Cambridge, MA | Member Since 2000
As must be true for so many others listening to this book, it is the conclusion of a series I started two decades ago. Fantasy was a bit of a different place then, and the WoT series was, to my teenage sensibilities, amazing. Giant fantasy novels featuring prophecy and magic and hidden identities. It was like reading Tolkein again! Or the Belgariad! Awesome!
A lot has changed in those decades, however, and much of what defined WoT (including lots of "borrowing" from Tolkein and other sources) in epic fantasy is now either completely out of fashion (think the grimdark worlds of George RR Martin), or else has been reconfigured by other writers (JK Rowling's take on prophecy and evil). So, in some ways, it is nice to get back to the intricate world-building, humble farmboys-turned-saviors, hideous Trollocs, and other fantasy staples. Besides, I have invested so much time over the years, including in some of the truly awful books in the middle of the series, that I had to finish this.
Given this context, this is a very satisfying book. After reading various Wikis to get up to speed, I found myself thrilled to see the old characters again, and to see most (if not all) of the many threads of the immense plot brought to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. Sanderson deserves credit for somehow managing to deal with the thousands of plots, viewings, and minor characters that Robert Jordan introduced, and he does it impressively, switching between nearly 100 points of view in various chapters. He also manages to slightly tone down Jordan's somewhat upsetting take on gender politics. Both of these are no mean feat, and I have to admit that I got somewhat emotional as some of the characters I had known for 20+ years met their various fates.
All of this (plus excellent reading) makes this a really worthwhile conclusion to an epic fantasy series. Not the best series, mind you, but one that deserves praise for both its ambition and its satisfying ending. I wouldn't start WoT from scratch, at this stage, but I am happy I experienced it.
Command and Control was excellent, if occasionally chilling, listening. The book takes the form of a thriller - flashing back between an accident at a missile silo in Arkansas in 1980, and the history of the control of American nuclear weapons. The thriller becomes a bit of a horror show as Schlosser shows how often disaster was narrowly averted, and the potential consequences of a catastrophic accident. There are many mind-boggling facts along the way: the Davy Crockett nuclear anti-tank rocket had a blast radius as large as its range, the military occasionally classified things so highly the president couldn't see them, and there were many occasions where a nuclear war nearly happened.
The evolution of the Damascus Accident is especially well-written, as is the story of the evolution of nuclear strategy and command. As one reviewer in the LA Times pointed out, Schlosser is decidedly liberal, but the heroes of the book (such as they are) are McNamara and Reagan, who actually tame the nuclear beast, at least for a while. Similarly, there are great explanations of the development of the atomic bomb, and the technical details involved.
There are only a few weaknesses. First, the emphasis on bomb safety and the final parts of the Damascus Accident drag a bit, making the last third of the book somewhat less pointed and novel than the terrific first part. Second, the book seems to lose steam after Reagan, barely giving any time to the post-Cold War situation, or to other countries. While this isn't necessarily bad, it means that we spend most of the book in increasingly high levels of concern, and are left without either a lot of discussion over how to reach a safer world, or a clear sense of what the nuclear system looks like today.
In any case, this is a great read for fans of nonfiction and history, as it covers a huge amount of ground. And the final sentence is absolutely chilling and revelatory.
This was a period in English history where I had some glancing familiarity with key moments (mostly via Shakespeare, A Lion in Winter, Robin Hood, etc.) but no appreciation of the details or how it links together. As a result, I found the book fascinating, as it managed to give a very detailed, but still fairly fast-moving, overview of the Plantagenet era. Even more than the great biographic details, I appreciated the way that Jones managed to communicate how different the ideas of government were in the Middle Ages, and the ways in which rule and misrule led to the evolution of modern ideas.
There are a few quirks to the book that keep in from being a five-star listen. First, this is a narrative, and not a historical discussion, so while not necessarily ignoring debates over particular events, Jones tends to present an authoritative view, ignoring alternatives (like discussions over the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston). This feeds into the second issue, which is that the author clearly has some strong ideas of what good kingship is like, and the result is a slight tendency to justify the less savory actions of some rulers that he likes, while being less forgiving of other monarchs. Finally, the narrative itself is a bit odd, since the author slides between occasional first-person segments ("Richard approached the gates of the city...") and the majority of the book, which is written as a historian. None of these are fatal flaws, but they, combined with the length of the book, did make it drag a little at points.
Overall, though, a great, well-read history of a period I did not know a lot about. I found it illuminating, and would recommend it strongly to anyone interested in the history of government, England, or the Middle Ages.
First off, this is a wonderful first fantasy novel by a first-time author. Ryan writes with confidence, and does an excellent job in building a novel (relatively low-magic) fantasy world. At the same time, he takes a trope of these sorts of novels - the childhood training and maturing of a character touched by Destiny (think Harry Potter, Name of the Wind, Wheel of Time, etc.) - and manages to make it work by both the quality of his writing and his ability to produce compelling characters. There were many spots where I couldn't stop listening, and I am eager to buy the next novel as soon as it comes out.
