It is time for round two of 5 Audio Books You Should Listen To Now. Hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband, because they are readin’ everything out here…
#5 Infinite – Jeremy Robinson
Most genre novels are part of a series, most likely because with all the world-building and universe creation, it takes such a long time to get the plot moving.
Infinite bucks this trend by being super-fast paced from the opening paragraphs and continuing at a frenetic speed through to the closing pages. After 10 years trapped in a malfunctioning cryogenic bed, William Chanokh starts awake only to be brutally murdered along with the rest of the crew of the interstellar spacecraft Galahad. This is the first time Will dies, but it is not the last.
It is Crazy Fun
Infinite is a crazy book, and reads a little like a science fiction B-movie, but don’t let that put you off. Much like the best B-movies of the 70’s and 80s, Infinite is lots of fun and seeped in nostalgia. It won’t ever likely be regarded as a literary masterpiece but it is competently wielded science-fiction and you will be left wanting more.
An orgy of almost every outlandish science fiction trope, Infinite can be dumb in certain moments, but is always fun and has a few moments that are quite tender. If you like spaceships, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, killer AI, alien creatures, strange planets and sexy robots then jump right in and try not to drown.
Much like Total Recall, Inception or Fight Club, infinite has moments of unreliable narration and switching between realities, which can be a little confusing on first listen, and there are definitely some scenes that are open for interpretation which can actually change the whole story depending on what mental rabbit hole you find yourself falling down.
The audio book is narrated by R.C. Bray, who can be a divisive narrator, but he seems to have found his niche in science fiction. His narration style always sounds like “miscellaneous infinitary grunt” which does make the character of Will seem a little more hard-edged than his actions and internal monologue suggests he was written to be, but don’t dwell too much on the delivery and the ride is quite enjoyable.
#4 We Are Legion (We are Bob)\Bobiverse Series – Dennis E. Taylor
The Bobiverse series gets a lot of love whenever audio books are being discussed, and for many good reasons. It is fun, it is kind of creepy and it is unarguably unique.
Bob has just sold his software startup for a considerable amount of cash, and his first stop is to the friendly neighborhood cryogenesist, where he books tickets for a cold-storage ride into the future if in the event he meets an untimely demise. Almost immediately Bob is killed and he wakes several hundred years in the future – only not all of him made it. Bob is now an artificial intelligence, a copy imaged from his brain and stored on computer hardware without senses or autonomy.
Its a Unique Premise
The first book in the series is probably the strongest. It is a much smaller story for the most part than the succeeding novels, with only one viewpoint for the first half and lots of character interaction which helps to draw a much-needed comparison between the human part of Bob, and his increasingly machine-like nature.
The scenes in which Bob is first reawakened, stuck within a machine and without the ability to see, hear or move, are very claustrophobic and induce waves of depersonalization and panic. Bob’s gradual return to autonomy is extremely relieving and his post human ascension is all the more gratifying from its bleak beginnings.
Get Yourself Some Space
The series eventually opens up into a space opera, with tens of point-of-view characters who are all replica machine copies of the original Bob, each with a slightly different personality and drive, and each with their own stories, occasionally intersecting with each other to an ever-expanding universe of Bob creations.
If you are looking for hard science fiction than this isn’t for you. There is barely any “science” in there, but the expanding scope does mean the story can evolve from a small personal tale of existential dread, and then expand to include a post-apocalyptic earth, space battles, interplanetary travel, alien close-encounters and a decent smattering of pop-culture references and in-jokes.
Ray Porter is on narration duties again, and like his performance in Peter Clines’ Threshhold Series, he did a competent job and smoothed over some less then stelar prose, but he is not the most creative narrator working today.
It Lags a Bit
One possible criticism of the Bobiverse series is that at times it really begins to lag. Currently 3 volumes long, and with a 4th due sometime in the near future, the extrapolation from the singular Bob to the Bobiverse of replicants is when the plot unfortunately seems to slow down. As more and more Bob-replicants get POV time, each individual plot-line loses urgency. None of the concurrent plots have enough meat to be a “main” story, so the actual result is better for it, but it does feel like the author was running low on ideas at a few points.
That said, the premise is wholly unique and the discomfort\relief cycle of the first book coupled with some pretty good sci-fi moments makes it a compelling read for the most part. Most listeners love it and it gets both hands involved in audio book circle jerks. If Book 4 is a return to form it would make this a definite must read for all sci-fi fans.
#3 The Cuckoo’s Calling\Cormoran Strike Series – Robert (J. K. Rowling) Galbraith
What many folks don’t know is that when Joanne Rowling isn’t busy setting fire to your fondest childhood memories and retconning every event in Harry Potter, she moonlights as the author Robert Galbraith and writes the truly stellar Cormoran Strike detective novels.
