Reynolds again demonstrates why he is among the top of contemporary sci-fi writers. Readers familiar with the Revelation Space series will recall Chasm City which was centered on the Yellowstone system. In that tale, surrounding the planet was a mass of space detritus known as the Rust Belt. Its state was the result of an undefined prior event known as the melding plague that destroyed nearly all nanotech. In Prefect, Reynolds sets the story prior to Chasm City when the Rust Belt was at its pinnacle and known as the Glitter Band. Encompassing 10,000 discreet and sovereign habitats, Reynolds explores the diversity and evolution of human societal organization (from voluntary tyranny to demoncratic anarchy). The conjoiners as well as Silveste remnants and the shrouders also play a small role.
Holding the hodge-podge together is our hero, Tom Dreyfus, a prefect who enforces the minimal rules for orderly interaction among the habitats. From what begins as a routine investigation, Dreyfus gradually peels back the onion of an ever expanding conspiracy that threatens the entire Glitter Band. Along the way, he must face, the corrupt, the gullible, the naive, and the idiotic, but he always manages to remain focused on his ultimate objective: seeing that justice is served.
As is typical of Reynolds, the sci-fi is first rate. He also has a knack for instinctively recognizing that unique interaction of science and society and the likely results. At the heart, the tale is an exploration of the human struggle to evolve beyond mere biology with all the potential pitfalls clearly displayed. Finally, as usual John Lee performs outstandlingly; his range of voices are superb and he sets the right tenor to allow the tension to develop.
Ransom Stephens' The God Patent is a unique sub-genre of sci-fi. There's no actual science fictional elements as much as an attempt to create a fictional universe where current science aligns more closely with religion. Two young engineers on a whim submit two patent applications that basically outline a computer neural net that displays free will and an energy extraction method that parallels the big bang. These concepts are interpreted by the religiously inclined to mimic the creation of a soul (the neural net) along with the conversion of spiritual energy to usable energy in the real world (the bang). Much attention is paid to attempting to harmonize story concepts to the existing understanding of physics.
At the same time, the story mostly concerns itself with the two engineers as we follow one life on the upswing and the other in a grand mal death spiral. Along the way, are the ambulance chasing lawyer, religious zealots, an atheistic scientist, and the Einstein level wunderkind. The plot is engaging with a good flow and realistically portrayed characters along with a reasonable insertion of corporate, government, and media suits. Sadly, none of the characters are endearing by the end, but probably the only bit of sci-fi is the cosmic justice and universal irony. One can just imagine the impetus for the tale was a late night, substance enhanced party with undergraduate physics majors taking a bet on hypothesizing alignment between science and religion.
The narration is well done with a solid range of voices for both genders as well as young and old.
The Stars, Like Dust is the 2nd installment Asimov's Empire series, but sufficiently loosely connected to be a standalone rendition. Briefly, the tale takes place in the far distant future with current Earth history a distant memory. Star travel has been mastered and planetary systems are largely settled with humanoid intelligent life. Earth and the rest of the local inhabited worlds are under the tyrannical rule of distant overlords.
The plot revolves around a young man whose father, a fellow of considerable economic significance, has been murdered. The son embarks on a journey to discover the truth which leads to political intrigue and hints of rebellion. The sci-fi elements are limited to interstellar travel, a "radiation" bomb which was probably the concept for neutron bombs, and "massometers" which can detect gravitational fields. While all this seems rather simplistic, this was released in 1951.
The narration is excellent with a solid range of voices, appropriate pacing, and good tone and mood. While the story is short by current sci-fi standards, the plot is still quite engaging and rich in complexity.
Stross' Neptune's Brood is set in the same universe, but further into the future as Saturn's Children. Humans have come and gone multiple times. but their robot creations have carried on, recapitulating human ambitions and drive with regard to exploration, settlement, and establishment of organizational structure throughout the galaxy. Stross explores the financial requirements necessary to support interstellar colonization and development as well as the resulting potential for fraud, corruption, and get-rich-quick schemes, including a variant of the classical Ponzi scheme. The story concerns a lowly bank examiner for a large money center bank who also happens to have a hobby focusing on archaeological accountancy (basically digging up long forgotten financial transaction to collect any leftover booty). Her travels take her on an adventure that is engaging and entertaining as well as thought provoking.
The sci-fi elements are mostly android abstractions with multiple unique and clever implementations that allow robots to survive in strange environments. Stross also explores the impact of longer (centuries) survival times. The various plot twists and turns are largely unexpected with a varied cast of anthropomorphic robots that make up a wonderful cast of characters ensemble.
The narration is very well done with a solid range of characters that correctly captures nuance and subtlety.
Xom-B offers a unique combination of zombies and robots inhabiting a world after mankind has been eliminated. Freeman is a new breed of robot designed as the next step in evolution by a splinter group of robots that emerged from the "grind" which represented the emancipation of robot AI's. The tale gradually unfolds with the backstory of mankind's demise and the "rise" (or fall) of the machines along with Freeman's raison d' etre for existence. With fast paced action, filled with robot zombie hordes, the story climaxes with interesting plot twists and a new iteration of intelligent life on Earth.
The sci-fi elements consist mainly of a dystopic future with advanced, humanoid robot AIs fighting zombified robots. Ultimately, this is a tale defining humanity and the indomitable human spirit by focusing on non-humans.
The narration is well executed with a solid range of voices.
