Review of The Icarus Hunt By Timothy Zahn

May 30, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Icarus Hunt by Timothy ZahnThe Icarus Hunt
By Timothy Zahn; Read by Jonathan Marosz
9 Cassettes – Approx. 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books On Tape Inc.
Published: 1999
ISBN: 0736649573
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Mystery / Galactic Civilization / Aliens /

From Timothy Zahn, Hugo Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of two landmark Star Wars® series, comes an original new tale featuring a renegade space pilot, his unusual alien partner, and an unknown cargo that can change the course of galactic history.

Captain Jordan McKell, and his alien partner, Ixil, incautiously agree to fly The Icarus and its special cargo to Earth. The Icarus turns out to be an unusual ship containing a ragtag crew and a secret cargo that everybody in the Spiral seems to want to get their hands on. Things look tough but get worse, when they discover one of the crew’s been murdered and that there’s a saboteur aboard.

The Icarus Hunt is more science fantasy than science fiction. Set in a universe very similar to that of Star Wars, it’s also a novel firmly planted in that tradition of smugglers and space jockeys eluding powerful governments, with plenty of aliens, gunfights and seedy spaceports. If you’re in the mood for old-fashioned escapist SF, this one’s definitely for you. Myself, I enjoyed the simplicity of the tale, which is told entirely from one character’s perspective, but with enough curves to keep it interesting. Timothy Zahn wrote a few Star Wars novels, so he’s got the chops for this, but unlike with those novels, Zahn is able to build his own universe instead of just riding on the coattails of the first three movies. Zahn himself has described The Icarus Hunt as “Star Wars meets Alastair McLean”, and he’s telling the truth. The protagonist is a human that’ll remind you of the Han Solo/Lando Calrissian type, the good hearted rogue, and the plot has enough double-crossing to make you think you’re watching Where Eagles Dare or Ice Station Zebra. This isn’t deep material but it’s engaging. The worst sin it commits is in its length, its just a tad long for the plot material.

Jonathon Marosz uses more than a dozen voices and his reading is spot on. The viewpoint character is, as I stated before, a Han Solo type, and Marosz could definitely pinch hit for Harrision Ford in a minute. The cover art for this one is taken from the Bantam books paperback, and looks great. Production values are excellent, sound quality is perfect, though it has no extras at all. A solid reading of a solid space adventure.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

May 27, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By J.K. Rowling, Read by Jim Dale
7 Cassettes – approx 12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: February 2000
ISBN: 0807282316
THEMES: / Fantasy / Young Adult / Magic / School / Magical Creatures / Childhood /

The Harry Potter juggernaut is about to leave port once more. The film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is scheduled for release on June 4. I’ve got two kids myself, both Potter fans, so I thought I’d revisit this audiobook.

It was my pleasure to do so because the Harry Potter audiobooks (all five to date) represent one of the finest matches of reader to material that I have heard. Jim Dale is brilliant as… well, as everybody in this book. He reads with a nuanced energy and enthusiasm for the text, creating an audio experience that’s every bit as entertaining as any movie. More so, in fact, as the novel has a depth that the films simply can’t match.

The story? After extracting himself from yet another summer spent with the Dursleys, Harry discovers that a man named Sirius Black has escaped from the infamous Azkaban prison. Further, Potter finds out that Black is a friend of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (er… Voldemort), and therefore out to get him. Harry spends the school year trying to live normally at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry while the adult teachers try to keep him protected. Flanked by his best friends (Ron and Hermione) he navigates the year, discovering things about himself along the way.

Not only has J.K. Rowling filled Hogwarts with interesting and funny characters, but she’s also added the witty details of the Wizarding world, which are endlessly entertaining. Harry and his friends grow up a little in each book – this is not the same Harry we met in the first book, and is not the same Harry we meet in books 4 and 5. This is what I think makes the book so appealing to adults as well as children – we enjoy experiencing Hogwarts as much as the kids, but with the added dimension of viewing childhood from afar.

A fun, engaging story. An excellent reader. Fabulous.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Ice Is Singing By James Patrick Kelly

May 24, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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The Ice Is Singing
By James Patrick Kelly; Read By James Patrick Kelly
FREE DOWNLOAD – 12 Minutes MP3 (4.96MB) [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: www.jimkelly.net/pages/free_reads.htm
Published: April 2004
Themes: / Fantasy / Modern / Poetry /

“The man in the ice is wearing a blue three-piece suit. He is facing up at you and the bright sky and his eyes are open. What does he see? Nothing. He’s dead, no? You look around the lake. None of the other skaters seem to realize that there’s a man frozen in the ice on Christmas Day. Someone could do a sit spin right on his nose, a triple lutz from his head to his black, tasseled loafers. Except nobody on the lake is that good a skater. Certainly not you.”

“The Ice Is Singing” was first published in Realms Of Fantasy magazine’s April 2003 issue. It’s told in the second person, making the protagonist “you”. This gives it a very “choose your own adventure” feel as do most second person narratives – the effect is like a cross between virtual reality and a rail shooter. Overall, it works very well with this one, which has a very good twist at the end, even if one an attentive listener may have seen coming. Production values and sound quality are great, with an exceptional musical accompaniment to Kelly’s excellent reading. As with all the James Kelly Free Reads stories “The Ice Is Singing” is essentially shareware. You can copy it for friends, email it, and even burn it to disc all for free. Kelly only asks that if you enjoy the story you consider donating to his PayPal account. And you really can’t ask for more than that. Well worth the listen!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Voyage by Stephen Baxter

May 19, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction Audio Drama - Voyage by Stephen BaxterVoyage
By Stephen Baxter; Directed/Produced by Dirk Maggs, Performed by a Full Cast
2 Cassettes – 2 hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks
Published: May 1999
ISBN: 0563552417
THEMES: / Science Fiction / Alternate History / Space Program / Mars / Moon / Politics /

Voyage is a work of alternate history, in which the seed is President John F. Kennedy’s survival of the attempted assassination in Dallas in 1963. The impact of this historical change on the United States Space Program is the focus of the story.

