Whittier, CA | Member Since 2010
The story of Orson Welles adapting The War of the Worlds on the radio one Halloween and terrifying a ridiculous amount of the United States is kind of legendary today, but as someone who'd never heard it before, I wasn't sure if it'd live up to the legend or not.
It does, and it's a lot of fun to hear and imagine people listening to it when it originally broadcast. The moments of silence between reporters or military personnel when they go off the air unexpectedly just hangs there, and you can imagine the genuine dread that must've inspired (and still does, for those of us unafraid to use our imaginations).
I recently listened to Wells' original novel (narrated by Simon Vance) and I was impressed how much Orson Welles channeled that here - particularly the scene toward the end with the artillery man. It's a very solid adaptation, and a genuine piece of Americana.
It does sound like an old production, but it's well worth listening to if you've ever been curious about how Welles and Wells created possibly the best Trick or Treat in the world.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I read all the Star Wars books. I stopped right before the New Jedi Order (when I was in college), and since then have only read two - Zahn's Scoundrels and Schreiber's Death Troopers. In general, the Expanded Star Wars Universe became too much of a chore for me - the continuity got too bloated, I heard some of my favorite characters were needlessly killed off, and it just wasn't as much fun as when Zahn's first books came out. So when I heard that James S.A. Corey - the writing duo of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham who write the kick ass Expanse space operas - were doing a Star Wars book, and that it'd be a stand-alone Han Solo Star Wars books, AND that it'd be set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, well, I knew I'd have to make the jump to lightspeed and pick this nerf-herder up.
Han Solo and Chewbacca are recruited by the Rebel Alliance to pull out spy Scarlet Hark from her assignment on a planet in the Imperial Core. The extraction doesn't go as simply as planned (their plans are awful). Scarlet has some loose ends to tie up, Han has a price on his head, and the Empire has their sights on a new super weapon. I don't want to give away too much, but suffice it to say blasters are drawn, planets are scorched, and Chewbacca is a far more profane wookie than I ever realized. (We always did wonder what he was saying, right?)
In other words: Franck and Abraham do not disappoint. There were times when I was worried the story was going to take a long time building up to a plot point - say a heist - and then, like the Expanse books, they barrel right into the action, never sacrificing characterization, and move onto the next play. The characters we know feel like they've walked right off the screen, just as we remembered them. And we're introduced to several fascinating new characters: the aforementioned Scarlet Hark, who is as stubborn, gutsy, and wise-cracking as Han; Hunter Maas, an arrogant would-be alpha male who always talks about himself in the third person; and Baasen Ray, a down-on-his-luck smuggler and old friend of Han. Saying too much about any of them would be spoiling the fun, but I do want to say that they were all very well-developed. I was pleased Scarlet never became part of a romantic triangle with Han and Leia - their relationship and camaraderie had a very business casual professional feel to it, playing against the obvious type. But most of all, I was surprised and delighted by the shades of grey displayed by one character. Often, we generally know which side someone is on when they walk onto the screen (or page) in Star Wars. However, one character's journey really surprised me, and it was nice to see that they're can be acts of kindness and grace, even by characters who often came off as an utter bastard. It's a nice bit of characterization, and one I feel like we don't often see in Star Wars.
Is it as good as The Expanse or The Dagger in the Coin books? No. Not even close. But I'd be lying if it wasn't loads of fun, and had me wishing that they'd do another Star Wars book someday, in all their free time. If you like any of their books, and Star Wars, you're gonna get a kick out of this one. It'll make you want to invite your buddies over for beer and an original trilogy marathon. And it'll probably make you want to check out all their other non-Star Wars books too.
(And being a big fan of both Expanse series, and Abraham's Dagger and the Coin series, it's fun to pick out some of their kinks - whether it's where does the Rebel Alliance get their money from, a traveling Opera troupe, a labyrinth-like mad scientist laboratory filled with dead Storm Troopers. The only thing missing is vomit zombies. Basically, if they thought something was cool, and they could use it, they did.)
