Review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi



My original The Dispatcher audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.


John Scalzi is an author that’s been in my to-read pile for a while, but I somehow have been unable to get around to reading his work. Thankfully, he and Audible teamed up to produceThe Dispatcher, an audiobook that runs a bit shy of two and a half hours, and which fit nicely into my daily commute.

Scalzi presents a world much like our own in The Dispatcher, with one crucial difference – people who are murdered or who die of unnatural causes automatically come back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher. His job is to intervene in a moment of crisis. Say somebody gets hit by a car or is about to die on the operating table. Tony’s job is to kill them in a humane fashion so they can come back to life and get another chance. There are loopholes, of course, because aren’t there always? And some of these loopholes are what drags Tony into a police investigation of another Dispatcher who has gone missing.

This premise of a world where murder is largely impossible is certainly an intriguing one, and it makes for a highly effective, attention-grabbing MacGuffin. While the mystical or theological elements undergirding the premise are inexplicable and unexplained, the effect this odd, new state of being has on the world and daily life is well rendered.

The investigation into the missing Dispatcher is well written, and poses plenty of questions, most of which the author approaches directly and satisfactorily. The real star, though, is Zachary Quinto’s narration. Although he’s best known for his roles in Star Trek and Heroes, this dude can truly and utterly perform a book reading in spectacular fashion. He inhabits the role of Valdez nicely, and demonstrates a wide range of voice talent in tackling the other characters, as well. While the story alone is great, Quinto elevates the material to the next level with his narration. As expected from Audible Studios, the sound quality and production values are top-notch.

The Dispatcher is free through Audible until Nov. 2, 2016, making this a very low-risk investment if you act fast, and one that presents wonderful returns for the price. On his blog, Scalzi noted this freebie is a thank you to his and Audible’s audience, as well as a nice enticement to draw in new readers and listeners. As someone who falls into this latter category, The Dispatcher is certainly a terrific incentive to lure me deeper into Scalzi’s backlist. I may even have to reshuffle a few commitments so I can get one or two more of his titles in before year’s end.


Buy The Dispatcher At Amazon

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Review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

Review: The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia



My original The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

While listening to The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent, one word kept popping into my head – ridiculous. Although this audiobook is billed as a comedy, ‘ridiculous’ is not necessarily a compliment.  Comedy, you see, is largely subjective. I’ll take George Carlin over Adam Sandler any day of the week, and, unfortunately, this Audible Original was a lot like mainlining a Sandler production – it’s ridiculous, but not in a good way.

Tom Stranger is an insurance agent for the multiverse. He’s been mistakenly paired with a yuckster of an intern who reminded me of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, and who has a pathetic GPA in his Gender Studies degree track (this, by the way, is an example of one of the running gags that The Adventures of Tom Stranger has to offer). Stranger voyages across multiple Earth’s in search of his proper intern, squaring off against his rival, the insurance agent Jeff Conundrum. Along the way, there’s a few dashes of Chuck Norris hero-worship, purple people eaters who harvest men’s scrotums, and a meta guest-appearance by the author Larry Correia, who finds himself in need of rescuing by the ubiquitous, bow-tie loving insurance agent.

Correia sets the tone immediately in the opening chapter, which involves Adam Baldwin, President of the United States and celebrated star of the long-running Firefly, grappling with a global crises as the scrotum-collecting purple people eater’s devour Europe. A deranged, loud-mouthed Secretary of Defense loses it over a computer glitch, shoots the computer, and then acts like a massive buffoon while drawing stick figures of the alien creatures gathering their victims genitals. Along the way, we get some dated humor about Windows Operating Systems and John Tesh. The rest of the book follows a similar path for the next two hours, with much of the humor focused on hitting cheap, easy marks like Today’s Youth, Telemarketers, Obama, and Occupy Protestors. Although the setting and premise are most certainly unique, none of the jokes are particularly original or funny.

Narrating Tom Stranger is not-President Adam Baldwin, from the short-lived TV series Firefly. Although the story itself didn’t do much for me, Baldwin’s narration is pretty good and he’s clearly having a fun time hamming it up with the material. He delivers a pretty broad range of character voices here, from the overly-aggressive Secretary of Defense to the level-headed Stranger, with dashes of milquetoast in between. He also does a damn effective manatee. On the production quality end of things, the sound is crisp and clean, and on par with the handful of other Audible Originals; in this regard, it’s as excellent as I expected.

Audible is currently offering The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent for free until June 21, 2016. Not a bad deal to hear Adam Baldwin imitate a manatee.

[Audiobook provided for review by the]

Buy The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent At Amazon

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Review: The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia

Review: Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon and Dirk Maggs (Audiobook)

alien-out of the shadows audiobook

My original Alien: Out of the Shadows audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

In 2014, Titan Books released the first in a new series of books set in the Alien film franchise under the supervision of the movie studio 20th Century Fox. These novels are considered part of the film canon and help expand and flesh out the movie universe, and they launched with Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows, set between the first two movies and featuring the series’ heroine, Lt. Ellen Ripley.

Following the destruction of the Nostromo in the first Alien movie, Ripley put herself into hypersleep and drifted through space. Movie buffs know that 57 years passed between Alien and Aliens, but Lebbon has crafted a nicely fitting story that slots itself directly into the middle of this time gap. In Out of the Shadows, the damaged mining vessel Marion picks up a distress call from Ripley’s lifeboat, while the crew contends with the discovery of a vicious life-form on the planet LV-178. It’s not long before Ripley is pressed back into action, haunted by the events aboard the Nostromo, and hellbent on saving the crew of the Marion.

