The Land: Founding – a LitRPG Audiobook review

As is fitting for an audiobook review :-), you can also listen to me reading it out loud, on the Christian Geek Central podcast, episode #510. Go to timestamp 17:35.

Having wet my appetites with the Awaken Online series, I recently tried the next title on my ever-growing LitRPG wish list: The Land: Founding. This is part 1 of the by now six-volumed Chaos Seeds series, written by Aleron Kong. The 9 hours 49 minutes long story is narrated by Nick Podehl.

Publisher’s Summary

Tricked into a world of banished gods, demons, goblins, sprites and magic, Richter must learn to meet the perils of The Land and begin to forge his own kingdom. Actions have consequences across The Land, with powerful creatures and factions now hell-bent on Richter’s destruction.

Can Richter forge allegiances to survive this harsh and unforgiving world or will he fall to the dark denizens of this ancient and unforgiving realm?

A tale to shake “The Land” itself, measuring 10/10 on the Richter scale, how will Richter’s choices shape the future of The Land and all who reside in it? Can he grow his power to meet the deadliest of beings of the land? When choices are often a shade of grey, how will Richter ensure he does not become what he seeks to destroy?

ps – Gnomes Rule

©2016 Tamori Publications (P)2017 Tamori Publications

My thoughts

This was my first audiobook narrated by Nick Podehl, and I’m an immediate fan! This is truly awesome narration, with great voice acting for each character and many different voices to distinguish between them. His female voices are among the best, maybe the best, I’ve heard by a male narrator. So from now on, Podehl may read anything and I’ll listen to it. Which means I’m probably going to get this entire series.

That being said, the first book of this many-volumed series was okay. It was entertaining enough, and I’m even willing to try the second book in the series. However, I’m not sure when since it won’t be the highest on my wish list. The Land: Founding only gets three stars from me, because I’ve read and listened to much better books. By which I mean, better fleshed out characters, more conflict or striving in the plot (everything comes pretty easily to the main character), and a far more complex and thrilling storyline overall.
I had difficulty caring for the main characters, they were so two-dimensional. The plot had a definite YA feel, and I’m not even sure the author was aiming for that.

I had another issue, which were the many game stats. They were too many, too often. Maybe it would have helped if they’d chosen a completely different narrator to be the game computer reading of the stats (like in Awaken Online), but still. I lost interest every time they were read.

Another issue I had was the way the main character leveled up. It was not exciting at all, to me it seemed he gained level points for about anything he did, said or looked at. Which took away any kind of thrill the listener may have felt. Again, Awaken Online does a much better job there.

But:
1. since this is only volume one;
2. since the main premise is still interesting (certain in-game humans are permanently trapped in the game);
3. since I was absolutely positively intrigued by the first couple of prologue pages (which I won’t spoil but which offer a kind of “behind the scenes” viewpoint of some greater ‘powers that be’),
I am – probably – going to continue with the next volume. Also, the already mentioned great narration is a not unimportant deciding factor there.

The book is long enough to be worth the credit, and I can appreciate it as (very) light entertainment in between more ‘heavy’ works of literature.

This was only my second series in the LitRPG genre, but as it stands now, this is my Top Two:
1. Awaken Online series
2. Chaos Seeds series

So, to be continued I guess!

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

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Audiobook review: Mission Trip

Recently I was contacted by Christian Geek Central to see if I would be interested in reviewing a scifi audiobook by a Christan author, for the Christian Geek Central podcast. Which of course I was, so I was given a free review copy audiobook and have voluntarily written this review. I was not required to write a positive review and this reflects my honest opinion of the work.

In the spirit of this being an audiobook review, you can also listen to me reading it on the aforementioned podcast, episode #511! Go to time stamp 20:07.

I have not read or listened to many Christian scifi novels yet, so I’m not very familiar with a broad spectrum within this genre – if there is one. So I was very curious about Mission Trip, a novel by John Theo, which will take you 6 hours 41 minutes to finish in audiobook format.

I had never read anything like the novel’s concept before, as far as its Christian characters are concerned: in the near future the USA has grown increasingly left-wing totalitarian, the constitution has been abolished, and the persecution of Christians was so harsh that they fled the country, following a tech genius who found Christ and built a large underwater city. This is only the backdrop; the actual story takes place decades after that, near the close of the 21st century. By that time the USA as we know it doesn’t exist anymore. The world, or at least the former USA and something called New Europe, is filled with sin and ruled by evil, there are no more personal freedoms and the only law seems to be Survival of the Fittest. In this story, unexpectedly, it’s the Christians who are doing fine. They have high tech & state of the art science departments, personal liberties, weapons and they are living isolated from the rest of the world. Or, as the publisher’s summary reads:

In the year 2077, the United States has become a post-apocalyptic footnote in the world history books. The only place freedom still exists is in a shielded underwater city called The Atoll, where a group of Christian refugees are trying to start over. The Atoll inhabitants are hated for their freedoms and hunted for their technology, but even in their protective bubble, treachery still finds a way in.

