McDevitt & Resnick have crafted what is billed as sci-fi, but in truth, the story is one of a massive governmental coverup coming to light after 50 years. The tale is set in 2019, 50 years after the first moon landing. As part of the commemoration, NASA releases a deluge of archived material which leads to hints that Apollo 11 may not have been the first. No one in any position of authority seems to know the real story that could explain the apparent confusion.
The pursuit of the truth occurs simultaneously by three individuals, the NASA spokesman, a billionaire planning a return visit to the moon, and the sitting president. Each has different motives and each uncovers independent clues that continue to add to the evolving quandary. In fact, it is revealed that the Soviets must have been in on the deception. Sadly, at no time, does any participant utter the possibility that every listener will jump to from the beginning. The denouement is less than satisfying, although understandable by 1969 standards, but not today. The reframing of Watergate through its involvement in the coverup is a nice touch as well.
Sadly, there is no sci-fi at all (sci-fi becomes a macguffin). The story could theoretically take place today. This is a classic political mystery where the truth behind a 50 year old coverup is almost completely lost as the former participants die off.
The narration is well done. The pace of the writing and the narration is slow and plodding. The characters are straight out of central casting with few endearing qualities.
Sawyer rarely disappoints and Red Planet Blues is no exception. Alex Lomax is the only detective in New Klondike, a frontier style town on Mars that is home to an eclectic collection of various sorts, those who want to drop out or disappear as well as fossil hunters (Mars has evidence of ancient, now extinct primitive life forms that command high prices from collectors on Earth). In his line of work, Lomax gets exposure to a cadre of shifty characters. The main plot concerns a wide variety of players, all out to lay claim to an almost mythical mother lode of fossils. Along the way, Lomax pieces together remnants of 30 year old events that differ from the "official" story, and solves the multiple mysteries, both past and current.
The sci-fi is well done with attention to unique features of Mars' lower gravity and climatic conditions. Other than space travel (which is routine, but follows normal physics), Sawyer adds "transfer" where an individual can be uploaded into an android robot which livens things up quite a bit. People and their routines are fairly typical and readily identifiable, a sci-fi / western motif.
The narration is excellent with good pacing and a great range of voices. In particular, Lomax's style with irresistible urges for bad jokes and old movie trivia is handled well and makes the storytelling quite engaging for a fast listen.
Extinction by Mark Alpert is a respectable near future thriller with geopolitical impact. Our hero Jim leads a quiet life making prostheses for wounded soldiers. Behind this quiet facade lies an action packed past (former soldier, national security agent, designer of cutting edge electronics for machine-human interface components, etc.) as well as a tragic personal life having lost his wife and son to a terrorist bomb which also resulted in his remaining daughter (who also happens to be an MIT dropout hacker) becoming estranged. Very quickly, the Chinese spy agency is looking for his daughter to which Jim joins in with his own hunt. All the while, a sinister force is building that seeks to pit the Chinese and Americans against one another for global genocide.
The plot is well done with good pacing throughout. The sci-fi elements are prominent, but do not overwhelm the story. While beginning with "the bionic man" style artificial limbs, very quickly, implantable electronics for sense organs and a direct brain interface are introduced. Finally, the concept of lobotomized humans as networkable computer processors completes the evolution from man to machine.
The narration is adequate, but unremarkable. Female voices are particularly deficient as well as intense commentary that comes across more as constipation.
Prophet of Bones posits an alternate universe where radiocarbon dating has conclusively proven the world is only 5800 years old (their Darwin was wrong). All the rest of science, including biology works normally. Our hero is a young man unwittingly entangled with forces and powerful people that he neither understands nor appreciates. His drive to decipher and understand inconsistencies and seemingly random actions on the part of the powers that be, drives the plot from a pure sci-fi to an alternative universe thriller and a potential global coverup.
The story is fast paced, although portions drag a bit with extended segments that are irrelevant to the overall plot (the flashbacks are less than useful). Once evolution has been eliminated from this universe the listener is face with deciding if the theme is one of a massive coverup to maintain the fiction of biological origins or if other machinations are afoot motivating the characters. There's little character development beyond a few central figures and the author presents little in the way of how this alternative world operates with so many biological contradictions. The ending is consistent with these skewed perspectives.
