A couple weeks ago, a public relations specialist from Audible contacted us about possible interest in reviewing a new book slated for immediate release. Publishers contact us quite frequently to review their books, but this was the first one that I could remember coming directly from Audible. The book was Science Fiction, so naturally I picked it up. What with me loving Science Fiction and all. 🙂 My first surprise of many came when I found out that this book wasn’t going to get any kind of print version. Meaning no physical book and likely not even an ebook. This understanding gave me the immediate feeling of a very tiny dagger stabbing me in the heart. How could someone do that to a story? Especially if it’s a good one. I mean, doesn’t everyone love the feel and the smell of the paper? The heft of the bound pages? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good audio book (Simon Vance is a voice-talent god). I listen to them quite often actually, so I felt fairly qualified to give Signal a go. Thus, I dove in.
And that’s when I got my second surprise.
SIGNAL (Amazon) by Tony Peak is a pretty short story, all told. Along with my copy of Signal, I also got a gratis copy of “Speaks the Nightbird” (EBR Review) for creating my account, and comparing the audio length of the two recordings puts Signal at somewhere around 250 pages. If it had been printed. Which it won’t be. (I’m still kind of miffed about that, but no hard feelings. Really. Go on now. Nothing more to see here.)
The story, such as it is, revolves around several characters that are part of a 40-person team, sent to a moon in the Alpha Centauri system, from which the Earth has received a communication signal. (“Signal”. Get it?) After a four-year trip in stasis, their ship finally arrives, but events quickly spiral out of control as everything seems to start going wrong.
DISCLAIMER: I’m sure that lots of people spent lots of time on this audio book, but the fact of the matter is that it just wasn’t very good at all. I’m sorry, but that’s not my fault. I’ll try to be gentle while still being thorough.
The Amazon page has this title listed with four separate voice-talents. This is where my second surprise came in. Because the narrators weren’t handled like I expected them to be. The story is told through three main methods. The first is through regular prose. All of this was handled by a single voice talent. The remaining three voice-talents handled the other two methods. The second came through recorded “journal entries” of various characters, and the third through semi-dramatized “flight recordings”.
The first piece of the story that we get is one of these “flight recordings”. If you think about what a flight recording is, it’s either really quiet… or a bunch of people talking with little to no context for who is talking, or to whom they are addressing their words. It’s confusing and a bit disorienting, but thankfully pretty short. Then the story transitions over into prose. That transition was pretty jarring for me though. Both the first time, and every other time that the story did it. And it switched between these methods a lot. Like pretty much every chapter has at least one instance of each of the three methods in it.
The story as a whole was really difficult to enjoy. The “flight recording” episodes sounded like Star Trek TNG if it had been recorded in an empty warehouse (think echoes), and the characters involved had literally no structure or discipline to them. Chances of this happening on a long-term mission to outer space? Nil. They also tended to say things out of context — because otherwise it would have pretty much been impossible to understand what was going on — which just made it seem hoakey and corny and a couple other kind of -y’s that I can’t seem to think of right now. The “journal entries” were almost worse, as they’re filled with even more egregious non-contextual dialogue. Doctors defining their own familiar acronyms, characters giving past history between themselves and others, and even some blow-by-blow action scenes. I mean, really?
Characterization is pretty much non-existent. Even the journal entries failed to provide any real detail about those that get covered, which surprised me again (#3). I mean, they’re journal entries. Don’t people naturally pour their hearts into their journals? Not here apparently.
Even aside from all of the poor story-telling techniques used (of which there are legion), I could have probably forgiven SIGNAL and upped my rating to “Didn’t Like” if the story had been solid. But it was riddled with absolutely mind-boggling events. The crew is in sleep stasis for 4 years, and then they’re woken up and two hours later expected to pilot the ship into orbit? Highly doubtful. Who came up with that plan? Then they crash on the moon (Surprised? No, not really), and instead of worrying about their survival, the science team goes out into the surrounding desert, finds a “vine” there, and dives right into analyzing it. “This vine could have sent the Signal”! Uh, what? Everyone from the mission is so radically different from one another, that instead of working together to figure anything out, they all just end up fighting and arguing with each other for half the book. Huh? Who would have ever put these people together? No one, that’s who.
Speaking of, that was something else that totally didn’t make sense and surprised me yet again (#4). In the group of characters that survived, we had a ridiculous amount of diversity. White, black, asian, islander, arab, croat, russian, gay, straight… they’re all over the place. And of course male and female, but that part wasn’t all that surprising. There was never any semblance of a team. (Though a couple of them do stop for a while to get some lovin, because that’s exactly what every space story needs.) There was never any glimmer of discipline. There was never any focus on what seemed alarmingly obvious to me that individuals in such conditions would focus upon. In fact, one of their own was sent to kill everyone else! And no, that’s not a spoiler. Her character comes into the story very early on and she’s up front about what she’s doing.
