SFFaudio Review

cavesCaves of Steel (Robots #1)
By Isaac Asimov, read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 43 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / science fiction / robots / detectives / over-population / colonization /

Publisher summary:

A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.

“Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the ” R” stood for robot.”

I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.

Many years later, listening to William Dufris’ splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey’s personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov’s imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.

I’m not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn’t deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.

I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person’s consciousness.

All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.

Highly recommended.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE
Wikipedia notes:

It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov’s Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.

All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.

Posted by Julie D.

SFFaudio Review

Shattered by Kevin HearneShattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #7)
By Kevin Hearne; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 17 June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / druids / urban fantasy / plague /

Publisher summary:

For nearly 2,000 years, only one Druid has walked the Earth – Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, whose sharp wit and sharp sword have kept him alive as he’s been pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities. Now he’s got company. Atticus’ apprentice, Granuaile, is at last a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who now goes by the modern equivalent of his old Irish name: Owen Kennedy. And Owen has some catching up to do.

I’ll start by saying that this is my first foray into the Iron Druid series so this review is from the perspective of someone who hasn’t done the previous books. I would not suggest this book as a great place to start this series. I heard this was a great entry point into the series for fans of urban fantasy but so much of what’s going on in the plot is lost that I missed the overarching significance of what happened in the story. Now that that’s out of the way…

Shattered is an urban fantasy story about one of the last druids in the world trying to live his life while trying to survive the crazy plots of mythical creatures and gods. Hearne’s writing style flows easily and his characters are enjoyable, but I thought the story lacked focus and almost felt like two disjoint stories that didn’t really relate to one another until both ended into a third thread. I liked the use of the urban setting and the creative use of different abilities/powers that characters. There are many quotes and references to geek culture in there but so much that it kept pulling me out of the story.

The first 2/3 of the story has two different threads that are both interesting in their own right but have nothing to do with each other. One thread is about a female druid trying to stop a plague happening in India while the other follows the eponymous iron druid as he introduces someone trapped in time centuries ago to modern culture. Neither story required prior knowledge of the series but the last 1/3 of the story seemed to be a culmination of events from previous stories that was mostly lost on me. I actually thought I was almost done with the audiobook 2/3 of the way through and it felt like a bit of a false ending.

The world and characters in this story are the best part. I liked most characters, thought they were well written, and stayed true to character. I really liked the old druid getting to know modern culture and hearing his take on how he sees things. The comedy relief and quotes/references to geek culture was a bit much at times and took me out of the story too much.

As for the audio side of things, Luke Daniels does a fantastic job reading this book. On one side of things I can hardly believe he does all the voices I heard in the book, on the other side the two main characters sound an awful lot like each other and I would get confused at the beginning of a chapter sometimes until I identified who was speaking. Both voices were great and it didn’t take away from the story, I just thought it was interesting considering how different many of the other voices are. I will definitely be looking for other audiobooks narrated by Luke Daniels.

Posted by Tom Schreck

SFFaudio Review

Dead Man's HandDead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird WestEdited by John Joseph Adams, by various (see table of contents below)
Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 13 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours, 59 minutes

Themes: / weird / western / short stories / dirigibles / dinosaurs / demons / clockworks /

Publisher summary:

The weird, wild west – an American frontier populated by gunslingers, rattlesnakes, outlaws, zombies, aliens, time travelers, and steampunk! Twenty-three of science fiction and fantasy’s hottest and most popular authors create all-new tales, written exclusively for this anthology. Aliens and monsters, magic and science are introduced to the old west, with explosive results.

Table of contents:

Introduction by John Joseph Adams
The Red-Headed Dead by Joe R Lansdale
The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space by Ben H Winters
Hellfire on the High Frontier by David Farland
The Hell-Bound Stagecoach by Mike Resnick
Stingers and Strangers by Seanan McGuire
Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger by CharlesYu
Holy Jingle by Alan Dean Foster
The Man With No Heart by Beth Revis
Wrecking Party by Alastair Reynolds
Hell from the East by Hugh Howey
Second Hand by Rajan Khanna
Alvin and the Apple Tree by Orson Scott Card
Madam Damnable’s Sewing Circle by Elizabeth Bear
Strong Medicine by Tad Williams
Red Dreams by Jonathan Maberry
Bamboozled by Kelley Armstrong
Sundown by Tobias S Buckell
La Madre Del Oro by Jeffrey Ford
What I Assume You Shall Assume by Ken Liu
The Devil’s Jack by Laura Anne Gilman
The Golden Age by Walter Jon Williams
Neversleeps by Fred Van Lente
Dead Man’s Hand by Christie Yant

I enjoyed this collection of odd tales from the weird west. It may not have knocked my boots off, but I felt them tugged from time to time. And really, what more can we ask from an anthology.

