Mountain of Black Glass (Otherland #3)
By Tad Williams; Narrated by George Newbern
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 17 March 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 27 hours, 17 minutes
Themes: / techno-thriller / science fiction / Greek mythology / game simulation /
Mountain of Black Glass is the third volume of Tad Williams’s highly acclaimed four-book series, Otherland. A truly unique reading experience combining elements of science fiction, fantasy, and techno-thriller, it is a rich epic tale in which virtual reality could prove the key to a whole new universe of possibilities for the entire human race – or become the exclusive domain of the rich and the ruthless as they seek a technological pathway to immortality.
The sequel to City of Golden Shadow and River of Blue Fire, this is the third installment (of 4) in the Otherland series. As with River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass picks up where the last one left off. Where I rated River of Blue Fire 3 stars (it was a solid “middle book” in a series), this one gets 4 because of the time spent in Greek mythology, something I’ve always loved.
As a “middle book” in a series, it’s hard not to say things about Mountain of Black Glass that I didn’t say in my reviews for City of Golden Shadow or River of Blue Fire. The story started with key characters still separated (as they were at the end of River of Blue Fire), though much of the book was spent either a) moving them back together, b) exploring their pasts, learning more about their history, or c) giving the reader more insight into the Otherland network itself and the motivations of the people running the network. Unlike River of Blue Fire, in this book, many details seemed to “finally” be pieced together, so more complete histories of characters were formed. It was also a transformative time for some of the Otherland network owners/operators, as they put the final pieces together to try to gain immortality. Other characters, such as the psychopathic servant of the Otherland founder also get a lot of time in this book, as do the police officers looking into his murderous ways. Sellers, the old man who remains quite a mystery but seems to be some of the force that brings the heroes together, also has a key storyline, though it took quite a different turn from what I expected going into the story.
An adventure from proverbial cover to cover (since I listened to the audiobook), a lot of time in this book was spent with the characters all trying to reach the Otherland‘s version of Troy. One of the characters is actually Odysseus, while others play key characters in the Trojan War, including Achilles, his companion Patroclus, and even Diomedes. The character who became Odysseus was forced through the Otherland simulation to re-enact Odysseus’ story somewhat in reverse, having seemingly gone through the events of The Odyssey prior to living through the Trojan War, as told in The Iliad. Our other heroes also eventually ended up in Troy, but not without enduring some trying circumstances in a few different worlds. As one might expect, though, these experiences allowed them to learn more about the network itself, and will undoubtedly help them in their quest to overthrow the Otherland founders (The Grail Brotherhood) and save the children who seem to be trapped by the network.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. After finally learning more about each character, becoming significantly more invested in each of them, it seems that one or more of them may have actually died through the course of the narrative. It’s hard to tell for sure, and I suspect I’ll find out what exactly happened when I finish the series with Sea of Silver Light, but the emotional gut punch was harder than I expected it would be. It’s a credit to Williams’ writing that I could simultaneously know how literally frail each of these characters are, playing a life and death game where they don’t know the rules and the rules seem to change, yet still be surprised and saddened when harm (or death) comes to a character. Or how much I really hate Dredd, the servant turned monster, preying on Otherland users/members for his own fun and games.
Tad Williams again seemed to have fun with the simulation worlds, making alternate worlds of popular stories such as the previously-mentioned The Iliad and The Odyssey. There were at least two other worlds explored in this book. One seemed to be an “empty” world, what someone might consider the null space of code to be…since the Otherland network is only code, after all, it does make some sense that the users (our heroes and our villains) would sometimes find literally empty space. There was another world, a world of a house, the reference I didn’t connect (if there was a literary reference, which I suspect that there was). Still, the worlds all felt real, were able to bring me in. This is especially true for the Trojan War. I have long been a fan of Greek mythology, and it was a fun but unexpected surprise to spend so much of this book in that world…at least, that simulated world.
The audiobook was great to listen to, if the narration was slightly slow. I listened to it slightly sped up (using the 1.5x feature for spoken word playback on my iPhone) and it seemed perfect. George Newbern does a great job making the characters come to life. Where some narrators can seem flat or one-note, he always makes it clear which character is talking, and further engages the listener by taking on the exclamation, the feeling of the words. If someone is surprised, for example, his voice lets you know it, you don’t have to rely solely on supporting descriptors. He brings the book to life.
