Durham, NC USA | Member Since 2001
Narrated by Susan Duerden, whose previous titles include Android Karenina, China Mieville???s Embassytown is my pick for the best science fiction and fantasy title to be released at Audible.com in May 2011. Duerden ably pilots us through the dense linguistic plot, and nice production touches give listeners a flavor of the Ariekei tongue of which readers can only be jealous, mashing words on top of each other to create a truly alien effect. (Here is a short, low-fi clip of me saying ???Jeff??? and ???Chi??? overtop each other in a similar way to give ???JeffChi???.) Meanwhile the book never devolves into pointless and expansive background and detail, without leaving us truly in the dark. In short, Mieville creates an alien world and lets it breathe, with the sometimes horrific suffocation this can imply. That said, the book opens with an intimidating series of undefined terminology, and alternates chronology from ???formerly??? to the present, and is a challenging book to unravel ??? to the point of, at times, an exasperated ???what is going on???? Sticking it out, however, is plenty rewarding.
In a crowded year of strong debut fantasy novels, "No Return" is a very strong contender. Beginning with an assured voice, a prologue of a pitiless landscape of an hallucinogenic salt lake, expanding out to a world whose currency is the powdered skin of an Elder race, populated by (among others) rival enclaves of warrior monks engaging in ritualized battles to defend and proselytize their competing faiths. There is a god with city-killing orbital kinetic ordinance at his whim; there are deeply weird and sexualized alchemistic magics; there are sentient constructs of magical metal spheres; there are dragons and ghosts.
The narrative is split along 5 principle points of view in a rotating fashion, across two primary storylines. In the first, it is a 'journey' narrative, in which we meet the three companions who form a bond as they travel to a massive gladiatorial tournament. These three are 1. a warrior monk, 2. a female sell-sword, and 3. a construct. In the other, it is a more political/academic setting of advanced magical research, and the power struggles (and competing lusts) of a senior mage and one of her more junior colleagues with experimental theories. These "outbound mages" make excursions to space, to observe the god and take measurements of his "spheres" -- the two smallest of which had been used centuries before to demonstrate the planet-killing power at hand.
The world builds and deepens and widens; the journey narrative treks us through disparate peoples and landscapes and histories, developing the characters and (through flashbacks) providing back stories as well. Throughout there's always the atmosphere of a deeper world at work, at mysteries not yet revealed. Who is the god Adrash, what does he want? Building toward dual climaxes in both narratives and powering on into denouement and stage-setting for a sequel, a lengthy epilogue serves to further widen the mysteries of this world by another deep breath. All in all, a very strong, no-holds-barred and emotionally impactful debut novel by Jernigan, whose short fiction I have followed on and off through M-BRANE SF and Asimov's. His is a bold, determined voice, with a razor's edge balance of rawness and assuredness; each character's point of view was distinct and fully realized. This is absolutely an heroic fantasy novel not to be missed.
I had never heard of the narrator John FitzGibbon before; presumably he was found by Audible through taking on stipend-eligible ACX titles. In any case he appears to be a US stage actor, and this training serves him exceedingly, exceedingly well. There are some passages of potentially uncomfortable content, from eviscerating violence to explicit sexual encounters. FitzGibbon does not shy away from any of these, nor over-emphasize in a campy way. His voices for each character are solid and distinct, bringing accents which accentuate the character's backgrounds. In particular his voice for the construct, Berun, is as outstanding a character voice as you'll find in audio.
