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Michael Hicks

Michigan
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  • Joe Ledger: The Missing Files

  • By: Jonathan Maberry
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 4 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,246
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,156
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,147

In this collection of five short stories, Jonathan Maberry fills in the blanks in his action-thriller Joe Ledger novels.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • READ BEFORE BUYING LEDGER SHORT STORIES

  • By Lisa on 04-27-12

Fun, But Not Indispensible

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

Reviewed: 11-30-18

Joe Ledger: The Missing Files presents five short stories that exist in and around the events of Jonathan Maberry's first three Joe Ledger novels. As I've come to expect of Maberry, each story is competently written, filled with plenty of action and smart-ass wit, and the audiobook's narration by Ray Porter is, also as expected, a top-notch delivery.

The main sticking point here, though, is that the first few stories feel pretty disposable. Kicking off this collection is "Countdown," a wholly unnecessary prequel to the first book, Patient Zero. I'm not sure who this story is ultimately aimed at, frankly... If you read the first Joe Ledger book than you already know this story, which involves the raid on a Baltimore warehouse that ultimately earns Joe the attention of Mr. Church. If you haven't read Patient Zero, I'm not sure there's enough meat on this short story's bones to compel you to latch onto and stick around for the main course. Mostly, this story feels like stuff that was edited out of an earlier draft of Patient Zero and was re-purposed as a very short short story.

Zero Tolerance follows on the heels of Patient Zero, with Joe and his DMS squadron tracking down one of that book's surviving terrorists. It's a sharp little story, but, like "Countdown," it's not exactly indispensable. Ditto "Deep Dark," which has Ledger and his crew squaring off against terrorists in an underground vault. It's a neat story involving transgenic modification of human test subjects, written as a precursor to help tease The Dragon Factory. While I can't say it's redundant, and Maberry does enough things differently in this short story, "Deep Dark" also feels almost exactly like a particular encounter that occurs in The Dragon Factory.

It's not until the last two stories that we get to the really good stuff, and they present some original concepts as Maberry finds his feet with Ledger and company existing in short-form narratives. "Material Witness" sees our band of DMS operators taking a trip to Pine Deep, the setting of another Maberry series. I haven't read the Pine Deep trilogy yet, but there's enough teases of information in "Material Witness" and Church's presentation of the official cover story to pique my interest and move those books further up my To Be Read pile. This story is just flat-out cool, involving an author whose cutting edge thrillers have made him a wanted man by various terrorist factions. Maberry shades "Material Witness" with plenty of The X-Files inspired intrigue, enough so that I could practically hear Mark Snow's theme playing as the story's final denouement plays out. That's no bad thing at all, mind you.

"Dog Days" was my main reason for checking out The Missing Files, and it delivered exactly what I had hoped for. Ledger's second novel-length outing, The Dragon Factory, ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. I was immediately disappointed to discover all those loose ends wrapped up before book three, The Plague Factory, even started, and with Ledger suddenly having a canine partner to wage war alongside of. Well, all that connective material is told in this short story, which introduces Joe's new partner, Ghost, and puts him on the hunt for The Dragon Factory's escaped assassin. Maberry does a fantastic job condensing all of the fun interpersonal dramatics between Ledger and his comrades into this short, before launching into all the action. Given the way the second book ended, Joe is in a bit of a dark place; it has some necessarily sad overtones, but thankfully revenge is sweet and Maberry writes one hell of an action-packed finale.

Joe Ledger: The Missing Files is not an indispensable read, at times coming across more like deleted scenes from the core body of work, but it does tie up a few loose ends here and there, even if it sometimes feels repetitive of particular plot points covered in the full-length novels. "Material Witness" and "Dog Days" are the clear stand-outs here, providing enough story to satisfy. The rest are largely ancillary, recommended only for Ledger completionists.

  • The Summer Job

  • A Satanic Thriller
  • By: Adam Cesare
  • Narrated by: Stacey Glemboski
  • Length: 7 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 13
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13

Massive nights, picturesque days: There is nothing Claire doesn't love about her summer job in Mission, Massachusetts. Claire is just trying to keep her head down and start a new life after burning out in the city, but those kids out in the woods seem like they throw awesome ragers.... It's only once she's in too deep that Claire discovers the real tourist trade that keeps the town afloat. It's then that her soul-searching in Mission becomes a fight for her life.  

