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David

Chicago, IL, United States
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Overall solid with one or two shortfalls.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-30-19

I honestly skipped a chunk if Gary's Children as it's the kind of sci-fi/horror story that always got on my nerves back when I used to watch the Twilight Zone. Someone is cursed/goes mad for no apparent reason, or possibly an insufficiently justified one, other than a random encounter with a mysterious individual. There is no pay off, no resolution, and despite the character's best efforts to rectify the percieved moral deficiencies that led to their downfall, continues to suffer to the end of the story and beyond. These stories always leave me wondering what the goddamn point was. Sure, it's awful to imagine being subjected to torment without hope of explanation or reprieve. That's the point of Kafka's, "The Trial." But so many horror stories are essentially that, but instead of an oppressive, totalitarian regime, it's ghosts, which, due to their inexplicable nature, feels like it robs the tale of any gravity or meaning because it's magic of some kind and you can't really analyze or ask questions about it because it's goddamn magic and there's no reasoning with it by definition.

That said, I enjoyed the rest of the book overall, with "Aliens Ruined Our Kegger" (or was it "Crashed Our Kegger?") being a personal favorite. Hayes has a way of writing solid antagonists that can, in the right context, be highly sympathetic, and when the way in which that dynamic can be reframed in a moment can have a powerful impact on the listener, contextualizing previous events and undermining the reader's assumptions. I won't go into any more detail than that in order to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say I had a GREAT time listening to that story.

Bottom line, if you like any of the authors presented here, you should pick up this collection.

I really wanted to like this book.

Overall
1 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-07-19

I’m a huge LitRPG fan, so this book seemed like it was right in my wheelhouse.

Unfortunately, it’s awful. The characters are uninteresting, the mechanic by which they wind up living in a game iscontribed st it’s best, and the book never really engaged me.

The audiobook opens in what is essentially a microcosm of the work as a whole. The author declares himself to be the father of the LitRPG genre, despite it having been around for years before the aithor’s first book was published. And that’s really the book itself in a nutshell, a work that thinks far too highly of itself but never lives up to the standard it claims to set.

Nick Podehl is in top form, as always. Damn shame he’s stuck reading this mess. Skip this book. Read NPC’s by Drew Hayes or Orcanomics by J. Zachary Pike. Both are far superior works.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful

If you are the sort to be offended by things...

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-20-18

...then you probably shouldn’t read this book. It is very funny, satirical, and engaging, but none of that matters if you’re the sort of person who tends to be offended by things, as this book will doubtless offend you.

For everyone else, you should definitely buy this book. There are some authors who should never read their own work. Nothing makes a Stephen King story less frightening that having it read to you by the author who has what is probably the least frightening voice ever committed to recorded media outside of a children’s cartoon. That said, Axol O’Lerpler is not such an author. Like Neil Gaiman, his work is enhanced by the author’s reading. A lot of his jokes would fall flat if read by someone else. His inflection and timing enhance the work extensively.

This book is charmingly offensive. Full marks. Buy it.

Brilliant satire

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-11-18

As a DnD-playing, RPG-loving dork of the highest order, I feel I can appreciate this book on a number of levels that may not be readily apparent to a reader who does not share my background, but that should not stop any such person from picking up this book. It is brilliant satire whether you catch the more obscure jokes and references or not.

I don’t typically write reviews because I’m alternately busy or lazy (depending on the day) but this book is too good to let it pass unremarked upon. If you’ve gotten as far as reading the reviews, then you should buy this book. Hilarious, clever, moving, and thrilling.

Some of the best erotica I've ever read

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-05-16

Have you ever watched porn and thought to yourself, "You know, this could really use a plot. A good one. With interesting characters. Maybe a narrative arc or some kind of larger philosophical issue to wrestle with." No? Fine. Apparently that's just me. But you should still read this book.

The main thing you need to know about the plot is that Alex interrupts a ritual meant to bind an angel and a demon to a mortal and, in attempting to rescue them from what he believes to be rape and murder, winds up getting hit with the spell, thus binding the two entities to him. Sounds like a kind of Three's Company series of wacky misunderstandings and confusion, complete with catty sniping between the two inhumanly beautiful female leads (in this book, not Three's Company). What you wind up with is a surprisingly moving story of two beings who transcend what they were made to be and discover what they are capable of becoming. At least, when everyone isn't having sex with everyone else.

