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Audiobook Roundup July 6, 2015

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Some of my readers know I am renovating my house to rent and spend long days doing repetitive work like sanding and painting and minor repairs. Little of this involves thought, so I listen to audiobooks. I liked the ones I have been listening to, so here goes:

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey is the most horrible horror book I have read in a long long time. The things the UK Army does to a classroom full of children infected with the zombie parasite makes you wonder if the monsters are inside the fence instead of outside. This juicy little novel posits that the parasite involved in creating zombies is a strain Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (a fungus infects an ant, whereupon the insect becomes compelled to climb down to one of the lower leaves and clamp down with its mandibles until it dies. The fungus consumes the ant’s tissues — all except for the muscles controlling the mandibles — and grows inside of it. After a couple of weeks, the fungal spores fall to the ground to infect more ants. Ants infected by this particular fungus are often called “zombie ants.”), and the sciency-flavored horror is lovingly detailed and acted well by the narrator. Most highly recommended, and very depressing.

Exciting update: there is to be a movie made:

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman is likewise well-acted by its narrator, but is in another vein entirely. This novel (part three of the series and probably the last) follows the adventures of a skilled magician after banishment from Fillory (the lamb version of the lion Aslan’s Narnia). Unlike magicians of other books, this one grows up to be thirty-something, copes with his father’s death (natural causes–this ain’t J.K. Rowling), stops drinking, resurrects his dead girlfriend, kills a couple of gods and creates two new worlds.

I know this makes him sound like an overachiever, but Grossman tells it so well you just go with it. Spectacular use of language; most highly recommended, not depressing at all.

Exciting update: there is a TV series.  I would have learned this sooner, but I don’t watch TV (much. I have seen most of Person of Interest).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is another horror book  read by him which is a real treat, as he is very good. The horror is that of a young boy haunted by an elemental spirit of some kind and is pretty terrifyingly brought to life. He has a couple of kindly neighbors who help him with this, and they seem pretty competent so far. One of them is eleven years old…although at one point the boy asks “How long have you been eleven?”

I’m not done with this one yet, but I like it already.

The Lorem Ipsum of Audiobook Reviews April 26, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Mutants, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 translated my recorded voice recording of my book review of Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay, like this voiceprint:

“You a decade.  Really really excellent author who is a zoo or a includes a charming afterward in the audio version that I advice I advance advance is most likely faintness, or it is thrilling renditions of all the audio books of every pinball game upon her fellow implement books plus microkernels on is grateful for the spirit of an I digress to guy like I go day is a nifty audio blog and a wonderful by Simon as his reading of them is a reading James Bond books for all this time I’ve been expected to have the kind of depth character in a wired slightly surprising, weighing way exceeded my expectations reprieves female characters with the real sympathy and creditable of a soft voice means masculine characters is very masculine and the in-between guide him in the event of a pre-reading while.  It’s a really is a tricky little book tricky because of like I’d ever OKs wonderful descriptions of people and their reactions and their internal monologues are internal feelings captured and laid out like a map if it’s a map of a charming country and my favorite passage of all is listening to the Sea Captain bemoaning the fact that he has that fat and ugly daughters and a shrewish wife and subsequent charming.  And it’s all but the most charming way and some advanced.  So is to miss is like your work a stitch in the story to guy so sort of sorcery thing, which is an bit of a departure from him not really a sort and sorcery sword reader, but it came very highly recommended.  It turns out to have been an excellent recommendation is the name of one of the snow over the in a peninsula called the Palm, which is a site based on course Renaissance Italy, which is conquered by a pair of sorcerers won from these one from the West, who picks off all these little city states or provinces like being weak and divided people that they are also I don’t use magic so magicians have a quite a large as there would comes the battle believe how they can figure out how is a Mexican nonetheless seen in the book, but I will not determine you would like to say however that nicely with allies a great deal of scurrying around and I’m very much magic that recursively defined in the country and the titular family think I may buy one of the missive at magicians who satisfy in the battle for it and a terrible vengeance on the whitening their very name name of province of them have nobody who is not foreigner in your were end of the book have been burned all the songs have been in her and the story of the Prince of the guy.  You might coming back 20 years later to fund for the guy who killed the country.  He realizes that he has a wife of Paul magicians at the same time on their way.  When we do something over 1 1/2 at only half as wireless as a marvelous device for making sure that the the the the the the, that allows the young rates may the marvelous business to leave and I recommend it if you like Amazon and has been known were in place reaching agreement on.” 