In one of the many striking scenes in this audio drama, a wheelchair bound Kennedy joins president Nixon in the Oval Office in sending a message of congratulations to Neil Armstrong and crew during the first moon landing. But Kennedy takes it a little farther than a simple greeting – he challenges humanity to go farther. He challenges NASA to send people to Mars. Nixon at first is appalled, then goes along with the program after an aide tells him the voters love the idea.

The story is about the struggle from that point on to send people to Mars, building up to and including the story of Project Ares, which lifts off in 1986 with a three-person crew headed for Mars.

Dirk Maggs directed the production which was absolutely first-rate. I put on a pair of headphones and was instantly taken away to this alternate history. I enjoyed every minute of it. I’d even go so far as to say that it solidified the power of audio drama to my ears – I couldn’t help but to think of the many excellent works of science fiction that could – and SHOULD – be done in this medium.

I also agree with the message of the story. It’s a unconscionable that humanity reached the moon 35 years ago and has gone nowhere since. Let’s get on with our own history!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Vitals By Greg Bear

May 15, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobooks - Vitals by Greg BearVitals
By Greg Bear; Read by Jeff Woodman
3 Cassettes – 5 hours 16 minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: January 2002
ISBN: 0553714953
THEMES: / Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering / Immortality /

The edge of immortality is the deadliest place of all…Hal Cousins is one of a handful of scientists nearing the most sought after discovery in human history: the key to short-circuiting the aging process. Fueled by a wealth of research, an overdose of self-confidence, and the money of influential patrons to whom he makes outrageous promises, Hal experiments with organisms living in the hot thermal plumes in the ocean depths. But as he journeys beneath the sea, his other world is falling apart.

I like Greg Bear’s work, I really do. Or at least I did before listening to Vitals. I truly savored previous Greg Bear audiobooks, the novels Blood Music and Queen Of Angels and the collection of his short work entitled The Wind From A Burning Woman are all really great listens even though somewhat difficult to follow. Unfortunately Vitals sounds more intriguing in theory than it is in execution. I really cannot think of a single good thing to say about the novel’s construction. It takes the interesting ideas from Blood Music and then ineffectually recycles them into an aimless plodding story. The central conceit, that bacteria are taking over the world in an unpredictable way, is blatantly stolen from Blood Music, Bear’s best work. But Bear doesn’t refine his ideas, instead he adds in a completely bizarre character viewpoint switch in the middle of the story, and later another non-sequitor changes the time period for even more exposition, backing and filling to detrimental effect.

What’s worse, Bear decides to eliminate what few interesting characters there are and finally puts us out of our misery with an unresolved ending. Vitals is like a bad action movie jumping from one scene to another without rhyme or reason. It’s one big train wreck of a novel. Bear has truly fallen and he can’t get up!

This is an abridgement and surely we could argue that a bad abridgement can really hurt an audiobook, but somehow I doubt adding more words to this mess could have helped. Jeff Woodman did his best with what he was given; his narration was very good and clear, with distinct characterization of voices. The cover art falls into the category of “bland non-specific” which so pervades novels these days.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Bernardo’s House by James Patrick Kelly

May 12, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobooks - Bernardo's House by James Patrick KellyBernardo’s House
By James Patrick Kelly; Read By James Patrick Kelly
FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD (link to jimkelly.net) – 1 Hour (26.97 MB) [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: www.jimkelly.net
Published: April 2004
Themes: Science Fiction / Post Apocalypse / Robots / Artificial Intelligence / Sexuality / Fairy Tales /

“Once on time,” said the girl, “Louise lives in that castle. Louise’s Mom dies, don’t say where her Dad goes. So Louise stuck with spang bitch taking care of her. That Louise castle got no door, only windows high and high. Now Louise got most hair.” Fly spread her arms wide. “Hair big as trees. When spang bitch want in, she call Louise. ‘Louise, Louise, let down buzzy hair.’ Then spang bitch climb it up.”

In the future women will come in all shapes and sizes but men will still be pigs. This is especially true about a philandering homewrecker named Bernardo. Bernardo left 3 years ago, leaving poor Louise alone with no one to talk to… until a young girl named “Fly” arrived. James Patrick Kelly’s hilarious stories never fail to bring a smile to my face and “Bernardo’s House” is no exception. Kelly tends to write very funny personal stories, charged with human and sometimes alien emotions – his recurring themes include biological problems and ethical dilemmas. Kelly also has a great fondness for inventing new words; he is in fact a raving neologist. But all these traits are completely in service to his stories, and in the case of “Bernardo’s House”, the comedic situation and the main character’s apprehension of it is truly tempered by our own baggage that we bring to the experience, turning a story that starts out as fluff into a bittersweet morality tale. “Bernardo’s House” was first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2003 issue, and at this writing is a finalist for the Hugo Award.

Sound quality and production values are excellent. Kelly is a real performer! He infuses his reading with a bouncy upbeat tone that makes the funny scenes even funnier. But the very best part about “Bernardo’s House” is that its available for FREE! Kelly only asks that if you enjoyed hearing this tale you consider making a donation to his PayPal account, donations encourage future recordings so it’s a real positive feedback loop!

Posted by Jesse Willis

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