Milwaukee, WI USA | Member Since 2007
Thank goodness a couple members of my sci-fi book club (for which I read this book) are also avid mystery readers. Without them, I probably would have given this book a single star. They were able to explain to me that this book is an example of a “cozy” mystery. According to them, “cozies” typically feature an amateur sleuth, little violence or sex, and focus more on clue-gathering than on suspense. All of which goes a good way toward explaining the slow pace which was one of the things I found unappealing about Echo. I like the concept of combining genres, but in this case, neither the scifi backdrop nor the unravelling mystery were well-served. I have not read any of McDevitt’s earlier novels featuring the same protagonist, Alex Benedict, but I do wonder if perhaps this mash-up worked better in its early incarnations. In this sixth book in the series, the author seemed to be going through the motions. Clues were dribbled one by one in a path that the main characters followed inevitably from one suspect to the next and the reader simply had to follow this plot train along to its conclusion. The fact that the action takes place thousands of years in the future does not stop the characters from packing chocolate chip cookies in their space ship and commenting constantly about how “good-looking” the characters are—mostly the females. Clearly the author was interested in thinking about first contact with aliens, but even that aspect of the story was weak and took so long to arrive that I had already lost most of my interest. I never did get used to the breathy voice of the narrator, which made all the female characters sound like porn stars.
I have a vague recollection of liking the movie based on this book, starring Peter Sellers, so when I saw it was an audio book read by Dustin Hoffman, I decided to pick it up. I figured it must be a pretty good novella, to have inspired a movie featuring an Academy Award-nominated performance and be read by another Acadamy Award winner. Like several other Audible titles read by gifted actors, this was a huge treat. Hoffman gives the protagonist, Chance, the lack of affect needed—definitely channeling his Rainman persona—and imbues the various business and political leaders who are beguiled by Chance’s simple words with just the right touch of hunger for power and deviousness. Well worth the listen.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that every interstellar colony in search of good fortune must be in need of a banker.”
This line, which comes early in “Neptune’s Brood,” pretty much sums up how I reacted to this surprisingly engaging sci-fi look at commerce amongst the stars. You do not need to be a Jane Austen fan to enjoy this book, but you’d better be ready to hear about interstellar economics leavened with a serving of very dry humor. This novel is for you if you enjoy lines like that one, or this:
“Nothing concentrates the mind like starting a new management job In the middle of a space battle.”
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Emily Gray, who did a fantastic job, giving the different post-humans varied voices and personalities that made them really come alive.]
I appreciated two things in particular about this fantasy novel. First, the two main characters were middle-aged women. I cannot think of another fantasy or scifi novel where that is the case. I myself am a middle-aged woman but I believe many readers would enjoy the “turnabout” situations in the book, where what would normally be the “Hero” male characters are pretty helpless and it is the women who are truly courageous. My favorite example of this is when all the main male characters resort to violence only to find themselves helpless in a dungeon while the “helpless” women are out rescuing each other using non-violent solutions. This book definitely passes the Bechdel test!
The second thing I really liked about the book was that the main character was a healer, and much of the plot hinges on healing and forgiveness. There are battles and danger, but the strongest passages are those in which the characters are forced to accept their own need to give and receive forgiveness.
On the downside, the book was overlong and a bit on the simplistic side, as far as the plot and the setting.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Allyson Johnson. She did a fair job with the accents, but I ended up listening at 1.5 speed to get through this long journey].
I absolutely loved the world these two authors co-created for these linked novellas. That there would be negative consequences to magic is a completely unique idea, in my experience of fantasy literature. Bacigalupi took the concept and ran with it. His story, The Alchemist, featured a fully realized main character and was beautifully written, only faltering slightly at the end, which seemed to not really fit the rest of the story. The Executioness suffered in comparison. It felt one-dimensional and skirted dealing head-on with the essential dilemma. At the end, I was left with an unfinished feeling, as if there should have been a third story that would have solved the problem once and for all.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Jonathan Davis and Katherine Kellgren. Both did excellent jobs narrating. It seemed they coordinated their performances, deciding that the denizens of this world would speak with vaguely African sounding accents. This helped me feel like I had been transported to another realm and made the world of the book more real.]
I love scifi but this book just didn't work for me. Too negative.
I only made it through the first story and part of the second one. No female characters, everything very negative, stories not connected except by the world being constructed by the author. Maybe if I had knowledge of other books set in this world I would have liked it more, but as a first "toe in the water" it just didn't hold my interest.
Okay but not memorable.
