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Greyflood

Louisville, KY
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  • Xeelee: Redemption

  • By: Stephen Baxter
  • Narrated by: Dudley Hinton
  • Length: 17 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 22
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21

Michael Poole finds himself in a very strange landscape.... This is the centre of the Galaxy. And in a history without war with the humans, the Xeelee have had time to built an immense structure here. The Xeelee Belt has a radius 10,000 times Earth's orbital distance. It is a light-year in circumference. If it was set in the solar system, it would be out in the Oort Cloud, among the comets - but circling the sun. If it was at rest, it would have a surface area equivalent to about 30 billion Earths. But it is not at rest: it rotates at near light speed.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Needed to pay closer attention...

  • By Glen Grader on 10-19-18

A Fitting Conclusion

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

Reviewed: 09-20-18

This book is the epic conclusion not only to its direct predecessor (Xeelee Vengeance) but also to Baxter’s entire Xeelee cycle. Just as in Vengeance, this book is suffused with references and name drops to Baxter’s 20+ year body of work in his main sci fi series, paying off long-time readers while not being so obscure and winky that newcomers feel lost. I have been a fan of Baxter for most of that 20 year history and have been in awe of the universe he created and the scales he envisions. In this book, we finally see many of those massive scales up close and personal for the first time, as Baxter unleashes his imagination on what hitherto purely theoretical concepts would actually look like given a powerful enough uber-species to build them, such as the extreme time dilation at the orbit of a black hole. It’s Baxter in his element, using his deep understanding of math and physics to conjure scientifically-plausible what-if scenarios into functional being.

Michael Poole, longtime hero and protagonist of the Xeelee series, finally ends his arc in this book, with some of Baxter’s best character writing in years. Baxter has been criticized for not caring enough about his human characters and being more concerned with the concepts and processes he’s exploring, which is a somewhat fair criticism, at least in the past, but here he uses a cool piece of technology to give us a unique perspective on Poole, namely a digital clone (Virtual) of Poole himself, who is the same person, but…not. It works surprisingly well, as we get to see the real Poole and all his flaws through his own eyes, which are softened made wiser by that very perspective. Jophiel is one of Baxter’s most interesting protagonists. The other characters are fairly two-dimensional, but a few stand out, such as Nicola. Not incredibly deep, but often a good counterweight to the heavy hard science being bandied about.

The resolution of the book is satisfying, especially if you’re a longtime reader of this series. It brings both timelines together in a satisfying way, and gives us something Baxter’s work is often a bit light on: hope. And for old-time fans like myself, there is, at last, a big reveal of a question that has dominated the series since its beginning, and it’s suitably strange, unsettling, and interesting. This is an epic journey, one that spans time scales that make your head spin, that sees the culmination of all the concepts, themes, and lore of Baxter’s Xeelee-verse come together for the most climactic of climaxes. It’s easily my favorite piece of work in the Xeelee cycle, and my second favorite of his books (my favorite being the non-Xeelee cycle standalone “Evolution”). I doubt we’ll get any more mainline Xeelee stories outside of short fiction, but that’s okay, because Redemption brings a satisfying and appropriate ending to this mind-expanding hard sci fi epic.

The narration is great; there is some controversy over the narrator’s pronunciation of “Xeelee” (he pronounces it “CHEE-lee”) where I and many others have always pronounced it ZEE-lee, but this is a minor quibble and clearly an intentional decision. Not so sure about the Qax (which he pronounces “Chax” but which I have always pronounced "Kax") but whatever. His human inflections and characterizations are convincing and appropriate to the setting and scenes. I dig him.

  • Of Dice and Men

  • The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It
  • By: David M. Ewalt
  • Narrated by: David M. Ewalt, Mikael Naramore
  • Length: 8 hrs and 19 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 666
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 618
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 614

In Of Dice and Men, David Ewalt recounts the development of Dungeons & Dragons from the game’s roots on the battlefields of ancient Europe, through the hysteria that linked it to satanic rituals and teen suicides, to its apotheosis as father of the modern video-game industry. As he chronicles the surprising history of the game’s origins (a history largely unknown even to hardcore players) and examines D&D’s profound impact, Ewalt weaves laser-sharp subculture analysis with his own present-day gaming experiences.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Nerrrrrrrrrrd!

  • By E. A Dunn on 12-28-15

A Loving Look at D&D

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

Reviewed: 01-07-15

Are you an old school grognard? Or are you the spouse/child/parent/friend of one, and have never been able to wrap your head around this hobby they put so much time and effort into? Then you'll get a lot out of this book.

