With installment #6 of the Star Force series, Larsen finally has Riggs exactly where he wants him, smack dab in the middle of everything. The remnants of Star Force under the command of Riggs are establishing themselves in the Eden system, 3 ring jumps from Earth. Opposite Earth side lies the Thor system and an unknown number of other rings beyond. The local sentients are mixed with an alliance with the centaurs, a loose alliance with the worms and uncertain relationships with the crustaceans and the blues. Riggs also learns that Earth has finally devolved into a single governmental structure with Crow as the emperor and hegemon. Star Force must battle multiple enemies and are always on the brink. There is also the recognition that the situation has been changed for good; there is no going back once the machines are defeated. Riggs and Star Force are out on the frontier for the duration.
Larson is a very good storyteller with solid pacing and twists along the way. There is less of the technical, engineering projects in this installment relative to earlier volumes with more emphasis on outlining the new political "normal". Another welcome relief is that although Riggs is still the one to largely decipher all the nuances, Larsen is letting his closest associates play a larger role. Alien species are somewhat wanting as well; not only are they essentially Earth style creatures (except for the blues) with intelligence, but they tend to overdo the anthropomorphizing of individual human traits (the worms are warrior barbarians, the centaurs are chivalrous knights, the lobsters are pretentious snobs, and the blues are apathetic intellectuals). With that said, Larsen has crafted a great playing field with room to roam.
The narration is adequate, but unremarkable. Character distinction is achieved through extreme accents leading to a one of every type feeling. Pace and tone are appropriate and the listening is easy.
Abaddon's Gate is the final installment in Corey's Expanse trilogy. The first two volumes dealt with the discovery and various attempts at exploitation of the protomolecule, an alien artifact with the capability to alter human genetics and biology. Corey continues the style of book 2 by bringing in a new cast of characters while continuing with Holden. Miller also returns. Basically, the protomolecule finishes its work on Venus and completes assembly of some sort of transdimensional gate. Naturally, Holden goes through followed by a large contingent of Earth, Martian, and OPA military vessels. Resolution and escape provides a satisfying explanation of the nature and purpose of the protomolecule as well as creating opportunities for further storylines in this expanding universe.
The sci-fi elements of the earlier installments largely continue, but several interesting tweaks to the laws of physics makes for intriguing listening. Corey also throws in a bit of religion and psychiatry as well.
The narration is superb with an excellent rendition as well as range for the various characters. The only ding is Corey's writing style throughout: characters only "say" things ("he said" and "she said"). they never remark, comment, groan, snigger, etc. The constant back and forth of Holden said and Miller said begins to grate at times.
Flynn's latest (3rd) installment in his spiral arm series returns to the style of his first with a story within a story theme. Ravn, a shadow (which is the Confederation's equivalent of a League hound like Bridget ban) regales a tale of her abduction of Donovan, the scarred man with multiple personality. With the telling, we learn somewhat of the history and politics of the League's natural adversary as well as the internecine struggles that are ongoing over there on the other side of the rift. At the same time, more background on Donovan is supplied that puts some informative, meaty slabs on his withered, bony frame.
There's little "new" sci-fi elements relative to earlier spiral arm tales, although there is a hint of more technology that has leached from old Terra, but is closely guarded by players unseen. Donovan is largely regarded as a pawn for the various power players in the Confederation to use. The tale finishes with Ravn and Donovan's daughter going off to rescue her father which is the basis for listing this as an appetizer.
The narration is excellent, particularly with regards to Donovan's multiple personalities; however, it should be noted that the narrator is different from the previous installment where this element was so prominent. It will take a bit of concentration to re-associate the various voices correctly. At the same time, Flynn is quite spartan in his rendition of past exploits from earlier installments and requisite background on the physics of this universe which place a premium on having listened to earlier offerings.
Polar City Blues by Katherine Kerr is an ambitious attempt to render the traditional "film noir" detective tale in a sci-fi format. Basically, the planet where the actions takes place lies at the juncture of Earth limits alongside two alien races. Earth is clearly the weakest of the group and the frontier / inner city environs is coupled with an understaffed and under-resourced Earth infrastructure. The murder of a diplomatically tied alien launches the tale and the local police chief (Bates) along with a street wise ex-military lady (Lacey) gradually piece together the clues while trying to prevent galactic warfare.
