Impact Winter is less of an audiobook than an homage to old-school radio dramas. Travis Beacham, along with a full cast of magnificent voice actors, a collection of sound technicians and foley artists, and a vast array of supporters (including the illustrious Robert Kirkman), brings to life a vampire tale that is both original and rooted in well-established mythology. When an asteroid impact devastates the world and plunges everything into darkness and storms, creatures that had hidden in the night are free to wreak havoc upon the human survivors. Hunted, and forced into hiding, sisters Darcy and Hope Dunraven find refuge with a band of refugees in an old military installation beneath a castle-turned-museum. As hopeless as humanity’s future might appear, a glimmer of salvation may be on the horizon. But what sacrifices will be required in pursuit of that new day? The story that unfolds through the twelve episodes of Impact Winter is a thrilling one populated by characters who defy generic templates and archetypes. It’s a shame that it has to end, though there’s more than enough left in the air for listeners to hope for a second season. The voice talent of performers like Holliday Grainger, Esme Creed-Miles, Himesh Patel, David Gyasi, Caroline Ford, Indira Varma, Bella Ramsey, and Liam Cunningham has a lot to do with the compelling and captivating nature of Impact Winter. An excellent script only goes so far, and it takes the talent of people like those involved with this project to elevate it to the next level.
In Cerberus Exploitation: A Grindhouse Triple Feature, Patrick C. Harrison III, Mike Ennenbach, and Chris Miller nail the storytelling aesthetic of grindhouse exploitation cinema with a Troma flair. It’s particularly appropriate that I mention Troma since this book begins with an introduction provided by none other than Lloyd Kaufman. Like proper triple-feature experiences, the book contains trailers, film credits (with dream casting choices from the authors), and everything a fan could hope for…aside from the popcorn. Electro-Satan Comes To Wolfe City introduces us to a group of kids hoping to enjoy a summer camping trip, only to have everything disrupted by mutant hillbillies. Ennenbach’s contribution to this collection gets the reader/listener’s attention almost immediately with a musical performance that should have anyone in stitches. From there, it’s a barrage of violence, humor, and all the splattery goodness fans of the genre adore. Patrick C Harrison III then hits us with his twisted take on the women in prison genre with Vampire Nuns Behind Bars. Replete with lesbianism, sadism/torture, scientific experimentation, rebel uprisings/prison riots, and–of course–vampires. Terrible things are taking place at this women’s prison, where political dissidents and troublemakers–and a handful of nuns–are swept under the rug and channeled into one of two secret chambers where horrors await. When a prison break’s attempted, the balancing act that kept the facility functional gets disrupted hugely, and the halls and cell blocks become a slaughterhouse. And finally, we arrive at Chris Miller’s Sons of Thunder, focused on a military recovery mission in the dystopian Hellscape outside of the “safely” bubbled cities owned and operated by corporations. Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13 come together, producing a malformed and grim, action-packed adventure. Mutants, terrorists, and doomsday cultists stand in the way of an elite team and one man bent on revenge at any cost. There’s no point in trying to describe the escapades these authors have assembled. It’s something one just has to experience for themself…and I recommend doing so as soon as possible. Daniel Caravetta’s narration is spot-on, capturing the lunacy and low-budget mayhem of grindhouse cinema in a way only a fan of the films could manage.
Most of my exposure to Alastair Reynolds has been in the form of grand, far-future space operas. Reynolds’s work appeals to me, in large part, because it’s typically heavy on the darker aspects of human nature–as well as the incomprehensible or frequently sinister nature of other intelligences humanity encounters amongst the stars. Of course, there’s also the necessary focus on the uncaring and hazardous nature of the universe itself. While Permafrost takes place on Earth, in our not-too-distant future, it’s imbued with that theme of humanity struggling against forces of a universe that is indifferent to our survival. Only a couple of decades from where we find ourselves today, an unexpected global catastrophe begins. As insect, plant, and other animal life dies off, we find the remaining human population facing imminent starvation and dwindling numbers. The only solution is to find a way to make small changes in the past that will allow the humans of 2080 to implement their only chance of saving the human life that remains. Unfortunately, we can’t send anything like a human being into the past. However, scientists have discovered a way to tether two consciousnesses separated by half a century or more via a neural interface grown from nanoscale machines transported back in time. By sending pilots–individuals who will assume control of an unwilling and presumably unwitting subject–downstream and into these hosts, the Permafrost project hopes to salvage the only thing that can save the future. The unlikely protagonist of Valentina was a surprising choice, an elderly woman and mathematician, the daughter of a mathematician who specialized in paradox and the potential for time travel. Chosen as the first pilot sent back, Valentina soon discovers unanticipated consequences of assuming control of a host. More than that, Valentina learns the chilling truth that there might be forces further upstream, unexpected foes who might not want them to succeed in their mission. The final scene of this novella is positively heartbreaking but totally in line with the sort of ending one might expect from Reynolds. Natasha Soudek’s narration is perfect for both Valentina and Tatiana, capturing the differences between the two characters with effective nuance. She successfully managed to tackle the other characters no less effectively.