I may need to adjust my cellphone’s audio a bit.

Noir, a Novel, by Christopher Moore May 2, 2019

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Noir, a Novel, by Christopher Moore combines Moore’s signature humor with the delivery of a noir-fiction detective. It is, like all his books, filled with wild improbabilities or impossibilities depending on your religion (or lack thereof). Get the audio book version; the reader gets it just right at every turn of the page.

For your trouble you will get murder (of course; it is a noir novel), kidnapping, gangsters, conspiracies, secret societies, hookers dressed like Dorothy Gale, a girlfriend referred to as “The Cheese”, potential human sacrifice and a completely unexpected ending, unless you are big on deus ex machina, or catches in left field.

In my usual way of ensuring maximum delight, I give no details whatsoever. Let it unfold in your mind. Available on Amazon (of course) and sfpl.org.

Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn April 15, 2019

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Eifelheim, by  Michael Flynn, is a wonderful book full of historical accuracies, plausibly. Human characters, utterly fanciful science fiction and (in the audiobook version) droll and dry remarks from demons (in the 13th century) or aliens (in the 21st). In both eras, the story is fascinating as we see into the mind of a medieval village priest and two modern-day historians.  The story is told by both, without the usual historical whiplash which usually accompanies this sort of perspective switch.  The medieval setting lends a certain claustrophobic cloud of uncertainty to the actions of the parish priests, who succors aliens and finally allows them to live in his parish.  It is one of those rare books where Christian charity is given a fair shake, even while the foibles and failures of human beings undermine the whole religious structure.

A very good read and I recommend it most highly.  The audiobook is available at Amazon (of course), but also at sfpl.org.

EXCITING UPDATE: I liked Flynn’s writing so well I started January Dancer, which I also recommend for wordplay alone. Possible review coming up, but I’m pretty sure it will be flattering.

Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds March 19, 2019

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Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds is a heck of an audiobook. The story is of comet miners detoured to the outer reaches of the solar system to chase Janus, an ice moon of Saturn[0] that has suddenly accelerated away from orbit. They are the only ship within range, so not really a lot of choice…and there is the rub.  Some choices get made, and some terrible things happen.

In Space!

Sorry.  Had to get that out.

This isn’t just a scantily-clad space opera; I genuinely felt for the characters as mountains of Bad Things happened to them over really long time spans…because they got a little tiny bit time-dilated[1]. Okay, more than a tiny bit. There are ultimately power grabs, friendships lost, horrible deaths, miraculous medicine, aliens[2], war, rebellion, intrigue, tropical fish, heroic rescues and weird science.

A yummy confection that took about twenty hours and I found it intense enough to turn off often, as I was feeling the characters fear and grief.  Nice work, that.

Available on Amazon (link above) and at sfpl.org.

__________

[0] “Janis, Ice Maid of Saturn” would make a great movie serial.

[1] Not a science book at all, but simple discussion of physics here and there didn’t break narrative flow.

[2] It’s no fun without aliens.

Where Have I Been (for the past 2 years)? January 30, 2019

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Busy, that’s where. A huge list of Things I Did or Thangs Wot Happen’d would allow Google/Facebook/CIA/NSA/FBI/The Illuminati/Mom to know everything I’m up to, so that’s not happening. Instead, I want to talk about my audiobook adventures.

I had some; I’m going to add a few here in list form and expand them as Words Come To Mind, but don’t hold your breath. As always, this space is usually filled with musings which crystallize during my lunch hour and find their way to you by the miracle of a series of tubes, to almost quote an abysmally ignorant Senator[0]. Given that my lunch hour must also accommodate actual lunch and a walk, this may take a while.

The latest book in my head is the second in the Sleepless series by Nancy Kress. Beggars and Choosers is  better even than the first novel, Beggars in Spain, following the frightening changes to law, society and humanity after genetic engineering of humans  results in a two-class[1] society.  The first book is pretty good, too, but this one has better character development and an edge of terror the first book lacked. Available at Amazon and sfpl.org. I wonder if she has a third book in this series (the ending doesn’t seem to suggest that).

EXCITING UPDATE: there seems to be an additional book: Beggar’s Ride.  I must hunt it down and hear it.