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • The Best Horror Movie Never Made

  • By CKDelay on 11-17-18

Terrific Satanic Folk Horror

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

Reviewed: 11-16-18

In a recent blog post to promote the audiobook release of The Summer Job, Adam Cesare wrote about how it hasn't been as successful sales-wise as his Video Night but that he's still hopeful it's able to find the right audience. "While I’d never say one of my books is better than the other, I will say that The Summer Job feels more personal," he said. Following Cesare online, through his blog and social media, anytime The Summer Job comes up, it's obvious that this book has a very special place in his heart and that he is - rightfully - damn proud of the work he did here.

The Summer Job is a work of satanic folk horror that finds goth-punk chick Claire taking a job at the Brandt Hotel. Located in a small town a few hours outside Boston, the hotel is Mission's best-kept secret - a popular and well-regarded establishment, it's been highly praised by past guests. Or at least those who have lived long enough to talk up the perks of their accommodations. When Claire takes on the role of guest liaison, she thinks it's a chance to redefine her life and maybe reinvent herself. It's not until later, of course, that all the peculiarities of the Brandt and its staff start pointing toward much, much darker secrets...

Whether you read or listen to the audiobook edition, it's readily apparent that The Summer Job is a labor of love. I've read, maybe, half of Cesare's oeuvre thus far and I dig his style and startlingly clear affection for the horror genre a lot. The Summer Job, though, is Cesare operating a higher level. His characters and their story arcs are pretty phenomenal, and the writing is solidly on-point.

Early on, he describes a chef behind the pick-up counter at a restaurant as being window-boxed by the frame; it's a small thing to be sure, but the particular word choice and details provided are careful and deliberate, as are a lot of Cesare's other stylistic choices here. The ensuing description of the man's sweat clouding the metal counter-top, and the dialogue between him and Claire, make for a highly memorable and cinematic scene that cements exactly who these characters are, and more importantly that Cesare knows exactly who these characters are. He knows these people and he's smart enough to get out of their way and let them work their mojo. Through a bit of deft dialogue, he introduces Claire's friend Allison, along with her particular ticks that let you know right off the bat who this girl is, unnecessary abbreviations and all. "What are you doing on the Newb," she asks Claire, referring to Newbury Street, and calling her "babykins."

Cesare's operating in a character-rich environment here and we get to know most of his cast very, very well over the course of the book. This is both good and bad. Good because we become intimately familiar with Claire and the people of Mission, and bad because getting to know the employees of the Brandt means we can't fully trust any of them and we're constantly on edge waiting for them to freak out. Cesare does a fantastic job establishing Mission's behind-the-scenes power struggles, letting readers in on alliances, history, and secrets Claire isn't privy to. We worry about her, and Claire is pretty damn easy to sympathize with, even as we're never sure what those around her want or what they'll do to get it.

The Summer Job has a lot going for it, from its leading lady to the clashes between opposing forces within Mission, but reigning supreme over it all is narrator Stacey Glemboski. It didn't take me long to start searching out other titles she's narrated, knowing full well that I'm going to be looking for more of her work. She's an excellent narrator, shifting smoothly between male and female voices, accents, tones, and delivery. This isn't a long book, less than eight hours, but it's so easy to listen and sink into that it feels much shorter.

Between Cesare's writing and deft characters and Glemboski's reading, I was freaking hooked the whole through. The Summer Job was absolutely terrific, and also a necessary reminder that I really need to get my ass in gear and fill those gaps that I've missed in Cesare's work.

[Note: I received an Audible copy of this title from the author following my request through AudioBookBoom and I provided this voluntary review.]

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The First Cut

  • Gushers Series, Book 1
  • By: Chuck Buda
  • Narrated by: Lillie Ways
  • Length: 6 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1

The popular kids of Tenafly High School were bored with upper-middle-class life. With a few months left before graduation, they made a decision to spice things up. What they intended quickly got away from them. Aiden is the shy one, the one who follows along quietly. But now, he will find himself forced to stand up to his tormentors or die.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • These Cultists Will Do You Right...And Then Wrong!

  • By Michael Hicks on 11-11-18

These Cultists Will Do You Right...And Then Wrong!

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

Reviewed: 11-11-18

Do you like a little bit of horror in your pornography? Or maybe a lot of pornography in your horror? Because if so, hoo boy, Chuck Buda has got a doozy for you with the first in his aptly titled Gushers series, The First Cut.

