Dennis Lehane's writing style isn't as lyrical as I prefer but he can paint a good picture with words and I was drawn in and engaged for most of the book. I particularly liked his very effective use of setting in this novel. The working class Boston neighborhood came alive in my mind and served to "flavor" the characters and move the plot. There was a fairly good and consistent use of foreshadowing which allows a reader to make some good guesses at the mysteries in advance without actually being certain. However, I was truly disappointed in the ending. After building a complex psychological study of 3 friends from childhood to mid-30's, the ending abruptly wraps up the story with a total warping of one of the characters - the actions were consistent but the internal perspective was not. I won't include any spoilers but the book took me on an interesting journey that ended suddenly at a completely unrelated destination. This is a good read that just doesn't quite work in the end.
Scott Brick provides competent narration with a style very suitable to a murder mystery.
This is the last Alastair Reynolds book on Audible I had to listen to and now I find I feel like the AI on the BBC comedy sci-fi, Red Dwarf, who asked for all his Agatha Christie files to be deleted so he could enjoy reading her books again - I can't wait to forget these stories so I can enjoy them again. The big problem for me is that Alastair Reynolds stories are not so easy to forget! Blue Remembered Earth is a rather sweet book to end my Reynolds run. It doesn't have the grandeur of big concepts against a huge universal backdrop that you find in House of Suns or the Revelation Space Trilogy nor does it have the tight plotting and perfect pacing of Chasm City or The Prefect. However, it does have a lot of heart and conveys a message that doesn't show up often enough in science fiction - we have the stars and a huge universe to explore, but we should never forget how absolutely amazing, special, and intricate are the workings of our own beautiful planet. Sometimes we have to look at our world from the heavens to appreciate its stunning beauty and fragility and Blue Remembered Earth is a story that lets you do that. This near future sci-fi is not as grand as many Reynolds stories, but he does a great job of projecting out what climate change (independent of whether it is man-made or natural) will do to change our planet - such a major change in our environment will not only change the geography of the planet, but its flora and fauna, the world economic and political systems, and even theologies and cultures will be impacted or adapted.
A couple of audible reviewers have provided some great plot summaries (thank you Michael G. Kurilla and Wendy) which I can't do any better so I won't, but I will say that although the pacing of this tale is a little slower than some of Reynolds other books, I found the plot quite engaging and the settings are vivid and imaginative as well. These aren't Reynolds' strongest characters, but they are very nicely rendered by the narration of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. It was odd at first to listen to Reynolds as narrated by someone other than Jon Lee, but Holdbrook-Smith is more fitting for this Africa based story and this actor-narrator is talented. He has a warm, pleasant voice, provides distinct character voices, and does good accents. I heard him on the Peter Grant paranormal detective series and he was terrific at doing something rather comedic and fast-paced, but now I see he is equally good at reading a book intended to be more serious and dramatic. If you care about the prose, Blue Remembered Earth scores high. This is Reynolds describing giraffes running across the African plain, "They were loping, crossing the ground in great scissoring strides like pairs of draftsman's compasses being walked across the map." Reynolds prose tends to be rather elegant with exquisite metaphors sprinkled through it and Blue Remembered Earth is full of great examples of his style.
Short and to the point - a pretty great story buried under ridiculous layers of tedious police procedural, a wild array of cartoonish characters, and long winded development of meaningless plot points and inconsequential players.
If you boiled out the real plot from this giant doorstop of a book, it is exciting and suspenseful. The story starts with the investigation of a murder that expands into a threat against all humanity from a powerful and mysterious alien presence. The sections that deal with the hunt for the alien are tightly plotted and full of delicious apprehension. Unfortunately, that is only a small part of the book and those sections suffer from frequent flashbacks and cuts to the extremely slow murder investigation.
In addition to the erratic pacing and lack of editing, this book suffers from a few other disagreeable faults:
1. The central female character, Angela Tramelo, is a total caricature of a woman. Seriously, the woman is beyond beautiful, super brilliant, athletic and tough, has powerful connections, and has been genetically altered to stay young for hundreds of years. So, of course, the only way she can resolve a challenge is to prostitute herself. Note to Peter: Selling one's body is really NOT the "go-to" solution for most women especially those who have as many other resources as Angela Tramelo. Some of the men are just a hokey, but at least police detective, Sidney Hurst, is portrayed as a "regular Joe" which does help the slower police sections of the book.
2. The ending is way too neat and tidy and after this VERY long trek on The Great North Road, it wraps up so fast that it feels rushed.