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman is another mythology-related audiobook, this one hewing more closely to the original stories than American Gods (I’ll review this another time; I’ve been busy, damn it). It’s his take on the various Norse myths and charmingly read by him in his wry sort of way. I admit I know nothing about my own heritage in this regard whatsoever, so it was a fun commute for a while.  I recommend this one highly.

I also listened to Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, also read by him.[2] That one is even more strange, and wonderful in its complexity and texture. The estranged sons of Anansi (a trickster god) meet up when Anansi dies (?), and one ruins the life of the other hilariously and tragically. Also highly recommended.

More later. I did just lose my draft of this blog post, plus my notes on all the books I read in the last two years, so there will be a little bit of time before I can finish this up…if ever.

I am currently listening to The Themis Files (apparently also a trilogy) by Sylvain Neuval and enjoying them very much.  Told in the style of interview transcripts, it’s the story of alien robots left scattered around the world millennia ago, and the trials and tribulations of finding and using them..and, of course, what to use them for. The audiobooks are specially nice since the characters are pretty well drawn and their reactions to their parts in the story are largely, uh, memorable.  Yeah, memorable; I’m going with that.

There is some screaming as well. Well acted by a bunch of different voice actors, they seemed to have lost one between book two and book three (Puerto Rican girl replaced by New York Puerto Rican girl). The author is listed as one of the voices, and there is a suspiciously Quebecois guy who is trying really hard to pretend he isn’t the author, so that must be him.  Good books for all that.

Some other titles to be fleshed out (all enjoyable enough to finish listening to):  Defy the Worlds, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray[3] (this series culminates with Defy the Fates eventually), Crossing Over by Anna Kendall, everything by William Gibson (I think that’s somewhere north of twenty novels…I drive a lot), [edit: nearly] everything by Scott Westerfeld[4], Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, some Brandon Sanderson stuff (“Alcatraz versus” several novels, but these were not audiobooks except Perfect State), Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, I am Princess X, by Cherie Priest, All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, Noir, a Novel, by Christopher Moore, Bellwether by Connie Willis[5], Head On by John Scalzi, The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Brainwave by Poul Anderson, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon stuff, The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne M. Harris, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, and others I have completely forgotten[6].

[0] Christ, where do they find these guys?

[1] Well three, but one of them seems pretty much outside of society for reasons which should be very clear at the end of the book [edit: series].

[2] I do feel that an author ought to be able to read the books they write with the delivery they intend in the writing, but I understand that not every writer is a good reader…mores the pity.

[3] featuring the line ’and stop smelling the robot boy’ delivered breathlessly by the narratrix

[4] see also “I drive a lot”, above–also, I found out I haven’t yet read everything of his.  Oh, boy.

[5] featuring the most evil character in all of English-language literature, Flip

[6] Two years is a long time, even for your nearly immortal correspondent.

Amazon Moto G Play Phone January 19, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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People in the know (i. e., my readers) are aware that I take my phones seriously, and have for three smart phones now. Well, smart-enough phones, I guess.  I mean I had an HTC 8125 ancient creaking phone with one of Microsoft’s many, many failed phone operating systems (are they really up to FOUR commercially-failed systems, and about to go for FIVE?), which did some things I needed in a phone: calculator (never used it, but could have), texting (would have used it but did not…not sure that it could, now that I think on it), took [execrable] photographs (look back in this blog far enough and you will find them, along with scathing reviews of the image quality) but at least ran the flash card app I wrote for it, among others (my writing them would not have been necessary if MS has anything like an app store.  Just sayin’), and played my beloved audio books during my [endless] commute.1

Still, it was not the optimum device.  My next phone (Samsung Galaxy S3 i9250) was a considerable improvement, in that the camera focused closely enough to copy text.  It ran Android apps mostly without complaint (even ones I had written myself), texted my children and played Bluetooth music and audio books without complaint, even after having survived several cracked glass incidents (to be fair, I never did repair the glass.  It looked like a vandalized cathedral when it finally died). It was a vast improvement, and I cried bitter tears indeed2 when it suddenly stopped letting me make telephone calls.

