There are some very cool ideas in this third installment in the METAtropolis short story collection, but the authors got less disciplined here and there are some stories that seem to be phoned in. On top of that, the very famous scifi actors who narrated the first two installments have been replaced by some sub-par narrators who were almost annoying to listen to. I would recommend this collection only to the hard-core scifi readers who are here for the ideas, for there are some extremely cool ideas here despite the mediocre plots, same-old characters and confusing story arcs.
I’ll review each story separately. Here there be (minor) spoilers . . .
Rock of Ages, by Jay Lake. Narrators: Mark Boyette, Dion Graham, Robin Miles. As the METAtropolis franchise moves farther and farther into its imagined future, it would be nice if Jay Lake would also move forward. The explanation for extending Bashar’s life (he is around 150 years old in this story) is complicated and does not really fit in with the rest of the METAtropolis mythos. I could get over that, if there were some really good reason to keep Bashar around, but I don’t think there is. It’s like the author couldn’t be bothered to come up with a new character. Stretching the reader’s credulity further, the author makes the super-centenarian Bashar the hero of a ridiculous James-Bond-type escapade. The only cool thing in this whole story was the forest that had been legally incorporated as an entity and that could speak via the Internet. To my utter disbelief, the door was left open for Bashar to survive riding an asteroid down from high earth orbit and smashing it into Seattle.
Green and Dying, by Elizabeth Bear. Narrator: Jonathan Davis. This story of a group of con men/women running a scam reminded me of an episode of Leverage (not necessarily a bad thing). The scam takes place on a “seastead,” which I imagined like an oil rig only full of condos for rich people. Unfortunately, neither the “seastead” nor the characters were particularly interesting, and the way the story unfolded was too slow. I was actually pretty bored until about halfway through when the story took a turn and seemed like it was going to tie in with some of the plagues that were mentioned in the previous story by Jay Lake, but then that connection wasn’t quite made so I was left more confused than anything else.
The Desire Lines, by Karl Schroeder. Narrator: Sanjiv Jhaveri. Refreshingly, this story was set in a new place—the Amazon rain forests of Peru/Brazil—and featured people of color as the protagonists. And, since it was written by the ever inventive Karl Schroeder, it featured some of the most mind-meltingly awesome futuristic ideas in this entire collection. Again, we are treated to a forest that has a mind of its own, but there are also corporations with really interesting ideas about how to fix a broken environment. One scientist even theorizes that she could revise the ecology so that none of the animals had to kill in order to survive! The narrator was amazing at doing different accents for all the different characters, but for some reason when he was doing straight prose narration, his cadence was so sing-song that it was actually hard to listen to.
Midway Bells & Dying Breeds, by Seanan McGuire. Narrator: Jennifer Van Dyck. The protagonist of this story has grown up as part of a very large, extended family that runs a travelling circus, a remnant of an earlier time that has survived into this high-tech future. Her main job is to steer a huge dinosaur (created like they were in Jurassic Park) to which the circus tethers its floating (?) ferris wheel. Okay, I’ll admit I’m a little fuzzy on what the dino was actually doing. Mostly, we are treated to descriptions of how it oh-so-slow-ly munches its way through the forest. The story could be read as an examination of what happens when things live on past their original expiration date, but rather than taking this opportunity to have the characters debate the merits of resurrecting long-extinct species or the need to continue old traditions, the plot degenerated into the protagonist and the Big Boss of the circus whining about their personal love-hate relationship like adolescents rather than two adults discussing different world views. The “resolution” of their differences was definitely the kind of half-baked, impulsive solution that a teenager would come up with, leaving me disgusted and dissatisfied. The weakest story in the bunch, this seemed like it was originally written for some other reason and then gerrymandered (I’ll add some high-tech circus tents that pack and unpack themselves!) to fit into this collection.
Tensegrity, by Tobias S. Brickell. Narrator: Scott Brick. The possibilities of future tech and social advances were the highlights of this story. A giant, three-mile-in-circumference, concrete city floats into the stratosphere. AIs “govern” small city-states automagically, making most of the pesky day-to-day decisions and leaving us humans to pursue our passions. “Murder” is redefined. I liked that this story tied in better with the rest of the METAtropolis world and the overall story arc. Scott Brick, always amazing!
