Audiobook Review: Awaken Online ‘Catharsis’

This was my very first LitRPG novel, and as such it was a great jumping-on point to this fairly new branch of the scifi & fantasy tree. LitRPG literally stands for ‘literature Role Playing Game‘. In other words, a story version of an RPG. The bestfantasybooks website states: “Truth be told the genre has busted out of its pure gaming roots and has started to define an identity. What it will be in a few years might not be what it is now.” And I have to say, if this is what all LitRPG tastes like, I’d like another helping please.

Awaken Online: Catharsis is written by Travis Bagwell, narrated by David Stifel. Length: 16 hours, 1 minute.

Publisher’s Summary

Jason logs into Awaken Online fed-up with reality. He’s in desperate need of an escape, and this game is his ticket to finally feeling the type of power and freedom that are so sorely lacking in his real life.

Awaken Online is a brand new virtual reality game that just hit the market, promising an unprecedented level of immersion. Yet Jason quickly finds himself pushed down a path he didn’t expect. In this game, he isn’t the hero. There are no damsels to save. There are no bad guys to vanquish.

In fact, he might just be the villain.

©2016 Travis Bagwell (P)2016 Travis Bagwell

My thoughts: “Fun LitRPG – even for a non-gamer like me”

AO:Catharsis probably is a YA novel if I’m honest – for which I am definitely not the target audience – but in this case I actually enjoyed it.

I am not a gamer, I have never played an RPG in my life. I have watched some gameplay footage on Youtube though, not often but enough to have some small idea of RPG tropes like game stats, ‘levelling’, looting, character classes, and the like.
Plus, I like scifi & fantasy.

All of which to say that the little bit that I know about gaming was definitely enough to fully understand this story. In fact, it even gave me a sense of enjoying an RPG without having to have the skills (nor input of time and effort). That alone was a big plus for me and earned it its four stars Overall.

Once I got through the first few chapters, which were too much of a high school setting and presented unrealistic events in the MC’s life vs. too little in-game time, the story panned out into a fun, entertaining and even thrilling adventure.

There were some issues. The aforementioned IRL part of the story demanded more suspension of my disbelieve than the actual fantasy part, strangely enough. The way the MC’s parents behave, for instance. Also, the over the top bullying by the typical and not too original highschool jock. Or maybe it’s simply that that part of the story is too two-dimensional and contains too many quickfixes, because when I think about Ender’s Game, the bullying is actually more over the top but that didn’t bother me at all. The difference between an okay YA and a high quality adult book, I suppose.

But, fortunately, those chapters are few and relatively far between. The rest is a fun ride into a game world that someone like me will probably never enter herself.

Narration was great, imho. I do not concur with some of the negative reviews about the narration. And I was glad he narrated the sequel as well.

Recommendation: I immediately purchased part 2 “Precipice” after having finished this one!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

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Audiobook short: Judas Unchained

The audiobook version of the second and last part of Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga is even longer than its predecessor Pandora’s Star,counting only two minutes short of 38 hours! So the same comments apply that I offered in one of my previous posts: this requires some stamina to finish, especially since it also needs you to concentrate – really concentrate – while listening, to avoid getting lost in the intricate plot, habitated by its many characters. 

Whether this is worth your precious time and effort I leave up to you, my dear readers, to decide; however, I really liked it, inspite of its sometimes overly detailed plot threads. The reason is that the novel is, in the end, character driven, more than plot driven.

Publisher’s summary

The high-action concluding novel of the Commonwealth Saga from one of the world’s bestselling Science Fiction writers.

After hundreds of years secretly manipulating the human race, the Starflyer alien has succeeded in engineering a war which should result in the destruction of the Intersolar Commonwealth. Now, thanks to Chief Investigator Paula Myo, the Commonwealth’s political elite finally acknowledges the Starflyer’s existence, and puts together an unlikely partnership to track down this enigmatic and terrifying alien.

The invasion from Dyson Alpha continues with dozens of Commonwealth worlds falling to the enemy. The navy fights back with what it believes to be war-winning super weapons, only to find that the alien fleet has equally powerful weapons. How the aliens got them is the question which haunts Admiral Kime. Could it be that the Commonwealth’s top-secret defence project has been compromised by the Starflyer’s agents, or is the truth even worse?

