SPQR I: The King’s Gambit by John Maddox Roberts

RobertsTheKingsGambitWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2008)

Length: 7 hours 18 minutes

Series: Book 1 SPQR

Author’s Page

Set in the 1st century ancient Rome, this murder mystery will have you hooked and wanting more. In the time of Crassus and Pompey, murder and intrigue are not that uncommon. However, their is the dual murders of an ex-slave and a foreign merchant that catch the eye of Decius Caecilius Metellus. He isn’t willing to write these deaths off so quickly.

When I was younger, I read several of these SPQR books in paperback. I just couldn’t get enough of them. I was very delighted to find them in audio and narrated by one of my favorite narrators, Simon Vance. This book is a great introduction to the series and our main hero and detective Decius. I really enjoy how the murder trail cuts through several levels of society. This book doesn’t focus on the rich and famous, but rather, makes them the backdrop to the rest of Roman society.

There is a bit of sex in this book. Or rather, there is plenty of sensuality that leads up to the sex, which is then mostly done behind a curtain. The lead up was very well done. There were drugs and alcohol and tumblers involved, so it was all a little fuzzy to Decius the next morning. Coinciding with that, I wish there were a few more female characters in the story. But that is my only quibble with this book.

The author does a great job of putting the reader in ancient Rome. The food and the clothes and the lack of modern plumbing are all there for the reader experience. Plus the author does a great job of showing societal norms of the time, which is important in understanding the mindset of the main characters. He doesn’t try to take modern morals and shove them into an ancient Roman character.

The Narration: Simon Vance was awesome as always. He had distinct voices for both males and females. He didn’t hesitate at all with the Latin phrases tossed in here and there.

What I Liked: Ancient Rome; murder mystery; the political intrigue; Decius’s cleverness; explores the various classes of Roman life.

What I Disliked: Could use a few more female characters.

What Others Think:

KD Did It

Italophile Book Reviews

Book Loons

Giveaway & Interview: Franz Ross, Author of Our Future Good

KirbyOurFutureGoodFolks, please welcome Franz Ross (aka T. J. Kirby), author of Our Future Good. I really enjoyed Our Future Good, a sharp mix of near-future scifi and social commentary. The audiobook is narrated by Simon Vance, one of my all-time favorite narrators. He’s here today for a lovely chat about physics in science fiction writing, holography, life as a realtor, Warren Buffett, and much more. If you’re here for the giveaway, Franz if offering up 3 audiobook copies of Our Future Good. Scroll to the bottom to enter!

You have a dedicated interest in holography. How did you get started in that? How has the hobby changed over the decades?

I have a small publishing business and I happened to see a notice that these guys were giving classes on how to make your own holograms.  If you ever see a real good volume hologram (a hologram that actually forms an image in space out in front of the plate) it is very impressive. People that have never seen one spend a lot of time running their hand through the ghost-like image.

So I did a book with the people that conducted these classes and the book was called the Holography Handbook and it was very well received. Both MacMillan and McGraw-Hill put it in their book clubs and the book sold well in stores too.

I then went on to do a series called the Holography Marketplace which had 8 editions and came out almost annually. Each edition had articles on holography and a database of all the businesses in holography. Each edition was also filled with lots of holograms from various vendors.

Artistic holography was very big for quite a while and there were hologram stores in lots of cities. It has kind of died down now and most uses of holograms today are in security devices like credit cards, money and things like that. It will probably come back in time.

What now-dead author would you like to interview? What are some of the things you would chat about?

Aldous Huxley. I thought Brave New World was an interesting insight to where things might go. The other possibility for the future was 1984. It would be interesting to hear his comments.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

Being a Realtor is very difficult because you never know what is going to happen or where your next dollar will come from.

Writing takes a long time and it is more time consuming and difficult than I first thought but you do it because you love doing it.

Who are your non-writer influences? 

I like to casually follow stocks so people like Warren Buffett are interesting.

I really like cutting edge science so the things that people like Elon Musk are doing are very interesting. It is really exciting to be alive today because everything is changing so rapidly.

You have a degree in physics. Did that make writing your book, Our Future Good, easier or more difficult? 

It helps a little because it allows you to discount a lot of the garbage in the news and gives you a more realistic idea as to where things are going to go. Our Future Good is the not too distant future and I think people will be surprised how quickly these things come to exist.

