Listening report: July 2012

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Listening report: July 2012

Posted on 2012-10-02 at 13:57 by Sam

After ending a run of eight audiobooks in my June listening with the amazing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I listened to seven audiobooks in August, with Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords, Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook, and G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen being the outstanding listens.



  • Earth Unaware By Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, Arthur Morey, Vikas Adam, Emily Janice Card, Gabrielle de Cuir, and Roxanne Hernandez for Macmillan Audio (review copy) — Length: 13 hrs and 59 mins — I have only read two Ender-verse novels, Ender’s Game and Shadows in Flight (which is the most recent which follows Bean’s storyline) but since Earth Unaware is a prequel, I didn’t anticipate feeling lost. In fact I wasn’t; though having some idea as to who Mazer Rackham is, and some manner of knowing his involvement in the First Formic War to come, not to mention who and what the Formics are, certainly helps. The former, actually, not so much, as Rackham does not appear too much and too deeply in this story; it’s more of a cameo at this stage. This makes it doubly frustrating that Stefan Rudnicki narrates the “Wit” storyline. Wit O’Toole is an Earth-based commander of an internationally comprised special forces group. Following their training is somewhat, but not too interesting, and is not (and here we are still only in book one of the new series) connected in any obvious way with any of the other events of the book. With Rudnicki tied up on that storyline, the primary and most interesting storyline, that of the Ender-esque character Viktor, a boy born to a family of free miners, is given over to another narrator. This is not actually a complete disaster, as the Spanish/Portugese and Italian words and phrases are handled deftly, and through this storyline we encounter both this new culture of free miners, computer-assisted astrogation, and of course first contact with the Formics themselves. Other storylines include: a heartless corporate type Lem Jukes, developing a “gravity laser” (which seems likely to end up resulting in the final M.D. weapon Ender will eventually use to exterminate the Formics in the climax of Ender’s Game) and not afraid to push around — or kill — a few free miners to keep the research secret and an honest official investigating that corporation, voiced by Emily Janice Card. While a lot of the story and development is either pedestrian, or a bit self-indulgent in Card’s signature internal monologues, working through decisions and outcomes, there are some well-done scenes of collision, and particularly search and rescue. Extra track: the end of the audiobook features the now-customary interview with Orson Scott Card on the writing of the book, something I always enjoy hearing about.
  • Theft of Swords: Riyria Revelations, Book 1 By Michael J. Sullivan, Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds for Recorded Books — Series: Riyria Revelations, Book 1 — Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series was originally to be published as 6 books, but before book 6 even came out Orbit bought the series and repackaged the 6 books as three sets of two, this being the first such “mini omnibus”, including “The Crown Conspiracy” and “Avempartha”. “Riyria” is a group of two mercenaries (one a 3-sworded warrior named Hadrian, one a hooded thief named Royce) who have a certain reputation for being able to take on odd jobs of all kinds, and a backstory of jobs gone good and bad and the sarcastic banter to go with it. In “The Crown Conspiracy” the two are set up as the fall guys for the murder of a monarch, however, the powers which have done so have oh-so-spectacularly picked the wrong pair of thieves. The game is afoot, and we get an introduction to the powers and nations and (some tip) of the deeper history of the world along the way. As “Avempartha” opens, one of my favorite little bits of self-referential fun for the year is that a play is being put on roughly about the (legend-in-the-telling) events of the first book, with the play called… “The Crown Conspiracy”. I love that. Light humor and a more honest and goodness of spirit, though hey, yes, they are mercenaries, inhabits these books than the more grim and gritty “everyone’s an anti-hero” fests which have become a bit more the mode of epic fantasy. Author Sullivan certainly does have a thing for towers, as “Avempartha” centers around a mysterious tower near the site of a religious-based tournament of swordsmen, with the winner getting quite the prize indeed. However, the villager-eating beastie at the heart of this tournament may be more than the church has bargained for or can deal with. Enter, of course, Royce and Hadrian. Sullivan shows even better his deftness for fitting the pieces of his plots and subplots nicely together here, as by the end some things which were quite heavily hinted at are confirmed, setting up a world quite ready for conflict and change as the series goes forward. On the world, there are some very interesting touches, particularly in the nearly enslaved elven race as opposed to the elegant noble free and fair folk of stock-standard fantasy fare, as well as multi-layered systems of politics and religions, though at this point in the series we have not “zoomed out” too terribly far. Narration: Reynolds is very, very well-cast here, with a range of voices and accents which really make the story sing. A thoroughly enjoyable production.
  • Into the Black: Odyssey One By Evan Currie, Narrated by Benjamin L. Darcie for Brilliance Audio (Length:14 hrs and 55 mins) — This one I listened to around other audiobooks over the course of a few months. Currie’s self-published 2011 space sf novel was picked up by’s 47North, polished up, and given a full 2012 re-release in print, e-book, and audiobook. Here, Into the Black sees a new starship, the series-eponymous Odyssey, with a new, experimental long-distance “jump” style drive, captained by a veteran of a more terrestrial fighter pilot squadron, make its first jump, encounter the wreckage of an alien ship, and adventure onward. There’s definitely something “long tail” here, as there’s certainly a voracious market for bulk space opera, but the characters/plot/story/tech was about as stock as they come — again, certainly there’s a market here, it just isn’t me. I did want to check out another of the 47North/Brilliance titles after Neal Stephenson’s (et al) The Mongoliad. Thus far: capable enough productions, though mediocre books; the editorial selections of Brilliance Audio proper (Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, Catherynne M. Valente’s Dirge for Prester John) and sister Amazon-owned (too many good titles brought to audio to even begin to list, but let’s start with Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch, Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, Jo Walton’s Among Others, …) set a higher bar at the top end than, thus far, 47North has achieved. (Though certainly every publisher puts out a clunker for a given reader/listener now and then.) Here Darcie’s narration is instantly recognizable as the “classic space sf” mode of narration: clean, dry, and precise, with minimal vocal gymnastics to distinguish speakers. Die-hard fans of space adventure fiction who burn their way through novels and audiobooks will find enough “there” there. Thanks again to Brilliance Audio for the review copy CD set, which was well-produced with appropriately moody disc intro/outtro music as well.