This book is the story of a man's experiences playing Dungeons & Dragons, and his obsessive quest to understand its history, legacy, and enduring appeal. Much of the info about the history of the game may not be new to old school players who lived through the fevered fad of D&D in the late 70s and early 80s, but for younger folks, like myself, it's a fascinating look back. I had no idea there was so much history, bad blood, and stupid decisions involved in D&D's evolution from hand-written rules in a Lake Geneva basement to the most popular fantasy roleplaying game ever. Ewalt also spends a good amount of time defining what roleplaying games are, an important point to make, even going so far as to trace their evolution all the way back to strategic war simulation games of the 1600s. Very interesting stuff.

A lot of the narrative of the book is told from Ewalt's own personal experiences and anecdotes. Unfortunately, at the time of writing both Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, the two principle creators of D&D, had passed away, so Ewalt wasn't able to interview them. He doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time on objectively fleshing out the history of the game; rather, he uses personal memories from others, including himself, to demonstrate his larger points. This is not a hard-hitting, deeply-delving documentary or expose on D&D. Ewalt barely even covers any of the game's, and its player's more well-known flaws. Instead, think of this book as a somewhat starry-eyed, but exceedingly sincere and loving, retrospective of the hobby.

Ewalt focuses on the earlier editions of the editions of the game primarily, which is fine, especially since I had not played those versions and needed the history lesson. But he spends surprisingly little time on the newer editions, including 3rd Edition, which was the one I spent the most time with. Similarly, he very quickly glosses over the controversial 4th Edition without going into why it was so controversial. Nor does he discuss Paizo and Pathfinder, which I can buy since it's supposed to be about D&D, but it seems like an important footnote nonetheless. Several reviewers have said the chapter on 5th edition D&D (still called D&D Next at the time of this book's writing, which has thankfully been changed since) reads like an extended commercial for the new system. I wholly disagree. Ewalt spends very, very little time on what 5E is actually LIKE, and only repeats what WOTC told him. At the time of writing, the game was not even completed yet so Ewalt could not claim to have much experience with it, nor does he. He is hopeful about the new edition, certainly, but he is no shill either.

If you're not a D&D player, you probably won't get a lot out of this book, although one hopes it might inspire you to give it a try. But if the terms "character sheet," "d20," "you all meet in a tavern" are comfortably familiar to you, you'll find a lot to love here, especially if you weren't around for the birth of the hobby in the 70s and 80s.

Ewalt is the primary narrator, and he is not a professional obviously. Still, he does a competent enough job, and his enthusiasm for his subject is undeniable. Throughout the book are also sections where a second narrator takes over, describing "in-character" scenes which read more like a fantasy novel than the nonfictional essay style of the main narrative. Some readers have claimed these asides were jarring or made no sense, but I enjoyed them. Often, the "in-character" action would mirror and mythologize what Ewalt was talking about in the main narrative. It was a perfect way of framing what D&D actually is, between the "real" world of people playing games and the imaginary world they're creating in their minds as the game plays out.

  • Proxima: Book 1

  • By: Stephen Baxter
  • Narrated by: Kyle McCarley
  • Length: 17 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 433
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 397
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 395

The very far future: The galaxy is a drifting wreck of black holes, neutron stars, and chill white dwarfs. The age of star formation is long past. Yet there is life here, feeding off the energies of the stellar remnants, and there is mind, a tremendous galaxy-spanning intelligence each of whose thoughts lasts a hundred thousand years. And this mind cradles memories of a long-gone age when a more compact universe was full of light... The 27th century: Proxima Centauri, an undistinguished red dwarf star, is the nearest star to our sun. How would it be to live on such a world?

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • No Sense of Conclusion

  • By Lisa Davidson on 04-24-16

Baxter's Best

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

Reviewed: 12-04-14

What an incredible journey this book is. It's not at all what I was expecting it to be when I started it. It is, I think, Baxter's finest book yet in a career of incredible hard sci fi adventures.

I have been reading Baxter for about 15 years, starting with his Xeelee sequence, and have been a fan ever since. I felt some of his more recent work, like the Long Earth trilogy, were vastly inferior to what he'd done in the past, and others, like the Flood/Ark duology, were so mind-numbingly depressing as to be almost not worth reading. But Proxima is just what I needed from Baxter: a perfect blend of hard sci fi adventure and discovery, with the undertones of vast cosmic machinations you'd expect from vintage Baxter works.