Forest of Memories, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Narrator: Allyson Johnson. This was my favorite of the bunch, mainly because it was written with a unique point-of-view. The protagonist is telling her story to someone else who has evidently paid her to tell it. In this future where nearly everyone and everything is wired 24-7, for a crucial several days, the protagonist’s connectivity was cut. Of course something mysterious and untoward happened to her during that time, and now she has only her memories and no independent verification of the facts. Wonderfully read by Allyson Johnson.
Let Me Hide Myself in Thee, by Ken Scholes. Narrators: Dion Graham, Robin Miles. This story felt like an obligatory “let’s tie up the loose ends with a nice bow” kind of thing. I give the author an “A” for effort, but could have done with a few less hand-wavium moments. (Oh! I need an action heroine! I’ll conveniently give this person who has been a desk-hugging fiscal researcher her whole life a backstory in which her unconventional parents forced her to learn to be a sniper! And she will miraculously remember this skill 20 years later!)
I first read this book when I was a very young girl, and it is amazing how much of it I recalled upon re-reading it 40 years later. Certainly, the details have faded from my memory, but as I listened to the audiobook (given a glorious reading by Tim Curry) I felt myself transported to my early childhood. I felt again the fascination for geology, paleontology and archeology this book and other similar ones engendered in me. For the book is a veritable encyclopedia of vocabulary and theories from these disciplines. No matter that many of the concepts are outdated, any young person with an interest in the sciences would find the tale of the “savant” Professor Lidenbrock, his fearful nephew Axel and their intrepid guide Hans fascinating. I recall looking up many of the words in a dictionary as I read, and am certain that this book played a key role in my lifelong interest in science and science fiction.
This is one of those biographies that, once you hear about it, you can’t believe it took this long for someone to write. Who knew Alexandre Dumas was of black African ancestry? Not me! Who knew his father was the definition of a swashbuckler IRL? Who knew that France emancipated blacks decades before Great Britain and the US? I learned something new practically on every page of this outstanding account. I learned about slavery in the French-held islands of the Caribbean, about the French Revolution, about why all those people were getting guillotined, about the Napoleonic Wars . . . so many things that my high school and college history classes never covered. And all of it told in a fast-paced, fascinating narrative that entertained as much as it informed. A top-notch read, highly recommended.
[I listened to this as an audio book read impeccably well by Paul Michael]
I think a lot of people will pick up this novella thinking it is science fiction, and be disappointed. It does take a bit of current science (lots of people nowadays have trouble sleeping, need to take sleep aid drugs) and extrapolates (what if all the sleep aid drugs stopped working and people started dying due to lack of sleep?) but that extrapolation goes in a completely unexpected direction.
Most scifi authors, given this premise, would spend a lot more time delving into the changes that such a “sleeplessness epidemic” would cause, such as changes to the economy or society. One book that did a pretty good job with the same concept is “Sleepless” by Charlie Huston.
But it turns out that “Sleep Donation” is more about the “donation” part of the title than it is about “sleep.” Anyone who is a professional fundraiser (my chosen profession for the past 30 years) will immediately recognize that this novella is, in fact, an insightful examination of the culture of philanthropy in this country.
The main character, Trish, works for a nonprofit where she recruits people to donate their healthy sleep in order to keep those affected with sleeplessness alive (Trish = fundraiser/major gifts officer). She tells the tragic, true story of the death of her sister over and over to convince others to donate (think of the campaigns used by those charities that want you to sponsor kids in third world countries which feature photos of starving, sick or deformed children). She discovers her bosses are not using the donations for their intended purpose (a violation of Fundraising Ethics 101). Trish is faced with two decisions: Should she continue to exploit the memory of her sister’s death to produce new donations for her nonprofit? Should she expose the fraudulent use of the donations, which could make people to stop donating, thereby indirectly causing some of the sleepless to die? (A clear parallel to recent criticisms of agencies accused of misusing donations they received for Hurricane Sandy or the earthquake in Haiti).