What ever are a bunch of sex-starved high school seniors supposed to do as they bide their time for graduation and the start of college but form a secret society among themselves to get their rocks off? What seems like a good idea quickly escalates into something more as power-hungry Zoe leads them off into darker realms with some cult-like practices, with some support from her second-in-command Spencer, a young man with a strong interest in the Dark Arts, and a lot of hot tub orgies. A lot. Of hot tub. Orgies.

The First Cut comes with a reader advisory warning, and Buda ain't messing around there. This sucker is explicit in its erotic endeavors and nothing is left to the imagination as Zoe leads all the boys around by their nether regions, and even a pair of the kid's parents engage in some secret extramarital shenanigans. There's plenty of taboo titillation throughout, but since this is a horror book some scenes veer pretty far from the Penthouse Letters style as these characters' hook-ups go from amorous to aberrant. All kinds of bodily fluids gush and spill and mix together as the group seek new thrills and new highs.

Cutting through all the sex and violence is a surprisingly sweet center in Aiden and Leah, the quiet ones of the group who find their friendship deepening and blossoming into something more meaningful as their closest friends grow ever more hedonistic. Their relationship isn't without its fair share of complications, obviously - being in an insane sex cult presents its own fair share of hurdles - but Buda makes good use of their position in the story as the moral middle, their mostly-normal relationship providing a necessary and much-needed break from the more extreme craziness.

Narrating all this madness is Lillie Ways, who delivers an even-keel and professional reading. She differentiates character voices enough to make those conversations lacking dialogue tags easy to follow, and keeps the book's 54 short chapters moving along a nice pace for its six hour run-time. All in all, The First Cut provides a pleasing, at times surprising, aural experience.

Readers looking for some hot-and-heavy erotic horror in the split veined style of the Hot Blood anthologies should have a good time with The First Cut. These cherry-popping cultists will do you right...just before they do you very, very wrong.

  • The Consuming Fire

  • The Interdependency, Book 2
  • By: John Scalzi
  • Narrated by: Wil Wheaton
  • Length: 8 hrs and 19 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,475
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 3,252
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,235

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it - unless desperate measures can be taken. Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Building upon a collapse, this follow-up exceeds!

  • By C. White on 10-16-18

The Collapse of Galactic Civilization Is FUN!

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

Reviewed: 11-05-18

Readers who enjoyed John Scalzi's previous entry in his latest series, The Interdependency, should find The Consuming Fire a fun romp. That said, being a second book in a trilogy, it does have a fair bit of middle-child syndrome, even if it is, overall, an engaging and fast-paced listen.

The Collapsing Empire, 2017's most appropriately named book release, set the stage for this series with its central premise of interstellar travel by way of the Flow (think rivers in space) and what will happen to these intergalactic civilizations when those streams begin to collapse. As The Consuming Fire picks up, more Flow streams are collapsing, setting off a political brouhaha between Emperox Grayland II and the ruling houses either hellbent on denying the science behind the Flow's collapse or usurping the throne in order to further their own power.

There's a dark vein running through the core of The Consuming Fire, what with its promise of civil war, attempted assassinations, and ENTIRE FREAKING PLANETS FULL OF PEOPLE being cut off from civilization and the resources required to keep them alive as the Flow disappears to condemn everybody to certain death. And yet, somehow, Scalzi avoids miring this series in prolonged, protracted portrayals of misery. The political shenanigans involving various houses competing for control of the empire recall a certain Game of Thrones In Space! element, but The Consuming Fire never devolves into violently brutal bloodbaths and Scalzi is hardly the sadist George R.R. Martin is, even though his plot promises the untimely deaths of waaaaaaay more people than Martin ever conjured to kill. No, somehow Scalzi manages to keep it all fairly light and, somehow, comical, even when bodies are hitting the floor.

Operating as an allegory to climate change and how the rich and powerful attempt to profit from science denialism in order to become even more rich and powerful, right up until the moment of complete and utter collapse, really shouldn't be this entertaining. Yet I found myself laughing frequently, thanks to Scalzi's wordsmithing, particularly at one point late in the book when a formerly human-now artificial intelligence jokes about dying in the flow.

“We have to talk about your sense of humor,” the formerly human-now AI is told.
“It was like this before. How do you think I died?”