The story has a rich palette of characters, more than any I can remember in any of his recent works. Baxter has been criticized for having very limited characterization, which I think is a somewhat fair assessment, but this book featured a host of distinct, three-dimensional characters with very different perspectives, motivations, and backgrounds. The main character is Yuri Eden, a man sent on a one-way trip to Proxima, the nearest star to our solar system, along with a crew of rag-tag ne'er-do-wells, to colonize the planet in preparation for future human expansion. Think the British colonization of Australia with convicts, only in space. Things...don't go smoothly as you might expect.

From this point, Baxter launches into a deeply complex bit of world-building, creating an interplanetary human society in the twenty-second century, which has survived the calamitous "jolts" of climate change and are faced with a cold war between the two economic superpowers of the time, the U.N. and China. Realistic physics and space travel mechanics abound, as usual for Baxter. On Proxima itself, Baxter imagines a rich world where life evolved very differently from on Earth, but also more similarly than it ought to have. Mysteries build upon mysteries as the colonists of Prox seek to survive and cope with their situation, while back in the solar system, shocking discoveries are made on Mercury.

The story kept me in suspense most of its run time. Baxter has greatly evolved his craft of storytelling. He avoids cliches deftly and brings one unexpected twist after another with each chapter. You'll never believe where things ultimately end up by the book's end. And underneath all the human drama is the looming presence of something far greater and far more disturbing. Events on Prox, and in the solar system, haven't happened by chance. What it all means is not resolved by the end of the novel. Rather, it ends on multiple cliffhangers with only a glimmer of the vaster things to come. This is the first book in a series of at least two, so don't go into it expecting everything to get wrapped up. Nevertheless, you will find yourself unable to stop listening as the plot drives further and further toward its conclusion. I cannot wait for book two, Ultima.

If you're a fan of Baxter, this is a no-brainer to get. It's his best work in years, and shows his evolution as a writer, thinker, and story-teller. If you're new to Baxter, you could hardly ask for a more accessible, exciting, and relevant hard sci fi novel to start on. It's easily the best sci fi book I've read this year, and perhaps in the last several.

The narrator is fantastic. His native accent is British, but he can do thoroughly convincing American and Australian accents effortlessly. His Hisapnic accents aren't quite as polished, but they're also not as frequent. His reading of the material was perfect: serious, sometimes grave, with excellent inflection and diction. I loved his performance and will be looking forward to hearing him again on other books, especially the next book in this series, I sincerely hope.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Project Nemesis

  • A Kaiju Thriller
  • By: Jeremy Robinson
  • Narrated by: Jeffrey Kafer
  • Length: 8 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,060
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 991
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 987

Jon Hudson, lead investigator for the Department of Homeland Security's Fusion Center-P, thinks his job is a joke. While other Fusion Centers focus on thwarting terrorist activity, Hudson's division is tasked with handling paranormal threats to national security, of which there have been zero during his years at the DHS. When yet another Sasquatch sighting leads to a research facility in the backwoods of Maine, disguised as an abandoned Nike missile site, Hudson's job becomes deadly serious.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A Good Time

  • By Kim Venatries on 03-01-13

A city-stomping good time

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

Reviewed: 07-28-14

I was skeptical that a kaiju story could work in the longer, more in-depth form of a novel; hell, kaiju stories only occasionally work on screen. But the number of raves this book got finally put me over the edge to purchase it. I loved it, and if you’re a fan of old-school Japanese monster movies, or the new school of Pacific Rim, you will too.

This book is what the 2014 Godzilla movie should have been. Brian Cranston as Hudson? Yes please. But anyway, that film was correctly criticized for its uninteresting human story, as well as its minimal screen time to the star of the show. This book corrects both those flaws. The human characters are intriguing and well-written, for the most part. Robinson has a strong voice, especially for Hudson’s point of view. You care about Hudson and Collins, and even the supporting characters, over the course of the book; they aren’t mere bystanders. At the same time, Robinson allows the kaiju to be kaiju, and there are several major setpieces of destruction and action that frame the book’s fast-paced beats. It’s the best of both worlds in this genre, and it’s done with impressive concision and pacing, as well as a perfect balance of horrifyingly gruesome carnage and sarcastic humor. The book doesn’t pull any punches about the results of the kaiju’s rampages, but it also never takes itself so seriously that it bogs down into utter despair territory. That’s a good thing; too much realism in this genre would make for something so grimdark that you couldn’t even get through it. Hudson’s sardonic, hip narrative always finds a joke somewhere, and the tone is pitch-perfect.

