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Review: First of Their Kind [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition]

Post-Modern Prometheus, Sans Horror, Drama, or Challenge

DISCLAIMER: I received this title for free in exchange for an unbiased review. This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.

WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.

You remember Arnold as the Terminator. Yeah, this isn’t that. No SkyNet or robo-apocalypse, but a genuine, well thought out, non-threatening examination of benevolent Synthetic Intelligence. There are many philosophical questions the reader can drawn from the text, should they be so inclined. The data isn’t info-dumped on you, nor does the narrative pause and pretentiously ask “So, this Life thing; what’s that all about?” This is a thinking novel, no pun intended, challenging the listener to re-address what it takes to be sentient, real, human. And, it asks a bigger question; are we truly prepared to judge?

There is a solid narrative flow, engaging and captivating with surprisingly little emotion, but when it does occur the prior absence acts as a force multiplier. Shockingly little humor as well, however Tavenor’s wordcraft is so solid I didn’t notice the lack until I finished.

The audio was a little tinny and distant to my ears, but not distractingly so. Narrator Benjamin Fife’s (SoundCloud user: 29643215) other samples are neither tinny nor thin which leads me to suspect a producer asked for this particular sound effect. The story’s antagonist (based on Anonymous?) has an overly dramatic “evil voice” electronic filter. That effect got real old, real fast.

Fife gave each character a distinct voice, and a cadence and pacing that made the experience extremely listenable. There was only one repeated line. There were no obvious edits, mouth noise, or background hum. I give the narrator four stars. Four and a half if we can do fractions.

This is not noir. Despite comparisons to Blade Runner, this ain’t that. It is much too positive and upbeat. Tavenor clearly sunk a bunch of time into research and it peeks out occasionally. The view of SI is couched in rose-colored, academic glasses. Social concerns are acknowledged, but never explored in-depth. Our SI, Theren, shows very little, or any, doubt or uncertainty. There is an innocent arrogance to them, an undertone of innate superiority. They never acknowledge a mistake or miscalculation. They provide a too perfect mirror of humanity.

There’s no real personal conflict, either internally or externally, and what conflict there is consists of the extremes of gadfly trolls, abstract cultural forces, and immediately resolved misunderstandings. There is no risk to the SI that comes across as believable; no suspense, no drama, no stakes. And, tragically, no character development. I waited and waited for “Jane”, Theren’s “daughter”, to catfish a human and get caught, as she tries on her humanity. And, the end felt rushed and contrived; very much, “and, a wizard walked by.”

So, is it worth a listen? You bet! It’s a great exploration, well thought out and internally consistent. It’s why I nitpicked above. If you like a science with hard edge and your philosophy on what it takes to be human challenged, this is the book for you.

Review: The Hands We’re Given

They’re out of control, in their own way – and they’re humanity’s last hope.

The Hands We're Given

DISCLAIMER: I received this title for free in exchange for an unbiased review. This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.

WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.

I am not the target audience for this novel. I failed to do my due diligence, so enamored by the first rate world-building, and wound up with a romance. Because I requested this novel I feel obligated to review it, but take the review with a grain of salt. Having said that, there is a lot to like in it.

Did I mention the world-building is first rate? Oh, my goodness! The setting has enormous promise. In 2155, after unspecified Middle Eastern conflicts, the United States government collapses after the final straw of genetically tailored medicines splits the country into eight “grids”. This is “The Dissolution” – when government gridlock and repeated shutdowns of increasing duration led to riots that culminated in the dissolution of the United States.

During this “now” there seven Corptocracies, with citizens as employees, and a resistance. The Wild Cards are part of this rather well organized resistance, which made up of “Dusters” who are working to bring back a democratic type of government. And, I love this part – Dusters are called so because they are in the grid none of the corporations want – a new age dust bowl. If you “dusted”, you fled the corptocracies and went into the badlands.

The beauty of this story telling is all the above observations are gathered from hints in reports, off-hand conversations, even children’s songs. The corporations have a “Citizens Standing Score” and immediately I think “credit score!” There are armed drones (Vipers), huge, Amazonian warehouses, the ruling elite, the castoff undesirables; everything you need for a cyberpunk dystopia, all wrapped in a solid narrative flow – no obvious or distracting infodumps. There may be some, but I didn’t notice.

