Coarsegold, CA USA | Member Since 2004
I am a fan of good sci-fi and I did NOT enjoy this book. I had to force myself to listen. I now avoid this author's and this narrator's works like they have blister rust. The story takes place in a highly diseased future of no petroleum energy. All power is achieved by genetic engineering of powerful beasts of burden or kinetic storage. It takes place in Thailand in a future Asia where every ethnic group is a tribe that is genocidal towards every other. The plot for the first two-thirds of the story involves a new wonder fruit called "nah." After that point, this element disappears leaving you to wonder why so much time was spent on it. The story is told by the narrator in a feckless, matter-of-fact tone. (Maybe he was bored, too.) The narration is via endless conversations among characters that you don't particularly care about. (If I want to hear a lot of blah, blah, blah, I'll watch "The View." At least, its free.) The story finally gets some action in the last one-third where there is a Thai civil war. In this mix, there is introduced a Dr. Gibbons, a geneticist who is a sort of Dr. Strangelove character. He articulates the thought that survival of the fittest ultimately decides everything. (Didn't a guy named Darwin first say this?) At the end of the book, the wind-up girl, a test tube grown, genetically-enhanced woman designed to serve, figures out how she can perpetuate her kind. (Yawn.) As for buying this work, just say "nah."
Alan Furst is a first rate novelist of spying before and during the Second World War. This work portrays Paris and Berlin in ways that give the reader an accurate feel for what was happening then. Hard to know how this work could be improved. Well worth the price.
This is a fantasy work, not hard sci-fi. The book reads like it was written by a woman’s romance novelist rather than, say, a Robert Heinlein. Ninety percent of the work is all about the emotional relationships among the three principal characters. Every character in this story speaks with the same voice: same expressions, same turns of phrase, etc., which is dull writing. The book starts slow with a lot of talk among the three protagonists when teenagers. A LOT of talk. The first person narration lends itself to emotional reflection and the protagonist engages in this endlessly. Yawn. The main protagonist suffers most of his life from an unrequited love, but at the end of the world (or something) he gets her. First person narrative also lends itself to naval gazing, which the protagonist does endlessly even when the world is coming to an end and action is required. There is a lot of switching the characters to different times and locations that are not well-flagged. As a result, you will spend a few minutes at each such turn wondering where the characters are now and what they are talking about. The “spin” phenomenon is improbable. It blocks out all the stars, including the sun and all satellites, but a fake sun (or something) continues to bathe the earth to keep things alive. Half way through the book, the best explanation the characters have is that the “spin” is caused by “the gods”. Later they learn it’s “a vonNeumann ecology.” (Their first conclusion made more sense.) The ending is, well, weird. On the slow journey to the end (the book is too long), we learn that Christian dispensationalists (those who believe in the rapture, etc.) are deluded fools. This is NOT an adventure story. There is no dangerous foe for the protagonists to fight against and so there is little drama. Reader is far too dramatic. Ordinary sentences are rendered with life-and-death voice changes and highs and lows. Distracting! But perhaps he’s just trying to give life to flat writing. The book ends with a whimper. If this is an example of this author’s oeuvre, count me out. IMHO, avoid this book; it is not worth the money.
Cormac McCarthy is an excellent author and this work contains many a fine turn of phrase. But its subject matter is horrible: war and killing in the Southwest prior to the Civil War. The main character is an orphan boy growing up as he travels through the territory. One of the characters he meets in his travels is (apparently) the Devil. All of that is well and good. The part that is hard to listen to is the horrible encounters of the boy as he is traveling. Described in loving and extreme detail. Much blood and guts on the ground; dying people. Lots of cruelty. I do not understand why authors think the first couple of hours of a story should be spent trying to make their readers puke. It was as if, with each paragraph, he was trying to best himself with more disgusting descriptions. Horrid stuff! They will never make a movie for the Hallmark Channel from this book! Reader was good.
