Review of Callahan’s Key by Spider Robinson

November 29, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Callahan's Key by Spider RobinsonCallahan’s Key
By Spider Robinson; Read by Barrett Whitener
9 Cassettes – Approx 12.5 Hours
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2003
ISBN: 0786125519
Themes: / Science Fiction / Humor / Callahan’s Place / Florida / Nikola Tesla / Robert A. Heinlein / NASA /

The universe is in desperate peril. Due to a cluster of freakish phenomena, the United States’ own defense system has become a perfect doomsday machine, threatening the entire universe. And only one man can save everything-as-we-know-it from annihilation. Unfortunately, he’s not available. So the job falls instead to bar owner Jake Stonebender, his wife, Zoey, and superintelligent toddler, Erin. Not to mention two dozen busloads of ex-hippies and freaks, Robert Heinlein’s wandering cat, a whorehouse parrot, and misunderstood genius-inventor Nikola Tesla, who is in fact alive and well.

Set in 1989, though published and written in 2001, Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Key is a mighty funny tale. But that is not a shocker. Nobody except Douglas Adams does science fiction humor better than Spider Robinson. But what was a shock is that novel makes any sense at all. With a cast of literally dozens of speaking characters, the only thing that keeps the lunatic asylum of a novel from going completely off the rails is the first person perspective. Well mostly that… well, actually that and some sober thoughts from former Vice President of the United States Dan Quayle. Each chapter begins with a real quote from Dan Quayle! But he’s not the focus of this tale, not at all. Instead, something is about to go wrong with a super secret death ray launched by Space Shuttle, which is under the supervision of Dan Quayle, though he isn’t actually mentioned in the book. Anyway, somebody has to stop this death ray before it goes off and destroys the universe. Thankfully, Jake Stonebender, our perspective protagonist has saved the world a number of times. It’s just par for the course when he’s asked to do it again by Nikola Tesla, who, thank you very much, is alive and well and has become a time traveler. Back in 1989 though, Jake, his bulletproof family, and his crew of whacked out hippies and mad scientist customers decide to move south to Florida’s Key West… to ah… get a better handle on the job. Needless to say they fit right in.

I had a lot of fun spending some time with these characters. If you’ve read a Callahan yarn in the past you’ll be pleased to hear that all the old gang present again. If you’re a new to Robinson’s long running comic novel series you may do better to start with The Callahan Chronicals (also from Blackstone Audio). In this one though, Robinson not only references Robert Heinlein – with an uncanny channeling of his writing style – he also re-introduces us to Pixel, Heinlein’s cat and the eponymous Cat Who Walked Through Walls! Along the way we get to visit the very real, (actually fictional), dockside home of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and numerous other side adventures. By the time the actual plot gets steaming into full swing I had almost forgotten that novels are supposed to have them. But that is okay. Plot isn’t really all that important to this novel’s experience, so I was actually a little disappointed that they had to even discuss it. Barrett Whitener is just terrific at voicing Jake Stonebender and his crazy friends. It sounded like he was having a blast performing it too. Nearly every minute or so of the novel’s production a groaner pun or a ridiculous situation had me smiling or wincing – and sometimes painfully at the same time. So if you’re in the mood for an ultra-zany audiobook reach no farther than Callahan’s Key. And tell them Nikola Tesla sent you, because he might not really be dead.

Posted by Jesse Willis

It’s Thanksgiving Week here in the United States, …

November 24, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

SFFaudio News

It’s Thanksgiving Week here in the United States, so I won’t be posting anything new until Monday. Have a great week everyone, and thanks for reading SFFaudio!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Monstrous Regiment By Terry Pratchett

November 22, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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Monstrous Regiment by Terry PratchettMonstrous Regiment
By Terry Pratchett; read by Stephen Briggs
8 Cassettes – 12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2003
ISBN: 060569964
Themes: / Fantasy / Series / Humor / War / Soldiers / Feminist /

God is an extremely uneven writer, but when He’s good, nobody can touch Him.
– John William Gardner

