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MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA, United States
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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-20-18

Not as good, but still pretty bloody good

Hmm. I didn't love this as much as I loved We Are Legion (We Are Bob), but it was still a lot of fun and I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens with the various in-flight sub-plots in All These Worlds!

All of the good stuff from We Are Legion continued being good: the humour from the first book carries through strongly, the Bobs are evolving and there's a bunch of interesting drama (for want of a better word) generated amongst all of the various Bob families. They're all having really interesting interactions (Original Bob and Marvin, Bill and Garfield, Riker and Homer, not to mention the various new Bobs), the Deltans are all growing up and there are interesting new challenges both voluntarily tackled as well as some surprises appearing. I think one of the stand-out themes that got tackled this time around was the humanity of the Bobs. There were several REALLY strong sub-plots that can't be touched on without heading deep into spoiler territory, suffice to say that, if not an emotional roller-coaster, it's at very least an emotional Spinning Tea Cup ride.

What annoyed me? A couple of super-minor things really:
- given then incredibly abrupt ending to We Are Legion (winner of last years the Most Abrupt Ending To A Book Kynan Read Last Year award, despite stiff competition from Hyperion) I didn't really think that all of the introductory material was necessary in the first couple of chapters. None of it's really going to make sense without reading We Are Legion. Just write that on the first page and continue where you left off I say.

- We took a sharp turn from hardish sci-fi into space opera territory. Which is cool, I love space opera :) The problem is that the Bob's are turning into an Ideal Hero kind of figure, and a very human one at that. I was really interested in what the differences would be between Robert Johansson and his various silicon-based progeny, who have a very different set of skills and abilities. This isn't really being explored as the Bobs are increasingly taking on very biological-human roles and a lot of the things that annoy the Bobs just plain shouldn't be a problem for a computer-hosted general artificial intelligence. If real multi-tasking isn't an option (and I don't see why it couldn't be) then at very least a Bob should have the ability to time-slice and specific boredom (as opposed to the more likely ennui) just shouldn't be a problem (ie Riker and the UN meetings).

- Finally, and this is something that applies only to the audio version narrated by Ray Porter. A couple of pronunciation changes occurred that somewhat marred the outstanding narration of this series. I assumed that they were a result of ruffled scientists writing angry e-mails to Mr Taylor but it turns out he was just as surprised (according to his blog). I guess the angry letters went straight to Audible and they fixed it. Fixes are apparently being back-ported to We Are Legion. To be clear though, Mr Porter's rendition of this series is one of the rare occasions where the audio-version of the story may actually surpass the original! He really takes this to the next level, the voices he generates for the characters are just amazing (and, of course, GUPPI is just plain awesome).

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-14-17

Fawlty Relations

Lady Fortescue Steps Out is a regency-London tragicomedy (I think, maybe it's just a comedy?) detailing how a group of genteel poor (the ex-upper-class fallen on harder times) manage to one up the caste system. Lady Fortescue, after a mental shake due to previously unthinkable behaviour takes action to begin the coalescence of "The Poor Relations" and, ultimately, join the working class to run a hotel.

From there the story interweaves the social and family threads of the various Poor Relations in a set of plot-lines that seem to owe (if only in spirit) a lot to the staff and patrons of Fawlty Towers. There's a little bit of social commentary, a lot of humour and a touch of romance (with a little less left to the imagination than Jane Austen] might normally describe). The characters aren't super-deep, but they are all a lot of fun from the staunch Lady Fortescue and Colonel Sandhurst, the devious Sir Philip, the adaptable Harriet James, the ridiculous Lady Darkwood, the list goes on, I really enjoyed reading about everyone and seeing how their piece of the puzzle connected with the rest.

Although this is only part one of the series, it easily stands alone. There's a new story hinted at, and one issue left unanswered (and I assume picked up in a later book - there are five more) but apart from that the book is self-contained.

I listened to the Blackstone Audio version of the audio book, flawlessly narrated by Davina Porter. Ms Porter did a fantastic job of both female and male characters (and male characters playing female characters) and I think her reading of this is part of what makes it so much fun!

