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.
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).
I have listened to a lot of history books on Audible, and I thought this would mostly cover ground I had heard before (in Guns, Germs, and Steel, for example). I was wrong.
To be fair, not all of the historical incidents themselves were entirely new, but the book managed to bring them together in a way that was a revelation. In one powerful section on Jamestown, for example, you see how alien the landscape was for Europeans arriving in Virginia - they couldn't even recognize tended fields, because they looked so different than European fields. And, in return, by bringing earthworms, draft animals, and malaria, the Europeans create an entirely different ecosystem themselves which destroys or merges with the American one. The idea of settlers transforming a landscape so utterly feels like a science fiction trope, but the historical account is excellent, here, as it is throughout the book.
Similarly fascinating are accounts of the way that Spanish silver destabilized China, the potato's role in European history, and the attempts to start a Confederate state in the Amazon. The history is not always pleasant, but it terrifically described. Along the way, Mann makes an argument that, since 1493, we are living in a new world, the Homogenocene, shaped by humans and globalization.
There are only a couple of minor caveats. First, the author works hard to make sure his views on the Colombian Exchange are asserted, and he overreaches occasionally in trying to tie much of world history to the Exchange. This is forgivable, but can make some sections feel like a bit of a stretch. Also, the reading is solid, but not terrific.
Reading reviews by historians, this seems to be well-regarded work, even though it wasn't by a historian. It is definitely gripping and occasionally revelatory. I recommend it very highly to those who like their history sweeping.
This book was originally a series of short stories released once a week, a format Scalzi will repeat again. Tellingly, in his announcement that he would be writing another Human Division novel, Scalzi said that he had been renewed for "Season 2." The metaphor of a science fiction television series exactly nails the good and bad of this novel.
The books are a loose story arc of self-contained episodes taking place in the Old Man's War universe. Some of the episodes- sorry, I mean stories - are very solid, some are pretty mediocre. The overarching plot is dished out in small doses, which makes the pacing feel uneven. At its best, it is like watching a great Star Trek episode. At its worst, it is like watching a bad one. There is never a moment where the novel breaks down, but it is rarely very compelling either.
I am a Scalzi fan, but, as much as I like his work, he can be extremely uneven. His most compelling work (Old Man's War, for example) is like a smarter, modern-day Heinlein, with wonderful characters and interesting settings. At his less-than-best (Redshirts, this novel) he is still entertaining, but the formula of witty, insubordinate characters and repeated low-grade mystery-solving becomes a little obvious. He is still one of the best writers of fun science fiction out there, but I keeping hoping for another home run. While a solid entertaining time, with occasional moments of brilliance, this is a base hit.
It took me awhile to put together the review for this novel. The plot can be summed up relatively quickly, for what it is worth: it is a story of a group of traveling companions heading to a marshal arts tournament, and the story of a group of mage/astronauts trying to appease an angry god. This doesn't help explain the book much, however, and the best way to give a sense of what the book really is involves comparison with other important works in SF and fantasy. This is, in part, because the audiobook manages to invoke many tropes and touchpoints in the best science fiction and fantasy novels while remaining entirely its own entity.
With its picaresque wanderings and mingling of science fiction elements (robots, space travel, orbiting weapons) and fantasy (gods, magic, potions) it invokes Vance's Dying Earth, Harrison's Virconium, and Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. There are lots of amazing wonders, an immense land full of history, and the sense of an ancient and tired world with its own rules. The book is more playful than these grim (but excellent) comparisons, though it does suffer a bit from their flaws: if the world is odd and the book involves travel, many of the events that happen seem random. There are moments in the book where things happen suddenly, and it is hard to know what to expect, or anticipate the consequences of the characters choices. At its best, this is wonderful; but it can also be tiring, as the characters wander from event to event.
On the other hand, the attention to the inner lives of the flawed characters, along with their sharply observed interactions and the visceral attention to the physical nature of the characters (lots of blood, sex, and sweat here) invoke Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, and the rest of the recent grimdark fantasy writers. There is plenty of fighting, coupling, lust and revenge to go around, and the novel also delves deeply into the motivations and histories of the main characters. This, too, can occasionally be over the top, and the reader seems to over-enunciate every body part being caressed or crushed, making the reading, which is mostly fine, seem a little awkward and even embarrassing at times.
So, there is a lot of brilliance here, and lots of novelty. It doesn't always feel like the parts of the novel fully connect, though there are potential sequels for that, but it is rarely less than interesting. The sheer intensity of the interactions, combined with the repeated unexpected plot twists, can make it hard to deeply engage the novel for too long at a time, but that might be me. Certainly, don't let these issues (and the mediocre reading) scare you away from an original, exciting debut.
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