Buy Alien: Out of the Shadows At Amazon

Review: Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon and Dirk Maggs (Audiobook)

Review: Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audiobook)

Locke_Key_Cover_FINALAbout Locke & Key

Based on the best-selling, award-winning graphic novel series Locke & Key – written by acclaimed suspense novelist Joe Hill (NOS4A2, Horns) and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez – this multicast, fully dramatized audio production brings the images and words to life.

A brutal and tragic event drives the Locke family from their home in California to the relative safety of their ancestral estate in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, an old house with powerful keys and fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them. As siblings Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke discover the secrets of the old house, they also find that it’s home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all….

Featuring performances by Haley Joel Osment (Entourage, The Sixth Sense), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Kate Mulgrew (Orange Is the New Black, Star Trek: Voyager), Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Stephen King (The Stand, 11-22-63), as well as a cast of more than 50 voice actors, this audio production preserves the heart-stopping impact of the graphic novel’s astounding artwork through the use of richly imagined sound design and a powerful original score.

Locke & Key is FREE until November 4, 2015.

*Locke & Key contains explicit language and adult situations.

My Thoughts

The Locke & Key graphic novels have been on my to-read list, and sitting among a stack of other shamefully neglected graphic novels and trades, for several years now. You’d have thought that after discovering the pure joy of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 that I would have dived headlong into this comic book series, but alas… (Maybe somebody can loan me a Time Key to free up more reading hours in the day?). When Audible announced its adaptation of Hill’s and artist Gabriel Rodriguez’s much-acclaimed IDW comic book series, I was thrilled to give it a listen, and also curious as to how the heck one adapts a comic book for an audiobook.

Comics, obviously, are quite a different breed from prose novels, given their reliance on visual imagery to tell a story. Sure, there’s narrative boxes (typically) and plenty of dialogue (usually) and thought bubbles, but the nature of a comic book is in its art. Audible Studios has worked around this translation from visual to audio by harkening back to the days of radio productions. Rather than rewriting the Locke & Key comics into a more novelistic approach for narration, the story is told by way of audio drama with a cast of more than 50 voice actors.

For the most part, this approach works quite well, but with a few caveats.

The story itself is largely understandable and very approachable in this re-imagined fashion, and for roughly 13 and a half hours we follow the Locke children, and their mother, Nina, as they relocate to the family estate of Lovecraft Mansion in the wake of the Locke patriarch’s murder. While readjusting to their new lives, the children begin finding strange keys scattered and hidden across the house, keys that unlock doors into mysterious and terrifying new realms. Keys that are also being hunted for by an old evil named Dodge.

As the son of Stephen King, it seems clear that Hill has inherited quite a bit of his father’s story-telling panache and hits on a few similarities in style. This was most clear in NOS4A2, but Locke & Key also exhibits some of the same themes common in many of King’s works (and keep an ear open for a nice little homage to King’s Carrie late in the story). First of all, this is an epic work of horror, with smatterings of fantasy thrown in for good measure, and how it affects the everyman. The central characters aren’t burdened with super-powers, and most of their daily challenges come from attending school, making friends, dealing with being the outcasts because of the hellacious events in their lives. This is also a story of multi-generational horrors, as the Locke kids discover the secrets of their ancestry and the tribulations their father and his friends experienced upon discovering the keys.

All of this is performed admirably by the large cast, and I felt fully invested in these characters right from the get-go. The acting is pretty superb all-around, as is the sound production and score, with the cast and crew even making use of real-world locations to record, rather than sticking it out in a recording studio for the entire job. My only real issues came in the lack of narrative connective tissue in the big action scenes, which often felt muddled and pulled me out of the drama as I struggled to figure out who stabbed who, whether or not X or Y lived, and what exactly was happening in the aftermath. A few of these issues were mostly resolved in the following minutes, but the initial impact was jarring and confusing. Still, there were a few times where I imagined the narrative must have been clearer in the original comics and that certain scenes would have worked better as a companion piece to the source material. Maybe I missed a few things due to my lack of familiarity with the comic books, particularly in how the characters appear. We usually don’t get any kind of character descriptions until much too late, well after I’d already formed a visual of who they are in my head and so I spent much of the narrative not realizing one family was African American, or that another sported plenty of ink across his body, or that one has a particular piercing that becomes quite a distinguishing feature for one of the Locke boys in the aftermath of a brutal murder.

These, mostly little, issues aside, I found Locke & Key to be a completely engrossing audio-drama and an absolutely terrific listen. The acting is strong, and Hill’s writing, as expected, is completely top-notch. As an audio-drama, this sucker just works, and it works well. I was scared in all the right places, and my heart was racing during the brutal climax and left feeling exhausted in the wake the Locke family’s cataclysmic showdown with Dodge. I might have even, maybe, just a little bit, kind of teared up in the final moments because I was so damn attached to these characters and to this family. And although the graphic novels have been untouched thus far, this audiobook has made me aware of exactly how much greatness I’ve been missing, so I’ve ordered the final volume to complete my set of IDW Locke & Key hardcovers and hope to dive into them soon. This is a completely fantastic story, and Joe Hill himself is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite writers that I can trust to turn out solid, quality work and whose stories I look forward to the most. If Locke & Key becomes one of my latest die-hard obsessions, well, I can blame this recording for it.

Buy Locke & Key At Amazon (Free until 11/4/2015)
Review: Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audiobook)