Quick Reviews: Two Black Library Audiodramas

David Annandale, THE BINARY SUCCESSION

Even as the Imperium faces the renegade Legions of the Warmaster, the ruling Council of Terra is becoming paralysed from within by increasingly petty bureaucracy. Fabricator General Kane has seen his fellow Mechanicum adepts dismissed again and again by the High Lords – with his traitorous predecessor Kelbor-Hal still at large on the Red Planet, the political status of the tech-priesthood remains ambiguous. New alliances must be forged from the old, if Mars and Terra are to survive the final battle.

Performed by: Gareth Armstrong, Steve Conlin, Penelope Rawlins, Toby Longworth, Ian Brooker, John Banks, Luis Soto, Antonia Beamish, Cliff Chapman.

This was pretty cool. I wasn’t sure what to expect, not usually going for titan-focused fiction. The first thing one notices is the quality of the production: an excellent, fairly large cast, all of whom deliver great performances; and the plentiful, good sound-effects and music do a great job of enhancing, not distracting from the story. (This is a real strength of BL’s audio-dramas in general.) I think the only things that took some getting used to were the voices of the members of the Mechanicum — a couple were so tech-distorted that they came across like irate Daleks. It does fit, though.

As for the story? Very good. I enjoyed seeing the politics behind the Mechanicum, as they maneuvered for better status among the High Lords. The characters are interesting, their interactions realistic even if they themselves are so (mechanically) alien. I’d certainly be interested in listening to more audio-dramas featuring them, or reading about them in ‘regular’ fiction formats.

If you’re a fan of the Horus Heresy series (especially the Mechanicum-related fiction), then I’d certainly recommend this. A very good Black Library audio-drama.

The Binary Succession is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Interview with David Annandale (2012); Guest Post on “My Favourite Novel”; Reviews of The Carrion AnthemThe Damnation of Pythos

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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Gav Thorpe, ASURMEN: THE DARKER ROAD

It is said the Phoenix Lords arrive on the eve of great moments… Guided by fate, Asurmen the Hand of Asuryan comes to the craftworld of Ulthwé. At the behest of the head of the seer council, he joins the warriors of Ulthwé and the young seer Eldrad on a quest to the Crone Worlds in search of the oracle Hiron-athela. It is believed that this being holds an artefact that could safeguard Ulthwé’s future, but in order to obtain it the eldar must travel a dark road…

[Performed by Gareth Armstrong, John Banks, Steve Conlin, Toby Longworth, Penelope Rawlins and Genevieve Swallow.]

I keep forgetting to read Asurmen: The Hand of Asuryan, which I’ve had for years. The Eldar were the first WH40k army I thought was interesting. I remember reading the Codex multiple times, back in the day, and the Phoenix Lords in particular caught my imagination and attention. The Darker Road is a really interesting short story, and I enjoyed seeing how the Elder “work” together. Thorpe’s done a great job of writing interesting, alien characters who are nevertheless relatable. He includes plenty of Eldar-traits, without info-dumping, as well as some good Chaos shenanigans.

As in The Binary Succession, though, there were times when the voices came across as a little too-techno-distorted (for my taste). Not a major issue, but I think it could have been toned down a bit without ruining the story.

If you’re a fan of the Elder, then I highly recommend you check out this audio-drama. Interesting, well-performed. It also reignited my interest in reading The Hand of Asuryan. The second novel in the Phoenix Lords series, Jain Zar: The Storm of Silence, is due out in May 2017.

Asurmen: The Darker Road is out now, published by Black Library.

Also on CR: Interviews with Gav Thorpe — 2011 and 2016; Reviews of The Curse of KhaineDeliverance LostAngels of Caliban

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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Audiobook Review Round-Up

Four recent audiobooks I listened to, provided for review by Audible UK…

SheenEstevez-AlongTheWayEmilio Estevez & Martin Sheen, ALONG THE WAY: THE JOURNEY OF A FATHER AND SON (Simon & Schuster)

In this remarkable dual memoir, film legend Martin Sheen and accomplished actor/filmmaker Emilio Estevez recount their lives as father and son. In alternating chapters-and in voices that are as eloquent as they are different-they narrate stories spanning more than 50 years of family history, and reflect on their journeys into two different kinds of faith.

At 21, still a struggling actor living hand to mouth, Martin and his wife, Janet, welcomed their firstborn, Emilio, an experience of profound joy for the young couple, who soon had three more children: Ramon, Charlie, and Rene. As Martin’s career moved from stage to screen, the family moved from New York City to Malibu, while traveling together to film locations around the world, from Mexico for Catch-22 to Colorado for Badlands to the Philippines for the legendary Apocalypse Now shoot.