Now I have the aforementioned Amazon Moto G Play phone, and I must say it is an improvement on my previous experiences (except for the annoying notifications.  How the #$%^&* do I turn them off?) in speed, in reception and in sound clarity (although not volume).  The camera is much better (see recent postings about the weather, blue jay invasion, etc.) and the Android version is 6.0, which is 1.7 better than previous.  And it was cheap: $99 for the phone with advertising, $149 without.  I have been unable to figure out how to replace the bootloader to get rid of the advertisements (which would violate my agreement and would be Bad And Wrong), but it works so well I don’t care at all.

EXCITING, HORRIBLE UPDATE: can’t root the phone to use adb wireless.  This is totally bogus.

1Not sure that’s the longest run-on sentence I have ever written, but Baron Bulwer-Lytton must feel somewhat threatened in his cozy grave.

2Mostly because I had spent a fortune on it.  Don’t fear; this story DOES have a happy ending.

The Red, by Linda Nagata July 7, 2016

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The Red, by Linda Nagata held my interest well enough that I also listened to The Trials, the concluding (?) book in this story. Of the two, I think I liked The Red better, since the story arc seemed more complete and satisfying in and of itself.

Lieutenant James Shelley, US Army is part of a Linked Combat Squad which is just what it sounds like: an Army unit with excellent communications in three forms: a radio linkage to each other (GenCom), a video linkage to an overhead drone (an Angel), and a linkage to a handler (Control).  The individual soldier is also equipped with armor and an exoskeleton (either referred to as “armor and bones” or “dead sister”) and an “emotional prosthesis”, a skullcap which keeps mood swings in check.

Nice killing machines, you think? Not so much.  Our hero and his squaddies seem to be nice folks, just regular Joes (and Janes) in a rough business. There’s a bit of backstory for our hero but much less for the other characters, which does keep the narrative as tight as it needs to be, since this is an action tale after all.

This is probably interesting enough setup for several novels-worth of tales, but this particular one deals with a third sci-fi trope that is really interesting.  Shelley is infrequently given to having strong feelings in tactical situations that seem entirely incongruous with known operational parameters—he has hunches, and plays them. 

And they are always right. 

The source of these hunches are the crux of this novel. I must say I found the idea which explains it in the book is the most whimsical possibility I could have imagined, and brings me great delight when I think of it.

Good action, fair character development and a breezy pace (considering) make a good audiobook, competently read.

 

Exciting update: This is part of a trilogy. Great; now I have to listen to another one.

The Short Drop, by Matthew FitzSimmons July 1, 2016

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The Short Drop is a chilling little novella about corruption, featuring all the violence and evil you could ever want in an audiobook.  The lives wrecked by (other’s) corruption are offered redemption at a fearful price: knowledge of the whole, sordid story. The learning is, of course, a horror story itself involving all manner of evil including a Army sniper turned serial killer, a corrupt vice-president of the USA, old money with older ambitions and a pair of very good hackers in a duel.

Good characterizations of people with very bad problems written in a lively tone, but painful to see the realization of evil marching toward the denouement. It’s like a whole Greek chorus coming to your house to sing you a lullaby that lasts all night.

Ouch.

Good actioner, with some very likeable characters.1 The main bad guy is surprisingly uninteresting, though; it seems that the love of power is so common in both history and current events that I find the bad guy really repulsive…and dull.

Donald Trump will not get my votes2, for sure.

OK, this is pretty depressing.  Here is a consoling kitten (mine). Notice the cute paws: IMG_20150703_232339

1Besides the evil guys. Hey, what can I say?  I like well-written bad guys.

2Vote early, and vote often.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld June 1, 2016

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Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld is a cute little steampunk novel set (largely) on board a living blimp run by the Victorian English (“Darwinists”) about to run afoul of the dastardly, mechanically-inclined Hun (“Clankers”). Both sides weapons are drawn in a WWI epic (this series runs to three novels) that features heroism, pluck and improvisation by the adolescent FEMALE protagonist, nobility but naiveté in the male protagonist and lovely action, drama and romance all around.  Great fun, especially the complex business of running a living airship made by DNA (“life strands”) editing and running steam-powered robots through heavily-forested areas. Well-drawn characters make this a nice audiobook (and the other two, Goliath and Behemoth) to listen to on a long drive. The narrator’s voice covers a very wide range of characters convincingly. I was very entertained.

Nicely done all around.  Links above go to Amazon; of course available at sfpl.org, and other public libraries no doubt.