Yeah, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at that one. A lot of this is due to Wil Wheaton's narration. The Collapsing Empire was my first introduction to both Scalzi as an author and Wheaton as a narrator, and I immediately fell in love with the both of them. It was apparent right from the start that Wheaton is a perfect match for Scalzi's work and sensibilities, and Wil just flat-out gets it. The Consuming Fire isn't just funny, it's plenty freaking snarky to boot, and Wheaton does a fine job delivering snarkiness. Having been an actor since his childhood, he brings along that element of role-play to his audiobook narrations, injecting the reading with emotion and verve that really keeps things hopping along nicely.

The Consuming Fire is a worthy follow-up to the prior book, and while it doesn't advance the story of The Interdependency in huge leaps and bounds Scalzi does inject a few interesting wrinkles and side adventures for his cast of spacebound lords and ladies. Being the middle-child, its primary mission is to move certain pieces into place for the grand finale next book, and Scalzi does this really well, presuming that the next book, ominously (or at least tentatively, per Scalzi's February 2018 blog update) titled The Last Emperox, is indeed the last. Throughout this necessary bit of set-up, though, Scalzi at least injects enough new stuff, and even a few new mysteries, to make it a highly worthwhile listen. Plus, it's just damn good fun, and that's always welcome and necessary considering the time and reality we currently live in.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Exit Strategy

  • By: Martha Wells
  • Narrated by: Kevin R. Free
  • Length: 3 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 692
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 630
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 630

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah - its former owner (protector? friend?) - submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit. But who's going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue? And what will become of it when it's caught?

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • It's a good story, even if the tone is a bit dry.

  • By Michael Hicks on 10-26-18

It's a good story, even if the tone is a bit dry.

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

Reviewed: 10-26-18

Having already reviewed the previous three installments of Martha Wells's The Muderbot Diaries, I'm not sure I have much left to say about this series. In fact, there's a line toward the end of Exit Strategy that sums it up my general thoughts to this series of audiobooks as a whole pretty well (although since I listened to this in audiobook I'll have to paraphrase the sentiment): "It's a good story, even if the tone is a bit dry."

The dryness in tone largely stems from narrator Kevin R. Free, who does a serviceable job here but who, also, over the course of four books has yet to impress me performance-wise. The character of Muderbot strikes me as having more in the way of feelings and expressions, even as an artificial intelligence, than Free's interpretation allows. Free slips into some fairly monotone deliveries, which absolutely kill my attention. It's hard to pay much attention to a story when a narrator cannot engage you, and unfortunately I found myself mentally checking out and wandering away from Exit Strategy frequently.

Story-wise, Exit Strategy is simple, even for a novella. Wells brings back the cast of human characters from book #1 as Murderbot's investigation into the evil corporation GrayCris comes full circle and he returns to deliver evidence of this company's conspiracy to Dr. Mensah. Easy right?

Well, there's a few wrinkles here and there, but as with the prior episodes in this series it's mostly pretty straight-forward. Wells continues to provide some interesting doses of Murderbot's introspection and its interaction with other artificial intelligences and bots proves just as intriguing as its relationships with humans.

Murderbot continues to be a fascinating character in its own right, and even in this fourth novella Wells still finds new facets of this rogue SecUnit's personality and motivations. As far as antisocial killing machines who are addicted to intergalactic soap operas, Murderbot is a surprisingly charming character and with a full-length novel due out in 2020 I'm happy to know neither Wells nor Tor are finished with its story just yet.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Rogue Protocol

  • The Murderbot Diaries, Book 3
  • By: Martha Wells
  • Narrated by: Kevin R. Free
  • Length: 3 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 823
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 767
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 765

Sci-fi's favorite antisocial AI is back on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah's SecUnit is. And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good. Martha Wells' Rogue Protocol is the third in the Murderbot Diaries series, starring a humanlike android who keeps getting sucked back into adventure after adventure, though it just wants to be left alone, away from humanity and small talk.

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • My least favorite so far

  • By Jeff Koeppen on 10-05-18

Murderbot Keeps On Keeping On

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

Reviewed: 10-19-18

This third (and penultimate) entry in Martha Wells's The Murderbot Diaries picks up immediately after the prior episode Artificial Condition, setting Murderbot off a new adventure with a new group of humans and bots while continuing its search for evidence against the evil corporation, GrayCris.