I've listened to exactly three Star Wars books now, two of which have been narrated by Marc Thompson (no relation). I have to give Thompson credit - it's gotta be hard to come into something like Star Wars where the sound of the characters are pretty ingrained in our minds. In that regard, Thompson is a winner - his Han Solo isn't Harrison Ford, but it's the next best thing. And he gets all the bravado, cockiness, and general scoundrelness across well. His voices for other favorites like Luke and Leia aren't quite as good, but he makes up for it with the supporting cast and characters like Scarlet, Hunter, and Baasen. Where Thompson doesn't work so well is the line-to-line delivery. Often simple actions - like Han picking up a tool to repair the Falcon - are delivered with Shatner-esque forced excitement, and I would've preferred he let the material speak for himself a little more.
The book is jam-packed with the standard sound effects and John Williams score that's have become custom for these things. The F/X are actually kind of fun, but the over-reliance on the John Williams score is distracting. When Han gets into a fistfight with an alien, and the SW soundtrack starts up, some of the tension gets lost for me. That said, it wasn't enough of a distraction to keep me from wanting to press play when I had the chance.
If you've been nostalgic at all about Star Wars, and considered diving into one of the novels - Honor Among Thieves is your ticket to all the charm and excitement that made you fall in love with this scoundrel and his wookie co-pilot from a galaxy far, far away.
(Originally published at the AudioBookaneers)
I was born in 1977, the year of Star Wars. Empire Strikes Back was the first movie I saw in theaters, and I’ve been a would-be Jedi ever since. When Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series came out, I ate up every page of those books, and I read many of the subsequent books. But around the time the New Jedi Order came out, I got burned out on the Expanded Universe books.
Fast forward to Disney buying Lucasfilm, and (completely coincidentally) Zahn writing a standalone Han Solo’s 11 novel. I’d read exactly one SW book in the past decade (the ridiculously fun Death Troopers), so as soon as I heard about this one, I wanted to check it out. I thought it’d be the perfect book to get back into SW – one that wouldn’t be overly bogged down by the Expanded Universe continuity, and that would be good old comfort food.
It wasn’t bogged down with continuity, but it wasn’t too much fun, either. Scoundrels is a “Heist” novel, starring our favorite rogues from the SW galaxy: in particular Han Solo, Chewie, and Lando Calrissian. This is the biggest problem with the book: there are too many players, and not enough of our favorite scoundresl. Han Solo is the mastermind of the heist, and thus – he oversees it all and doesn’t do as much as the rest of the players until the very end. Chewie does even less. As the frontman Lando’s part is thankfully bigger, but most of the rest of the action falls to characters Zahn created for this book (and a couple pre-existing EU characters), which is a shame. In a book with Han, Chewie, and Lando in an Imperial line-up on the cover, you want Chewie, Lando, and especially Han to steal the show, if not the prize.
My suspension of disbelief was blown pretty early on (and yes, it was set to Anakin midichlorian levels of “High” to begin with) when the characters didn’t ask some basic questions about their marks or the job itself, I was disappointed. It might have been forgivable if the pace of the book didn’t feel so slow. Perhaps it’s my own nostalgia speaking, but it just didn’t work as well as Zahn’s other Star Wars books. It took too long, and I didn’t find a lot of the rest of the team to be very entertaining or developed considering how much time we spent in their heads.
There is some entertainment value – Zahn introduces Han in a scene where someone else shoots first, and Han and Chewie turn the tables. There are some fun twists (especially at the end). And once the action does pick up (about halfway through the book), things become more fun. It just took so long to get to that point – I was literally looking up Star Wars fanfic waiting for the good stuff to kick in. But it takes a looooooong time, and Han Solo just doesn’t do enough.