As the firstborn, Emilio had a special relationship with Martin: They often mirrored each other’s passions and sometimes clashed in their differences. After Martin and Emilio traveled together to India for the movie Gandhi, each felt the beginnings of a spiritual awakening that soon led Martin back to his Catholic roots, and eventually led both men to Spain, from where Martin’s father had emigrated to the United States.

Along the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path, Emilio directed Martin in their acclaimed film, The Way, bringing three generations of Estevez men together in the region of Spain where Martin’s father was born, and near where Emilio’s own son had moved to marry and live.

With vivid, behind-the-scenes anecdotes of this multitalented father’s and son’s work with other notable actors and directors, Along the Way is a striking, stirring, funny story-a family saga that listeners will recognize as universal in its rebellions and regrets, aspirations and triumphs. Strikingly candid, searchingly honest, and full of the immediacy and warmth that can only be added by the authors reading their story in their own voices, this heartfelt portrait reveals two strong-minded, admirable men of many important roles, perhaps the greatest of which are as father and son.

This is a pretty interesting idea, as biographies go. Martin Sheen is also President Bartlet in The West Wing, so it was difficult to listen to his chapters and not feel like they were in some way a presidential pronouncement… After listening to this book, I realised that I’ve seen far less of both Sheen’s and Estevez’s movies than I originally thought. We get great accounts of the making of The Way (Estevez’s movie starring Sheen), and also Apocalypse Now – the movie that almost killed Sheen, and gave Estevez and Charlie Sheen quite the exciting and unusual experiences. There are a fair number of chapters that cover shared experiences, but also plenty that give us better insight into Martin’s upbringing and also Emilio’s solo projects. If you are interested in the work of either of them, then I highly recommend Along the Way. The audiobook is excellent, too, with great production.

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FryS-MoabIsMyWashpotStephen Fry, MOAB IS MY WASHPOT (Penguin)

a) A fatuous, wasted, degenerate and wholly useless existence captured in delicate, lyrical and exquisitely realised prose.

b) Lightly amusing anecdotes and tender reminiscences of the great men and women encountered during a rich, varied and rewarding lifetime, fondly remembered in the tranquil evening of a career of public service.

c) The autobiography of a dizzying life fuelled by the lust for power and the search for ever more degrading downward paths of repulsive sexual adventuring and self-destructive debaucheries: the unrepentant libertine author seeks revenge on his many enemies and tears the lid off the private life of blameless churchmen and librarians.

Fry`s autobiography is all and none of these. Too old to rock and roll, too young to die, the author looks back with bruising frankness at his life so far.

I finally got around to listening to Fry’s first biography – I really enjoyed The Fry Chronicles (which started me on my recent audio-biography binging road) and More Fool Me. This one focuses exclusively on his childhood, with the occasional mention of his work and colleagues/friends to come. It’s funny, honest, doesn’t sugar-coat his weaknesses and bad behaviour. He offers plenty of opinions on society, literature, schooling, Britain and so forth. Moab is My Washpot is a good listen, but I think the two follow up volumes are far superior.

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MartinS-BornStandingUpSteve Martin, BORN STANDING UP: A COMIC’S LIFE (Simon & Schuster)

In the mid-70s, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. Born Standing Up is, in his own words, the story of “why I did stand-up and why I walked away”.

At age 10 Martin started his career at Disneyland, selling guidebooks in the newly opened theme park. In the decade that followed, he worked in the Disney magic shop and the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm, performing his first magic/comedy act a dozen times a week. The story of these years, during which he practiced and honed his craft, is moving and revelatory.

Martin illuminates the sacrifice, discipline, and originality that made him an icon and informs his work to this day. To be this good, to perform so frequently, was isolating and lonely. It took Martin decades to reconnect with his parents and sister, and he tells that story with great tenderness. Martin also paints a portrait of his times: the era of free love and protests against the war in Vietnam, the heady irreverence of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 60s, and the transformative new voice of Saturday Night Live in the 70s.

I didn’t know what to expect from Born Standing Up. This covers the part of Martin’s career that I am utterly unfamiliar with. There are mentions of some of his later (but still early-ish) movies and television work, but this book covers Martin’s introduction to show-business, stand-up comedy and eventually television. It’s an interesting introduction to his work, his opinions on comedy and “where he came from”. I hope

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MillerA-TheYearOfReadingDangerouslyUKAndrew Miller THE YEAR OF READING DANGEROUSLY: HOW FIFTY GREAT BOOKS SAVED MY LIFE (Fourth Estate)

An editor and writer’s vivaciously entertaining, and often moving, memoir – a true story that reminds us why we should all make time in our lives for books.