Having been binge-listening to The Murderbot Diaries, I have to admit the formulaic structure of these episodes is getting a bit creaky. Both Artificial Condition and Rogue Protocol follow the exact same story beats - Murderbot sneaks aboard a ship, encounters and befriends an artificial intelligence aboard ship, then saves the humans. There's not a lot of room for surprise, and the similar length both of these entries share make these events feel very scheduled, the plot operating like clockwork in accordance to a rigorous three act structure. You could almost time the occurrence of both books' events right down the minute.

While the structure of The Murderbot Diaries is by now intimately familiar, Wells does find a few spots to make fresh. The character dynamics and personalities of Rogue Protocol are almost a direct inverse of the prior episode, with Murderbot attempting to hide from the ship's crew before facing its own natural instincts (or perhaps its base SecUnit coding is more accurate) to protect them. We get another view of human-AI interaction, helping to illustrate the diversity among even artificial man-made constructs. Some robots are forced into mortal combat for their owner's entertainment, while others are infantilized and treated more like pets. Actual equality between man and machine, though, is awfully rare and Murderbot at times struggles between its nature as a rogue unit and the expectations placed upon it by humans that view it as nothing more than a standard factory-line killing machine. This societal dimension of the story still has plenty of material left for Wells to explore, and it's been one of the highlights of the series thus far.

Kevin R. Free has settled into narrating duties, having found a comfortable style in the prior entry that he carries over to Rogue Protocol. There's perhaps little point in reinventing the wheel, narration-wise, three books into the series, and whether you dug Free's style or not thus far, you'll know exactly what to expect here. For me, it's a bit too gentle and even keel of a reading and the easy-listening nature of it makes my mind susceptible to wandering.

Rogue Protocol keeps on keeping on as the series builds towards its finale in book #4. Diving into this one right on the heels of its predecessor, though, makes the story feel a bit too repetitive as Wells eschews any narrative risks in order to deliver a safe story built in the exact same mold as book #2. If you've been enjoying this series so far, Rogue Protocol certainly isn't a deal breaker by any means, but it's not exactly fresh and exciting either.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Artificial Condition

  • By: Martha Wells
  • Narrated by: Kevin R. Free
  • Length: 3 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,370
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,266
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,259

It has a dark past - one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself "Murderbot." But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more. Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don't want to know what the "A" stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Good short story

  • By waterguyjason on 10-10-18

Murderbot Returns!

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

Reviewed: 10-16-18

The Murderbot Diaries has thus far been an excellent introduction to the work of Martha Wells, a new-to-me author, and she is proving to be quite adept at serialized story-telling. Artificial Condition picks up shortly after the finale of All Systems Red, with the murderbot operating as an independent free-agent.

As a formerly-corporate owned SecUnit cyborg, Murderbot's memories were routinely purged, although a few still linger, particularly those surrounding the murder of 57 miners in the wake of a malfunction. Murderbot wants answers, and its journey back to the RaviHyral mining facility sees it taking passage aboard a bot-operated research vessel and getting hired on as a security consultant for a team of scientists.

As with All Systems Red, Artificial Condition presents a pretty basic story enlivened by the character of Murderbot itself. In the prior episode, it was Murderbot's interactions with its human employers that provided a lot of that book's high points. Here, much of the fun lies in seeing how Murderbot relates and responds to the shuttle bot operator, ART (yes, ART is an acronym, but to reveal what it stands for spoils the fun of discovery!).

Wells does a fantastic job bringing the construct of Murderbot to life, exploring the various facets of its artificial intelligence. While Murderbot is a machine first and foremost - and the brief action scenes illustrate quite well the proficiency in violence for which it was built - it still presents an intriguing amount of psychological depth and self-awareness, filtered through a pretty unique perspective.

Returning to narrate is Kevin R. Free, who manages a livelier performance after a fairly monotone reading in the previous go-round. As far as listening experiences go, I haven't found his narration thus far to be completely engrossing, and while I'm not familiar with his work outside of The Murderbot Diaries I do appreciate the growth exhibited by Free over the course of these two novellas. Artificial Condition presents a better narration than book #1, but it's still sadly easy to mentally disengage from and let your mind wander.

