Dune by Frank Herbert

HerbertDuneWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrators: Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, Ilyana Kadushin

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2007)

Length: 21 hours 8 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dune, Book 12 Dune Saga

Author’s Page

Set in a sweeping science fiction universe, the human empire is vast and complicated. Spice, from the planet Arrakis (aka Dune) powers it all, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in not so subtle ways. For years, the Harkonnen family has managed Dune for the Emperor, but now the Emperor has handed control of that planet over to House Atreides. Of course, the Harkonnens will do whatever they can to take down the Atreides. Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica will have to learn how to survive the most harshest zones of this desert planet in order to survive the Harkonnen.

I have read this book so many times over the years and each time I take something new from it. I was originally fascinated by the book because of the desert planet, which holds such great significance for the plot. Having spent most of my life in one desert or another, I really appreciated that Herbert built real desert life into the scenery. It’s not all sandy dunes, dry heat, and wind. Plus there’s giant sandworms and who doesn’t love giant worms of any kind?

This book is full of cool SF tech as well. There’s the small transport ships for collecting the Spice in the desert, the enormous space going vessels, personal protective shields, assassin’s tricks and tools, the specialized desert suits that reclaim and recycle the body’s water, and plenty more. If you’ve only seen the various movies/mini-series based on the book, then you are missing out.

The characters are also fascinating. While some are drawn simply, they still have motives and are useful to the plot. The main characters are layered, complex, have faults and foibles. Duke Leto, Paul’s father, comes across as a capable ruler who is worthy of respect. He is sure in his priorities and his code of honor. Jessica, Leto’s concubine and most trusted companion, is Bene Gesserit trained. Yes, she does scheme but her reasons are solidly good. Still, she miscalculates and makes mistakes. Paul starts off as a smart but somewhat sheltered boy. His story arc tosses him into a world of danger, literally, and there are so many ways he could have ended up dead. Gurney Halleck, Paul’s troubadour warrior trainer, is also a favorite. He has some of the roughest humor but also pushes Paul the hardest.

For a book that has staunchly remained in the SF genre, there is a mystical side to the story. The Bene Gesserit is a long-standing sisterhood that has spread it’s seeds of religion throughout the human universe. Most are trained from birth in mental abilities as well as history, languages, and martial arts. They also have the Voice, which allows them to compel most people to simple actions. The Bene Gesserit use the Spice to peek into the future (a talent called prescience) and thereby have kept humanity from being snuffed out by this disaster or that (or it’s own stupidity). Yet there is a place they can’t look, a place that terrifies them. Paul will play a role in helping them discover what is hidden there. Since this mystical element to the story can’t be nailed down by science, it has fascinated me the over the years.

There is so much to love about this book. The desert people,  the Fremen, have their own well-formed culture, shaped by the environment of Dune. Indeed, Dune itself is like a character in the story because it’s nature has such a strong influence on the story. The little touches of various languages throughout the story are also appreciated. I find it immensely sensible that House Atreides would have it’s own battle language, making it that much more difficult for their enemies to figure out what they are doing during a fight.

If you haven’t given this book a read yet, I highly recommend it. There is plenty to be discovered and enjoyed in this classic SF novel.

The Narration: The narration on this book is a little odd. There are chunks where multiple narrators are giving voice to the characters and then chunks where it is only Simon Vance narrating all the characters. I wonder if a trimmed radio theater version was recorded and then the publisher went back later and had Vance fill in all the in between spaces for an unabridged version. Vance’s performance is really good and the multi-cast parts are really good, but I found myself not liking switching between the two. I would get used to a character sounding a certain way and then have to get used to Vance’s performance of the same character, and then switching back and forth throughout – it was an unnecessary annoyance. Still, I love this book enough to tolerate it and for the most part, I still enjoyed the narration. 

What I Liked: The desert planet Dune and how it shapes the human existence; all the SF tech; so many assassins!; the worms of Arrakis; Paul’s story arc; the use of languages; the mystery of the Bene Gesserit; a worthy classic.