I had not even read the back copy, and so had absolutely no idea what to expect. Maybe a fantasy set in a vaguely Scottish monastery, though full of the fantastic imagination and powerful writing I expected from the many recommendations I’ve received over the past few years for this book, also on my “first novels to be nominated for the World Fantasy Award” list. It turns out to be a novel of an endless war between angels and demons, re-cast and re-cast again and again through history and mythology from Enki to Enoch to Metatron. Much of the storyline is either contemporary, or set in a near future of VR and AR goggles. It is there a kinship with parts of Snow Crash is felt, though themes of deep linguistics and layers of archaelogy permeate the novel throughout. There’s a density of ideas and frame-shifting, mind-screwing avalanche of sensawunda that I can compare to only a few novels, like Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief or M. John Harrison’s Light. There’s also, through the multiple split by millenia and then decades timelines, somewhat reminiscent of Daren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, but a more apt comparison might be with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, with souls replaying their dances across multiple lives. But these don’t really capture what’s going on at all, either. It’s brilliantly original and creative, heartbreakingly personal and yet epic, fantastical yet with technological elements as well. Fantastic book. (And I haven’t even touched the plot… which is perhaps a bit disjointed, adding to the effect of amazement over the imaginative romping Duncan is doing across myths and history, with a bleak, devastating gut-punch of an ending, with a mouth full of dirt for dinner.) The narration — let me back up. So, this book in its novel form is presented in such a way, told in such a way, that there were doubts as to how well the narrative could be followed in audio. But Clark was fantastic. I’d never heard of him — this looks to have been his first professional narration, which boggles the mind. (It looks like he spent the better part of 2012 narrating a dozen of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels.) But he was wonderful: carrying Seamus’ Irish brogue, Metatron’s power, gritty when needed, soft when needed. A fantastic audiobook on top of a fantastic book.
I quite often listen to audiobooks with my kids, when I saw this short (short!) story pop up with the description "The brave Japanese warrior Fujiwara Hidesato was always in search of action and adventure..." I was quickly interested.
My kids are actually quite accomplished and discerning listeners. They've enjoyed Roald Dahl reading his own "Fantastic Mr. Fox". They've enjoyed Neil Gaiman reading his own "Odd and the Frost Giants". They've enjoyed Emma Thompson reading her own "The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit". (And re-listen again and again to their favorites -- my son has been on Marc Brown's "Francine Believe it or Not" (from his Arthur stories) for a good long while.)
Our first listen was in the car -- a 13 minute story is about perfect for a drive to or from an errand. Both kids (my son is 6 and my daughter 4.5) listened with rapt attention, with a few questions, e.g. "What is a quiver?" But the true test is whether they request a re-listen. (I know this from telling them my own stories; no matter how proud I might be, and how I think they liked it the first time, a second hearing? Most likely, not a chance.) Well, this one did pass that test, both kids wanted to hear it again later, and again listened attentively.
The story adapts a Japanese fairy tale "My Lord Bag of Rice" in which a young warrior Fujiwara no Hidesato encounters a dragon princess and slays a giant centipede for her, earning magical gifts. In other versions, rather than turning into a princess, the dragon becomes a "strange small man" -- the eponymous Dragon King, but other essentials remain. It's told quite straightforwardly and to a young reader's understanding, with a few possibly new words to consider (e.g. "quiver", above) and some vivid visual descriptions, particularly of the giant centipede's emergence from the mountain. There are some typical fairy tale features here (naturally Hidesato has three, and only three, arrows, and needs each and every one of them) but overall it was definitely something different for both me and the kids and we enjoyed it.
Some nitpicks on the (overall excellent) narration and production:
* Pronunciation of "horror" was a teensy bit suspect
* Gaps between sections were overall much too long - particularly next to last or so.
* Conversely, gaps at beginning and in particular the end were too short.
* One section - the first appearance of the centipede on the mountain - was noticeably quiet compared to the rest.
These are noticeable and fixable issues which (other than "horror" which is I suppose acceptable) I would expect a professional production to correct. I do have another suggestion for future releases: A good choice of intro and (in particular) outtro music would have been excellent improvements here. The story does (as fairy tales often do) end abruptly, just in time for the closing credits to rush right in, dispelling the created mood.
I've never heard Ken MacMillan narrate before and he seemed exceedingly well cast, and did a good job with the story, with enough animation in his reading to keep kids interested. Overall: definitely pick this one up for your wee listeners, though I do hope Nation9 fixes some of the production glitches, and make sure you are careful to not use a credit rather than the retail/member price.