Marc Thompson has a knack for narrating Star Wars, apparently. His Han Solo is flawless, which is a necessity for a book that’s supposedly about him, and his Lando is pretty good too. (His Chewabacca is INCREDIBLE. (What? It was soundbytes from the movies? NO, SIR, I REFUSE TO BELIEVE IT.) The production is punctuated by sound effects and the occasional John Williams score, which was much more distracting than the other SW book I’d listened to. Thompson sometimes overplays his line-to-line delivery as well, but I’m not sure I can really fault him for the pace.
I probably will go back and revisit Heir to the Empire at some point, as well as A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy (oh, for an UNABRIDGED AUDIO VERSION!), but overall, it felt like the only thing heisted was my time.
(Originally published at the AudioBookaneers)
A long time ago, Breq was part of a consciousness that made up Justice of Toren – one of the Radch Empire’s AI starships. She was one of many – an ancillary, a meat puppet, a single aspect of a collective. Then she was betrayed, stripped away from the rest of her consciousness, trapped in a human body, and stranded alone in the universe. Now, she’s a displaced and dysfunctional AI, and she’s out for revenge.
Wait, I said “she.” Here’s one of the fun things about this space opera – she isn’t necessarily a she. In the Radch Empire, all people are referred to as “she,” despite their gender. It’s a cool bit of world building, but more importantly – it defies gender conventions and defaults. There are a lot of interesting and fascinating characters in this book. And most of them, we have no idea what gender they are.
It’s smart and though-provoking, yes, but Ancillary Justice also manages to be a really fun ride. As an AI who is forced to become a fraction of herself, Breq is one of the most unique protagonists I’ve ever come across, and she’s a lot of fun to route for. The story is split over two timelines – one of Breq as a lone figure seeking out the means for her revenge, the other is her as an aspect of the near omniscient Justice of Toren occupying a conquered planet and people. Seeing how these two storylines crescendo is a blast. If you’re a fan of the Expanse books by James S.A. Corey, you’ll want to give this one a shot.
I’ll admit I was a little concerned at first with Celeste Ciulla’s narration. Initially, her delivery felt a bit stilted, almost forced. However, after an hour or two, I came to realize she was a really solid match for a displaced and dysfunctional AI.
Ancillary Justice has already been nominated for a Nebula, BFSA, and won a Kitchie for Best Debut Novel, and it’s easy to see why. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t get a nomination for the Hugo. Ancillary Justice is a smart, though-provoking thrill ride of a space opera. It’ll nuke your brain from orbit, then send its ancillary meat puppets planetside with blasters – just to make sure.
(Full Disclosure: Ann Leckie is a friend of mine who I’ve worked with for the past four years at PodCastle, and I first read this book before it had landed an agent or a publishing house. I loved it, so much so that I ended up buying the book when it came out in audio.)
It’s a simple, classic set-up: A group of explorers head out on an expedition to the mysterious Area X. They have gone through rigorous training that strips much of their identity in hopes of generating unbiased field reports. Instead, they are referred to simply by their scientific professions: Psychologist, Anthropologist, Surveyor, and Biologist. There was a Linguist too, but something happened to her. They are the twelfth expedition. Some of the prior expeditions have been successful. Others have ended in the death of every member on the team. Pretty soon, this latest expedition comes across something that’s either a tunnel or a tower – something that wasn’t on the maps in their briefings. There is, of course, something very wrong about this tower tunnel. Not long after exploring it, things start to go very wrong for the twelfth expedition.
I’d say the fun starts here, but really – the terrifying fun starts pretty much right away. The expedition is out of its depth from the very first page – before they cross over the border into Area X. It quickly becomes clear that nothing about the expedition or Area X are as these scientists have been led to believe.
It’s a simple, classic set-up, but it’s written by Jeff VanderMeer, so things are a unique level of intensely, wonderfully, WTFery weird. VanderMeer is simply an incredible writer, his prose popping like mushroom spores in your ears as he leads you in a delightful, dangerous daze across the mysterious, unexplainable landscape of Area X. It’s filled with invisible boundaries, spooky doppelgangers, strange creatures, and unexplainable events. It’s a primal story of coming to grips with a place impossible to understand – a place just as strange as ourselves. For all its weirdness, it’s incredibly accessible, and never dull.