Okay, so Terry Pratchett is not God. But he does share the Deity’s gift of inconsistent greatness. He is, at least, a genius of English prose, not content simply to write funny stories, but daring to tweak the nose of our language and showcase its penchant for both the sublime and the silly. If your ears have been trampled lately by elephantine sentences that flatten entire stories beneath them, then you should treat yourself to some Pratchett. His exquisitely chosen details and extended comic riffs will cleanse your literary palette like a chilled Riesling.
Monstrous Regiment, set in Pratchett’s private universe known as the Diskworld, is a harmless novel about war, sort of. Actually, it’s about soldiers, and about soldiers who don’t actually get much war on them, which is fortunate, because Pratchett’s humor is nowhere near dark enough to handle the strikingly unfunny hell of war. There are some touching moments, and some very funny details (like his adroit comparison of war and a large city), but they don’t add up to a great novel.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is cute enough. It concerns a girl named Polly Perks from the war-happy country of Borogravia who manages to sign herself up, against religious edict, in the armed services. Polly is a plucky and likeable heroine; her Sergeant Jackrum is irascible yet equally likeable; and her vampire, troll, Igor, and human fellow soldiers are a somewhat quirky, mysterious, yet unsurprisingly likeable bunch. Add to this a silly Lieutenant and a couple familiar characters like William DeWord and Sgt. Vimes, and you have the makings of a harmless jape that pokes fun at young men, military officers, greedy countries with pretensions to benevolence, ridiculous religious fundamentalism, and people who think with their socks. But this book is too lightweight to be much more than an amusing diversion. The Borogravians are let off too lightly for the savage devastation of their own country, the deaths that occur have little impact on anyone, and the theme of female empowerment seems diluted by excessive application. What’s more, the entire structure of the story seems slightly off-balance: The climax is anemic, and the denouement protracted.

On the audio side, however, this book is a joy. Stephen Briggs is billed on the cover as a disturbingly devoted Pratchett fan, which nearly frightened me off. But have no fear, the man can read well, too. His voice conjures the entire cast of Monty Python as well as some note-perfect monster stereotypes, and he nimbly handles Pratchett’s playful prose, both in the small turns of phrase that pepper the story throughout and in the occasional extended verbal set pieces. He gives these inspired moments the space they deserve, like old Aunt Audrey waving her arms to clear a room before performing her world-famous flying back flip off the china cabinet.

All in all, this is an amusing but sub-par work from a master of humorous fantasy. If you’ve never read Pratchett before, I recommend dropping a brick on your little toe for punishment, and then picking up The Colour of Magic, Guards! Guards!, or The Thief of Time. You can save this one for later, when you still want to laugh and think, but not so hard.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of Death Match By Lincoln Child

November 19, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
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SFF Audio Review

Death Match by Lincoln ChildDeath Match
By Lincoln Child; Read by Barrett Whitener
10 Cassettes – Approx 15 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786128119
Themes: / Science Fiction / Technothriller / Mystery / Computers / Artificial Intelligence / Love /

What was it, exactly, she found so intimidating about the Thorpes? The fact they didn’t seem to need her friendship? They were well educated, but Maureen had her own cum laude degree in English. They had lots of money, but so did half the neighborhood. Maybe it was how perfect they seemed together, how ideally suited to each other. It was almost uncanny. That one time they’d come over, Maureen had noticed how they unconsciously held hands; how they frequently completed each other’s sentences; how they’d shared countless glances that, though brief, seemed pregnant with meaning. “Disgustingly happy” was how Maureen’s husband termed them, but Maureen didn’t think it disgusting at all. In fact, she’d found herself feeling envious.

From the title you might guess that Death Match is a novel set in the world of first person shooter computer games, and while that isn’t a bad idea in itself, this one has a premise even more unusual. Frankly, I’m amazed that no one else came up with this tale before now. It is so fundamental a science fiction idea – and so obviously possible in the near future, if not now – that it should have been explored in science fiction long before this. The premise goes something like… “What if you could use advanced computer technology and deep psychological testing to create a computer avatar of your own psyche – and then, using high speed data matching, run millions of pair bonding scenarios with other people’s avatars?” The purpose is to find the perfect match for a REAL life together. Once the two avatars are matched, each person associated with that avatar is given each other’s real life phone number and the knowledge that they are already perfectly matched! But this core idea isn’t on center stage, instead this is a mystery novel that reads like a technothriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton’s recent novels.

Christopher Lash, an ex-FBI forensic psychologist is hired by Eden Incorporated, the worlds premier couple matching service, to solve a mysterious double suicide of one of the company’s customers, the first “supercouple” created by avatar matching. To do the job properly Lash is familiarized with Eden’s patented software, going through the process of avatar creation himself, and then begins his “psychological autopsy” of the couple, which involves investigating what could have caused the world’s happiest couple to kill themselves. Just as his investigation gets into full swing – another couple dies! This can only mean that either something is wrong with Eden’s process or someone is murdering the world’s happiest people!

A few years ago I realized that eventually computer technology will solve a big pile of interesting problems. For instance, isn’t it a shame that Sean Connery couldn’t have done all of the James Bond films? Well, with computer technology it will be possible…. current celebrities and dead ones too will someday be reanimated, and recast in new movies. Imagine Humphrey Bogart paired with Harrison Ford for The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre: The Next Generation(hey it might be good). We’re practically ready to do it with their physical images now, the big hurdle is voice mimicry – computer software is still very primitive when it comes to recreating someone’s voice. But mark my words it’ll happen… But I’d never thought of Lincoln Child’s use for computer technology, though it’s an obvious one, and certainly one that is starting to be developed. Websites like www.hotornot.com are using both physical images and keywords to match couples. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the traditional matchmakers of old – and willy-nilly dating (like we have now) are going to be subsumed by computer matches that will find the best possible spouse given our personalities?