Some have criticized this book for being adolescent male wish-fulfillment. Their arguments are not without merit. My initial impression was that the book would be nothing but an orgy (pun intended) of adolescent sexual fantasies. Especially when the characters kept going at it, in pornographic detail, and having endless, universally wonderful, multi-orgasmic sex. So much sex that I often found myself thinking, "Doesn't anyone need to re-hydrate? Or rest? Because I'm fairly certain you should all have friction burns at this point."

In the interest of confronting this directly, here are several things in the book that are in keeping with the view of the book as adolescent male fantasy: A succubus (the demon in question) can increase her prey/master's stamina and sex drive allowing for almost constant sex. When attached to a succubus, one cannot contract an STD or get anyone pregnant without meaning to, thus eliminating the need for condoms or other barriers. The subject also becomes more attractive to others, in addition to becoming objectively more attractive. As a result, women are lining up (almost but not quite literally) to have sex with him, including the girl he's had a crush on for years.

There's more, I'm certain, but you can see where this is going and I feel like the point is made. That is an element of this book. That said, after the initial realization that this was happening, I found myself caring less and less. Given the extent to which the paradigm is present in the story, it would take a lot to overwhelm this impression and allow me to enjoy the story. But Elliott Kay manages to pull it off.

For starters, Alex, as a character, has a lot of ethical concerns when first finding himself in this situation, and makes an effort to ensure that no one gets hurt, either physically or emotionally. Most people, given absolute rule over another, particularly a beautiful sex demon, and the means with which to go about having sex with just about any interested party, would immediately abuse that power. I assume. It's not like I can speak from experience.

But Alex maintains his humility and humanity throughout the book, frequently expressing the concern that he may one day turn into a womanizing douche bag. He communicates to all of his partners that he is, in fact, seeing someone other than them, that he's not looking for anything exclusive, and that he wants to make sure they're comfortable with that fact. If you're familiar at all with the concept of polyamory or open relationships, you may recognize that this hits all the right ethical notes many (though not all) members of the community hold. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am in an open relationship, and have been for a few years, so my perspective on whether or not it is possible for such an arrangement to be ethical in the first place is likely different than most people's. Nevertheless, if you can accept that ethical polyamory CAN exist, then you shouldn't find yourself too hindered by the way in which the protagonist goes about it.

In addition, there are a number of female characters who, while introduced as sexual partners for the protagonist, become much more than that, particularly two witches who are not only instrumental in the conflict that develops throughout the story, but who do more to advance the plot and develop the world of the story than the protagonist.

Please note that I use the term "partners," not "conquests," as there is genuine affection and mutual respect between the parties involved. Neither is using the other or misrepresenting themselves as desiring something more than the assignation to which the two have agreed. This may not make a difference to you, ethically speaking, but it does to me. One could argue that the ethical nature of these encounters is compromised by the succubus's magic, but this is something the book eventually addresses. I can't recall the exact nature of the explanation, but it was something along the lines of confidence being the main difference in Alex, not any kind of psychic Spanish fly. It was something reminiscent of the whole Wizard of Oz, "You had the power to go home all along," rubbish, only instead of forcing the protagonist to risk life and limb only to reveal it after the "good" witch has used the unwitting dupe to bump off her competition, it is here used to assuage the protagonist's own conscience surrounding the lifestyle he's leading.

I would also argue that Alex's emotional attitude, his feelings and concern for his partners, represents a level of maturity that I think would be lacking in a story that was nothing more than a fantasy about a guy going out and getting laid without consequences. And while they are not the usual ones, there are most definitely consequences.

Combined with that, the plot, and there is one, is quite interesting, particularly in the way it presents Heaven and Hell, the conflict between their forces, and the limited agency each side has. However, I think the plot is where I would level my greatest criticism of the book. It takes a good half of the book for the plot to get started. Not for the plot to pick up speed, but for it to really start moving forward from the initial setup. Prior to that point, I frequently wondered if the book was going anywhere or if it was intent upon spinning its wheels on a series of largely disconnected sex scenes.