Nation9 also has produced an Android App which combines text, illustrations, animation, and narration, and a Kindle version which has at least some of the same illustrations as well, minus the narration and animation. These aren't applicable to me (I don't have such a device) but the App might be of interest for listeners as well.
The previous book in this series, 2010???s Children No More, was my entry point, and right away I was very taken both by the dark, scarred history of Jon (a genetically enhanced super-soldier), his relationship with Lobo (a sentient spaceship), and the world of mysterious jump gates, as well as Stechschulte???s narration ??? particularly his incredibly deep voice for the artificial voice of Lobo. When we left things off in Children No More, Jon and Lobo had been involved in fighting for the freedom, safety, and rehabilitation of child soldiers on an outpost planet. Here, the two answer a message from a lover in Jon???s past, and head to one of the power centers of human civilization. Jon must continue to hide his past and his powers ??? even from Lobo ??? but after discovering that his sister, Jenny, may still be alive, heads very much into the open (though undercover) via a wonderfully inventive scheme, falling in love again along the way. This is a science fiction book with plenty of high concepts and action (though again it???s primarily close quarters rather than massive ship-to-ship space battles) as well as well-done music fiction, and! also two honest to goodness, well done love stories. (And a third when you count, as you should, the familial love which drives Jon???s search for his sister.) It???s a book with a lot of heart, and Stechschulte???s gravelly, teeth-gritting lines bring it wonderfully to life. Both of the books I've read in the series can be read standalone, so: jump in anywhere.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks (nine last month; 70 last year), but recently I was having one of those ???I have 400 books on my to read list and still can???t pick what to read??? bouts of choice paralysis. Then I stumbled across my copy of Howl???s Moving Castle, bought on sale a year or two ago, and it was just what I needed. Narrated superbly by Jenny Sterlin, we follow Sophie Hatter, tragically the eldest of three sisters in a land of fairy tale rules and seven-league boots, after she???s cursed by a witch and transformed into an old crone. She gains entrance to the legendary moving castle of the wizard Howl and strikes a bargain with Calcifer, a fire demon, to be cured in exchange for freeing Calcifer from his contractual servitude to the wizard. It???s just a wonderful book with a wonderful protagonist in Sophie, who quickly embraces the authority to lecture and cajole that her apparent age gives her; a book which doesn???t take itself too seriously; and an audiobook which is done so well, so earnestly, and so authentically that those with an ear for dialects might begin to wonder why Howl speaks with a ???tapped r??? long before we find out what???s sewn across one of his shirts. I'm very glad indeed that the universe contains books like Howl???s Moving Castle. It was a delightful pit stop on a month of mostly Serious Business, superbly narrated, and highly recommended, and a book I look forward to sharing with my kids over the years.
OK. This is a fantastic work, the best new book of 2012 so far ??? dare I say, a decade-defining work which captures a snapshot of our medium future???s best hopes? There???s a solar system-spanning medium future of ???qubes??? (quantum computer AIs), terraforming and thousands of hollowed out asteroid ???terraria???, explorations of gender, and post-capitalist extra-terrestrial economies ??? amidst the grim passage from here to there through climate change, failed geoengineering fixes, and political and economic crises. There???s interstitial future history ???non-fiction??? excerpts. There???s an honest to goodness, memorable, building love story between the Mercurial Swan (an avant garde artist/architect/etc.) and Saturnine Wahram, a diplomat from Io. There???s even a (small) bit of policework from Inspector Jean Genette. The book opens well, builds and builds, with perhaps a bit of side-trackery on Venus, and other than some misgivings with some bits of the final resolution (and some stunning repeat stupidity from Swan) I was very much blown away by the novel. The overall planet-spanning plot works; the love story really works; it???s wonderful sf across the strata of setting, science, plot, and character. It???s on the longer side, but narrator Zimmerman plugs along without much drag behind her. She gives a mostly ???invisible narrator??? performance, not engaging in vocal gymnastics to develop strong accents, instead relying primarily on slight variations to distinguish speakers when necessary. Clean and crisply done, and well-suited to the work. Highly recommended.