By the time the alien life shows up, the team has almost completely decimated itself, and I was actually left confused as to whether it was even “real” because by this time everyone has been hallucinating and having nightmares all over the place. It was utter confusion and frustration from the get go, and didn’t let up until the very end. Where we get an info dump about the aliens and their motivations.
Seriously. The climax of the book… is an info dump.
Audible attempts publishing a book only available on audio. But is this new venture SIGNAL worth the time? Science fiction without coherence.
In the context of other audio books I’ve read, I’d place this one on par with a straight-to-dvd movie when compared to one with a theatrical release. Story-quality and all. No wait. It’s more like a straight-to-vhs movie recorded on a cassette tape as compared to a movie with a theatrical release. (You old-timers ought to get a kick out of that one.) Hmm. That comparison wasn’t very gentle. Sorry. Kind of. I’m just too big of a fan of apt comparisons to not include it.
Absolutely a story to avoid. Even if they offer it to you for free. Especially if they offer it to you for free. Because there’s so much out there that is so much better. Say, for instance, SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD.
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: Gets strong, more toward the end, where it's erroneously used to relay tension
- Violence: Lots of death and some gore, but actual violent acts are few and far between
- Sex: Several references, aftermaths, and a couple brief scenes
*** I do have to say though that the Audible app was pretty impressive. Super simple, worked great every time I went to listen. I’ve had frequent issues with the two audio book apps that I use to pull books from my local library, and so seeing what a really good audio book app could be was refreshing. Kudos to Audible for that.
(Edit: 12/26/2018) The story was re-recorded and re-released since I wrote this review. Likely as a result of the initial feedback the item received. Thus, any comments I’ve made in my review about the sound of the recording may no longer be applicable. I wasn’t willing to re-listen to the new recording though, and find out for myself. If you’ve listened to the new version, feel free to comment about it below.
(Edit: 02/08/2019) Apparently they’ve published a printed version of the story. This page has been updated to reflect that.
If this was your take on the book you clearly weren’t able to comprehend what was going on at any point. It all made sense, including the characters actions given their situations and outside influences. I can only assume you didn’t understand it or take some pleasure in tearing down up and coming authors due to some insecurity.
Interesting. Well, I guess I’ll repeat again what we’ve said so many times here and elsewhere across the net, especially when readers of our words resort to personal attacks.
This is just my personal opinion based on my personal reading experience. If you had a different opinion of the story, great. Feel free to share it here. Everyone has an opinion and I’m more than happy to respect yours.
I was about to suggest that you go and read the reviews on Amazon.com about other reader’s experiences of this story (as I’d previously noticed that there were at least a few others that had a poor opinion of it as well), but apparently the original page has been deleted and new one put up in its place. I did get an email notification from Audible saying that they had re-recorded the story and then re-released that version of it, so I guess the page change was to be expected.
Let me assure you though, that I have no insecurities whatsoever concerning my ability to understand what I am reading, my book-reviewing skills, or the quality of my own opinions. I also have absolutely no biases against “up-and-coming” authors, as you say. I only read the stories I am given and then reciprocate with my opinion, published to this site, given for those that are willing to read it. If you have any doubts at all as to the matter of my ability to praise a newbie author, I would refer you to my review of SENLIN ASCENDS (EBR Review), a smashingly good book that was written by an incredibly impressive up-and-coming author whom only recently was picked up by a traditional publisher.
And thanks for leaving a comment by the way. We always appreciate it when readers are willing to take a minute of their valuable time to add to the conversation here at EBR.
I’m reading Senlin Ascends right now. I literally just put it down to write this comment. It is “smashingly good” as you say. That doesn’t have anything to do with how incredibly wrongheaded your review of Signal is. Most of the negative reviews on audible are from clearly bigoted trolls. And the original page is still there, if you have the original link, it just doesn’t appear in the search. But again, once you weed out the people complaining about foreign accents and lesbians, the reviews are pretty good.
And your inferences are ignoring so many aspects of the story. You complain about their lack of teamwork when only 5% survived to land, and all of those were under external physical and psychological influences leading them to behave the way they did.
You complain about the quickness of a character studying a vine that was found when it’s hinted at from the get go that this character has secret intel that is changing his mission goals.
You complain about the breadth of diversity and, um, that’s not something to complain about.
Yeah, I understand this stuff is all subjective. But your review certainly reads like an elitist reviewing an up and comer. And to compare Tony Peak to Josiah Bancroft isn’t really fair. Bancroft won tons of critical praise and had a massive amount of exposure through Mark Lawrence’s self-published fantasy contest, which is where I first learned of it. So if you truly enjoyed the book that’s great. But pointing out that you’ve echoed the reviews of others isn’t exactly winning me over.
So, from what I can tell, the original page actually has been removed from Amazon (Amazon), because that page is throwing a 404 error (at least it is at the time of me writing this reply to you). Do you have a different link for the original product page that actually works? I’d love to have access to it. I don’t know how to find something on Amazon if it doesn’t show up in the search results, and the only link I can find via a Google search is the one I’ve just provided.
