Review of Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

November 30, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover of Quicksilver by Neal StephensonQuicksilver
By Neal Stephenson; Read by Simon Prebble and Kevin Pariseau
Audible Download – 14 Hours 48 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2010
Themes: / Natural Philosophy / History Of Science / Historical Fiction

Let me begin this review by saying that anyone with the cajones to write historical fiction on this scale deserves mad props. Quicksilver, being the introductory volume in Neal Stephenson’s epic Baroque Cycle, spins a dizzying tale of science and adventure on the colorful canvas of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Christendom. Like Stephenson’s massive World War II yarn Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver blends erudite discourse on the nature of the world with high drama and hair-raising adventure. The story sometimes takes a back seat to the intellectual ideas under discussion, but readers not afraid to apply a little mental elbow grease will find a lot to enjoy.

Before diving into an actual review, a note on this audio edition is in order. Audible Frontiers has elected to split the three massive print volumes of the Baroque Cycle into eight audiobooks. They haven’t just taken a metaphorical paper knife to the series, though. They’ve worked closely with Neal Stephenson to ensure the audio volumes have their own cohesion and progression. Neal Stephenson also lends his voice to a brief audio introduction preceding each volume. Thus, this audio performance of Quicksilver comprises only part of the print volume of the same name. I’ve not read the print edition, so I can’t draw any further comparisons.

In typical non-linear Stephenson fashion, Quicksilver narrates the pivotal events in the life of Puritan-turned-scholar Daniel Waterhouse. The story jumps between his youth in the mid-1600s and his later life in the early 1700s. Readers of Cryptonomicon will be familiar with this technique. They’ll probably also recognize our protagonist’s surname, as the Waterhouse family plays a pivotal role in the aforementioned novel. The ageless enigmatic Enoch Root also makes an appearance early on in the novel. Stephenson, to some extent, seems to be following the example of James Clavell, whose Struan family formed the backbone of his Hong Kong novels through different time periods. Having said that, one certainly doesn’t need to have read Cryptonomicon to appreciate Quicksilver.

The similarities between Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver also extend to theme and writing style. Stephenson takes frequent detours to explain the dynamics of a sun dial, the optics of a telescope, or the physics of eighteenth-century seafaring vessels. The digressions feel appropriate to a tale that features the likes of Isaac Newton, Samuel Pepys, and Gottfried Leibniz. Indeed the title Quicksilver, the common name for mercury, serves as a metaphor for the transition in modes of thinking and reasoning that the novel is trying to highlight. Daniel Waterhouse witnesses the nascent days of experimental science as we know it. The erudite dialogues and monologues sometimes made my eyes glaze over, however, and I was yearning to return to the story.

What saves Quicksilver from sometimes devolving into a mere lecture on the history of science is Neal Stephenson’s vibrant prose. Stephenson writes with the exact precision of a philosopher, but with an eye for earthy metaphors and a sensitivity towards the modern reader. I might quibble with occasional use of language that wasn’t current in the seventeenth century, but must concede that these (usually very minor) transgressions make the work far easier to read and digest. As a lover of language for language’s sake, I found Quicksilver a philological joy to read.

The colorful prose is brought to life by Simon Prebble’s artful narration. Narrating historical fiction can be almost as monumental a task as writing it. How does one lend a voice to the intellectual magnificence of a Newton or a Leibniz? Simon Prebble does a magnificent job, aided by Stephenson’s written cues, of bringing real life and character to most of the novel’s characters. The cast of Quicksilver encompasses a vast ethnic background, from British to Dutch to German to the New World, and Simon Prebble juggles this diversity with ease. Kevin Pariseau narrates only the epigraphs beginning each chapter, which are usually apropos to the following content.

One last observation about Quicksilver: it isn’t really science fiction. Okay, if you want to get pedantic, it’s actually the purest form of science fiction–fiction about science and its development. But the novel certainly isn’t science fiction in the modern genre sense. The ageless (immortal?) Enoch Root figures into the tale, and there are certainly themes reminiscent of science fiction (what is real? how does the world work?), but listeners casually browsing the science fiction portion of Audible hoping for a straightforward science fiction story will be disappointed. Like so often happens in publishing, I assume that the categorization was a marketing decision, by analogy with Stephenson’s more strictly science fiction work like Snow Crash. Still, fans of science fiction with an open mind will find lots to appreciate in these stories.