The sci-fi elements are limited to aliens along with flying cars, extra-terrestrial bacteria, and certain individuals with psionic abilities. There's a bit of romance and unrequited love thrown in for good measure. Sadly, Bates who manages to deftly handle alien interactions and eventually saves the day, receives minimal attention throughout the story resulting in a lack of character identification. The attempt to parallel the characters and situations to a traditional earth-side tales is overdone and the baseball fascination seems a bit too much.
The narration is passable, but the various voices lack clear definition.
Caliban's War is less a sequel; rather simply the next installment in Corey's Expanse series. Many "volume 2" entries suffer from a both a letdown in intensity relative to the 1st as well as too much time and effort devoted to explaining the science and philosophical orientation of the particular universe. Fortunately Caliban's War is not plagued with either. Corey has managed to up his game with a compelling and engaging 2nd act while adding depth and granularity to many of the recurring characters. In this installment, Ganymede, food production capacity for the Belters and Outer Planets becomes the source of an Earth / Mars shooting incident with evidence (that no one wants to believe) of an evolved proto-molecule. With open solar system wide warfare hanging in the balance, James Holden enters the fray and ends up searching for a kidnapped little girl with a genetic immune disorder. Along the way, a Martian marine Amazon and a potty mouth grandmother eventually join up with Holden to pound some sense into the rest of solar system.
In Leviathan Wakes, Corey told the tale from the viewpoints of Holden and Miller. This time around, there are more viewpoints, including a martian, a botanist, and UN official. Corey also provides more background on the main characters including Holden, Naomi, and Amos that is both revealing and adds depth to the characters. Geopolitics as well as governmental gamesmanship are prominent and well executed. All the while, Venus continues to threaten menacingly. At the very end, Corey gives a nod to 2001 that provides a clue as to the nature of the next installment.
The narration is excellent with a great range of voices, very much appreciated due to the expanded cast and personal viewpoints offered.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is another in a long line of end of the world stories that depicts the gritty, violent, and depressing state following a total global collapse. In this case, a virulent infectious disease has killed off most of the population with a resulting societal disintegration. We follow Higg doing what is necessary to stay alive, all the while experiencing the mental anguish and pain along with the expected ups and down. The story is raw and unfiltered.
There are no sci-fi elements to mentions other than the mystery disease that wipes out the planet. There is no major revelation or epiphany that the characters come to and there's no actual resolution of their situation. Rather, there is an eventual, grudging acceptance that this is as good as it can get and that simply surviving is a small but valid victory to achieve.
The narration is quite well done with a tone and pace that is perfect for the tale. While "The Road" is still the standard, this is a respectable story in this sub-genre.
Dust completes Hugh Howey's Silo Saga trilogy. This series is a must read in order. Dust picks up, oddly enough, where both Wool (1) and Shift (2) left off. The tale bounces back and forth between Silo 1 and the Silo 17/18 story lines. Juliette is intent on returning to Silo 17 to rescue Solo and the kids, while Donald, with the help of his revived sister is both exploring the outside world with the drones as well as attempting to discern the criteria for what he expects to happen in another 250 years as well as trying to delicately explain reality to Silo 18. There are ample episodes of action scenes as well as silo politics at play plus another example of human lemmings.
There is nothing new in terms of sci-fi relative to the first two installments. Besides the standard impetus for human exploration, Hugh adds the element of the Senator and his original cabal believing that they could play God in order to reset the world. Finally, Hugh has left open the door for further adventures with either the remaining silos or the Silo 17/18 outliers.
As with the earlier volumes, the narration is good, but quite slow.
Flynn's follow-on installment to January Dancer (it's not a true sequel, since the story is new) is another winner. Not only is there the Dancer universe, but many of the same characters are back. For this outing, the scarred man and the harper go in search of Bridget Ban (the harper's mother). Bridget has been missing for a while and even the Kennel has let the case go cold. Their journey takes them further and further out into the spiral arm with successively more primitive enclaves of the human diaspora. Along the way, Flynn weaves a tapestry of oddball cultures resulting from the distillation and degradation of various Earth histories, ideologies, and mythologies.