What I Disliked: The narration is odd – switching between a multi-cast performance and a single narrator, and back and forth for the entire book was a little annoying.

What Others Think:

Conceptual Fiction

Only the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

World’s Strongest Librarian

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SF Reviews

Fantasy Book Review

Pacific Burn by Barry Lancet

LancetPacificBurnWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Scott Brick

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 9 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 3 Jim Brodie

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it works fine as a stand along novel.

Jim Brodie’s passion is art and he loves his life as an art dealer. However, he inherited another life from his father, one that is inextricably tangled in his deceased father’s security firm. The son of his good friend Ken Nobuki is dead and a week later an attempt is made on Ken himself. Local San Francisco politicians put pressure on Jim and the local police department to solve the two cases quickly. But this mystery will take Jim across the nation to DC and then on to Japan and back. All his skills will be needed to catch the killer.

Jim Brodie is a fascinating character. At first he comes off as a kind of bookish man with his love of art and as a widower taking care of his young daughter. Then we learn that he’s fluent in Japanese when the local PD ask him to act as interpreter. His surprisingly quick reflexes from years of martial arts training are put into use when an attempt is made on Ken Nobuki’s life. Then he calls in members of his security firm to guard Ken in the hospital while he travels to DC and then Japan to secure the Nobuki family and hopefully track down the killer. It’s a very interesting skill set and all sorts of seedy characters are pulled into the story via both the art world and the security work.

The plot was awesome. Naomi Nobuki, Ken’s daughter, is a journalist and anti-nuclear power activist. Of course, Jim is immediately worried that her activist activities may be the reason behind the targets on the Nobuki family. Jim races to Japan to wrap the Nobuki family up tight in security and there he hears his first tale of the legendary Steam Walker. I won’t spoil it for you because it is pretty freaking awesome. Just know that Jim and his friends have met a worthy opponent.

There’s a touch of romance in the story. On a previous trip to Japan, Jim met Rie Hoshino, a Tokyo cop. So far, their personal relationship has been kept under wraps. They have some lovely moments together that may one day lead to something more. She’s a martial artist herself and handles herself in conversations but, alas, the author never shows us her other skills. In fact, she has to be medically assisted once and rescued at one point. I hope the author chooses to do more with her character instead of giving her these cliched moments during the action scenes.

I was kept guessing throughout the tale. There’s plenty of Japanese culture wound throughout the story and it is done well. I never felt that the author had fallen into teacher mode and was giving a lecture. Even once our main characters have a solid idea of who their killer is, there is quite the chase to catch him. And this killer has yet more surprises for our heroes. I really appreciated the final note from the author noting what elements of the story were fictional and which are real. It speaks volumes to the research done by the author.

 

I received a copy at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration:  I think this is one of Scott Brick’s better works. I have listened to many of his SFF narrations but it has been a while since I picked up a book narrated by him. His female voices were quite believable and each distinct. He did a great job with all the Japanese sprinkled throughout the story. 

What I Liked: Great plot!; the myth of the Steam Walker; the activist angle; Jim’s unusual skill set; Oribe pottery; volcanic activity; realistic trauma from weapons; a very worthy opponent.

What I Disliked: Very minor – I would have liked to see the ladies do what they do instead of simply being told what they do.

What Others Think:

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The Heaven Makers by Frank Herbert

HerbertHeavenMakersWhy I Read It: I have never been disappointed by Frank Herbert’s works.

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

Who I Recommend This To: Enjoy stalkerish aliens that mess with human events, big and small? Check this out.

Narrator: Scott Brick

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2014)

Length: 7 hours 35 minutes

Author’s Page

Fraffin is the king of his little world. As a Chem, he is immortal, receiving regular rejuvenations, and he is infinitely bored. He’s seen it all, done it all, and watched others do it all. So he did something forbidden with this little world. The Chem are not suppose to interfere in the lives and histories of the native species of the ‘story ships’ they run. But Fraffin couldn’t resist taking careful time, decades, to set up a few interesting scenarios. The Chem have been recording human histories for centuries – and broadcasting these recordings to full-sensory interface viewers for the bulk of the Chem to enjoy. But now Fraffin is about to receive an inspector – Kelexel. And of course a pair of humans are on the brink of unmasking the Chem.

