Before The Singularity Trap and before the Bobiverse, there was Outland, Dennis E. Taylor’s self-published debut that is now getting a re-issue and making its way to the audio format as an Audible Original. Although the story itself a little rough and unrefined, embedded here are the seeds of the author’s style that would emerge in his later works.
However, unlike Taylor’s spacefaring novels, Outland takes place in the present day or in the near future, and the theme is apocalyptic. Following an experiment gone wrong, a group of students in a university physics lab accidentally stumbles across a new technology allowing them to open portals to other dimensions. As it turns out, one of these dimensions is an alternate Earth very similar to our own, except in this particular timeline, humans never evolved. Students being students though, rather than take their discovery public, the group decides instead to use their newfound portal technology in a get-rich-quick scheme, coming up with a harebrained plan to pan for gold on this pristine and uninhabited Earth. It would be easy money, after all, as there is enough gold in some parts of the Black Hills that would make each and every one of them a millionaire overnight.
But meanwhile, disturbing reports are coming out of Yellowstone National Park about the area’s increased volcanic activity and tectonic actions, and soon it becomes clear that an eruption of its supervolcano is all but inevitable. It has long been hypothesized than an eruption that big would end civilization in the United States as we know it, and indeed, the amount of ash alone would be enough to bury large swaths of the country under three feet of the stuff, not to mention the way it would block out the sun and cause damage to all kinds of infrastructure and equipment. Soon enough, the situation proves even more devastating, and our protagonists are forced to abandon their gold panning ventures in Outland, the name they’ve given to the wild version of Earth they’ve discovered. Refocusing their efforts on saving lives, they only have a small window of time to bring as many survivors as they can through the portal and gather enough supplies to hunker down for the long haul.
Kind of like We Are Legion (We Are Bob), the narrative style of Outland somewhat resembles an extended and episodic world-building exercise where the most interesting things actually happen after a crucial event earlier on in the story. In this case, it’s the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, making this one both an apocalyptic tale as well as one of survival. From that standpoint, things don’t get any better than this. There are sci-fi elements too, of course, but these are light, serving more as a backdrop for what truly matters, i.e. what the characters actually do to stay alive and speculation as to what would happen to the Earth and human populations around the world if such a major natural disaster did take place. That said, I wouldn’t into his one expecting the thrills of a disaster movie nor too much detail when it comes to the science and technology behind the premise, but at the very least, the story is convincing enough to sustain a high level of tension and an immediate sense of danger.
The humor also makes this one supremely readable. Dennis E. Taylor definitely falls into the category of geek writers which includes authors like Andy Weir or Ernest Cline, as evidenced by the profusion of nerdy jokes and pop-culture references littering the pages of Outland. Despite all the destruction, chaos and mass death, the book still had me chuckling in places, and whether you view it as a weakness or not, what we have here is a light, popcorn-y read. This means yes, the plot can be a little clichéd at times, and the characters a bit cookie-cutter and the dialogue a bit cheesy. Admittedly, there’s nothing too emotionally deep or complicated here, but there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a good mix of humor and danger in your apocalyptic fiction, consider checking out Outland. While it’s nothing mind-blowing, I did enjoy the colony building aspects and all the “what if” scenarios. I’m glad to hear there will be a follow-up, as I’m curious to keep reading to find out what happens next.
Audiobook Comments: As always, Dennis E. Taylor and Ray Porter make a great team, with the latter’s narration perfectly complementing the former’s writing style. Not only did Porter’s amazing voices and accents bring our characters to life, his performance also transported listeners to a world in which one feels fully immersed. If you’re looking for an addictive and compelling audiobook to listen to, Outland is one I would highly recommend....more
Star Wars audiobooks are always a treat to listen to, but audio dramas are on a whole other level. Performed by a full cast and available only as an audiobook, Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost is an immersive experience that puts your right in the middle of the action and makes you feel like you are in a Star Wars movie, watching all the events and action play out around you.