Flynn has basically crafted a sci-fi version of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (Apocalypse Now is the movie version). The mish-mash of various earth cultures and languages makes for fascinating and compelling storytelling. In addition, while everyone is focused on the presumed "great weapon" that Bridget Ban was supposedly on the trail to find, the ending while somewhat anticipated, is nevertheless satisfying.
The narration is quite well rendered especially given the huge demands due to the nature of the tale. In particular, the scarred man exhibits multiple personalities, each with their own unique vocal styles. In addition, the language structure which is largely a bastardization of normal language requires close attention.
Corey creates a marvelously rich societal structure that spans the entire solar system with multiple competing discreet entities that allow for a complex and unpredictable evolution when an unanticipated development take everyone by surprise. Earth and Mars lumber about as the two superpowers with a delicate detente in place. The rest of the system consists of Mars and Earth aligned outposts as well as autonomous "belters" some of which display a don't tread on me attitude. When attacks begin, eventually leading to a station involvement, a freighter captain and a contract cop step in to connect the dots while system wide conflagration is in the offing. The feel is a Cold War era tension where each side is posturing for position and worried about pressing the button.
The science elements are low keyed with mostly a blue collar type rendition of standard extrapolated capabilities except for the twist mid way into the tale. The appeal of the story are the two points of view that overlap throughout as the story unfolds. Holden is a freighter captain thrust into command by the destruction of his parent vessel that starts all the events, while Miler is a contract cop on a belter station that stumbles into a missing person case he's not supposed to solve. While they eventually collide with each other, their distinct styles and skill sets offer an engaging unraveling of a confusing mystery.
The narration is excellent with a solid rendition of the various characters. The pace and tone are perfect for the tale.
Shift is the prequel to Wool and provides the origin story as well as filling in some back stories to events in Wool. Specifically, the tale "shifts" among several different time frames as early as 2050 with another interlude at 2110 and the 23rd century as well as several decades immediately preceding Wool (24th century). The bulk of the tale is through the lens of Donald who is responsible for the design of the silos, but Donald was never let in on the entire master plan and slowly realizes its full intent over the several centuries (cryogenic sleep is standard in silo 1). We also watch Solo develop as a frightened teenager during the silo 17 uprising through 30 years of his isolation. Finally, the generation of silo 18 preceding Wool's time frame is presented. The story ends at the same point in time as Wool concluded.
Besides cryogenic freezing sleep, nanotech is offered as the basis for the original silo raison d'etre. There's a continual focus on drug induced amnesia regarded as central to the success of the enterprise, but this continues to be weak. In the end, Donald realizes that he must deal with the aftermath of a poorly designed plan to save mankind from its own destruction without being responsible for another round of destruction.
The narration is adequate, but almost painfully slow. Much of the story dwells on minor aspects of life in the silos with much rumination by several characters. Given that the story spans several centuries, the author and narrator convey that slow passage of time.
The Dire Earth Cycle, Part 2: The Exodus Towers picks up without missing a beat from part 1. The story continues with the establishment of an alternate colony around the newly formed 2nd space elevator in Brazil. The 2nd elevator offers movable aura towers, but the colonists run into a band of cult oriented immunes in the region. Skyler needs to go commando as well as discovers remnants of the five spin-offs from the 2nd elevator entry. There is evolving intrigue back in NightCliff with Grillo and the Jacobites gaining the upper hand. Samantha regains her scavenger day job. The story just stops shortly after the arrival of the next alien arrival with a bit of a cliffhanger.
This time out, beyond the space elevator, some interesting alien physics manipulation with time takes place. The subhuman mystery continues to evolve with some transition to a higher an d perhaps more sinister purpose. Unfortunately there is little in the way of revelation regarding alien intent or the true function of any of their artifacts. This installment only serves to add more mystery with few questions answered.
The narration is pleasant with an easygoing storytelling style that suits the tale. The flow is natural enough, but the pace does not vary giving the impression of the storyteller creating the plot with the reading. Hopefully part 3 will bring some overarching explanation as well as closure since right now, everyone is simply surviving by a thread.
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