Why the 4 stars? In some ways, I feel like Ryan juggles too many balls, and some of them are noticeably dropped in the novel, making the set-up for the Raven's Shadow series less interesting than the events of this particular book. This is most obvious inhow the overarching enemy of the novel is established (I won't spoil anything there, but I will say that given the detail of all of the other worldbuilding, that piece feels tacked-on and contrary to other parts of the book), but it appears in other ways - important characters disappear from the narrative for long periods only to suddenly reappear for some key role; issues like religion seem critical and some points and unimportant in others; foreshadowing is obvious but of unclear value; and the story skips some interesting moments, choosing instead to concentrate on ones of less clear value.
These are minor sins for a new novel that is of such high quality, and I strongly suggest epic fantasy fans read it. Though it is not high fantasy, and includes lots of bloody carnage, it isn't as grimdark as Abercrombe or Martin, and thus serves as a bit of fresh air in a genre that has tended towards the extremes of either light-and-fun or death-and-horribleness. The reading is great as well.
As my other reviews show, I am a fan of Brian Sanderson, and this book is another excellent first novel in another new series. Again, he succeeds in creating an intriguing world, likeable yet reasonably complex characters, and fast moving plotlines.
At the same time, Sanderson has certain tropes that he returns to over and over again, and this novel is no exception. Many of his stories involve outsiders looking to topple powerful god-like characters who do evil, set in intricately built and complex worlds. The slow reveal of the rules of the world and the background of minor characters are almost always critical to the plot, as is the gradual understanding of why the bad guys are so bad. This was true in Mistborn, it was true in Warbreaker, and it is true in Steelheart. Thus, while the novel sets up many mysteries, I was, perhaps, slightly less surprised by their outcomes then I would have been if I wasn't familiar with Sanderson's other works.
However, the fact that Sanderson sticks close to form is not much of a disadvantage, because he has creativity and writing talent to spare, creating the amazing (if grim) world of Newcago, and lots of interesting twists and turns in the plot. The reader is also very good, though some of his female characters and accents were a bit jarring.
Also, this is shorter than the typical Sanderson novel, and remarkably self-contained (though clearly much more is coming). I would recommend it to any current Sanderson fan, or anyone looking to try out the author for the first time.
It has been a long time since I read a science fiction novel like this one: extremely detailed, extremely technical problem solving in a realistic near-future setting. The plot is ultimately straightforward: A lone astronaut needs to use his brains and his equipment to solve various realistic environmental and technical challenges on Mars; the fun comes from seeing how he does it. This is exactly the sort of thing that was the bread-and-butter of old school SF (think Asimov, Forward, Benford, and all of the other scientists-turned-writers of science fiction), and, it made me realize how rare this sort of novel is now, to the detriment of science fiction in general.
Now, to be fair, The Martian has some of the disadvantages of these sorts of books: the characters are engaging, but rather two-dimensional; the technical infodumps include huge amounts of information delivered in the "as you know..." style; and the thrill is in the problem solving, not the plot. Weir, however, has succeeded in mitigating some of these issues by being able to write genuinely funny and engaging prose about air reclaimers and relative pressure levels, which helps make everything much more enjoyable and listenable. And the reader is generally good, except for his German accent, which has to be the worst single accent I have heard on Audible (fortunately, the German character is a minor one!)
So, for those missing science in their science fiction, or who love problem-solving with duct tape, this is a no brainer. Others may find the technical details less interesting, and therefore the novel less fun. I was happy to stumble across it, and found it a wonderful listen that was more than the sum of its parts.
If you have read Bill Bryson before, you know what to expect out of One Summer, but that doesn't make it any less amazing. In fact, in many ways, this is a masterclass in Bryson's unique style: a rapid engaging tour through a series of historical incidents (most of which will be unfamiliar to the reader) organized loosely around an unexpected theme. He has done this with science, with the rooms of a house, and now, oddly enough, with the summer of 1927. This ends up being a particularly interesting choice, since the 1920s is often undercovered in history, and the result is a fascinating glimpse of the world becoming "modern" as talking picture, mass celebrity, airplanes, and a host of technologies become mainstream, even as racism and antisemitism appear in virulent forms.
So, we get to hear about Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Babe Ruth, and a range of other compelling figures from the summer of 1927. Bryson does not feel particularly compelled to stick with 1927, and the history weaves back and forth, but, simply because Bryson is so good at this, the story stays compelling and suspenseful despite the loose approach to the telling of history and the many rambling directions of the book. And, of course, Bill Bryson is also a great reader. The whole thing is pleasantly gentle and humorous while full of surprising insights into the time.
Really, just a wonderful example of popular history set in an understudied time. A great listen all around.
I feel bad that I didn't enjoy this book more, since it was a potentially interesting mix of hard near-future SF and spelljammer Georgian sailor/astronauts - even writing that description shows the potential! And it isn't a bad book at all - the story relies on some nice elements of familiar Golden Age science fiction puzzle solving, mixed with more fantastic and swashbuckling adventures. So, there is fun to be had.
