Friday, January 26, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner: Combating Big Book Overwhelm with Audiobooks or {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, A Fractalverse Novel by Christopher Paolini

Combating Big Book Overwhelm with Audiobooks or

{Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review:

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, A Fractalverse Novel

by Christopher Paolini

by Karen S. Wiesner

Within an extensive article I wrote called "Presentation is King", previously published on the Alien Romances Blog, I talked about Christopher Paolini's first science fiction mega-novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, which was the first offering in his Fractalverse series, and provided a review for it. While I thought the novel was well-written, I complained about the obscene length that overwhelmed my basic enjoyment of the story. You can read the article here:

               Part 1:

               Part 2:

               Part 3:

The weird thing is, I wanted to love that book wholeheartedly instead of just liking it but fervently wished it'd been published as three, manageable, separate stories (which it could so easily have been, given the way the book was conveniently divided into several parts) instead of a massive one. That way my overwhelmed brain could have enjoyed it more.

Within my three-part article, I also talked about Paolini's other series, The Inheritance Cycle, which suffered from the same problem. His stories are too big to allow true immersion and would be so much better presented in multiple parts, allowing the reader time between to recover from the page-overloaded, detail-heavy material. This brings to my mind my favorite fantasy series. Most people who love this genre know that J.R.R. Tolkien intended The Lord of the Rings to be one, exceptionally long novel. Wisely, I think, his publisher thought one book would be cost prohibitive and also they wanted to get the material to eager readers faster, so they turned one book into a trilogy. I might never have read that book--my all-time favorite fantasy--if not for the brilliant presentation. As one volume, I would have been instantly intimidated and deterred from even starting it. Instead, we now have three installments, presented in a way that allows readers to enjoy segments of the story without becoming overwhelmed by the sheer size of the material and ponderous details that need to be absorbed to follow it.

I wondered in the time since I wrote the article/review for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars what other people thought of the book. I found a review by Lotte on The Escape Velocity Collection website, which amused me, though it was a bit too harsh in my opinion--however, I didn't fully disagree with the conclusions drawn. You can read Lotte's review here, if you want:

Two things stood out for me in that review. First, that the reviewer felt Paolini was a good writer and wanted to love To Sleep… just like I did but didn't quite get there. The second thing that stood out was in the very first sentence of the review: "…I've been listening to the audiobook of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars…" This is how the reviewer managed to get through the enormous amount of material without giving up out of exhaustion. I think one of the biggest reasons people prefer to watch a movie over reading the book is because it's just so much easier to grasp the concepts in that visual form. What may be hard to wade through and grasp in a dense, overloaded read is simpler to see and comprehend playing out on a screen. The brain pulls everything together in a different way that doesn't lead to fatigue, the way it might in reading. I think audiobooks may also provide another means of making sense of a tremendous amount of material--not quite as visual as a film, but I was hopeful this was an avenue that could help my brain fatigue with some large books that I genuinely wanted to love.

I thought about it for months and finally decided to start 2024 with a new willingness to listen to audiobooks, which I confess I tend to think of as cheating for a true reader. But if the sole reason I'm avoiding certain books I know I'd enjoy if they were presented in a different way is because the size overwhelms me, why not try?

The best time for me to listen to an audiobook is while getting ready for the day in the morning as well as while I'm doing household chores at various points throughout the day. Normally, I listen to music during those times, which I'd miss, but it seemed like a worthwhile, temporary swap. I'm not a fan of downloaded audio files, in part because I want something tangible for my money that can be utilized even when technology changes, as it inevitably does and would. Finding cd audiobooks wasn't easy (Amazon doesn't seem to carry them, that I found anyway--only offers files, and Barnes and Noble has the same issue) but I did manage to purchase audio cds elsewhere for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars as well as all of Paolini's Inheritance Cycle titles, including the brand new offering in that series, Murtagh, Book 5. I started with Eragon, Book 1, since I received that first. I enjoyed listening each day and looked forward to progressing in the story. As soon as I got the audio cds of To Sleep…, though, I switched to that.

This is a much, much better way of digesting Paolini's brilliant Fractalverse, a way that doesn't strain my brain and make me share in Lotte's hilarious, wearied weeping for reprieve: "Please save me. This book is legitimately 900 pages long and I don't deserve this." Thus far, incorporating audiobooks into my "reading" is a revelation for this diehard, traditional bibliophile. I never would have realized what a difference it would make in dealing with what could otherwise be considered an agonizing endeavor in reading a book too big to be believed.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars was well-written with exciting and compelling, well-developed characters and plot conflicts, with plenty of universe and contextual detail to make everything logical. I love science fiction, and, when combined with horror…forget about it. Win-win. I do admit with To Sleep…, I wanted more Alien, less Enemy Mine (Dennis Quaid). Regardless, the bottom line is that I highly recommend not just To Sleep… but the whole Fractalverse series to any fantasy and sci-fi lover. I especially enjoyed listening to Jennifer Hale read To Sleep… with the audiobook. Like Paolini, I'm a huge fan of Mass Effect, and Jennifer Hale was the voice actress for fem Shep in that videogame series. I also learned that Hale, with music producer Todd Herfindal, wrote and performed some beautiful music for To Sleep… Find out more here: If you want to dig deeper into anything in the Fractalverse Universe, Paolini's website has a ton of visuals and explanations for anything from lifeforms to star systems, organizations and religions, as well as a fairly detailed timeline.

There's also talk about a film adaptation or possibly a TV series of To Sleep… I strongly believe either of these would make the most of an incredible story that almost can't be enjoyed in its original format.

Over the next two weeks, I'll review Paolini's other two, subsequent offerings in his Fractalverse.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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