Armada, by Ernest Cline June 1, 2016

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Armada, by Ernest Cline is an excellent book for a really, really long, horrible weekend moving trip.  Especially if you have to make TWO trips because U-Haul screws you over by fraudulently renting you the smaller trailer, incidentally costing you a day’s pay and an extra hundred bucks in cash.  And my air conditioning died on Memorial Day weekend on the very hot drive through the valley (100F +).

I’m not bitter.  I would not want you to think that.

Armada is another of those well-loved (read: clichéd) sci-fi tropes wherein an adolescent boy (always an adolescent boy; never a girl, never a grown man or woman) daydreams about space dogfights and excels at videogames of that type, especially one game wherein he is high scorer. I believe the best-known version of this is The Last Starfighter (link goes to a special four-movie deal: Flash Gordon, The Last Starfighter, Battlestar Galactica and Dune for eight bucks which is actually pretty good). Our Hero is recruited by defense agency to fight the faceless monsters at the last minute to save Earth from destruction at the hands of an implacable  and seemingly invincible foe.

This could be pretty trite in the hands of some but Ernest Cline manages, by exposing the trope to scrutiny and skepticism within the novel, to extract a dramatic story line from it, and imbue the story with a kind of realistic humor which I found very stress-relieving.  And then there’s Wil Wheaton, who read each sentence with enough emotional clarity that I found myself laughing and crying along with Our Hero, the video game geek (note: this features an intragalactic war, so characters you like are gonna get snuffed).  Good job, Wil.

The link at the top of the page goes to Amazon, but the audiobook is available at sfpl.org and probably your own local library.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline May 25, 2016

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Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline is a nice little novel which has generated a lot of talk in the blogosphere among people younger than myself—those who were teenagers in the late eighties, I suspect. This navel-gazing into the solipsistic past doesn’t do much for me as I am from the wrong era but the novel itself, when stripped of egregious references to pop culture, it is actually a strange kind of action tale taking place mostly in the dystopian (of course) future.  The action is largely game puzzles solved in a competition in a VR space that has kind of subsumed the real world, but there’s some real-world danger and people meeting in meatspace as well.

Yep, a standard, formulaic quest-type action novel.  Why the blogosphere love? One, Ernest Cline’s use of dialogue and description.  He’s no slacker and it shows. Two (and I think this resonates with everyone who has “read” it), it’s read in the audiobook by Wil Wheaton.

Wil made it for me.  His reading is just about perfect in nuance, pace and sardonic timing.  His acting chops have only gotten much better with age (although really, he wasn’t given much to work with as Wesley Crusher now, was he?).1

Anyway, I enjoyed it during my commute (I should mention than I’m behind in writing about books since renovating my house but Fear Not! I shall catch up eventually) last year when I still did commute. Wil has also read Redshirts by John Scalzi and another Ernest Cline novel Armada, which I just started.  Don’t worry; I will review them both eventually.2

I do recommend this as your usual scifi stuff.  Popcorn need not be a bad thing, after all. It’s not all Neal Stephenson, is it?

___________

1 No.  He wasn’t. I give him full credit for quitting; that took some cajones for a kid in the meat grinder of television.

2 Be afraid.

Wicked Appetite, by Janet Evanovich July 14, 2015

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Wicked Appetite, by Janet Evanovich is a funny little story of inherited talents (ability to find magic gizmos and enhanced muffinry, for particular examples), magic talismans, dangerous magicians and distractingly handsome men combining to throw our fearful[0] protagonist Lizzie Tucker into a maelstrom of magic. Also, there’s a fruitcake with a sword[1].

An evil magician[3] seeks Lizzie’s peculiar talent (the location one, not the muffin one) to find seven stone embodying the Seven Deadly Sins[tm], which will allow him to unleash Hell On Earth[tm].  Lizzie doesn’t think that a good idea, but evil magicians can be very persuasive[4].

She is saved from persuasion by Diesel, a kind of a beach bum lookin’ dude[5] with a certain weird charm and with inherited talents also, none of which involve muffins.  Lizzie and Diesel get their hands on the first part of the Gluttony stone, which hilariously derails normality by making everything about food, punishment or hoarding (depending on who has the thing).

Lizzie is helped by her friend Gloria and her discount book of spells, which also hilariously derail conversation.  For this part I strongly suggest the audiobook, so you can hear Lorelei King deliver gibberish.  I would pay full price for this audiobook for that alone.

