I love the universes that Alastair Reynolds creates, and the stories he weaves in them so I was a little disappointed to see how short this story was (it's only an hour long, take note of the price as it's probably worth purchasing it rather than wasting a credit). Length complaints aside, this is a great story and I really enjoyed it. It vaguely echoes some of his other work but it's definitely new and interesting material, telling the story of some off-track astronauts, shuttling between brief vignettes of "now" and "not too long ago" with a nice psychological twist at the end to keep you wondering for a while.
That said, this audio version of it verges on terrible. I don't know if it's because I now unconsciously relate John Lee with Alistair Reynolds but the narrator (Tom Dheere) just didn't work for me. He sounded like he'd been challenged to read through the story as fast as possible and, to draw a traffic analogy, treated sentence ending punctuation much like a speedhump or chicane rather than stop signs or red lights. Additionally, the vignettes are separated by 15 seconds of music. WHY??? It's an audio version of a book, it doesn't need extra music or sounds effects, it just needs someone to read the words! If it's imperative to draw a distinction between separate passages then leave 2 seconds of silence to indicate it or something, don't start introducing lengthy chunks of foreign material where the author never intended them to be!
This book ponders some of the interesting new solutions and problems that nanotechnology may bring us. There's a kernel of a good escapist (as opposed to hard sci-fi) story here, starting with the get-you-hooked first chapter from the Moon Base perspective and then branching into three different locales (two Earth-based and the moon) with a few different characters that are iterated through for the rest of the story. There are a couple of sub-stories that are wound in with the overall plot that don't really add anything to the story and there's a somewhat bizarre twist to one of the main characters that actively detracts from the story.
The general shape of the plot was good, and the characters are somewhat interesting but every now and then there was a statement that blatantly contradicted information from earlier in the book, on one occasion earlier in the sentence. The characters too suffer from this problem and (relatively infrequently, to be fair) make completely out of character statements or decisions that brought me to a jarring stop while I tried to do the mental gymnastics to assimilate whatever just happened into my understanding of the people and their world. I don't want to give any specific example because they're rather spoilery, which is the annoying thing as these out-of-character moments often involved rather major plot points.
The narration by Jim Meskimen was, frankly, poor. It's read with almost no feeling whatsoever and I found it to be slow and bland (I actually started listening on 1.5 speed about five chapters in because it was driving me crazy) and there are frequent changes in audio quality where pieces have been re-recorded for some reason. Mr Meskimen does manage to individually voice the characters but he frequently runs these individual voices into sentences following speech from a character, even if it's nothing related to that characters internal dialog.
This is an OK escapist thriller movie in book form and ultimately there was too much about this book that annoyed me to let me really enjoy it.
I think I'm going to have to go back and read this one with my eyeballs rather than my ears. It's a lot easier to stop and mull things over when you're reading, as opposed to listening, and there were quite a few times that I felt I was rushed through the moment by the audio. Also, the first "flashback" (for want of a better term) was rather jarring and I spent a few minutes trying to work out if there had been some malfunction with the audio player/file.
Medium aside, this was a very interesting book on several levels. It's the story of a man (Shevek) from the anarchist planet of Anarres and follows his early and middle years (in an interleaved fashion) describing life on both Anarres and, to some extent, the nearby Urras - both planets of the star Tau Ceti. There's a relatively objective view of both the vast anarchistic commune that is Anarres as well as the major capitalist/socialist countries (in what appears to be a rather blatant mirroring of Earth). The story includes plenty of the nitty-gritty details of running Anarres by the generally pacifist-anarchists, and how humans are generally likely to mess up a "perfect" political situation with their inevitable desire for personal power. Overlaid is Shevek's tale, usually told from his perspective and, since he's a physicist, he often brings a very clinical logic to bear on his everyday life that leads to a number of thought-provoking insights.
Story aside, the writing was extremely enjoyable, if not beautiful. It felt a little wordy at times, like it needed one more round of culling to make it perfect.
The version I listened to was beautifully read by Don Leslie and had no annoying audio additions to get in the way of the book.
