So, we’re into April and I’m only scratching the surface on reviewing my January listening, and a long list of full reviews to write, but I want to get these brief thoughts out at least, so, in the interest of time: I started the year by finishing up some long-overdue Tim Powers “research” in advance of meeting (and interviewing!) him at illogiCon, interrupted only a bit by the launch of John Scalzi’s episodic The Human Division (which I won’t review myself here, since Dave is covering these magnificently through his Listen-a-Long). After a diversion into a Steampunk/occult world of trans-Atlantic airships (Melissa Scott and Jo Graham’s Lost Things) I finally, finally got to The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams. Still, a leisurely pace indeed of just 4 novels against the more packed-in holidays listening of December, though the two Powers books combine for nearly 40 hours of wonderful listening between them, and The Dirty Streets of Heaven runs nearly to 16 hours, so it wasn’t exactly a month of silence by any means.
Last Call by Tim Powers, read by Bronson Pinchot for Blackstone Audio — I very much enjoyed another Pinchot-Powers works, On Stranger Tides, and found this one every bit as enjoyable, if not more so. Powers sets his Secret History sights on the early days of the Vegas strip, and connects the dots between Tarot and high-stakes (the highest stakes) poker, with archetypal gods and goddesses and their orbits along the way. Quite fantastic, and Pinchot nails the dry desert and California voices, along with the subtle Francophone accents. One down note seems to be a theme with my listens of Pinchot so far, in that his voices for women tend quite strongly to the too-soft to the point of coloring them as more helpless and inactive characters than the text sets out. But that absolutely should not stop anyone from checking out this audiobook.
Declare by Tim Powers, read by Simon Prebble for Blackstone Audio — Up until this book, The Stress of Her Regard was my favorite Powers novel. But Declare is magnificent, absolutely marvelous, and as time goes by I’m less and less sure it is a matter of mood but rather a definitive taking of that title for Declare, a Secret History of West v. East spygames which posits Britain and Russia with top-echelon secret agencies keeping tabs on powerful, powerfully ancient, and unfathomable forces. The narrative structure is also compelling, with a “current” timeline set during the Cold War, as a long-dormant agent Andrew Hale is pulled out of his comfortable academic retirement to revisit his greatest failure as an agent of operation Declare, a horrific incident on Mt. Ararat. Threaded through this is a deep and fantastic backstory of Hale’s actions in WW2 occupied France as a double agent for Russia, ostensibly then allies against Germany but each with their own aims and secrets, continuing forward through additional assignments and culminating in the disaster at Ararat, just as Hale in the “current” timeline is making another go of finishing the mission that has haunted him for so long. Prebble’s narration is wonderful, handling djinns, Russians, Turks, all manner of British accents, and granting a rich timbre to a simply fantastic book.
Lost Things by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham, read by John Lee for Crossroad Press (review copy) — I loved John Lee on China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, and my eyebrows reached for my hairline when I heard the mainline narration in an American accent. But this turned into an enjoyable listen of occult possession amidst post-WW2 airshows and luxury airships making an Atlantic crossing as Lee more than handles Scott and Graham’s crew of characters. [Full review to come.]
The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams, read by George Newbern for Penguin Audio (review copy) — The author of one of my favorite epic fantasies, the Memory, Sorrow & Thorn series, sets his sights on urban fantasy and delivers an original take on angels and demons in the author’s own Palo Alto and its surrounds. Bobby Dollar is “Doloriel”, an angel whose job it is to show up when a dearly departed has, er, departed, and argue his or her case for salvation against their hellish prosecuting counterpart’s claims for damnation. When a soul goes missing it’s clear something is going cosmically, terribly wrong and Bobby is thrust into the investigation not knowing who is keeping secrets from him, and who cares if his own soul is devoured or lost along the way. Fantastic and, actually, sexy along the way, delivering solid action from shootouts to chase scenes on road and waterway, all the while setting up an even wider conflict to come in future installments in books 2 (2013) and 3 (2014). [Full review to come.]
Meanwhile in print reading I started on book three in James Maxey’s Dragon Apocalypse series, Witchbreaker.