With the latest installment of the Benedict/Colpath series, McDevitt again demonstrates domination of the subgenre of sci-fi mysteries. The entire series is best summed up as Indiana Jones meets Sherlock Holmes in the distant future. In this story, Benedict stumbles upon artifacts from a controversial physicist who simply disappeared 40 years earlier. In trying to establish some background on the events surrounding his disappearance, Benedict displays his adroit detective skills, while at the same time exploring some rather exotic physics that suggests long lost spacecraft may still be out there wandering some interdimensional no man's land. McDevitt also takes the opportunity to explore notions of human consciousness and identity which suggest this will receive more attention in future installments.
As usual, McDevitt's style is unique in generating characters that are quite familiar and very identifiable with today's culture in spite of the 9000 years in the future separation with Earth. Politics, prejudice, and PR still exist in abundance. At the same time, there are discussion of where to go for lunch and dating versus long term commitments that make the characters feel real and approachable.
McDevitt also does a great job of spreading the contributions around without resorting to a strictly ensemble cast of one trick ponies. The casting of Colpath as Dr. Watson and diarist to Benedict is a nice touch that solidifies the Sherlock Holmes reference.
The narration is well done with an excellent range of voices. This is one series that is always something to look forward to the next.
The Trafalgar Gambit completes Christopher G Nuttall's Ark Royal trilogy. The story picks up immediately after the conclusion of Book 2 with Earth having been directly attacked by the aliens while Ark Royal was on her mission in enemy territory. In the concluding chapter, Ark Royal is given the mission to make contact and negotiate with any alien faction intent on peaceful resolution. Along the way, the crew must deal with sabotage attempts both external as well as internal. The battle scenes are brief, but intense. Prince Henry is recovered and plays a decisive role in both negotiations and battle.
The sci-fi elements are limited mainly to prior physics with some added alien biology and unique socio-cultural factors of the aliens, although there is little novelty. While the conclusion is satisfying, and likely signals the end of this series, there were some unanswered questions, from the mundane to whatever happened to Molly to how the geopolitical organization of Earth will evolve.
The narration is excellent with good pacing and range of voices. This is both an enjoyable and engaging listen.
Peter Hamilton's latest, The Abyss beyond dreams, initiates another Void adventure that appears to be occurring concurrently with the previous Void trilogy. The action takes place in another part of the Void and involves Nigel attempting to reach the 1st Void world, but ending up on another. This story concerns a prior human colony ship that ended up in the Void. Quantum states are completely screwed and 3000 years have passed resulting into a semi-stable societal organization. Another trapped alien life form plays havoc with the humans. In typical Hamilton fashion, we experience the story through multiple perspectives that only later intersect. Nigel gradually pieces all the various bits together, while inciting revolution along the way.
The sci-fi elements are pure Hamiltonian with Void style space time distortion along with enhanced psychic abilities. There are also novel alien creatures with unusual powers which also provides additional background to the Void in general. While Nigel is eventually able to rescue the colonists from the Void, the tale ends with a setup for further adventures for the rest of the trilogy.
John Lee is nothing short of spectacular in his narration. His mood, pace, and tone are expertly delivered for a truly satisfying and entertaining rendition.
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.
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