©2005 Peter F Hamilton (P)2008 Tantor Media Inc

My thoughts: “Satisfying end to this 2-part saga”

Judas Unchained continues where Pandora’s Star left off. It follows the story through to the end, with a neat, not-very-rollercoaster-yet-satisfying-nonetheless climax and ending. All the characters you loved (and loved to hate) from the first novel are there, and every single one of the storylines is solved. Which is how it’s supposed to be, especially after two of those immensely long audiobook listens. No annoying cliffhangers or unresolved plot points here. Good!
Narrator John Lee is still fantastic, but the breaks between sentences and chapters are still confusingly absent – as they were with part 1, Pandora’s Star. If you liked that first part, you will like this sequel as well. The quality is the same and the stories are truly two halves of one saga.

This was not a five-star novel for me (too long and detailed for that, which slowed it down) but I liked it enough to have bought the second saga as well (a trilogy called The Void, in the same universe but far into the future).

Recommend.

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

 

Audiobook Short: For We Are Many – Bobiverse book 2

To hear me read this review, check out episode 480 of the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, go to timestamp 10:37

After listening to We Are Legion (We Are Bob), part 1 of the Bobiverse series, I was really looking forward to the sequel, which is aptly called For We Are Many. And author Dennis E. Taylor and narrator Ray Porter do not disappoint! Again they succeed in taking the listeners on a fun 9-hours long adventure.

Publisher’s summary:

The highly anticipated sequel to Audible’s Best of 2016 – Science Fiction winner, We Are Legion (We Are Bob); a book listeners are calling “so much fun”, “what science fiction was meant to be”, and what would happen if “Andy Weir and Ernest Cline had a lovechild”.

Bob Johansson didn’t believe in an afterlife, so waking up after being killed in a car accident was a shock. To add to the surprise, he is now a sentient computer and the controlling intelligence for a Von Neumann probe.

Bob and his copies have been spreading out from Earth for 40 years now, looking for habitable planets. But that’s the only part of the plan that’s still in one piece. A system-wide war has killed off 99.9 percent of the human race; nuclear winter is slowly making the Earth uninhabitable; a radical group wants to finish the job on the remnants of humanity; the Brazilian space probes are still out there, still trying to blow up the competition; and the Bobs have discovered a spacefaring species that sees all other life as food.

Bob left Earth anticipating a life of exploration and blissful solitude. Instead he’s become a sky god to a primitive native species, the only hope for getting humanity to a new home, and possibly the only thing that can prevent every living thing in the local sphere from ending up as dinner.

Listener favorite Ray Porter returns to narrate Bob – and his many incarnations – in all of their geeky glory.

©2017 Dennis E. Taylor (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

My thoughts: Very good continuation of the first part!

This book is just as much fun as the first part was. Since there are many more Bob clones now, it is getting harder and harder to keep up with who is who, let alone of which generation they are.
It’s still a fun scifi story though, very entertaining and the narration by Ray Porter fits the Bobs’ adventures very well. Some of the audio edits are quite audible – but in that this book is not unique, it seems to be an overall Audible(.com) recording & editing issue.

Be aware that this second book is definitely not a jumping-on point though, you really need to read/listen to We Are Legion first.

I’m rating it 4 stars overall instead of 5, mainly for myself, to keep track of what I like and how much I like it. There are other books in my library that I have given the full five stars because they simply impacted me more.
However, that is not to say that this is not a good book, on the contrary. I recommend this for everyone who liked book 1 and I’m genuinely looking forward to part 3!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

Audiobook short: Pandora’s Star

 

For the audioversion of this review, check out episode 475 of the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, go to timestamp 15:03.

Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star, the first novel of the two-part Commonwealth Saga, is a VERY long and detailed telling, with many characters, many of whom (sort of) protagonists. It takes a whopping 37 hours 33 minutes to finish, so from the start you’ll have to pay attention, otherwise you’ll get lost quickly! I had to ‘rewind’ several times because I wasn’t paying close attention for, like, a whole minute. So this novel is not something to listen to while doing lots of other stuff that requires your attention. Saga, indeed.

Publisher’s Summary

Britain’s bestselling SF writer returns to outer space.

In AD 2329, humanity has colonised over four hundred planets, all of them interlinked by wormholes. With Earth at its centre, the Intersolar Commonwealth now occupies a sphere of space approximately four hundred light years across.

When an astronomer on the outermost world of Gralmond, observes a star 2000 light years distant – and then a neighbouring one – vanish, it is time for the Commonwealth to discover what happened to them. For what if their disappearance indicates some kind of galactic conflict? Since a conventional wormhole cannot be used to reach these vanished stars, for the first time humans need to build a faster-than-light star ship, the Second Chance. But it arrives to find each ‘vanished’ star encased in a giant force field — and within one of them resides a massive alien civilisation.