  • The Rook: A Novel By Daniel O’Malley, Narrated by Susan Duerden for Dreamscape Media and Hachette Audio — When a novel opens with a young woman waking up without memory, in a park, surrounded by a circle of dead bodies wearing plastic gloves, there’s a good chance the novel is a thriller. Myfanwy Thomas is in mortal peril, and she doesn’t know why, or from whom. The driving forces of this book are many, not all of them natural, as into the midst of all this it turns out that Thomas is a “Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain.” And that she has superpowers, too. And so in addition to staying alive and finding out why and from whom she is in mortal peril, she has a country and planet to save. There are absolutely stunning send-ups of dragon and vampire births which are just knife-slices of realistic badassery, leaving me with the thought, “Why yes, this is pretty damned close to how I’d imagine a freaking dragon would behave, isn’t it!” There are bizarre self-gene-hacking “Grafters” which practice a forbidden supernatural tech, leading to all manner of fungal-group-mind insanity. There are conspiracies within conspiracies, reveals, chases, escapes, fights, night clubs, … and then you add the Chequy’s American counterparts coming in for a mini-convention of superpowered overload. Structurally, the book is also interesting. The main storyline follows the Myfanwy who has no memory; interleaved with this we have letters from the “old” Myfanwy which, read in order reveal more and more of the conspiracy, some just-in-time foreshadowing, and a red herring or two, just because, hey, why not? leading to, of course, in true thriller style, a show down of show downs and a very, very satisfying denouement. Narration: Duerden is fantastic as Myfanwy (pronounced “Miffany”) and many of her accents and characterizations — particularly of the grotesque grafters — are fantastic. Her American accents leave a little more to be desired, but they distinguish well. Just an overall excellent audiobook and book, very recommended.
  • Alif the Unseen By G. Willow Wilson, Narrated by Sanjiv Jhaveri for Brilliance Audio — Another fantastic audiobook, this time combining the Arab Spring, computer hackers for freedom of speech and counter-hacking agencies, and Djinn magic into a book which revolves around an ancient book that shouldn’t exist in our world. Alif is a hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern state, eking out a living by setting up anonymous servers and bulletin boards, etc. He’s also fallen in love with a young woman very out of his league for a long list of reasons: class and wealth, sure, but also Alif’s heritage as the child of a native with an immigrant worker. At nearly the same time that Alif’s beloved, Intisar, is betrothed to a prince, his own hacking programs are being turned against him by state security — run by, as it turns out, this very same prince, known in hacking circles as the feared Hand — and Alif’s entire network has been compromised, putting him on the run. On the run with him is another young woman, Dina, who has been Alif’s neighbor and friend for his entire life, and who is obviously in love with him and is right for him, but Alif is too much a moron to see, along with a mysterious and ancient book which Dina conveyed to Alif from Intisar, just as the state security guards have come calling. Enter a twisting back-alley of cell phone smugglers and, yes, Djinn; harrowing escapes and well-conceived and executed network hacking sessions, and further into both darkness and mystery. There were a few spots where either my credulity (doesn’t this state police force have helicopters? if you corner a hacker, wouldn’t you cut the phone and DSL lines?) or forced-reference-o-meter (a bit too cute on djinn prefering places abandoned by humans — “Detroit is very popular”) were tested, but this book really impressed me. Narration: The narrator was amazing with accents, genders, just wonderfully narrated; the author gave him quite a cast to work with in age, region, dialect, and even species and it all just comes out feeling spot-on. Again, recommended.
  • Vlad By Carlos Fuentes, translated by Alejandro Branger, and narrated by Robert Fass for Dreamscape Media — Length: 2 hrs and 41 mins — First quarter is a slow, lovely build up, establishing the hard-working laywer Yves Navarro and his wife Asuncion, but by the midpoint, I was asking myself: At some point when a creepy old eastern European Count Vlad sets up very mysteriously in a blackout-windowed estate, and makes creepy comments about your wife, don’t your “VAMPIRE” alarms go off? Not this guy. Still it’s a moody, atmospheric, “Mexican gothic” feel, with some well-built personal touches — Yves and Asuncion had lost their son, horrifically; Yves is deeply self-conscious of his performance as a lover — all leading to a creepily ambiguous ending. Along the way, we sit through two retellings — the second is particularly beautiful — of the story of Vlad the Impaler, it’s well narrated enough by Fass that the story kept moving.
  • The Sagan Diary By John Scalzi, Narrated by Stephanie Wolfe with an introduction by John Scalzi for Audible Frontiers — Series: Old Man’s War — Length: 1 hr and 34 mins — The introduction (in the story itself, not Scalzi’s) by a complaining technician seems entirely incorrect; the diary contains psychological insights into dealing with a new identity, killing, otherness, and death, etc. and therefore seems fairly useful in an analytic sense. But I digress. The publisher copy sums it up pretty well: “a long novelette that for the first time looks at the worlds of the Hugo-nominated Old Man’s War and its sequel The Ghost Brigades from the point of view of Lieutenant Jane Sagan, who in a series of diary entries gives her views on some of the events included in the series… and sheds new light into some previously unexplored corners.” I’ve only read the first book in the series, so I don’t have the full picture, but I read Old Man’s War recently enough that the characters were fresh enough that these diaries found plenty of corners to creep into.
I also listened to the beginning of A Book of Tongues, the first book in the Hexslinger Trilogy, by Gemma Files (Iambik Audiobooks), and the first chapters of Chimera: The Subterrene War, Book 3 by T. C. McCarthy. Of course now (October 1, as I’m finally putting the finishing touches on this post) I’ve long since finished both, but for now, just the beginnings.