The plot is nothing revolutionary, but it does tie the characters closely to the kaiju phenomenon, and gives several of them very personal stakes in what’s going on. The monster itself was fairly original and its abilities are at least credible based the circumstances of its creation. It has a strong aura of both menace and pity, which is a hard line to balance with these kinds of stories, but Robinson does it perfectly. The only element of the book I didn’t care for was the villain (the non-kaiju one). His motivation was iffy, and he was a bit too cartoonishly evil for a story that was otherwise full of shades of gray. Luckily, he’s not “on screen” a whole lot, so you can get through his parts fairly easily.

So, if Pacific Rim or the new Godzilla have you slavering for more city destruction via giant monsters, this book will be just what the mad scientist ordered. It’s not high literature, but it breathes fresh life into this genre and will keep you sitting in your driveway to get to the end of a chapter before heading inside your home.

The narration in this book was good, if not spectacular. The narrator doesn’t have a tremendous amount of range or accents, so most of the characters sound the same, but his pacing and tone are well done, and he puts a lot of personality into Hudson’s sarcastic narration.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Honor Among Thieves

  • Star Wars Legends: Empire and Rebellion, Book 2
  • By: James S. A. Corey
  • Narrated by: Marc Thompson, Ilyana Kadushin
  • Length: 9 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 779
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 725
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 722

When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance? When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo - something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • This IS the Han Solo Book You've Been Looking For!

  • By Dave on 03-13-14

The Star Wars book for fans who've lost faith

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

Reviewed: 07-03-14

I used to love Star Wars. Then the prequels happened, and then the Extended Universe (EU) happened, oozing up from the minds of dozens of hack writers to bloat and burden the already failing Star Wars universe beyond recognition and enjoyment for all but the most rabid of fanboys. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Star Wars novel.

It hasn’t been so long since I read a James S.A. Corey novel, though. Their Expanse series is one of the best things to happen to sci fi in a long time. So when I saw that he (they, as it’s the pen name of a writing duo) had written a Star Wars book I was simultaneously intrigued and repulsed. “It’s Star Wars EU,” my brain said. “It’s garbage.” “But it’s James S.A. Corey!” I argued, “How bad could it be?” “How bad would it be if an author you like embarrassed himself by writing for Star Wars?” countered my brain. Then I read a little about the book itself. It takes place between Star Wars and Empire. Hmm. It is primarily about Han Solo. Hmmmmm. The audio edition includes sound effects. Hmmmmmm. And the narrator does amazing impressions of Solo, Luke, and even Chewbacca. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

So I took the plunge, and broke my decade and a half-long streak of no Star Wars novels. And ladies and germs, I’m here to tell you, James S.A. Corey made me believe again.
This book is a brilliant Star Wars story. The authors actually know what makes Star Wars work: the characterizations, the adventures, the sense of fun. The banter is back! They utterly nail Han Solo’s character; you can hear the lines in Harrison Ford’s voice practically. And even if you can’t, the narrator does an eerily accurate impression anyway. A book like this must be hard to write because the audience already knows what the ultimate fate of these characters, and their relationships, will turn out to be. Yet, Corey effortlessly fits the tale in with the established canon, and keeps the relationships relevant and realistic. This is before Han and Leia kiss, before Luke knows Leia is his sister, and so on. So Han’s cocksure swagger, Leia’s eyerolling, and Luke’s wide-eyed innocence are still in play, and are all executed perfectly here.

The plot involves some kind of ancient alien weapon that the Empire wants, blah blah. Doesn’t matter. You read this book to see Han Solo being Han Solo, and doing very Han Soloy things. There’s action a-plenty, of course. And two new supporting characters, Scarlett Hark and Bossin Rae. The latter was my favorite of the book, after Solo. He’s a great foil for Han and the narrator’s voice characterization of him is a lot of fun.

So, reluctant erstwhile Star Wars fans, hear me: This is the one to read. It’ll rekindle your imagination and make you fall in love with Star Wars again. This is what Star Wars was meant to be, what it should be. There’s no reference to the prequels, no allusions to the EU. It’s contained solely within the original trilogy, and does what they did best. If James S.A. Corey can make this cynic believe again, then they’ve done something incredible. The magic still lives, guys. Read this book and restore your faith.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Republic of Thieves

  • Gentleman Bastard Series, Book 3
  • By: Scott Lynch
  • Narrated by: Michael Page
  • Length: 23 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,432
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 6,827
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,826

After their adventures on the high seas, Locke and Jean are brought back to earth with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover, and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins the Bonds Magi. It is a fall-out that will pit both men against Locke's own long-lost love. Sabetha is Locke's childhood sweetheart, the love of Locke's life, and now it is time for them to meet again. Employed on different sides of a vicious dispute between factions of the Bonds, Sabetha has just one goal-to destroy Locke forever.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A transition and a preface

  • By David on 11-14-13

Lynch's Craft Adds New Depth to Beloved Characters

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

Reviewed: 07-03-14

It’s well known that Scott Lynch suffered some severe hurdles in his life prior to the publication of this book. The impact of those difficulties is apparent on his writing: it has made him wiser, stronger, and much better at his craft. The Republic of Thieves is a subtle book. It turns out not to be about what you think it’s going to be about. It’s Lynch’s most personal book yet, and while it doesn’t match the first book’s rapid-fire twists and turns, it gently explores a more intimate subject: human relationships.