Carolyn McCormick was the narrator of the Hunger Games trilogy, and she does very strong work here. The story is told from the journal entries of the Biologist, and McCormick does an excellent job of coming across as a seemingly detached scientist on assignment, but secretly luring you in with just the right hint of inflections that cut beneath the surface, exposing you to a surprising amount of emotion: fear, love, longing, and the struggle for individuality.
Annihilation is my new addiction. It’s as if The Company from Alien sent The Dharma Initiative into the Mountains of Madness. It’s an expedition into the bizarre, and I can’t wait to try and find my way back to the border.
(Originally posted at the AudioBookaneers.)
What do you want from a sequel? Comfort? More of the same? Or simply a continuation? A further exploration that goes somewhere different? There isn't one right or wrong answer. Sometimes it's one thing, sometimes it's something else, sometimes it's a mixture. Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves falls into the latter category - there are similarities to its predecessor, but it is also very much its own book.
You should know upfront that Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her Regard is one of (if not my all time) favorite vampire books of all time. It was one of the first things I reviewed here, and it unlike any other vampire story I’d ever read. What was terrifying about it wasn’t just the inhuman vampires (though they were), but the way it examined the notions of the muse, as well as success and the arts. It remains to this day one of the most frightening books I've read.
Hide Me Among the Graves includes vampires, and some minor characters return, but it’s much more of a dark fantasy adventure than it is dark fantasy horror. It's Doctor Sleep to The Shining. There is plenty of spookiness afoot in séances, ghosts cursed to swim the Thames, and spiritualism. But it never achieves the shocking horror awful lusts of The Stress of Her Regard. It’s almost like the second half of Dracula, where Van Helsing organizes Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, and the rest of the gang to go a vampire-hunting. There’s danger, but it’s matched with humor and excitement.
It’s also features much more of an ensemble. Where the first book held a relatively tight focus on Michael Crawford (with occasional dalliances into Percy Shelley), the net here is cast much broader. Happily, the ratio of male/female heroes is much more even, which is good. One of the main issues with The Stress of Her Regard is that Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) had so little to do, and was pushed to the side for her husband and friends. This time out, we get the poet Christina Rosetti, street smart former prostitute Adelaide McKee, and young Johanna. They’re joined by veterinarian John Crawford, poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and elderly former explorer and adventurer Edward Trelawney. They’re all very different from each other, and due to some of the conflict that arises, the book is surprisingly quite a bit funnier. But that doesn't make this book a comedy by any stretch. There's an unsettling scene early on when teenaged Christina's father essentially forces her to take one of the demonic statues, and sacrificing her to save himself. Many of the characters suffer hellish graveyard sequences and haunted seas. But it's not as disturbing or challenging a novel as The Stress of Her Regard.
Simon Vance is one of my favorite readers in the business, so I was sad he didn’t return here. However, Fiona Hardingham narration was nothing short of excellent. This was no small task, as she had to work to differentiate the various characters – who were often in the same place together, or whose narratives jumped from one to the other. McKee in particular was a lot of fun to listen, as was her salty old-dog take on Trelawney (and when the two of them were playing off each other, it was listening bliss). The rest of the characters felt not only like individuals, but the protagonists of their own stories under Hardingham's voice. It’s the first time I’ve listened to Hardingham narrate, but her voice was easy to settle into hearing, and I hope to hear much more of her work.
All in all, Hide Me Among the Graves is a welcome return to Powers dark, mysterious world of vampires, art, and the muse. I’d be happy to go back again if Powers found himself inspired to keep us up late at night again.
(Originally posted at the AudioBookaneers)
This is the second time I've visited Tina Connolly's Ironskin - I read it back when it first came out, and I wanted to revisit it in audio before listening to the sequel: Copperhead.