In my “real” reading I absolutely devoured Hush by James Maxey, book 2 in his Dragon Apocalypse series which started with January’s fanastically fun, creative, and imaginative Greatshadow. Here there’s yet more imagination on display, with a family of superpowered seafarers lending help to some returning adventurers from book one in an inter-dimensional battle with astrological implications. For me it wasn’t quite the romping wild ride as in Greatshadow, but Hush adds several new layers to the world, gives us a much wider view both of the more terrestrial geography but also, as mentioned, dimensions and astrological realms. And the ending… my, oh my, Mr. Maxey. There’s an ending for you. I’m eagerly looking forward to Witchbreaker early next year.

I also finally finished Jeff VanderMeer’s The Situation, which, well, having worked in a (very) large software engineering firm for a dozen years now, and 3 years working in IT for academia prior… that was pretty brilliant. And surreal. Fungal weirdness, transformations, petty yet deadly office politics, inscrutable management, bizarre projects, …

Speaking of VanderMeer, I’ve begun what will likely be a multi-year project of reading, slowly, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology The Weird.In July it was merely a preview, reading through the table of contents and Michael Moorcock’s “Foreweird”. The oversized hardcover from Tor is a beautiful book. Huge; and beautiful.

Among other readings in new short fiction, I also read a new novella, “To Be Read Upon Your Waking”, by Robert Jackson Bennett in Subterranean Online, which was quite lovely and dark, and I was back on some podcasts in between books here and there, particularly catching up on some missed episodes of Toasted Cake — Ken Liu, Vylar Kaftan, Nathaniel Lee, Cat Rambo, …

August plans: Well, it being October, I already know what I listened to and read in August: Chimera, How to Build an Android, The Drowning Girl, Glory Road, Fragile Things, A Book of Tongues, and: comics!

Posted in Sam's Monthly Listening Report | Tagged alif the unseen, Carlos Fuentes, earth unaware, into the black, james maxey, john scalzi, michael j sullivan, monthly listening report, orson scott card, the rook, theft of swords