I’ve begun listening to King Of The Vagabonds, the follow-up volume to Quicksilver. The story shifts gears abruptly in both focus and tone, turning its attention now to the homeless beggar and thief Jack Shaftoe (another familiar name to readers of Cryptonomicon). Clearly the Baroque Cycle has a wide array of stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to following its tangled webs.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Audio-Drama.com – an AUDIO DRAMA wiki-encyclopedia/directory

November 30, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, News 

SFFaudio News

Audio-Drama.comFrom a recent email:

Audio-Drama.com is a wiki of audio drama websites, with category tags, and a search function, so you can focus on the type of audio drama that you’re looking for. There are also links to resources for creating audio drama, as well. Some of the articles have only basic information at the moment, but like any wiki, the content will only expand and improve with time.

Right now, Audio-Drama.com has over 1200 entries, and anyone can add or edit the articles. The more people that know about it, the greater a resource it will be.

And here’s the wiki-description from its “about” page:

Audio-Drama.com is a wiki project to compile a list of all things related to audio drama. It began as a list of audio drama-related news items and links in 2003. It was relaunched as a wiki in September of 2008. It was open to the public on July 15, 2010.

And, as you can see, by the entry someone put up for SFFaudio, the site is in its infancy. Someone should go beef that baby-up!

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #084

November 29, 2010 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #084 – Jesse talks recent arrivals and new releases with Paul W. Campbell, Luke Burrage, Rick Jackson and Gregg Margarite

WATCH OUT FOR THE FALSE ENDINGS (mostly attributable to Luke)

Talked about on today’s show:
Role playing game names, “Tom And His Friends” Dungeons And Dragons comedy (aka Farador), SFFaudio Challenge #2, Rebels Of The Red Planet by Charles L. Fontenay, Mars, martian rebels, Podiobooks.com, Cossmass Productions, Mark Douglas Nelson, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, the least interesting vs. the least fitting, I’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas by Lewis Black, Christmas = Fantasy?, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Suck It, Wonder Woman |READ OUR REVIEW|, Star Wars, what makes Star Wars Science Fiction is a sense-of-wonder?, Star Trek, METAtropolis: Cascadia, Star Trek The Next Generation narrators vs. Battlestar Galactica narrators, Wil Wheaton as a narrator, Dove Audio, Levar Burton as a narrator, liking Star Trek for all the wrong reasons, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, assimilation is a neat idea, “who the hell are the Borg?”, The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin |READ OUR REVIEW|, The Unincorporated War, “is there true Science Fiction to be found in sequels?”, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Peter F. Hamilton’s The Void Trilogy, Blackout by Connie Willis, The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis |READ OUR REVIEW|, Firewatch, dragging the story out, Whiteout by Connie Willis, World War II, Katherine Kellgren as a narrator, Jenny Sterlin as a narrator, Recorded Books, Brilliance Audio, Audible.com, Amazon.com, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, Deep Six by Jack McDevitt, introductions to audiobooks, the introduction as an apology for the book, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. |READ OUR REVIEW|, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison, The Time Traders by Andre Norton, H.G. Wells, The First Men In The Moon, Around The Moon, Jules Verne, continuing characters rather than continuing series, Sherlock Holmes, Khyber Pass vs. Reichenbach Falls, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley Of Fear, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, does reading a series defeat the hope of being surprised? Priest Kings Of Gor by John Norman, A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin |READ OUR REVIEW|, fun vs. funny, crime and adventure vs. ideas, A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bill The Galactic Hero, Slippery Jim DiGriz, The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge, This Immortal by Roger Zelazny, The Speed Of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, Books On Tape, Grover Gardner, Gregg has a grumbly voice, The Space Dog Podcast, The Science Fiction Oral History Association, Gordon Dickson, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Cordwainer Smith, Scott Westerfeld, Ben Bova, Luke’s next podcast project, NaNoWriMo, what podcast schedule should you have?, Robert Silverberg AUDIOBOOKS are coming from Wonder Audio, the old stuff vs. the new stuff, Jay Snyder as a narrator, a Science Fiction story that has little SF content, autism, Charly, Understand by Ted Chiang, Flowers For Algernon, interacting with the world, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, psychopathy, an unreliable first person narrator, young Dexter, Asperger syndrome, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon, a detached (but reliable) narrator, the two audiobook versions of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, the Baroque Cycle, Anathem, John Allen Nelson as a narrator, Phat Fiction, The Way Of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, The Towers Of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, walking around central park as a retired person as my new career, who listens to audiobooks?, working the unworked niche, they really like Gregg’s voice!, no RSS-feed = soooo sad, Sam This Is You by Murray Leinster, Black Amazon Of Mars by Leigh Brackett, The World That Couldn’t Be Clifford D. Simak, The Idiot by John Kendrick Bangs, The Hate Disease, Asteroid Of Fear, Industrial Revolution by Poul Anderson, A Horse’s Tale by Mark Twain, anthropomorphic fiction, A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain, Gregg has bugles lying around, Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, Thought You Were Dead by Terry Griggs, Iambik Audio‘s upcoming Science Fiction audiobooks, LibriVox, working with small press publishers, Extract From Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven, Blackstone Audio, The Many Colored Land by Julian May, Bernadette Dunne as a narrator, time travel, The Pliocene Epoch, sequel and prequel fatigue, flooding the Mediterranean, Blake’s 7: Zen : Escape Veloctiy is a Science Fictiony audio drama series, Firesign Theatre? (he means Seeing Ear Theatre), The Moon Moth based on the story by Jack Vance, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, Mistborn, Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, Lord Of Light by Roger Zelazny, Finch by Jeff Vandermere, Flood by Stephen Baxter, thematic exploration vs. bad writing, GoodReads.com, Eifelheim by Michael Flynn |READ OUR REVIEW|, Luke’s books should be audiobooks, The Fifth Annual SFFaudio Challenge, all the cool Science Fiction ideas in Luke’s books, Gregg Margarite is a secret author with a secret pseudonym, Eric Arthur Blair, the publishing industry headache is intolerable to many, good writers + savvy marketers = sales success?, Redbelt, David Mamet, drowning in an ocean full of crap, the Jesse Willis bump?, catering to the listeners (or readers) desires vs. publishers desires, Pogoplug, Out Of The Dark by David Weber, artificial robots vs. natural robots, What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly, art and techne, does evolution have goals?, the Cool Tools blog, eyes vs. I, natural selection, zero-point energy, the Cat in Red Dwarf was pulled to the fish dispensing vending machine, if you won’t give me eyes at least give me bilateral symmetry, goals vs. patterns or positions, starfish vs. Inuit, technology is a function of evolution, Luke re-writes The War Of The Worlds in under 20 minutes, red weed and green mist, stomach-less martians, “the final final part” and the musical version, flipping over the narrative is fun, Ender’s Game vs. Ender’s Shadow, what do the martians have against doors?, keeping the martian cannon canon, The Dragon With The Girl Tattoo by Adam Roberts.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Recent Arrivals: Penguin Audio, Macmillan Audio, Brilliance Audio

