Monday, January 31, 2011

"Firstborn" Book 3 of "A Time Odyssey" By Arthur C. Clark & Stephen Baxter

Book 3 of "A Time Odyssey"
By Arthur C. Clark & Stephen Baxter
Read by John Lee
Produced by Blackstone Audio
Approx. 12 Hours

Listening to this book has concluded the 3 book series "A Time Odyssey" by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, and I'm not sure whether I should feel frustrated or elated. Frustrated, because this book left a killer of a cliffhanger. Elated because I just finished the last book Arthur C. Clarke wrote. Clarke's death in 2008 pretty much ensured that this was the last in the series, but Stephen Baxter co-wrote it with him and could possibly throw in one more book to end this saga. Before you go on let me warn you, this review contains some spoilers.

The first two books in the series, "Time's Eye" and "Sunstorm" led to the story in "Firstborn" but in no way did "Firstborn" end the series. To sum up, "Time's Eye" told of a major happening in which, what is discovered to be an ancient race known as the Firstborn, took slices of Earth from different times (Mongols, Alexander the Great, Chicago 1894, India 1894, Afghanistan 2037, neanderthals, and more) and "stitch" together what the survivors come to call Mir. On Mir, Bisesa Dut, a UN peacekeeper patrolling in Afghanistan with her fellow UN peacekeepers, discovers that this new world is pieced together all times of Earth but nothing past 2037 (her time). They also learn that there are a series of spheres around the planet that they come to call "eyes." One "eye" begins to communicate with Bisesa and after a war between Alexander the great and a mishmash of armies and Ghengis Khan, Bisesa asks the "eye" to take her back to her time.

In "Sunstorm," Bisesa is reunited with her daughter, Bisesa has aged 5 years due to being on Mir, but the "eye" has placed her back with no time loss. Scientists on Earth discover that the Mother of all sunstorms is building and that all life on Earth will be burned away. The people of Earth band together and before the Earth is sterilized in 2042, begin building a shield that will orbit the Earth and protect from the destruction. The Earth is saved and some of the new technologies created in saving the planet boost the planet's Space occupation ventures. The big secret revealed in this book is that the Sunstorm was created by the Firstborn many millennia in the past (the Firstborn can travel space and Time). Why the Firstborn wish to destroy life is unknown.

"Firstborn" begins to unravel some of the mysteries of the Firstborn. Earth is not the only planet they have focused their "wrath" upon. It is found that they once destroyed the life on Mars. In the polar ice caps of Mars a Firstborn "eye" is discovered. Somehow the ancient Martians discovered a way to defeat the Firstborn, or rather how to fight off their "eyes". In "Sunstorm" all three of Earth's Artificial Intelligence forms were blasted out into the universe to save them. Those 3 AI's have discovered a planet across the galaxy that was also a target of the Firstborn and one of them is beamed back to Earth to warn the humans of the expanse of the Firstborn's wrath. But at this time the Earth is again a target of a Firstborn weapon called the Q-bomb. Bisesa Dutt is sent back to Mir via the "eye" on Mars and manages to communicate with the Ancient life on Mars where they team up and activate the eye which makes the Q-Bomb move on to destroy Mars, leaving Earth safe. A few stay on Mars to experience the destruction, which is actually a creation of a new universe in Mars' place. Bisesa is thrown back on Mars with her daughter to witness the creation, but a portal opens behind them, and Myra's estranged daughter, Charlotte, invites them through. It is revealed that in Charlotte's future, humanity alone or with other sentient allies, calls itself the Lastborn as they are at war with the Firstborn.

A cliffhanger indeed, I hope this can be concluded some way, but whether or not this happens, these books are a great example of the mass of intelligence that is Arthur C. Clarke. Imaginative yet possible.

The reader John Lee delivers the story with precision and keeps the listener involved and on edge throughout this whole book (as well as the other 2 books).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Immortalis - Part 3 of 3" Book 7(of 7) of "The Demon Wars Saga" by R.A. Salvatore

"Immortalis - Part 3 of 3"
Book 7(of 7) of "The Demon Wars Saga"
by R.A. Salvatore
Multicast Performance
Produced by GraphicAudio
Approx 6 hours.