©2016 John Theo Jr. (P)2016 Clean Reads

My thoughts: “Intriguing concept”

As I already stated above, I was intrigued by the concept of a world where Christians for once were not the weak ones. With such a concept the story could have gone in several directions I think; in this case, the Christians are just like they are today.
When they are severely persecuted they withdraw into a utopian society they’re trying to build and maintain, seemingly unaware of history’s many lessons that there are no such things as man-made utopias. They of course still have to struggle with their own fallen natures, raw emotions, sinful thoughts, secularism, etc.

I liked the realism of this scenario. I found it perfectly believable that, once Christians successfully retreated into a literal safe bubble, one of their main spiritual issues would ultimately become a lack of love for the rest of fallen mankind. The same goes for the differences in character and belief. Christians in secular stories are often painted as if from one template, and usually not a very positive one. Not so in this book. There are people who are strong in their belief, people who have doubts, and people who are tempted by (and have fallen to) secularism and atheism.

I also had some issues with this story. The characters remain fairly two-dimensional, by which I mean there isn’t a lot of character development. Most of them are of one opinion or mindset and they stick to it throughout the novel; people do not seem to learn anything that results in actual character growth. I liked the main character well enough, although he too wasn’t really fleshed out, but it made it difficult for me to root for any of the other characters. There were several decisions made by characters that seemed mainly convenient as a plot device (I can’t say more about that because I don’t want to spoil anything). And lastly, the novel doesn’t seem to have made up its mind about whether it’s a study of certain political and philosophical issues, or an action scifi adventure. Both could be interesting; focussing on one or the other would have helped the story gain its feet, imho.

Narration by Karey James Kimmel was fine, I liked the narrator’s voice and the tone he chose. There were some issues with accentuating the right words in sentences, which tended to distract me, though not for long. His portrayal of female characters could be better.

In conclusion, on the one hand the characters could have been more three-dimensional. On the other hand, the concept deserves praise for its originality and may lead to very interesting sequels.
All in all this story was perfectly fine.

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Check out the trailer for Mission Trip:

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Audiobook short: The Dispatcher (narrated by Zachary Quinto)

As is fitting for an audiobook review :-), you can also listen to me reading it out loud, on the Christian Geek Central podcast, episode #504. Go to timestamp 40:59.

Sometimes you just want to listen to something nice for about 2-3 hours. You don’t feel like a podcast or some audio course, and who listens to Talk Radio anymore? No, you really want an audiobook, you just want a finished story this time.

It’s for occasions like these, that there are the really, really short audio books. Recently I listened to a great find in this category, called The Dispatcher. It’s written by John Scalzi, narrated by Zachary Quinto (yes, the one and only.). The unabridged version of this audio novella will take you only 2 hours and 19 minutes to finish.

Publisher’s Summary

Zachary Quinto – best known for his role as the Nimoy-approved Spock in the recent Star Trek reboot and the menacing, power-stealing serial killer, Sylar, in Heroes – brings his well-earned sci-fi credentials and simmering intensity to this audio-exclusive novella from master storyteller John Scalzi.

One day, not long from now, it becomes almost impossible to murder anyone – 999 times out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. How? We don’t know. But it changes everything: war, crime, daily life.

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher – a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge a supposed wrong.

It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him.

©2016 John Scalzi (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

My thoughts

This is a lovely palate cleanser between giant sagas and other enormous works of fiction. With a very original main premise to begin with, the author succeeds in turning the story into an interesting whodunnit. The atmosphere reminded me of a nineteen fourties black & white murder mystery, complete with a set of rather 2D characters that are, however, archetypal enough to pull you into the story.

Archetypal, and yet still ’21st century’ as well, with a protagonist whose shady morals are only somewhat uncovered as the story unfolds and cleverly leaves the rest to the listener’s imagination. Also not very ‘last century’, is the main character’s somewhat unwilling partnering with a slightly-manipulative-but-sympathetic-nonetheless female police detective. Think Misty in Marvel’s recent tv series Luke Cage.

It is not the most exciting of stories I’ve ever read or listened to, nor did it keep me glued to my couch. Nevertheless, the narrator is what makes this novella a great listen. Not only would Quinto’s voice make virtually any book enjoyable, he also employs some of his acting skills to give you different character voices, and more importantly, different emotions. That was a real treat.

