Tag Archives: Audiobook

Review: “Redshirts” by John Scalzi

Title: Redshirts
Author: John Scalzi
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: TOR, 2012

I’ve mentioned before, I don’t usually do audiobooks. I prefer to actually read for myself, and don’t typically have a long, boring commute. I made an exception in this case. I had heard a little bit of buzz for this book over the past year or so, around the time it won the Hugo, and was planning to read it eventually. Then I found out the audiobook was narrated by Wil Wheaton, and I decided that this one needed to happen via my iPod. Why? I’ll get to that.

Ensign Andrew Dahl is new to the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, but it has already become clear that something strange is going on. It’s a prime posting, one of the most coveted berths in the Dub-U fleet, but Dahl soon notices that all of his superiors conveniently disappear when a senior officer is around. Then there’s the fact that nearly every away mission involves some sort of lethal encounter with killer robots, deadly diseases, or improbably creatures. Lowly crewmembers die left and right, and Lieutenant Kerensky may get the living $#!^ beat out of him, but he’ll always make a full recovery and none of the senior officers will be seriously injured. On top of these statistically unlikely death figures, every so often everything gets really melodramatic and occasionally nonsensical. It’s the twenty-fifth century and we still have people killed on the bridge when their console explodes? Why haven’t we installed a surge protector by now? And why is it that decks six through ten are always the ones that take damage? Most of the ensigns on the Intrepid are more interested in keeping their heads down and avoiding away missions than they are in figuring out just what’s going on, but Dahl…Dahl is determined to get to the bottom of the matter. And maybe, just maybe, in doing so he can save the life of himself and his friends.

Obviously, this is a parody of Star Trek and it’s many clones. Will you be able to enjoy it without being a Trekkie? I think so. I’m a casual Trekkie at best, much more devoted to the Galaxy Far, Far Away than I am Mr. Roddenberry’s utopian vision of our future. I may have missed a few of the references or more pointed jokes, but I don’t think it took away from my enjoyment all that much. This is also an incredibly metafictional yarn. Or rather, it’s a novel about characters who discover they are all extras on a basic-cable science fiction series. They’re fictional, even within the pages of the book, but they’re also real people with real lives. And they’re tired of being killed off to prove that the situation is serious…. On one level, this is a light read with a biting dose of snark and sarcasm. On another level, this is a fairly deep meditation on the nature of fiction and free will.  Which level you read it on is up to you. I enjoyed it immensely, even the three codas that wrap up the stories of three of the “real” people who encounter our “fictional” characters and now have to deal with the fact that reality is not quite what they thought it was. There are a few criticisms that could be leveled at the book, however. Some reviewers have criticized Scalzi for his inability to differentiate his characters’ voices–all of them speak the same way. I don’t know if this is so much a lack of ability as it is Scalzi not finding this particular element to be a priority, but I can’t dispute the point. They all sound the same, which leads to every line of dialogue being attributed, even during snappy back-and-forth banter. On the page, I don’t mind so much. In an audiobook, that got a little annoying. Another criticism leveled at Scalzi is his lack of exposition and description, complaints about how he let’s the dialogue carry the story almost on its own. This is true, so far as the facts go–his work is incredibly dialogue driven, with little exposition or description, but I think it’s unfair to lambast him for what is effectively just his personal style of writing. If you don’t like it, go read Stephen King. He should have exposition enough for the both of them.* I personally found the degree of profanity off-putting, but that’s a matter of personal taste to some degree.

Now to the audiobook-specific part of the review. Wil Wheaton was an obvious choice, given his geek-god status and the added layer of “metaness” that comes from him actually having been a Star Trek actor in his youth. He’s also suitably sarcastic, which works well. What he does not do is affect different voices for the different characters. He’ll change his voice to indicate if a character is yelling, whispering or drunk, but not to indicate who is talking. This works out okay, since Scalzi attributes every line of dialogue, but I know that this is a major concern for some consumers of audiobooks. I did find the constant attribution to be slightly annoying, but not a deal breaker. Just know what you’re in for.

CONTENT: Heavy use of R-rated language. An off-putting level of such, in my opinion. Sexual innuendo and references, but nothing too explicit. Characters die in a number of horrific and improbably ways, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given the premise.

*Don’t take this as an insult to Stephen King. I like Stephen King. He’s just got a reputation for using lots of exposition and description.

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Review: “Plugged” by Eoin Colfer

Title: Plugged
Author: Eoin Colfer
Series: Daniel McEvoy #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Overlook, 2011

I’ve been a fan of Eoin Colfer’s books for years. Artemis Fowl was the bomb, and I’ve read most of his other books too along the way. All of Colfer’s books I had read to this point all had one thing in common–they were aimed squarely at older kids/younger teens. Young Adults. The YA crowd. I knew Plugged was going to be different, mind you: the tagline alone told me that much. “If you loved Artemis Fowl, it’s time to grow up.” What I did not expect was this level of profanity and general sexual innuendo. Honestly, I might have been very turned off by the disconnect, had I been reading it as a paper or even digital copy. But there was a redeeming factor here that saved the experience for me–I was listening to it as an audiobook. Why does that make a difference? Because the book is told in first-person format, and the reader (John Keating) has an Irish accent to match the character’s. Why does hearing the aforementioned profanity in an Irish accent soften its blow, at least so far as my tolerance is concerned? Not really sure, but it does.