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0 of 1 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-03-17

Your plot outline is showing

This book didn't appear to be finished! Not as in "there was no discernable/pleasing ending" but in the sense the this wasn't the polished final product, but a set of notes, a skeleton on which to hang a story. It reads like Mr Robinson set out to provide some talking points on current affairs and then never really got around to fleshing out the story.

It brings up:
- Artificial Intelligences: what they are/aren't, how to classify them and how to determine whether they are or aren't conscious entities;
- Earth's Environmental State: specifically how we're stuck with Earth and even if we develop technology to start space-faring, there are a number of potential (and very interesting) barriers to that escape route;
- beach safety: know how to read the beach, people!

It's not that there isn't a story, it's just that it's not a very good one. Bits of it are interesting but when it gets to the stage where a story might keep going, KSR rolls in a deus ex machina in order to get to his next point. As a result of this things get progressively less interesting from about midway through the book and the ending really goes into a tailspin.

All that said, the points that were being made, or at very least the information being alluded to, is interesting and has spawned several entries on my To Read list. Actually, I take that back, there's no allusion here! Where "necessary", the story stops and all but cites reference material, in fact one of the earlier diatribes on psychological biases yielded what appeared to be an almost verbatim listing of a section of "Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds". As a result of that, I've got "Thinking, Fast and Slow" lined up for future study.

Overall, I don't regret reading this, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, if you're interested in the Sci-Fi and environmental science stuff then KSRs Mars Trilogy (starting with "Red Mars") has an actual story.

I listened to the Hachette Audio version of this book narrated by Ali Ahn who did a really good job bringing the characters to life, especially with something I can't mention because it's spoilery.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-18-17

General pick-me-up and a side of food-for-thought

I never really saw the TV series and I didn't even know there was a movie, but my immediate family has a thing for M*A*S*H so when I saw this for sale I figured I'd check it out.

I was surprised to discover that this was actually about the Korean War of the 1950's, not the Vietnam War of the 1960's, which I (and several others that I polled) had incorrectly assumed it was based on. This was nicely topical (what with North Korea threatening to blow everything up) and incidentally educational as it led me to do a little research on why there was a Korean War in the first place ("it's terribly messy and complicated" is the short story). None of this has any impact on the book itself.

The book falls into the "dated light-humour" category. It get's the "dated" tag because there's a *lot* of casual racism and sexism. For the most part though, it's the "light humour" that wins out. The story, well, actually, there isn't really a story, it's kind of a story arc encompassing the arrival of two doctors (Hawkeye and The Duke) in Korea, their 18-month assignment to the 4077 MASH and their subsequent departure, as told via a number of vignettes featuring a cast of colourful characters. It's quite reminiscent of Spike Milligan's War Memoirs actually! I think there's more than a kernel of truth to a lot of what is described in MASH, and some level of embellishment.

There's a lot of fun to be had here, I'd recommend it for light holiday reading or a general pick-me-up with a side of food-for-thought.

Mr Heller had a great accent for the people in this story but I found the speech/accents kind of fast and had to play the audio at 90% in order to catch everything!

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-01-17

Not believable in the slightest but incredible fun

Joe Kurz is a very straight-forward ex-Private Investigator; jailed for a decade for a revenge killing he most willingly committed and whom we join as he is released back into the world of 2001 (I think) to restart life on the outside. Subsequently a *lot* of characters get involved and a surprising number of events occur in what is a pretty short story (6 hours of audio, 300ish pages). The characters are mostly the ones you expect to find in a detective story but there are some surprising gems like Pruno and Soul Dad.