This is a book about character growth, not about advancing some epic plot (though there’s some of that, too). At long last, we meet the mysterious Sabetha, in the flesh, in a typical Lynchian bad-to-worse scenario. The Gentlemen Bastards just can’t catch a damn break. In Sabetha, readers finally uncover a huge part of Locke’s personality that has only been hinted at so far. A complicated, prickly love affair is revealed, framed in a present and flashback narrative that brilliantly keep pace with one another and have echoing themes. Sabetha is satisfyingly human, just as much as Locke and Jean, and her presence makes Locke even MORE human.

The plot is complex, though nowhere near as much as the previous two volumes. The cliffhanger at the end of book two is resolved at some length, and not without life-altering complication. We learn much more of the bondsmagi and their society, and it turns out they’re not quite what we’ve been led to believe. We’re then whisked away to Karthain for a battle of down-and-dirty politics where Locke must compete with Sabetha to rig an election. This part of the story is a whirlwind of dirty political tricks and countertricks, clearly inspired by real-life examples in U.S. history. However, Locke and Jean are seldom on the attack in this book, and it’s sometimes painful to watch them be constantly outfoxed.

But the heart of the story is Locke and Sabetha’s relationship. Lynch reveals he’s learned much of the way men and women communicate (or fail to do so). For the first time in the series, we see Locke truly bearing his soul, without artifice, to the one person he can’t fool. The construction of these two characters’ relationship is incredibly real, complex, sticky, and refreshingly open-ended. It’s almost as if Lynch understands the way real relationships work. This is a book of many quiet, reflective moments where Locke learns to see himself, and others, in new ways. It’s exciting stuff to see in a book about thieves and wizards.

The now well-established banter between the Gentlemen Bastards returns in full force, as does Lynch’s ability to turn any description into sardonic understatement. His prose has the same energy, deftness, and originality it always has, if not more. I love the way he writes; every sentence has a purpose and hits like an arrow. His craft continues to grow and improve, leaving me excited to see where his still-young career will take him.

In spite of the deep interpersonal themes of this book, Lynch does lay some exciting new groundwork for the future of his series that will leave readers shocked, appalled, and very worried for our heroes. Again, subtlety is the key; Lynch never reveals too much, and leaves much of his machinations pleasingly ambiguous. But for the first time in the series, we get a glimpse of where it’s truly heading, and it looks to be a hell of a ride.

Michael Page is awesome; not much more to be said on that score.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Twelve

  • A Novel
  • By: Justin Cronin
  • Narrated by: Scott Brick
  • Length: 26 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9,057
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8,180
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8,175

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as "Last Stand in Denver", has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin.

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • TWO IN THIS SERIES IS ENOUGH

  • By Randall on 06-15-18

The Passage leads to a winding road

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

Reviewed: 04-09-14

The second book of the Passage trilogy is…not what I was expecting. The first book ends with the promise that the heroes are “going to war” against the Twelve, with the suggestion that they know where to find each of them and will systematically take them on, one by one. So I was expecting the next novel, with a title like “The Twelve,” to be about just that: Peter and Amy’s journeys across America, taking out as many of the Twelve as possible. I wasn’t disappointed by the book’s actual plot; far from it. But I was confused as to its structure and some of the narrative choices Cronin made in its construction.

For one thing, the book begins in the year of the virals’ escape and civilization’s collapse, from the point of view of mostly new characters, which is 100 years before the events of the second half of The Passage. Most of this part is relevant to the eventual outcome of the story, but a good deal of it isn’t. It’s odd, because I enjoyed this part of the book for what it was, but it felt like procrastination. It would have been better served to be presented in novella form, I think, released as separate, but not required, companion volumes, as many books with rich, wide settings do these days.

Then, the story jumps forward in time to an event that took place 20 years before the “present” (e.g. Peter’s time) whose relevance to the plot takes a long, long time to become clear. And because we spend so little time with these characters, it makes the down-the-road resolution seem less important, and somewhat tacked on.