Unfortunately, the author can't quite pull off the audacious storyline, mostly, oddly, because of failures of imagination. The overall setting is terrifically good, especially the alternate version of Master and Commander-style swashbuckling among the stars, but Martinez doesn't really do enough with it. Given the initial imagination, one wishes that the author would give us more exotic settings, but instead we get a moderately clever one-to-one translation of the world of the late 18th century to the solar system - Venus as Africa/South America, Mercury as Australia, etc. Similarly, the characters are rather stock, and the worldbuilding just sketchy enough to be distracting (the geopolitics and technology seem remarkably stagnant in the future, for example). This is coupled with clunky descriptions (a mining robot is described as looking like Curiosity rover, a vehicle is described as looking like a 20th century pickup truck, etc.). The overall effect is a book that you wish was written by a bit more capable writer to fully deliver.
The reads are similarly almost good enough. A few accents are flubbed, some readings are a bit off - again, nothing horrific, but you wish for just a bit more.
I certainly don't mind the time I spent with the book, but I kept waiting to get blown away and it didn't happen. In the end, solid enough, but it could have been much more.
You have to give Larry Correia credit for writing a thrilling story that would sound utterly ridiculous if he wasn't as talented at plotting and writing. All the elements of a summer blockbuster are there: a team of heroes assembled to face a superior foe, wise mentors, narrow escapes, heroic deaths, massive fights through collapsing buildings, clever plans, and of course, lots of guns. And, because it is part of the Grimnoir Chronicles, you can add ninjas, wizards, sky pirates, aliens, and a vaguely evil FDR. Looking back at those lists could make you worry that Warbound is actually some cliched fanfiction, but it is anything but. Instead, Correia manages to create a thrilling adventure where his terrific control of the seemingly crazy plot keeps you constantly guessing and on the edge of your seat - and all this despite the fact that every few pages has a new potential deus ex machina.
Surprisingly for a gun-filled adventure, it is the likeable characters, remarkably well-rounded over the course of three books, that keeps the book centered. And it is the insanely amazing reading that makes the characters work. Seriously, out of 200+ books I have listened to, this is in the top 2-3 of the best read. Pinchot's ability to make the naive (but extremely powerful) Faye and the gruff Jake Sullivan both work is stunning.
So, in short, if you have already read two books, you obviously should listen to this. If you haven't this is a great trilogy to start, though it occasionally drags slightly (especially in the second book), the third volume is almost entirely terrific. A great example of how an audiobook can be as compelling as any action movie.
Empires of the Sea is a fascinating look at the struggle between Christianity and Islam in the middle of the last millennium, as played out in the fight between the Ottomans and the Hapsburg. Crowley magnifies one perspective on this conflict: the military clashes in the Mediterranean and the sieges of Rhodes and Malta, and uses that as a lens on the entire conflict. In doing so, he is able to cast light on a few of the most interesting characters of the age - Mehmet, Don Jon of Austria, the Barbarossas, and many others. The result is an engaging take on this relatively overlooked but important war to rule the sea "at the center of the world."
The books strengths can also be its occasional weakness. The sieges of Rhodes and Malta are described in very great detail, as unfolding narrative. Usually this is terrifically interesting, but some of the details drag a bit. The author's narrow focus on the war in the sea also somewhat limits the perspectives of the book, making it hard to understand how important it was relative to other events in the world. The critical siege of Vienna, the high water mark for for Ottoman expansion, is barely mentioned in passing.
All of the strengths and weaknesses come together in the grand climax of the whole fight, the battle of Lepanto, with hundreds of thousands of sailors and galley slaves involved. It is told epically, but brings the book to a bit of an abrupt conclusion, with relatively little reflection on what the whole conflict meant on the wider stage.
The criticisms are minor, however, and the reading is excellent. If you like military history or want to know more about this fascinating period in history, this is an excellent choice. The only real downside is that the author never included parts of the poem Lepanto, which would have been wonderful to hear John Lee read:
White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross...
Max Barry writes a very unusual type of science fiction: they appear to be, from blurbs and a plot summary, thrillers set in the world of today, with a SF twist, along with a bit of farce and horror. This isn't wrong, of course, but it misses part of what makes the author so interesting. Barry somehow manages to combine propulsive plots with science fiction tropes in a way that is both really fun, but also offers insightful commentary on contemporary social issues. Jennifer Government pushed past the standard cyberpunk to satirize globalization and libertarianism, The Company goes beyond an Office Space-style parody of big business in interesting ways, and so on. I liked these, but I think Lexicon is his best book.
In this case, the less revealed about the actual plot, the better (though Google "Langford's Parrot" to get in the properly paranoid mood). However, the twists on the power of language are interesting, both for plotting and in thinking about our world in a time of Big Data, online personalization, and targeted advertising. It is hard to not come away from the book without thinking more about how language causes individuals to take action. The book also manages to throw in a bit of Harry Potter (if the Muggles were treated by Wizards in the way that you would expect) and a new take on the zombie apocalypse for good measure.
I loved the reading, though, even as a non-Australian, I could tell that the female narrator was having some issues with the accent, though these didn't bother me. Ultimately, I found myself coming up with reasons to listen, since it was that compelling. I would definitely recommend this, especially to those who like near future and thoughtful science fiction (Charlie Stross, Neal Stephenson).
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