I don't know about this one. It was in my "To Read" pile and I didn't even glance at what it was about before I started it. I was expecting science-fiction and was somewhat surprised when extrasensory perception appeared very early on in the story, followed closely by a bunch of machine-augmented telekinesis. There wasn't a great deal of explanation about how this all worked (although it started out in a promising vein with the description of the "Goose Egg" device used to detect "talent", as these powers are called, and mark out the owners for further training) but not much more is said of the technology beyond the occasional nod in its direction when talking about the requirement for The Towers in order to allow the Prime talents to do their thing.
I felt that this book could be split into two-pieces, the good piece, and the bad piece. The good piece is the first part. From a general reading perspective the authors abilities to craft an interesting story with solid, believable and interesting characters in an interesting and well described environment are on show but about half-way through the book (where the bad piece starts) things get a little crazy, almost like the author had had enough of writing this book and just wanted everything to come together and end. Specifically I felt that it suffered from at least three major flaws (four if you count the issues I had with the audio since I listened to this one):
Caution: Potential Minor Spoilers Below
1) The Rowan starts out as a pretty strong character until, about half-way through the book, she just suddenly turns into a doormat for the main male protagonist when the "love at first sight" meeting occurs. I found myself trying to rationalise this as being due to the fact that it was a completely open, mind-to-mind meeting of the two, subsequent to which both parties were intimately aware of the smallest nuance of the other. That said, the literally instant shift into calling each other "darling" and "my love" and acting like long-lost-lovers was jarring in the extreme. This just seemed like a massive break from the character established up to that point in the book.
2) The rape scene. OK, that's an exaggeration but the scene where Raven forcibly "helps" The Rowan to discover what's behind the mental block about her childhood trauma put me greatly in mind of the rape scene from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. It was quite a jolt to read.
3) The end. Wow, what a disappointment. There was minimal buildup and then the whole thing was done with in a paragraph or two. I'm not sure if the titular Hive is what is being battled at the end or if this is just a setup for the other books in the trilogy where the rest of the Hive is fleshed out and explained/dealt with but the ending felt incredibly rushed and like a cop-out on the rest of the story.
4) I listened to the audio version of the book from Brilliance Audio read by Jean Reed Bahle and had two major issues with it. The first was that Ms Bahle has the incredible ability to sound exactly like a synthesised voice, it was truly astonishing the number of times I did a double-take when she managed to get an uncannily similar intonation to a Speak 'n Spell. The other problem was the special effects that the production team laid on for the mental conversations. Looking at the Kindle preview of the book it would appear that communication that happened via telepathy rather than speech is italicised and this emphasis is translated into a rather annoying echo effect on the audio version. To be fair, I'm not sure what else they could have done to provide contrast but from my perspective if was easy enough to determine what was speech and what was telepathy merely from context.
Overall, meh, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone and I'm not going to read the rest of the trilogy.
I made it to the "end" of the Lost Fleet series!
This book covers the conclusion of the Syndic/Alliance war and, of course, the beginning of the Enigmatic War. The story here, particularly the first half, shows the flashes of brilliance that kept me coming back over the course of six books. There are some great moments as the fleet returns to grapple with the Syndics and a plot twist that I genuinely didn't see coming, but once that little story arc comes to a close it kind of feels like the rest of the book was dedicated to wrapping everything up in a neat parcel despite that fact that it lays the groundwork for Dreadnaught and the rest of the Beyond the Frontier series.
I think that Mr Campbell's best work with regard to this series' characters is in this book. The Rione/Desjani adolescent sniping goes away and both characters manage to do some reasonably interesting evolving (although the love story really takes a hard turn into some rather trite dialogue - at least we don't have to deal with any more explanations regarding the impossibility of Geary and Desjani talk lest their respective honours be forever tarnished).
Overall, Victorious was OK. Not a glowing endorsement exactly but there you go. I'll not be carrying on with the next two series because, honestly, I just don't care about the characters at all. The Lost Fleet story was just "OK", it wasn't compelling. I think it could have been in two or three books rather than the six it ended up in.
With regard to the audio quality: Mr Rummel finishes up nicely, no-one's voice changes over the course of the series and he does an admirable job of differentiating the various characters (although Lieutenant Iger still grates). The only weirdness was the beginning of Chapter 7 when there's a musical interlude and the "Audible Frontiers" intro plays.
