“The Singularity Trap,” by Dennis E. Taylor. (Audible Studios, unabridged, 11 1/3 hours.)
Departing from his highly entertaining “Bobiverse” science-fiction series, Dennis Taylor serves up a top-notch outer-space adventure set in a future where space travel is routine. Ivan, a down-on-his-luck computer programmer, joins a mining expedition to the asteroid belt in search of precious ore and minerals. When he picks up a walnut-like object left eons ago on one of the asteroids, the thing immediately exudes a substance that colonizes his body, gradually substituting metal for flesh. Although his mind and willpower remain his own, Ivan finds himself in unwelcome partnership with an entity dedicated to fulfilling a mission programmed by its alien makers. Ray Porter’s narration is simply brilliant. He gives an occasionally rueful, all-American guy’s voice to Ivan and captures the personalities of the additional characters — among them, his bantering crew mates, a Scottish spacecraft engineer and a bellicose space-fleet admiral intent on wiping Ivan off the face of the universe.
“The Which Way Tree,” by Elizabeth Crook. (Hachette Audio, unabridged, 7 1/2 hours.)
Elizabeth Crook’s sweeping novel is an Old West version of “Moby-Dick.” Set in Texas during the Civil War era, it comes in the form of dispatches sent to a circuit judge by Ben, a teenage boy. At the heart of the story is Ben’s half sister, Sam, who is attacked by a panther when she is 6. Her mother is killed attempting to rescue her. The big cat, minus some toes hacked off in the fight, disappears into the wilderness. The panther appears again several years later — and the quest for retribution is on. Sister and brother find allies in an old preacher and his panther-tracking dog, and in Lorenzo Pacheco, a Mexican-American horseman. Human enemies arise in the shape of a renegade Confederate soldier and a man who claims Pacheco stole his horse. The story is filled with terrific scenes of panther attack, natural disaster and treachery. Will Collyer narrates at a nice, slow pace, his voice and manner capturing Ben’s semi-educated, country-boy solemnity and the story’s overall air of old-fashioned adventure.
“Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers” by Adam Nicolson. (Macmillan, unabridged, 9 1/2 hours.)
In this wonderful book, Adam Nicolson explores the lives, reputations and fates of several groups of seabirds, creatures who “divide the sea among them.” They are the Storm Birds: fulmar, shearwater and albatross with its “archangel genius,” the “dark-souled” cormorant and shag, the puffin, gannet, herring gull, kittiwake, guillemot, the razorbill and its cousin, the great auk, now extinct. Nicolson looks at these birds as they figure in tradition, folklore and poetry — all the while trying to see the world as they themselves see it. It is a sad fact, as Nicolson observes, that “science is coming to understand the seabirds just as they are dying.” Indeed, according to Nicolson, seabird population has declined by two-thirds in the past 60 years. For all the revelatory science he sets before us, Nicolson does, at times, characterize his subjects’ behavior and personalities in pleasingly anthropomorphic — though not very cozy — ways. Many of these birds are bloodthirsty, remorseless creatures, and Nicholson describes their savagery with some relish. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart reads the book in a briskly paced, slightly husky British accent, and does full justice to Nicolson’s beautiful prose style, which, in some passages, approaches poetry.
Minnesota native Katherine A. Powers reviews books for the Star Tribune, Newsday and elsewhere. She writes this column for the Washington Post.