I have read several Frank Herbert books over the years and have always enjoyed them. So in writing this review I have to keep his other works (the greatness the man was capable of) in mind. While this book was interesting, it is not among my favorite Frank Herbert books. First, the good stuff. I loved the whole idea of our little human lives being recorded, even meddled with, for the entertainment of others. Isn’t that how things go? Think of your favorite nature TV shows – think the producers and narrators and filmers didn’t occasionally add angry bees to the mix or tease the grizzly bear with a fish or poke the branch a great horned owl was sitting on to get the bird into flight? Yeah, so if we do it, why wouldn’t other sentient beings with advanced tech want to do the same to us? And I enjoyed the Chem politics and Fraffin and Kelexel trying to outmaneuver each other. Then there are the humans – two of which catch on to what may be happening. But who are they going to tell? Who would believe them? So, lots of entertainment in the overall plot.

Now, why isn’t this novel among my favorites? Well, there’s really only 1 female character (the human Ruth) plus a few other ladies with tiny, minute roles. Ruth is the love interest and sex object of the book. The other ladies get the simple roles of murder victim, sympathetic neighbor, sympathetic aunt, and ambitious alien on the rise. I know this was originally published in 1967 as a serialized story for a pulp fiction magazine, but Ruth is an idiot. She relies on men for her stability in life and can’t work on her own out of the house nor run her father’s business. Hmmm…. let’s see…. what was my grandma doing in 1967? Oh, yeah, that’s right – independent business woman working in realty.

MINOR SPOILER Ruth becomes the sex object for one of the Chem later in the book and is abducted. Through advanced tech, she is forced into happily servicing him. But there were plenty of times when she wasn’t under the manipulator and could have done things – like try to escape, neuter some Chem, break machinery. But no, she sits and cries. END SPOILER So I found her character weak and rather uninteresting. She needs rescuing more than once throughout the novel.

The ending was a surprise – a very nice twist. I didn’t see that coming and I really, really liked it. At first, as I was listening to the ending, I felt that it was anticlimatic. But then all the fall out happens and it all melds together to make a great ending.

One final comment – one racial slur is used and perhaps it was appropriate for 1967, but I don’t care for it today, or even 10 years ago. It is used 2-3 times in the novel and not gratuitously.

Narration: Scott Brick, as always, did a great job. It seems he tried really hard to make Ruth an interesting character, adding plenty of emotions to her voice.

What I Liked: The overall plot; twisted ending.

What I Disliked: Idiotic main female; the racial slur.

What Others Think:

A Drip of Truth

Val’s Random Comments

Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde by Michael A. Stackpole

StackpoleVol'jinShadowOfHordesWhy I Read It: I really like Scott Brick’s narration on any book, so that is what attracted me to this book.

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

Who I Recommend This To: World of WarCraft players would probably enjoy this. Even if you are not into WoW, this is still an interesting fantasy adventure.

Narrator: Scott Brick

Publisher: Simon&Schuster (2013)

Length: 11 hours 42 minutes

Series: Book 12 World of WarCraft

Even though this is Book 12 in the series, it mostly worked as a stand alone.

The story opens with troll Vol’Jin, who was once the leader of the Darkspears, and human Tyrathan Khort injured and in Pandaria, tended by Pandaren monks. Much contemplation is given to how they ended up where they are and where they will go from there. Bwonsamdi, some sort of inner deity (a loa), enjoys deep, contemplative questions. While Chen, a Pandaren, enjoys making questionable alcoholic brews that remind you of specific places and times in your life. While I have not read any of the other book in this series, it is clear that Vol’jin and Tyrathan came through some sort of major battle from which they were swept away after receiving serious injuries.