The narration is excellent with great attention to genders and age.
Wool presents an intriguing slant on the post-apocalyptic theme. The story opens with humanity confined to an underground silo consisting of about 150 levels, but without any sort of elevator or escalator, just stairs. Outside the silo is a barren, poisonous landscape. Technologically, society is late 20th century with modern medicine (although nothing special) and limited computer capabilities. The silo is completely self-sufficient with religious beliefs consistent with the silo as a heavenly creation. Banishment from the silo with eventual death by toxic gases is their form of capital punishment. We follow several characters that slowly unravel inconsistencies in this setup with the realization that there are things beyond the silo and history left unspoken.
The author provides some interesting organizational parallels to the society that add to the believability of this world. For example, the levels of the silo are divided into three sections (upper, middle, and lower) that parallel socioeconomic and political status: the upper is political and administrative with IT dominating; the middle section is largely a middle class of professionals, while the bottom sections are relegated to manual and grunt labor. Much effort, subterfuge, and ruthlessness goes into maintaining order until one lone woman manages to undermine the delicate balance.
The major detraction is the slow pace of the entire story with important revelations reserved for late in the tale. At the same, the author slowly kills off early characters that appeared as major players and only gradually introduces the participants around for the denouement. Finally, the narration is suboptimal with a poor rendition of voices and an extreme slow pace of delivery that only adds to the snail's pace.
Dark Matter is an engaging tale of corrupt corporate interests. The basic premise is that a private launch company has secretly placed a killer satellite in orbit and has been "practicing" on competitor launches to enhance their business position (all this is revealed right at the start, so no spoiler concerns). After a dramatic space survival sequence, the US government learns that the latest malfunction was no accident and a former Navy Seal who happens to have a fiancee aboard the space station is charged with tracking the killers down. At the same time, the Chinese who also have suffered a similar fate with their recent launch undertake an overlapping hunt that finally comes together at the end.
The timeframe is present day with few sci-fi elements (space based particle beam weapons, nifty underwater visualization technology, and powerful dive equipment). Much of the action takes place in or on oceans or in space. The action is almost non-stop with good pacing and many "white-knuckle" sequences. Multiple players (astronauts, engineers, computer guys, etc.) all step up to help save the day. The major detraction is that the "evil CEO" is an almost female version of Dr. Evil hoping to escape for the sequel (when the US and Chinese navies have you surrounded in the middle of the ocean, escape is meaningless).
The narration is suboptimal with a rapid, booming broadcaster's delivery that suggest a sporting event rather than a thriller and is especially unsatisfactory for female voices.
Wormhole completes the Rho Agenda trilogy, while the characters may continue in additional installments, the "rho agenda" has been finished. Book 3 picks up essentially where Book 2 left off. All the main characters are back (including Tolbear and Freddy) with the kids down in South America with Jack. We learn a bit more of Donald Stephenson's master plan which eventually forms the crux of the tale and includes the potential destruction of Earth. Everything goes badly for our intrepid teenagers at first, but with Jack's training and their ever expanding abilities, they come through in the end. The story is fast paced with constant shifting among multiple parallel scenes.
The story remains true to its pre-teen / teen orientation in style and complexity. Portrayals of scientists, politicians, and spies are almost caricature-like with little nuance. At the same time Jack still retains almost mystical powers that defy explanation (I was hoping he would turn out to be a nonscientist Ultrian agent). Inconvenient messes generated along the way never seem to be resolved. The ending while bringing closure to the main plot line, still leaves many questions unanswered (what about: the 2nd ship? Jack's son? the NSA hacker?). In spite of these deficiencies, the tale is simply good, solid storytelling.
The narration is quite good with a great range of voices and a pace that invites one more chapter throughout.
The Office of Mercy presents a dystopic, post-apocalyptic vision of man's attempts to reestablish civilization following catastrophic societal disintegration. The tale picks up about 300 years after the collapse in a tiny oasis of civilization called America 5. This group represents several hundred inhabitants with advanced technology, including organ replacement offering near immortality. Despite, their advanced state, the colony lives within a confined space ringed by sensors on the alert for roaming tribes of other, less civilized humans migrating through their region. Our heroine, Natasha, works in the Office of Mercy, a euphemism for the group that tracks and kills these people ostensibly due to an ethical imperative that is so focused on eliminating suffering, that mercy killing (for all those outside the colony) is consider humane and noble.