November 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

Here are three very different recently arrived audiobooks – one humor, one Fantasy, one Science Fiction. What do they have in common? This post!

Perhaps it’s a contractual obligation? If you work for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart maybe you’re actually required to write and release a short audiobook. Or it may be just a wise decision? What I do know is that we have an obligation to tell you about all the audiobooks we receive, including this one…

PENGUIN AUDIO - I'm Dreaming Of A Black Christmas by Lewis BlackI’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas
By Lewis Black; Read by Lewis Black
4 CDs – Approx. 5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: November 2, 2010
ISBN: 9780142428559
Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace on earth and goodwill toward all. But not for Lewis Black. He says humbug to the christmas traditions and trappings that make the holiday memorable. In I’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas, his hilarious and sharply observed book about the holiday, Lewis lets loose on all things Yule. It’s a very personal look at what’s wrong with Christmas, seen through the eyes of “the most engagingly pissed-off comedian ever.”* [*Stephen King] From his own Christmas rituals – which have absolutely nothing to do with the presents or the Christmas tree or Rudolph – to his own eccentric experiences with the holiday (including a USO Christmas tour and playing Santa Claus in full regalia). I’m Dreaming Of A Black Christmas is classic Lewis Black: funny,razor-sharp, insightful, and honest. You’ll never think of Christmas in the same way.

This is, apparently, the penultimate book in the Wheel Of Time series. The first book in the series, The Eye Of The World, came out in 1990, that’s twenty years ago. According to the Wikipedia entry it would take 17 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes for you to every unabridged audiobook in the series so far. Based on the price of this one, $91.99 CDN, and the first one, $59.95 USD, I’m guessing a complete set would set you back slightly more than $1,000. Now, based on these statistics, I’m betting that fat fantasy (or phat fiction? or heroic fantasy?) fans must be both extremely patient and very well-to-do.

