Dane St John has crafted a well written tale of the unintended consequences of sleep elimination. In a present day world, a drug, Vigorex, has been developed that eliminates the biological need for sleep. Due to the drug's popularity, an illicit drug trade flourishes as well. Multiple seemingly independent characters are followed with a slow and gradual coalescing of their interactions. Attention is focused on each character that creates a genuine sense of intimacy and identification. The writing is sharp and extremely literary in style.
The sci-fi elements are limited solely to the drug itself and the science underlying its basis which is reasonable. The only detriment to the story is the large infodump quite near the end that fills in and ties together some critical background information, but interrupts overall flow. In addition, the author displays a lack of or simply ignores fundamental understanding of how the FDA and academic medicine operate. In other words, it's unlikely that a police officer would be the first to divine the drug's side effects.
The narration is remarkable with a great range of voices, both gender and ethnic. Pacing is excellent and the tone and mood of the narrator matches the story.
Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is a grim, depressing tale of well laid plans and good intentions going horribly awry. Snowman / Jimmy narrates an account of multiple, unrelated genetic engineering attempts to improve man combined with unchecked global warming leading to unsustainability for the human race. Jimmy, who may be the last remaining human lives with "meta-humans" that represent various attempts to overcome increasingly hostile conditions, relates the history in a series of flashbacks. Jimmy chronicles all the missteps along the way that caused the eventual plague that brought mankind low. While Jimmy was not directly involved, he peripherally participated.
The sci-fi elements mostly relate to genetic engineering that forms the bulk of intentional human transformation. The broader theme of the tale is one of powerful technology colliding with more traditional human response to change. The Luddites and anti-Luddites combine in a toxic soup that spells disaster for mankind resulting a world populated with semi-intelligent, but physically adapted proto-humans and Jimmy. There is nothing upbeat about the tale; man's hubris is simply on display.
The narration is quite well done given that the whole story is itself written in the narration mode.
Z2135 picks up several months after Z2134 left off. This installment is presented as season 2 with a made for TV feel of "episodes" (some ending with a bit of a cliffhanger). Most of the story revolves around the Lovecraft family with Jonah getting picked up and suborned into a ragtag band of insurrectionists. His daughter is mostly wandering the barrens with Liam trying to reconnect with her dad and his son is slowly inculcated into the police force by the creepy police chief. This "season" ends again with everyone in mortal danger again.
The sci-fi elements are in line with the first installment. More information and background is provided on the zombie origin as well as history surrounding the evolution of the current political and socioeconomic structure. The corruption and perverse natures of all the power players is on display. Jonah and his family serve the roles of willing, but unwitting pawns for players on both sides of the warring factions.
The narration is well done with a good range of voices along with excellent pacing, tone and mood.
Cibola Burn is the 4th installment of James SA Corey's Expanse series. This story opens temporally a short time after the third installment with mankind beginning to take baby steps onto the new worlds opened up at the end of book 3. In spite of the thousand worlds choices, a violent stand-off erupts between squatters and corporate interests on one world rich in minerals. The OPA and the UN decide to send John Holden to mediate (on the assumption that no one likes the guy, so he can't play favorites). While both sides turn the whole affair into a Hatfield and McCoys, Holden begins to realize that something is strange with the planet as it appears to slowly be coming back to life and not interested in making friends. Holden is forced to confront the squatters, the corporate psychotic security, and the alien planet all who seem intent on taking him out. Along the way, a few crumbs about the protomolecule makers are revealed.
In this installment, the sci-fi elements are muted relative to earlier volumes. This story has a bit of a "Heart of Darkness" theme with the idea of a return to the frontier and a wild west attitude where anything goes to enable "manifest destiny." The alien planet doesn't really offer much in the way of new concepts, but merely presents a more comprehensive view of the protomolecule makers. The pacing is well crafted with action occurring both dirtside and in space. Holden's crew each play prominent roles with a solid supporting cast of new ones. Finally, Avisarala finishes the tale with an insightful analysis of geopolitics on a solar system wide scale that portends some interesting future developments.
The narration is superb with a solid range of characters for both genders along with good attention to mood and tone.
