Monday, October 01, 2012

Audio Book Review: The Deathstalker

I'm a Simon R Green fan. Regular readers have seen me review lots of his Nightside books. But I'd been avoiding his Deathstalker series. Partially because I want to start a series from the beginning and partially because of the name. Deathstalker? Really? Do you have any idea what kind of story a name like that evokes? It tells me you wanted to write Buck Rogers but weren't good enough. You liked Star Wars, but focused on the name Skywalker instead of what made the early movies good.

When I found the audio versions I figured I'd go ahead and try them. I'm not sure how the audiobook stack up to the dead tree version, but I'm pretty sure there was some adaptation done. Instead of someone just reading the books they have several someones and a sound effects team performing them. And there's no "...he said" anywhere. That and the books become episodic. Each book becomes 5 or 6 episodes that must end with some resolution of that part of the story. So there's a lot of deux ex machina going on to make sure the story ends by the end of the episode.

From what I could tell, these audio versions of the Deathstalker series were created with the long distance truck driver in mind. This is the first audiobook that I've heard that came with trailers and ads for other episodic audio programs. And they always announce that they'll be available in truck stops soon.

The first three books in the series talk about the rebellion against the empire. The next three cover the other threats that remain after the empire falls. The next four books take place 200 years later as the golden age that came after the rebellion.

The empire is headed by someone called "The Iron Bitch". That should tell you what kind of empire she runs. Other major players within the empire are the families. They tend to specialize in different areas of industry. Owen Deathstalker is the head of his family. I'm not sure what his family did, but Owen was a minor historian. Or he was until he was outlawed by the Iron Bitch for reasons unknown. He flees his concubine and security forces and meets up with Hazel Dark (or D'ark) whose own space ship has crashed on his planet. Hazel is a criminal who just found the organ smuggling ship she was working on shot out from under her with all hands but her lost. It was shot down by Captain John Silence who is just excellent at taking orders. Alas, his own ship was lost in the battle and he was unable to prevent the Deathstalker from escaping. He picks up Jack Random, famous rebel of days gone by, and Ruby Journey, bounty hunter friend of Hazel Dark, and Tobias Moon, last of a Borg-like race known as the Haddenmen, and Giles Deathstalker, a Sean Connery sounding guy from 900 years ago who started the Deathstalker family. Together they enter the Madness Maze (yes, I know, just go with it) and gain powers that slowly unfold over the next few books.

Also a problem:
Two recently discovered alien races that appear to be on a similar technological level, and therefore threat, to the empire.
The families of Campbell, Chojiro, Shreck, and others.
Clones and ESPers also rebelling against the empire.
A planet of artificial intelligences who want humans destroyed.
The Recreated are coming from an area of 1000 dead stars known as The Dark Void. No idea what they are or how to stop them, but they want to do some killing.
The Iron Bitch's head killer, Dram.
And just why was the Deathstalker outlawed anyway?

The first five books are an elaborate space soap opera that deals not just with the Deathstalker, but with people from the court of Emperess Lionstone (a.k.a. The Iron Bitch) and the other major families. The Deathstalker's group splits up to address threats and recruit friends on a number of worlds and manages to get the immediate problem solved before the CD runs out.

As I said, the next four books pick up 200 years after the end of the first series. A new figurehead emperor takes the throne to act as speaker of parlament. He'd been serving as a Paragon, the highly trained warriors that do what normal cops can't. He needs an official protector and has to pick between his two best friends: a Deathstalker and a psycho with a great record. This begins an Arthurian tale of ill advised romances and betrayals that brings down the empire just as the original Deathstalker's warning about The Terror from another galaxy begins to come true. Only this series doesn't feel obliged to wrap up their current story or provide quite as dramatic cliff hangers before you have to go get the next episode.

It took me months to listen to the whole thing. I did mostly listen to it in the car on my weekly trips to the office or weekend trips to Baltimore. If you liked the grand scale of the Dune books, but found the prose a bit to hard to fight through then you'll like these books.

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