(Please note that this review does focus on the content of the book even though it was written specifically for the audiobook version available on Audible (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=pr_rev_1_3_s?asin=B004XMIMHE) narrated by Bronson Pinchot. Nonetheless, even if you are not into audiobooks, this review and all of my book reviews are still completely relevant to the text copy excluding information about the narrator, of course.)
Larry Correia‘s Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles is simply the best audiobook I have ever encountered
World War I was fought, in part, with magic. Hydrogen powered dirigibles dominate the skies because wielders of fire have the ability to prevent Hindenburg-like incidents. An already genius mind supplemented with magic creates unimaginably brilliant savants (Cogs) that advance technology far beyond the conceivable. Nikola Tesla provides an extremely deadly alternative to nuclear weapons… and still, I’m not even giving away the good bits!
Hard Magic is packed full of ideas, historical figures, and characters that bring a parallel universe to life so elegantly, so robustly, that you will be utterly convinced that it must exist. Every chapter begins with an in-universe quote, often from a political or scientific heavyweight of the time (who also lived in our current universe), that provides a peak inside the heads of those native to the that other reality, allowing us a glimpse into how living in a world where magic exists impacts society, ethics, science, romance, …Earth itself.
Bronson Pinchot is a truly fantastic voice actor, perhaps even dethroning James Marsters
Sometimes Jon Stewart doppelganger Bronson Pinchot (Balki from the 1980’s Perfect Strangers) absolutely dominates as narrator. His articulation, tone, and pacing along with the accents provided for each individual character, of which there are maybe like 50, is as perfect as one could ask for.
James Marsters, Spike from Buffy and narrator of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (Reviews for this Urban Fantasy masterpiece of a series to follow soon), has become my favorite audiobook actor due to his ability to harness the very being of and truly speak as whichever character he’s reading for.
Nonetheless, in this book Pinchot provides a depth of character that is unsurpassed (though since listening to Butcher’s newest, Cold Days read by Marsters, I am a a touch undecided). Difficult characters to read for are abundant in this book, but Pinchot shines through all of them. He completely achieves the subtle and well-earned haughtiness of Japanese soldiers and officers, enhanced with magic, who are unquestionably the deadliest of deadly. Simultaneously, he becomes the orphaned southern sweetheart Faye, whose childhood innocence is ripped away from her just as she begins to learn how truly remarkable her gift is. But Pinchot’s true talent is invoked as soon as the book begins and throughout as he reads for the Pale Horse, an individual whose ability is to bring death however they wish to whomever they wish with just a single touch.
Hard Magic has the bases for historical fiction, urban fantasy, and science fiction absolutely covered. If you like the Dresden Files or other urban fantasy-type novels, you will definitely enjoy this book and the sequel.
I will concede that a few moments felt eerily like a few superhero movies I have seen. Around the half point of the book, it seemed like I was witnessing a story based within the X-Men Universe. But, do not fret over this. While inspiration and genre sampling from such sources may indeed have an impact on this story, I assure you that it really is so much more than simple power flinging and devastation. Though, to deny that there is a considerable amount of power being flung about and devastation being wrought would be dishonest. Sure, there’s a lot of action. But, it is so well done that it doesn’t feel overbearing.
Hard Magic is a truly thrilling fantastically historic narrative with lessons to be learned about the rights of those who have the ability to bring great change to the universe. Does society benefit most from a survival of the fittest mentality? Does the world going forward have no place for weakness? Should diversity be embraced and understood?
Who gets to decide which ideas are the most morally true? The individual(s) who wield(s) the most power? The masses at large? Or should the only thing we truly fight for be the ability to choose how we live our own lives? Power and control is only in the hands of those who are allowed to keep it. I believe that this truth can apply to any situation where a strong foundation is required for the continued existence of those dependent upon it.
Find these lessons within, and enjoy a damn good story while doing so.
(Please note that this review does focus on the content of the book even though it was written specifically for the audiobook version available on Audible (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sa_1?asin=B005R35BMW) narrated by Mark Boyett. Still, even if you aren’t into audiobooks, this review and all of my book reviews are still completely relevant to the text copy excluding information about the narrator, of course.)
B. V. Larson’s Star Force series is a genre crossing, military science fiction space opera epic that absolutely wins with narrator Mark Boyett
First, if I wrote the book’s blurb:
An every-man computer scientist is propelled into a cosmic landscape that will bring out his best, and, unfortunately, his worst. The ring to Hell is manufactured with Kyle Riggs’ intentions. But as you’ll find out, Riggs’ really is the right man and perfect protagonist for B. V. Larson’s genre smashing space operatic military apocalyptic science fiction pragmatic technothriller.