Out of the Black "sorta" completes Evan Currie's Odyssey One series. Sorta because while there is some closure to the action initiated in the first 3 installments, there is much left unanswered. Book 4 picks up where #3 left off, with Weston having crashed landed on Earth during the Drasin invasion. The action begins with solid, but somewhat mundane battle scenes that offered little in the way for new relative to earlier installments. Weston proves himself an able land tactician, while the Admiral is off world lamenting trading the Confederation's secret weapons in exchange for powerful Priminae spaceships. When all seems lost and Weston announces the cavalry is not coming, you just know they are going to come.
There is little in the way of new technology. The Gaia "thing" plays a greater role, but without explanation, although allusions are made to the similar, but obscure Priminae entity. Nothing new is added in terms of origins, of either the Drasin or the non-Earth humans. This is a straight up save the planet even if they have to destroy it tale. At the same time, many of the new supporting characters (the president, the ex-marine, NYPD female cop, etc.) were portrayed as caricatures and stereotypes with little reader engagement. Future installments have lots of options to explore, but if this becomes an endless war, this "Star Trek-like" universe will get boring rather quickly.
The narration is solid with a good range of voices. Pacing and mood are appropriate. Changing narrators in a series; however, is poor planning and should reflect badly on the production company; please avoid doing this if at all possible.
Andersen's The Dark Between the Stars begins 20 years after the finale of the Seven Suns Saga. Many of the major characters from the last saga are back with a whole host of new participants. This saga is done in the same style as the previous with each chapter focused on a specific major character (which totals to several dozen at least). While the intervening 20 years has been somewhat peaceful and idyllic, dark forces are gathering with the Illdyran boogeyman, the ShanaRa appearing as a manifestation of fundamental physics, but fearful of an even greater, more powerful, but unknown threat along with a new mysterious alien race.
The sci-fi elements are pretty much in line with the last saga, although the new variations of intelligent lifeforms are even more exotic than the prior earth, air, fire, and water manifestations. Andersen is a master of the space opera, but of a more workingman's / blue collar variety. His characters are both endearing and quite engaging. Prior familiarity with the last saga is most useful for adequate background for the carry-overs. While there is a tremendous degree of plot development, book 1 ends abruptly with multiple irons in the fire.
The last saga used two different narrators (both excellent), but this time out, a 3rd narrator is utilized. The narration is well done with a great range of voices, both male and female. The mood and pacing are expertly rendered which provides a steady even flow to an above average audiobook length.
Enoch the Traveler is a short story based in a biblically themed universe that respects a scientific basis for laws of nature as opposed to vague, ill-defined mystical magical powers. In this universe (and there are multiple iterations - the multiverse), Heaven and its celestial inhabitants exist as a corporate, bureaucratic, mundane "adjustment bureau: like entity keeping things moving along.
In this tale, Enoch, the biblical character, is a vagabond wanderer who accidentally becomes involved with a blissfully ignorant human, Violette. The story is a series of short, dangerous and exciting adventures as Violette is exposed and comes to appreciate her new reality in a Dorothy in Oz style rendition. The sci-fi elements are muted with a few odd gadgets as well as restrained attempts to explain theological aspects in scientific terms.
Narration is in the style of a performance, rather than a more straightforward reading. There are multiple narrators, one for each unique character along with background sound effects which can either be enhancing or distracting depending on preferences. This is a short, quick listen, best absorbed in a single sitting.
On the Steel Breeze is the 2nd installment of Alastair Reynolds' Poseidon's Children trilogy. While the focus is still with the Akinya clan, this is the next generation with Chiku Akinya, Sunday's child splitting herself into multiple entities and sharing memories. This trick allows Reynolds to craft two simultaneous stories, one in our solar system and the 2nd on a "holoship" heading towards a distant star system. Improvements on rejuvenation technology permit this story to be technologically advanced relative to Blue Remembered Earth.
Basically, an alien artifact around a distant star has spawned a caravan of holoships, hollowed out asteroids transporting millions of humans to what is expected to be a newly formed world. Mysteries surrounding the alien artifact around Crucible drive the plot with both Chikus doing all the digging while avoiding the nefarious interference of an artificial machine intelligence with vague, ill-defined motives.
