A couple of years before the release of A Quiet Place, Tim Lebbon gifted the horror community with his novel, The Silence. Exploration of a previously isolated cave ecosystem in Eastern Europe culminates in the emergence of a predatory species that spreads across the continent like a plague. Blind from evolving in a lightless environment, the creatures–dubbed vesps–attack anything that produces sound. In a noisy world dotted with population centers, humanity doesn’t have long to prepare for the nightmare speeding across the skies. The focus on Ally, a teenager who has been deaf since an accident that took the lives of her paternal grandparents in early childhood, is a nice touch. Lebbon tackles the challenges associated with hearing loss with excellent detail, providing both Ally and her family with backgrounds and relationships that feel more than two-dimensional. Even with their well-established history of communicating in silence, their struggles as the family attempts to reach a secluded–and hopefully safe–location in the Northern UK are dramatic commentaries on how difficult silence is for human beings. Lebbon spins a tense and harrowing tale that explores the highs and lows of human nature and our capacity to adapt to conditions beyond our control. The only problem I have with The Silence is that it ends, and there doesn’t appear to be a sequel forthcoming. Be sure not to gasp as you’re reading this one. Whatever you do, remain silent. I was satisfied with the narration provided by Marisa Calin and Ralph Lister, though I felt like Marisa’s performance stood out as being a bit more authentic across the board, while Ralph’s narration was most exceptional with the dialogue from Hugh but lacking where the female characters were concerned. Overall, it was still a top-tier audiobook narration.
When Jonathan Maberry assembles an anthology, a discerning reader should expect a certain degree of excellence from the final product; that is doubly so when that anthology includes material from authors like Christopher Golden, Weston Ochse, Brian Keene, Scott Sigler, and Maberry himself. Aliens: Bug Hunt is certainly no exception. Pitched by Maberry to the decision-makers handling the literary universe that’s evolved from Ridley Scott’s Alien universe as a series of vignettes, deep-diving into the lives and experiences of the men and women of the Colonial Marines, it’s a magnificent thing to behold. The collection is kicked off with Paul Kupperberg’s Chance Encounter. He takes us to a far-off planet where low gravity provides a lattice for massive trees to spear the sky and equally impressive jellyfish-like creatures to float amid the highest branches. Unfortunately, for the expedition on-site to collect samples, there’s another lifeform preying on those Floaters and happy to prey on any other lifeforms making themselves available. Like many of these stories, this one focuses on greed and selfishness, and the disastrous consequences when we allow those traits to guide our actions, much as James Cameron’s Aliens did. Reaper by Dan Abnett introduces us to a world where the corporation’s attempt to grow and harvest grain awakens a swarming colony of organisms with no objective but to consume all available organic material before returning to hibernation, awaiting new growth and new food for the swarm. Rachel Caine’s Broken introduces us to Bishop, detailing his first minutes of awakened existence and the fateful mission that ultimately brings him into the company of Apone and crew. Reclamation introduces us to Hicks, long before the events of Aliens, as Yvonne Navarro shares the story of his marriage and his desperate struggle to understand what happened to his wife on a mission that stole her from him five years earlier. Christopher Golden’s Blowback takes us into the life of Dietrich, quite some time before her fateful mission to LV-426. We witness first-hand the turmoil of romance within the Colonial Marines as death can come from any direction, at any time. Numerous familiar faces populate this story, from Apone and Hicks to Hudson and Vasquez. Exterminators by Matt Forbeck provides us with another glimpse into Dietrich’s life as she and Frost make their way to a bar on an out-of-the-way colony, only to discover that R&R is not in the cards for them. Ray Garton’s No Good Deed takes us to LV-426 before the events of Aliens, as a bounty hunter and her sarcastic android chase two escaped prisoners to a colony under siege by xenomorphs. But it may turn out that the aliens aren’t necessarily the most dangerous creatures on the planet. A most peculiar and horrifying encounter with a different sort of alien sucks us into Zero To Hero by Weston Ochse. As a cowardly Colonial Marine discovers untapped reservoirs of heroism, he discovers that he might have been better off staying home and playing video games. David Farland’s Dark Mother shares the final hours of Burke’s life after he failed to get Ripley and Newt impregnated as hosts during the events of Aliens. Episode 22 by Larry Correia details the history of the M41A pulse rifle in a fictional documentary format that is strangely captivating. Keith R. A. DeCandido provides us with a glimpse into the hazardous life of an embedded journalist in Deep Background, as a group of Colonial Marines investigates a potential attempt by Weyland-Yutani to cultivate and study the xenomorphs on another planet, with another unsuspecting group of civilians. Brian Keene’s Empty Nest takes us to another xenomorph infestation and provides us with a glimpse of just how far a mother will go to be a mother. Darkness Falls introduces us to a retired Colonial Marine, desperate to find peace and security in a colony where she expected never to see xenomorphs again. Heather Graham’s is the only story where we get to witness the adaptations of the xenomorph depending on the organism they’re using for a host, and it’s a horrifying outcome. Hugs To Die For by Mike Resnick and Marina J. Lostetter showcases a fine example of corporate hubris, as a small group of Colonial Marines receives a tour of a facility where xenomorph blood is being harvested for industrial use. Maberry’s own Deep Black returns us to the prison colony from Alien 3, long after the events from the movie. A three-man team arrives on the planet, learning that all has not been as quiet as expected. Distressed by James A. Moore introduces us to what is the most horrifying and indescribable alien lifeform of this collection, dragging us along on a surreal, disorienting battle against something virtually impossible to fight. Scott Sigler’s Dangerous Prey takes us into the alien minds of xenomorphs themselves, and the experience is altogether more captivating than one might expect, becoming part of the hive. Spite by Tim Lebbon takes a squad of Colonial Marines into conflict with a species of alien with a scorched earth methodology. The narrators for these stories were superb in almost all respects, most notably James Anderson Foster, Priya Ayyar, Suzanne Elise, Michael David Axtell, and Grover Gardner. Those were just my personal favorites of the narrators involved, but there wasn’t a single one who didn’t thoroughly immerse the listener.
Firefly: Generations begins with the story of a map. This star map changes hands many times, through treachery or happenstance, but this is no mere map, and those who take it into their possession seem to somehow recognize that fact without being fully conscious of it. The truth of the map only reveals itself when it finds its way into the hands of River Tam, where hidden machinery embedded in the material activates. From there, we find ourselves following most of Serenity’s crew into the outer reaches of the verse, where deadly secrets await them amidst an awe-inspiring relic of the history before mankind reached their new homes on the planets and moons the Firefly crew is familiar with. This novel falls somewhere after the prematurely canceled television series, though before Inara and Book had permanently left the crew and retired to the locations where we meet them again in the movie Serenity. Tim Lebbon takes the helm in this fourth Firefly novel, telling us a story that fills in gaps in the mystery that is the life of River Tam, the secret experiments conducted by Alliance scientists, and the centuries-past journey from Earth that was. Generations is a far different tale than those contained in the three previous Firefly novels, focusing on the more science fiction elements of the property rather than on the land-based adventures of the crew. It’s a nice transition, receiving this glimpse into the less western-themed exploits of Serenity and the family that calls her home. Foster’s narration seems only to be improving with each subsequent audiobook release. As he more firmly captures the nuances and patterns of speech for the individual characters, one could almost close their eyes and envision the cast playing their parts.