Second, why I chose this book:
This book caught my eye because I was looking for a new sci-fi series, and I really enjoyed Troy Rising, by military sci-fi superstar John Ringo, which was also narrated by Mark Boyett and has been compared to Star Force by others. Similar to at least the first book of Troy Rising (Live Free or Die), SWARM and the Star Force series in general (I’m on Book 3 as of writing this) has a strong protagonist who starts as a humble rural type with an additional edge of technical prowess (More about Kyle Riggs below). But while Troy Rising really lost its momentum after the first book, the Star Force series keeps it going and lays it on hard.
If you like military science fiction of the sort portrayed in the Troy Rising series, you will love the Star Force series. And, to those of you who enjoyed the Star Force series, you will enjoy Troy Rising. But, as of Book 3, I have to put Star Force above John Ringo’s space opera brother from another mother.
This book certainly contains some elements that will require you to significantly suspend disbelief, particularly regarding how over exaggerated some of the characters are portrayed. Nevertheless, I think good science fiction will always include a few things that make you feel a touch incredulous including the portrayal of individuals that have character flaws and other such facets tenfold as extreme as anyone you’ve ever met. Though, I really do not feel like Star Force takes it over the top in any way, and I never felt as if what I was reading was truly too absurd or unbelievable.
The technological aspects of Star Force are really concentrated on a few plot elements. Without revealing too much, I can say with high confidence that if you are intrigued by nanotechnology, this book will give you a pretty strong wondergasm. Importantly however the descriptions of said technology really do appear to be refreshingly under the regime of science fact. Larson either did his research well or has a wealth of information that I truly wish was wielded more frequently by writers of science fiction and fantasy. I believe that most who give this series a chance will find something to learn from this book. And naturally as good science fiction should, it will hopefully inspire your envisionment of things that are quite attainable given our current rate of technological advancement, even without extraterrestrial intervention. Though, I certainly won’t complain if I am able to get my hands on some bona fide ET tech.
Some analysis about the books protagonist:
Like so many nerds growing up in this wonderful information age, at some point in my life I at least considered the possibility of pursuing computer science as a career choice, and I think anyone who has ever found beauty in the workings of a machine or the elegance in a mathematical proof will have no trouble in relating to Kyle Riggs. Larson intentionally leaves out specific details about Kyle Riggs appearance and style so that the reader may fully empathize with Riggs’ through his tribulations. Alternatively, one can easily insert the image and essence of whichever heroically moral archetype they feel most comfortable with into the protagonist. Some may criticize this by arguing it leaves the main character hollow, but I believe that this allows Riggs to be less a man and more a symbol for the resilience of humanity. Kyle Riggs is not a single man, but as I alluded to in the first sentence of this review, he is every man.
Finally, While Mark Boyett’s accents may at times all sound alike, his attempts still wonderfully bring life to the characters. I really enjoyed Boyett’s work for the Troy Rising series and believe his efforts are even more radiant in Larson’s works. I will be looking for more books narrated by Boyett for his performance alone. Many audiobook narrators have a voice that brings along distracting qualities of varying degrees, making listening to the book a challenging venture regardless of the content. With Boyett, however, I have absolutely no issue focusing in on the story he brings to life without him sacrificing any of the multitude of character’s intricacies and personality.
That brings me to one more point. This is the first series where I have really noticed that the writer is incredibly effective at channeling a representative presence in his characters. What I mean is, the cast in this story are from so many diverse backgrounds, as they should be. It is pretty much a rule that military sci-fi has the United States and its citizens at the forefront with a couple token internationals sprinkled in due to necessity. Nonetheless, I feel that Larson has very effectively created a truly believable cast of characters who spring from all aspects of life and from all over planet Earth. This of course would most definitely be the case if the terrifying scenario in the book ever actually arose.
Furthermore, and somewhat importantly, he doesn’t harp on about this diversity. In the third Troy Rising book, The Hot Gate, 75% of the story was about the conflict between the culture of a number of South American countries versus culture in the US versus conservative Arab culture. So, sure, there was a lot of diversity, and sure, there almost certainly would be a culture clash provided people from diverse backgrounds were forced together in close quarters. Still, I do not think it has to be a huge focus, or a focus at all for that matter,in a story that is about the unification of humanity into an established and significant force fighting for the survival of its species.