Ironskin follows Jane, a young woman who watched the fae kill her brother and was wounded by fae shrapnel. (Yes, in this book, there are evil faeries. It's kind of awesome!) To be rehabilitated from the cursed shrapnel embedded in her face, Jane must wear an iron mask that keeps the curse from infecting others around her. She accepts a job in the country as a governess for a young girl who exhibits abilities that suggest she has been touched by the dangerous fae. The girl's father is an artist who sculpts odd masks for women, and while attempting to help the girl rehabilitate, Jane soon finds she has feelings for him. Things get complicated very quickly - just about everyone seems to wear masks, even if they're made of flesh and blood.
Ironskin is a romantic fantasy novel drawing inspiration from Jane Eyre as well as fairy tales. I appreciated that it tackled big themes - that anger is sometimes a good thing, beauty is within ourselves, and that just because you're disabled or disadvantaged doesn't make you any less of a person.
Initially, I was a bit disappointed that Connolly herself wasn't reading - she has a great voice and has done lots of great readings at her podcast Toasted Cake, as well as at PodCastle. However, Rosalyn Landor gives a very polished reading that helps transport the story to a world that's similar to our own early 20th century, and it's easy to see why she was chosen to narrate this one. She can sound cool and detached, or bring a cold fury depending on the character and the situation. When Jane is struggling with her curse, as well as her feelings toward Mr. Rochart, we don't doubt the conflicting emotions that could easily sound like overdone melodrama coming from another reader. From Landor's lips - it works.
Ironskin is a story rich with love and empowerment, told from the point of view of a woman very much trying to find her new place in the world. I'm thoroughly looking forward to seeing what Connolly does next - not only with Copperhead and the books in this series, but beyond.
Toward the end of Gene Wolfe’s The Land Across, travel-writer Grafton tells his foreign secret police comrade that he doesn’t have anything to tell her, but thinks: “Really, there was a lot [to tell], but I had decided not to tell all that. I figured it out last night, and this morning…I didn’t know how to say it.” Well, I have to admit, I haven’t figured it all out, and I’d be lying if I thought I did, but I sure enjoyed scratching the surface, even if it did make me feel like the secret police agent being kept in the dark by her partner. This is probably pretty standard for Wolfe books – he’s an author who is notorious for his subtle writing.
The Land Across follows Grafton as he travels to a mysterious land where about which no travel books have been written. It is not a travelogue, though – Grafton is quickly abducted by border guards and put under house arrest once he arrives. Soon, he’s hired to investigate a haunted house, press-ganged into a cult, arrested again, and is press-ganged as agent for the country’s secret police. There are suggestions of vampirism, life size voodoo dolls, magic, and the creepiest, funniest, coolest severed hand I’ve had the pleasure of reading about.
If that sounds weird and complicated, well, it is. This is a Gene Wolfe book, after all. If it sounds like a book spinning out of control…I’m guessing you haven’t read much of Gene Wolfe’s stuff before. He’s a master writer, and no matter how bizarre things get, he uses strong, crisp prose that is easy to listen to, subtly layered, and you just go with it.
I don’t usually consider Wolfe’s writing to be full of humor – maybe that’s because up until now, I’d always read his books first. But the casual way Jeff Woodman narrated this book made the all the ridiculous situations brim over with humor. When he reads a line like “It doesn’t seem like corpse fat would make very good candles,” I couldn’t help but blink, and then cackle. Also, pretty much all of Grafton’s relationships with nearly every female character. And much of that is down to Woodman, who you can’t help but want to love.
There is a decided lack of Gene Wolfe audiobooks, and that’s a real shame. Wolfe is a master of speculative fiction – he’s regarded by Neil Gaiman as “the smartest, subtlest, most dangerous writer alive today.” We only have five of his novels in audio, and hopefully, we’ll see many, many more from Audible/Audible Frontiers soon.
(Originally published at the AudioBookaneers)
Oh myyyyyy, what a fun little bonus! A holiday classic read by the great Geoege Takei! You pretty much know exactly what you're getting with this story, but read by Takei it feels just a little bit warmer and more contemporary.
It's short, it's sweet, it's free. I'm a happy listener!