I have never read a novel that dealt with these issues before, and I was fascinated. Nonprofit and fundraising professionals, already familiar with such professional ethical dilemnas, will appreciate thinking about them in a new context. The general public, or at least anyone who has ever made a donation to a nonprofit, will gain a greater understanding of the complex issues that lie behind the business of philanthropy and donations.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Greta Gerwig, who did a very good job. Unfortunately, as others have noted, the editing of her performance should have allowed a beat or two of silence at the end of each chapter, but this is something I easily ignored.]
This novella was chock-full of nerd references, reminding me a lot of Ready Player One (which I loved). There are lots of IT insider jokes that I didn’t get, but plenty of other references for fanboys and fangirls of every persuasion. For instance, early in the novella two characters are described as playing “six degrees of Stanley Tucci because Kevin Bacon was too easy.” Later, when a female character breaks out a Battlestar Galactica quote, her geeky male companions try “to conceal our intense nerd arousal.”
The pop culture references never stop coming, and, as illustrated by the second example above, neither do the references to sex and porn. And while I do not use the internet to pursue either of those topics, apparently many people do. The internet apocalypse has cut off the supply of porn, and the book dedicates many pages to describing the new ways people go about satisfying their urges in its absence. If you have a problem with reading about those subjects, this might not be the book for you.
I expected the nerd references, and pretty much knew there’d be some off-color sexual content. What I did not expect was that there would be some damned good writing in between along with actual character development. The main character, who is quite likeable and serves as the reader’s guide to the internet apocalypse, slowly reveals himself to be a complex, damaged and deluded individual. Along the way, he analyzes the influence of the internet on our way of thinking in passages such as this:
“I miss the tiny dose of fame that comes from being online, where comments are tethered to content people are already reading and statuses appear instantly on your friends’ screens. There’s a comfort that comes from knowing people are already staring at the pond when you cast your pebble.”
I listened to this as an audio book performed by Paul Michael Garcia, who gave it just the right ironic tone, very reminiscent of Wil Wheaton.
The audio version of this book has an interesting forward by the author in which he explains that his book is about humanity – “Sci fi writers may write about other races, other times, and other worlds, but all these other races, times and worlds are simply metaphors to help readers achieve a better understanding of the human condition, which is what all fiction is about.” This is as good an explanation of scifi as any I have heard, and worth remembering the next time an acquaintance gives me that sideways look when I happen to mention that I like scifi.
The novella itself was interesting to me for two reasons: First, because it was set in Africa and featured mainly African characters. This is not a continent that novelists—particularly scifi novelists--use as a backdrop very often. In the interest of diversity alone, it made for an interesting setting, but it also made perfect sense to set a novel about humanity in the very spot where our species first emerged.
The second reason I found the story interesting was because, unlike much scifi, it does not raise up humans as special in the universe because of some supposedly unique, positive qualities like our ability to love or our ability to sympathize. Rather, it posits that humans will make a mark for themselves because of their uniquely ruthless and violent nature. I wouldn’t want to exclusively read books that take this negative view of humanity, but I did find Resnick’s take refreshing.
We of the Western democracies (I am a white woman from the US) tend to think that the history of mankind is one long series of achievements, wherein man has conquered obstacle after obstacle through sheer Force of Will and Manifest Destiny. What was refreshing about this book was that it examines the possiblity that many, if not all, of our so-called achievements were built on the shaky foundations of violence, exploitation and downright racism. It is a truth that people from third world countries and the “99 percent” know from bitter personal experience. I applaud Resnick for tackling this unpopular subject matter and for doing it in such a unique and understandable way.
[I listened to this as an audio book performed by Jonathan Davis, who did a very good job].