Ummmm . . . not really
Funny and scifi seldom go together, but when they do and it works, it is a wonderful thing. “The Humans” managed to make me laugh out loud, many times. The observations about the human condition were often spot-on, going beyond the trite to really make me think in a few cases. Overall, an enjoyable read that I think is particularly accessible to people who wouldn’t normally read scifi.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Mark Meadows, who did a fantastic job. I think this is a case in which listening would be better than reading the book, because Mr. Meadows’ delivery added a lot to the droll nature of the humor.]
Maybe I have read too many dystopian sci-fi novels, but this book just did not capture my interest. However, after listening to my book club discuss it, I realize that for people who do not spend a lot of time thinking about the “dark side” of technology and social media, “The Circle” can be a real revelation. What I thought was trite and hackneyed, most of the people in my book club thought was brilliant, revelatory and scary. One person came up to me after the meeting and said “I never knew science fiction could be like this! I want to read more!” If that was your reaction to this book, I would recommend you pick up “The Traveler” by John Twelve Hawks. And if you already love science fiction and were disappointed by “the Circle,” go ahead and pick up “The Traveler,” because it will restore your faith in the ability of scifi to warn us about dangers ahead without hitting us over the head with a sledge hammer.
[I listened to this as an audio book performed by Dion Graham. As has happened before when I listen to a book for my book club that most others read in hard copy, my experience of the book was significantly different. I don’t attribute that entirely to the performance, but I did question the decision to have a man read a book in which the main character is a young woman in her early 20’s, as are many of the other characters. On top of that, the narrator made all these millennials, including the male characters, sound like valley girls—everything they said came out like questions. It was all pretty annoying and diminished my enjoyment of the novel.]
I decided after the first hour that I just didn’t care about the characters in this novel. The first warning sign was when I had to listen to the prologue three times. The first two times, when I got to the end of the chapter, I realized my attention had wandered so much that I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know who was who, who was telling the story about who, what the time frames of the different stories were. I don’t think my confusion was due to anything particularly complex about the story. It’s just that all the people were so bland I couldn’t tell them apart. The characters have the names “Jim” and “Bob” and “Sue” and “Margaret” and “Helen.” Someone has had multiple marriages. Someone has a son that suffered a mysterious tragedy. Or maybe it’s the whole family that has suffered a mysterious tragedy. At the end of the prologue, you are supposed to care enough about these individuals to want to listen to another 13 hours. It reminded me a little bit of the setup in the fabulous “The Dinner” by Herman Koch but without the hilarious snarkiness and unshakeable sense of impending disaster. I don’t know if it was the performance or the book or both, but I simply couldn’t muster up enough interest in the Burgess family to want to know what happened to them.
Another very enjoyable “listen” from Sedaris. I love listening to his essays on long car rides; this book was everything I have come to expect from him, generating lots of chuckles and several laugh-out-loud moments. The only part I was disappointed in was the last couple of stories. He introduces them by saying he can’t understand why kids in forensics use his stories, because he doesn’t think they’re “performable.” Huh? This from a guy who makes a tidy living performing his essays out loud? As if that weren’t confusing enough, he then says he wrote the rest of the essays just for the kids in forensics, and goes on to read some of the absolute worst, most un-funny stories I have ever heard from him. I knocked this down to three stars because of these weird and inappropriate stories at the end.
I found this novella mostly incomprehensible. Oh, there is clearly a critique of imperialism, as many reviewers point out. But it seems to me, the critique is not that the colonizers (in this case, Belgians) are raping Africa of its natural resources (ivory) and enslaving its people. Rather, the book seems to be lamenting that good, white Europeans become tainted upon encountering Africa. The Africans are all depicted as sub-human, and the continent as a malevolent entity. I understand that attitudes were far different when Conrad wrote this in 1898 than they are today. Reading novels from other time periods allows one to better understand how thinking has changed . . . or not changed. However, I fail to understand the attention this novella has attracted . . . most of what happens just makes no sense at all. Reviews from readers who appear to be deeper thinkers than myself indicate that Kurtz is somehow the embodiment of Evil, but whatever it is he did is never explained. Characters go on and on about how eloquent he is, how smart he is, how he has a Grand Plan . . . but we are never shown any evidence that these things are the case. The viewpoint character, Marlow, alternates between admiration of the evil Kurtz, and abhorrence of . . . whatever horrible unnamed thing Kurtz has done. The most overrated 200 pages I have ever read. The only thing that made me finish it was the fact that I was listening to it as an audiobook performed by Kenneth Branagh, and I just didn’t want to turn off his fabulous voice.
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