Stuffed with clockworks, vampires, dinosaurs, and aliens, John Joseph Adams (editor) has wrangled some fun stories. Each author strikes a unique set of harmonics on the scale of voice and tone, and yet the individuality of fellow contributors isn’t lost, but rather merged into a larger, primarily singular melody suiting this particular subgenre

My top five IOP (In Order of Printing):
* “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” by Mike Resnick
* “Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger” by Charles Yu
* “Second Hand” by Rajan Khanna
* “Red Dreams” by Jonathan Maberry
* “Dead Man’s Hand” by Christie Yant
* And honorable mention goes to the introduction. John Joseph Adams sets the table for the reader, establishing a foothold on the subgenre through brief and accessible historical context.

The audiobook consists of dueling narrators. Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross take turns, with Gigante reading the majority. And while Ross has a rich and pleasing voice, she lathers on too much thick Southern-sweet for the ear to wholly appreciate.

All in all, a fun anthology.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys tales set in the Ole West with a twist of odd fringed with funny.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Podcast

Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #275 – Jesse and Mr Jim Moon discuss Ivanhoe: A Romance by Sir Walter Scott

Talked about on today’s show:
1820, the Tantor Media audiobook as read by Simon Prebble, 3 comic book adaptations!, the July 2014 BBC Radio 4 adaptation (1hr), General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, immensely important, Wamba and Gurth, looking at adaptations, refinement, Robin Hood (1973), the splitting of the arrow, a willow wand, daring-do fiction, archery, folktale, Will Scarlet splits the arrow in the Queen Katherine Ballad, the historical inaccuracies, Rob Roy, a plump text, King Richard and Friar Tuck, The Merchant Of Venice by William Shakespeare, a very Shakespearean novel, pithy and punchy, dialogue and banter, The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, fully motivated characters, Athelstane, colour cloaks, where does Isaac stat at Ashby?, Chapter 2 Gurth is “this second Eumaeus”, Ivanhoe is a retelling of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, the usurpation, the governance of Scotland, the Saxons as the Scots under the English yoke, Loxley, Prince John, King John, Magna Carta, robber barons, Brian de Bois-Guilbert (wants Rebecca), Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, “Front of Beef” (wants Isaac’s money), Maurice de Bracy (wants Rowena), war and God, the 1997 BBC TV adaptation of Ivanhoe, an Arthurian style obsession, the reconciliation, Athelstane is almost a Hobbit, Athelstane death is a comedic version of a Guy de Maupassant or Edgar Allan Poe premature burial story, The Fall Of The House Of Usher done as farce, Monty Python And the Holy Grail, surprisingly few deaths, “boys own adventure”, The A-Team, Ulrica’s death, the the Waverley Novels, almost a Fantasy, magic, The Prisoner Of Zenda, venison, the Douglas Fairbanks Robin Hood, the Black Knight – who could it be?, how easy would the disguises be seen through in 1820, bigger than Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, stage adaptations, Waverley places around the world, Abbotsford, British Columbia is named (in part) after Sir Walter Scott’s home, Ivanhoe’s popularity in the southern United States, invasion, slavery and chivalry, underselling the power of fiction (as compared with non-fiction), On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin, The Communist Manifesto, Tolkien, understanding fiction, the revelation of truth through fiction, novels were once quite novel, the need for novels, models of action, 1984 changes, helps and improves you, “what is honorable action?”, the power of oaths, rapacious acquisition vs. honorable service, the destruction of the Templars, banishment was a harsh punishment, an obsession with love, Rebecca is the female Ivanhoe, the role of the Jews in the book vs. the adaptations, banking, this is not an anti-Semitic book (shockingly), the coin counting scene, the roasting scene, Friar Tuck is super-anti-Semitic, Churchill’s background, why is it that English were not as anti-Semitic as most of Europe?, a zeitgeisty historical novel, looking at the present through a historical lens, puffy, the level of intellect is very high – the etymology of pig, Lincoln Green, the final battle, a powerfully intellectual book for a piece of fiction, mid-19th century fiction isn’t as punchy, wit and intelligence in peasant characters, J.K. Rowling must have read Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott’s was “the Wizard Of The North”, Cedric <-the name comes from this book, "freelance" <-lances for hire, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Robin Hood (Ridley Scott), Robin Hood’s nom de guerre, ITV’s Robin Of Sherwood <- both Robin Hood mythologies are in it!, the "Dread Pirate Roberts", a good knight but a bad king, pagan gods, Herne the Hunter, Ivanhoe popularized the Middle Ages, Arthurian scholarship, folk customs, the ancient Egypt craze, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, a big powerful book, A Song Of Ice And Fire is kind of the anti-Ivanhoe, the Dunk And Egg stories, surprisingly modern, the symmetry of Ivanhoe, a tonic for gallstones, HBO should commission Ivanhoe, the 1952 version, the 1982 version, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Hamill, Kevin Costner vs. Alan Rickman, a noir ending averted.