Speaking of which, the sex scenes are really well written. If you've ever read a letter to Penthouse, you know what a terribly written sex scene sounds like. If you've read anything by Richard K. Morgan, you can probably recall a few very descriptive and well-imagined sex scenes. It's the difference between a pornographic film directed by someone pointing a camera at two people having sex to some redundant dance music and one directed by someone with an artistic flair and sense of timing, someone who teases out the foreplay, displays the emotional lives of the characters, heightens the various climactic moments of the film with close ups on the faces of the participants, dramatic swells of music, a flash of someone's fingernails running down their partner's back, etc. It's this kind of distinction that separates stripping from burlesque. You can see (or in this case hear) a difference between the two, and it is remarkable.

Or perhaps that's all down to Tess Irondale's amazing performance. Seriously, I cannot, as an actor, imagine having to make all those sexual vocalizations over and over while standing alone in a small, soundproof box. I feel like after a while it would get tiresome or I'd start phoning them in out of my own incredulity. But Irondale is most impressive, particularly the way her reading of the narration would shift subtly depending on the mood of a given scene. I know it'll never happen, but Irondale deserves an embarrassingly prestigious acting award for her performance in this book.

Ultimately, yes, there is a lot of standard cis hetero male wish fulfillment in the book. That much cannot be ignored. But in spite of its prominence in the narrative, the book is still worth reading and sufficiently engaging that I've purchased the sequel, Natural Consequences, and will be starting that as soon as I'm finished writing this. My only hope for that book would be to dial back on the admittedly enjoyable sex scenes. I'm not saying the author needs to lose them, but there need to be fewer of them so that the plot and the characters have a little more room to breathe.

If all of this sounds like the sort of racy, funny, and well-told story you'd enjoy, you should not hesitate to pick up this book. If you read this far only so you could justify your personal level of outrage, I'm told Joel Osteen does a great job reading his own pablum. There are over twenty different titles to choose from. Go in peace. To everyone else, have fun, but be sure to practice safe listening. Wear headphones. ;)

Funny & clever but with much room for improvement

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-16-16

I won't say I didn't like this book, but I felt like it could have been a lot better.

First, the cast of dwarves is large enough to be confusing and at no point early on did I feel like I got much in the way of distinction between them. As a result, I was left trying to follow a largely generic group distinguished only by name and little else to tell them apart, with the possible exception of Ruby whose acerbic demeanor did much to set her apart. While the narrator did a lot to distinguish them vocally, their roles and personalities seems fairly interchangeable.

Second, the reader, while clearly talented and possessed of an excellent voice, narrated the events with a persistently upbeat tone that made it hard to distinguish between positive and negative circumstances. I often found myself wondering if something terrible happening to a character was supposed to be funny or if it wasn't a big deal due to some detail I had missed. Regardless, every problem, every set piece, every event of this story was rendered flat by this uniform tone.

The book itself is clever, and once I reached the last quarter of the book, I felt somewhat more engaged by the events taking place, though still confused at times for the above mentioned reasons. Russell clearly has a solid grounding in fantasy and D&D-like role playing games. He frequently makes jokes about gaming conventions and tropes that reflect both intelligence and cleverness. But due to the similarities among the dwarves, I found myself largely indifferent to their actions, and prior to their reaching the innermost realms of the dungeon, I felt like the various challenges they faced were less suspenseful or narratively interesting. Instead, they were included so as to demonstrate how an experienced and well-prepared group might make a concerted effort to clear your typical D&D-style dungeon. In fact, it gave me several ideas for any future D&D or Pathfinder campaigns in which I participate that, while now seeming obvious, had never occurred to me before. This is Russell's genius, these observations and puzzle solutions that makes so much sense but never occur to the typical RPG gamer (or at least, not to this gamer or any of his friends).

Ultimately, I will likely follow Russell's work and, indeed, I have great hopes for his future books. And I would gladly give Kells another shot as a narrator. As I said, he is talented. But I feel this book is one you can skip and miss little. If you have nothing else on your radar and you're jonesing for a fantasy comedy book, this will likely fill that need. However, I would recommend, if you haven't already heard them, that you check out Drew Hayes' book NPC's and, if you like that one, its sequel, Split the Party, which I'm about to listen to for the second time.