I will take this moment to sketch this out: One way of looking at the near future is that there will be 3 major human inventions during our time. The inventions will be so important that you would have to go all the way back to the invention of written language or the wheel to find something comparable.

1)     The internet – We have just started this one and it is difficult to understand how incredible it is because you are living it.

2)     Mobile Robotic Devices – This has not started yet but it is coming very soon. Call them robots if you like. Robots will make robots and repair robots. So you will be able to create huge quantities of robots if needed and they will do all our mundane chores.

3)     Biological Evolution – This comes soon too. To survive as humans we have always gone out and wacked a plant or animal to death and then stuffed it in our mouth to get the nourishment we need. So we are basically using our body as a garbage disposal that leaches out nutrients that we need and this process also slowly clogs up our plumbing and kills us. We will find a way to provide all the nutrients our body needs without going through all this waste.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging? 

I really have to spend more time on this. I published a number of books by other authors in my business called Ross Books (www.rossbooks.com) but I never actually wrote a book before Our Future Good.

I admit I am not good at self-promotion and I need to work on it. Maybe your readers have some ideas.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?


Brave New World

Some of Isaac Asimov’s voluminous writings (hundreds of books).

Arthur Clarke

H. G. Wells

Ray Bradbury

Thank you Franz for spending time with us!

Book Blurb for Our Future Good:

KirbyOurFutureGoodMary and Joe are young people just graduating from their General Lessons. It is time for them to go to their first Project Day and choose the first Project they will to join. Mary wants desperately to get her boyfriend Joe to join her in the NutriSuit Project, but Joe wants just as desperately to do a Journalist Project because a major event is happening and Joe has an opportunity to play an important role

Places to Find Franz Ross (T. J. Kirby)

Ross Books

T. J. Kirby Website




Now for the Giveaway! Franz Ross is offering up 3 (three!) copies of the audiobook Our Future Good. You need to have an Audible.com (USA) account. For a quick, easy entry in to the giveaway, leave me comment with the following: an email address, do you have an Audible USA account?, and recommend a scifi audiobook. For even more chances to win, do the rafflecopter thing.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Our Future Good by T. J. Kirby

KirbyOurFutureGoodWhere I Got It: Won a copy from the author via Audiobook Reviewer (thanks!).

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Ross Books (2014)

Length: 2 hours 47 minutes

Author’s Page

Mary & Joe are about to embark on their adult lives. They’ve just finished their General Studies and it’s now time for them to pick a Project to work on. Mary would like to work on the NutriSuit Project. However, Joe has been following a story in the news and he really wants to join a journalism team reporting on the issue.

Set a few generations from now, this novella tells a fun tale while also providing a subtle commentary on current day society. At least, that is what I got out of it. Joe has been following the story of the L5Pilgrim space colony society. They wish to break away from the International Space Station (ISS) and go weightless. Of course, this not only affects the current inhabitants of the colony, but will affect future generations. Some of the opposition point out that such colonists would not be able to return to Earth, essentially creating a subspecies of humans. Major detractors believe it isn’t right for them to make such a choice for their future offspring.

If the basic story isn’t enough for you, this tale is full of future tech that made the story fascinating. Much of it is seamlessly put into play without distracting from the story. The NutriSuit would allow a person to absorb all the nutrients they need while sleeping. Housing and robots and travel have all improved in the future. You can modify any room with a few button pushes – sound, color, furniture.

Then there are the societal changes. Every human is guaranteed basic housing and a small stipend each month. However, if a person volunteers for a Project, then they are paid for their efforts on top of the stipend, allowing the person to purchase luxuries. Of course I love this idea, even if I think we will never achieve it globally. Then there is sex. Mary and Joe aren’t married, just barely into adulthood, and yet it is clear they have been enjoying each other’s attentions for some time. I think this is fine (perhaps even preferred). Joe’s parents don’t even mind having Mary stay over. Both of these youngsters work hard and are worthy citizens AND they have sex. Good for them! It wasn’t taboo and I found this very refreshing.

My one little criticism about the story is that I found the underlying tale a little predictable. I won’t go into details as that would spoil the ending. However, with all the other goodness going on in this novel, I can overlook the mild predictability. Also, the cover art and title initially made me think this book was on spiritual guidance or world prayer or some such. I wold not have guessed it was a science fiction story from the tile and cover.