The previous book in the series, White Trash Zombie Apocalypse, was good, but in this fourth installment, the author kicked it up a notch, making this my favorite book in the series since the first one. Plenty of suspense, plus great development of some of the secondary characters, made this a really enjoyable listen. Although sex is treated a bit cavalierly, I still think this is a great series for a teenager to read. The female protagonist is a very realistically portrayed young woman, struggling to overcome several challenges and make her own way in the world. I am looking forward to the next installment.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Allison McLemore, who is fantastic]
It pains me greatly to be giving this book only 2 stars, because I think Herman Koch is a brilliant writer. In the first several chapters alone, I found dozens of passages that were flat-out genius, such as the section where he lampoons the myriad abuses to which Shakespeare’s plays are subjected by small theater companies. But I have decided to give up reading this novel after Chapter 13 for a highly personal reason: too many nitty gritty, nasty details about the human body and medical conditions. As in his previous novel, “The Dinner,” the author treats the reader to a stream-of-consciousness from within the head of the protagonist. In “Summer House,” the main character is a doctor, and when his mind goes off-topic, he nearly always reflects on the gross things a doctor has to see and do during the course of a day seeing patients. Because Koch is such a good writer, the descriptions are quite realistic and cringe-inducing, which I surmise is exactly the reaction Koch is looking for, but it is too creepy for me. If you can get beyond this “ick” factor, you may enjoy the book, but if you, like me, can barely watch an episode of “CSI” without getting grossed out, you may want to skip this book.
I remember reading this for the first time when I was in junior high. I was on a kick that involved checking out all the fattest books I could find in the school library. During this period, I know I read “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” which I liked less than the movie by the same name. I tried “War and Peace” but didn’t finish. I did read all of “Inside the Third Reich,” by Albert Speer which, now that I look back on it, I am surprised the librarian let me check out. And I read “The Count of Monte Cristo” but really didn’t remember much about it.
Now, about 40 years later, I took up this 1,000+ page narrative, only this time I was smart and got it as an audio book. I decided I wanted to read it again because my book club chose to read “The Black Count,” which is about Alexandre Dumas’ father. According to reviews of that book, General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was an inspiration for the person of the Count of Monte Cristo, so having a fresh memory of that novel seemed like it would add to my appreciation of the biography.
The Count of Monte Cristo was fantastic. It was everything an adventure story should be: sword fights, betrayals, horses galloping through the night with carriages careening behind, mistaken identities, damsels in distress, disguises, very rich characters who lose everything and very poor characters who are avenged. Though very long, I was completely engrossed for nearly the entire narrative. The writing was evocative, the descriptions vivid, and the plot intricate—every word, every scene, every character slowly building to the final chapters in which All Was Revealed. In a truly masterful manner, all the disparate plot lines were resolved and when the final words were pronounced, I was genuinely sorry the book was ended.
The audio version I listened to was unabridged (47 hours!) and read by John Lee. He did an admirable job giving the myriad characters different voices. The only distraction was the fact that his version of an Italian accent made all the Italian characters sound like Dracula. Still, I would recommend this audio version to anyone who is thinking about renewing their acquaintance with this classic text.
Eschewing his usual galaxy-spanning world building, this novel is set mainly in two eras of recent Earth history: 1989 and 1962. While Wilson is extremely talented at creating strange, alien worlds, he does not use those talents here. I didn’t feel like the eras were depicted in a very compelling way. Another difference is that rather than tell a tale of cosmic proportions, this novel is very personal and meditative. There are a few action sequences, but Wilson seems much more interested in examining the effects that time travel has on the life philosophies of the various characters. The end result is a slow moving novel that did not spark my imagination the way many of this author’s other books have.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Jonathan Davis. He was an adequate reader, but I found his pace too slow. I ended up listening at 1.5 speed and that felt perfect.]
The first third of this book was nothing but fighting, all of which felt like filler to me. I almost stopped reading . . . but then it finally got into some of the pseudo-science that I liked in the first book. I am a language nerd and enjoyed the extended explanations of the proto-Indo-Europeans and how all our languages are descended from the same roots. But I honestly don’t know if I’ll listen to the third installment in this trilogy . . . maybe if it comes out on the Audible sale rack.
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