This is Dan Simmons' (of Hyperion fame) foray into the hardboiled detective-noir genre. I wasn't sure what to expect from him in this genre, mostly that's why I read it, to see what he did after his science fiction triumphs. Other writers have made a good job of melding sci-fi and detective-noir (Alastair Reynolds' Century Rain for instance), but this is straight up detective story and it's very good! One of the more interesting things for me was the fact that this is set in a modern time compared to the majority of other books in this genre and I enjoyed this style of story-telling with more modern trappings. I was surprised to find some recurring themes from Hyperion here: the story of Abraham pops in ever so briefly, in a chapter packed so full of whacky references that it'll keep me going for months with side-reading (starting with the angel Mastema).

There were very few chapters that were reasonable points to pause at, I almost always needed to find out what happened next, and the final twenty chapters were just one long twisty turny crescendo. None of it is believable in the slightest, but it's an incredible amount of fun and rather unputdownable! Why this hasn't been made into a Jason Statham movie is beyond me.

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2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-05-17

Stick to visual choices for this one

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

This is a science-fiction/alternate-history/fantasy mash-up with a largish side of infodump.

The story is post-nuclear-armageddon told from the perspective of Colonel Vance Peterson, USAF (United States Air Force), who is a complete tool. The story revolves around Peterson and we switch between "now" and flashbacks that explain how things came to be. It's hard to say more without getting into spoiler territory.

I didn't like Peterson, you're not meant to, but I don't see how he could ever have possibly gotten into the positions he was put in based on his behaviour. Because of this, large chunks of the narrative just don't gel and the final twist continues that trend most admirably. This is part one of a four part series and I was ever so vaguely curious as to what might happen next, but when I read the synopsis of "The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself" it obviously was related in theme (the Apollo program) but there's not connection between the stories themselves.

I listened to the audio version of the book and I think that was a mistake. The infodump is the main problem with the audio version of this story. I understand that approximately a quarter of the text-based book is made up of glossary and timeline. The audio version attempts to work around this by including the expanded version of each acronym the first time it appears. Seems reasonable until you discover that every fifth word is an acronym. OK, that's an exaggeration, but not that much of one, the first paragraph alone chalks up USAF, PLSS and A7LB; OK, that last one's not an acronym, but it still gets an explanation. I was constantly jarred out of the story to process and memorise the expansion of the current acronym.

In conclusion: The story wasn't terrible, but I didn't love it. It was a little like an old Twilight Zone episode (most of which I feel the same way about, semi-plausible with a really annoying end). I would definitely NOT recommend the audio version of this if you want to read it, there's no problem with the narrator, it's just not something made for listening to - stick with eyeballs for this one.

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3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-07-17

Why do I have to wear pants?

The older you get, the more you start to question social norms, especially when the "consequence" is something like being shunned from society: "Oh no, don't shun me society!". You start to ask yourself questions like "why can't I paint my house blue?" or "why do I have to wear pants?" and then you realise you can do whatever the hell you want and not a great deal is going to happen. This is where Remnant Population kicks off, with the oppressed but internally defiant nearly 80-year-old, Ofelia Falfurrias, working out her life keeping her son and his wife in a manner they find acceptable and contributing to the general well being of her diminishing colony.

Turns out that the colony is deemed no longer viable (or in breach of contract, or something) and the corporation that owns it shuts the whole place down with 30-days notice and tells everyone they're being shipped out to...somewhere else. Ofelia amusedly watches the brouhaha and decides that she's having none of it, she bides her time and escapes the transport ships, remaining alone on her world.

This is where the slow bit of the story starts, I was wondering where it was going but I enjoyed the character and world building and I appreciated the explanations of exactly how Ofelia was going to survive (I did some rough calculations on the food and it seemed likely that the stores for that colony size would actually last Ofelia for the period of time that's covered here).

Things start to speed up about a third of the way in, but you have to read the book to find out what they are.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The protagonist is a strong-willed lady and reminded me of Hazel Stone from Robert A. Heinlein's The Rolling Stones. The story was well written and developed (although some of the latter humans could have been slightly less two-dimensional), with the exception of the closing chapter, which I felt really let the book down.

Vanessa Hart did a really good job of voicing Ofelia's internal and external voices, as well as everyone else.

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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-20-17

Snapshot was fantastic, but too short!

