I've read almost every Neal Stephenson book I could get hold of. He is one of my favorite modern writers. There is nobody else who can operate at the scale and ambition of Stephenson's best work.
This is a modern techno-thriller , more in the pattern of Zodiac & Cryptonomicon ( more epic than the first, less ambitious than the 2nd ) Though it lacks the multiple time-periods and the intellectual ambition of some of his recent books, it's a taughtly constructed piece of writing, expertly researched, compellingly written and very entertaining to read.
The plot does tend to feel contrived at times, especially with how all the principle characters arrive at the endgame simultaneously, but you so want them all to be there, to each have their closure, that it's forgivable.
I have a feeling that this novel will date horribly , as it's balanced so precisely on this moment in time, the technology , the cultural references. Many of which are ephemeral or at least in transition even now. I'm not sure that's a problem , but I was very aware of how timely this book is as I was listening to it.
Malcolm Hillgartner is a fine reader, he has an engaging voice and carries off the various characters individual speech/accents mostly quite well. However he gets a bit lost with his Scots accent, it veers wildly between Dublin, Glasgow and Karachi. He avoids trying a Welsh accent, which I think was for the best.
I've been working my way through all the Heinlein I can over the last few years. Early period, late period, middle period. The sexual politics of it have always been troublesome, but I'm willing to make some allowances for a 'historical' or idiosyncratic point of view. Heinlein at his best wrote some of the best Science Fiction written.
I Will Fear No Evil is sadly quite a long way from that. I haven't finished it yet and I'm struggling with whether I can get through it at all. It's making my skin crawl frankly. Heinlein was often guilty of projecting a kind of perfect woman/sex doll/fantasy archetype on his lead female characters. I've kind of skipped over it in the past with a wince. It's impossible to do that here as this is the WHOLE BOOK! The plot is summarised elsewhere so you can work out for yourself whether that is interesting enough as a curiosity to read yourself. I'm not recommending that you do that.
Anthony Heald is normally a superb narrator. He handles the male voices with great skill and gravitas. Sadly the female voices are more of a challenge and as they dominate the second half of the book that can become quite....difficult to listen to. Imagine an old transvestite telling you about his sexual fantasies and that's pretty much what this sounds like. I mean no disrespect to Heald in saying this, the book does him few favours. He's normally a narrator that I seek out.
I may take a rest from Heinlein for a while.
Be warned this is more of an exercise in writing than a story. It's the subtext to another work in fact, the 'Old Man's War' series of novels. I'd have to say that even as a fan of those works and as a fan of the writers other works, this is more of an ordeal than a pleasure.
The Jane Sagan character ( very ) literally speaks her mind for an hour and half. It's heavy and self-absorbed stuff. It adds little or nothing to the main text, it doesn't really add anything interesting to the character. There is none of the writers trade-marked wit and energy. Instead you have a rather humorless character trying to explain her feelings, for what feels like a very long time.
If you are reading the 'Old Man's War' series, this part of it can be safely ignored.
I don't read romance literature, which this certain is. I am a big Sci-Fi reader though and I'm particularly interested in time travel, which is a notoriously difficult thing to write. So top marks to the author for really thinking through the emotional aspects of it, if not the scientific. She uses the tool of time travel to fracture and rebuild a linear love story, constructing many poignant, clever and tragic moments by overlapping the characters lives in a telling, if sometimes too artful, sequence. The determinist universe is pretty much a necessity when doing this kind of story and that provides much of the drama, but the authors primary concern isn't the time travelling, it's the 2 central characters and their relationship.
If I have a criticism it's that the relationship is a bit too fantasized at times, depending a little too heavily on the forced pathos of piecing together a fragmented narrative, rather than on real character based drama.
I enjoyed the narration, though the female side of the double act ( Ms Strole ), while she has a pleasant and engaging voice, lapses into a slightly sing-song, wishy washy longing. While that may well have been suggested in the writing, I can't help but feel that a slightly edgier performance would have helped give Claire some backbone. Mr Berman was good, he has a fine ear for accent and inflection. He gives the young Henry a cocksure strut and the older one a feeling of weight.
Criticisms aside, I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It's a page-turner ( or whatever the equivalent of that is in audio terms )
I've read this book several times. It never ceases to impress me. The reading adds a new level to the story and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
For as cool a character as Markham was this book is laced with supressed emotion, longing, grief, love and wonder. The narrator Julie Harris does a truly stunning job of giving life to the words. I can argue a bit with the technical presentation, it's a bit shaky, there's audio feedback coming through from somewhere, there's the sound of pages turning. Harris herself mispronounces numerous Kenyan place names. This is quibbling however. I loved the book and I loved the narration. At points while I was on my daily commute in the NY subway system I had to stop , take a few moments, let the story take over. This is transporting work and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
It reads as classic old school sci fi. The writer knows his stuff and makes it convincing. I'm less enthused by the somewhat by-the-numbers characterisations, but this is typical of what I mean by 'old school sci fi'. It's a well paced book and I enjoyed it.
I'm afraid that I have a big problem with the narration however. While Mr Lee has a fine voice and a relaxed tone, he adopts a sing-song cadence , rolling through punctuation as if it isn't there. This drains meaning from sentences and renders the characters even flatter than written. Despite attempts at varying accents , everyone sounds the same and frankly I got bored listening to it. Gritting my teeth to get through this book.
In future I'll buy the paper versions of Alastair Reynolds novels and read them myself.
I wasn't sure how well this book would stand up to rereading 40 years later, but I needn't have worried too much. The sexual politics are a bit clunky and it has a distinctly old school pulp sci-fi feel to it, especially with this narration. Nevertheless the intelligence and wit of the book are still as strong as ever. Niven has about the best command of hard sci-fi of any writer and that really helps sell the big ideas.
I do have to criticize the strident tone of the narration, it's very 'boys own' which may be a legitimate interpretation of the text ( which is quite gung-ho ) but at times it almost felt like the narrator was deliberately camping it up. The worst by far is the attempt at a scots accent that is frequently made , but never successfully. It wanders between irish, welsh and gujarati , frequently all 3 at the same time. His russian seemed more convincing.
I'll refrain from saying too much about the book itself , as I haven't finished it yet. So far it's classic Banks, that is to say as good as modern Sci-Fi gets. I would like to say that the narration by Peter Kenny is remarkable, subtle and controlled where it needs to be and with a formidable control over his vocal range. He does voices and accents , both male and female, young and old with great assurance. As a result , all the characters were clear and easy to distinguish. This is no small thing in a Banks book where there can be a great number of characters, aliens, humans, A.Is all with very different characters and points of view.
I would seek out Mr Kenny as a narrator now...even if I wasn't sure about the book itself and that's no small thing for me to say.
I love this book, it's hugely entertaining with superbly drawn characters and a rip roaring plot. The reader of this edition, Glen McCready, voices the tale into colourful, energetic, life and really brings out the humour in the writing. I expect I'll listen to this one a few times.
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