This book wasn’t what I expected, being full of long passages of inner contemplation and philosophical discussions between characters, occasionally interrupted with action scenes. Since this series of books is based on the game, which is more action than contemplative puzzles, I expected an action-driven fantasy adventure. I will say that at times the inner contemplation, etc. seem to go on a bit long or was rehashing ground previously covered in the book. Still, the character development was mostly interesting, and if you were playing WoW while listening to this book, I think that would be quite fun. While I do enjoy my dungeon crawl or barbarian smash adventures, I have not played WoW. As it is an on-line world, and as my phone/internet line is not stable, I have not ventured into this particular game.

And there are pandas! The dork that I am was not expecting pandas! So, this was an extra bonus for me as pandas are one of my favorite ridiculous and evolutionary unviable beasties on the planet. Picturing some martial arts panda monks always brought a smile to me.

OK, Enough of the cuteness. Back to the serious review. Vol’jin and Tyrathan spend A LOT of time contemplating their warrior lives and if they have done right by whatever higher powers they believe in. They also discussed at length their natural inclinations and natures, how good they are at killing many in a short amount of time, and just what they will do with their abilities and consciences in the future.

Firmly laced with the Pandaren society, ways, and cuddly warrior pandas, this book also had a few action scenes that were well choreographed and a treat to listen to. Late in the book, Micheal Stackpole has Vol’jin face an old foe, and more inner contemplation ensues. I looked up some fan art on the WoW site just to see what this red-headed troll looked like. Fierce!

Overall, I after the first few bouts of philosophy/contemplation, I was ready for the rest of the book to be action. The repetitive nature of those quieter scenes meant that I could half tune out the story while I held a small conversation of my own and I didn’t miss anything that was important to moving the plot forward.

The Narration: Scott Brick was engaging as always to listen to. I loved all the fun accents he gave these characters. I assume he was confined to some extent to the accents portrayed in the game, but I might be off in that assumption. All the trolls had a Caribbean accent and the Pandarens had a non-specific Asian accent.

What I Liked: Pandas!; Pandas imbibing alcoholic drinks!; Pandas expressing themselves through hand-to-hand combat; Vol’jin’s red hair; initial bouts of contemplation; the action scenes.

What I Disliked: After the first few chapters, much of the contemplation became repetitive; very few female characters, all secondary or less.

What Others Think:

SFF Audio

WoW Insider

BlizzPlanet

All Things Azeroth

Ysera’s Daughter

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Why I Read It: I’m enraptured by the Enderverse!

Where I Got It: The library.

969454Who I Would Recommend This To: Folks who enjoyed Ender’s Game would probably like this book – it’s a great complimentary book.

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle de Cuir, Scott Brick

Publisher: MacMillan Audio (2005)

Length: 15 hours 42 minutes

Series: Book 1 Shadow Saga

I know that I kind of jumped out of order in which the books were written, but I couldn’t resist going back to Ender’s Game through the eyes of Bean. It was actually pretty cool to read the two books so close together. If you’ve read Ender’s Game, then you already know that Bean is pretty darn smart for his young age; you have to be to end up at Battle School. So this tale is about Bean’s origins and his journey to Battle School and then tagging along to help Ender save the human race. If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, I would strongly suggest starting there instead of with Ender’s Shadow, and I believe both books would be an excellent read before the movie comes out.

Once again, Orson Scott Card shows his depth of understanding of the human heart and psyche. While not as moving as Speaker for the Dead, Ender’s Shadow still contained several poignant moments. Bean is yet another of the numerous orphans on the streets of crowded Rotterdam. He manages to join a small gang and comes up with a plan that changes the paradigm in his neighborhood. This, of course, brings himself and his little gang to the attention of the authorities who are ever searching for that talented few that will succeed in beating off the next Bugger attack.