Nearing his fortieth birthday, author and critic Andy Miller realized he’s not nearly as well read as he’d like to be. A devout book lover who somehow fell out of the habit of reading, he began to ponder the power of books to change an individual life-including his own-and to define the sort of person he would like to be. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey of mindful reading and wry introspection. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, these are books Miller felt he should read; books he’d always wanted to read; books he’d previously started but hadn’t finished; and books he’d lied about having read to impress people.

Combining memoir and literary criticism, The Year of Reading Dangerously is Miller’s heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of what it means to be a reader. Passionately believing that books deserve to be read, enjoyed, and debated in the real world, Miller documents his reading experiences and how they resonated in his daily life and ultimately his very sense of self. The result is a witty and insightful journey of discovery and soul-searching that celebrates the abiding miracle of the book and the power of reading.

I received an eARC of this quite some time ago, but for some reason never got around to reading it. Then I had the chance to get it as an audiobook, and I thought it would be a good listen. I was… half right. The Year of Reading Dangerously is a most uneven book. It doesn’t start well, and I almost didn’t stick with it – sad to say, it was a bland beginning. Nevertheless, I stuck with it, and came to rather enjoy much of what Miller had to say on publishing, fiction and writing. He offers some great insight into the publishing and bookselling industry, and his sharp and sometimes acerbic observations were welcome and amusing. When talking about the books he’s selected to read for this project, however, I found the book a bit dull. Which is probably not what he was hoping for – these classic of literature, and he was not able to make me even remotely interested in what he had to say about them. So, a good book, but not great. Half interesting, half… meh.

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Audio Review: NO LAND’S MAN by Aasif Mandvi (Audible/Chronicle Books)

MandviA-NoLandsManA fun, thoughtful biography

“My father moved our family to the United States because of a word. It was a word whose meaning fascinated him. It was a singularly American word, a fat word, a word that could only be spoken with decadent pride. That word was . . . Brunch! ‘The beauty of America,’ he would say, ‘is they have so much food, that between breakfast and lunch they have to stop and eat again.'” — from International House of Patel

If you’re an Indo-Muslim-British-American actor who has spent more time in bars than mosques over the past few decades, turns out it’s a little tough to explain who you are or where you are from. In No Land’s Man Aasif Mandvi explores this and other conundrums through stories about his family, ambition, desire, and culture, stories that range from dealing with his brunch-obsessed father, to being a high-school-age Michael Jackson impersonator, to joining a Bible study group in order to seduce a nice Christian girl, to improbably becoming America’s favorite Muslim/Indian/Arab/Brown/Doctor correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

This is a book filled with passion, discovery, and humor. Mandvi hilariously and poignantly describes a journey that will resonate with anyone who has had to navigate his or her way in the murky space between lands. Or anyone who really loves brunch.

This is a very good, short memoir. Mandvi, in his recognisable voice and style, discusses his life and career: from his early days in the UK and at private school (which he clearly didn’t enjoy — I can relate), to his family’s move to Florida (where they had brunch!), and also how he came to be a correspondent on The Daily Show. It is the story of someone who never quite fit in to where he lived, but nevertheless got on with things and conquered the obstacles that he found in his way. Continue reading

Audio Review: MORE FOOL ME by Stephen Fry (Audible)

FryS-MoreFoolMeA third excellent memoir from Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry invites readers to take a glimpse at his life story in the unputdownable More Fool Me.

It is a heady tale of the late Eighties and early Nineties, in which Stephen – ever more driven to create, perform and entertain – burned bright and partied hard with a host of famous and infamous friends, regardless of the consequences.

This electric and extraordinary book reveals a new side to Mr. Fry.

Stephen Fry is an award-winning comedian, actor, presenter and director. He rose to fame alongside Hugh Laurie in A Bit of Fry and Laurie (which he co-wrote with Laurie) and Jeeves and Wooster, and was unforgettable as Captain Melchett in Blackadder. He also presented Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, his groundbreaking documentary on bipolar disorder, to huge critical acclaim. His legions of fans tune in to watch him host the popular quiz show QI each week.