The link above is to Amazon, but this is available at sfpl.org, where the cognoscenti get their books for free.

___

[0] She’s not the heroine type.

[1] He is, curiously enough, not the comic relief. He’s just nuts.

[3] Distractingly handsome; see above.

[4] See footnote 3, above.

[5] See footnote 3, above.  I begin to detect a pattern here.

10% Happier, by Dan Harris July 10, 2015

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10% Happier, by Dan Harris is the story of ABS anchorman Dan Harris’ journey through Buddhism to mindfulness in the most torturous of routes: trial and error from Eckhard Tolle, Deepak Chopra and a host of what he calls affectionately “Jew-Bus”, Jewish people who have come to embrace Buddhist practices (Harris is Jewish).  In his guise of newsman he cheats his way into getting real answers to the deep mystery: how do you meditate, and why (he even got face time with the Dalai Lama along the way, which is not that easy).

The real juicy part of this book is not so much who he met or how he learned this or that thing, but his blow-by-blow account of his thoughts and reactions as he began learning meditation.  Especially interesting was his reaction to a ten-day Zen retreat of six-hour daily meditation, wherein he finally felt he “got it” and later the emotional outpouring he experience when meditating upon compassion for the first time.

The reason I loved this book is that his story resonates closely with my own, especially the embarrassing awareness of the banality of my own thoughts, the ease of distraction and the lack of rigor in focus or awareness of anything but the voice in my head.  That, and I’m hoping to get a little guidance on my own practice, and I think this book helped.

The link above goes to the Audible audiobook version, but it is also available at sfpl.org.  I do recommend the audiobook, as it is read by him and guarantees his nuances will not be misunderstood (c.f., “Jew-Bus”, above).

The Martian, by Andy Weir January 14, 2015

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The Martian, by Andy Weir is a gripping adventure story told in a calm and humorous way by an astronaut stranded on Mars in a freak accident.  It’s got action, adventure, bad puns, 1970’s sitcom awareness, disco-dissing and a fairly realistic approach to a completely possible scenario.  This is science fiction where the science is real, friends.  The fiction is the story, not the possibilities.

What really makes this book is the audiobook’s narrator, who adds just the right amount of pathos, black humor, and sense of desperation to the astronaut’s voice.  Did I mention that the stranded astronaut is cut off from NASA and they don’t even know he’s alive?

Awesome, awesome book.  The most refreshing bit of science fiction I have read in a year, The Martian is up for every award in the science fiction world, and it damn well should be.  Also, the link here is to the audiobook which is a paltry ten bucks.  Pay the money and you can thank me later.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie September 18, 2014

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Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is a wonderful examination of responsibility, revenge, justice and sense of self in a science fiction universe (arguably the safest place to talk about things political).  Ann Leckie’s use of gender pronouns (always female unless the character is obviously male) makes for a head-slapping read in one sense; the assumption that everyone in human space is female is pretty strange.  When read by Celeste Chula the ambivalence is even sharper…and it seems as if the genders of the characters only matter a little bit, probably because the main character is, um, not entirely human.

I won’t spoil that for you.  When the protagonist is forced to act against her character, it causes her to snap and behave in a very selfish and yet selfless manner—which is our story, of course.

I recommend Ancillary Justice very highly, and especially the audiobook version.

As it is the winner of the Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards, I gather I am not the only one who recommends it.

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds March 24, 2014

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Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds is the second in his Revelation Space series and a worthy successor.  It seems completely unrelated to the previous book, but I promise the connection is made plain in the NEXT book in the series, Revelation Space .

Chasm City is just that; a city with a breathable atmosphere inside a huge hole in the ground from which vapor pours, some breathable and some steam.  Chasm City was once a beautiful high-tech nanite paradise until the Melding Plague came and ruined it and most people (those with nanites inside them).  Now it’s insanely chaotic and this of course makes for great storytelling.

Alastair Reynolds does not disappoint. The visitor to Chasm City describes the jumble of a city with a sort of noir detective’s eye; cynical, jaded, world-weary.  He’s there nominally on a mission to find his boss’ killer, and take revenge.  He has holes in his memory from hibernation sleep, and the holes get filled in with..strangeness.

Surprisingly, the strangeness of his new memories is more interesting even than Chasm City.  I can’t help but wonder about the metaphor, intentional or not.