It is a bittersweet thing to come to an end of any good saga; When I finished the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien I was happy to come to an ending of an adventure but saddened that I was no longer hanging out with my hobbit friends. When Jim Butcher finished his "Codex Alera" series It was cool to see how it all ended but again, sad that I was no longer hanging out with the fury masters. The same goes for "The Demon Wars Saga," by R.A. Salvatore. Through seven books in the series, the adventures in the land of Corona, between the countries of Honce-the-Bear and Behren and all the surrounding areas, The Demon Dactyl, Bestesbulzibar, awoke, tainted the land of the elves, was destroyed, possessed the leader of the Abellican church, was defeated, and then possessed the body of a baby that became king. It took 7 books to get through the adventure but was it ever worth it.

I was introduced to this adventure through the excellent production of audiobooks from GraphicAudio. GraphicAudio's slogan is "A Movie in Your Mind" and do they ever deliver. Every audiobook I've heard from GraphicAudio is phenomenal with excellent voice acting, super realistic sound effects and incidental music that moves you through the story while reflecting the emotion or action of the moment.

The cast of actors not only bring the story to life through their craft of acting, but when an interesting accent is needed they deliver. For example, what accent would you use for an Alpinadoran mountain man? an elf from the Touel'alfar or Doc'alfar? an Abellican Monk were-tiger? There's not really any manual for this but the cast in GraphicAudio's production of this series may have created one.

The special effects also push this story along with superb fluency. The effects are just as difficult to create here, after all what is the sound of an elven arrow piercing the eye of a giant? what does a centaur sound like while running. None of the effects were stock, or at least were produced to be original to the story. Once again the movie in your mind is a reality through all these production elements. When it comes to audiobooks GraphicAudio will put you in the story and you'll never want to leave.

One final aspect of the GraphicAudio production of this saga, is that they split up the seven books to where they averaged three 6 hour parts per book. This made the saga easier to digest in smaller lumps, although I'm looking at purchasing the entire series as a boxed set package for a gift for a friend

Here's how the final book plays out:

Self-proclaimed King of Honce-the-Bear, Adryan, son of Elbryan the Ranger and Jilseponie the warrior/ranger/former Queen, has been sweeping the land conquering those that oppose his rule. Adryan's expertise at the magick of the gemstones of the Abellican church also puts him on to the path to destroying the church and placing the evil Marcalo De'Unnaro as leader of the church. De'Unnaro is the one responsible for killing Adryan's father.

To the South of Honce-the-Bear, in the land of Behren, another Ranger has just won freedom for her people, the To'gai from years of slavery by the Behrenese. The Behrenese church was destroyed in the process. Adryan decides to use that turmoil to conquer Behren. When his plans include conquering To'Gai, the ranger Brin Dahryelle, decides to join the battle defeating Adryan.

So now the peoples up against Adryan include, his mother, another expert of the gemstone magicks, Brin and her Dragon, Agradeleus, the elves of the Touel'alfar and Doc'alfar, the mountain men of Alpinador and their ranger, and Prince Midalis, the rightful heir to the throne of Honce-the-Bear and his army.

The battles all lead to the Abellican Church at the center of it all St. Mere Abell. The battle ensues and Adryan ressurects his father to join with him against his mother. The dragon, Agradeleus, recognizes the Demon Dactyl possessing Adryan's body and alerts the others. This could either mean the way to defeat Adryan or the hopelesness of the battle. How the warriors look at it will change the outcome.

The final battle and the epilogue to the story bring about a great close to the series with a bit of an opening in which R.A. Salvatore could write some more stories with some of the main characters. A great adventure comes to a close but in a way that leaves the reader/listener wanting more yet happy if that is the end.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Patient Zero" by Jonathan Maberry

"Patient Zero"
by Jonathan Maberry
read by Ray Porter
produced by Blackstone Audio
Approx 15 hours

I love zombies, whether it's zombie movies, a zombie TV series or zombie books, as long as it's zombies I love them. Zombies have a way about them, teenage girls can't get all gushy over them and want to marry them, they are monsters, flesh eating monsters and nothing can stop them, except for a head shot. There just is no way to really romanticize a zombie, so the horror of them trying to hunt you down and the survival instincts used to fight them off are straightforward and simple, kill or die.