MACMILLAN AUDIO - Towers Of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon SandersonTowers Of Midnight (Wheel of Time #13)
By Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson; Read by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
30 CDs – Approx. 38 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: November 2010
ISBN: 9781427210227
The Last Battle has started. The seals on the Dark One’s prison are crumbling. The Pattern itself is unraveling, and the armies of the Shadow have begun to boil out of the Blight. The sun has begun to set upon the Third Age. Perrin Aybara is now hunted by specters from his past: Whitecloaks, a slayer of wolves, and the responsibilities of leadership. All the while, an unseen foe is slowly pulling a noose tight around his neck. To prevail, he must seek answers in Tel’aran’rhiod and find a way–at long last–to master the wolf within him or lose himself to it forever. Meanwhile, Matrim Cauthon prepares for the most difficult challenge of his life. The creatures beyond the stone gateways–the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn–have confused him, taunted him, and left him hanged, his memory stuffed with bits and pieces of other men’s lives. He had hoped that his last confrontation with them would be the end of it, but the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. The time is coming when he will again have to dance with the Snakes and the Foxes, playing a game that cannot be won. The Tower of Ghenjei awaits, and its secrets will reveal the fate of a friend long lost. This penultimate novel of Robert Jordan’s #1 New York Times bestselling series–the second of three based on materials he left behind when he died in 2007–brings dramatic and compelling developments to many threads in the Pattern. The end draws near. Dovie’andi se tovya sagain. It’s time to toss the dice.

Phat Fiction

We talked about this audiobook back in SFFaudio Podcast #074, but somehow it never got scanned – until now! In fact, I’m listening to this one now, and LOVING IT.

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The Speed Of Dark by Elizabeth MoonThe Speed Of Dark
By Elizabeth Moon; Read by Jay Snyder
12 CDs – Approx. 14 Hours 47 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: August 27, 2010
ISBN: 9781441875068
Sample: |MP3|
Thoughtful, poignant, and unforgettable, The Speed Of Dark is a gripping exploration into the world of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man who is offered a chance to try an experimental “cure” for his condition. Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that may change the way he views the world — and the very essence of who he is.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Graphic Audio: Interview with Elizabeth Moon

November 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Graphic AudioGraphic Audio‘s podcast has a very interesting and informative interview with Elizabeth Moon. They talk about the Graphic Audio adaptations of Moon’s Vatta’s War and Serrano Legacy series of novels, cochlear implants, cyborgs, facial recognition, math, horses, embryonic livestock transport, selective breeding, genetic engineering, post-traumatic stress disorder, realistic villains, faster than light travel, and a whole lot more!

|MP3|

Podcast feed:

http://www.graphicaudio.net/t-rss.aspx

Posted by Jesse Willis

A conversation between Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley

November 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Archive.org has a wonderful 90 minute English language conversation between two famous German rocket scientists!

Check it out |MP3|

A historic conversation between German rocket scientists Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley. Highlights include the development of the German rocket programs during WWII, and the space program in the 1950’s. Recorded June 9th and 23rd, 1959, in New York City and Redstone Arsenal, Huntstville, Alabama.

Indeed hearing Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley talk is very cool.

Ley and von Braun talk about:
old school days in Germany, Hermann Oberth‘s influential book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (“By Rocket Into Interplanetary Space“), Fritz Lang movie Woman In The Moon, rocketry and rockets from the V-2 to the Saturn rocket family, geosynchronous satellites, the Mercury project, space stations, weather satellites, the Van Allen radiation belt, the role of humans in space, sending men around the Moon, the logistics of photographing and visiting Venus and Mars, space probes, a “semi-philosophical question about Man’s rights in space”, theological objections (and blessings), the compatibility between religion and science, Blaise Pascal, extraterrestrial life, vegetation on Mars, smart aliens, Arthur C. Clarke’s first law.

As you can see it is very historic!

Wernher von Braun (left) and Willy Ley (right)

I won’t say much more about the fascinating Wernher von Braun as I recently posted a biographical radio dramatization about him. But I will point out that Willy Ley is pretty damn amazing. Ley was an avid reader of Science Fiction, contributed science articles to Astounding Stories and Galaxy Magazine and was a member of the Trap Door Spiders – there is a wonderful Wikipedia entry about him to explore HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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