Afterparty is a smart, sophisticated tale set in the near future (2030's or so) and offers a compelling perspective on evolving drug use. The premise is the re-emergence of a never commercialized treatment for schizophrenia that has as a unique side effect: a powerful spiritual / mental / emotional sense of connection with God. The story of how a failed biotech drug treatment is re-invented as a semi-religious movement is told by a smart, neuroscientist originally involved with the drug's discovery, but whose subsequent life has been a substance abuse / PTSD nightmare following their business implosion after a murder. Along with a paranoid / neurotic fellow mental hospital inmate who happens to be an ex-national security agent, the heroine delves into the source and reasons for her drug's revival.
The sci-fi elements are fairly benign for a near future tale. Scientifically and pharmacologically, the author is accurate and insightful in crafting an engaging and compelling tale, while at the same time maintaining scientific integrity. Beyond the biological neuroscience aspects, there's also exploration of what constitutes free will at the level of neurons.
The narration is superb, capturing the mood and tone of the tale. There's a solid range of both male and female voices with particular attention to individual peccadilloes.
The Atlantis Plague follows immediately on from where The Atlantis Gene left off. The time dilation effects and name changes have been muted for this installment and so the story is easier to follow. David and Kate are moving in separate tracks for the first half. The plague is racing out of control and Dorian has gone rogue relative to the Imari. The alien intentions are made clear and contain both benign and malignant actions as we learn that two different philosophical approaches have been driving human evolution and development.
Riddle does a fantastic job of creating a riveting plot with multiple twists along the way. Most entertaining is the creative reinterpretation of human history from 70K BC to the present. He weaves the plague of Justinian and the Black death as events that were intentionally engineered to drive human evolution. Kate holds humanity's fate in her hands with her decision on how to finally resolve the current human catastrophe. Lastly, Riddle sets up book 3 with the suggestion of something that even our alien genetic engineers were fearful of.
The narration is excellent with a good range of voices for all characters.
Howey has served up a novel rendition of the post-apocalyptic genre. With much of the explanation for the climatic and geologic conditions left up to listener's imagination, a future world that is little more than a giant sandbox is the starting point. Geographically, the story is set in Colorado which has basically become a desert overlying our distant past. The sparse barely survives by "sand-diving" in an analogous manner to scuba diving hunting for the buried treasure from an ancient civilization. The story revolves around one family with a father gone missing, a mother forced into prostitution to support her family and the children of varying ages, most of whom have gone into diving to make ends meet. Their journey concerns the dawning recognition that there is more to the world than their small patch of sand.
Howey presents credible scenarios where "sand-diving" is accomplished by special dive suits and static electrical charges to vibrate the sand such that movement similar to swimming can be attempted. Deep dives runs into pressure issues analogous to ocean diving. While the story is self contained, Howey has clearly created a future that offers much expansion potential with a great mix of characters.
The narration is quite well done with a great range of voices and pacing that matches the mood and tone of the tale.
A G Riddle's The Atlantis Gene presents a novel reinterpretation of both humanoid evolutionary biology as well as recent historical events. Beginning 70,000 years ago, the notion is entertained that our evolutionary past has experienced some outside, purposeful influence for reasons unknown. An autism researcher and a spy embark on a worldwide travelogue piecing together the present day mystery while uncovering related events from the WWI era.
The science elements are varied with evolution, molecular biology, and the physics of time all mixed together. Equally compelling is the detailed descriptions of tradecraft for the espionage components. Suggestions of aliens or at least distinct intelligent, hominid type creatures is hinted. Differences in the passage of time in various locations creates characters across the long story timeline, but along the way, the 1918 Spanish flu, WWII Nazis, and 9/11 are all integrated into a coherent alternate historical interpretation that bodes bad luck for mankind.
The narration is well done with a good range of voices, female and male as well as ethnic variations. This requires a close listen as the time passage variation creates the same characters with different names in different time periods.
Killing Floor is the 1st in the long running and hugely popular Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. Reacher is the quintessential loner, disillusioned with the world and people, who wanders off the grid. With his large bulk and military experience, he makes a formidable opponent and easily makes local authorities suspicious. His sense of justice and survival makes him an endearing character.
For this story, Jack wanders into a small Georgia town in search of the local flavor about an old jazz musician and ends up in the middle of an evolving mass murder scene that even includes his estranged brother. Jack manages to stay alive in what has become classic Reacher style, while piecing together a global conspiracy mystery with the help of some locals. The pacing is well executed with a good mix of action scenes, tradecraft, and solid detective work. Of particular note is that this story is pre-9/11 and as such is fascinating to hear about someone flying by paying in cash with no form of identification.
The narration is superb with a wide range of voices. The tone and mood for Jack is rendered as best could be imagined. Reacher is a solid franchise with a great, likable main character.
Zamyatin's We is a dystopian sci-fi story set in the 26th century. Written in the early 1920's the author projected what he expected was the logical extension of the then emerging and evolving Bolshevik revolution in his native country. In this future, the totalitarian state, Onestate, is absolute. People have letter/number names and wear specific colored uniforms. Their days and nights are regimented with even pregnancies tightly controlled, all under the guiding hand of the Benefactor. Onestate is located inside a walled region surrounded by primitive savages. Clearly, We served as the inspiration for Orwell's 1984, but is actually even bleaker and more dystopic than big brother.
The main character, D503, is working on a rocket ship, the Integral, that will search out intelligent life and spread the totalitarian word. D503 is co-opted by I330 who is a woman with nefarious plans to overthrow the government. D503 slowly loses his sense of reality, while the Onestate machine grinds ahead with plans to "treat" people to eliminate imagination as a final solution to total population control. Clearly, Zamyatin outlines in great details his fears and nightmares with the changing social and political events in his native land.
The narration is excellent, as is typical for Gardner with superb pacing, tone, and range of voices. While We may not be the first dystopic, future vision, he certainly set the standard for this genre for decades.
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