Ringworld's Children is the 4th installment in Niven's Ringworld series. The original (published in 1970) won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Niven followed up with a sequel and then a 3rd installment after a 17 year hiatus. RC arrived 8 years after that. As with some other recent Niven works, this installment builds on the past while retaining many of the usual suspects (Louis Wu and the Hindmost, for example). In this regard, reading the series in order is necessary for continuity. RC opens shortly after that last and concerns a serious danger to the Ringworld: various intelligent species have discovered the structure and are on the verge of war to gain control over the Pak technology. Along the way we learn more details about the origin of both the Ringworld and its builders as well as mankind's origins.
The science is respectable, but mostly unremarkable and not as prominent as in earlier Niven efforts. The early going is a bit excessive and plods along while at the same time, the latter stages offer the most in terms of plot development, but suffer from extensive infodumps that result in an uneven pacing throughout. The ending while somewhat spectacular nevertheless leaves the listener wanting more in terms of final resolutions for the various characters. In terms of an overall story arc for the Ringworld, this is a key component.
The narration is quite good and permits long uninterrupted sessions for a quick listen.
The Nelson Touch is a great sequel that builds on the above average introductory story of the Ark Royal series. Basically Nuttall has created a future universe with faster than light travel, while preserving the current geopolitical structures during an era of expansion akin to 18th and 19th century colonialism. In the opening salvo, mankind encounters an alien race seemingly bent on human annihilation. An old, mothballed British "carrier" is the only spaceship that can put up a fight and takes the lead with a crew of rejects in defending humanity.
In this installment, humanity goes on the offensive and takes the fight to the aliens with several surprising developments. Details about the aliens are slowly revealed. There is the addition of a "mystery" crew member this time out and Nuttall does a great job of alternating big picture developments with a host of personal revelations with the major characters, including career advancements. Nutall also displays an excellent sense of portraying the fog of war throughout. Finally, the author sets up the 3rd installment with Earth hanging in the balance and a potential diplomatic solution. Sci-fi elements are limited largely to alien biology.
The narration is excellent with a great range of voices, tone, and mood.
Event by David Lynn Golemon creates a supersecret United States agency started by Abraham Lincoln to investigate archaeological sites. The proffered rationale was to "learn" stuff, but why the US would feel the need to run covert military ops for national security reasons in recovering buried treasure was never made clear. So with such an organization in place, Roswell, NM takes on a a different flavor. Furthermore, the alien artifacts from 1947 were stolen by someone believing that they could protect the nation better than the US government. 60 years later, some of the original players are still around ready for round 2 with the alien return.
The sci-fi elements are limited to alien "stuff" mainly little green men and a rabid, killer, engineered alien lion like creature designed to eat humanity. At the same time, there is a freelance former French legioneer with a penchant for old things who simply gets in everyone's way. All the action occurs against a backdrop of military and espionage lite action.
The narration is quite good with a solid range of voices and excellent pacing.
Z2136 hopefully, completes what will only be a trilogy. Written in the style of a made for TV mini-series with each book containing a series of episodes to comprise a single season, this is basically Hunger Games with Zombies. Book 3 doesn't so much bring resolution and closure as it simply runs out of things to say and do. The unlucky Lovecraft family, now only brother and sister spend most of their time trying to to connect with one another with disconnected battles against zombies, psychotic maniacs, and barren baddies. Jonah was successful in the last installment in damaging city 1 and his old boss is forced to take over all the cities.
The story breaks down on several levels. Everyone in a position of power is either corrupt, demented, or megaomanical with almost everyone else either a loyal follower or a freelance sociopath. The backstory for the zombies makes no sense whatsoever with the intention in the 1970's to turn the world into zombies while a small cadre of selected people ride out the storm underground. The tale ends with the supposedly upbeat tempo of the one individual who has done the most to persecute the Lovecraft lineage finally seeing the light and dedicating his life to... not persecuting Lovecrafts anymore.