I listened to the Audible edition of this biography. And, much like The Fry Chronicles, it is both entertaining and excellently produced. Fry’s performance is, as can be expected, superb – welcoming, honest, and rather whimsical. This is another excellent memoir, and superb audiobook. Continue reading

Quick Review: “Happy Accidents” by Jane Lynch (Audible / Harper)

LynchJ-HappyAccidentsAUDA great memoir by a great comedienne and actress

In the summer of 1974, a fourteen-year-old girl in Dolton, Illinois, had a dream. A dream to become an actress, like her idols Ron Howard and Vicki Lawrence. But it was a long way from the South Side of Chicago to Hollywood, and it didn’t help that she’d recently dropped out of the school play, The Ugly Duckling. Or that the Hollywood casting directors she wrote to replied that “professional training was a requirement.”

But the funny thing is, it all came true. Through a series of Happy Accidents, Jane Lynch created an improbable and hilarious path to success. In those early years, despite her dreams, she was also consumed with anxiety, feeling out of place in both her body and her family. To deal with her worries about her sexuality, she escaped in positive ways such as joining a high school chorus not unlike the one in Glee but also found destructive outlets. She started drinking almost every night her freshman year of high school and developed a mean and judgmental streak that turned her into a real- life Sue Sylvester.

Then, at thirty-one, she started to get her life together. She was finally able to embrace her sexuality, come out to her parents, and quit drinking for good. Soon after, a Frosted Flakes commercial and a chance meeting in a coffee shop led to a role in the Christopher Guest movie Best in Show, which helped her get cast in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Similar coincidences and chance meetings led to roles in movies starring Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and even Meryl Streep in 2009’s Julie & Julia. Then, of course, came the two lucky accidents that truly changed her life. Getting lost in a hotel led to an introduction to her future wife, Lara. Then, a series she’d signed up for abruptly got canceled, making it possible for her to take the role of Sue Sylvester in Glee, which made her a megastar.

Today, Jane Lynch has finally found the contentment she thought she’d never have. Part comic memoir and part inspirational narrative, this is a book equally for the rabid Glee fan and for anyone who needs a new perspective on life, love, and success.

While listening to this audiobook, I realised I’ve seen a hell of a lot more of Jane Lynch’s TV and movie work than I originally thought I had. And, it must be said, she’s brilliant in everything. That’s quite the detailed synopsis, above, and I think I will actually not go into too much detail about the topics and projects Lynch goes into, here. I really, really enjoyed listening to this.

Happy Accidents is an aptly-titled memoir, too. The author’s journey really has been a long string of happy accidents – with a few unhappy ones thrown in the mix, too. Here, Lynch takes the listener/reader on a journey to and from her childhood in small-town Illinois, to New York (which seems to have been an alternatively exhilarating and exasperating city), to Hollywood. She describes her experiences trying to get her first roles, the roadblocks that appeared in front of her – sometimes due to her gender, sometimes because of the vagaries of Hollywood and television.

She’s honest, self-deprecating, sarcastic and doesn’t speak ill of anyone. She’s kind towards and praiseworthy of many of the people she’s worked with – from Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men) and James Spader (Boston Legal), to the whole cast and crew of Glee (her enthusiasm for this show is infectious).

Happy Accidents is, frankly, excellent. Lynch’s narration is amusing, welcoming, clear and, well, quite happy. She’s open and honest about certain aspects of her character that she doesn’t seem too happy about, but also enthusiastic about her experiences and work, and certainly her colleagues. The production is crystal clear. Very highly recommended.

Also try: Tina Fey’s Bossypants; Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles

LynchJ-HappyAccidents

Artwork: Ian McDonald’s NECROVILLE (Audible)

McDonald-NecrovilleAUD

Ian McDonald is an author I have always wanted to read, but either never got around to, or I have just not had the chance to get hold of his books. This year, Audible are releasing new audio editions of a handful of his earlier novels (some of which have also been released as eBooks by Open Road Media). One novel of his in particular that I’ve been interested in is Necroville, which was released as an audiobook this week. And I just really liked that new cover (above), which has a certain Cinquo de Maio feel to it – alternatively spooky and groovy. It would make a great rock/metal album cover, too, I think. Here’s the synopsis…

In the Los Angeles ghetto of Necroville, the yearly celebration of the Night of the Dead – where the dead are resurrected through the miracle of nanotechnology and live their second lives as non-citizens – becomes a journey of discovery and revelation for five individuals on the run from their pasts.

With his customary flair for making the bizarre both credible and fascinating, McDonald tosses aside the line of demarcation between living and dead in a story that confronts the central quandary of human existence: the essence of non-being.

Necroville is published by Gollancz in paperback and eBook. In the US, it is Terminal Café for reasons that I cannot fathom.