I'll admit it: David Weber is one of my guilty pleasures. I've read or listened to every one of the Honor Harrington books and associated spin-offs. Some of the action sequences in the Safehold series will strike Honor Harrington fans as very familiar. I'm surely not the only one to notice that space battles 2000 years in the future bear an astonishing resemblance to eighteenth century naval battles. In the Safehold series Weber has brought the naval broadside back to its original vehicle, the cannon-armed sailing vessel.
Weber has also come up with a very clever device to allow him to get away with countless allusions to and outright absorption of mythological, historical, and literary sources. After all, we are told, the whole religious canon of the world of Safehold was plagiarized from terrestrial originals. This makes the author's occasional lapses of originality (how many times does one need to hear the line, "Here I stand, I can do no other"?) sound arch and meta, rather than hackneyed. It works.
At the time of this writing the series is up to six rather long books. I won't review the rest of them, except to say that while they sometimes drag, I'm still looking forward to the next.
I downloaded this book on the strength of the very clever idea behind it, together with the brief preview sample. Unfortunately, Ian Doescher can't write quite well enough to see his inspiration through. In a way he's set himself up, by advertising this as a work by the greatest playwright of the English language. Very few could write to that standard. What we have here is a few formal elements of Elizabethan verse, with very little substance. It's a shame. Shakespeare gave us some amazing villains (King Lear's Edmund comes to mind), and a truly vile yet tragic Darth Vader might have been cut from that cloth. Doescher's Vader is pallid. Another part of the problem is that the dialogue hews too close to Lucas's original. And let's face it, George Lucas may be a visionary, but his dialogue is notoriously weak. In the original series, this fact was masked by inspired casting. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guiness, and James Earl Jones could coax melody from a lawn mower. But we don't have them in this recording. Lucas's dialogue is not notably improved by the insertion of archaic verb forms, the occasional inverted word order, and an surfeit of asides and short soliloquies. The amusement value of hearing words like "droid" and "blaster" amidst this tortured syntax soon wears thin. If you like Star Wars but don't really know or don't care about Shakespeare, this may be for you. Or not. It's certainly not for me.
And why do we have a "chorus?" Jeez, is this supposed to be Shakespeare, or Sophocles?
This is a wonderful, great sprawling sci-fi mystery book, and a great way to remember what you liked about Hamilton if you've been suffering from series-fatigue after some of his recent efforts. The classical elements (setting, plot, character) all come together in a delightful tangle.
Setting and characters are greatly enhanced by the skillful narration of Toby Longworth, who gets to show off his range to superb effect. The array of UK accents is exactly what the author ordered, all internally consistent and consistent with the text. Even the American accents are at least credible--unusual in a British reader. Female characters sound female, male characters sound male. It's all precisely as it should be.
No one could reasonably describe China Mieville as a risk-averse author. He never sticks with a safe formula, preferring to take his chances on a Big Idea. Inevitably, such efforts sometimes fail. Personally, I would classify Perdido Street Station and Railsea as such failures, and The Kraken as at best a marginal success. But when Mieville succeeds, as he does in this book, he succeeds spectacularly. With great risk comes great reward.
Perhaps I should mention that I grew up in Cold War Berlin, the divided city. The Wall came down nearly a quarter-century ago, but the recollection of an ordinary residential street interrupted by grey concrete, a sight so familiar that it goes unseen despite its profound wrongness, continues to haunt me. This book tapped into that haunting, reminding readers along the way of the manifold ways in which human perception yields to human will, human history, and human politics.
For the first few hours, I was wondering: how did this setting come about? And why? But these questions subsided, because the way the characters dealt negotiated this setting was so compelling and so plausible, despite the fundamental implausibility of the setting itself. In other words, Mieville has used the conventions of genre fiction to reveal aspects of the human condition that ordinarily go unremarked. Does any of us truly understand all the historical and cultural baggage with which we must contend in ordinary life?
Big Idea books can get pedantic, but this is not one of them, because Mieville is a master storyteller. Even listeners who like their entertainment light will enjoy this book as a straight detective story.
I go hot and cold on John Lee's narrations. He sometimes has trouble with dialogue. But I have no complaints about this performance.