Great writing, great series of books. The audiobook version I heard was well-done, and helped put me in this guy’s head…which turned out to be a very uncomfortable seat.

Mogworld, by Yahtzee Croshaw February 3, 2014

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Mogworld, by Yahtzee Croshaw is a delicious confection of, well, horrible things, starting from the sudden consciousness of an unwilling zombie yanked from the sleep of the dead to be the unholy servant of a mad sorcerer.

Well, that sucks.  It gets worse; people in the land he has come back to are acting very, very strangely, as if their motives are all badly scripted for them.

Ah, forget it.  I’m not going to do justice to this funny, irreverent parody of sword and sorcery cum adventure game mystery; read it yourself and be delighted.  Better yet, listen to the audiobook and enjoy that even more.

Especially Reverend Barry.  Oh, yes.

The Player of Games, by Ian Banks January 15, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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The The Player of Games by Ian Banks is proving to be very amusing. I’m about one-quarter into it and it’s holding my attention raptly.
The story of a game player in The Culture, a fabulously rich and sophisticated (and very, very civilized) interstellar civilization living largely in huge habitats and huge ships, who leaves civilization for a barbaric empire in the lesser Magellanic clouds to play an enormously complex game, designed to mimic life’s larger struggles.  The game is the center of and in many ways symbolic of the empire’s power struggle, so The Culture’s Contact Bureau (the war and diplomacy people) want to put him in the game to lose and therefore convince the empire that The Culture is inferior and therefore not dangerous…I think.  At this point, I’m not sure of much, except that the machines in the Culture are sophisticated and duplicitous and that the Contact Branch’s ships have interesting names: Gunboat Diplomat, Of Course I Still Love You, and Just Read The Damned Manual.

Though the machines are subtle, devious and very, very powerful, The Player of Games is a human.  His long journey out of being a narcissist into understanding his role in the Great Game That is Life(tm) is of course the hidden subtext, but it’s carefully wrapped up in a socio-political thriller, so that’s OK and not at all preachy. Except where the A.I. he works with is explaining to him what an “empire” is, and how it’s put together from information control and nominally aligned power organizations…you know, like the USA.

But, we are an apolitical reviewer from a happy blog, dammit.  So none of that stuff here.  The audiobook is very nicely done indeed, with useful characterizations in the voices of the various persons (human and machine) and careful enough diction that my noisy car doesn’t keep me from hearing during my interminable commute.  I will soon start The Culture novel three, Use of Weapons, after a brief science reading hiatus; that shows you how good a read this is.  I would never finish a series if even one of them could not hold my interest.

EXCITING UPDATE: Elon Musk tweeted that he’s naming two SpaceX droneships after Culture ships in Banks’ The Player of Games. One drone ship will be called Just Read The Instructions, and the other will be Of Course I Still Love You.

Also, I liked The Culture novels so much I read them all.

Consider Phlebas, by Ian Banks January 6, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorized.
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Head-slappingly weird, Ian Bank’s first The Culture novel is the sprawling epic that will knock over your furniture and scare your dog. Consider Phlebas is, at least, handsomely descriptive as it chronicles the execution by drowning in sewage, rescue by aliens, marooning in space, capture by pirates, murder of a crewman to win a place in the pirate kingdom, disastrous raid on a temple, romance with a down-covered crewmember, theft of giant laser from a soon-to-be-destroyed orbital habitat and subsequent death-game, and finally the murder and imposture of pirate captain with the intention of capturing a sentient computer from an ice-bound dead world’s last-ditch doomsday machine while fighting nine-foot tall tripod warriors.  Not exactly dull, but often using lyrical prose (the destruction of the giant orbital habitat by anti-matter missiles springs particularly to mind) to break up the action, the whole business is a small skirmish in a multi-billion-lives-lost intragalactic war and pretty much everybody dies by the end.
Truly a great read.  The audiobook version is delightfully executed, and I found myself resenting my weekends, when I didn’t commute and didn’t get to listen to What Happens Next.

I am currently listening to The Player of Games which is next in the series.  I have been programming an Android suite of language-learning apps, so my free time (hah!) is taken up with that, not writing reviews. Sorry.

EDIT:  I left out the part about being a shape-shifting assassin and the part about nearly being eaten by a circus freak worshipped by a starving group of acolytes who eat their own feces and other detritus.

Sorry about that.