Sci-fi tends to explore either the extrapolation of the existing boundaries of science or wholly new directions in human imagination. Fertile areas include physics, cosmology, or biology. In Embassytown, Mieville, has chosen to explore a biological consequence, language, from a truly alien perspective. The story is told from the point of view of a human who grew up on this planet, left for a time and has now returned as things are beginning to fall apart. The alien species is intelligent, but their biology has evolved a form of language that is unique and greatly limiting: they are unable to lie. As a result we are entertained with a story of a species struggling to overcome their evolutionary history, while their human guests struggle to understand and survive. This is erudite hardcore sci-fi at its best.
While set in the same universe as Odyssey One (a 4 installment series), Currie diverges with a new crew that is a fresh start. Westin (from the original series) provides the marching orders which include putting a new ship class through its paces as well as exploring distant star systems that present anomalies that may suggest alien Dyson constructs in production. What the crew stumbles upon instead is even stranger alien technology that hints at an intelligent race related to, but far beyond anything they have previously encountered with the Priminae. Just getting out alive is not certain.
Th sci-fi elements draw heavily from Odyssey One, but add some quite nifty physics / cosmology with powerful gravitational lensing and distortion as well as unusual alien creatures.The action is well paced with excellent interpersonal relationships complicated by quirky peccadilloes. As an opening act, this cast promises new adventures that build on and rival their older siblings from earlier installments.
The narration is superbly rendered with a solid range of voices even for both genders. The tone and mood match the haunted house impression for most of the tale.
Dark Intelligence is another installment in Neal Asher's 'Polity" universe. While clearly temporally following The Technician, this tale, while billed as the opening salvo for a trilogy, provides sufficient resolution and closure for a satisfying ending on its own and only hints at a more hidden theme to emerge later. Basically, several intelligences (humans, Prador, drone, golem, and AI) have all at prior contact with the dark AI Penny Royal who has previously been depicted as a completely amoral, Marquis de Sade-like AI with a rap sheet spanning the galaxy. All of these individuals seek revenge of one form or another with Penny Royal for past wrongs and also end up at each others throats as well.
The sci-fi elements are pure Asher with powerful AIs, manipulable quantum forces, post-human evolution, and imaginative, well depicted aliens that are truly alien. As the story unfolds, past events both prior to this tale as well as concomitant occurrences are reinterpreted to reveal the chess grandmaster and puppeteer that is Penny Royal. Rather than merely a sadist, Penny Royal appears to operate by a different set of rules, beyond the bounds of normal human or AI reference.
The narration is excellent with a good rendition of all the various sentient species. The tone and mood are well suited to the tale, although a warning for those who have previously enjoyed The Technician; as the narrators are different, the carry over characters will take some getting familiar with again. Finally, while the remainder of the trilogy is uncertain in direction, one can expect that these characters will be called upon again for some well-conceived, but opaque plan that Penny Royal has hatched.
Gary Grossman's Old Earth is an unremarkable semi-sci-fi variation on a thriller surrounding an old secret that a dedicated, obscure group is committed to keeping unrevealed. In this tale, a likable, but struggling paleontologist stumbles onto a find buried in Montana that a mystery cabal is intent on remaining undiscovered. The professor and companions, then proceed on a worldwind tour identifying other possible similar artifacts barely staying ahead of their pursuers. The cabal has its own problems with a young, ambitious rookie intent on making his mark.Throughout the tale, there are flashbacks to Galileo as the instigator of this whole escapade, although those section dragged a bit.
As a thriller, the story is passable with decent pacing along with a good series of clues, reveals, and plot twists. Unfortunately, the story has several deficiencies. The mystery cabal dedicated to protecting the secret seems to possess unlimited resources, intelligence, and ruthlessness, along with lots of participants in key locations and positions. As is typical, the "secret" must remain buried because the world population would collectively go insane if the content were revealed. There's also a real disconnect with how this would have been interpreted back in Galileo's time versus today. The author is also a bit too obvious in popping in secret members all over the place when convenient. The cabal has a somewhat arbitrary decision making process on who to kill and who to leave alone. Finally, the ending which is not that unexpected in terms of the secret itself, but is completely out of character with the main protagonist.
The narration is passable with minimal distinction among the various characters.
Alex Berenson's Twelve Days is the conclusion to the previous installment, The Counterfeit Agent. "12" picks up where the last left off with Wells and his team of Vinny & Ellis having just 12 days to track down the real source of the HEU before the US invades Iran. While there are plenty of action scenes with classic Wells, John is beginning to rely more on his wits and quick thinking to get out of jams. Ellis shows that he still has the juice to gather the pertinent intelligence, while Vinny is clearly angling for something bigger in the future. John's family plays a cameo role suggesting their future involvement, particularly his son.
The pacing is excellent while never knowing which way John will handle any given situation. Some enemies are eliminated, but several new candidates for future stories are introduced. Only the Saudi king angle is beginning to wear a bit thin. John also is coming to grips with his failures in the relationship department suggesting a new love interest in the near future.
George Guidall's performance is simply outstanding with his rendition for Wells. His range for other characters along with tone and mood are perfect for the spy genre in general and Wells in particular. This story franchise with Guidall as narrator is pure listening enjoyment and not to be missed, although these tend to be quick listens due to a combination of story and narration.
For the Time Being is a lighted romp with college science geniuses abducted by aliens and forced to build a time machine in order to dominate another alien race - and that's about as deep as it gets.Throughout the story, time paradoxes constantly arise as the details for time travel are worked out. Both alien races have a fur fetish as well as one with a craving for mushrooms and another that goes through a tree phase.
