but no less riveting for those who enjoy the Ender Wiggin series beyond just the boy soldier theme. It's compelling listening.
That is, until certain passages involving the people of the world of Path come in. How could a producer possibly not realize how offensive the Chinese accents are? The Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan actors of old might feel that the accents were a bit much. This isn't a matter of political correctness, it's a matter of bad choices, irritating accents and a bizarre need to overlay the story with a sometimes thick and insulting accent. Kind of an Enderverse Jar Jar Binks.
Not a reason to not listen to this one. I loved it... maybe some day they'll re-record those bad passages.
One of the few books I've been tempted to abandon, there are enough small insights to make it worth slogging through. Still, the author's snarkiness wears thin quickly, his "exaggerations to make a point" get tiresome and his reading tone does not aid the experience. The chapter on intellectuals is perhaps the least interesting thing I've experienced in a long while.
He also, as has been pointed out, mispronounces words often enough that it grates. As a bobo himself, he should know how to pronounce "mores". If the author is reading, it's pronounced "morays," and I hope knowing this spares you future embarrassments.
Great stuff for fans, but definitely not a place to start with Ender (well, the original novella is a great place to start, but that's just a third of this download). Without knowing some details from the books, the resonance of these first meetings would probably be greatly diminished. Without an understanding of the larger structure, some listeners would likely not appreciate the full story.
I'm including an open plea to all audiobook producers: Please please please, if you must include music that overlaps the narration, LISTEN TO IT BEFORE FINALIZING THE PRODUCT! Often, this is a minor annoyance. In this book, it absolutely ruins the end of the Ender's Game novella. You can't hear half of what's being said. So a meaningful quiet moment is completely spoiled. I've never read a review where someone likes these musical overlays: I'm begging you to stop using them. It created a sad, sour experience at the end of an otherwise enjoyable listen.
I realized quickly that thought this was the earliest book in the series available on Audible, other books had come before. For quite a long time, the book mostly looks back on previous events... some sort of witch war and its fallout, reintroducing characters, etc. Though I would have been lost without it, I think a long-time reader might have been frustrated by the exposition. Myself, I was thinking "that must have been what happened in the last book, when will we find out what's happening in this book?"
Not terribly, much, really. A sniper mystery with a rather unsatisfactory conclusion. Lots and lots of supernatural types lusting after our heroine (a bit overplayed, that). Lots of talking about what happened before this book. Some private detectives that show up and then vanish forever (maybe they come back in the next book, but it irritated me to have them played up heavily and then vanish).
A very good reader, a reasonably engaging story despite its flaws and somewhere, an interesting larger story. Not enough to bring me back, but I had a pleasant time listening.
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