The Narration: Simon Vance has been a favorite narrator for some time. His performance here was great, as usual. He had a variety of voices for men and women and imbued the text with emotion where needed.  

What I Liked: Fascinating future tech; evolved societal norms; L5Pilgrim’s dilemma; story raises questions about a human’s right to pick their path in life.

What I Disliked: Plot was a little predictable; cover art and title don’t say ‘scifi story’ to me.

What Others Think:

Audiobook Reviewer

Pariah by Thomas Emson

EmsonPariahWhere I Got It: Review copy via the publisher via Edelweiss (thanks!).

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2013)

Narrator: Simon Vance

Length: 10 hours 55 minutes

Author’s Page

The 1888 murders of 5 east end Londoners was never solved, though the cases became famous for the nick name given to the never-identified murderer: Jack the Ripper. East End suffers another murder spree in 1996, and again, the cases go unsolved. The bulk of the story takes place 2011, when Charlie Faultless returns to East End and the murders start again. There are foes at every turn and a deeper, darker mystery that he must get to the bottom of if he hopes to prevent the murders of people he cares about.

This was a dark and creepy mystery and I really enjoyed it. While it had a few shortcomings, I found that I didn’t want to put it down. The main hero, if you can call him a hero, is not exactly a good guy, though he is trying to do right by his dead mother and dead girlfriend, both of whom died in the 1996 murder spree. Charlie grew up involved in crime and that was his way of life until he was banished from England in 1996. In 2011, as a well known investigative writer, he returns to London to delve into the 1996 murders. He reconnects with some past criminal associates and a few old friends, and not a few enemies bent on revenge. I really enjoyed this character because he isn’t going about these activities out of some new found idea of right and wrong but out of duty to what was his. Charlie’s character grows a bit with the book, as he connects with those now threatened, and as he learns about his true nature (which happens at the very end, so I can’t say too much about that without dropping spoilers).

Meanwhile, we get to spend time in the heads of other people. There are a few women in the story (the little sister (Tash) to the dead girlfriend, her daughter (Jasmin), and a handful of other  minor characters). There is a deeper mystery to the story and the women are at the center of that mystery. Jack the Ripper is a recurring evil that is unleashed every so many decades. He hunts certain humans because he requires something from them, something hidden deep in each one; hence, all the cutting up of the bodies. These special humans can sense him and have a kind of prescience allowing them to somewhat predict events. Over the ages, these special humans have often banded together to hunt Jack and seal him away.

And that is where my little criticism came in. The male hunters (while minor characters) had very active roles in hunting down and sealing away Jack. We get several flashbacks throughout the story showing us how this was done. However, the women of the past and of the present are pretty much useless. Only towards the end, and only in a spotty way, do we see the ladies put up some sort of struggle or take an active role in hunting Jack. Mostly, they huddle around in tears talking about their horrid dreams of a man hunting them and slicing them apart. Oh, and the adult ladies have sex with various male characters. Yep, the ladies are written pretty shallowly in this book.

And despite that, I was riveted. The plot wove bits of the past with lots of the modern mess of criminal activity. Charlie’s character fascinated me because he didn’t consider himself a hero, but just a guy who had set his mind to accomplish this one thing (bring down the murderer of his mum and girlfriend). Then there are all these fascinating bad guys who do pretty gruesome things (such as the dead girlfriend’s father, a crooked cop, and handiman, etc.). In each of their minds, they were their own hero and justified their actions.

The ending was terribly exciting and brutal. I really didn’t know how the outcome would go – Jack defeated or charlie broken? There is a very nice twist at the end and makes me deeply hope there will be a sequel to this tale.

Narration: Simon Vance did a great job, as always. He is one of my favorite authors and I will pick up a book by an author I have never heard of just because he is doing the narration. He had a very creepy voice for Jack and dark, intense voice for Charlie. Excellent performance!

What I Liked:   Nitty, gritty storyline; story shows us glimpses of the past; I like the idea of a secret society hunting the recurring evil known as Jack; excellent twist at the end. 

What I Disliked: The female characters were pretty shallow; the cover doesn’t encompass the dark, absorbing story contained within.

What Others Think:

Rea’s Reading & Reviews

According to Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge

BuckeridgeAccordingToJenningsWhy I Read It: I like the narrator Simon Vance and a few easy reads for the summer is great.