Sadly, while the writing is engaging with excellent pacing and solid character development, there are serious deficits that render much of the action inscrutable at times. For example, the holoships take off for Crucible and use their supply of slow down fuel to achieve more speed and arrive quicker, but without a way to insert into orbit on arrival. The politics on the holoship and the caravan as a whole are inadequately detailed and so the prohibition on research to figure out a way to slow down simply doesn't make sense. As with the 1st installment, the fascination with aquatic biological engineering doesn't fit with an outer space themed environment. Also, Reynolds liked the character of Eunice so much that he created a machine intelligent clone of her, hidden away on the holoship overseeing intelligent elephants which made little sense other than adding some dramatic action scenes and a setup for volume 3. Finally, the denouement with a pseudo-computer virus resetting Earth, seemed a bit like the TV Batman series with a unique, one time utility belt day-saving gadget.
The narration is well done with an excellent range of voices, with appropriate tone and mood. The musical interludes that separate the different Chikus was also much appreciated. Finally, one observation, not a criticism, just an observation: the story has the sense that Reynolds took a bet, a dare, or even a voluntary challenge to write a story where every major character (even including the elephants and machines) is female.
Ransom Stephens' The God Patent is a unique sub-genre of sci-fi. There's no actual science fictional elements as much as an attempt to create a fictional universe where current science aligns more closely with religion. Two young engineers on a whim submit two patent applications that basically outline a computer neural net that displays free will and an energy extraction method that parallels the big bang. These concepts are interpreted by the religiously inclined to mimic the creation of a soul (the neural net) along with the conversion of spiritual energy to usable energy in the real world (the bang). Much attention is paid to attempting to harmonize story concepts to the existing understanding of physics.
At the same time, the story mostly concerns itself with the two engineers as we follow one life on the upswing and the other in a grand mal death spiral. Along the way, are the ambulance chasing lawyer, religious zealots, an atheistic scientist, and the Einstein level wunderkind. The plot is engaging with a good flow and realistically portrayed characters along with a reasonable insertion of corporate, government, and media suits. Sadly, none of the characters are endearing by the end, but probably the only bit of sci-fi is the cosmic justice and universal irony. One can just imagine the impetus for the tale was a late night, substance enhanced party with undergraduate physics majors taking a bet on hypothesizing alignment between science and religion.
The narration is well done with a solid range of voices for both genders as well as young and old.
The Stars, Like Dust is the 2nd installment Asimov's Empire series, but sufficiently loosely connected to be a standalone rendition. Briefly, the tale takes place in the far distant future with current Earth history a distant memory. Star travel has been mastered and planetary systems are largely settled with humanoid intelligent life. Earth and the rest of the local inhabited worlds are under the tyrannical rule of distant overlords.
The plot revolves around a young man whose father, a fellow of considerable economic significance, has been murdered. The son embarks on a journey to discover the truth which leads to political intrigue and hints of rebellion. The sci-fi elements are limited to interstellar travel, a "radiation" bomb which was probably the concept for neutron bombs, and "massometers" which can detect gravitational fields. While all this seems rather simplistic, this was released in 1951.
The narration is excellent with a solid range of voices, appropriate pacing, and good tone and mood. While the story is short by current sci-fi standards, the plot is still quite engaging and rich in complexity.
Stross' Neptune's Brood is set in the same universe, but further into the future as Saturn's Children. Humans have come and gone multiple times. but their robot creations have carried on, recapitulating human ambitions and drive with regard to exploration, settlement, and establishment of organizational structure throughout the galaxy. Stross explores the financial requirements necessary to support interstellar colonization and development as well as the resulting potential for fraud, corruption, and get-rich-quick schemes, including a variant of the classical Ponzi scheme. The story concerns a lowly bank examiner for a large money center bank who also happens to have a hobby focusing on archaeological accountancy (basically digging up long forgotten financial transaction to collect any leftover booty). Her travels take her on an adventure that is engaging and entertaining as well as thought provoking.
The sci-fi elements are mostly android abstractions with multiple unique and clever implementations that allow robots to survive in strange environments. Stross also explores the impact of longer (centuries) survival times. The various plot twists and turns are largely unexpected with a varied cast of anthropomorphic robots that make up a wonderful cast of characters ensemble.
The narration is very well done with a solid range of characters that correctly captures nuance and subtlety.
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