Rebecca and Ivanhoe - illustration by C.E. Brock (1905)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Clarence Leonard Cole (1914)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Posted by Jesse Willis

SFFaudio Review

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - GERMAN audio dramaEnder’s Game Als Ungekürztes Hörspiel
By Orson Scott Card; Performed by a full cast
Audible Download – Approx. 8 hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Audible.de
Published: October 24, 2013

Much has been said about Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game from 1985 and there is still much to discuss. Of course there is much more than the ‘Oh, the titular game was real!’ ending. This ending may appear to be a very cheap solution to the reader today. But despite this, the novel’s implications are still delivering up-to-date topics for us to discuss. When the game was manipulated by the military and the kids had been hoodwinked into committing genocide against the Buggers – we can ask ‘what does that say about grown-ups manipulating kids in general?’ Orson Scott Card’s novel remains a classic SF because it constructs ideas within us.

To me this novel is a very particular story and after a long hiatus in the SF field I wanted to go back to the roots of my usual reading habits which used to be SF, Fantasy and Horror. I listened to the episodes of The SFFaudio Podcast and the name Orson Scott Card was sprinkled in here and there. In Cologne I went into an English bookstore named “Fine Tea and Books,” run by a very friendly guy named Christopher Potter – he also happens to be a Conan fan expert in recommending SF. He told me to read Orson Scott Card’s novel “Ender’s game” and so I did and I was immediately immersed into it.

Then I heard about a German audio drama, exclusively published by Audible. And then too I heard of an English language version. Orson Scott Card himself wrote the script for the show and it was translated into German by Andrea Wilhelm. A very experienced director of the audio drama, Balthasar von Weymarn (also well regarded as producer of the audiodrama company “Interplanar”). In addition von Weymarn is head of the Mytho­lo­gi­cal Round­Ta­ble® Char­ter Ber­lin der Joseph Camp­bell® Foun­da­tion, and a screenwriter who no doubt knows his stuff.

Together with audio technican Jochen Simmendinger, von Weymarn had to coordinate 101 voice actors, including 40 child and teen voice actors at a recording studio in Berlin. The deadline was very tight because the German audio drama had to be released simultaneously with the start of the movie adaptatoion. The pressure was high but Baltashar von Weymarn loves challenges as he said “A challenge makes it fun.”

Von Weynarm is into the story and knows the novel well. A good director does not only consult the script, but researches much about the author and the cicrumstances around which the novel was written. Von Weynarm knows it all, he wonders why kids are trained that way, what kind of government rules Earth, and he goes deep into the story itself. And this hard thinking shows up in the production. The director’s interpretation of the audiodrama script, as well as of the novel, drives his imagination, evokes mind pictures that von Weynarm is able to explain to his actors. Perhaps every director has to work that way. However, Balthasar von Weynarm had to do it with 40 young and 61 adult actors, each one had to fulfil her or his part and the director had to explain how it all had to be done. This is an amazing achievement.

Due to the fact that the script was written by Orson Scott Card himself the director’s interpretation has it’s limits. But von Weynarm’s production maximizes the script’s power. There is no narrator. All “off-screen” information is given to us via comments by spectators of certain scenes. These spectators observe actions that are happening somewhere else and then anallyze these action right away. This is the issue director and his ensemble can show action. All that can be explained through the voice is well done. Music is also used, but shows up more between the scenes. And so as to fuel the listener’s imagination there are also addedsound effects, created by sound designer Tommi Schneefuss. Schneefuss does a terrific job because the sound effects are not intrusive nor too disturbing. They fit into the setting.