I admit, I was anticipating some "relentless" puns as part of this review but over the course of Valiant and Relentless the story has taken a dramatic turn for the better. I still have my quibbles but at least we're not recycling the same story over and over again like the first three books.
I'm still feeling that this series would have been a lot better off as maybe a duology/trilogy because a lot of time and effort goes into recaps and a lot of scenes feel forced as explanations are replayed for the umpteenth time (when chapter two kicked off yet another marveling rendition of the conference room technology I think I may have audibly sighed). Same deal with things that should just be extra descriptive detail on the characters, in chapter four there's a scene where "Geary never expected to be able to joke about his past being so long ago" which is fine, except he also felt that late in book four too.
I'm still not thrilled about the technology and effort that's gone into explaining it, the path toward technobabble that was tentatively blazed by Valiant's "self-sustaining probability modulation on a quantum scale" has not been followed thankfully but I'd still like to know more about the shielding and inertial dampening, the Hypernet gates too actually although that's obviously less likely to be possible!
I don't think a lot more is going on with characters here either, right up front in chapter one there's an abruptly personal argument between Geary and Desjani that I guess was borne of events from Valiant...somehow, it really didn't gel with the closing chapters of Valiant and the conclusions that those two came to. Rione and Desjani are still refusing to talk to each other, which really is quite annoying.
All in all, it's a story with a set of familiar characters that (perhaps a little too neatly) ties up all the previous sub-plots bar one, which I assume will be the focus of Victorious. I'm looking forward to finishing that book, at which point I'm going to declare myself done - regardless of how it ends. If you enjoyed all the previous books, you'll definitely enjoy this one, and the inverse also applies.
The story continues...actually, this could almost literally be the same book as Dauntless, it's the same basic plot, leading up to a similar set piece "finale" closing out with a teaser for the subsequent book. The minimal differences come from a new physical location and a slightly stronger threat to Geary from inside the fleet. The major characters reveal slightly more detail with regard to their history but don't develop beyond the boundaries reached in Dauntless. The baddies remain nearly irredeemably bad (to be fair, there are efforts to explain the motivations of the main antagonist) and the goodies continue to lead the charge for universal truth, justice and liberty.
Unfortunately this book continued to strain credulity. There's some really tenuous connect-the-dots going on in the lurking sub-plot. The 100-year war that has managed to pound all traces of intelligence out of the Fleet through raw attrition seemed a harsh juxtaposition against the (SPOILER ALERT: SLIGHT SPOILER IN THIS SENTENCE) sudden discovery of a literal physics genius commanding one of the fleet ships (YOU'RE GOOD TO KEEP READING FROM HERE) and the changes wrought on the fleet by Captain Geary continues to strike me as things that would obvious to even the dullest of people that were still trusted enough to be given charge of what would have to be a very, very expensive piece of equipment (not to mention the numerous lives entrusted to their care).
I'm still reading because the naval theory seems sound (to my civilian mind anyway) and I enjoy that kind of thing. After completing book two I have quite a strong feeling that I know how book three is going to play out and I can't help but feel that this six volume series could probably have been edited down into a more palatable trilogy. But, I've started and I really hate not finishing things so I'm going to push on!
This is the first of the four books that I actively enjoyed (bits of) so far! The template that books one through three followed almost slavishly has been at least partly done away with and the sub-plots are doing interesting things at last!
The good things from the previous books carry through like the actions between opposing fleets, although the final battle of the book left even me wondering if the maneuvering descriptions could have been slightly more, well, descriptive and slightly less a list of exactly what commands Geary gave (especially since one of the earlier books goes to great pains to point out that the commands could never be issued verbally to the other ship captains for execution due to requirements for speed of transmission and execution). Additionally, some of the major characters start acting far more like humans and have ranges of emotion.
On the down side: Rione's relationship with Geary goes into an unbelievable super-bipolar mode almost immediately (around chapter 3) and I found the characterisation of both Rione and Desjani throughout the book quite disappointing (I simply can not believe that the character Rione was depicted as through the previous three books would buy into the petty sniping and bickering that is attributed to her) and actively detracted from the overall plot.