This is basically a beach read. The story starts slow, but builds. Think “Seven Days In May” with a lady president who is socialist and weak. Unfortunately, the author bases his plot on the hackneyed idea that it will be a conservative military group (started by Gen. Curt Lemay, of course) that will lead the conspiracy to get rid of an unpopular president. (Are there any writers out there who can imagine that it will likely be a Marxist cabel that will overthrow a conservative president? V.I. Lenin and Fidel Castro weren’t conservatives.) There are plenty of life-and-death situations described in the book where one must seriously suspend disbelief, like both encounters with the fighter jets and the entire flight of the missile. Ah well, it was still fun to listen to. The biggest weakness of this book is its reader. He does character voices poorly, especially female voices, which are important in this story. Poor tone and poor inflection. In spite of this, my wife and I enjoyed the book on a long drive.
In Freedom ™, Daniel Suarez continues his fictionalized description of the changes that are occurring in our world due to the Internet. His story extends these changes into the realm of (what is at the moment) sci-fi, but his extension is based on such present day realities as the Dark Web, bit-coin, and dark digital anarcho-marketplaces such as Silk Road. It is present day reality to have Dread Pirate Roberts in our digital midst and lawsuits where the federal government is trying to prove, among other things, that this cyber pirate is the real-world man known as Ross William Ulbricht. This means that the technology used by the characters in Freedom ™ is not too far away. This work is not as engrossing as its prequel, Daemon, but it is still worth your money and time. The work contains more discussion of deep philosophical ideas than the first work. In this work, the author imagines the fulfillment the mad programmer’s vision of creating a new, worldwide Utopia – a sort of Jacques Ellul world created by a very well thought out computer virus. The author’s ideas about society and government are put into the mouths of various characters as they travel through the computer game style adventures that comprise the plot of the work. The conceit is that the dead programmer who put this adventure into motion with his computer virus could create a “dark net” program so perfect that it could not be hacked, at least not for a long, long time – long enough to become embedded throughout the world’s computer systems. In the real world, a computer virus that was discovered to be so fundamentally changing human society would be hacked into very quickly. Another conceit is that the “distributed democracy” envisioned would be any better than the representative democracy we now have. Being asked to vote on hundreds of questions each day does not sound enjoyable to me and I would bet that most would simply decline to be involved. Be that as it may, it is easy to suspend disbelief in this story long enough to enjoy it. I found it hard to put down. The reader is good. After one has finished, reality reasserts itself and one quickly realizes that what happened in these two books could never happen in the real world. I have no doubt someone is going to try it, though. Listen to the first work, Daemon, before this book. Enjoy both!
This is a “galpal womance” between two Englishwomen during World War Two. One is an aviator, the other a spy; one rich, the other a shopgirl. The story is largely told via first-person narrative. This means the book is largely about what’s going on in the characters’ heads as they move through their story world. The work had one (and only one) exciting adventure during the entire story and it ended anticlimactically. The story book was largely female frets. For example, the first twenty minutes of the audiobook is the spy worrying about the style of her clothes as she is stripped and questioned by her Nazi captors. Reader is fine, but speaks with a British accent which makes it occasionally hard to understand what she is reading. My view: save your money. If you want a good spy adventure story, read anything by Alan Furst, also available at Audible. I have no clue about how “Code Name Verity” got so many good reviews. I gotta get a better method of evaluating books. Reviews aren’t working.
The Sparrow isn’t so much a sci-fi tale as it is a theological inquiry where the main question of the plot isn’t answered. After the story, the author allows how she is an academic who has not written fiction before. Her work has well-developed characters with well-written interaction among them, but no hard action. All the violence takes place off stage. In short, it wasn’t what I expected but still found the book well-written. The reader is good. On the sci-fi level, one has to suspend disbelief quite firmly at some points in the plot, i.e., the crew with its particular personalities would never have ever been permitted to undertake such a momentous and historical mission (some government would have stopped them); the characters’ organization would never have had the resources to fund such a mission (internal disputes about inappropriate expenditures would have stopped the project); the episode about the hands would never have happened in real life except under huge duress and onstage violence; and the radio reports back to earth would have been decipherable and understandable by many (hackers; hams; foreign governments, etc.), so get ready to sigh as the storyline takes unlikely, if not downright unbelievable, turns. Nevertheless, the book is well written and well read by its narrator, so if you like thoughtful fiction, you will probably enjoy this work.