The audio is first rate! Excellent narration and production values, no background hum, no mic pops, no repeated lines, no uneven editing, or change in volume levels. Each character has a distinct and recognizable voice. Kirt Graves does an excellent job and I’m envious of his ability.

With all of this, why didn’t I like it? Well, it is a romance. After talking about this with a couple of my peers who regularly read the genre, they took a peek and loved it. There were some events that presented as logical disconnects for me, the biggest being Aiden, our protagonist, is not motivated to rehabilitate a formerly elite group, but just to hang on for a month and claim the commander level benefits. That stuck in my craw. There is also a disproportionate amount of assumed privacy, which is weird not just because this is a dystopia, but it’s on a military base, where everybody knows everyone else’s business, because that’s how the unit survives.

Every 3rd page, Aiden has to remind himself, “I’m the commander”. Rank notwithstanding, clearly he isn’t. And the Wild Cards know it. This leads to bullying, mental & physical, being passed off as teasing and presents like CW drama.

With the exception of one character, Kevin, there are no nice people, only asses, and even Kevin has moments. He wears glasses as “protest” against genetic purity, yet his “creamy,” fair skin secretes zinc oxide. Skin is creamy due to zinc oxide secretion, but he has a problem with blushing. How is he blushing if his cells secreted an opaque substance?

Some other disconnects:
Hiding out in the desert, underneath “slick tarps” and worried about presenting a minimal EM-footprint, they spend their time discussing what television programs they should pirate and watch.
The assumption that scavengers living hand to mouth in the desert are somehow technologically superior to and can regularly raid with impunity corporations whose profit margins depend upon security.
Aden presents as functionally illiterate and with no desire to lead, yet is the commander. He comes off as a dummy, with Kevin clearly the intellectual superior. It gives rise to uncomfortable speculation; is the resistance in the desert based on the commissar model, where people are promoted because of who they know rather than on any merit?

This novel is also an exploration of gender identity, which I found interesting, much more so than the romance element. There is an excellent podcast with the authors at the Amphibian Press site: “Hope and Quiet Activism in a Dark Future with O. E. Tearmann” – Episode 39.

Leaving Wentzville

Where the western half of I-64 ends there’s the city of Wentzville, Missouri. Nice place of about forty thousand souls. The fastest growing city in the state. Chuck Berry lived there. Montee Ball and Ross Detwiler played high school ball there. It’s a perfectly pleasant place. It took Thing1 and I a little over eighteen hours to get there. Less than five minutes later, we were gone.
Continue reading Leaving Wentzville »

An Excellent Introduction into the Worlds of PKD!

The Unreconstructed M and Other StoriesThe Unreconstructed M and Other Stories by Philip K Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Excellent Introduction into the Worlds of PKD

DISCLAIMER: I received this copy from the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of Audiobook Blast.

If you have never read any PKD, this is an excellent collection to start with! It provides a variety of short stories that range from supernatural horror to science fiction.

A word of caution, most of these stories are 60-odd years old, and feel dated both in social convention and reader impact. However, for many of these stories it was the first time a particular plot twist had been used! The collection is a very taut read and extremely entertaining.

The audio production is very clean, no muddy audio or obvious edits. Ray Greenley’s narration is largely unobtrusive, allowing the listener to absorb each story without undue distraction. Occasionally the cadence sounded forced and stiff. I believe this was due primarily to Mr. Greenley’s adherence to clear diction more that anything else, making it very difficult to fault. His characterizations are clear and distinct, and the dialogue, by and large, flows smoothly.

I recommend this collection to any avid reader of science fiction or horror, and will give special consideration to anything, regardless of genre, Mr. Greenley narrates.

View all my reviews

Live! At Patreon!

Like the title says, we’re live at Patreon!

This is a brand new direction me. I’ve been working on it for some time and the excitement is nerve wracking. This is mostly because the success or failure is completely dependent on me. But, then again, it always was.

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