I thought that there wasn't much new people could do with zombies that hasn't been done. There are fast zombies and the slow zombies, zombies brought from the grave by Haitian voodoo priests, bacteria from a space probe or various other methods of reanimating the corpses, and nearly all zombie apocalypse stories tell of survivors and how they survive while searching for a cure and/or why there came to be zombies taking over their mall, town or country. This book by Jonathan Maberry actually does do something new, this tells first how and why zombies can be made and then what to do to prevent them. Picture "Night of the Living Dead," Rambo and James Bond in a mashup and you've got this non-stop action packed horror/thriller where a zombie apocalypse is looming over the horizon.

The cover of this book says it is a "Joe Ledger novel." Joe Ledger being the main character who is pulled from the Baltimore Police to become a special ops agent in a secret branch of the government. So with that on the cover, I had to find out and sure enough this is the first book of three featuring Ledger, and let me tell you, with the story Maberry weaves and the super cool character of Joe Ledger this is going to be a great collection of stories. Ledger kicks butt like no other, and he does it with class. Just roll James Bond, Rambo, Steven Segal, Jean Claude Van-Damme into one and the outcome still couldn't stand up against Joe Ledger. He is just that cool and tough. Plus Ledger has the smart mouth that Bruce Willis' tough characters all seem to have.

Anyway, back to zombies. Yes this is a zombie book. Since 9/11 terrorists have been trying their best to attack the free world, but it seems they threw their best on that day and ever since their Jihad has just faded into the Afghan mountains. Well, known terrorist El Mujahid is being funded to create a virus/parasite that turns people into the walking dead. Ledger kills one of these, or so he thinks, when his task force raids a warehouse in which terrorists are holed up. When a mysterious government agency called the DMS tries to recruit Ledger, they do so by having him try to handcuff a man in another room. It turns out that man is the same man Ledger killed, only this time his flesh has rotted a bit more. After Ledger kills this terrorist twice he is told of the virus/parasite that is being unleashed on America and with all his patriotic duty he jumps on-board.

His team is to replace two other teams that were taken by surprise as the bodies in a hospital became reanimated from the bite of the original terrorist. The teams hesitate shooting as women, children, doctors and nurses all begin eating each other and attacking. Ledger is hired because of his lack of hesitation and ability to assess any situation at the speed of light.

Pulling the best of the best to form Echo Team, Ledger becomes their leader and they raid a warehouse where more "walkers" are suspected to be found, ready to be unleashed on the population. When Ledger and his team arrive they find scientists conducting research on the zombies/walkers. The scientists are releasing the walkers on several captured children. Echo Team explodes on the scene taking out all the walkers and most of the scientists, managing to save most of the children, although they will need some serious therapy.

Ledger's team soon learns that a major final attack of the zombie creating virus is planned and must act fast to not only stop the zombies but to find out where and when the attack will occur.

This book is solid action from the first word spoken and even the end of the book leaves you with your adrenaline ready to be released for more fight or flight action. Maberry has created the perfect action zombie story with the perfect action hero to lead the fight.

The real plus behind this audio book is the seemingly unlimited voice talent of Ray Porter. His vocal gymnastics lead you down the dark hallways with horror and then exposes the action with expressed excitement. Porter's gymnastics don't stop there, he also is able to vocalize the many accents not only giving the characters accents based on their nationality but also based on their motives and psyche. His presentation of Joe Ledger is par excellence.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Sky Birds Dare!" by L. Ron Hubbard

"Sky Birds Dare!"
by L. Ron Hubbard
multicast performance
produced by Galaxy Audio
to be released November, 2011
Approx 2 hours

Pulp magazines (often referred to as "the pulps"), also collectively known as pulp fiction, refers to inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s. The typical pulp magazine was seven inches wide by ten inches high, half an inch thick, and 128 pages long. Pulps were printed on cheap paper with ragged, untrimmed edges. The name pulp comes from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed. Magazines printed on better paper were called "glossies" or "slicks." They were most often priced at ten cents per magazine, while competing slicks were 25 cents apiece. Pulps were the successor to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short fiction magazines of the 19th century.

Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are best remembered for their lurid and exploitative stories and sensational cover art. L. Ron Hubbard published many short stories and novellas during this period in these pulps. Galaxy Press has been reprinting these stories and have created their own pulps (these have better paper quality) featuring stories from the many genres in which Hubbard wrote. I have to admit my favorites are from the Science-Fiction and Fantasy genres, but recently I've been exploring some of the other genres. I've been amazed at what other genres I began liking; such as Westerns. I never thought I'd be a fan of westerns, but Hubbard wrote some fun stories in that genre. My favorites, other than sci-fi/fantasy, seem to come from the Air and Sea Adventures, maybe that has to do with my Navy background.

What also makes these stories fun is that I've chosen to listen to these books. I love audio books and when I first tried out one of these stories from Galaxy Audio, I was amazed. First of all they sound like old radio dramas, like back in the day the stories were originally published, and the talent behind these productions is phenomenal. Starting with the actors, these stories take on a new life with superb voice actors performing them. The actors even give the characters a larger than life feel which is true to the Hubbard stories.

The next aspect of these stories in audiobook is the sound effects and music. Between chapters and stories Galaxy Audio segues with original music that blends perfect with in the genre. The sound effects are perfect and at the same time subtle enough to not be overbearing. They sweep you up into the story and don't allow you to let go until the end.

This story, "Sky Birds Dare!," was originally published in Five-Novels Monthly September, 1936. and tells the story of a glider pilot, trying to demonstrate the value of gliders and gliding techniques in war. Not only does he have to convince the Navy of their value but he has to survive a competitor's ruthless attempts to destroy him.

Ace glider pilot Breeze Callaghan is an definitely an Ace when it comes to gliders, although he has never flown a powered aircraft. There are two ways Breeze believes they can be used to aid the war effort: they'll keep a plane aloft when engines cut out, and gliders will be able to enter enemy airspace silently—a perfect way to spy undetected. Breeze loves the feel of the glider in flight, because a powered craft is always beating the air into submission, a glider uses what nature gives to move through space.

Callahan's ruthless competitor, Badger O'Dowell, has other ideas. Badger's determined to get the Navy to buy his training ships instead. So every chance he gets He sabotages Breeze's demonstrations. These sabotages not only wreck the gliders but endanger Breeze's life.

After several run-ins with O'Dowell, Breeze finally just decides to set a flight record, after saving himself from one sabotage by using heat updrafts to stay aloft. He decides to use a storm and the landscape to fly down the Appalachian Mountains. The storm becomes too much for him and the plane following and soon Breeze has to use his skills to save lives.

This book will keep you on the edge as Breeze manages to save himself through all the flights.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment" by James Patterson

"Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment"
by James Patterson
read by Evan Rachel Wood
published 2005 by Hatchette Audio
Approx 4 hours

The master of thriller fiction, James Patterson, has been know to dabble in young adult fiction. The "Maximum Ride" series is one of those dabblings. With books under his belt like, "Along Came a Spider," and "Kiss the Girls," Patterson has shown that he can write a good thriller, and he takes that writing style and adapts it for the younger audience. I'm not sure what age he's aiming for with this series, it seems pretty wide open from 12 - 18 easily. I know I enjoyed this first book in the series. There were some moments that didn't work for me but I'll explain those later. For the most part if the rest of this series is as fun and exciting as this first one, I could put up w/ what may be a minor fault.

First off the choice of Evan Rachel Wood as reader took me by surprise. But hey, she did it. I know it takes acting skills to pull off reading an audiobook, and she does have the skills, but what surprised me most was her vocal range. She was able to separate the characters very well with her voice, giving them each their own voice.

This book introduces the listener to six fugitive kids; Max, Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, and Angel, known collectively as the Flock. The kids were genetically mutated in utero in a laboratory called "the School", that rendered them 98% human and 2% avian. The Flock is being hunted down by human-lupine hybrids created by the School called "Erasers".

Max (she named herself Maximum Ride) is the one telling the story, and she tells how Jeb escaped the School, with the flock and hid out in the mountains and raises the children for two years. Jeb disappeared leaving the flock to fend for themselves. One day the Erasers find them and take Angel. The flock must fly to the school to rescue Angel. One thing about Angel, she has the ability to read minds and later we find she can also put thoughts into someone's head.