The idea of finding that special someone you were always destined to marry is alluring. Myself, Normally I’m someone who believes that the idea of finding your “one and only” is pure fantasy. Just given the sheer numbers of people we’ll never meet during our lifetimes it clearly can’t be that there is only one special someone in the world for everyone. But on the other hand Lincoln Child’s idea here might make that dream a reality. Because, not only does it allow you to select from every person alive, it also runs a lifetime’s worth of lives with each and every possible match in order to find the best match among all good matches. It truly would be heaven, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately we are not given the metaphysical run down on the consequences to this proposition, Lincoln Child’s novel isn’t deep, instead it is merely summer beach reading and ultimately unthoughtful. Myself I’d have much preferred a few fewer plot turns, I figured out whodunit quite early. An idea this good really deserves a truckload of metaphysical explorations: Whatever happened to the idea that marriage is about making an imperfect fit, fit anyway? Now that you mention it what makes people attracted to each other? What is love anyway? And hey, if we can brain map an avatar and run complete life scenarios using artificial intelligence in a computer do we have the right to delete that avatar? If computer programs can run our lives better than we can, what do we do with our time? Yikes! That last one has some truly scary implications.

Now perhaps I’m being to hard on this novel, its has some reasonably interesting discussions about artificial intelligence in it, it all makes sense, there are no leaps of logic and the characters, while a little flat, aren’t altogether unlikable. Child has obviously done some research and the including of such nuggets of detail are good, but I guess I just needed more fire and more thinking. The narrator, Barrett Whitener, does a nice job with the voices, but the essentially humorless nature of the novel doesn’t play to his strengths. Blackstone has used a slight variation on the original hardcover’s cover art, and as plain as it seems, that’s it there pictured above, it is an improvement over the bland layout used in the paper version. This is only Lincoln Child’s second novel written without his writing partner Douglas Preston. Together they wrote the novel The Relic, which was adapted into a decent horror movie of the same name. I can easily see Death Match being made into a TV movie, but honestly I don’t think it’d be one I’d set the VCR to record. Hopefully Child’s third solo novel will concentrate its focus on the science fiction elements rather than the technothriller/mainstream that he went for with this one.

Posted by Jesse Willis

CBC RADIO ONE’s – Between The Covers program will …

November 16, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

CBC Radio OneCBC RADIO ONE’s – Between The Covers program will be broadcasting the award winning author Kenneth Oppel’s latest novel “Airborn” (a wild adventure with some fantastic twists. AIRBORN is set in an alternate past, where air travel has followed the route of giant dirigibles rather than jet planes. The cabin boy of a luxury airship discovers a remarkable secret in the clouds high above the earth and must find a way to keep it – and his ship – out of the hands of unscrupulous men).

Read by Andrew Hachey.

This program will air Weekdays at 2:30pm and 10:40pm starting Wed. Nov. 17 2004 and concluding Fri. Dec.10 2004.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Independence Day UK

November 15, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Independence Day UKIndependence Day UK
Produced, written, and directed by Dirk Maggs
Starring Nicky Campbell, Patrick Moore, Toyah Wilcox, Colin Baker, and Simon Treves
1 Cassette – 1 Hour [AUDIO DRAMA]
ISBN: 1858496314
Date Published: 1995
Published by the BBC
Themes: / Science Fiction / UFOs / Alien invasion / First contact

I was very intrigued by this title, because First Contact is one of the themes in science fiction that interests me most. This title appears to have been released as a promotion for the movie called Independence Day. The story is new, though it follows the same lines as the successful film.

In this one, a BBC FM Radio station holds a UFO watch after spending some time previous to the story beaming signals into space with hopes that a UFO will respond. The whole thing is tongue-in-cheek and done in good fun. But then something does respond, and it’s headed this way.

The structure of the story is very much like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, which is referenced in the beginning. It starts out in a realistic way, the FM host Nicky Campbell reporting the news as it’s happening, then moving into a third person perspective after the aliens have landed, just like Orson Welles’ 1939 production.

I wasn’t fond of this audio drama for one main reason – the entire “realistic” part of it was simply not believable. Nicky Campbell was on an aircraft along with an astronomer (Patrick Moore) and reported live as they monitored the incoming signal. None of the performers in this part of the production act in a believable manner when presented with evidence of an extraterrestrial craft headed their way. It’s more of a “isn’t this interesting and amusing” attitude rather than a “wow, this is REALLY happening” attitude.

In the production’s favor, the host they used (Nicky Campbell) is a real BBC host, and the astronomer (Patrick Moore) a real astronomer, both of BBC Radio 1. In other words, these folks were not actors. Regardless, it just didn’t work, but perhaps the entire production was not meant to be taken seriously.

The rest of the production? More Dirk Maggs audio magic. UFO’s and jets dueling in the skies, all remarkably done with sound.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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