Although this audiobook wasn't entirely successful in holding my attention and consistently captivating me, I still found myself enjoying it, even if I did have to rewind a few sections to see what I had missed during moments of distraction. Murderbot is a great, and surprisingly relatable, character, and Artificial Condition helps push the overarching narrative a little bit further forward. Now, onto Rogue Protocol!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • All Systems Red

  • By: Martha Wells
  • Narrated by: Kevin R. Free
  • Length: 3 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,084
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,793
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,793

All Systems Red is the tense first science fiction adventure novella in Martha Wells' series The Murderbot Diaries. For fans of Westworld, Ex Machina, Ann Leckie's Imperial Raadch series, or Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. The main character is a deadly security droid that has bucked its restrictive programming and is balanced between contemplative self-discovery and an idle instinct to kill all humans.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • I LOVE MURDERBOT

  • By Michael - Audible Editor on 11-06-17

My New Favorite Anti-Social Killing Machine!

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

Reviewed: 10-11-18

All Systems Red, the first installment in Martha Wells' The Murderbot Diaries and winner of the 2018 Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards, is a heck of a lot of fun. This is a novella, so the premise is pretty simple - a rogue android has to help keep the humans who have contracted it for security alive during a planetary survey mission. Naturally, Wells inserts a few wrinkles along the way that point to something larger and more nefarious. A murderbot has to earn its pay, after all.

What separates All Systems Red from the pack of droid hero science fiction is the character of Murderbot itself. Murderbot has hacked the governor module that controls and dictates its behavior, making it a free agent, if not for the fact that it has to hide this tidbit of information from its human employers. Despite being fully self-aware and keenly intelligent, Murderbot is still listed as inventory in the Company that contracts it out for security services, so certain ruses must be maintained if Murderbot doesn't want to see itself reformatted and re-enslaved to its corporate masters.

Murderbot may not be human, although it does have some fleshy components, but it is most decidedly a person. Wells gives enough depth to Murderbot to make it sympathetic, relying on the android's personality and issues of human bias and notions of superiority in our historical dealings with artificial intelligences to give us a healthy degree of perspective on where exactly Murderbot is coming from.

And where Murderbot is coming from is decidedly simple - it hates humans and just wants to be left alone to watch its favorite downloaded television shows. Never before have I found an artificial intelligence to be so utterly relatable! While I can fully sympathize with Murderbot's ambitions, it's pretty damn hilarious listening to its encounters with its new human crew and their attempts to humanize a wryly grumpy killing machine, and how Murderbot responds to such showings of support and empathy. The scientific team it is charged with protecting is nicely drama free, but Wells manages to wring a good bit of emotive action out of how Murderbot and its crew respond to each other. Wells doesn't get deeply philosophical about the nature of life, intelligence, and free will, but she does raise a few poignant issues worth thinking about over the course of this short book.

Experiencing All Systems Red in audiobook format, though, leaves me slightly conflicted. It took me a while to warm to Kevin R. Free's narration, and while his reading here is serviceable I wish it were more engaging. Murderbot actually has feelings - it gets angry, its gets sarcastic, and it knows when it needs to be emotionally manipulative to draw out desired responses from the humans around it. Free's reading is dry and largely monotone; this makes for a dull listen despite Murderbot being anything but a dull character. I wish Free would have taken a livelier approach to the material, but I did eventually come around to his style - not enough to rave about his vocal showmanship, but enough that I'm still interested in pursuing this series in audio rather than switching over to print (at least for book two).

Although the narration didn't do the story justice, the character of Murderbot is most definitely one worth paying attention to and has me eager to sink straight into Artificial Condition next. I can't wait to see what further hijinks my new favorite anti-social killing machine gets up to!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Vox

  • By: Christina Dalcher
  • Narrated by: Julia Whelan
  • Length: 9 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 582
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 543
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 542

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial - this can't happen here. Not in America. Not to her. This is just the beginning. Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke 16,000 words a day, but now women only have 100 to make themselves heard. But this is not the end. For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • don't waste your time

  • By Morgan Bell on 08-29-18

Interesting, But Lives In The Shadow Of Atwood

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

Reviewed: 10-09-18

Fair warning - all those fragile little white boys who are always complaining "why's it always gotta be so political? Ugh!" should probably skip this review and get back to complaining about Asian women existing in Star Wars or a female Doctor Who, cause it's gonna get real political up in here...

The simple fact of the matter is all art is political. Vox, by Christina Dalcher, in particular is fully informed by the current political trends in the USA. Dalcher explores the aftermath of the forceful rise of far-right Christian rule in America (a very real, very legitimate threat), where the presidency has become the puppet figurehead of a highly influential extremist evangelical preacher (rather than say, oh, I dunno...Russia.). Overnight, America changes as the Pure Movement sweeps through government, and in short order women are forced to wear bracelets that deliver electric shocks if they speak more than 100 words a day. Reverend Corbin believes a woman's place is in the home, and the US government begins removing women from the workplace, forcibly establishing its absolute patriarchal rule. Women are all but silenced and utterly removed from the day-to-day life of society.

