Jul 4, 2010

Book Reviews @ The Temple

Podiobook Edition! These are all free audiobooks released as podcasts.

How to Succeed in Evil by Patrick E. McLean – This book started out with such promise. It has a very wry sense of humor that is really entertaining. The book is about this guy who is sort of a supervillain advisor, an “evil efficiency consultant”. He gives them advice on their finances, how to build a lair, etc. He is very intelligent (but in no way super) and is generally frustrated and flabbergasted by the stupid villains and their stupid plans. There are some really great scenes where he’s trying to explain to these exasperating villains that their plans just don’t make any sense. Trying to give the numbers to one that bank robberies earn you this much per attempt and have a failure rate of this and equal a total return on investment of this, which is significantly lower than if they just invested in the market. And one who invents an evil doctor persona and wants to put a laser on the moon even though it makes no sense financially. And just their goals being so shortsighted and wrapped up in the idea of being a villain. It’s really a lot of fun and very entertaining. The author seems to really get into the sense of humor, he’s very dry himself. He reminds me a little of Mur Lafferty in his style, but with this air of sophistication (not to call Mur unsophisticated, it’s just different). The story progresses with Edwin trying his hand at evil, though really just trying to make money. As it goes it loses some of its flavor. I’m not sure why, maybe he got too wrapped up trying to make the plot work, or solve the machinations. But somehow it loses some of its charm. It’s still a good book, and I think he’s got an awesome character in Edwin to work with. Maybe a rewritten version (for publication) or a sequel would work out those kinks, because I really love the concept and a lot of the execution. It’s just not solid all the way through. But worth supporting, I’d like to see more!

Contagious by Scott Sigler – I’ve listened to every Scott Sigler, he is one of the arguably two pioneers in giving away free fiction online to promote his books. He is a horror writer with a strong technology bent. His books are pretty over the top at times, very violent, pretty adult, fairly relentless. It’s not necessarily artful writing, but its damn entertaining. And what I’ve realized listening to a few podiobooks in the last couple months is that he’s a damn entertaining narrator / host / guy. I’ve listened to some Mur Lafferty podiobooks before, but that was it, so I didn’t realize the range of bad readers there are. I’ll say more in the next review, but suffice to say Sigler is great. This book is a sequel to Infection, about this alien lifeform that infects and possesses the host, except for one host, Perry Dawson, who fought back and literally dug them out of himself. The sequel is the aliens ramping up their attempt to take over the earth and Perry and the US gov’t trying to stop them. It’s very entertaining, fairly gory, and decently exciting. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite of his books. I think Infection might have been better, it was so in Perry’s head that is was pretty damn cool. Besides that I loved Earthcore (the first Sigler book), Ancestor was meh, but Nocturnal was cool and the Rookie was awesome. So it’s kind of middle of the pack, but it’s a fun pack. I’m pretty excited about The Crypt, which he’s been releasing little tidbits of, and very excited for The Starter, the sequel to The Rookie. Anyway, this book was fun, Sigler is great, I really need to buy a bunch of his books just to support him.

Voices by Various Authors – This is a collection of short fiction from various “new media” authors, i.e. podiobook authors. I was excited for this because I thought it would expose me to a bunch of these authors who have a business model I’m personally a big fan of (not just because I’m cheap, I just like people doing things a new and cool way w/o the need for big companies). Sadly, the series mostly informed me that I already know about most of the good authors out there. The stories, on the whole, weren’t that great. There were a few good ones, but not much. Even from authors I like – like McLean from up above, his stories stories were kind of average. I had heard all of Mur’s stories (all these stories had been previously released) so I didn’t listen. I did find that I liked one story by Paul S. Jenkins. It’s this very simple story of the sole survivor of an extremely long term colonization / first contact mission that goes wrong. It’s very focused, but very well done. But then he had a second story that was monumentally boring. Tee Morris is big in this space, his story was ok. Cory Doctorow is also big, his Sysadmins story was kind of ridiculous, but also pretty well done. I was across the board disappointed with the performances. Mostly by the authors, sometimes by another speaker. But they were largely without personality, sometimes actively bad. As I mentioned above, it really made me appreciate Sigler. He can’t do voices that well, he makes mistakes, he’s kind of manic, but he’s charismatic, and fun. People need more of that.

Heaven by Mur Lafferty – This is actually 5 books in a series, Heaven, Hell, Earth, Wasteland, and War. It’s a nice set of stories, but it has some fairly fundamental flaws. The idea is these two friends die and start traveling the afterlife. They go to various mythological heavens, which is kind of neat, but immediately begins begging for nitpicking. Theoretically every religion has its own heaven, but the idea of a “christian” heaven when there are so many kinds of christian, makes no real sense. I’m sure that was true of greeks and norse and egyptians too. At a minimum, there are as many heavens as there have been people. More likely, there are an infinite number of heavens for the infinite combinations dreamt by all of humanity So while the exploration of the afterlife is pretty fun, you have to not think too much, or it gets kind of annoying. The stakes raise eventually as Kate & Daniel themselves become involved in the affairs of gods and then gods themselves. New worlds are created, new mythologies, etc. The entire idea of godhood is treated in a fairly limited way. The only way to reconcile it is that they are not gods at all, just really powerful beings. Because they can fight each other, and be trapped, and die, and all that. Really very much like the mythological gods where they can be tricked and beaten. Honestly the first book, despite the logical flaws, was enjoyable. As the story goes on, as with so many series, it becomes more about trying to push the plot and wrap up the story. And as such it loses its focus, becomes less fun. You have to be a master of serialized fiction to make it work long term. I like Mur, for the most part, I really liked Playing for Keeps, in which she created a very interesting world of super powers and not-that-super powers. This one didn’t work out nearly as well for me. It was good in parts, and I wouldn’t say I’m unhappy to have listened to it all, it just didn’t work out for me.

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