A special issue must have been the casting of the kid actors especially because there were strict specifications by the author. The central character Ender was played by 12-year-old Arne Kapfer. And because his mother was cast for this audio drama he was asked to join the cast. This is a tricky part in all audio drama productions, von Weynarm reports, because boys at that age can suddenly have their voice change. Arne Kapfer though is a pro himself, and brings in five years worth of experience as TV commercial actor. And at home his parents have their own recording studio. It was great to hear the development of Ender was transported through Arne Kapfer’s voice. His slight intonations toward sarcasm, in particular scenes in the Battle School, were very well performed. Kapfer brought in a lot of talent – though voice acting is only a hobby as he has career aspirations toward geology.

The producer of the audio drama is the Lauscherlounge company that works together with most of the best voice artists in Germany – many of whom t apper in “Ender’s Game.” Take for example one of my all-time-favourite voice actors Udo Schenk, who played Colonel Graff. Schenk is the voiceover artist for Garry Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, David Morrissey, Ray Liotta and many more. Timmo Niesner for Chamrajnagar (who dubs Elijah Wood), and Erich Rauker as Mazer Rackham (artist for Will Patton). Their talents form a neat audio drama that is both enjoyable and the very essence of the novel. Does this audiodrama replace the book? No, but it enlarges the listener’s understanding of the novel and it’s a whole lot of fun to hear. The seven hours pass almost too quickly.

Until recently the book itself was long out of print in Germany but because of the movie it was re-published in the general SF section of the Heyne Verlag and not marked out as a YA book.

Posted by Mirko

SFFaudio Review

buckle2Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War (The Chronicles of the Pneumatic #2)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 31 minutes

Themes: / snow / steampunk / zeppelin / airship / aliens /

Publisher summary:

The frozen wasteland of Snow World – known as Southern California before an alien invasion decimated civilization – is home to warring steampunk clans. Crankshafts, Imperials, Tinskins, Brineboilers, and many more all battle one another for precious supplies, against ravenous mutant beasts for basic survival, and with the mysterious Founders for their very freedom. Through this ruined world soars the Pneumatic Zeppelin, captained by the daring Romulus Buckle. In the wake of a nearly suicidal assault on the Founders’ prison city to rescue key military leaders, both the steam-powered airship and its crew are bruised and battered. Yet there’s little time for rest or repairs: Founders raids threaten to shatter the fragile alliance Buckle has risked everything to forge among the clans. Even as he musters what seems a futile defense in the face of inevitable war, Buckle learns that the most mysterious clan of all is holding his long-lost sister in a secret base – and that she holds the ultimate key to victory over the Founders. But rescuing her means abandoning his allies and praying they survive long enough for there to be an alliance to return to.

So if you are reading this, it means you’ve suffered through the first book, Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, and thought, “Well, here’s a series with no where to go but up.” Turns out you were right. After an unexpected opening on a snowy mountain with an obligatory action scene, Preston gets back to the business of the war brewing against the Founders Clan. And while it’s still not a great book, it is much more confident than the last and delves deeper into Buckle’s world.

Like the first book, the story relies a lot on excess for its appeal. Sure, the Crankshaft Clan is arranging an alliance with the other clans to go to war against the Founders who are trying to take everyone over. But now there is also a love triangle, a long-lost sister, and an alien having visions while in a coma. We are also shown some the ordinary goings on of clan life which is reminiscent of frontier life the West. It is unclear how society managed to revert back a couple centuries when they have little to no knowledge of twenty-first century life, but it is nice to feel like the events of the first novel have some sort of background. Once again, the characters were stereotypical and underdeveloped. The women all seem to be in love with Buckle for no real reason while he is completely oblivious. Preston still tells us about about the characters but this book also shows us a little to backup his claims. Still, he would have been better served by shortening the middle to keep the plot moving. The last chapter was again the most interesting part but it shows that Preston will continue to include whatever fantastical elements he can think of to keep his audience interested regardless of how muddled it makes his story.

Although better than the first novel, this book still doesn’t come up to scratch. Luke Daniels continues his admirable narration but it is not enough to make it worthwhile.

Posted by Rose D.

 

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