3. A really threatening and incomprehensible Alien suddenly becomes just "one of the guys" at the end and loses credibility and any power he once had to frighten.
Toby Longworth is not my favorite narrator, but he is not bad. He is rather dramatic in his delivery of the narrative sections of the book which I don't usually like, but it was good for this book that often wanders far "off the road".
With some severe editing (half of this book could go) and a little reworking of the character of Angela and the Alien, this could be a great book. As it is, I don't recommend it unless you are an avid Peter F. Hamilton fan.
I really enjoyed listening to Terminal World and would rate this book much higher if it were the beginning of a series. But Reynolds has written Terminal World as a standalone novel which ends just as a great story is beginning so I found the book a real let down.
Reynolds sets up a great adventure tale that includes a nice mash-up of hard science and fantasy seasoned with steampunk elements. (I really liked the scientific explanations for the variations in technology. Steampunk often just seems to be about cool gadgets and doesn't incorporate enough logic to make me happy and that's not the case in Terminal World.) As we follow the main protagonist, Quillon, and his cohort, Meroka, in their flight to escape assassination attempts on Quillon, we get pieces of the puzzle to explain how their strange world functions, how it came to be, why it is "broken", and how it can be repaired and the great escape slowly evolves into more of a quest. However, just at the point you start to understand the constructs and have an inkling of how this happened, the story ends. It really feels like reading the first of a series and then having no second book available.
These are interesting characters with potential for a lot more development and a totally fascinating world whose history/evolution is only hinted at. There is a universe of room to expand and progress this story and I can only hope that Reynolds considers a sequel to "bring this story home".
Jon Lee does a good turn on narration and the voice he uses for the tough and sassy Meroka is perfect.
On its own, Terminal World is entertaining and, like all of Reynolds work, the story will expand your mind to some very cool new concepts, but it ends on the cusp of something great and may leave you wanting much more.
The Greyfriar is supposed to be a kind of mash up of alternate history, steampunk, and vampire mythology, but is really just a big mish-mash of multiple genres that never gels into anything coherent. The characters are straight out of a Harlequin romance and not the slightest bit believable, the dialog is stilted and boring, and the plot is downright nonsensical. The steampunk aspects appear to just be thrown in so the book can be labeled "Steam Punk" rather than actually being woven into the storyline and the alternate history doesn't make any sense. A political marriage between the head of a republic and the heir apparent of an empire??? Yeah, that would happen...in a world where there is no political sense whatsoever. (Can you imagine Barak Obama trying to marry off Malia to the king of Spain to make a political alliance??) Nice new take on the vampire origin story totally ruined by harebrained biology. Supposedly vampires are a separate species from people, but like humans and other mammals, they reproduce via sexual intercourse and the females bear children. Unlike every other mammal ever known (including VAMPIRE BATS), the young don't drink mother's milk, but instead drink their mother's blood and babies may even kill their mothers in the process. Sorry, but that is just stupid!
I read a lot of fantasy and I totally understand that you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy the genre, but good fantasy has internal logic that Greyfriar totally lacks. That said, there is one stellar thing about this audio book - James Marsters is totally wonderful and his lovely narration is the only thing that got me through the entire story. PS: Kudos to Dave (Whittier, CA) for a well-written, detailed review I wish I had read before I got the book.
Just coincidentally, I have recently listened to three sci-fi novels that all begin as police procedurals with law-enforcement agents investigating a localized crime that expands into a much more cosmic, universal mystery - The Prefect, The Great North Road, and Leviathan Wakes. The Prefect was by far the best of the three. Not only does The Prefect benefit from Reynold's elegant, evocative writing which is a cut above most other sci-fi writers, these are some of Reynold's best characters (primary protagonists and antagonists fleshed out with great back stories), the tightly woven plot is riveting with multiple twists, and the setting, The Glitter Band, is one of the coolest concepts from Revelation Space. Jon Lee does a bang-up job on this book - this is one where the Reynolds-Lee combo makes for a terrific audiobook. The Prefect will be an enjoyable listen for anyone who loves hard sci-fi even if you haven't read any of the Revelation Space trilogy, but if you have read the trilogy, the new stories of Philip Lascaille and Dan Sylveste in The Prefect will be extra fun.