On the way to the School, Max sees a girl on the ground (bird vision?) being threatened by some thugs. She tells the flock to fly to a safe place. She flies down to rescue the girl. The flock may be young but they look older because they are bigger, and on top of that they have stronger than human strength. In the rescue Max is hurt in the struggle and finds herself at the home of the girl she helped. The girl's mother is a veterinarian and fixes her wounds. The vet takes max in for some x-rays and discovers a chip implanted in Max's arm, a sort of tracking chip that is so deeply embedded that it cannot be removed.

Max meets up with the flock and they go on to rescue Angel, but they manage to get captured by Erasers themselves and discover that Jeb is the one behind the capture. The book then moves on to escape and the flock seeking to discover the truth about their creation. Max is told she must "save the world," and begins being led by a voice in her head that disrupts electronics.

The story seems to be fast paced and the adventures take a short time to move on to the next part of the journey, which I see as being aimed at a younger audience. My problem is that when, at times, when a major fight/battle seems to be eminent, all fighting just stops and the enemies just leave, with no victor to be had. Maybe this, again, is for the younger audience, but it seems these moments could have been closed out better.

All in all though this is a fun adventure in genetic mutations and kids seeking their origins.

Friday, January 07, 2011

"Shorn: Toys to Men" by Dennis Milam Bensie

"Shorn: Toys to Men"
by Dennis Milam Bensie
published 2010
by Coffeetown Press
265 pgs.

Here in Robinson, Illinois we are hometown to two fairly well known authors, James Jones ("From Here to Eternity" et. al.) and Jennifer Rardin (th Jaz Parks series of urban fantasy books) and now Dennis Milam Bensie. This time however Dennis does not paint a dreamy small town atmosphere. With his experiences Robinson, which is probably not unlike many other small towns, seems like a place where the different are not welcome and your babysitter may hurt you.

In his memoirs, "Shorn..." Dennis is brutally honest as he exposes his deepest darkest secrets to reveal his true self. There are times in the book that you can't decide whether he is going to turn out to be a serial killer or just a very confused individual. "Shorn" takes you through Dennis' life as he reveals disturbing influences on his life that leads to developing a mental disorder that causes him to be aroused by cutting men's hair. This arousal leads him through many dangerous turns in life from luring a man into his home and whacking him with a frying pan to cruising the streets finding street hustlers that will allow him to pay them to shave their heads.

I believe that it is Murphy's Law that states, "If something can go wrong, it will." That seems to carry through to Dennis' life as he's growing up in small town, USA. As he grows up he writes that he never felt like he belonged and it seemed he was right. His father was a typical blue collar, former military man that did not want his son growing up "to be a sissy." Dennis liked to play with dolls and wanted to grow his hair long. His dad would have none of that, if Dennis would act up the threat of a haircut would be issued. When Dennis wanted to play with dolls, he was not allowed to do so in front of his dad. Dennis' grandmother was the first to give him a freedom of sorts and would allow him paper dolls. He later discover's Barbie and the possibilities become unlimited. But he also discovers that he can exert power over the Barbie by cutting her hair, but cutting the doll's hair soon renders the doll hairless. Dennis turns to a life of crime by shoplifting Barbie's from the town's various stores. There is even one humorous story where he returns to a store dressed as a girl (remember this is when he is just a child) to fool the sales clerk. Humorous but sad.

During his youth he is molested by some teen boys who were supposed to be his babysitters and is constantly teased for being different by being called a fag and many other derogatory terms of the time. He grows up thinking he is supposed to be manly but doesn't fit in that skin. In college he marries a girl but knows he is gay, but does what he is "supposed" to do.
College also leads to his divorce and discovering that others are gay. But his discovery of the gay lifestyle leads him to anonymous sex in the various "cruising" areas, which will later lead to cruising for men with long hair that will feed his fetish/paraphilia.

During the reading of this book there were times when I wasn't so sure about the outcome, if I had not been in contact with the author, I would have thought I was reading a book that was leading to what was the development of a serial killer. Luckily Dennis finds help and through therapy and medication Dennis is able to get a firmer grasp on his life. The adventure he leads the reader through does leave one wondering.

Dennis' life cleary illustrates how many things combine to create a human life and what path one takes will determine how that life will be. Dennis is now a successful and talented costumer and wigmaker in Seattle, not cured but in more control.