I bought this book because author Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko detective stories are good. I was therefore surprised at how awful this novel is. Mr. Smith tries the Tom Clancy technique of detailed descriptions, but in his story, instead of military tech, he describes the chemical and viral details of bat guano! Seriously disgusting. His effort fails to have the Clancy effect, which generates interest. The plot takes place on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, but is nothing like Tony Hillerman’s books. This story involves a lot of Indian myths that are difficult to understand, are not well tied to the plot, and are boring to boot. The penultimate chapter is based on some myth which the hero re-enacts (or something) while under the influence of a hallucinogenic root. Very unbelievable. My wife and I listened to the book on a long drive. I asked her what she thought. She replied, “I hate this book.” IMHO, this book is not worth the money.
First, the book is narrated in a fake Scottish brogue. Yuck! This leads me to conclude that the producer of this audiobook planned it to be sold to a very narrow and small demographic. Either that or they’re incompetent. Further, the reader puts a full stop between dialogue and cues, to wit: “‘I went downtown,’ [full stop for at least a second], “he said.” Very distracting! Second, the work is mostly told in the first person narrative voice. This is difficult for even master writers to bring off and this author is no master. Third, this story is not sci-fi, but fantasy. The author is not an engineer or techie, so his vision of future gadgets, transportation, etc., has no technological consistency or believable background. They just “are” like in fantasy and sometimes they are anachronistic. For example, people in the cities fly around with anti-gravity boots but also still have car exhaust polluting their atmosphere. In other words, they are advanced enough to have conquered gravity, but still haven’t mastered the gasoline engine. (What, no electric cars in the future?) This sort of writing destroys what is essential for these sorts of stories, which is the suspension of disbelief. Another inconsistency is that the hero is a slave miner who is from the lowest level in their society, an uneducated, hard-working slave. And yet he gives us insightful and even quasi-philosophical comments as he digs ore, etc. What the? Another inconsistency is that the hero and his girl use an abandoned tunnel to go up to an outdoor area for a picnic and get caught. This is a capital offense and both are executed. But later in the story, after the hero is revived, they take an elevator to the surface and stroll around looking at everything. What the…? Makes me wonder if this author even re-read his story after he finished writing it. Fourth, the first several chapters spend their time and text describing Mars as hell: extremely hot in the mine tunnels, very dangerous working conditions, extreme regulation of life by the elites, etc. Set at the beginning of the story, this too quickly gets boring. Fifth, the human society described is extremely stratified and very class-based, something like “Brave New World”, and you can see revolution coming. This idea has been written about to exhaustion and it too quickly gets boring. After a few hours listening, I couldn’t take it anymore. Especially the fake brogue! I got my money back.
The Ascendant is an exciting story about a very important topic that thoughtful people should make a point of understanding: the use of huge databases and sophisticated software in international financial commerce. Sounds boring, but this story makes this subject-matter quite interesting. The author focuses on this subject-matter well and does a good job of fictionalizing an explanation of how it works and how this phenomenon is affecting business and world governments. However, the author neglects other elements of good novel writing which sadly weakens this important work. The term “ascendant” is defined as a position of dominant power or importance. This refers to the anti-hero is this work and also to the government program sorta built around him. His job is to push world events to a tipping point for the benefit of the United States. This apparently is opposed by American leaders of our military-industrial complex because the Ascendant can avert shooting wars by engaging hidden data manipulations behind the scenes, e.g., computer hacking, currency manipulation, etc. Think of the “Stuxnet” worm that targeted and temporarily ruined Iran’s bomb-making centrifuges. Beyond this, the focus of this story, the Ascendant, can see patterns in staggeringly huge data streams that no one else can perceive. (BTW, this might be the way we humans defeat Skynet. For the problem here, see: Berners-Lee: 'Computers are getting smarter. We’re not' in the UK Telegraph.) All this makes the Ascendant and his team members the target for elimination by a host of individuals from around the world who, for various reasons, profit from war. The work would have been stronger and more gripping if both the villains and the love affair were more pointedly developed. (The love affair is lame.) Nevertheless, the book is well worth the price. It is thought-provoking because, after listening, you will come away with a strong conviction that the plot is more real than fiction. I wonder whom the author really works for….
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