At its heart, The Night Parade is a story about a father’s love for his daughter and the risks a parent will take to keep their child safe from what they perceive as harmful. It’s also a story about mortality; it’s about coming to terms with it and recognizing that we won’t always be there for those we love. All of this heavy emotional content Malfi explores within the story is played out against the backdrop of a society in the process of collapsing, as madness consumes both those infected by “Wanderer’s Folly” and those forced to react to something so devastating. Given no time to mourn the loss of his wife, David has no choice but to pack up their eight-year-old daughter, Ellie, and hopefully keep her away from the doctors and scientists he blames for his wife’s death. Immune to the disease ravaging the world, both Ellie and her mother were of great interest to the authorities who hoped to find a cure in their blood. But Ellie is special in a way her mother was not; she has a gift that might make her even more valuable to those who seek to exploit her. Unfortunately, David is not immune. As he races across the steadily decaying husk of the United States in search of somewhere he can shelter Ellie, he’s also racing against time as his mental state declines. The reader’s forced to wonder how much of what he’s experiencing is real. How much is the result of hallucinatory nightmares that will ultimately consume what’s left of his mind? The Night Parade is a horror story, but it’s also a tragically poignant tale. Malfi digs into the reader’s heart and begins systematically tearing away at it piece by piece as the narrative continues. Tom Taylorson’s narration is largely excellent, though his performance of Ellie’s voice falls a bit flat. As a whole, where female voices are concerned, there’s a little left to be desired, but that’s a problem that plagues many male narrators. I certainly couldn’t have done any better.
My first exposure to Ken Liu was through his superbly readable translation of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem and the third novel of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, Death’s End. To have translated those information dense and character rich narratives from Chinese to English required an impressive literary skill on the part of the translator. When The Grace of Kings, the first novel of Ken Liu’s The Dandelion Dynasty series was released, it was a given that I had to pick that massive book up for myself. The Armies of Those I Love is definitely a smaller story than the books Liu has been releasing, though only in page count. The size of the story packed into this relatively brief tale is a huge one, taking us to a post apocalyptic Earth that is both familiar and impressively original. On the surface, one can see similarities to stories like Mortal Engines and The Matrix as the narrative unfolds, but Liu molds those familiar elements into something thoroughly his own. Franny lives on BOS, a massive roaming city that prowls the war torn and ravaged landscape of what was once North America. An orphan, she exists on the outskirts of the rigid society most BOS residents fall into, and this is fine for her. Franny has an unwelcome fascination with old world artifacts and remnants of the world before the Pilots set the major cities adrift to wander. When a stranger, escaped from LAX, stumbles upon her home and sends her world spiraling out of control, Franny embraces the opportunity to learn more about the world in which she lives as she and the fugitive struggle to escape the BOS citizens hunting them while evading the biomechanical Guardians who protect the city from internal and external threats. Though it may be best not to seek answers to the questions Franny has been dying to resolve, there’s something magnificent and beautiful in the hope and faith the young woman exhibits even in the face of nightmarish truths. Auli’i Cravalho’s narration seems perfectly suited for Franny and the story of her adventure. She captures the innocence and desperate hunger for knowledge quite expertly.
The Ghoul Archipelago takes us on quite the adventure. On the high seas, to the islands of Southeast Asia, we experience a region of the world unfamiliar to many of us. Kozeniewski populates his near-future vision of the exotic environment with smugglers, pirates, island tribes, missionary religious fanatics, a smug computer programmer and inventor, and, of course, zombies. We’ve witnessed zombies all over American and Europe, the cities of Asia, and the islands of the Caribbean. Stephen Kozeniewski takes us to a novel location where we can witness the collapse of civilization and the rise of the undead, somewhere it’s less apparent that the rest of the world is gone. At the core of this story, we see the same sad commentary on human nature fans of the subgenre should be familiar with. No matter where we are in the world, it would appear that we’re always too preoccupied with petty squabbles and power plays to focus on the survival that should be the unifying goal under such dire circumstances. As depressing as it might be, the author probably isn’t far off from the truth of it all. Skirting through a gauntlet of pirates on the payroll of a billionaire still fixated on profit, adherents of a Christian death cult, and a megalomaniacal naval commander are Henk Martigan and his crew of smugglers. Will anyone make it through Kozeniewski’s tale alive, or will monsters, both living and undead, grind all of the survivors into a meaty pulp of blood and viscera until only maggots thrive? It’s not easy to create an original story of the zombie apocalypse, but The Ghoul Archipelago is precisely that. Reliant on three-dimensional, believable, and even sympathetic characters, Kozeniewski propels the reader through scattered viewpoints as the adventure becomes far more than just a zombie story. Jennifer Fournier’s audiobook narration is excellent, especially when capturing shifts in cadence and accent from one character to another.