Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

September 30, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
By J.K. Rowling; Read by Jim Dale
17 CDs – 19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0307283658
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizardry / Youth / Magical Creatures / School /

At this point, the Harry Potter universe has become so entrenched in our culture that it’s impossible to approach the newest installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with anything like objectivity. Most readers already care so much about Harry and his associates that the reading experience has become less like enjoying a good novel and more like continuing the biography of a good friend or beloved celebrity. Which isn’t to say that The Half-Blood Prince isn’t a good novel; on the contrary, it ranks right up there with The Prisoner and Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire, and is a damn sight better than 2003’s gloomy and ultimately disappointing The Order of the Phoenix. For those of us who feel better when things are given in Star Wars terms, The Half-Blood Prince is most similar to The Empire Strikes Back; it advances and complicates our views about the series and its characters, while apparently moving backward from the hero’s inevitable triumph over the villain.

In The Half-Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling maintains her own tradition of opening the novel without the titular hero in sight. In this case, the muggle Prime Minister of England is anxiously awaiting a visit from the Minister of Magic and reminiscing about their previous, mostly unpleasant, meetings. When Cornelius Fudge arrives, he brings news that the wizarding world is in an uproar; Lord Voldemort is apparently growing more and more powerful, Voldemort’s followers, the Death-Eaters are becoming more brazen in their attacks, and wizards, witches, and muggles are all at increasing risk of severe harm or death.

While Rowling never mentions real-world events in the books, the tone and situations of the two novels published since 9-11 indicate that the world inside her head is not completely insulated from the world outside. It’s telling of Rowling’s own views that the Ministry of Magic is, at best, ineffectual in dealing with these threats, and is often outright dangerous; in The Half-Blood Prince, the Ministry of Magic detains individuals it knows to be innocent, in order to give the appearance of making some progress against the enemy.

The initial expository scene, combined with a tantalizingly ambiguous revelation about one of the Hogwart’s professors, makes for such a dark opening that it’s an almost tangible relief when Harry finally makes an appearance. The likeable young wizard is now 16 years old, and Rowling has again taken pains to ensure that the novel has matured along with Harry. Passages dealing with the magical comeuppance of the Dursleys, the pointless ins and outs of Quidditch matches (why bother with anything but the snitch?), and the minutiae of wizard candy are fleeting and widely spaced, while more chapters are devoted to fairly violent magical battles (a faithful movie adaptation could very well garner an “R” rating), career counseling, and “snogging,” (making out, for those of us on the Yankee side of the pond).

Once the novel starts in earnest, Rowling doesn’t stray from Harry’s point of view, but she cheats somewhat by using the “pensive,” a magical device that allows Harry to explore the memories of others. The pensive is put to good use in the book, as its main function is to investigate the background of “He-who-must-not-be-named.” Readers who are hoping for a complicated, even sympathetic, take on Lord Voldemort (ala Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon) will be disappointed. It turns out that Voldemort is just plain bad, always has been, and apparently, always will be. More psychopath than sadist, Voldemort never hurts or kills just for enjoyment, his villainies are always means to an end. Voldemort’s particular brand of evil means that the guilt that might be expected to accompany these activities just isn’t there.

Other magical items are used less effectively in the story. An episode involving a bottle of “liquid luck”, called “felix felicis,” (the letters of which do not rearrange to spell deus ex machina) feels so contrived, requires a such a lengthy and complicated set-up, and requires Harry, Ron, and Hermione to act so outside their characters, that it’s one of the few times the book feels like something that somebody made up, rather than a description of actual events.