The narration is well done with a good range of voices and nice pacing.
Nuttall's Ark Royal begins a story arc set in the 23rd century after development of faster than light drives that allow Earth to populate near space. Quite unexpectedly a previously unknown alien race begins attacking outer settlements. With no means of dialogue, Earth learns that their technology is deficient, but an older warship (Ark Royal) is the only vessel that can put up a fight. While Earth attempts to retool, Ark Royal and her cadre of misfits and forgotten, go above and beyond to take the battle to superior forces.
The geopolitical organization of Earth is preserved with each major nation having established their own planetary colonies. England still has a king as well as a well bred aristocracy. Ark Royal is a starship carrier that has been mothballed and maintained barely functioning with a skeleton ragtag crew including a former alcoholic for a captain. Everyone rises to the occasion through a thrilling series of battles that takes place on both the grand scale and the personal. The sci-fi elements are routine with faster than light drive accomplished by "tram" lines in space that a special engine can access. Space weapons are straightforward and unimaginative.
The narration is well done with an excellent range of voices along with a smooth delivery, regardless of action. This is a very enjoyable listen with a classic theme rendered in a futuristic timeframe.
Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is a grim, depressing tale of well laid plans and good intentions going horribly awry. Snowman / Jimmy narrates an account of multiple, unrelated genetic engineering attempts to improve man combined with unchecked global warming leading to unsustainability for the human race. Jimmy, who may be the last remaining human lives with "meta-humans" that represent various attempts to overcome increasingly hostile conditions, relates the history in a series of flashbacks. Jimmy chronicles all the missteps along the way that caused the eventual plague that brought mankind low. While Jimmy was not directly involved, he peripherally participated.
The sci-fi elements mostly relate to genetic engineering that forms the bulk of intentional human transformation. The broader theme of the tale is one of powerful technology colliding with more traditional human response to change. The Luddites and anti-Luddites combine in a toxic soup that spells disaster for mankind resulting a world populated with semi-intelligent, but physically adapted proto-humans and Jimmy. There is nothing upbeat about the tale; man's hubris is simply on display.
The narration is quite well done given that the whole story is itself written in the narration mode.
Z2135 picks up several months after Z2134 left off. This installment is presented as season 2 with a made for TV feel of "episodes" (some ending with a bit of a cliffhanger). Most of the story revolves around the Lovecraft family with Jonah getting picked up and suborned into a ragtag band of insurrectionists. His daughter is mostly wandering the barrens with Liam trying to reconnect with her dad and his son is slowly inculcated into the police force by the creepy police chief. This "season" ends again with everyone in mortal danger again.
The sci-fi elements are in line with the first installment. More information and background is provided on the zombie origin as well as history surrounding the evolution of the current political and socioeconomic structure. The corruption and perverse natures of all the power players is on display. Jonah and his family serve the roles of willing, but unwitting pawns for players on both sides of the warring factions.
The narration is well done with a good range of voices along with excellent pacing, tone and mood.
Cibola Burn is the 4th installment of James SA Corey's Expanse series. This story opens temporally a short time after the third installment with mankind beginning to take baby steps onto the new worlds opened up at the end of book 3. In spite of the thousand worlds choices, a violent stand-off erupts between squatters and corporate interests on one world rich in minerals. The OPA and the UN decide to send John Holden to mediate (on the assumption that no one likes the guy, so he can't play favorites). While both sides turn the whole affair into a Hatfield and McCoys, Holden begins to realize that something is strange with the planet as it appears to slowly be coming back to life and not interested in making friends. Holden is forced to confront the squatters, the corporate psychotic security, and the alien planet all who seem intent on taking him out. Along the way, a few crumbs about the protomolecule makers are revealed.