Where I Got It: A review copy via the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who enjoy kid boarding school stories would probably find this to their liking.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press (2012)

Length: 4 hours 29 minutes

Series: Book 6 The Jennings Series

While this is not Book 1 in the series, it works well as a stand alone novel.

This book is a series of small adventures and mischiefs in the lives of Jennings and Darbishire, two boarding school boys at Linbury Court in the early 1900s England. Jen is often the leader of the games or mischief while Darby more than often pays the price for the mischief. In this installment, the boys are engaged in a round of aliens versus astronauts while patron General Merridew is visiting the school. Mistaking his post-lunch snores in one of the upper floor libraries for the competitive team, the boys lock Merridew in and then taunt him in what was probably at the time pretty rude language. The adventures continue with a cricket game, capturing a pickpocket, a swim competition, inadvertent paint damage, and a misunderstanding about a teacher being gone for a weekend.

By and large, this tale is an easy read with clever little twists, providing a wholesome story. To me, it almost struck as a remembrance of simpler times with fewer worries (if there ever was such a time). There’s no swearing, not violence, no sex, no smoking, no drinking, etc. I know – so not me. But, nevertheless, I enjoyed this little jaunt down tame Boys’ Boarding School Lane. I especially enjoyed some of the crazy exclamations the boys had – ‘Petrified Paintpots!’, ‘Cristalized Cheesecakes’, and ‘Fossilized Fishhooks!’. Yes, Anthony Buckeridge had me laughing out loud with his creativeness.

While there are few females even mentioned, and only 1 female character, they are treated respectfully. Still, a female reader might find less connection to this story than male readers.

Narration: Simon Vance is always a treat. I especially enjoyed his blustering voice for Merridew, the occasionally whining school boy, and all the funny exclamations used throughout the story.

What I Liked: Mischievous boys; Merridew’s reaction to being locked in the library; Jen & Darby have to work out how to share a gift; boyish exclamations.

What I Disliked: Only 1 minor female character.

Great Classic Science Fiction by Various Authors

Smudge's face makes me laugh!

Smudge’s face makes me laugh!

Why I Read It: It’s Vintage Scifi Month and this fits right in.

Where I Got It: My library.

Who I Recommend This To: Those who want to enjoy some snippets of classic SF.

Narrators: Various (see below for each story)

Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America (2010)

Length: 7 hours 45 minutes

A little description for each of 8 stories captured in this collection follows below. Any misspellings of names are my own fault. This collection was an awesome, eclectic bit of classic science fiction. My favorite tale was by Andre Norton, featuring Stina and Bat (btw: it was the only tale featuring a woman as the protagonist). The ostrich-like Martian was probably my favorite character (Weinbaum did a great job of breaking down communication to its basic elements). Missing Link by Herbert was a very satisfying tale to end the collection with.

The Door in the Wall by H. G. Wells (narrated by Simon Vance)

Originally published in 1906. In this story, Wallace had a strange experience as a kid where he went through a beautiful and magical door and had a fanciful time. This experience haunts him for his life, driving him to search out the door again later in life.

All Cats are Gray by Andre Norton (narrated by Barbara Rosenblat)

Originally published in 1953. Stina and her cat, Bat, figured out where to find the lost ghost ship Empress of Mars has gotten off to. She’s a starliner, rich is goods and prestige. Once found though, there is question of why she disappeared. Bat figures the answer first, and luckily, tips off her mistress.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum (narrated by Nick Sullivan)

Originally published in 1934. Four scientists land on Mars, and one, Dick Jarvis, has quite the adventure with the native Martian life. Think of some ostrich-like highly intelligent being, and the obvious communication issues.

Victory by Lester del Rey (narrated by Robert Fass)

Originally published in 1955. Set in a rich universe full of humanoid, insectoid, and fungoid races, Duke O’Neal is a jaded warrior married to a non-human who has been trapped in a war zone for some time. This tale is rather too long to be a short story, but rather was a novella. Lester del Rey pulls in SF coolness like time dilation and interplanetary relations.

The Moon is Green by Fritz Leiber (narrated by Katherine Kellgren)

Originally published in 1952. Ephie and Hank are stuck in an unhappy marriage, underground, for decades, while the man-made radiation storm blows over. But Ephie dreams of a life outside, which drives her to push back the lead shielding, and peer outside. Which leads her to meet Patrick, who has only a few mutations.