(If you like Takei, I highly recommend his crazy good narrations on the Shadow Show anthology.)
Oh, this is a fun treat! It's been years since I read James Thurber's best known story - I remembered it being lighthearted, but boy can memories be faulty!
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is really equal parts whimsy and melancholy. It's an ode to escapism and imagination, no doubt (not to mention wish-fulfillment), but in the end even poor Mitty's imagination seems to have it out for him as much as his life does, and is maybe just as empty and frustrating.
Ben Stiller's reading hits all the right notes. He's able to capture the joy of Mitty's different daydreams, but also scales back when we're following Mitty through the frustrations of his real life, and find the sadness that permeates the story, and Mitty himself.
It's a short little story, and it was a delight to hear it here.
Often fantasy fiction relies on escapism through the fantastic, so it’s refreshing when you come across a book like The Fall of the Kings that kind of skewers that the fantastic necessarily equates escape. The Fall of the Kings is very much a left turn from Swordspoint. Instead of centering around the violent, sexy swordsmen nobles contract to fight duels on their behalf, this book focuses on the politics of university and scholarship, trading swordplay for academic debates, with charismatic professors. Really, it’s the Dead Poet’s Society of Wizarding History, and it’s a fascinating study for fantasy fans.
The story is primarily about two men: Basil St. Cloud, a renegade scholar determined on discovering the hidden, taboo truths of the ancient kings (who were overthrown and executed by the nobles hundreds of years earlier) and their wizards. That’s right, wizards. It appears there just might be magic in Riverside, or there once was. And ever since the Fall of the Kings, even the discussion of magic has been outlawed (a detail that neatly explains why magic was so completely absent from Swordspoint). St. Cloud soon enters into a romantic relationship with aristocratic student Theron Campion – the son of the Mad Duke of Tremontaine – who bears resemblance to some of the ancient kings Basel has studied. Together their discoveries and passions concerning the secret truths of magic, the kings, and their wizards threaten to have consequences. To some degree, it puts me in mind of China Miéville’s The City & The City, and M. John Harrison’s In Viriconium (the last novel of the Viriconium cycle). It’s a novel that is very much playing against type, and questioning our typical expectations and desires of the fantastic. Will magic come back to the land? Is that really a good thing?
I’ve talked a lot about this being a sequel to Swordspoint, but I hadn’t realized until about halfway through the book that while this novel takes place some 60 years after The Privilege of the Sword, it was published four years before that novel was. I didn’t find it anywhere near as accessible and delightful as The Privilege of the Sword, or as thrilling as Swordspoint, but I don’t think that’s really the point. It’s a love letter to academia, and I think it’s more challenging than the other two books (and I mean that as a compliment). I’m also somewhat astonished by how little violence there is for the majority of this novel – something that pleases me in a genre that seems to depend on violence in order to be entertaining (and I say that as someone who is usually entertained by good fantasy novels, but also as someone who has noticed a disturbing trend).
Kushner’s narration is excellent (of course!) and the illuminated cast general does very solid work, as does the illuminated cast (I particularly liked the actor who played Justice Blake). I’m pretty bummed this is the final book in the series, partially due to how unique Kushner and Sue Zizza make this listening experience). My only complaint about the narration is a very odd one – it takes a little bit of work to hear Nick Sullivan, who played the deliciously wicked Lord Ferris in the other two Riverside novels, as the romantic historian hero St. Cloud. That’s not to take anything away from how strong his performance is here – it’s nice to hear Sullivan not be such a monster for a change. But Lord Ferris’ shadow always seems to be lingering whenever Sullivan began talking. (Though this was probably emphasized by me listening to this novel right after The Privilege of the Sword.)
In the final analysis, The Fall of the Kings is a unique kind of fantasy novel – one that challenges our expectations concerning magic and escapism in fantasy fiction. While I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as I did the other books in this series, I do appreciate that it did something very different from what we’re used to in fantasy fiction, and I found that refreshing.
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