Since the release of the prequels and the character’s first appearance in Attack of the Clones, the origins of Count Dooku AKA Darth Tyranus has been shrouded in mystery and plagued with questions. We know that he was a former Jedi and a Padawan of Yoda’s before he became the Count of Serenno and the Leader of the Separatists. But what happened in between? What was his childhood like, and how did he fall out with the Jedi leading him down the path to the dark side?
Dooku: Jedi Lost seeks to address all of that, by taking listeners all the way to the beginning when our main character was just a boy at the Jedi Temple, where he is just one of many younglings brought to Coruscant by seekers scouring the galaxy for force-sensitives. He hasn’t even been chosen as an apprentice by Yoda this point, but while on an excursion with his fellow students to the planet of Serenno as part of a cultural exchange presentation, Dooku discovers something about his personal history that will forever change the way he views the Jedi and himself.
I should also mention that all of these past events are told in flashback because Dooku: Jedi Lost is a frame story which places us some time during the Clone Wars when Dathomir Nightsister and dark Jedi Asajj Ventress was still an acolyte to Count Dooku, working as his assassin. Chafing under the Sith lord and tortured with visions and voices in her head, Ventress is given a new assignment to track down a new target—someone close to the Count’s own heart. As she makes her way to Serenno to fulfill her task, Ventress learns more about Dooku and catches glimpses of the most defining moments of his life with the Jedi.
Along with the recently released Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray, new canon offerings like this one are proving to be a blessing for fans who want to know more about prequel era. Clocking in at a mere six hours and twenty-one minutes, this audio drama is nowhere near as long as the series’ typical novels, but it still packs a lot of content. Besides the emotional decisions and the political ramifications that led Dooku to turn his back on the Jedi and take up the mantle of his forebears, this audio drama also delves deeper into his personal relationships including that of his close friendship with Sifo-Dyas as well as his apprenticeship with the famed Yoda. Eventually, of course, Dooku also reaches the rank of Master Jedi and becomes master himself to a hot-headed young Padawan, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Written by Cavan Scott, the story is well-plotted and developed. However, as entertaining was it was, I can’t really see the history of Count Dooku being all that exciting to anyone but the most hardcore of fans. Luckily though, the story isn’t the only reason why people pick up audio dramas. After all, the best and most notable aspects of this format are the audiobook production values and technical qualities, as well as the incredible performances. And I’m pleased to say that in this area, the creators of Dooku: Jedi Lost went all out. Sounds are used to great effect, and musical snippets from John Williams’ brilliant score inject another emotional layer to the experience. Then there’s the incredible talent of all the voice actors and actresses. Compared to regular audiobooks, audio dramas typically demand a lot more acting from their narrators because there is less descriptive text, and so every spoken line has to contain a lot more information in the way it is delivered. For the most part, I feel the cast gave a spectacular performance.
All I can say is, yes please to more Star Wars audio dramas! I can see so much potential for future tales that will work great for this format. Dooku: Jedi Lost is worth checking out for the exquisite audio experience alone, and fans also get a surprisingly in-depth study into one of more enigmatic characters of the Star Wars universe.
Audiobook Comments: If you’re not familiar with audio dramas, some time may be needed to ease into the format. Narrated by a cast of twelve, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but each voice is distinct enough thanks to the talented readers. Although everyone gave a strong performance, some were better than others. Ironically, Euan Morton’s performance as Dooku was pretty average, though to be fair, he’s portraying a younger version of the character in addition to trying to fill the shoes of some very big names including Christopher Lee and Corey Burton who voiced the character in The Clone Wars and various other Star Wars projects. But standouts in this audio drama include Orlagh Cassidy as Asajj Ventress, Sean Kenin as Sifo-Dyas, Carol Monda as Lene Kostana, Saskia Maarleveld as Jenza, Jonathan Davis as Qui-Gon Jinn, and Marc Thompson as Yoda....more