In this installment, the sci-fi elements are muted relative to earlier volumes. This story has a bit of a "Heart of Darkness" theme with the idea of a return to the frontier and a wild west attitude where anything goes to enable "manifest destiny." The alien planet doesn't really offer much in the way of new concepts, but merely presents a more comprehensive view of the protomolecule makers. The pacing is well crafted with action occurring both dirtside and in space. Holden's crew each play prominent roles with a solid supporting cast of new ones. Finally, Avisarala finishes the tale with an insightful analysis of geopolitics on a solar system wide scale that portends some interesting future developments.
The narration is superb with a solid range of characters for both genders along with good attention to mood and tone.
Out of the Black "sorta" completes Evan Currie's Odyssey One series. Sorta because while there is some closure to the action initiated in the first 3 installments, there is much left unanswered. Book 4 picks up where #3 left off, with Weston having crashed landed on Earth during the Drasin invasion. The action begins with solid, but somewhat mundane battle scenes that offered little in the way for new relative to earlier installments. Weston proves himself an able land tactician, while the Admiral is off world lamenting trading the Confederation's secret weapons in exchange for powerful Priminae spaceships. When all seems lost and Weston announces the cavalry is not coming, you just know they are going to come.
There is little in the way of new technology. The Gaia "thing" plays a greater role, but without explanation, although allusions are made to the similar, but obscure Priminae entity. Nothing new is added in terms of origins, of either the Drasin or the non-Earth humans. This is a straight up save the planet even if they have to destroy it tale. At the same time, many of the new supporting characters (the president, the ex-marine, NYPD female cop, etc.) were portrayed as caricatures and stereotypes with little reader engagement. Future installments have lots of options to explore, but if this becomes an endless war, this "Star Trek-like" universe will get boring rather quickly.
The narration is solid with a good range of voices. Pacing and mood are appropriate. Changing narrators in a series; however, is poor planning and should reflect badly on the production company; please avoid doing this if at all possible.
Andersen's The Dark Between the Stars begins 20 years after the finale of the Seven Suns Saga. Many of the major characters from the last saga are back with a whole host of new participants. This saga is done in the same style as the previous with each chapter focused on a specific major character (which totals to several dozen at least). While the intervening 20 years has been somewhat peaceful and idyllic, dark forces are gathering with the Illdyran boogeyman, the ShanaRa appearing as a manifestation of fundamental physics, but fearful of an even greater, more powerful, but unknown threat along with a new mysterious alien race.
The sci-fi elements are pretty much in line with the last saga, although the new variations of intelligent lifeforms are even more exotic than the prior earth, air, fire, and water manifestations. Andersen is a master of the space opera, but of a more workingman's / blue collar variety. His characters are both endearing and quite engaging. Prior familiarity with the last saga is most useful for adequate background for the carry-overs. While there is a tremendous degree of plot development, book 1 ends abruptly with multiple irons in the fire.
The last saga used two different narrators (both excellent), but this time out, a 3rd narrator is utilized. The narration is well done with a great range of voices, both male and female. The mood and pacing are expertly rendered which provides a steady even flow to an above average audiobook length.
Enoch the Traveler is a short story based in a biblically themed universe that respects a scientific basis for laws of nature as opposed to vague, ill-defined mystical magical powers. In this universe (and there are multiple iterations - the multiverse), Heaven and its celestial inhabitants exist as a corporate, bureaucratic, mundane "adjustment bureau: like entity keeping things moving along.
In this tale, Enoch, the biblical character, is a vagabond wanderer who accidentally becomes involved with a blissfully ignorant human, Violette. The story is a series of short, dangerous and exciting adventures as Violette is exposed and comes to appreciate her new reality in a Dorothy in Oz style rendition. The sci-fi elements are muted with a few odd gadgets as well as restrained attempts to explain theological aspects in scientific terms.
Narration is in the style of a performance, rather than a more straightforward reading. There are multiple narrators, one for each unique character along with background sound effects which can either be enhancing or distracting depending on preferences. This is a short, quick listen, best absorbed in a single sitting.
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