In an interview with The Bookseller, Dalcher said her novel is not a call to arms, but "a call to pay attention. ... The fact is that our lives really can change in a heartbeat. We saw this with [Donald Trump's] executive order banning travel from Muslim countries to the United States. Everything changed very quickly." The rise of Trump has seen a radical and rapid shift in democratic norms bending toward authoritarianism (to see just how much his first year in office changed things, Amy Siskind's The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year looks worthwhile). Listening to Vox, narrated by Julia Whelan, over the course of a week that saw alleged rapist Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by serial sexual offender Donald Trump, appointed to the Supreme Court is a stark reminder of just how real the patriarchal rule in America is and how fully women's voices can (and will) be ignored, if not yet completely silenced.

Vox uses its allegorical limitations on women's voices to make some very important points, ones we should all be cognizant of and working to prevent (pssst...don't forget to vote November 6!). This is a highly political book that takes American gender wars to the next step, highlighting both men and women's complicity in this national silencing, the patriarchal "norms" of Christianity, and the sad fact that women really have become a punching bag in American society (to the point that Trump even mocked a sexual assault survivor and Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford during one of his recent rallies to stir up his base).

While it has plenty of worthwhile things to say, Dalcher's work ultimately exists in the shadow of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and oftentimes feels utterly derivative in its plot points and execution. So much of the story in Vox has been done before, and while Dalcher does insert a few original story beats much of the book merely feels like a reworking of Atwood's seminal novel.

Strangely, I actually liked Dalcher's book better thanks to some of her concepts and willingness to get into some of the nitty gritty. It's not the dull slog I recall The Handmaid's Tale being, and there's actually some moments of action. Dalcher posits her story from the perspective of a neurolinguist, although I would have appreciated a bit more focus on the impact of female children's communication development being so forcefully aborted. Imagine, if you will, a baby girl just learning to talk and babble, and then being electrocuted once she breaks the 100 word limit. Picture how stunted she would become once denied a voice. Dalcher approaches this topic late in the book in a very brief segment, but it's an idea I would have loved to have seen more fully explored.

And therein lies my main rub with Vox. Dalcher presents some intriguing ideas, but never truly commits to any of them. The shock bracelets present an interesting premise, but how women were subjugated and forced into wearing them is entirely glossed over. The impact on America's economy of losing half its workforce is all but ignored. We do get a few potent reminders of what the far-right Christian rule looks like in Dalcher's near-future, but we could have used more. There's a lot in Vox that feels half-baked.

Thankfully, Julia Whelan, an Audie Award winner, is fully committed as this audiobook's narrator. I first listened to Whelan earlier this year in her reading of Michael McDowell's The Amulet, so when I found out she was narrating Vox I couldn't miss the chance to listen to this book, as well. She does an outstanding job here, capturing those moments of high emotional intensity - you can feel the stress and worry, the excitement and fear, and those brief glimmers of hope that shine through this dystopian nightmare. Whelan is an excellent narrator and she kept me engaged throughout the entirety of Vox.

Dalcher shows some promise as a novelist in this debut, and I'll be curious to see how she develops as she steps out the shadows of Atwood's influence and discovers her own voice and original ideas. Vox, like A Handmaid's Tale, is certainly a product of its time and its era's politics, with Trump's regime and #MeToo clearly weaved into the story's DNA. Here's to hoping its more extreme ideas stay solidly in the realm of fiction.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The King of Plagues

  • The Joe Ledger Novels, Book 3
  • By: Jonathan Maberry
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 16 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,306
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 4,874
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,862

Saturday, 0911 hours — A blast rocks a London hospital and thousands are dead or injured. 1009 hours — Joe Ledger arrives on scene to investigate. The horror is unlike anything he has ever seen. Compelled by grief and rage, Ledger rejoins the Department of Military Sciences, and within hours he's attacked by a hit team of assassins and sent on a suicide mission.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Joe Ledger ROCKS!

