The John Corey series by Nelson DeMille has been a dependable listen. While The Panther is classic DeMille/Corey and the story is very good, this one lacks anything new and different to really engage the listener (at least to those familiar with other Corey tales). In this plot, John and Kate venture to Yemen to hunt down the latest feline terrorist that is believed to have planned the Cole bombing. As usual, John suspects there is more than meets the eye (or at least more than what he has been told). As is typical, John follows his own hunches and salvages what would have been a huge US disaster while cracking Corey jokes along the way.
So what's the problem? Basically, the story is too formulaic for those familiar with the series. In spite of all the past investigative success in the past, John is still regarded as a simpleton by his boss, there's a new CIA agent that appears to be just a resurrected Ted Nash, another cocky feline themed terrorist, all around general ineptitude by everyone around John, and a familiar denouement. At the same time, the story drags for the initial two thirds with little actions and too much emphasis of repeating polysyllabic terrorist names. There's a bit of time disequilibrium with a close relationship to the Cole bombing that is now over a decade old, but appears more proximal.
Don't misinterpret these comments; the story is still good, just not fresh anymore. John needs a change of pace, another friendly nemesis rather than the CIA, a different boss who recognizes that he can't fool this guy, and perhaps different enemies, like North Koreans.
Scott Brick as usual is superb with range and tone that sets the mood and makes the listening easy and enjoyable.
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.
The Atlantis World is the 3rd (and hopefully last installment) for Riddle's Atlantis series. Most of the action takes place off world as characters hop from portal to portal piecing together the alien backstory. David and Kate attempt to recover Kate's latent memories conveniently dispersed to distant portal locations. Dorian is hot on their trail. What transpires is mostly a series of memory dumps by Kate and Dorian at each portal that provides the alien background info for how they came to be on Earth with divergent agendas. Added to the mix are two other sets of remnants of different alien civilizations (the sentinels and the serpentine armada). Dorian gradually arrives at the realization that Aryes has been using him and simply kills him over and over again with little purpose, while David and Kate unknowingly employ the Independence Day strategy to defeat whatever turns out to their ultimate enemy.
The sci-fi elements are mostly alien civilizations that are never fully detailed or fleshed out. Why an advanced, intelligent race would need to freeze and thaw someone for decision making every couple of hundred years never made sense. The alien uprising / revolution was also poorly presented (after thousands of years, this society could not effectively deal with this issue?). Finally, most unsatisfying is that much of the tale breaks a cardinal rule of story telling in that the multiple memory dumps merely tell the backstory instead of showing the action.
The narration is passable and renders as good a job as possible with a weak storyline.
Coming Home is the latest Jack McDevitt installment in the Alex Benedict series. The main character, Alex is a combination Indiana Jones / Sherlock Holmes with the narrator, Chase, playing his Watson / gal Friday. This story involves two independent tales with Chase heavily involved in the rescue of a large cruise ship caught in space / time warp that Alex figured out in an earlier installment. Added to the mix is that Alex's uncle is on board. At the same time, Alex comes into possession of an "ancient" (25th century) artifact that suggests a connection to a missing cache of early space exploration items. The story jumps back and forth between these two separate plots.
This universe is set in the far future (beyond the 30th century) and a distant settled planet, although there are several Earth visits involved. One particularly unique feature of this series is the almost normal behavior of everyone in the story. People get hungry and go to restaurants; they go out to lunch with friends and discuss relationships; they go sightseeing on vacations, etc. There are no new sci-fi elements relative to earlier installments and the action scenes are muted and limited relative to earlier tales. McDevitt does provide a sense of the vastness of space which appears to slow down life in the future.
The narration is superb with an excellent range of voices with good pacing. This series and narrator have always been an enjoyable listen and this time out is no exception.
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.
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