Natasha struggles with the ethics as well as romantic love interests both inside and outside the colony and makes plenty of mistakes along the way, Besides the warped philosophy leading to strained ethical conclusions (since the tribes' people may suffer in the future, it's better to kill them now to relieve that potential suffering), the story suffers from multiple inconsistencies. For examples, with only several hundred people (the zetas, the 6th in line, only number around 80), it's hard to imagine how this installation can maintain their high tech medical facilities, computer systems, sophisticated electronics for peripheral sensors, as well as high tech weaponry that are essentially cruise missiles. There are references to other similar type colonies, but in over 300 years no attempt seems to have been made for contact. It's also hard to imagine individuals remaining complacent about being cooped up for decades in what is essentially a dictatorial regime that they have no say in (what's the point of immortality if someone else will always tell you what to do?). Finally, the main infodump occurred nearly at the end, was unimpressive as far as providing necessary background, and amounted to badgering an impressionable, confused young woman.
The narration is adequate, but unremarkable.
Great North Road is truly a masterpiece of literature, all the better because it's sci-fi. Hamilton crafts a richly complex tale of murder and intrigue that gradually expands to an interstellar affair with multiple alien species. The backstories and flashbacks are deliciously detailed and subtly presented to create an onion peeling effect as the tale evolves. The multiple characters are multifaceted with many foibles and failings that are both endearing and identifiable. Hamilton constructs an eminently believable picture of life in the mid-22nd century, especially police procedures and bureaucracy.
The sci-fi elements are varied and comprehensive, but do not overwhelm the story. Included are physics with wormholes, stellar aberrations, quantum state matter, and nanotechnology; biology with rejuvenation, genetic evolution, and unique alien lifeforms; and cyber with electronic implants, complex digital networks, and powerful AI level software. At the same time, Hamilton pays attention to interpersonal and societal relations: realistic family experiences; romance, parental devotion, law enforcement & crime, government bureaucracy, and military. There is heroism & humiliation, ideological rigidity & flexibility, poignant tenderness & vicious ruthlessness, and struggles with decisions on alien genocide & dating partners.
The narration is equally outstanding; all the more given the enormous number of characters. The tone, mood, and pace of delivery are perfect for the story.
The Scrolls of Xavier is an unremarkable tale in the vein of Avatar. Basically, an alien world has been identified as a source of raw materials for a struggling Earth. This world possesses several primitive tribes of distinct species of life. Evidence emerges that each tribe is protecting a "scroll" that earth military decides is necessary to retrieve. A small special ops group is assembled to recover the scrolls which eventually leads to revelations about the origin of the planet.
While mildly entertaining, the story suffers from sufficient attention to detail; futuristic enough to travel to distant planets, but "orders" are still printed out on paper?. The alien lifeforms are far too anthropomorphic with mostly earth-like animals made semi-intelligent. The premise for the central nature of the scrolls was never developed. The military actions are more cinematic, rather than authentic (when you control the air, why focus on the ground?).
The narration is quite adequate and the rendition is a quick listen. Given that the author is a high school student, this is a respectable rookie attempt.
Ammon's horn is bioterrorism with a twist. Rather than a deadly disease that kills you, infection causes paranoia and the victims kill other people. A news person from a tabloidly media outlet and her police profiler partner, piece the mystery together only to be discredited by the government. When the secret finally gets out, they embark on an adventure cross country for eventual public redemption.
The story is essentially present day with sci-fi elements limited to the unique biological weapon. The story itself is crudely constructed. A massive info dump concerning the origin of the agent doesn't occur until about 2/3 into the tale. The government is much too efficient at covering up the problem since only one scientist is able to figure it out. Also strange is why North Korea becomes the epicenter of both nuclear war and a cure for the disease. The final plot twist at the end serves to resolve much of prior illogical actions.
The narration is well done with a good range of voices. Mood and pacing are appropriate to the plot.
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