A detective series might seem like an odd fit for VIMES readers, who normally chitter at the teeth for the more extravagant sci-fi and fantasy content, but Rowling’s work here is so darn enjoyable that you won’t want to stop listening regardless of how many laser-swords, dragons and super-heroes it doesn’t have.
Mystery Done Well
Cormoran Strike is an amputee army vet turned private detective who is struggling to make ends meet, until a high-profile case nobody else wanted, (an apparent suicide), falls into his lap. An unlikely ally is found in Robin, Strike’s temporary receptionist who proves to have something of a knack for detecting, and together they uncover increasingly weird evidence that there may have been more to the case then a simple suicide.
Rowling fans would know that she can rely too heavily on serendipity as a plot device, and the first two novels (especially the second one) are no exception. The third book in the series however is a master work and a skillfully executed who-done-it that has so many twists and turns that the final conclusion is unexpected yet immensely satisfying.
Two of the Best Characters Ever Written
The Cormoran Strike series is really two stories, the first is the central mystery of each book which is always wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end of each novel, the second is the ongoing relationship between Strike and Robin which has as many plot twists as the detective cases, and is probably more engaging.
The characters of Harry Potter were all pretty one-dimensional, as plot and world-building take up most of the pages, but Strike is all character. Both Coromoran and Robin are completely fleshed out, with philosophies and motivations that explain why they react the way they do, taking certain actions and withholding certain information from each other. Each character has a lot of development across the series, with revelations about past events that once revealed, then retrospectively explain events and cast light on throwaway lines that gain sudden importance.
Robert Glenister does an above average performance narrating, especially when voicing strike. His vocal effects perfectly capture the weathered and worn Strike, conveying the complex mix of self-loathing, duty and disillusionment that is the core of the character. The action scenes are intense and Glenister does a good job of conveying the disjointed nature of being attacked, while still relating a coherent narrative.
Cormoran Strike might not be on your current “to read” list, but it should be. You can grab it from here.
#2 The Eye of the World\The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time Series is one of the greatest fantasy epics and has spawned legions of fans since its initial publication almost 30 years ago. The main reason it ends up on a list of audio books you should listen to is because it is So. Damn. Long.
For most people an audio book is the only way they will ever get through it. It is an epic, epic.
Long, Long, Long, Long
Don’t get us wrong, the Wheel of Time is a great series with a rich fantasy world, a well-developed magic system and a solid plot, but you know what else it has? Details. So many bloody details.
The Wheel of Time Series is 15 books long, which is 11,898 pages in total. The complete series in audio form will take you 19 days, 5 hours and 25 minutes to listen to. Unless you listen to audio books all day, every day then this sucker is going to take you the better part of a year to get through… but it is worth it.
Your Game of Thrones Fix
Written originally by Robert Jordan, and concluded expertly by Brandon Sanderson (with instruction and an abundance of notes left to Sanderson after Jordan’s passing). The fantasy series is not as dark as A Song Of Ice And Fire (Game of Thrones source material for the laymen), with most of the sexy bits being implicit rather than explicit, and the violence while copious, is not quite as random and steers away from the really brutal stuff, (so less child-rape and murder. Yay?) This doesn’t make it a lesser series at all, in fact ASOIAF can get bogged down in the gritty realism, but Wheel of Time knows that it is a fantasy epic at its core, and is more satisfying for it.
The series is primarily focused on Rand Aa’Thor, a farmer’s son who just so happens to be the unwitting reincarnation of a mythical hero, prophesized to return and defeat the Dark One. Leaving his small village in the backwaters of his world, with a hodgepodge of companions including his two childhood friends Mat and Perrin, the trio are whisked away by a mysterious magic-woman who suspects Rand’s place in the fate of the world, dragging some requisite females, a juggler and warrior in tow.
What a World
The Wheel of Time is full of fantasy tropes, and the first novel, the Eye of the World, feels very much like a re-visitation of Lord of the Rings. It quickly branches away and becomes its own beast by book two, introducing complex themes like overlapping parallel worlds and (possible spoiler alert!), Easter-eggs suggesting that the fantasy world was once our own world.
The world-building is the most developed of any fantasy novel, and the in-universe logic is pretty flawless. Oh, and characters? You got characters. There are 2782 named characters, of that many you get 146 separate POV characters. The world is so rich with separate cultures and histories and traditions that the many, many POV characters are necessary to bring the full depth of the world to life for the reader. The POV scenes also includes narratives from various antagonists which even manages to make some of them sympathetic (and many of them less so).