Once we get back to the “present” and return to the heroes from The Passage, things get back on track for a while. However, we’re informed after an action sequence that the search for the Twelve has basically fizzled and been called off, leaving Peter to mope and Alicia to seethe, as usual. The plot then begins a long meander toward a finale where all points converge. There are no fewer than eight point-of-view characters all involved in the finale, heroes and villains alike. It gets rather depressing toward the middle of the book as one of the major plot points is revealed. Like the TV show Battlestar Galactica, a long slog through utter grimness eventually leads to a glorious climax.

There is plenty of character development and quiet moments of beauty to be found across the breadth of The Twelve, and toward the end, you won’t be able to put it down. Yet keeping track of all the moving parts, some of which I feel could have been combined for simplicity’s sake (especially Peter’s journey; either have him go with Alicia or Amy), can be daunting. The book lacks the singular focus of The Passage, and while it widens the scope of the story to dramatic, and grim, expanses, I felt like it got a little lost along the way. My guess is Cronin had a much bigger story in mind but couldn’t tell it in just three volumes, so had to condense a lot. In any case, while the story’s execution is curious, confusing, perhaps even confounding, it sticks the landing in perfect form. I’m curious as to where the third volume will take us; my guess is, after this one, not where we expect.

Scott Brick does a terrific job as usual; I understand some people don’t care for his delivery, but I am a fan, and he brings a pitch-perfect gravitas and melancholy to the book’s serious tone. His range is not particularly wide; all characters sound more or less the same. But his voice is capable of such resonance and poignancy that it doesn’t matter. His musical cadence of speech is almost hypnotizing, and is a perfect match for the material.

12 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Blood Song

  • Raven's Shadow, Book 1
  • By: Anthony Ryan
  • Narrated by: Steven Brand
  • Length: 23 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13,193
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 12,265
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 12,257

The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm. Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of 10 when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great story, but the narration did not live up to it.

  • By Anthony on 06-29-16

Impressive debut--mature, modern fantasy

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

Reviewed: 01-21-14

I picked up this book after seeing it recommended several times on Audible, and after reading numerous positive reviews here. I was not disappointed. This is a major work in fantasy, and Anthony Ryan will be a name to watch as this series matures and expands.

The main narrative is set within a frame story, similar to that of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles books (e.g., the main character is giving an account of his life to an interviewer). The circumstances of the interview are different enough, though, from Rothfuss, that it still feels original. The similarities to Rothfuss end there, however. This is a fairly dark fantasy, though not so grimdark as Joe Abercrombie or George R.R. Martin. We witness the training of Vaelin Al Sorna in the Sixth Order, an organization that’s a cross between samurai, agoge (the training of Spartan boys) and Jedi knights. The first half of the book, which covers Vaelin’s time in the Order, is fascinating, coming-of-age stuff. Numerous mysteries present themselves right off the bat, and most go unresolved by the end of the book. Vaelin’s camaraderie with his fellow trainees is the best part of the book. The other characters are well fleshed out, especially Norta and Caenis. Vaelin is an heroic character, and it’s very clear he’s got a big destiny, but he is grounded by self-doubts, guilt, and a consistent, genuine humility. He’s a wonderful character, embodying the escapism we crave in fantasy, while remaining a very human character with whom we can easily identify and sympathize. He is a living weapon who accepts his position, but not without regret.

The second half of the book deals with Vaelin’s adventures in service to the Realm. This part of the book was less engaging than the first, I found, if only because the internecine politics of Ryan’s world get tossed around in rapid succession, and are hard to keep straight at times. The focus of the first half of the book is traded for more broad-scoped world-building, and while it’s intriguing, it lacks the fundamental humanity and direction that the training segments had. Still, toward the end it builds some powerful momentum, with suspense sustained by the frame story. Eventually, the frame story and the past narrative merge and many things fall into place. It’s a nicely-designed narrative structure, and is quite satisfying once it reaches its end.

Ryan’s world feels familiar, yet unique. He doesn’t try to subvert every cliché like Martin or Abercrombie, but instead relies on good characterization and believable political/religious structures. One of the main themes of the book is man’s proclivity toward religion and the myriad gods we invent. This is a subject I’ve never seen tackled in such a direct way in a fantasy story before, and it’s a most welcome addition to the genre.

This is, of course, the first in a series (whose ultimate number of volumes I don’t know). The book sets up many compelling plots to be resolved in future books, and raises the stakes by the end to be bigger and more important than the book first promised. I am greatly looking forward to book 2 when it comes out. I highly recommend this book to any fan of modern, mature fantasy. Ryan deserves to be listed among the modern greats in the genre; I look forward to his continued career.