The sci-fi elements are crude, more consistent with golden age sci-fi with humanoid aliens with odd peccadilloes, faster than light drives, and a time machine. The science is minimally rendered, most of which has little internal consistency, while the alien races make little sense with features created mostly for weirdness. The gang of college students start as a quarreling, oddball collection that over time, fall in love and work together, to outsmart two alien races, build a time machine, and eventually get themselves home.
The narration is adequate, but unremarkable with a good range of voices, although the aliens are rendered quite artificial. This is story that does not take itself seriously and neither should the listener.
Neal Ascher's The Technician, while a standalone story, is set in his "Polity" universe. The main tale takes place on Masada, a minor planet, 20 year after the overthrow of a theocractically controlled society. Humans are somewhat of a minor player as the galactic political structure is dominated by a wide diverse set of AIs. Masada is also the former home world of an extinct intelligent alien species that committed racial genocide. The explanation for this is part of the plot of the story. There's a good mix of petty human vengeful actions as well as planet destructive forces against a backdrop of solving the mystery of a strange creature who spared the life of a single human while inducing insanity.
The sci-fi elements are varied and consistent with a time frame in the distant future. Artificial intelligence dominates throughout. Unusual, but well crafted human genetic adaptations are flawlessly inserted without disrupting the flow. There is also an internally consistent presentation of the unique biological constructs and evolutionary principles present on Masada.
The narration is superbly done with an excellent range of voices aligned with the mood and pacing of the story. Overall, this is a hard listen and requires close attention not only to follow a complex storyline, but to also appreciate the well designed and integrated sci-fi aspects.
Kazuaki Takano's thriller, Genocide of One is a near future action tale with an evolved human going up against global state sponsored spy and anti-terrorism groups. The basic premise is a really smart child that has been deemed a threat and must be eliminated. Then ensues a series of action and sleuthing scenes jumping from Africa to Japan to the US.
The pacing is well done with an edge of your seat feel. The story falls down in its over the top approach. A decades old think tank report that had suggested the possibility of an evolved, super smart human arising and taking over the world has apparently been front and center on the US government radar screen ever since. As a result, when vague descriptions emerge that it might have happened, plans are set in motion to eliminate the threat. The child however, has also anticipated this possibility and set in motion his own plans to fight back (which includes murder and mayhem). At the same time, the child has time to develop software to create a drug tailor made for the child of a mercenary who will get him to safety.
The narration is well done with a solid range of characters of various ethnic backgrounds. The tone and mood are well suited for the fast paced actions.
Stephen Renneberg's the Antaran Codex is a solid sci-fi thriller with enough plot twists to maintain the tension through to the very end. Sirius Kade is a merchant captain with a secret intelligence operative background. Along with his crew, a drunken oaf and an alien outcast, as well as a sometime girlfriend who can't decide whether to swindle or bed him, Sirius goes undercover and finds himself in the middle of a plan to keep Earth from joining the galactic club of recognized sentients.
The sci-fi elements are largely physics with faster than light drives along with various unremarkable alien species. The science is not the focal point, rather an elaborate mystery that Sirius must unravel is the main draw. The pacing is excellent with a good mixture of action scenes and detective sleuthing.
The narration was quite respectable with a good range of voices and interesting renditions of the various alien races. While clearly a self contained storyline, the characters and this universe, make for intriguing follow-on installment potential.
David Golemon's Overlord is the 3rd and final installment of the Event Group trilogy concerning an impending invasion by aliens that was hinted at in the 1st two installments. Overlord is the codename for the plan to defend Earth. The story builds on the first two parts, Event Group and Legacy, but adds many more players to the mix. Final preparations for Overlord are consummated and the plan is somewhat executed. Mixed in are both intelligence and political opponents who lack insider information and harass, rather than hinder the main characters.
The sci-fi elements are limited to wormholes with funky time effects and powerful lasers. While an engaging and exciting tale, with good pacing throughout, the story suffers from a crude, naivete. Basically, the overlord plan was designed and wholly known by just 4 individuals, one of whom is already dead, two who get injured and are out of action, with the last being the little friendly alien who has been holding back. This leads to the continual mantra of "need to know" which seems useless when world ending events are unfolding. 70 billion aliens in spaceships sailing across the galaxy looking for food also seems pretty lame (you can create an energy source big enough to bend space-time, but you can't produce food - really???). The actions of speaker and intelligence chief were also overly simplistic and farcical.
The narration was quite good with an excellent range of voices that was needed for the expanded character set.
Chris Kennedy 1st installment of the Janissaries: The Theogony is an unsophisticated tale more suitable to 1950's style sci-fi for pre-teens. Basically, Earth has been under the watch of an alien race with much of Greek mythology deriving from a prior contact. The alien communications beacon stops working and is interpreted as indicating that a previously believed extinct alien race of 10 foot man-eating frogs is still around and intends to invade Earth for a banquet. What ensues is an eclectic band of GI Joes types who ally with the watching aliens using technology from another extinct alien race that happens to be hanging around Earth and begin an adventure to save the planet and start exploring the galaxy.
The sci-fi elements are basic and crude: wormhole travel for spaceships along with anti-matter and laser weapons. The multiple alien races are either humanoid or variants of terrestrial animals (birds, frogs, and lizards). Naive geopolitics include the US president getting a phone call from a war hero to come alone regarding an issue of national security. World leaders use body double for secret meetings and no one other than a select few know anything. "New" top secret classifications need to be created with the president working on establishing a unified world government. All of this is based on 3 aliens just saying so. Russia has reverted back to the KGB with a stereotypical femme fatale. The multiple aliens are either pacifists with a prime directive or blood thirsty carnivores who are pure evil and want to eat any intelligent life form.
The narration is suboptimal with alien renditions of boring college professors and alien contact at the level of "we'll be your friends if you help us.". Also annoying is the repetition of the same information over and over again to different characters. There's a distinct lack of subtlety and nuance.
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