Homefront: A Novel of the Transgenic Wars by Scott James Magner

Homefront: A Novel of the Transgenic Wars by Scott James MagnerHomefront: A Novel of the Transgenic Wars by Scott James Magner
Narrator: Allyson Johnson
Published by Audible Studios on 11/11/14
Genres: Science Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible

Story: B-
Narration: B

Quick Review:

Homefront is a thoughtful speculative fiction novel with a nice mix of action and emotion. Although I struggled to remain engaged with it consistently, overall the combination of physical conflict, interpersonal clashes, and internal quandaries kept the story moving forward at a nice clip. The narration allows the listener to easily distinguish between individuals in a diverse cast of characters and enhances the pacing of the story.

My Thoughts:

In a future world where humanity has been infected with a transgenic virus and individuals have mutated with an unbelievable rapidity to gain enhanced abilities—from telepathy to extra arms or eyes—there are both unmodified humans and a range of modified humans (“mods” or “gennies”) . The latter are divided into something like castes—Alphas as the ruling caste then Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Omega—in descending order of mutation away from an unmodified human form. The mods were exiled to the outer colonies and the story opens as a small contingent of mods are returning to the inner worlds with a cargo of “sleeper” mods to establish a hidden colony.

Jantine is a Beta and captain of the mission to establish a secure and hidden base for her crew and cargo. Although it’s generally expected to be a suicide mission, she succeeds in landing her crew but not before encountering local planetary defense forces engaged in an apparent civil war. The people who surround Jantine are varied and complex. In the moment, they are fully realized characters with varied motivations and feelings. Part of my inability to remain engaged with them, though, is that too much of their back story and how that made them who they are is pushed off until later. I struggled with the dynamics that arced between the mods running the operation and was annoyed with some rapid flip-flopping of emotions that seemed odd for such highly trained “super soldiers.” A lot of the cause for that became clear later but by then, it was a bit too late for me to do my usual readerly bonding with them and I was left with a strictly intellectual curiosity for the story instead.

The introduction of an unmodified human to the group provided a nice basis for some mild pondering on what it was about the mods (other than a physical appearance for some) that caused them to be considered inhuman or worth exiling (as if people need a logical reason, right?) There was also a light vein of philosophical musing to be had about how family is defined and where we choose to place our value in that construction. Lieutenant Mira Harlan is unwillingly swept along in the mods’ plan and finds herself irrevocably changed by her contact with them.

There was a fair amount of head-hopping and while the changes in points-of-view added complexity and interest to the story , they also emphasized the tell rather than show aspects engendered by the amount of internal thoughts that recapped events or motivations. That narrative tool struck me as over used and not in line with how thoughts generally manifest themselves. To an extent, this was also emphasized by my biggest point of contention with the narration style: a tendency to slow certain sentences down and phrase them in a thoughtful manner more often that the text or the flow of general human speech would indicate is appropriate.

Magner does an excellent job conveying the sense of “other” the Mods and their changed physiology (and more to the point, thought processes and perspectives) embody while balancing that against the things that still make them human. There’s a lot that comes to light in the last few chapters and while there’s a general wrap-up, I am interested in what the future holds for the mods and the world they landed on.

The Narration:

If you’re familiar with Allyson Johnson’s narration of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series and enjoyed the audiobooks (as I did) then read no farther, you’re good to go with this one. I admit, I was hoping for the more casual delivery she brought to Kim Knox’s Dark Dealings (which struck me as more organic in tone) but she brings considerable skill to this story nonetheless.

Ms. Johnson excels at differentiating characters, both between individuals and in the typical vocal characteristics that cue a listener to male or female. She’s attentive to the author’s narrative and chews over the syntax in service to it. Her dialogue delivery is reactive and flows naturally and while the frequency with which lines are given a thoughtful and slower delivery chimes against my ear as excessive and not always in line with the context, she still keeps the story moving at a nice pace. The narration on this one actually helped me track through some of the complexities in the story so I suggest you check out the sample and see how it works for you.

I received this book at no cost from Audible Studios in exchange for a review. The book’s source does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

Loyalty by Ingrid ThoftLoyalty by Ingrid Thoft
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Published by Penguin Audio on 6/18/13
Genres: Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
three-stars

Story: C+
Narration: B+

Quick Review:

A feisty PI, dysfunctional family dynamics, good narration by Rebecca Soler, and a plot that moves along nicely make this a decent, if not groundbreaking, listen.