©2004 Peter F Hamilton (P)2008 Tantor Media Inc

My thoughts: “Perfect if you want to take your time”

As I said, this story requires a lot of time on your part, but if you do like to invest the more than 1½ days (!) it takes to finish, this scifi novel offers a pretty immersive story with the author taking his time to paint his universe. His characters are fleshed out very well, and none are 100% ‘good’ or ‘bad’, which gives them a realistic feel.
As for the scifi aspects, I enjoyed this author’s concept of human society a couple of centuries from now. How humans tackled the immortality problem, the everyday tech gadgets that are used by everyone, and even its application to… porn. Really fun ideas, without getting crass or sleezy. However, be aware that there are several instances of crude language, if that is something you deem important to know.

The author has also integrated diversity into his character concepts, different races and sexual preferences are presented in a very natural way without drawing unnecessary attention. The only thing that does not get much attention is religion; none of the characters seem religious in any way, the entire human race seems to have a naturalistic viewpoint. Which is why religion or even plain spirituality is the only thing I found lacking in this otherwise colorfully diverse universe.

The narration is terrific, with lots of different accents and voices by narrator John Lee. He is a joy to listen to, and adds emotion and identity to his characters without overacting. I especially enjoyed his high society females, the way he read them was absolutely fantastic and often laced with humor.

Loved them all.

A point of criticism: The editing makes it very hard to distinguish between chapters, and even viewpoints. There are no pauses whatsoever. So one minute you’re completely into one character’s story unfolding, and literally the very next sentence takes you to a whole different character WITHOUT mentioning them by name so you still think you’re at the previous viewpoint! Another reason to skip back a couple of minutes several times…

Nevertheless I recommend this novel, and I went ahead and bought its sequel as well, titled Judas Unchained. More on that next time, as I haven’t finished that yet.

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

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Audiobook short: We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

For the audioversion of this review, check out episode 472 of the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, go to timestamp 9:16.

I took a bit of a chance buying We Are Legion (We Are Bob), part 1 of the Bobiverse series, not knowing the writer. But the transhumanist premise was interesting enough for me to try it and the intriguing title lured me in all the way.  It is written by Dennis E. Taylor and narrated by Ray Porter. It takes 9½ hours to finish.

Publisher’s summary:

There’s a reason We Are Legion, We Are Bob was named Audible’s Best Sci-Fi Book of 2016. Unique, hilarious, and utterly addictive, Dennis E. Taylor’s debut novel kicked off an Audible-wide obsession among sci-fi diehards and new listeners alike.

Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.

Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty.

The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad – very mad.

Listener-favorite narrator Ray Porter (14, The Fold) brings the many Bobs into being in all their glory, delivering a performance that listeners have described as “outstanding,” “nuanced” and a “dizzying tour de force.”

©2016 Dennis E. Taylor (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

My thoughts: Surprisingly nice ‘read’

The story didn’t immediately sweep me off my feet, but was enticing enough to hold my interest anyway. I had to get over my expectation of a darker story with more difficult challenges for the main character, including emotional ones, but once I settled in for a more light-hearted kind of scifi, it was an entertaining ride.

This is ‘hard’ science fiction with a smile, with space ships and planets and galaxy exploring and of course space battles. All of that without it being longwindedly technical, and no Deus ex Machinas or otherwise too easy solutions, which I appreciated.

Ray Porter is a fine narrator that held my attention well.

All in all I was surprised to find myself deciding to buy Book 2 (april 2017) and even, very recently, the third installment! So I recommend it, with 4 stars for performance, story and overall.

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

Audiobook short: Darth Bane Trilogy, pt. 3

In my fourth Audiobook Short I’m sharing my impressions of Dynasty of Evil, the final installment of the Darth Bane trilogy, a Star Wars novel series from the so-called Expanded Universe, written by Drew Karpyshyn and narrated by Jonathan Davis. Length: 9 hrs and 25 mins.

For the spoken version of the below review go to Episode 466 of the Spirit Blade podcast, time stamp 48:52.

