Media: Audio Book (audible.com)
Producer: Blue Heron Audio
Performers: R. C. Bray, Julia Whelan
I recently stumbled upon this page-turner through the fact that I follow R. C. Bray’s Facebook fan page and keep up to speed on his new releases. There has been a lot of buzz about Solitude running across my various feeds; incidentally, I happened to make friends with the author recently and I found some commonality in our backgrounds (he’s a badass helicopter pilot/I wrote instrumentation software for helicopter cockpits once upon a time in a previous career). Additionally, there seemed to be some overlap between our two books, so I figured I’d better dive in and see what he had to say on the subject.
From the best-selling author of the Sector 64 Series!
Earth’s last man discovers that the last woman is stranded alone aboard the International Space Station. If you like action-packed novels, you’ll love the electrifying action in this apocalyptic thriller.
Can humanity’s last two unite?
Separated by the gulf of space, the last man and woman of the human race struggle against astronomical odds to survive and unite.
Army Aviator Vaughn Singleton is a highly intelligent, lazy man. After a last-ditch effort to reignite his failing military career ends horribly, Vaughn becomes the only human left on Earth.
Stranded alone on the International Space Station, Commander Angela Brown watches an odd wave of light sweep across the planet. Over the next weeks and then months, Angela struggles to contact someone on the surface, but as she fights to survive aboard a deteriorating space station, the commander glimpses the dark underpinnings of humanity’s demise.
After months alone, Vaughn discovers there is another. Racing against time, he must cross a land ravaged by the consequences of humankind’s sudden departure.
Can Vaughn find a path to space and back? Can Angela – the only person with clues to the mystery behind humanity’s disappearance – survive until he does?
©2017 Dean M. Cole (P)2017 Dean M. Cole
Spoiler Free Quickie
Writing: 5/5 Stars
The proficiency of Cole’s writing suggests that he is a person either naturally gifted or incredibly focused on perfectionism. The writing itself is natural and effortless both from the perspective of the 3rd person narrative as well as the character dialog. He shifts from formal description to idiosyncratic inner-monologue easily, effectively putting the reader into the character’s frame of reference. I can only imagine that this skill must have made the book a joy to narrate for the performers.
Additionally, I could find no evidence of any repeated crutch phrases or expressions (many authors have an unconscious list of favorite terms or expressions that they overuse; it’s a massive pet peeve with me).
Story: 4.5/5 Stars
There were points in the story early on that bugged the hell out of me, which ultimately distracted me from the initial plot setup. The end of the book managed to make up for this through a pretty impressive plot twist; however the initial mystery setup in the story jarred me a little and so I was distracted by it. Unfortunately (given what Cole is trying to do with the story), I’m not sure there was an easy way around this. I’ll get into details in the spoiler-laden section below.
Performance: 5/5 Stars
There’s not much I can say about R. C. Bray that hasn’t been said a hundred times already. For my money, the guy is hands-down the best narrator/performer in the business. He makes a book feel like a movie. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you haven’t listened to him. Go rectify that right now.
The surprise for me on this book was the performance of Julia Whelan. First, I need to get some undesirable business out of the way:
Women narrators have a much harder time doing male characters in this business. This isn’t a sexist jab; it’s a reality of bio-mechanics and the physics of sound waves. I don’t know what it is exactly – blame testosterone or estrogen – but something about the structures in the average woman’s throat makes it a lot harder to shift down to a male register than it is for a man to shift up into a female register. It’s unfortunate but it is a reality; a very present reality that female narrators have to deal with.
Well, Whelan has got it figured out. The bummer for any narrator performing a character of the opposite sex is that the best they can really hope for is to not be distracting. That’s about your best case scenario: don’t distract the reader. The worst case scenario is that you botch the job so bad that you have the audience laughing on every attempt.
I’m here to say: Whelan’s female characterizations were nuanced and well executed while her male characterizations were far above what I’ve come to expect from the female talent of the industry. She did better than just minimizing distraction; she succeeded in selling her performance. I was absolutely fine with every male she did in this book, evidenced by the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to her voice at all; I was paying attention to the character.
