This has instantly become one of my favourite books – I loved every minute of this twenty-first century sci-fi celebration of 1980’s book, film and music culture.
It’s 2044 and the real world has gone to hell, so most people spend their time in a virtual reality universe called the OASIS. When the original founder / coder of the OASIS dies he leaves behind a challenge – find an easter-egg he has programmed into the virtual world by completing a number of (increasingly nerdy) tasks and win the founder’s fortune and control of the OASIS itself.
Wil Wheaton does an excellent, basically flawless narration and I would recommend the audiobook version.
There are only a couple of reservations – some people may find the geekiness overload just too much to bear and at 15 hours it is quite a time investment.
But not me – I really liked it and if it sounds like your thing, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now to watch the movie to see how much they rip out the guts of the story…
On holiday over the summer, my family stayed in a cottage which had copies of nearly all of the “Aubrey-Maturin” books by Patrick O’Brian and I took the opportunity to read the back covers to find out the story of each (and return them neatly in publication order).
Several months ago I had started listening to the unabridged audiobook of “Master and Commander” but stopped about half way through – which is very rare for me. I just could not get used to the writing style but finding all the books re-ignited my interest.
I knew that I would struggle to find time to read the books, so when I found these abridged versions on the Libby app (like Audible, but free if you have a library card) I thought I’d give them a try.
I would not normally consider abridged versions of books (especially when you consider that each story has been cut down from between 12 – 16 hours to just 3 – 4 hours) but I would like to explore more of the series and I was able to get through the three of these stories in the time it would take me to read a short book.
Master and Commander (Book 1)
The “Aubrey-Maturin” novels are set in the early 1800s and are adventure stories based around the friendship between the Navy captain Jack Aubry and his ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin.
The author does an excellent job of portraying the time period and he has obviously done his research (the stories are often based around real events). These main characters are intriguing, in particular because they are far from perfect.
The language and the level of technical detail that appears in the first half of this book can make it a slog to get through. Don’t let that put you off as the author proves that he is good at the action scenes too.
This book is very good in itself but perhaps more importantly (once you have read some of the other stories in the series) it is clear that this is just the beginning of a long adventure.
Post Captain (Book 2)
At the start of this book Jack and Stephen are back on dry land, enjoying life. Things do not go in Jack’s favour for very long, however, with an unexpected trip to Spain turning into an altogether more serious affair. In a bid to escape his situation ashore Jack accepts a number of increasingly dangerous jobs to keep at sea.
This is a much more personal story as we find out about the women who play a part in their lives. Jack and Stephen’s friendship comes under immense strain. It also becomes clear that Stephen is not just a sidekick to the main character Aubry – he has more depth, more intelligence and a more significant role than is apparent at first.
This is an altogether faster-paced story and all the better for it. It also has a nice vein of dry humour which is welcome. I would be tempted to read the full version of this book but as an abridged version this rockets along whilst flowing nicely.
H.M.S. Surprise (Book 3)
Jack and Stephen are taking an ambassador to Malaysia in what is the best of the books so far – the depiction of the storms they encounter and the battles stand out.
The writing style is quite daunting at first but after a while I found myself getting used to the pacing of the language and overcame the fact that I did not necessarily understand every single word uttered by the characters. Perhaps it is easier to listen to than to read? By the time you get into the second book I don’t think this is an issue – you are either used to it or absorbed in the storytelling.
What elevates these audiobooks is the narrator – the actor Robert Hardy takes the material and rings out every last drop of drama and excitement out of it. This is a performance and a half… the books come alive and battles at sea become vivid and real. It is heart-pounding stuff as opponents use all their skill and cunning to come out as victors.
I am going to listen to more of these abridged versions of the audiobooks – they gave me just enough detail to tell the story and could be finished in a few sessions. For a series with so many books, this is the best way I am going to experience these stories. I would rather do this than miss out.
• The Guardian: Naval gazing
Now this exists, there is no excuse – everyone should read this book. As a white male, I never had to consider the many, many points raised. As a father to daughters, they should not to have to grow up and live in a world that is hostile to their gender – and neither should any woman. Women in other parts of the world suffer even more.
One particularly poignant issue raised is how women are left in a worse position than men after a pandemic – in this book from 2019 the author was talking about SARS and Ebola. The effects of Covid-19 are going to dwarf the effects of those outbreaks. Everybody will be impacted but – although it won’t necessarily be obvious or even studied in depth (it should be) – I suspect women will be impacted disproportionately more than men to a great degree, especially in the long term.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
For a science fiction novel that is nearly 70 years old, this has aged remarkably well.
It got a bit too political towards the end for my taste and covering such large time spans means that you are introduced several times over to an entirely new cast of characters, which can be a bit disconcerting.
Still – recommended.