The Plot:

Josefina “Fina” Ludlow quit law school and became an investigator in her family’s law firm. The firm focuses on personal injury claims and has made its fair share of enemies in the police department so when Fina’s brother, Rand, becomes a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, not only will Fina have to untangle a web of family secrets, she’ll have to do it while racing to beat a hostile police detective to the truth.

My Thoughts:

Loyalty is constructed of two different story-lines that eventually converge into one. The astute listener (which was not me, in this case) will quickly see at what point they are likely to intersect but the story is engaging and well-paced enough to keep both the clue-solver and the clueless listener involved.

Fina’s father and her three brothers are all lawyers in the family firm but Fina flunked out of law school. In punishment, her father set her to working her way through various jobs at the firm and she found her place (and a mentor and true father-figure) with the firm’s private investigator. She lives at her (deceased) grandmother’s condo and splits her affections between her friend (with benefits) and massage therapist, Milloy, and her friend (with benefits) and inside source at the cop shop, Christian. She maintains contacts in various professions and social strata of Boston – including among the criminal element – and utilizes them when working a case. As she leverages some of them, it becomes clear that Fina’s investigation is seriously irritating someone because they keep trying to kill her or beat her up.

I like a tough PI protagonist as much as the next reader but the combination here struck me as somewhat awkward at times. Sure, Fina was more than willing to take a swing at a bad guy but she spent a lot of time collecting bruises from being run off the road or punched in the face to discourage her investigation. Then, when she confronts some of her more questionable contacts face-to-face (where her primary threats seem to be “I have a gun” or “don’t make me come back here a second time”) she strikes fear into their hearts? I felt that was more “tell” than a pattern of “show” in terms of how tough Fina is.

Fina loves her family but her father is forceful and controlling and she struggles to balance her desire to please him with how she wants to live her life and what she thinks is right. This sets up a nice internal conflict for Fina to accompany the external conflict of the search for her missing sister-in-law, although I would have enjoyed a deeper look into the dynamics there. The steps Fina goes through to track down her sister seemed logical and grounded, in contrast to many mysteries that rely too heavily on coincidence. Boston is the setting for the story but my sense of the city as a character came strictly from the accents used in the narration rather than atmospheric descriptions in the text.

I was slightly bothered by the fact that most of the adversaries Fina encountered in her investigation were categorized as physically unattractive: possessing cleavage that probably had to be “excavated for crumbs” at the end of the day (Lt. Pitney), or fat (multiple characters) and balding (Mark), or egregiously unfashionably dressed (multiple)  in contrast to the Ludlow’s fashionable attire and Fina’s beauty, rapid metabolism, and athletic nature. It’s a simplified bad guy vs. good guy shorthand characterization that limited the dimensions of the story for me.

It took a while for the story to get going, not because it was poorly paced but because none of the characters are particularly likable so I needed a better understanding of what their motivations were and how the plot pieces were going to start to twining together before I could sink into the story. The plot winds up to a very strong climax and Fina’s internal conflict as she finally uncovers all the components of her sister-in-law’s disappearance and how her family will be affected was particularly engaging.

The Narration:

I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Soler’s performances in the past (most notable with Cinder) and this audiobook was no exception. She does an excellent job encapsulating Fina’s personality and easily transitions between characters with distinctive changes in tone, accent, and pitch. The accents were well done: typical American, Boston-specific accents used intermittently (among the characters, not within the same character), light Hispanic, and a couple of nicely done mild Southern drawls. She conveys the bored teenager with aplomb while moving into the domineering patriarch with equal skill. Her pacing was good and overall, the production was very clean.

It didn’t get a perfect grade from me because a) I’m starting to prefer slightly more natural-sounding narrative and b) the reactive nature of the dialogue between characters, while good, still felt somewhat as if each character was recorded in their entirety and then another had all their lines recorded and… you get the point. This was certainly not the case but that impression was caused by every character having very smooth and consistent pacing in their dialogue with no breaks or leveraging of pauses to really humanize and individualize the characters as well as the presence of an almost metronomic regularity in conversational “call and response.” Overall, it was still a good narration that should suit any listener.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Penguin Audio via the audiobookjukebox.com Solid Gold Reviewer program.

three-stars