I would have to say that the only part of the performance that was a stumble for me (and this is ridiculously minor but I feel like I have to point out something) was that her interpretation of the male lead seemed just a little bit askew from Bray’s. This wouldn’t be a big deal if either she or he had done the entire book; however because they were trading off POV chapters, there was a bit of a mental shift required on my part when I heard Bray’s Vaughn versus Whelan’s Vaughn. Again: minor enough that I don’t even care.
Are you still here? Why haven’t you gone to download this yet?
Here Be Spoilers
This story is incredibly tight (it’s only about an eight hour listen) but there were about three or four chapters in the start where I found myself really distracted by the plot. The setup is that some experiment has gone horribly awry at the CERN Hadron Collider, causing some nebulous energy wave to wash over the surface of the planet and vanish (potentially “kill” but I’m not convinced they’re all dead) all animal-based life. Those not effected by the event have survived due to the fact that they are not physically connected to the Earth and are in a total vacuum (an astronaut on the ISS and an astronaut and test pilot conducting a hover test in a vacuum chamber on Earth).
So, here’s where I start nitpicking as an engineer. Right away, I’m trying to dream up what phenomenon could possibly yield such a result. Knowing what I know about the experiments conducted at CERN, I know there isn’t really anything they can do (awesome though the accelerator is) to create such an event. Even assuming the power and influence of the machine could be scaled up to produce a gravitic effect capable of encircling the entire globe, there is simply no phenomenon even hinted at in today’s science that suggests an energy field of any kind capable of effecting only animal based life. It’s certainly not anything we could produce by accident.
This is compounded by the fact that the authorities (US Government) in the story attempt to shut the event down by launching nukes at CERN: before this takes place, the idea that the energy wave comes from the collider is only a guess floated by the main characters, who are removed from all intelligence on the occurrence when they start postulating theories – meaning that I can write the idea off as a wild guess on the part of the characters. The minute the United States starts launching nukes at CERN, I have to assign the theory a lot more weight within the confines of the story. As noted before, the wave as described is a thing that the hadron collider could not possibly produce. The fact that no one in the book is mentioning this makes me cranky.
I start second guessing myself as the book goes along. Two things are happening at once here: the characters in the story are dealing with the problem and working through it, struggling to survive. Meanwhile, in my car, I’m wondering if I have all my science wrong and if there’s some sudden breakthrough on gravitational research that I’ve missed somehow. I noticed when they found the God Particle. I rejoiced when they were able to detect the as-yet-only-theorized-about gravity wave.
Was I asleep when the scientists dreamt up the Man Made Carnivorous Energy Weapon? I had some reading to catch up on…
At that point I would have taken any kind of explanation as a way out. Hell, tell me it’s an alien attack and I’ll be happy! In the end, I noticed I was missing way too much of the story and decided to chalk the whole thing up to Fucking Magic ™. There was good shit happening in the book and I was missing it.
Once I calmed the hell down about the stupid collider, I was able to settle in and really eat everything up. The story was told at a fast pace and didn’t allow much time to relax for a breather. I will say that there were some bone-headed actions perpetrated on the part of Vaughn (the male lead), however these were in keeping with his character as it was established from page one, so these were not cheap gimmicks; they were earned. The result, of course, is that you want to reach out and strangle the character rather than the author. Good job, Author.
I tore through this thing all the way to the end of the story, where that damned collider came into the picture again. Only this time, Cole threw a wrench into the whole thing with a nice little plot twist that managed to make me question everything I thought I knew about the setup in the beginning of the story. The ending definitely created more questions than it answered but it was good to see that the author has a plan for what’s going on that is explainable through means other than FM ™. I have some ideas regarding where I think he takes the story from here and, if I’m right, I’m all for it. If I’m wrong he has at least earned my trust in this story sufficiently that I’m willing to sit back in the sequel and not drive myself crazy with so many damned questions.