This book is the intersection of a whole bunch of stuff that I like:
- thoughtful science fiction;
- noiresque detective story;
- well-written characters and a twisty storyline (aka Brandon Sanderson).

Mr Sanderson has a "story starts now, we'll world-build as we go" style and, despite the length of this story (or lack thereof) it works really well here again. You're quickly enmeshed in the day of Detective Davis and his partner as it kicks off, attempting to corroborate a real-world case via a vaguely-defined "snapshot" of the city that he lives in. The "snapshot" concept is mostly referenced as vague tangents (it's the kind of thing that would probably turn up in the latter third of a properly sized Sanderson story) and it's best explained by reading the story rather than a review. You should go do that now.

Mr DeMeritt's voice provides a perfect narration and he does really well voicing the small collection of characters.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-18-17

It's Bobtastic! But it doesn't end...

This book was a *lot* of fun! The story is that of the titular "Bob" and what happens to his unexpectedly cryogenically frozen head when it's thawed out 100 years in the future. It's sarcastic, first-person science fiction with obvious parallels to The Martian, but I also found myself strongly reminded of Robert Asprin's Myth Adventure series (spearheaded by "Another Fine Myth"). They have a similar jocular style and are similarly punny, although I suspect that the "We Are Legion" puns riff on slightly less fleeting references and thus will have a bit more longevity.

The science is slightly harder than you might expect, a lot of work is done to explain things that are often hand-wavy, but once that's done there's a bunch of gesticulating that looks suspiciously like next-level hand-waving in order to get the assorted plots powering along. That said, there's a lot to think about here including the ethics around bringing people back to life, climate change, and, well, a bunch of other stuff that would be rather spoilery to mention. Mr Taylor is definitely more of an optimist when it comes to our ability to translate theoretical science and engineering into reality, and it makes for a damn good story. It most definitely isn't hard sci-fi, a lot of new tech just gets worked out, far more easily than even the generous timeline allows for, but it's a compelling story and it never reaches really ridiculous levels.

I really enjoyed this book and was genuinely disappointed when I ran out, luckily there are two more coming. This is, in fact, the major downside of this book. It doesn't really tie *anything* up at the end of book one! If you hate starting a story that you can't finish then don't start this one until book three has been published! Luckily, two is already out and three is on the way so that shouldn't be long!

Ray Porter does a bang up job with all of the voices and his handle on nuance is particularly appreciated in this story!

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-20-16

Aliens, yay! *pow* *pow* *pow* *bleeeeaaargh*

This production weighs in at only 4 hours and 31 minutes which makes me feel like there may have been some abridgement to work down from the 352 pages of the novel.

That aside, this was an interesting little tale, cleverly retconned/shoe-horned into the gap between the Alien and Aliens with a cunning explanation as to why no mention of this was made in Aliens.

Overall, this is a further expansion of the Alien story, although it does feel a little bit like a copy 'n paste of Aliens with some tweaking of names and locations. If you're familiar with Aliens (or most generic thriller/horror film plots) there's very little to surprise you here, but I doubt anyone's reading this for the plot twist!

The production quality of this title was amazing and, in particular, Laurel Lefkow's rendition of Ripley is uncanny. Not just the various tones of voice but the inflection too.

Unfortunately there are a couple of downsides. The aforementioned "plot" sports a number of pretty large holes but so long as you're happy with an action packed adventure and don't dwell on the facts you're all good! The other problem is the weirdly repetitive and increasingly frequent "status reports" that are made by one of the characters. They sound like the "last week, on Alien: Out of the Shadows" intro that would be played at the beginning of a weekly radio play, except that I think they make up a substantial chunk of what is already a limited playing time (I'd be unsurprised to find that there were twenty to thirty minutes of these "recaps"). They felt really jarring and they also feature several of the more obvious problems with the plot.

So, should you read/listen to this? If you LOVE Aliens, yes! If you LOVE random action, yes! If you're looking for hard sci-fi or a credible plot, sadly, no.

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