I totally get the thing about biased reviews. I work in the online product market as my day job, and we have to deal with bad reviews of our products that we absolute know without question are being made by our competitors. The very fact that this happens is stupid. But it happens. Point is, those people that are leaving bogus reviews about our products have a stake in the game because they get a piece of the financial pie when a customer buys their product instead of ours. Usually, it’s a pretty big piece of the pie too. Still, when you see a large number of poor reviews for any product online, there has to come a point at which you need to logically assume that not everyone leaving those reviews are “bigoted trolls” and just trying to “knock down the little guy”. Yeah?
For the record, my complaints are actually part of my opinion. If I didn’t get something from the story that you did, then you can chalk that up to being part of our individual reading experiences. I didn’t deconstruct the writing so I could analyze the whole thing and make sure it all made sense. I read (listened) to the story. That’s it. My review is based on that experience.
Saying diversity isn’t something to complain about is, honestly, a pretty ignorant thing to say. I’m not a big fan of absolutist statements in general. Mainly, your implication in this statement is that the inclusion of diversity isn’t something to complain about, but the problem is that a complete lack of diversity also falls beneath the umbrella of your statement. And I’m pretty sure that you’re not wanting to include that condition. Am I right? Yup. I wouldn’t want to read a story that only had a bunch of fat, middle-aged white guys taking a trip to the moon, any more than I’d want to read Signal again. There was absolutely too much diversity in Signal, and the very fact you brought up about only 5% of the crew surviving the destruction of the ship via explosions while in outer space (arguably, an organic event that might only be controlled, if desired, to a limited extent), makes the large range of diversity in the group of survivors an even more ridiculous condition. Regardless, if the lack or inclusion of diversity in a story makes me stop believing that the story is plausible, then it’s something to complain about. Period. So, your innocent reference to make me look like a bigot because… um… diversity isn’t something to complain about? It’s not working.
Funny you should mention that my review “reads like an elitist reviewing an up and comer”. That statement is 100% accurate. I’ll take that. But, the thing is, my review of Senlin Ascends also “reads like an elitist reviewing an up and comer”. Difference is that Senlin Ascends is really good. And Signal isn’t. The whole reason that Josiah Bancroft got so much freaking exposure and critical praise is because the story he wrote is awesome. Direct correlation there. Quote me on that. He didn’t get any of that exposure just because he’s a newbie author. Okay, maybe some of it came because it’s a freaking awesome story AND he’s a newbie author. But that’s not the same thing.
And I don’t care if it’s not fair. Life isn’t fair, and it shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have to hand out a positive review about a book by a newbie author that was terrible just because I gave a positive review about a book from a newbie author that was fantastic. The fact that you think I was just echoing the views of others when I wrote my review of Senlin Ascends give me a clue as to just how cynical your view of this whole situation really is.
Endgame? I’m not like you. You liked this story. I hated it. And showing up to troll my review, just like you think I’m trolling Tony Peak’s story, is high hypocrisy indeed. If you’d like to have a conversation, good on you. We’re here any time you’d like to talk. Just leave the personal attacks out of it. Deal? Thanks.
The original Amazon page is probably gone. The original Audible page is not, but I will not post a link for you because I don’t care.
And yeah, when people’s written reviews are entirely xenophobic and homophobic I’m just going to call it like I see it. He attracts attention from that crowd because he’s outspoken in his progressiveness. You’ll find the same thing among other outspoken progressive authors, but the established ones already have a fanbase to mitigate that response. It’s a lot easier to attract troll reviews than honest ones.
For the record, I don’t think you’re trolling Tony, I just think your review indicates you lack reading comprehension. It is possible you’re ********** (edited for profanity) as well, I can’t say for sure. But if this is your honest take on the book, then you just ignored large parts of what happened.
As an example, you should have known what I meant when I said diversity isn’t something to complain about, since it was a direct response to your review. But a lack of reading comprehension led you to mansplaining how it could have been taken in two ways, when, in reality, context had already implied it’s meaning. So maybe review some middle grade books and work your way up to adult prose. Slowly. Don’t rush. No one’s judging.
Additional personal attacks aside, thanks again for your reply. I apologize if my show of teeth offended you. They tend to come out when someone comes in swinging though.
As a last point, you (or perhaps, if you don’t care, others that might later read these comments) should know that the only thing that matters to me is the story. I don’t care if the author is progressive or not. I don’t care what or who they are. Doesn’t matter. That might be different than what you’ve come to expect, but every time you come here to EBR, that’s what you’ll find.
Story. Trumps. EVERYTHING.
And I wasn’t implying you looked like a bigot. I was saying your argument about too much diversity was stupid. The space agency was multi-national and interplanetary. There are 195 countries in the world today. This book takes place in the future. It has, I don’t know, 10 characters? To think they might all be different nationalities isn’t that far fetched. In fact, in a space agency made up of 195 countries there would probably be some sort of political bargaining in an effort for equal representation on the mission.
For those that are interested, here is the link to the Audible page for this story, if you feel so inclined to read the reviews there and judge for yourself of their caliber.