So. I came here on Mieville???s name, and on some early burbs which seemed to indicate that there would be some meatier undertones on power and hierarchy; but what I found instead was a fun, tracks-whirring-by story in a deeply stratified Mievillian world of old tech, advanced tech, giant moles, and the Railsea.
So. This one took a while for me to really turn into something I could wrap my head around, but when it happened ??? when I started to finally understand where Joe???s world diverged from ours, and started to find some hand-hold into the surreal alternate history that Tidhar creates -- really started to appreciate this book. Through a primary ???private dick??? novel structure comes interstitial chapters which are detached descriptions of terrorist attacks in our own real world ??? our world which somehow is reflected in Joe???s world through a series of pulp novels starring Osama bin Laden, vigilante. This is a novel which just refuses to come out and tell you what is going on ??? Joe???s confusion is, at times, our own, as he tries to find out who is writing these books. Amidst the seriousness of some of this, there???s a hilarious send-up of sf fandom. I???m still puzzling this book over, and plan to read it in print again soon. There are layers, there is fog, there is mud, and then there are these moments of crystallized clarity where the surreal becomes real, before going once again out of focus and out of reach.
Wow. This one quickly vaults into both my favorite fantasy books and audiobooks lists. The book is a disjointed experience, with several timelines bringing out exquisite foreshadowing and a beautiful sense of melancholy, purpose, and atmosphere. At first, the switches between timelines was a bit jarring, but before long I found the rhythm and began to recognize the cues that setting, characters, and events quickly provided. I do not want to say too much about this book other than: listen to it or read it. Zhan is a girl coming of age, leaning to be a hunter in a secondary world of snow, ash, war, and power. What magic there once might have been is largely gone. What gods there are do not seem to listen. Once, dragons lived. But they have all been hunted and killed. So, into this, in a tribal culture, the girl Zhan. Her family is murdered, apparently by her grandfather, and so off on a quest of vengeance into the wider world goes Zhan with her uncle Seth, a fire-breathing shaman. Who can make golems. They meet and hire a mercenary bodyguard; a paladin; a gypsy. They travel through and ahead of the drums of war. It???s just beautiful, menalcholic, a paean to beautiful things and dark things.
I definitely get why it???s compared to Lynch???s The Lies of Locke Lamora, as Easie Damasco is a thief with that sarcastic, self-deprecating, self-referential sense of humor; though here the action includes a large battle and contains gloriously ugly giants rather than inhabiting the various districts of an old city. You know you???re off to a good start when in the first chapter the hero is being hanged. (Though I???m not sure why Angry Robot chose to whitewash the ???olive brown??? Easie Damasco in the cover art of book one and the just-released cover art for book two, Crown Thief, due out in October; it???s sadly not an uncommon happening, thought in recent memory at least Night Shade corrected a similar issue after receiving a lot of negative feedback??? C???mon, publishers. You can do better. You aren???t adapting a film here. I hesitate to mention this at all, as I do not want people punishing the author of all people, which a ???well, I???m not gonna buy that there book then??? response does, and Tallerman is the wrong target. But I also don???t want to be silent, so??? there you go.) Back to the book: as the narrative stays in first person throughout, we see a bit more inside Damasco???s head than we did into Locke Lamora???s. However, even though Tallerman is not setting out to recreate a precocious group of Gentleman Bastards, Giant Thief is a step or two down from Lynch???s excellent debut. We get bits and pieces of Damasco???s back story, but never quite enough to build a solid idea of who he is or what he wants ??? even if it is the now typical ???thief just getting by and not really wanting much of anything or planning ahead??? mold. The first half of the book has some quite nicely turned encounters ??? Damasco???s acquisition of the titular giant for example ??? but the second half sees more and more improbable. Even for a book which asks its reader to accept the existence of talking giants, the plot turns on points which verge on the illogical, demanding that the reader unlearn what they have learned about characters and competencies up to that point. However! There???s still something fun about a book which doesn???t take itself too seriously. On the audiobook: The narration overall really fits the tone, though at times it strays just over into too much sarcastic detachment, where the curtain parts just a bit too much and you feel the acting.
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