I was interested to discover the introduction to Lost Fleet: Relentless where Campbell/Hemry talks about REQUIREMENTS from his publishers with regard to word count. I'm beginning to wonder if my reviews of the previous books misplace the blame on the author for stretching out the story and instead I should be getting upset with the publishers for enforcing arbitrary word limits. I stand by my earlier assessment that books one through three (and probably four) could easily have been combined into one volume.
Off we go again! I really want to like these books but they're the same basic plot over and over again (much like my reviews of the books in this series). I like the concepts spelled out in the introduction, in theory it all sounds great, and bits of it are quite readable but the constant theme of "Geary considers his future options and has a miraculous realisation that saves the day", especially when said "miraculous realisation" is always blindingly obvious (to me at least, and I'm pretty sure to everyone else who reads them) really takes away from the story. That and the fact that the author specifically calls out his desire to write well-rounded characters...and then doesn't.
Once again though, I enjoyed the details of keeping the fleet running and the space battles and since the sub-plot is finally surfacing as an actual thing I need to read episode 4 and find out what happens next.
With regard to the narration, it meshes perfectly with the prior books as far as character voices are concerned. The only jarring note was what I assume was an Australian accent for Lieutenant Iger, that was a mistake.
This book was OK. I am going to read the next book, and probably the other four too, because I do want to know what happens next! The pace was good and both the premise and the ongoing story were enough to suck me in and keep me going to find out what was going to happen next.
Dauntless was pretty obviously written as the launching point for a series, which explains the somewhat abrupt ending - a convenient point in the story for a pause, but without resolving anything and having only barely laid out who's who, what's going on and why.
I liked the general idea of the story but there are several significant elements of the plot that really didn't make sense, although Mr Campbell performs some plausible justification. The most difficult to swallow for me was the level of ability that the Alliance fleet members displayed, it just didn't make sense to me that a fleet that's been fighting for 100+ years could possibly be as inept as they were painted prior to Jack's thawing. The belabouring of (what I assume is) an emergent plot point in the closing chapters of the book was also somewhat heavy-handed.
The character definition left something to be desired, I think all of the characters are pretty one-dimensional (although I'm holding out hopes for at least one of them) and even the universe itself is sparsely painted, although there are welcome detours into detail when something needs to be explained, usually in order for the fleet to interact with it plausibly.
I enjoyed the descriptions of the fleet battle tactics and general considerations of high speed battles over very large distances but for the most part this appears to be an exercise in translating current/historical ocean-going tactics into three dimensional space but with bigger guns and (technologically unexplained) energy weapons and shielding.
Mr Rummel did a pretty good job, managing distinct, plausible and recognisable characters (although the Scottish? accent for one of the captains probably wasn't a good idea). This version also has music bookending it and it's stuck in between two of the latter chapters as well for some reason (possibly this is where two CD's were joined together) but it's low enough that it doesn't prevent the story from being heard.
Another fantastic story from Mr O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series! I'm lingering on reading these because I really don't want to run out of them, even though there are twenty volumes to savour.
This time around we experience the battle for Mauritius between 1809 and 1811, incredibly closely based upon the real campaign (as are most of the subjects of this series I believe). I use the term "incredibly" because the nature of this campaign, the contrast between the immense dangers and interminable boredom (suitably glossed over or enlivened for the reader with brilliant descriptions of the amazing vessels that made up the French and British naval fleets) requisite due to the vast tracts of time that travel to anywhere required when travelling by sail.
These books are so well written that you get dragged in from the opening pages and sucked along in the wake of the story constantly marveling at the way things used be. As well as the expected (and thoroughly detailed) marine elements of the story there are brief forays into the science of the time, a social commentary mostly based on the thoughts of Mr Maturin and other members of the supporting cast - it's a riveting window into the time that gave birth to the fabled English "stiff upper lip".
With regard to the audio: Never was there a more suitable marriage of narrator and subject matter. Everything about this collaboration is perfect.
Enough gushing. It's a great read and I'd heartily recommend it to all!
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