The Winds of Time by James H. Schmitz (narrated by Stephen R. Thorne)

Originally published 1962. Gefty Rammer is the pilot of the Silver Queen and has been hired by Marlbo to carry him, his secretary (Carrom Ruse), and his cargo to a corner of the galaxy. Of course, the cargo turns out to be something highly unexpected and Gefty has to fight for his life and rescue the secretary.

The Defenders by Philip K. Dick (narrated by Greg Itzin)

Originally published 1953. The cold war between Russia and the US escalated to peak, and the world was plunged into a radioactive inferno. Now humans live below the surface while robots (called letties) maintain the ongoing war on the surface. Don and Mary Taylor have their morning interrupted when Don is called into the office. Don, Frank, and Moss end up on the surface and discover a surprise.

Missing Link by Frank Herbert (narrated by Scott Brick)

Originally published in 1959. Lewis Orne is a junior fieldman and his mission is to find the remains of the Delphinus on an uncleared planet with hostile natives.

I often avoid audio short story collections that are read by 1 narrator as the stories tend to blend together. But this was a great collection because each story was told by a different narrator. Several of these narrators have been favorites for some time (Scott Brick, Barbara Rosenblat, Simon Vance). Others were unknown to me. All did a great job. Robert Fass (Victory) did this awesome thing with his voice to mimic how some of the aliens would sound.

VintageScifiBadgeWhat I Liked: A great mix of stories; aliens, time travel, apocalyptic rehab; the narrators were awesome; several favorite authors were featured.

What I Disliked: Nearly all the stories a) had zero females or b) the women were minimized or needed rescuing.

January is Vintage SciFi Month over at Andrea’s Little Red Reviewer. Make sure to check out her site for the tons of pre-1979 SF going on. Also, January and February are The Science Fiction Experience over at Carl’s Stainless Steel Droppings. He also has great SF stuff going on, so stop by his place and don’t miss out on the fun.

readandreviewbuttonI am also including this in Anya’s weekly Read&Review Hop over on On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to check it out for other great reviews.


The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

Why I Read It: I really enjoyed Troost’s book Lost on Planet China.

Where I Got It: Library Web.

Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in life on the Pacific Islands and the minor, yet humorous, cultural clashes that a foreigner can experience.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2007)

Length: 8 hours 35 minutes

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) was an unknown place to me before I listened to this book. The author, J. Maarten Troost, and his fiance Sylvia, were both looking for jobs after graduation and she landed one on Tarawa in the island nation of Kiribati, way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (essentially in the middle of nowhere). Just getting there was an adventure, with pigs on the runway and museum-quality airplanes.

Once there, the culture shock hits on so many fronts. Kiribati is equatorial – meaning there are not seasons as the North American or European experiences them. It is always hot and there is never any need for sweaters, much to the chagrin of the author. Additionally, the island is an atoll, forged out of coral. It is not a tourist’s idea of a lush, verdant, tropical Pacific island. No, not at all. In fact, the island suffers long periods of drought, which is harsh since rain water provides much of the drinking water for the island. Take all this and throw in lack of universal electricity and sanitation, plus intermittent shipments, news, and mail from anywhere else, and you end up doing a lot of swimming, eating a lot of coconuts and fish, and learning to wash your hair with only a cup of water twice a week.

While the beginning of the book lagged a bit for me, starting off in North America with Troost dodging a financial responsibility of finding a job, I thoroughly enjoyed the other 4/5ths  of the book set in Kiribati. The author’s honest portrayal of the islanders in all their humor and endurance of island living was well rounded. I especially enjoyed the author trying to see things through Kiribati eyes – how insane or rude or ignorant are the foreigners? The chapter dealing with the island dogs – how they are seen more of as a nuisance and possible food source – was a bit hard because of my cultural background, but was explained well by the author. Over all, this book is laced with humor and honesty of the author’s experience of his time in Kiribati.

Simon Vance, one of my favorite narrators, gave this book that additional quirked eyebrow here, a chuckle there. His voice is so expressive and his performance of this book does not disappoint.

What I Liked: I love watching cultures play bumper cars in micro and this book is a good example of that; many of Sylvia’s remarks had me laughing; the author’s honesty of various fears and how those change by the end of the book.

What I Disliked: The book started with the author bored with what few job options were open to him after school, so he simply didn’t work and this annoyed me because it gave me the impression that he wanted to play but not be financially responsible (thankfully, it was a minor part of the book).