Narration is a team effort, with Kate Reading and Michael Kramer reading the respective female and male POV parts. Both narrators are fantasy stalwarts and feature in Sanderson’s extensive audio book catalog. While they do get a lot of praise for their delivery, they tend to err on the side of formality and sameness, which is easy to listen to, but can at times be a touch boring.
This is the Wheel of Time, it is one of the books that you really should listen to at least once in your life and audio book really is the best medium.
Also, Amazon is currently shooting the Wheel of Time TV show, don’t let the show spoil the books! Grab it here.
#1 The Dresden Files
“You’re a wizard Harry”.
Considering Harry Potter had enough childhood trauma to put anyone in an asylum, the kid tuned out pretty well rounded, and from the brief glimpse we get of him as an adult (we don’t count that cursed child shit), he seems like a pretty decent Dad.
Now meet the other wizard called Harry, the one that took all the damage personally and suffered mentally and physically from the trail of death and destruction that followed him everywhere he went.
Harry Dresden is a wizard; he advertises that fact in the Chicago Yellow Pages. He also runs a private detective business and is a consultant for the Chicago Police Force, mostly doing small stuff, finding lost items, personal protective charms, saving the world, etc.
15 Books of Bedlam
The Dresden Files are a slow burn, the first two books are totally readable but a little weak (even the author says this), but by about book three the novel really hits its stride. You can afford three books to get going because the series is already 15 books long, with two additional companion novels of short stories published, yet the author say the series will likely be 24 books long once complete. Each book is a quick read though, and it is good stuff.
The Dresden Files is fantasy, but within a real-world setting. The internal logic for the magic system is well constructed and after a wobblily start actually kind of plausible. Harry’s powers are not literally god like, he has (sometimes severe) limitations, which means that each big bad doesn’t have to be a magnitude bigger and badder than the last. Each novel is well paced and at no point does the story feel like a slog. The 15 novels are very digestible, and will be devoured very quickly once you hit that third book. The plot is solid, the characters engaging and setting well explored, every book is also a lot of fun.
The Long Road To Peace Talks
Jim Butcher writes at a hell of a pace, churning out the first 16 published novels in only 15 years, while also concurrently writing six books in the Codex Alera series and releasing the first book in the Cinder Spires series. Unfortunately, Butcher seems to have hit a bit of a roadblock and Peace Talks, the 16th book in the series is only likely to land this year (finally!), five years after the previous novel.
Thematically, the series borrows from just about every folk law and fairy tail out there. Vampires, werewolves, fairies, eldritch horrors, talking skulls, fallen angels, sex, violence, the Three Billy Goats Gruff and a lot of references to pop-culture splatter the pages in amongst a helping of action, fun and a fair bit of heart.
The characters are very well done. The hard-knocks Harry is likable, if old fashioned and a touch arrogant. It is really the arrival of an ensemble cast of side-characters in book three and four that makes the Dresden-verse work. Once Harry gets a chance to build rapport with some series regulars everything clicks and the ride from that moment on is a load of action packed fun.
Comedy in Comradery
The series is funny too, not in the off-the-rails joke a minute funny style of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, but funny in the very real way comedy happens naturally – when people actually have a sense of humor and make situational jokes and pay each other out. The sense of comradery between the main cast is tangible and there is a lot to like about the team, which adds members over time like a fantasy genre Avengers.
Harry is a bonified smart-ass and gives plenty of lip to the baddies which conjures a few laugh out loud moments. A handful of scenes are completely absurd and straight up played for giggles and there are moments of honest-to-goodness slapstick that somehow fit right in with the rest. Amongst the hilarity however is some really strong character growth, with every character showing development. They all age, they all have to wear their accumulated injuries and they all show signs of PTSD and trauma from previous books.
Right in the damn middle of the series in the novel titled “Changes”, everything fucking changes! Butcher stirred the narrative pot with sudden fury and the plotlines, characters and settings that had been reliable for so long were suddenly tossed about irreparably in a plot twist that was as satisfying as it was destabilizing.
Jim Butcher revealed he had had a master plan all along, and what had previously felt like monster-of-the-week type stories suddenly became key points in a spanning arc that can go anywhere from here.
The audio book is voiced by James Masters of Buffy fame, who is an obvious fan of the material and cannot be faulted on his delivery. Originally book 13 was read by John Glover, who didn’t do a terrible job (although his delivery did make several characters sound like Mort from Family Guy), but fan outcry resulted in the book being rerecorded by Masters. Audible even gave those who purchased the Glover version the updated recording for free.
The Dresden Files is a fantastic, enjoyable experience and you need to listen to it now! Get it here.
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