Sunday, January 19, 2014

Engines Under Ursus, SciFi podcast review

I've been listening to Engines Under Ursus, by Marin Brady. I've just finished the 26 episodes i had downloaded. There are at least two more. But my ancient 32 bit computer died, more or less. That's another story. This more modern machine i'm using is in a sort of zombie mode, booted from thumb drive, while it gets a brain transplant. Apparently, Marin has written a bunch of short stories. He says he wrote Engines, sent it to Tor, and got something unintelligible back. I don't usually write reviews before i've finished them, but this is an exception. If Tor rejected this piece, it's a mistake on their part.

I've heard Scott Sigler's audio for Ancestor, Infection (now called Infected), Earth Core, and The Rookie. I mention this for two reasons. First, i've had ear buds in my ears for about ten years now. And second, to compare experiences. Scott has great stories, uses voices for the parts, has some quirky reading. I couldn't get over how he'd mispronounce words sometimes. Easy words. He wrote the book, and the words are used right, but...

Martin Brady has some sort of accent. Maybe it's Irish. Whatever. He has multiple voices, and many don't have an Irish accent. They're quite consistent. While many actors, including voice actors, over act, Martin has a more subdued underacting style. It's not a monotone. I can only call it deliberate. And he takes the performance an extra step. He adds pod-safe music to each episode. The music is typically at the end of the episode. Frankly, i wasn't much interested in it. That is, until episode 19. I no longer have two hours of driving commute per day. So it's more unusual now to drive while listening. But for episode 19, i was. And i listened to the music because i didn't want to fiddle with the mp3 player. Holy shit. I practically had a nose bleed, it was so good. I don't even get nose bleeds. And there are lines and bits from the song that are in the episode. So now, i need to go back and listen to everything. So, while Scott moved the field forward by using audio books to get the word out (and it seems to be at least part of what's really working for him), Martin has added a dimension to audio story telling. The audio version is going to be, in my opinion, better than the printed version. I've had to go back and listen to the song, uhm, repeatedly. Apparently, Rockbox (open source firmware for my Sansa and other mp3 players) has a feature called "bookmarks". I figured out how to use them, and it has let me conveniently play this piece at will. I really hope Martin has high quality wav files so that his finished product can be released in higher quality mp3s, OGG, or FLACC files eventually. The piece deserves it. I'd buy it.

What about the story? Well, at first, i had no idea what to make of it. I mean for at least ten or fifteen episodes. For some books, at this point i'd stall, and either drop it, or pick it up later, often years later. But this was different. It was something like the movie Brazil (my favorite movie, BTW). Engines seems to be going somewhere. But in Brazil, even after watching the movie several times, and reading the screen play, i still have no idea where it's going, or for that matter, what happened. There's an unpredictability in Engines that i like. When i finished episode 26, i noticed that episodes 24 and 26 were on my player. Rockbox has a feature where you can delete a track before you've finished listening to it, if you're near the end. I must have listened to episode 25 out of order. I think it was in the low 20's. I recall wondering what Martin was up to. Martin wasn't up to anything. Sometimes authors move stuff around. But here, i did it, and it didn't matter as much as you'd expect. The story isn't over, but it's looking like a real winner.

Ursus is a planet other than Earth. There are aliens. Humans are aliens elsewhere. There are androids, and lots of tech stuff. It's not hard science fiction. But the science rules broken wouldn't completely change the story if they weren't, at least not so far. The story is about the story. I'd say more, but at this point, you should have all you need to decide if you want to read it. I wouldn't have written this review if i didn't like it.

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