I spent one of my precious Audible tokens on The Singularity Trap, so I hoped it would be good.
If you’re not familiar with Audible, then the tokens are a blessing and a curse. It’s a subscription service, and you get one token a month. You can get whichever audiobook you want with them – whether the audiobook costs typically $1 or $30.
If you’re not already an Audible member, then sign up via a special offer. I like this discounted membership deal and used it myself. I used the first three months to determine whether or not I wanted to keep the subscription.
The Singularity Trap is an especially good example of why I decided to stay. It’s exclusive to Audible.
I first thought that ‘exclusive’ meant the book was unavailable anywhere else. In truth there’s a Kindle version, so you don’t need to listen to the audiobook to get into Dennis E. Taylor’s world. Taylor, after all, is better known for the Bobiverse and I imagine many fans will be interested in this serious sci-fi. In practice, this book has been commissioned by Audible Studios and the only way to listen to it is via Audible.
I’ve listened to about a dozen Audible books, and The Singularity Trap is an exception because it flirts with special effects. The narrator is Ray Porter, who does a fantastic job of bringing the cast and crew to life, but and the effects I think may have been added are subtle. When characters call others via radios and tannoys then the voice carries that slightly scratchy and distant tone. It might just be that Porter is fantastic at reading, able to cast his voice that way, but I think it’s subtle audio effects. Either way, the nudge is significant.
The story follows Ivan Pritchard who has run out of chances to make a living on Earth. He’s signed up for a mining ship called the Mad Astra in the hope that it finds valuable resources out there in space and he earns enough money to feed his family.
Ivan has had to pay his savings to buy his slice of the Mad Astra and the only way he can afford to do this is because the ship is unusually cheap. The Mad Astra has been incredibly unlucky. The last few trips out to the asteroids and meteors which the miners target have come up blank for the space miners and the Mad Astra has not been able to return with anything valuable. The book starts just when debt collectors are becoming a risk and it is clear this will be the final trip of the Mad Astra if it cannot return with a gold strike, or better.
The book is set in the near future. There’s been a political uprising on Earth. We don’t know the details, but we know the population turned against corrupt politicians and leaders. Despite this change, the planet is still doing very poorly; the oxygen is running out, sea levels are rising, and the food is increasingly scarce. There’s a federation that feels a bit like a struggling Star Trek. The planet isn’t unified and there is a mighty Sino-Soviet Empire which is aggressive but also eager to look after their own civilians.
Problems start for Ivan when the Mad Astra finds a rock that might well contain minerals enough to pay for the voyage and make everyone involved very rich indeed! They find something else out there in the darkness. Soon friendships are tested and the risk of the Federation military getting involved rapidly increases.
The ‘Singularity Trap’ that the book is named after might refer to the encounter the crew of the Mad Astra has in space or the course that humanity is on.
I’ve not read any of the Bobverse, had no expectations for Taylor to deliver on but I imagine other listeners will be in a very different situation. In The Singularity Trap, I found a straightforward but solidly executed sci-fi. Dennis E Taylor has found a science discussion worthy of consideration in fiction, and narrator Ray Porter makes you believe in it.
Overall? Books like The Singularity Trap are the reasons why you should give Audible a try. I enjoyed The Singularity Trap, and it was worth my token but it hasn’t been able to claim a position in my top five.