A note on the narrator: Steven Brand does a good job with the text. His husky voice lends itself well to Vaelin’s personality, and his pronunciations and speech rhythms are generally fine. He does stumble now and then (possibly from turning a page?) but these are negligible. The only complaint I have with him is that he lacks range. He has basically only one voice characterization, and while it works for many characters, it does not for all. Moreover, during dialogue between two or more characters, or even internal asides from one character, it can sometimes be hard to tell who is talking, or what is being spoken aloud or in a character’s mind. He is no Steven Pacey, but then again, who is? That said, he still does an adequate job with the story, and because almost all of the tale is told from a single character’s perspective, it gets much easier to tell who is talking as the story progresses. I would have liked a little more variety and emotion from Brand, but I’ve heard much, much worse.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • The Fall Revolution 3

  • The Cassini Division
  • By: Ken Macleod
  • Narrated by: Charlie Norfolk
  • Length: 9 hrs and 58 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 20
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21

Ellen May Ngewthu is a soldier and leader of the Cassini Division, the elite defence force of the utopian Solar Union. Here in the twenty-fourth century, the forts of the Division, in orbit around Jupiter, are the front line in humanity's long standoff with the unknowable post-humans godlike beings descended from the men and women who transformed themselves with high technology centuries ago.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent Political Sci Fi!

  • By Greyflood on 12-16-13

Excellent Political Sci Fi!

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

Reviewed: 12-16-13

This was my first Ken Macleod book; I did not read the previous volumes in the “Fall Revolution” series because there were a number of bad reviews, and I understood that the volumes were more or less stand-alone. I’m happy to say that this is true, and that if you haven’t read the other books, you’ll have little trouble following what’s going on. There are many references to the Fall Revolution series’ fictional history, but most of them are explained or can be understood through context. I felt intrigued and curious about the previous two books, but by no means was I confused without them.

So, a lot of people have complained about Ken Macleod’s politics in the reviews of read of much of his work. Let me say this: if you don’t like political philosophizing in your science fiction, A) why are you reading science fiction at all? and B) you probably won’t enjoy this book. For the rest of us, this is a wonderfully imaginative and compelling presentation of a society with not only futuristic technology, but social ideas as well. I always wondered how the society of Star Trek actually worked, without money and all, and the shows have never really expounded on it. This book does: it presents a socialist utopia and explains how it came to be and how it works in practice, down to the very philosophical underpinnings that make it work. Fascinating stuff. I didn’t feel the book was an angry attack on capitalism, but more of an extrapolation of ideas to their theoretical conclusions. The socialist society isn’t perfect, and even as a socialistic progressive, I found myself uncomfortable with some of the ideas that make it up. Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, this book is worth reading to see what the “other side” thinks, and what its hopes and dreams are.

The narrative is brisk, with tight pacing and well-timed reveals of information. Macleod writes strong dialogue and excellent descriptions. He has a sarcastic bent to his writing, as well as a solid grounding in how people actually act, think, and talk. The story is told from the first person perspective, by a woman who is a veteran of the revolutions that led to the socialist utopia, and an agent of the Cassini Division, a group of warriors who keep watch over a colony of posthumans on Jupiter. She’s a great character, wry, intelligent, capable, self-assured. She has several moments of vulnerability, but overall she’s a forceful, relentless protagonist. The supporting characters are less fleshed out, and they take a back seat toward the end of the novel, but they are very distinct.

The story is well-told, coherent, and awe-inspiring. This is a novel about ideas, as I said above, and Macleod touches on many touchstones of sci fi, such as the technological singularity, posthumans, AI, and the question of what defines “human” at all. Another strong theme is the nature of ideology in forming human consciousness and identity.
I highly recommend this book. It’s very modern sci fi and relevant to our world. Macleod is a talented storyteller and has created a world worth staying in. There are a few sci fi “universes” I’ve read that I wish were, or would be, real, that humanity would aspire to in the fullness of time. This book’s presentation of the future is one of those. Believable, relatable, yet fantastic enough to inspire awe and hope. What else is sci fi for, if not that?

A word on the narrator: she does an excellent job on this book. Her pixie-like voice grew on me over the course of the story. She does excellent dialogue, acting out the lines rather than just reciting them. She has a strong British accent, but that only enhanced her performance to me. I would gladly listen to her again.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

Ancillary Justice audiobook cover art
  • Ancillary Justice

  • By: Ann Leckie
  • Narrated by: Celeste Ciulla
  • Length: 13 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 2,815
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 2,590
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 2,577

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Can't get past the Narrator to finish the story.