All told, however, the sixth installment in the Harry Potter series is excellent, and the unabridged recording of the novel makes for a very enjoyable listen. The folks at Listening Library made an inspired choice when they chose Jim Dale to read The Sorcerer’s Stone, and, five books, two Audie Awards, five Headphone Awards, three Grammy nominations and one actual Grammy later, his performance of The Half-Blood Prince is, to borrow a word from Harry, brilliant. Even without sound effects, music, or multiple actors, The Half-Blood Prince plays like a good BBC radio drama. Dale lends nuance and individuality to each of the characters, while his “normal,” narration voice is dignified, yet accessible. Dale also has an uncanny knack for interpreting speech adverbs; where Rowling writes “reprovingly,” or “reminiscently”, Dale puts reproach or reminiscence into the dialogue, so much so that very often the listener will be able to predict Rowling’s choice of adverb before Dale reads it. Maybe the highest compliment that can be paid to the audio book is that at no point is the reader reminded of the sub-par (but increasingly better) film adaptations of the books. While listeners who desire an experience closer to reading, with more neutral performances that allow for more personal interpretation, might resent having Dale’s vigorous interpretation thrust upon them, most listeners, particularly younger ones, will enjoy all 19 hours of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning aut…

September 29, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning author Neil Gaiman, who is on tour promoting his latest novel Anansi Boys and his new film Mirrormask, was interviewed on WNYC Radio’s The Leonard Lopate Show on Thursday, September 29th 2005. You can download the MP3 of that interview HERE.

Gaiman was also in Australia recently (July 2005) and the State Library of Victoria has posted three MP3s of the talk he gave there. He explains about his varied career, reads from Anansi Boys and answers questions from the audience. You can download all three segments:

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

Blogger, journalist and science fiction author C…

September 29, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

SFFaudio News

Blogger, journalist and science fiction author Cory Doctorow is now podcasting his fiction! Cory writes, “I’ve finally started podcasting! I love reading my stuff aloud, but it’s not practical for me to find quiet places to sit down with a mic and a Powerbook and record. So the idea is that I’m going to record my stories in serial form from wherever I am: hotel rooms, friends’ sofas, airport lounges, whatever, and post ’em.” You can subscribe to the feed here, or download individual installments as MP3s here. The podcast is also available through iTunes. To kick things off he’s reading from a novelette-in-progress entitled After the Siege.

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC Radio 4 has just broadcast Zoran Zivkovic’s …

September 29, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Radio 4 has just broadcast Zoran Zivkovic‘s The Train. Which was first published in INTERZONE in 2000. Zoran Zivkovic is a World Fantasy Award winning author. This was the fourth in a series of five short stories on BBC Radio 4‘s Afternoon Reading collected under the heading “Opening Lines” which is billed as “A showcase of cutting-edge, contemporary writing”. It is archived for a limited time, likely just a 24 hours HERE.

The Train
By Zoran Zivkovic; Read by Roger Hallum
ONLINE AUDIO – 14 Minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Broadcast: September 29th 2005
Bropadcaster: BBC Radio 4
A bank manager is travelling to an important meeting where he will announce whether or not his bank will grant a substantial loan to a new company. He’s mulling over the risks involved when he meets God, who reveals that he will provide the answer to a single question. The man can’t believe his good luck and asks God to solve his bank loan dilemma.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Ender’s Game: Special 20th Anniversary Edition by Orson Scott Card

September 28, 2005 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardEnder’s Game: Special 20th Anniversary Edition
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison, Gabrielle de Cuir, David Birney and a FULL CAST
9 CDs – 10.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2004
ISBN: 1593974744
Themes: / Science Fiction / War / Children / Military / Politics / Spaceships / Space Station / Aliens /

Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin isn’t just playing games at Battle School; he and the other children are being tested and trained in Earth’s attempt to find the military genius that the planet needs in its all-out war with an alien enemy. Ender Wiggin is six years old when his training begins. He will grow up fast. Ender’s two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world–if the world survives.