I’m looking forward to starting into Sea of Silver Light, which is queued up and ready to go. It’s a good bit longer than any of the other books in the series (~10 hours longer than this one), but that just means I’ll have to find more excuses to listen.
Posted by terpkristin.
The SFFaudio Podcast #324 – This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch; read by Gregg Margarite. This is an unabridged reading of the novel (3 hours 30 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and John Feaster.
Talked about on today’s show:
the only public domain novel by Robert Bloch, a member of the Lovecraft circle, fans of Lovecraft vs. the public at large, The Shambler From The Stars, a sense of humour, Leffingwell = livingwell, a Nazi-esque character, Paul F. Thompkins, 1958, Make Room, Make Room, 1968, overpopulation, The Population Bomb, the baby boom, the Asiatics, a terrible book, a monster of a book, the yardsticks aren’t a metaphor for racism, “midgets”, The Lonely Crowd, the women in this story…, housewives and pretend nurses, not a pure SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a sociological novel, Jesse isn’t a fan of Psycho, Yours Truly Jack The Ripper, mainstream hack solutions, Bloch is a fan of science fiction, he’s talking about Clifford [D.] Simak here, the solution to overpopulation is to make everybody smaller, you have to lean into that, a weird pacing, Game Of Thrones, an underground secret society, the meta stuff is pretty good, the opening chapter, 70s era Jack [L.] Chalker, caesarian section is the solution?!, an entertaining story, why the heck is little Harry Collins named Harry Collins?, “you’ve dropped your premise”, western wildernesses, why is the President of The United States so excited about 20 pounds of hamburger, really undercooked (hamburger), the 7 hour workday, the 5 hour workday, the 4 hour workday, a 15mph commute, population efficiency, just fix the trains in this world, Soylent Green, not enough room (physical space), telecommuting, personal transport laws, a mash-up of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Project Mayhem portion of Fight Club and The Wizard Of Oz, Collins is constantly searching for the wizard, mistaking Beatniks for a religious order, a high-Daddio, The Planet Of The Apes premise, a dog and cat disease, accepting the premise, playing with science fiction tropes, an impressionistic idea of the world and the path it is on, the naturals or naturalists, its almost hippies, a generational metaphor, drug use, everybody takes yellow jackets, barbiturate, mixing with alcohol, a one child policy is IMPOSSIBLE?, emigration is IMPOSSIBLE, faster maturity faster death, living on Mars would make you barrel chested, island isolated animals change their size (Island gigantism or Insular dwarfism), pilots need to be short, small people and women endure g-forces better, little people on generation starships, food consumption, he follows through with his own joke, a buffet of ridiculous premises, a strange buffet, an entertaining buffet, politics and the super-rich go hand-in-hand, “the little plan”, “small government”, “it’s a small world after all”, Little John, silly, packed with a lot of weirdness, like a season of Star Trek, written over a weekend?, such a little apartment, “he’s living in a closet”, this would have to be a cartoon if it were a film, the world is a Flintstones background, if there had only been a female character who…, Stephen King loves westerns but can’t write them, lean into it, so why is this world not our problem?, LosSisco, William Gibson’s the Sprawl, Chicago and Milwaukee, well crafted characters (for talking heads), Pol Pot, no actual shitbags, the story of a 15 year old, sociologically and emotionally, the Goodreads reviews, Isaac Asimov’s the Hari Seldon plan, Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth, breeding a crazy man, West End Games, Paranoia, the crappy text adventure games (that were fun to play), walking off to the unmapped areas, what about this bugbear?, in a future where cows are caviar, “bring your wife, we’ll have a party”, I’ll bang off something for Planet Stories, Psycho, 1959 and 1960, John defends Psycho, Bloch’s Star Trek script “Wolf In The Fold“, Bloch’s obsession with Jack The Ripper, Richard Matheson’s Night Gallery episode, Time After Time, a future thrill kill story [sounds somewhat like The Roller Coaster by Alfred Bester], before The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal, charismatic serial killers is a trope now, Ed Gein, H.H. Holmes (not H.H. Munro), the Chicago murder castle, a writer re-writing and thinking about an idea over and over again, serial writers must do it again, to “recreate it”, seeing a writer writing outside of his main genre, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, it’s a little 15-year old, simply written to pay a bill, finally Scotty gets his own episode, I canna remember, Star Trek with a serial killer is weird, That Hellbound Train, The Gold Key The Twilight Zone comics, an EC Comics knockoff, I’m being published for crappy reasons, nobody’s going to read this in two weeks so read it now, this story is a bird-house made by a talented mechanic, a giant truck that is the internet, 60s and 70s era Robert Bloch are sealed up outside of the trunk that is the internet, accept it within its boundaries, a character from the 1950s in a crazy 1950s future, how does the story affect you?, a Rorschach test, it doesn’t care about you, this story is a friend of yours off in the corner playing with LEGOs and the only thing you can do is criticize what he’s building.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Finn Fancy Necromancy
By Randy Henderson; Narrated by Todd Haberkorn
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date:10 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 51 minutes
Themes: / fantasy / necromancer / fairies / humor /
Finn Gramaraye was framed for the crime of dark necromancy at the age of 15 and exiled to the Other Realm for 25 years. But now that he’s free, someone–probably the same someone–is trying to get him sent back. Finn has only a few days to discover who is so desperate to keep him out of the mortal world and find evidence to prove it to the Arcane Enforcers. They are going to be very hard to convince since he’s already been convicted of trying to kill someone with dark magic.