  • By Zillah on 12-08-14

Difficult story, awful narration

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

Reviewed: 12-06-13

I'd heard a lot about this book in the sci fi world and after hearing its premise--a woman out for revenge whose body used to be a corpse-solder inhabited by the AI of a sentient ship--I figured I could hardly go wrong. The results were not as riveting as I'd hoped.

First of all, if you're on the fence about this book, let me make one thing very clear: this is not a book for sci fi noobies or casual readers. If you're not an experienced hand at sci fi, I would not recommend this book. The author uses some very confusing (if interesting) concepts throughout the book, such as a language that does not differentiate between male and female. The narrator refers to everyone she meets as "she" regardless of their biological gender. It's interesting on the one hand, because it really shines a light on what a social construct gender is, but it's very disorienting at the same time, and there's no lead-up to it at all. It's ambiguous throughout the book if some characters are male or female...not that it matters, but it does help alienate you from the getgo.

Also, the book's other main weird gimmick is the use of what can only be described as "first person omniscient" perspective. I don't know if it's ever been done before, and it works fairly well here, but it can get rather confusing. The first half of the book is interwoven with a flashback, during which the protagonist was an AI distributed simultaneously among thousands of bodies. As such, she can see and hear multiple perspectives at once. It's an interesting concept and as I say, Leckie pulls it off as well as I imagine anyone possibly could. But it's another alienating hurdle to get over.

Those challenges to the reader would be fine, if they were the only barriers to enjoying this novel; sci fi is famous for challenging perspectives and ideas, and is one of the main reasons I read it. But this book has bigger problems. One of the criticisms sci fi often receives is that it sacrifices genuine characters for an agenda of ideas and concepts. I think this is a fair criticism in general, although there are numerous counterexamples. But with authors like Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, who write "hard" sci fi, based on actual science or at least theoretical science, what their stories lack in detailed characterization they make up for with a vast sense of wonder and awe. If you can't do wonder and awe, you'd probably better stick with characterization, then. Unfortunately, Leckie is adept at neither. The protagonist is, literally, a computer in a human's body. She doesn't feel, think, or act like most humans do, and yet little time is spent on just how she adapts to society around her. She is cold, hard to like, and inscrutable at times. The supporting characters are even worse. Lifeless, they speak in stilted dialogue that no living person would ever use. They're hard to tell apart, especially with the ambiguous gender issue.

Leckie also falls into the trap of doing more telling than showing. Many times Breq, the protagonist, simply KNOWS she knows things, without evidence. Leckie tells us such and such is so, and we're expected to take it as gospel. Characters don't show their emotions through their actions, but through adverbs. I felt throughout the book that the author knew what was going on with her convoluted, muddy plot, but didn't quite know how to explain it to anyone outside her own head, so she just had her characters explain it to themselves as best they could. It's not a good writing style; I felt like I was not a part of the reading experience. I had no characters I really cared about, nor any concepts that wowed me enough to draw me in; there WERE some interesting tidbits of the larger universe in Leckie's world, such as a group of posthumans living outside the xenophobic Radch empire, but we are only given fleeting glimpses of them. It seems like Leckie skipped the coolest parts of her world for the most confusing and uninteresting.

The first half of the book was a real slog. It picked up for me about halfway through. But the pacing is glacial. Entire chapters are devoted to single conversations between two characters, who argue philosophy and engage in more telling-not-showing. I found myself wishing in exasperation that the characters would just DO something already instead of thinking about it for hours and hours. The ending is...confusing to say the least, and sets up a sequel, so I expect this will be a series. If you're a sci fi buff, it might be worth your while just as an experiment, but I would hardly call it a book I enjoyed reading.

Now I must say something about the narration of this book. The narrator was absolutely god awful, quite literally the worst audiobook narrator I've ever heard. She has the oddest delivery of dialogue and speech rhythms. It feels like a recitation, not a narration. She tries to do male voices but ends up sounding like a cartoon character (see also her voices impersonating children). Is that what she thinks men sound like? Maybe I'm spoiled by the Steven Paceys and Frank Mullers of the world, but this lady stinks. I think her narration actually detracted from my ability to concentrate on the story and put yet another barrier between me and it, and there were plenty to deal with already. If I'd read this book on paper or kindle, I might have enjoyed it more. If you're still interested in reading it after all I've said here, I recommend avoiding the audio and reading it in your internal voice. And avoid anything this narrator does in the future, believe me.

143 of 164 people found this review helpful