Many male children covet uniforms and the manly art of war – and on the surface that is what Ender’s Game appears to be about, a wish-fulfillment novel for the pre-teen set. But it isn’t only that. Science Fiction is an accumulative literature, perhaps more so than any other kind. Good creations stick in SF and accumulate and grow. Robots once invented, need not be reinvented. Faster than light travel, time travel or Asimov’s “three laws” are tools which once created need not be ignored as outside the scope of another SF novel, quite the contrary in fact. Simply ask yourself; in what other literature could a constructed story device like an “ansible” (invented by Ursula K. Le Guin in 1966 but used in Ender’s Game) be mentioned without renaming it? But it is not just the story props that SF shares, the concepts and themes of science fiction can never be fully appreciated in isolation. Every science fiction story is in dialogue with another.

Ender’s Game is especially engaged with two other superlative science fiction novels that preceded it, namely Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, and like those two masterpieces of science fiction Ender’s Game has something new and unique to say. Whereas Starship Troopers can be viewed as the relationship between a teenager’s individualism and his relationship to society (a neo-Hobbesian social contract concept typical of mid-career Heinlien), and The Forever War as a discussion of that same relationship but with a college aged young man and his more skeptical worldview (the post Vietnam influence) Ender’s Game engages neither an adult’s nor a teen’s relationship to his society its war. Instead Ender’s Game is that relationship from a child’s perspective. It is also, paradoxically, not a grunt’s view of a war, as was the case with both Heinlein’s and Haldeman’s novels, but rather is about how the supreme commander of an interstellar war is created.

Orson Scott Card has not ignored the disconnect between a child’s desire to play at war and the brutal cost of killing, and the burden of ultimate responsibility. We primarily follow Ender and his classmates as they train to command Earth’s military in a genocidal war against a hostile alien threat, but the parallel story of his two siblings back on Earth compels equally. Each character in this novel is in a chess match of emotional and philosophical conflict with one another and their society. There are a few better hard science fiction stories, and a few better soft science fiction stories, but there are fewer science fiction stories as well constructed and emotionally satisfying as this one.

The 20th anniversary of the novel’s re-publication brought about this audiobook. It is regrettable that the cover art of this edition is as generic as it is because the folks at Audio Renaissance have quite literally have brought greatness to the text. They’ve included an introduction and a postscript read by Card himself, both of which place the novel and the audiobook in its context as well as enlightening us to the author’s method of its construction. Multiple readers lead by Stefan Rudnicki work perfectly to vocally illustrate each chapter, character and scene. Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney and the rest of the readers have given us an audiobook perfectly rendered. In what is the pattern for the Enderverse novels adapted for Audio Renaissance readers trade off at the ends of chapters, and when two unplaced voices are unattributed – except by what they actually say – two actors engage in conversation. Multi voiced readings have never been better.

And so it is with great pleasure that we enter this Special 20th Anniversary edition of Ender’s Game as the first into the ranks of the SFFaudio Essential audiobooks.

Posted by Jesse Willis

More new and cool podcasts: Broadcasting from t…

September 27, 2005 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, News 

SFFaudio News

More new and cool podcasts:

Broadcasting from the University Of California, Davis, host Karl J. Mogel has just started podcasting his show The Inoculated Mind. It is available through iTunes‘ search function. Science and science fiction are the focus. The very limited website can be found at www.inoculatedmind.com

alienETHOS is a new podcast with a focus on exploring the ethical and moral dilemnas illustrated by science fiction. The examples used so far have mostly been from television and movies, but perhaps they’ll delve into the more literary examples in the future. Hey guys how about James Blish’s A Case Of Conscience? Check out the website here: www.alienethos.com

Spaceship Radio isdedicated to bringing you the best of the classic 1950s science fiction and fantasy radio shows like Dimension X and X Minus One. It is surprising it has taken this long to come up with such a clever idea for a podcast! Visit the slick Spaceship Radio website here.

The Twilight Tales Audio Experience, www.twilighttales.com, is a primarily horror and dark fantasy story series of readings, a kind of anthology of the horrific. Three great sounding podcasts out so far.

Sound Stages is another podcast with a bent towards radio drama (and audio drama), it has podcast things like Bradbury 13, Imagination-X and Icebox Radio Theatre. The website needs some organization but the content itself is very keen!

Posted by Jesse Willis

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