Pretty soon, we are rocketing up to Battle School with Bean who has to learn a whole new way of life, including friendship and trust. Even though I already knew the outcome of the many confrontations from reading Ender’s Game, it was still nail biting suspense to see them through Bean’s eyes. Of course, there were a number of events that happened in Bean’s life that are not in Ender’s Game, keeping the reader interested even though the book’s ending is known.

My one complaint with this novel is that cleverness and knowledge seem to by accentuated in Bean’s character, even beyond what I would allow for a genious kid. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene where Baby Bean hides in a small thing of water for several hours. Now, putting aside the brain power and knowledge necessary to do so successfully, a hairless being that small needs to be concerned about hypothermia. These instances were few and small, but still I feel they detracted a bit from the overall novel, especially since I know what Card is capable of in Speaker for the Dead.

The audio production and narration was superb. The same crew played a role in this novel and that helps greatly in enjoying such a large branching series in audio format. Stefan Rudnicki, always a favorite, was Graff and he plays him so very well. It was great to have Gabrielle de Cuir and Scott Brick along for the read also.

readandreviewbuttonWhat I Liked: Bean has some good one-liners; learning about trust and friendship can be just as scary as having street smarts pounded into you; a good ending for Bean.

What I Disliked: A few exaggerated points that I felt were beyond even a genius child in a scifi story; why are there so few girls at Battle School?

This review is part of The Read & Review Hop hosted by On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to stop by over there to enjoy more book reviews.

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston

Why I Read It: My man & I are Orson Scott Card fans.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobookjukebox.com (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Space opera fans, Ender’s Game fans

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, Emily Janice Card, & cast

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2012)

Length: 12 CDs

Series: The First Formic War, Book 1

Let me say this up front: This is one of the best books I have listened to this year so far.

Set in the same universe approximately 80 years before as the well known Ender’s Game series, this book covers the first contact between humans and the alien Formics (AKA Buggers, Ormigas). Victor (Vico) Delgado is a free miner, living with his family on the ship El Calvador mining precious metals from asteroids. His young life is about to take a turn as his best friend, and second cousin, Allejandra decides to leave El Calvador to live with the Italians. Bereft of his close friend, and perhaps his first brush with love, he must adjust. But while he is trying to adjust, things start to happen pretty quick, like cousin Edimar spotting something unknown in the starry sky moving at incredible speed – perhaps an alien ship.

Lem Jukes is an intelligent man, but driven by corporate greed. the Jukes Corporation have a new toy – a big toy that can disintegrate asteroids of various sizes, freeing up the metal for easy collection and huge monetary gain. Lem also has an overbearing father, Ugo Jukes, head of the corporation. Lem is driven to stand on his own and prove his worth and he has many opportunities in this story to do so. Lem turned out to be one of the more complicated characters in that he has some inner conflict going on.

I really enjoyed how this tale captured space culture; those bred and born in space have physiological differences to those bred and born in a gravity environment. The laws of physics, theory of gravity, and the known limits of human endurance weren’t ignored willy-nilly in this space opera, which was quite refreshing. The characters started off simple, in their little worlds, doing their every day deeds; and then they quickly had to grow and morph into something more as the threat of alien invasion became apparent.

The full narration cast was awesome, a truly quality performance. Stefan Rudnicki performed as Witt, a leader of the elite international armed forces called MOPS. Rudnicki’s voice could make remote control assembly directions sound intimate and exciting. Vico and his myriad of emotions he exhibits throughout the tale were portrayed well by the narrator. Emily Janice Card, the daughter of Orson Card, had a smaller performance but one that gave her the opportunity to show off her praise-worthy ability to roll her Rs. This audio version includes a short interview with the author at the end of the book (I love such bonuses).

What I Liked: The free-miner culture of close-knit family; alternately hating and praising Lem Jukes; Imala Bootstamp who shows up late in the tale (no nonsense lady); Mono, an aspiring machinist; there’s always something going on in this book, from start to finish; zero-gravity and how it affects everything.

What I Disliked: I now have to wait months for the next in the series. Sigh.