This book is a must read if you are considering becoming a coder – and also if you work with them. The first half or so of the book goes into detail about how most people get into writing software (formal education or being self taught), the nature of the job (what they do all day), possible career paths and the personality characteristics found in many coders – both good and bad. It looks at the different types of people coming into the industry, the misleading myths that have built up, the particular challenges for women and the realistic outlook if you are looking for a mid-career job change – coming in from a different industry. Very interesting, and not something that I recall seeing dealt with in such detail elsewhere.
The remainder of the book examines the tech scene in more general terms – a look at the early days of computing and how people got into computers in previous decades, the decline in the proportion of women in the profession over time, the rise of AI and machine learning, the social problems (little predicted at the beginning but now very much in evidence) that arise with becoming a massive scale platform and how the venture capital industry determines how companies have to behave.
There is a bit of repetition as things that are mentioned briefly in the first part are dealt with in more depth in the second, but the author does a good-enough job at bringing things back to how these things are relevant to coders. The final chapter on “blue collar” coders is particularly good, so the book finishes on a high. It should give people thinking about going into this field some things to consider, which can only be a good thing.
The narration of the audiobook is interesting – often the soul of these technology / business books is sucked out of them by a narrator who talks in some “default-American” tone, unremarkable and uninspiring. At first I thought that this was going to be yet another example, but the performance is more nuanced – it feels like it is the author reading their own text but it is more professional. He gets the tone just right.
I read this after seeing the first couple of seasons of the TV series The Expanse.
It’s a really good book – a solid 4 out of 5 stars – and I would recommend it to any sci-fi fan. The narrator does a solid enough job of reading the story, although nothing revolutionary.
The trouble is that the TV series is good and follows the book closely – for once I don’t think that you necessarily get more from reading the book than watching the show, and in the time it would take you to read this book and it’s first sequel (Caliban’s War) you could watch pretty much all four seasons of the TV show.
I’d do that…
This is the “oral history” of a fictional 1970s rock band, as told by the members of the group and is (very heavily…) inspired by the off-stage antics of Fleetwood Mac.
It is simply sublime. It absolutely nails the vibe. For me it was like living in an Eagles song for nine hours and I loved every second.
The audiobook format was made for this book. The many narrators bring the characters alive. I’m sure that reading the book would be fun, but hearing it performed brings out the swagger, the sheer no-holds-barred excess.
This is so easy to listen to – you’re basically just spending some time with guys and girls looking back at their glory days. Living their lives might be an emotional rollercoaster but looking in from outside is just joyous.
For this audiobook Neil Gaiman reads his own work but in this case he is the “story teller” rather than the “narrator”. It is like he is recounting the stories he loves. They are made for speaking aloud and passing on to others.
They can come over as quite simple but I get the impression that he has chosen his words very carefully in the retelling – to get to the essence of the stories and make them accessible to people today.
I can imagine taking an evening to listen to this book from beginning to end, in front of a fire with a glass or two of red wine. In fact, that would be a perfect way to experience these tales.
This was my summer reading this year. I was at the airport and the bookshop had lots of different Lee Child books, perhaps 15 or 20 (the series currently has 23). I looked them up on Amazon to see what the reviews were like and decided to go for Never Go Back.
Well… that was one of the few that they didn’t have so I went for The Hard Way instead.
This time the story involves Reacher helping to get back a rich man’s wife who has been kidnapped.
I don’t know about the other novels in the series but the action is not too violent and there is not a lot of swearing. I’m not adverse to either in principal but it made for easy reading.
The narration is that average American blandness you often get. The narrator can’t do an English accent, and when there is more than one English character in a scene they both sound exactly the same. Equally bad. Women don’t come off much better. The main female character should come over as mature, confident and Reacher’s equal but instead sounds like a breathless damsel in distress. The other female character suffers from the same affliction.
This was my first Jack Reacher novel and the author does a good job of keeping the story going at an acceptable pace, throwing in a few curveballs so that you want to keep reading. I’d go back for another in the series – probably Never Go Back (🙃).
We created robots, made them intelligent. They rebelled and wiped us out. Humans are extinct. Now there are a few robots who still survive on the fringes, not willing to be assimilated into the mainframe artificial intelligences that want to rule over everything.
This starts off brilliantly. The path that the author sets out, from early attempts to build artificially intelligent machines to the resulting moral choices that have to be made, is totally believable. It might not play out this way but it certainly could – to a degree that anyone who has an interest in AI should read this book, just to see what might result when someone allows themselves to think through the implications.
I wish the book could have found a way to finish there – this would have been an awesome science fiction short story.
But it starts to drag on, trying to add some meaning to the robots’ existence and then ending up with the typical Transformers-movie-type of robots just trying to beat the crap out of one another.
There is a female narrator all the way through (all too rare) and she does a good job of imbuing the robots with character and putting over some of the dark humour that resonates out of the story.
This is a book of two halves – unmissable, essential at first and good but not that good at the end.