But Finn has his family: his brother, Mort, who is running the family necrotorium business now; his brother, Pete, who believes he’s a werewolf, though he is not; and his sister, Samantha, who is, unfortunately, allergic to magic. And he’s got Zeke, a fellow exile and former enforcer who doesn’t really believe in Finn’s innocence but is willing to follow along in hopes of getting his old job back.
Finn Fancy Necromancy is exactly as fun as its title suggests. From the second sentence, “We were like a couple of floating melted gummy bears made of unicorn snot and dreams…” I knew I was in good hands. In fact, even before that, in the acknowledgments when Henderson talks about his “butt-slapping doctor” I knew Henderson’s humor was going to click with me, and it did.
Finn Gramaraye is a necromancer who’s just come back from exile to the “Other Realm,” aka the fairy world. He was sent there in 1986 and spent 25 years as punishment for a crime he didn’t commit. Coming back, the problems already begin to add up and he’s already to blame for just about everything under the sun.
Told from the first person, we have no reason to disbelieve him, though his memories have been a source of many of the problems he encounters, whether it’s the fairies sifting his memories (good and bad) and making him relive them, or the changeling’s lack of memories with a botched spirit transfer.
Other than a small overuse of Star Trek references at the beginning, this book hit my funny bone quite nicely. Because Finn has been away since the 80s and this is first person, there are loads of 80s references, including, and I can’t say I recognized every single one, all the chapter titles are 80s song titles.
It’s definitely urban fantasy, but not your tween, new-age kind what with all its 80s focus. And it’s urban fantasy that really worked for me (I’m an on-off fan). The magic was interesting and the different sources make for a well-thought-out world.
The only thing, and I realize I might be the only one on this since I’ve seen it so much, is the incorporation of famous people (like Elvis, etc.) who were actually magic-users/magic creatures whose mysterious factual stories play well into a story like this. Like I said, I’m probably the only one and it wasn’t enough to really throw me out of the story, it was only a couple instances.
One thing I’m torn on is that the “twist” at the end was almost blatantly obvious about midway through the book. I don’t know if it was just the audio narration, or maybe on page would have been more obvious. I enjoyed the book regardless, because it wasn’t really all that big a deal and the major mysteries still needed solving.
Finn Fancy Necromancy is tons of fun and highly readable. I listened to the audio version and Todd Haberkorn did an excellent job. Just vulnerable enough to pull off Finn and nailing all the jokes and off-hand remarks in between voicing Sasquatches and gnomes.
Which reminds me, I highly enjoyed the magical creatures in this one. Not your typical ones, but they played into the story nicely. Read Finn Fancy Necromancy when you’re in the mood for some light-hearted fun with a fast-paced story that will keep you turning pages. Not your typical urban fantasy in the best possible way.
4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)
Posted by Bryce L.