This is my favorite Reynolds novel so far--though I still have quite a few more to read. The plotting is very tight, including a satisfying joint resolution, toward the end, of several seemingly unrelated subplots. The characters are distinctive, and mesh nicely. As for the high concept, I don't want to risk spoilers by saying too much about it here. I found it very appealing. As a student of 20th Century history, I was particularly fascinated by the very subtly-crafted wrongness of Reynolds's 1959 Paris.
I can't decide whether the occasional references to "Casablanca" are fun or just a little too cute. I'm also not hugely enthusiastic about Mr. Lee's narration, especially the character voice for the main American character, with accent and phrasing just far enough off to be occasionally irritating. On the other hand, a supporting character with a Danish surname sounds pretty credible to my admittedly non-Danish ear. The defects are all minor, though. I'd give this one a strong recommendation.
This book is a genre-bender, albeit in a very conservative way. The basic plot is that of an academic murder mystery ("The Professor did it!" No, "The secretary did it!" No, "The Dean did it!," etc.). The twist is that the University in question operates the world's first time travel lab. Otherwise, it's set in the eigenpresent, at a fictitious Minnesota university, even if much of the action takes place about two millennia ago.
I read Maslakovic's first book, "Regarding Ducks and Universes," and enjoyed it. This book offers similarly well-mannered prose, with equally well-mannered characters. For the most part, it all works. As a career academic (20+ years on the tenure track), I am doubtless more sensitive to lapses in verisimilitude (there aren't that many) than most readers or listeners.
Ms. Kowal's narrative range is limited, and this book unfortunately does not especially suit her limitations. There are probably more female narrators who can manage male voices credibly than there are males who can manage female voices; unfortunately, based on this one sample, Ms. Kowal does not appear to be one of them.
In general, I like Robert Sawyer. But I have to say that his Ontario is a lot more credible than his Mars. Wonder why? The central premise of this work is easy to grasp, and since it's obvious enough from the blurb, I can't call this a spoiler: this is a Raymond Chandler style Philip Marlowe mystery, transported to Mars. Cute, clever idea, right? Wrong. It's been done before, many times, and much better. The Marlowe character, an off-the-shelf, hard-bitten, morally ambiguous noir-detective, is pure cardboard. Every twist and turn of the plot, even those meant to be surprising or genre-stretching, can be predicted from the first half hour, leaving the listener resigned rather than intrigued.
Christian Rummel's narration is excellent as always, but he deserves better material. This is the first Sawyer I've heard since his enjoyable WWW trilogy, and I have to say I'm disappointed.
The narration by Simon Jones and the incredibly fun prose made this book for me, and the two that followed. I am normally turned off by a surfeit of unsympathetic characters, or by a theme (in this case, that of child magician) that has been done to death. But Jones turns both liabilities into assets, simply by writing much better than almost everyone in the genre. About the characters: nearly all of the humans (and all of the important ones) are unmitigated jerks. This isn't a spoiler; it's pretty clear a few minutes in. The "demons," and especially Bartimaeus, are where the psychological interest lies.
This was my first Alastair Reynolds, though probably not my last. I actually bought it for the reading by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, whose phenomenal performances made the Ben Aaronovitch "Rivers of London" series worthwhile all by themselves. This is an earlier effort by Holdbrook-Smith, and I don't think he'd quite gotten the hang of it, yet. It's also clearly further removed from the comfort zone of his diction, which I'd describe as "fifty shades of London."
The story is engaging, and the setting (22nd Century Earth (East Africa), Moon, Mars, and points outward in the Solar System) well-developed. I found none of the main characters especially appealing. In an extreme case that would lead me to stop listening to a book, but I got through this one, and enjoyed it. This isn't a high concept work, but it's solid hard SF.
I have now listened to all three of the books in this series published to date. Aaronovitch has wonderfully fresh urban diction, and a fantastic ear for London. The plotting is a bit contrived in this first installment, but it doesn't really matter; the book is driven by character and ambiance. The next two books are more tightly plotted. I would have enjoyed listening to this book with even a mediocre reader, but Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is something special. In some ways I'm reminded of Lenny Henry's reading of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys: once you've listened to either book, you can't imagine it being read by anyone else. Holdbrook-Smith has nailed the character voices superlatively, and the voice of the protagonist, Peter Grant, essentially perfectly. He's got a great sense of irony and its limitations.
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