  • By Amanda H. on 05-12-11

PLAGUES Confirms I am STILL Not Sick of Joe Ledger

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

Reviewed: 09-26-18

Having listened to the first three installments of the Joe Ledger series, The King of Plagues included, it's safe to say that I'll be a devout follower of Jonathan Maberry's hero for the foreseeable future (particularly since I've already downloaded the rest of these books and have book #10 on pre-order for its late-October release). But having also done a minor bit of binge listening and working through these first three books in fairly quick succession (for me, anyway), I'm not entirely sure what else I have to add beyond what I have already said in my reviews for Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory.

Maberry is a reliable author to turn toward, and the bulk of his work that I've read has left me satisfied. His Rot & Ruin series is a superb run of Young Adult post-apocalyptic zombie novels (a few which also feature Joe Ledger, naturally), and his latest, Glimpse, was an early favorite of my 2018 reads. His Ledger books follow a formulaic structure, as series books typically do, but they've proven to be immediately engaging. I like Ledger and his tough, smart-ass, but self-aware attitude, and Maberry has surrounded him with a great cast of supporting players and ultra-villainous baddies who you just cannot wait to see their asses kicked and/or killed.

The King of Plagues introduces us to a secret society of ultra-wealthy global elites, the 1% of the 1%, who control literally every single thing. They are the Seven Kings, and through their network of assassins, drug cartels, legitimate industries, terror cells, street gangs, government agencies, etc., they covertly run the world, destabilizing economies and nations for their own gain and pleasures. For the Goddess they serve, this is not enough, and so Sebastian Gault (a returning villain responsible for the zombie outbreak in Patient Zero) is recruited as their King of Plagues, with the goal of unleashing the ten Biblical plagues upon mankind in an act of global Armageddon. Joe Ledger, on sabbatical from the DMS, is called back into action to face what is easily the greatest threat he's faced thus far.

One thing that surprised me is the somewhat slower, more methodical pace of The King of Plagues in comparison to the prior two entries. Given this book's focus on germ warfare and biological terrorism, Maberry is forced to be a bit more restrained in the gunplay. While there are still plenty of great big giant action scenes, there are also quieter, more dramatic plays on turmoil. It is, after all, a little too reckless to get into a gunfight while wearing a hazmat suit and locked in a room surrounded by vials of ebola and contaminated air.

Restraining the violence is a good thing sometimes, and such moments allow Maberry to fully capitalize on the emotional horrors and physical trauma of murder by way of viral attacks, and the sense of powerlessness in the face of invisible microbial terrors. Other aspects of The King of Plagues are equally restrained, giving the book a bit more a grounded in reality feel. The Seven Kings aspect feels slightly comic-bookish and grandiose, but it's also hard to discount them given real world machinations and the influence of the ultra-wealthy on systems of governance and law. What cannot be discounted, though, is the severely human antagonists at the heart of Plagues. In fact, there's nary a zombie or genetically engineered beserker to be found. The horrors here are entirely human and natural, even if already highly deadly diseases have been given an extra bit of fictional oomph. For a series that has been populated with scientifically plausible-enough monsters, it's notable that Maberry bypasses that particular facet in favor of viruses and plagues, exhibiting the elasticity of this series and allowing the author and his characters to stretch their legs into some deeper and more diabolical arenas.

My only real complaint comes with a dangling loose end that came at the finale of the prior entry, The Dragon Factory. At that book's close, we saw Ledger on the hunt for an assassin that had previously escaped his crosshairs. It's an element that is all but abandoned here, as Maberry picks up the story sometime following Ledger's pursuit and his acquisition of an awesome white German Shepherd named Ghost. Apparently Ledger's hunt and Ghost's introduction are told in a short story, available separately naturally, which frankly irks me a bit. It's a bit jarring to have Ledger all of a sudden in the company of a killer attack dog, and denied the pay-off of The Dragon Factory's most pressing story thread.

This small issue aside, The King of Plagues is certainly a heck of a lot of fun. Ray Porter continues to impress, taking his rightful place as The King of Narrators as he exhibits a knack for various accents as Ledger's search for the Seven Kings takes him overseas to England and Scotland. It was fun listening to Porter adopt a Scotsman's brogue for some pertinent scenes, and his portrayal of the inmate Nicodemus allowed him to exhibit even further range in one particularly creepy scene.

Now that I've worked my way through the opening trio of this long-running series, I will be taking a small break from Joe Ledger's adventures before I get burned out. But you can be damned sure I'll be back for more soon!