The SFFaudio Podcast #323 – Jesse, John Feaster, and David Stifel discuss the audiobook of The Monster Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs (narrated by David Stifel)
Talked about today’s show:
Project Gutenberg, Ace Book, The Girl From Hollywood, The Mucker, dope rings, The Efficiency Expert, ERB’s wife meets Earnest Hemingway, Frankenstein, The Island Of Doctor Moreau, nitric acid, what Frankenstein studies at university, alchemy, growing people, mandrake root, Luigi Galvani, the chemical tradition, girl with a machine gun, a feisty heroine, an axe, Virginia, constant clinging Deja Thoris, how old is Virginia?, there’s nobody good enough to marry my daughter, eugenics, racism of the period, Sing is the hero of the story, stalking, I bet you a car, some of the most improbable stuff, Number 13’s identity, “The Man Without A Soul”, a Scooby Doo theme, a nice rich stalking man (if he’s rich), test tube men, playing to the audience, nothing is more horrible than miscegenation, noble savages, Burroughs hated Germans, more of the creation, Burroughs is good at action, the bullwhip, the orangutan females (beautiful ladies), Von Horn, pirates, headhunters, evolution, brutish, stone age, The Synthetic Men Of Mars, the Caspak series, slow evolution, the progression of man, Charles Darwin, “oh, by the way you’re all apes”, Gods And Generals, why not a European castle?, nameless creatures, a series of unfortunate events, the aborted second creation (the bride of Frankenstein’s monster), a woman’s right not to marry, Penny Dreadful‘s Frankenstein Caliban and Proteus, Professor Maxon’s madness, why Borneo?, an exotic location, silly laws, Breaking Bad, the edge of the world, Jack London, black-birding, Dayak, Sarawak, James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak, go west young man, poor demonized orangutans, Edgar Allan Poe, Fritz whipping the monster, playing god, one of the most fun writers ever, the spice of this guy, a satisfying writer, the Hollywood recipe, a forced love connection, Burroughs seems genuinely interested in man-woman romance, a Heinleinian father figure, Edgar Rice Burrough’s Twilight, a heroine with gumption, Christan waitresses worshiping Twilight (save yourself before marriage), no vampires, severed head creatures in Chessmen Of Mars, mind-flayers, Erol Otus, no supernatural elements, Mastermind Of Mars, Turus Tur, the power of will, a man of action (from money and breeding), if Tarzan’s parents had been plumbers, the most undercooked part of the book, had the man actually not had a soul…, Burroughs bully Teddy Roosevelt athletic men, conventional morality, a clean cut white man, the alternate love interest turns out to be the villain, is Townsend Harper a late addition?, y’ever seen a newborn baby?, just out of the cooker, that dull yellow eye, Young Frankenstein, lookism, in Edgar Rice Burroughs world it seems reasonable, was there cannibalism in that boat?, it is strongly inferable, drawing straws, tiger woman, cheetah lady, a light romp, wondering about H.G. Wells as a person, The Island Of Lost Souls, vivisection, unpleasantness, no Negroes in Tarzana, California, with not a single European, loyal Sing, yellow perily, Burmese, its the U.S. Navy!, this book really has everything, every kind of possible conflict, he wasn’t interested in doing dangerous quirky stuff, there’s a reason this isn’t an Earnest Hemingway podcast, a grand connected universe, Tarzan in Africa, John Carter on Mars, John Feaster should be pitching this as a show to the ERB estate, public domain tropes, Tarzan At The Earth’s Core, the Gridley Wave, more mash-up, the John Carter movie should have been more popular, picking a couple of nits with the film, limiting the focus of their world, Woola, the missing dog!, just another superior white man, number zero, Cornell, Ithaca, NY, Beyond Thirty (aka The Lost Continent) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, how will WWI wind up?, a submarine/airship, all the Mars are finished, Caspak is finished, Tarzan is finished, social realism, The Efficiency Expert, The Outlaw Of Torn, The Mad King, a Ruritanian romance, Winston Churchill’s ruritanian romance, helping to restore the monarchy (except it’s a republic), other authors?, meeting with the ERB estate, James Sullos, Edgar Rice Burroughs audiobooks need to be read by a California, Singapore, “Celestials” as a term for Chinese, Deadwood, the politically correct term at the time, negro, the “c” epithet?, on the side of the heroes, ERB was liberated for his time, Robert E. Howard didn’t have the wealthy heroes, Jack London, conservative free enterprise, the power of will, big muscles, when Roosevelt was obsessed with breaking up the trusts.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Fight Club for Kids by Chuck Palahniuk – read by Chuck Palahniuk