All in all I enjoyed this down to earth murder mystery in its subtly present contemporary scifi setting enough to recommend it. However, for me personally it would not have been worth full price, it’s really too short for that.

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

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Audiobook short: The Dreaming Void

After having finished Peter F. Hamilton’s two-part Commonwealth Saga, I discovered that one of his trilogies was placed in this same story universe, only about 1200 years later. Although I do believe that this is a perfect jumping on point and you don’t have to read or listen to the prequel novels of the Commonwealth Saga, I’m also convinced that you’ll enjoy The Dreaming Void more if you have.

Although I found the prospect of what would undoubtedly be another long listen somewhat daunting, I also thought that a little over 21 hours was very much better than the almost 38 hours a piece of the aforementioned two-parter. So I happily embarked on this new listening trip, blissfully ignoring the fact that the entire trilogy would of course take me almost exactly as long as the previous saga. But who’s counting.

Publisher’s Summary

AD 3580. The Intersolar Commonwealth has spread through the galaxy to over a thousand star systems. It is a culture of rich diversity with a place for everyone. Even death itself has been overcome. But at the centre of the Commonwealth is a massive black hole. This Void is not a natural artefact. Inside there is a strange universe where the laws of physics are very different to those we know. It is slowly consuming the other stars of the galactic core – one day it will devour the entire galaxy.

Inigo, a human, has started to dream of a wonderful existence in the Void. He has a following of millions of believers and they now clamour to make a pilgrimage into the Void to live the life they have been shown. Other starfaring species fear their migration will cause the Void to expand again. They are prepared to stop them no matter what the cost.

And so the pilgrimage begins….

©2008 Peter F. Hamilton; (P)2008 Macmillan Digital Audio

My thoughts: “Smart combination of scifi & fantasy!”

From the beginning this novel requires your attention – no vacuum cleaning or shopping while listening please – as per usual, it seems, with Hamilton’s work. The plot takes its time to unfold in all its detail, sauntering unhurriedly forward while you meet all of its well-fleshed out characters. But then: a novelty, a story-within-a-story, a novel-within-a-novel even, and to Hamilton’s credit I cannot make up my mind which of the two I liked better. I might love them equally well – although Inigo’s dreams, which make up this interwoven second novel, are more action-driven with a higher pacing, so I guess I do prefer that storyline a little.

By combining two-novels-in-one in this particular way, in my opinion Hamilton has also brilliantly succeeded in combining scifi and fantasy in one great tale, without the genres ever actually crossing over. A smart move, and smartly done. The novel hints at the two stories, or at least their worlds, being integrated in one of its sequels, but this first part will have none of that. Loved it!

After The Commonwealth Saga, The Dreaming Void has a new narrator: Toby Longworth, which comes with its perks and its disadvantages. On the plus side, there are actual sentence breaks in the correct places now, and some clarifying seconds of silence between chapters. What.a relief that was, compared to the prequels. Also, as a narrator he performs perfectly well, and I would listen to any novel read by him without any qualms. My criticism of the change of narrator however outweighs its advantages. For Longworth pronounces certain names of characters and species differently from what we have become acquainted with in the Commonwealth Saga, which I found slightly annoying and couldn’t get used to. Also, his acting voice for the different characters is, naturally, different from John Lee’s, which includes inflection of voice, and the way certain sentences are intoned. I found this distracting as well because the effect was that several well-loved characters didn’t sound like themselves anymore. So I was glad to notice that John Lee, the original narrator of the Commonwealth Saga, returns to parts 2 and 3 of the Void trilogy!

All in all I liked this first part of the Void trilogy enough to recommend it to anyone who likes the Commonwealth Saga, or simply Peter Hamilton’s work! 👍🏼

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SW Clone Wars Animated Series pt. 4: Anakin Skywalker – Descent into Rage

Finally! It’s here: part 4 of my spoiler-filled blog mini series on Star Wars Clone Wars – The Animated Series. I repeat: spoiler-filled! If you don’t wish to be spoiled about anything, please make sure you have watched all Star Wars movies, plus Seasons 1-4 of this animated series, before continuing to read this blog post.

One of the many things I love about Star Wars Clone Wars – The Animated Series (TAS) is that the series’ creators take their time to make us part of Anakin’s slow descent into a moral low.

In Season 1 we see Anakin’s temper and his rebellious streak, the second season shows the first signs of him being a killer: initially when he first practices his Force Grip and almost kills a prisoner, later when he wants to execute Ventress (but she escapes). Season 3 confirms this cold-bloodedness when Anakin without hesitation kills one of the three Force Wielders, during the Mortis story line.

The fourth season has Anakin further prodded in the direction of the Dark Side by his deep-seeded rage. For instance, when he has to deal with a Separatist-backed slaver planet and their queen, his rage and fear almost get the better of him. The queen also raises some interesting philosophical questions as to Anakin’s nature, calling him a slave at heart, wanting nothing more than to serve others with blind loyalty and a commitment at the expense of himself. It’s very clear she strikes a chord with Anakin, leaving him confused and at a loss for words.

In a later story arc, Obi Wan is murdered by a sniper – or so Anakin believes. This time his rage is fuelled by deep grief which he doesn’t seem to want to let go.

The Jedi want him to stay out of the murder investigation precisely for this reason, but (of course) Chancellor Palpatine encourages him to do it anyway. This sends him on a murderous hunt, using his Force Grip openly to squeeze information out of people – in stark contrast to Season 2 where he only does it when no one can see him.

In season 4, episode 19 we see Palpatine manipulating Anakin even more, slyly feeding his dormant anger about having been lied to about Obi Wan’s undercover mission, the one that made him believe his best friend had been murdered. The Chancellor’s whispered half-truths seem to have yet another effect on Anakin: they acutely address his deep need to be in control, to protect the ones he loves. Like a silent echo of the slaver queen’s notions about Anakin, Palpatine subtly coaxes Anakin into isolating himself from the Jedi and shift his fealty to the Chancellor, to focus his ardent loyalty no longer on his fellow Jedi, who seem not to trust him and even lie to him, but on the ever faithful Chancellor, who always expresses his confidence in and admiration for Anakin. When Anakin defends Palpatine against what seems to be an assassination attempt by Dooku, he’s hardly able to contain his rage and fights to kill. Both Dooku and Palpatine realize this, as is shown both in Dooku’s surprised eyes and Palpatine’s smug smile.

In this episode Anakin is not yet strong enough to defeat Dooku, not strong enough to become a Sith, which is only fitting. The duel was the perfect prelude to their future fight however – which as we all know will end quite differently, securing Anakin’s place at Darth Sidious’s side…

After Dooku has escaped, Anakin ardently expresses his loyalty to the Chancellor: ‘As long as I live, no harm will ever come to you’ – as if almost wanting to prove the slaver queen’s theory.

A kind of pre-catharsis for the viewer is of course the knowledge that in the end he will find the strength to break this misguided vow, sacrificing himself and saving the universe as he does it…

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Audiobook short: Tarkin (a new Star Wars canon novel)

To hear me read this review, check out episode 499 of the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, go to timestamp 13:50.

A little while ago I took some very tentative steps into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, starting with the Darth Plagueis audiobook. Tentatively, because I didn’t want to commit, since the Lucasfilm Story Group banished the entire EU, once official canon lore, to the realm of what they now call Legends.

Of course I lost that not-very-hard-fought battle and am now swimming neck-deep in the entire original EU (now: Legends), so audiobooks, novels, comics and even game plot summaries.

However, I did want to try the new canonical continuity and tried two of the new novels in audiobook format. The first one is Tarkin, written by James Luceno and read by Euan Morton. Length: 9 hrs, 27 min.

Publisher’s summary

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Best-selling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hopeto full, fascinating life.

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly….and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel – by intimidation…or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin – whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy…and its enemies’ extinction.

©2014 James Luceno (P)2014 Random House Audio

My thoughts: “Not enough action, too little suspense”

Although well-read by Morton, this is definitely not my favorite Star Wars novel. I was curious what nuggets of new SW lore this novel would offer, but for me it fell flat. The story built too slowly, there was hardly any suspense and in my opinion it could have been at least 30% shorter.
And most importantly, it did not succeed in making me care for any of its characters, nor the main plot line, the problem that needs solving by Tarkin. Except, of course for Darth Vader and the Emperor – who are not nearly enough in it. Narrator Morton does a great Vader by the way, very well done considering nobody can really come close to James Earl Jones.

I’m a big fan of Luceno’s Darth Plagueis, which I highly, highly recommend to any SW fan, so I had hoped for a bit of that same quality of storytelling that kept me glued to my couch even though it was an audiobook, but alas. Perhaps Luceno had to make the most of a pre-outlined plot, or perhaps he just doesn’t ‘feel’ the new SW universe anymore, like he did so well with Darth Plagueis.

There are of course the usual SW audio effects, which I like. For instance, when Vader’s in a scene, we hear him breathing through his apparatus.

All in all a disappointment. I finished this audiobook anyway, out of a sense of completism for the new Star Wars universe. Which is about the only reason you should buy it.

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

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Audiobook Review: Awaken Online ‘Catharsis’

For the audio version of this review, narrated by Moi, check out Christian Geek Central’s podcast, episode 496, timestamp 12:54.

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 bookmark my Listerner page once you’ve found me)

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