2 of 5 people found this review helpful

Ready Player One Redux: Still Worth It

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-17-15

The elevator speech: Zack is a high school student (much like Ready Player One's Wade) who is into all kinds of scifi nerdery (like Wade), which puts him in a unique position to save the world (just like Wade). If that sentence makes you think I'm going to suggest you skip this book, then you are likely the sort of person who, when they gave you that test in school that said, very pointedly, to read ALL the instructions before starting, actually went through all the complex steps listed before arriving at the final instruction, which told you to ignore all the other instructions.

Cline is not reinventing the American novel. He's not even reinventing the Ernest Cline-ian novel. But to some extent that's why I like it, even if it is also the thing I'm most willing to criticize him for. It strikes the same chord in me that RPO did. It calls back to all the pop cultural miscellany I grew up with. I need no explanation when the protagonist refers to the voice of the computer in "Flight of the Navigator" or that someone has come to, "kick ass and chew bubble gum." And I immediately know where the protagonist is coming from when he describes the challenge of picking a course and a career before he's even graduated and not particularly liking any of his options. In the normal world, this is how you wind up working a 9-5 office job that doesn't interest you but pays the bills and doesn't require you to show up on weekends. In the writings of Ernest Cline, it's how you become a hero.

Ernest Cline's writing resonates with an entire generation of people who never found a place in the world that offered them the chance to make a life out of the things that mattered to them. Sure, you could argue that gamers can always learn to code and become game designers, or that Star Wars fans can go into film. Anyone who loved watching Star Trek can learn to make television and create the next Star Trek. Well, not the next one. They've made that. And the two after that. And the one after that that was actually before all of that. You'd have to make the next next next next next Star Trek. *does math on fingers* Yeah. That should be right.

But that's exactly the kind of suggestion that was made to me when I was Zack's age. And it's the equivalent of telling someone who loves reading books that they can write one. As most people reading this will realize, that's crap. I'm willing to bet some of you could or even have written a book. Or several. Personally, I tried. It didn't go well. By the time I gave up and closed the word processing program I was using, not bothering to save the document containing an indentation and several aborted opening sentences, the little blinking cursor had burned itself into my retinas, and its ghost proceeded to mock me for the rest of the day.

There is a sense of alienation that comes from feeling as though, despite the fact that you're speaking the same language, the people around you can't begin to fathom what you're saying. Why wouldn't you want to be a game designer? Well, as Zack points out, you might suck at code and have no digital art skills. You may have ideas, but ideas need expression, and at no point in the development of higher education did we ever think to put together a method for finding a comfortable creative outlet.

We are a generation that fell in love with imagination. Unfortunate rhyme aside, we grew up dreaming of other worlds, of new and strange creatures, and of pivotal moments where the efforts of one person could shift the tide of history. We are Generation Nerd, and Ernest Cline is our Chaucer.

Throughout Armada, I found a duality of impulses raging inside me, a good fanboy and an evil fanboy. For simplicity, you can imagine them as the archetypal angel and devil that appear on either shoulder in classic cartoons. For instance, Good Fanboy would marvel at the attention given to an argument between two secondary characters over the greatest fantasy weapon of all time (Sting or Mjolnir). Evil Fanboy that no two nerds would ever get into such a stupidly imagined and contrived argument, especially without even considering the glaive from Krull. Yes it's impractical but that just means it takes more skill to wield and is therefore EVEN MORE AWESOME! IT IS A WEAPON SO STUPID IT'S BRILLIANT! Evil Fanboy would start yelling that there is NO WAY that Zack could be the sixth highest ranked player in a global MMO without playing the game for hours a day to the exclusion of all else including sleep and basic bodily functions. Good Fanboy would then counter that, while true of all MMO's WE'VE ever played, that doesn't mean it's how these things SHOULD work. This is an imagined story, so why not imagine a better game?