Posted by Jesse Willis
Talked about on today’s show:
many sins, paperbooks, The Architect Of Aeons by John C. Wright, Tor Books, The Voyage Of The Basilisk by Marie Brennan, beautiful illustrations and blue text, cover art, a bias against bad art, the way kids talk about book covers, fonts and graphic design, stock photos, don’t mix serif’d fonts, use classic art in the public domain, don’t muddy it up, Graysun Press Class M Exile by Raven Oak, Star Trek, Self Made Hero, I.N.J. Culbard, The Shadow Out Of Time, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath, the difficulty of promotion for small press publishers, Horror!, The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker, John Lee, Macmillan Audio, Pinhead, Hellraiser, random bloody body horror, The Midnight Meat Train, Bradley Cooper, the way Clive Barker’s stuff works, Audio Realms, Limbus, Inc. Book 2, a shared world anthology by Jonathan Maberry, Joe R. Lansdale, Gary A. Braunbeck, Joe McKinney, Harry Shannon edited by Brett J. Talley, space for creativity, David Stifel’s narration of The Monster Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Island Of Doctor Moreau meets Frankenstein done Burroughs style, The Man Without A Soul, David Stifel knows everything about Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, read by Scott Brick, Mad Max: Fury Road, 3D is a gimmick, Vampire Horror! by M.R. James, John Polidori, F. Marion Crawford, Anthony Head, M.R. James is the country churchyard ghost story guy, John Polidori was Byron’s Doctor, Mary Shelley won the contest, The Vampyre by John Polidori, Lord Ruthven is kind of based on Lord Byron, an autobiographical fantasy horror, music!, all the good D words, Survivors by Terry Nation, Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, who wrote House, M.D.?, writing credit in the UK, a familiar premise, the original TV series and the remake, The Walking Dead, all the fun stuff we like about post-apocalyptic storytelling, simultaneous existence, The Death Of Grass by John Christopher, A History Of The World In Six Glasses by Tom Standage, our dependence on grasses, The Road, canned food isn’t a long term plan, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, deer in the woods, the high price put on poaching, the other solution is cannibalism (also not very sustainable), The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, cutting water, this is already how things are, the atomic bomb scenarios are played out, the water problem, the new dust bowl, North Carolina and South Carolina, Seattle and Vancouver, Dr. Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick, read by Phil Gigante, a comic version of Doctor Strangelove, Marissa Vu, Paul Weimer, The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson, Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson, Luke Burrage’s reviews of the Orange County books, Find Me by Laura van den Berg, silver blisters?, Guy de Maupassant style, The End Has Come edited by Hugh Howey and John Joseph Adams, Carrie Vaughn, Megan Arkenberg, Will McIntosh, Scott Sigler, Sarah Langan, Chris Avellone, Seanan McGuire, Leife Shallcross, Ben H. Winters, David Wellington, Annie Bellet, Tananarive Due, Robin Wasserman, Jamie Ford, Elizabeth Bear, Jonathan Maberry, Charlie Jane Anders, Jake Kerr, Ken Liu, Mira Grant, Hugh Howey, Nancy Kress, Margaret Atwood’s serial, Science Fiction in Space and the Desert, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, read by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron, very sciencey, too many Jesses, Rob’s commute, Nova by Margaret Fortune, read by Jorjeana Marie, a human bomb, Imposter by Philip K. Dick, The Fold by Peter Clines, read by Ray Porter, another Philip K. Dick story called Prominent Author, a joke story, 14 by Peter Clines, Expanded Universe, Vol. 1 by Robert A. Heinlein, read by Bronson Pinchot, Blackstone Audio, Robert A. Heinlein is a weird idea man, Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, Hachette Audio, Sword & Laser, The Darkling Child (The Defenders of Shannara) by Terry Brooks, read by Simon Vance, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, larger than life voices, The Red Room by H.G. Wells, the accents, BBC audio dramas of James Bond books, the David Niven Casino Royale, The Brenda & Effie Mysteries: Brenda Has Risen From the Grave! (4), Bafflegab, Darwin’s Watch: The Science of Discworld III: A Novel by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, read by Michael Fenton Stevens and Stephen Briggs, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, read by Julia Emelin, The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, read by Davina Porter, Sarah Monette’s The Goblin Emperor, coming of age in a fantasy world, librarians recommend!
Posted by Jesse Willis