I have been disappointed in many over-hyped best sellers so I am not quick to pick them up most of the time. However, when Audible made this book available on The Deal of the Day, I was curious to see what the fuss was about. As a debut novel, Slumdog Millionaire, is quite an achievement for Vikas Swarup. Ram Mohammad Thomas is arrested for cheating on a game show in which he won 1 billion rupees and what follows then is his first person account of his life story detailing how this poor, unsophisticated boy came to know all the answers for the game show without cheating. Much like Forrest Gump, Thomas is naive, even stupid at times, and has no financial resources, yet through strange twists of fate, a good and mostly honest heart, and dumb luck, he encounters people from all walks of life and repeatedly falls into excrement yet comes up smelling like a rose.
In telling the tale Swarup gives us thumbnail sketches of the sadder side of the lives of the 1.2 billion people that populate India especially many of the children - hunger, prostitution, thievery, gangs, and physical and sexual abuse. I have read several novels about modern day India before (the best being A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry) so I didn't find the stories shocking, but did find many of them quite poignant. However, Swarup has given his protagonist an almost indefatigable sense of optimism and has woven some nice ironic humor into most of the narrative so the book is touching without being overwhelmingly depressing.
There are some common minor problems of the debut novel - Slumdog sometimes seems to "cram in" so much that it loses focus, and although the narrative is not intended to be totally linear, there are some mis-steps in the timeline that can be confusing to the listener.
Christopher Simpson's narration is first class. His acting talent is useful in bringing the listener "up close and personal" with this First Person account and he does amazingly good accents - Indian, Irish, Australian. (The voice he uses for the game show host is so perfectly smarmy - I loved it!)
This book wasn't over-hyped - it really is a very good debut novel.
Paris in the 1950's, Wendell Floyd is an ex-pat American jazz musician forced to actually make a living as a private detective, although he and his partner, Andre Custin, still play occasionally. The pragmatic Floyd thinks he may solve his money troubles with the investigation of an apparent suicide. While in Paris of the distant future, Verity Auger, an archeologist, is digging into a ice-locked dead city searching for relics of the past. The listener understands early on that while Auger's Paris could be in our future, Floyd's Paris is definitely not in our past and Auger is tasked to understand what that means. Clearly these disparate tales must be linked and they do merge fairly early in the narrative and Auger and Floyd ultimately realize they are each the key for the other's mystery.
There are some flaws in this overall good story:
1. While I like the characters of Floyd and Auger, I just never "felt" the chemistry between them so the love story is a bit flat.
2. Erratic pacing. The setup is very good, with a gradual build up that generates a great deal of suspense, but the long and repetitive chase scenes and the muddled political conflict break the tension frequently in the later sections of the book.
Century Rain has some good things going for it as well:
1. Wonderful prose - I would argue that there is no Science Fiction writer who writes more elegantly than Alistair Reynolds. As always, he uses beautiful metaphors, sets vivid scenes, and employs such a wide vocabulary that my ears stay tuned even when the story slows.
2. Grand provocative ideas. We all know about The Law of the Unintended Consequences, but Century Rain takes that idea to the grandest scale and shows us a planet that has been made uninhabitable as a result of good intentions gone VERY bad and people who don't know how to quit digging when they get in a hole.
3. Gripping thriller type plot with some clever nods at Casablanca
John Lee was not at his best on this book, but was competent and did not detract. This isn't Reynolds best book, but I still found it entertaining and mind-expanding.
In The Land Across, our hero, a travel writer named Grafton, is determined to become the first to publish a travel guide for an unnamed Eastern European country he refers to as "the land across the mountains". He takes a train across the border and is immediately arrested. His passport is confiscated and he is delivered to and becomes the prisoner of a suburban homeowner. We then follow Grafton as he first attempts to regain his passport and secondarily tries to understand the mores and culture of the country for his book, but Grafton quickly becomes embroiled in mysteries and dramas far beyond his expectations. The American travel writer stumbles across a lost treasure mystery, becomes dangerously entangled in a black cult and the JAKA (the country's secret police) efforts to stop them, as well as becoming the recipient of an animated dead hand all the while dealing with the amorous attentions of virtually every woman he meets including a ghost girl!
The book begins in a quasi-travelogue style, but moves into more of a first person mystery tale fairly early in the narrative. There's a little bit of a lot of paranormal thrown in - allusions to Vlad the Impaler, voodoo, ghosts, angels, demons, second sight, etc. - although the paranormal side of the story never quite finds a real focus. There is a fairly good use of foreshadowing, some great settings that enhance the creepy feeling of foreboding, several clever plot twists, and some very fun characters that keep this story fast-moving and very entertaining. This is one of those books where you can see some big plots holes in the rear view mirror, that aren't too troublesome during the story. (I had the same feeling about Lexicon and 14 - too much fun during the story to worry about plot holes until AFTER I finished the book.)
