The narrator. This is only my second Audible book, but Fiona Hardingham was lovely, and I'm thinking about trying The Scorpio Races just because she narrates it. She's got a pleasant voice, doesn't narrate too slowly, and does the various British accents with better skill and fluency than most American narrators would.
It was also refreshing to read a vampire story without romance or teen angst. The vampires were evil, made no apology for it, and that was that.
Normally I dislike books which take liberties with historical figures' lives, but this is sort of Tim Powers's thing, and he did it beautifully. He took the Rosettis' real history and filled in his story between the lines, in a sort of way that might make sense were vampires and ghosts real.
There was good and bad in this book.
I've read so many post-apocalyptic survival books that I nearly gave up on this one about a third of the way in. Ish was going different places, he got out of the car, he got back in the car, he found a dog, he opened some cans of food, he met some people, I almost fell asleep in my car and drove off the road. (Not really.) Then came the misogyny... I don't think you can have a midcentury science fiction book without women asking stupid questions or being patronized by the male protagonist, the male author, or both. Em (M?) was a mother and that was her WHOLE job (said by the author!), she didn't think ahead, she was emotional rather than logical, oh my god. I wanted to return it to Audible and buy something worth my time, but I'd gotten through a fair bit by that point, and I figured I'd just keep on going.
And I'm glad I did. While the first half of the book wasn't at all memorable, the second half was fantastic. Ish and Em settle down in uninhabited Berkeley or Oakland, and the story follows them and the tribe they create for the next forty or fifty years. This stuff is novel. (So was the post-apocalyptic stuff when it was written, but that's been done to death in subsequent years.) Stewart is a pretty genius writer, and he seems to have thought of everything, from the ecological consequences of humans' near-extinction, to the failure of utilities and machines, to strangers, to -- and this part was really what made this a good book -- how human culture changes to suit its environment, and how things get forgotten. If we suddenly reverted to a hunter-gatherer society, would we lose the ability to read? Would guns, unreliable due to mechanical failure or aging ammunition, become a toy while reliable bows and arrows became grown-up tools? I don't know anything about George Stewart, but I suspect that he had more than a passing interest in sociology, and that's where Earth Abides really shines.
All right, maybe that's a little harsh. I know my fair share of neckbeards, though, and Andy Weir brings them to mind in a bad way. The main character, Mark, would say something like, "Yaaaay!" and I'd just cringe. It's not that that's really something that a character like Mark wouldn't say; it's that the author perfectly captures the slightly self-conscious, pretty-sure-I'm-saying-something-extremely-witty speech patterns of people who do too much talking on the internet. And judging from the wooden portrayals of all of the other characters, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't intentional.
I did like the story, though. One of the author's strengths is his thoroughness and education, and his ability to explain concepts to lay people. There is a LOT of detail here. The main character works out plans, explains the details and occasionally the math, and as readers we get to see the results. For example, he goes into how you'd make water if you only have hydrogen and oxygen at your disposal. He also explains his plans to grow potatoes on Mars, and calculates his potential yield and how many days the food will last him. The author is constantly throwing challenges at Mark and having Mark solve those problems in a way that is both realistic and avoids sounding like a deus ex machina to people without a lot of science education.
Heavy editing. There's no jumping from one event to the other. If something happens, it has to be described in excruciating detail. Trips up and down the mountain, ceremonies, inane conversations, there was just no end to it. And the characters nod and shake their heads so much it's a wonder they don't get so dizzy they fall off the mountain. More tightly written, this could have been a really good book.
Normally I like him. I enjoyed The Terror, and Hyperion is one of my favorite books. I don't think I'd sit through another Dan Simmons audio book, though. It was way too long and the format tends to highlight narrative and stylistic problems, of which there were many.
Overacting. Incredulity. He made me really hate the protagonist, Jake, who would have been annoying enough in text, but the inflections he gave Jake, particularly when Jake couldn't believe something, just made Jake sound like a smarmy know-it-all. He also over-enunciated to the point that it made his narration very slow. His voice wasn't bad, nor were the accents, and it was always pretty obvious who was talking, but the bad parts were so irritating that they outshone all of that.
A significant amount, maybe about half the book. The ceremony before the sky burial, at least 70% of the getting-ready part, the entire post-mountain ending bit that was narrated by Jake.
While this did not contribute to my dislike of the book, its title is misleading. Dan Simmons is a fairly well-known horror author, and to title his book in such a way as to imply a monster, when that title refers to something else entirely, is a pretty cheap marketing ploy.
Overall I'm glad I listened to it. It wasn't a bad story! It just dragged way too much, particularly given the poor narration.
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