Audiobook Review: Outland by Dennis E. Taylor
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Apocalyptic
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Audible Studios (May 16, 2019)
Length: 10 hrs and 29 mins
Narrator: Ray Porter
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.