I wouldn't normally really like this protagonist because EVERY woman he encounters is so enamored of him which I usually find tiresome, but Grafton has some good qualities and Gene Wolfe's characterization of this "every-man" controlled by powers he doesn't understand and Jeff Woodman's great narration combine to make Grafton rather likable in spite of himself. Some of Wolfe's female characters are a little thin, but he does have a pretty great female JAKA agent that I really liked and Woodman does a terrific job with voices including the women.
More of a mystery with paranormal facets than a true fantasy, The Land Across is fun and entertaining. Most of the book can be followed easily without using all of your attention, but the last two hours require more focus as all the loose ends are tied together.
I listened to Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained back to back and the Commonwealth Saga is not complete without both books. Now I find I can't write a review of them separately so this is a combined review of the duo. Overall, I was very entertained by these two massive books and recommend them to anyone who loves space opera, but this is a qualified recommendation.
THE GOOD (~70%)
* Fascinating Vision of the future and the universe on a grand scale - entertaining and thought-provoking concepts.
* Terrific use of multiple POV's and subplots woven together to create a much bigger picture.
* Twisty plot lines, evocative settings, and wonderful mysteries that totally engage the listener.
* Some of the characters, especially MorningLightMountain (a terrifying sentient enemy alien who thinks NOTHING like a human) and Paula Mayo (genetically engineered human programmed by OCD-type genetics to be the ultimate detective).
* Narration - not John Lee's best performance, but not bad. Lee is particularly good with the 50's American slang sound he uses for Ozzie's voice.
THE BAD (~25%)
* Too much of a good thing - the future of biology, chemistry, physiology, IT, politics, government, astronomy, the kitchen sink, and pretty much everything else. Hamilton's reach to incorporate all the ramifications of future science and technology is bigger than his story and my patience could handle at times.
* Ozzie's Wilderness Survival Subplot - most of the subplots were engaging, but the story of Ozzie Isaacs trying to find the adult Silfen to get answers reads more like Kerouac's "On The Road" (probably intentionally) than like a sci-fi adventure and I found that it dragged down the story each time Hamilton cut to an Ozzie update. This was maybe 20% of the narrative in Pandora's Star, but less of a factor in Judas Unchained.
* Some of the characters, especially Ozzie (a Beatnik born 100 years too late who totally, like, overuses the word man, maaaan, you dig?) and Melanie, who is a dirty old man's fantasy of a very young, very slutty woman. I hated her, but even people who like the character aren't going to identify with her because she is not like anyone you know. A character based on a sexual fantasy never seems like a real person so it's hard to care about what they do or what happens to them.
* The Science might work, but it hurts the fiction - in the Commonwealth Universe, rejuvenation is routine so people have an indefinite lifetime potential. In addition, if your body or brain are injured beyond the ability of medical science to heal, you can have your memory dumped to a clone and start over. Hamilton does not go into all the science of how this would work, but I didn't have trouble buying into his concepts as presented. What did cause a problem for me was how do you get invested in people who really can't die? No matter how intense and suspenseful the plot becomes, it is just hard to stack the emotional stakes high when most folks aren't going to stay dead!
THE UGLY (fortunately only ~ 5%)
* Many semi-graphic sex scenes - I am fine with sex scenes in my fiction when the plot requires it or even gratuitous sex scenes when they are well-written. However, I think very few authors can write sex scenes that are erotic, passionate, or romantic and more often (as is the case with Pandora and Judas) these scenes come across as self conscious or skeevy. And worse, these stumbles in the bedroom (or wherever) often slow the narrative and break the plot progression. Pandora/Judas would read better without the corny and sleazy sex scenes.
I found Leviathan Wakes interesting and worth a credit, but just not engaging enough that I will buy the sequels. As much as I like sci-fi, I only LOVE it when the other aspects of good fiction are in play - great characters, plot, setting, and strong prose and LW is a little lacking. The plot is pretty interesting and there is a good mystery incorporated into it; the settings are quite vivid. But the strong plot/setting didn't quite make up for the stereotype characters (brash, young rebel and world weary detective), wooden dialog, and rather pedestrian prose for me. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck working as James S. A. Corey have produced a work that is creditable and reasonably cohesive, but maybe damped them both down a bit; both can actually write with more flare than you see in LW.
The narration and pacing is good, but I still found myself anxious to get to the end because I just didn't care much what happened to these characters. If you enjoy a lot of action sequences (the book includes many scenes of physical fights and spaceship battles), you might find the mundane characters and the stolid prose less problematic.
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