Daniel McEvoy is not having a good week. Life has been a bit rough in general, honestly, between his stints in the Middle East as a UN Peacekeeper, his abusive childhood, and the general lack of funds that finds him working the door of a sleazy nightclub in Jersey, but this last couple days have gone completely to hell. First, he goes to visit his friend, a sleazy unlicensed doctor operating a “pain clinic” and giving under-the-table Botox injections or hair plug operations. It is follow-up on this latter procedure that brings Daniel to the clinic this particular morning, except the doctor is out. Instead, he finds a knife-toting enforcer for the local wannabe-mob boss. This encounter does not end well for either–the enforcer has a key stuck in his jugular, and McEvoy has a target on his back. After cleaning up the evidence, McEvoy heads to work to find that his not-quite-girlfriend is dead in the parking lot with a hole in her forehead. Who killed her? And are the two events connected? McEvoy has no idea, but he’s determined to find out. Cops crooked and straight, a sleazy lawyer with a side business dealing drugs, a mob boss named “Irish Mike Madden” who’s never been to Ireland, and Daniel’s crazy-but-attractive upstairs neighbor….all these and more come into play as obstacles or distractions as McEvoy attempts to discover who killed his girl.

The good news? This is a lot of fun. Not really a surprise, given the fact that Colfer has been crafting crazy adventures for us to read for years. Which brings us to the bad news….you assume that the two disparate threads of things going to hell are connected–not because of anything that is said, necessarily, although McEvoy assumes the same thing, but because that is how we’ve been conditioned to think about these murder mysteries. Castle, Bones, any detective book ever written, they all start with a murder and something that doesn’t make sense until you figure it all out. That’s what draws you in. So naturally, you assume the missing doctor and the dead girlfriend are connected. Minor spoiler: they aren’t. I dislike spoilers, but in this case I think that knowing that upfront will improve your appreciation of the book by lowering your expectations that everything will somehow tie together. Let me say once again, this book is incredibly entertaining. Don’t let this one structural flaw prevent you from reading it.

Content: R-rated language throughout. A good deal of violence, occasionally gory. Sexual innuendo, mild to moderately explicit and nearly always humorous.

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Review: “The Ferguson Rifle” by Louis L’Amour

I actually read The Ferguson Rifle (*****) for the first time years ago* and loved it, but I recently won the audiobook from Goodreads via their FirstReads program. (My review is not influenced by this fact, for the record.) This lined up nicely with a road trip my wife and I had to take, and so the adventure began anew….

I don’t usually do audiobooks, as I have little time for them. I don’t have copious amounts of driving built into my day (if this ever changes, I likely will start consuming larger quantities), I can’t listen at work, and frankly given the choice I would rather actually read the book myself. All that said, this was an excellent production. The reader, Brian D’Arcy James, has a marvelous command of accents, be they British, Scottish or Irish, and this book allowed him to showcase them to great effect. My wife and I both loved it, so I am reasonably sure this book will please both Louis L’Amour fanatics and newcomers.

It is no real secret that given how many novels L’Amour wrote that were set in the old west, sometimes they tend to run together in your memory. This, however, is one of those especially excellent entries in his bibliography that stand out in your memory both from sheer uniqueness and from persistent quality. Unlike most of Louis L’Amour’s bibliography, this book is not a “western” in the classical sense. It is set on America’s frontier around the year 1800, meaning the northerly Great Plains–the Dakotas, Montana, that area. In another sense, however, this is very much a western. That was “the west” at the time being described, just as what we now think of as the “east coast” was at one point the western frontier of exploration. It is into this territory, newly bought from France through the Louisiana Purchase, that Ronan Chantry rides. His old life is dead, all he loves burned up in a tragic fire. Now all he has is his experience on the frontier as a boy, his education in Europe as a man, his horse, and the extraordinary rifle he was given as a boy. He rides with a company of trappers into a new land, nearly unexplored, in search of a new start. When he discovers the trail of a woman and boy alone, being ruthlessly hunted by unsavory men, Ronan feels called to help. But when there is a fabled fortune of gold in the offering, men are not likely to give up its pursuit easily….

I’m a known Louis L’Amour devotee, so I absolutely loved this. No one crafts an adventure like Louis L’Amour, and few writers I’ve found have his appreciation for the scope of human history and the persistent force of western movement, while still retaining an appreciation for the contributions of the individual to history’s march. This is one of those books that, while reading, makes you yearn to look out across the unspoiled territory this country once was, to stand where his characters stand and see what they see. There’s a beauty to it, and you can hear in L’Amour’s writing a lilting note of mourning for what we have lost. He does not blame the pioneers and the farmers for what has happened, he understands history too well for that, and appreciates the inevitability of the march of “progress.” That doesn’t mean he (or his characters) have to like it. Ditto for the Indians, and you see that here as well. There are several sequences where the Indian is discussed, his character, his future, and his habits. Again, L’Amour understands why things happened as they did, but it still saddens him. Longtime Louis L’Amour readers will know what to expect in terms of characters and character development–there’s not usually a whole lot of moral ambiguity to a L’Amour adventure, there are good guys and bad guys, and they know their roles. Is that a problem? Not so far as I’m concerned. We need stories like that just as much as we need the other kind, maybe more. And this day and age, that type of story is harder to find.

CONTENT: Mild language, some violence, little to no sexual content.

*I’ve read most of Louis L’Amour’s books, but I can’t always remember which ones. This is fine–I’m totally up for reading a lot of them again. Probably going to go questing to read the entire bibliography at some point.

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