Publisher’s summary:

Twenty years have passed since Darth Bane, reigning Dark Lord of the Sith, demolished the ancient order devoted to the dark side and reinvented it as a circle of two: one Master to wield the power and pass on the wisdom, and one apprentice to learn, challenge, and ultimately usurp the Dark Lord in a duel to the death. But Bane’s acolyte, Zannah, has yet to engage her Master in mortal combat and prove herself a worthy successor. Determined that the Sith dream of galactic domination will not die with him, Bane vows to learn the secret of a forgotten Dark Lord that will assure the Sith’s immortality – and his own.

A perfect opportunity arises when a Jedi emissary is assassinated on the troubled mining planet Doan, giving Bane an excuse to dispatch his apprentice on a fact-finding mission – while he himself sets out in secret to capture the ancient holocron of Darth Andeddu and its precious knowledge. But Zannah is no fool. She knows that her ruthless Master has begun to doubt her, and she senses that he is hiding something crucial to her future. If she is going to claim the power she craves, she must take action now.

While Bane storms the remote stronghold of a fanatical Sith cult, Zannah prepares for her Master’s downfall by choosing an apprentice of her own: a rogue Jedi cunning and cold-blooded enough to embrace the Sith way and to stand beside her when she at last wrests from Bane the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith.

But Zannah is not the only one with the desire and power to destroy Darth Bane. Princess Serra of the Doan royal family is haunted by memories of the monstrous Sith soldier who murdered her father and tortured her when she was a child. Bent on retribution, she hires a merciless assassin to find her tormentor – and bring him back alive to taste her wrath.

Only a Sith who has taken down her own Master can become Dark Lord of the Sith. So when Bane suddenly vanishes, Zannah must find him – possibly even rescue him – before she can kill him. And so she pursues her quarry from the grim depths of a ravaged world on the brink of catastrophe to the barren reaches of a desert outpost, where the future of the dark side’s most powerful disciples will be decided, once and for all, by the final, fatal stroke of a lightsaber.

©2012 Drew Karpyshyn (P)2012 Random House Audio

My thoughts: “Alas, the trilogy has ended!”

I actually started and finished this audiobook in only one day, that’s how gripping it was. We follow Darth Bane and his apprentice Zannah, but also some new characters, just like in the previous two parts. This time I found these new characters actually interesting in their own right, so this is an improvement compared to parts 1 & 2.

The action scenes are fantastic, read perfectly thrillingly by Davis and enhanced even more by tracks from John Williams’s original soundtrack. The plot kept me interested in between action scenes as well, although it did ask me to suspend a lot of my disbelief in terms of consistency of character & skill set (can’t say more, otherwise I’d spoil it).

The sound effects were awesome as always, with one minor criticism: at one point the alarms are going off for a LONG time, it got on my nerve a bit since you can’t tone it down without losing the narration.

The final confrontation had me at the edge of my seat, the action climbed and climbed and climbed to a climax, which when it finally arrived however left me wondering “Wait. What happened?!” So not entirely as satisfying as I’d hoped, especially after such a thrilling ride to the top.

The epilogue is a definite cliff hanger, leaving me again dangling in the void of Wanting More, but this time there’s no more sequels to quench that thirst! Not so cool.

But those are only minor peeves, and not worth subtracting any stars. All in all this trilogy was absolutely thrilling, exciting and totally awesome. Jonathan Davis is a fantastic narrator, with a huge range of voices without overacting.

This third part of the series tempted me to listen to Darth Plagueis again even though I finished that not too long ago, because it is the next novel in the long, long list of the SW Expanded Universe novels and this trilogy left me really wanting some sort of continuity fix :-).

Again, highly recommend!

Also follow my reviews on Audible.com! (where I am Katarina – if you’re an Audible listener, simply click ‘Follow’ once you’ve found me)

Some images on this blog temporarily disabled

As you may or may not have noticed, my blog didn’t show its many many images for a week or so. This was caused by Photobucket changing its terms of service overnight, without prior notice! For those of you who don’t know, they are the company that until very very recently marketed itself as the third party host of images, for blogs, forums and the like. They have done so for well over 10 years and thousands of bloggers have been hosting their pictures for their blogs on Photobucket.

Well, as it happens, Photobucket have very recently decided to change their policy to now no longer allow third party image sharing (or hot linking), unless users pay a whopping $399,- per year.

So yeah, that’s not going to happen on my end. So I worked very hard to replace every single image by a newly hosted one. I truly empathize with those bloggers who wrote hundreds of posts with thousands of images…

I can only hope the inconvenience for you all has not been too much of a drag, but even so I apologize. I hope you are still with me and keep enjoying my previous and future ramblings on this blog 😉

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