There is one thing I will fault Cline for in this book. And like so many criticisms, it has to do with the pop culture references. Yes, they are one of the things I LOVED about the story, but they don't fit quite as well into this story as they did in RPO. Zack never knew his father, who died when he was still an infant, so he's invested a great deal of time rummaging through the stored possessions of the late patriarch, which are loaded with VHS cassettes, mix tapes, and video game miscellany, thus allowing an 18 year-old in the year 2018 to be well versed in the pop culture of a preceding generation. It's a beautiful coat Cline's sewing (complete with a mix tape track listing at the end), but it just doesn't fit on this story. In addition, there are moments when the references get a little heavy-handed. Cline might describe Zack's impressions of a thing, such as a hangar full of combat drones, by referencing Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and The Last Starfighter in quick succession (yes this specific example actually happens). There are also moments when the references feel forced, as if the situation to which they're being applied isn't quite apt, though I can't think of one off the top of my head.

Despite this rather glaring fault, I can't say I was too put off by it. I enjoyed this story. I'm hoping Cline moves away from stories that essentially function as pop culture delivery vehicles, but for now, I'm still having fun. If you liked Ready Player One, you'll enjoy this book as well. It's not as good as his first novel, but if you're looking some light summer fare, it's a hell of a lot better than any of those paperbacks you're likely to find at the airport, which I'm convinced no one ever actually reads. They just fill space in carry-ons and help you sleep on the flight or the beach. Then again, maybe that's just me. I've listened to Ready Player One several times. While I can't say I'm likely to do that with Armada, I don't regret putting time into it, and I enjoyed that time immensely.

6 of 12 people found this review helpful

Good information poorly presented

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-13-15

The author, Karen Oslund, clearly knows what she's talking about where Iceland is concerned. There are many facts put forward in this book on a number of different facets of Iceland's history and culture. However the information is presented in such a bland, factual, narrative-free manner as to make the book almost impossible to listen to. This is not helped by the fact that the narrator seems as bored reading the words as I was listening to them. The presentation is as flat on her voice as the words are on the page.

If you want to know more about Iceland, find something else. I recommend The Modern Scholar: The Norsemen, Understanding Vikings and their Culture. The lecturer is dynamic, funny, and presents a condensed history of Iceland that was so enjoyable I listened to it twice in one weekend, and parts of it three times.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

Great history meets great storytelling

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-06-15

Viking stories and history are incredibly complicated. Sagas go on for so many generations it's difficult to follow, especially if, like me, you're really bad with names. Fortunately the stories here are presented with such flair, humor, and insight as to make them all the more accessible.

A lot of scholars lack the ability to tell a story with any competency. You wind up with very dry recounting of someone who begat someone else and so on with no real feeling for the narrative arc of the story or the ability to communicate the plot in a compelling manner. Prof. Drout, however, is so personable and and honest in his enthusiasm for the material one cannot help but be sucked in by it. He is strongly reminiscent of some of my favorite professors. They were the kind whose unmitigated joy and love for the material would pull you in such that you could not help being carried away along with them.

In preparing for trip Iceland I listened to a number of books and lectures on the country and its history. From all of them I gained only a small fraction of what I got from this single source. If you had any interest in the stories and history of Scandinavia, I strongly recommend checking out this lecture series.

Not a great thriller, not a great zombie book

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-06-14

This book is a long series of cliches and stock characters. It never goes anywhere new or does anything particularly interesting withing the two genres it tries to span, spy thrillers and zombie stories.

As spy books go, it's pretty dull. Standard plot centering on (this is all presented pretty early in the book, so I'm not spoiling anything) Islamic fundamentalists bent on waging jihad with zombies created by a massive drug company that hopes to get crazy rich selling anti-zombie drugs even though it's clearly already very prosperous. But the billionaire owner just has to be a trillionaire, even though that means killing most of the world, because reasons.

The biggest suspense point in the story was the identity of the traitor in the group of mercenary heroes, but when the reveal came, I didn't care. None of the characters mattered much to me as they were little more fleshed out than the nicknames the protagonist gives them.

There are some good action sequences that are well described, no easy feat, and Ray Porter does a great job making the various characters distinct. In the end though, it just wasn't worth the time it took to listen.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful