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.

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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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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.

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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!

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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).


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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!

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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.

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