Review of The God Engines by John Scalzi

March 24, 2011 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The God Engines by John ScalziThe God Engines
By John Scalzi; Read by Christopher Lane
3 CDs – Approx. 3 Hours 15 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: December 2010
ISBN: 9781441890795
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Religion / Galactic Civilization / Space Travel / War /

Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this — and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given. Tephe knows from the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put — and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely… Author John Scalzi has ascended to the top ranks of modern science fiction with the best-selling, Hugo-nominated novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. Now he tries his hand at fantasy, with a dark and different novella that takes your expectations of what fantasy is and does, and sends them tumbling. Say your prayers… and behold The God Engines.

The God Engines is the strongest John Scalzi audiobook since Old Man’s War |READ OUR REVIEW|. It provokes thought, flies off in an unexpected direction and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The setting is in an unnamed galaxy, at an unknown time. But space travel, interstellar communication, and bodily healing aren’t technological developments. Instead, they are derived from a rigorous faith in actual, existing gods! These gods are so real, so embodied, that there is one in the center of each starship. It lies their enslaved, guarded and harnessed so as to achieve the ends to which they are put. Command over these powerful beings is achieved by a combination of torture and reward. Their masters are human beings, members of a religion with their own completely manifested god. Their purpose is to war with other religions, enslave new gods and bring more human beings to the worship of their own god. It is an unending holy war, in a fully realized universe, and it works.

I like to see the examination of an interesting idea, without an endless parade of pointless activity to dilute its core of goodness. We have that in this book. There’s something very neat about the running of what is essentially the starship Enterprise on faith. To hear that an officer is changing his prayers to adjust what’s showing up on the viewscreen – that’s something definitely worth seeing. Scalzi’s universe is run on prayer, faith, and relgious belief. It’s a kind of realization of what religions always claim, but shown to be actually functioning in a replicable manner. It’s theology as physics. The whole story feels like it comes from the same place J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 came from. Where Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End came from. There’s an indisputable space opera with Lovecraft vibe to it, but unlike so much space opera, the thinking just isn’t mushy and placative. In fact, there was nary a moment where I wasn’t completely engaged with this made up Fantasy/SF tale. The storytelling is expertly intertwined with a careful exposition of the universe’s rules. This works to fully enrich the ideation without coming off as merely a writer going through a checklist. I’d love to see Scalzi, or any other SF writer, write a dozen more books just like this – take a break from the series universe, and write some more idea based SF. Take a simple little premise or vignette, throw in a few characters and have them explore the concomitant interestingness of that idea. The God Engines does exactly that. It shows, very simply what SF storytelling is supposed to look like. This audiobook stands well, on its own, though I could easily imagine it as one half of an old Ace Double. This is very good work. Well done Mr. Scalzi.

Narrator Christopher Lane has about five major characters to play with. The captain is commanding and thoughtful. The second in command is calm and loyal. The ship’s high priest (who also acts as a kind of political commissar) is jealous but clever. The one female role, a rook (which is kind of a cross between a ship’s whore and a priestess), is wise and womanly. But it’s the unnamed god’s voice that is the real standout. Lane’s god is tortured, twisted and devious. It is a very precise performance, one that allows for the sympathy Scalzi was aiming at. The art for the cover comes from Vincent Chong‘s illustration of the Subterranean Press edition.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Gilgamesh the King by Robert Silverberg

March 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Gilgamesh the King by Robert SilverbergGilgamesh the King
By Robert Silverberg; Read by William Coon
MP3 Download – Approx. 13 Hours 22 Mins – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Eloquent Voice, LLC
Published: September 2010
ISBN: 9780984413898
Themes: / Fantasy / Gods / Demi-gods / Ancient Civilization /

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest known works of literature, being from around 2200 B.C. It tells of Gilgamesh the king of Uruk (a city-state in Sumer) who is half human and half god.

If you are as unfamiliar with the story as I was, here it is in a nutshell. Gilgamesh is running rather roughshod over the people of Uruk. When they beg the gods to make him a good king, the gods create Gilgamesh’s equal, a wild man named Enkidu. After discovering that they are indeed equals, the two become fast friends and have many adventures together, one in particular because Gilgamesh rejects the goddess Ishtar’s marriage proposal. When the gods become offended by one of the adventures and take Enkidu’s life as forfeit, Gilgamesh becomes obsessed with the idea of immortality. He then sets off on a new series of adventures in quest of eluding death, only to find that all men must die. He returns to Uruk and becomes the good king that the people wanted all along.

After a story has been around as long as the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is not surprising that there are several versions which have been recovered on ancient clay tablets. What is surprising is that Gilgamesh’s story is alive and well in different versions in modern culture, ranging from music to television to video games. That makes it more understandable that Robert Silverberg, that prolific master of science fiction, brought his talents to bear on retelling the tale in 1984. One wonders how earlier authors missed taking advantage of a story with such fantastic elements: a demi-god, slayer of monsters and master warrior, searching for the key to immortality.

Silverberg spins a mesmerizing tale that follows the basic plotline of the original epic. Told by Gilgamesh himself, it begins with the funeral of his father and 6-year-old Gilgamesh’s realization that friends and servants are being sent to their death so they can serve the king in the next life. Thus, the theme of man’s struggle with the inevitability of death is introduced. We also meet the young girl who will become the high priestess of Inanna (Sumerian goddess equivalent to Ishtar). As the personification of the goddess of love and war, she both tempts and infuriates Gilgamesh in a lifelong struggle for love and power. As well as the exciting adventures and fun of seeing how Silverberg interpreted the original epic, we see also that Gilgamesh is pondering the big questions of life: why must people die, what is the meaning of life, and how to balance destiny with action and free will.

In the afterword, Silverberg himself admits that he strove to give the story a historical setting and tell it from the point of view of the original Gilgamesh, the king, although he wove in elements of the epic. I have seen reviewers who lament this approach. It is true that in some of Gilgamesh’s adventure Silverberg has stripped them of their fantastic elements and the result was to make those parts mundane compared to the epic. However, I do not think that this book’s critics give Silverberg enough credit. As Mary Stewart did with her Arthurian novels (The Crystal Cave, etc.) and C. S. Lewis did in his retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche (Till We Have Faces), Silverberg carries the reader to ancient times and into the mind of the main character. Gilgamesh experiences the gods’ power and magic and, thus, so does the reader. The writing style is appropriately spare and simple, as if to echo how it would have been written in antiquity, as well as how difficult it would have been for an action-oriented hero to get his thoughts written down.

William Coon’s narration is what makes this book come alive. I honestly doubt if I would have stayed with the book past the first few chapters if he hadn’t communicated Gilgamesh so clearly. Coon’s ability to slightly change intonation so that listeners feel Gilgamesh’s emotions and motivations was what pulled me into caring about the character. That same ability to slightly change intonation and inflection allowed him to faithfully communicate other characters so that I could feel I knew Inanna and Enkidu especially. Somehow his reading also managed to echo that spare, simple style that one would imagine was faithful to early storytelling. Suffice it to say that William Coon’s narration transformed the book into a trip to the past for me. Perhaps it is that narration, in fact, which allowed me to overlook the elements which critics decried when Silverberg chose a scientific explanation over a mystical one.

This was a superior listening experience and I highly recommend the book based on that fact, as well as the book itself.

Posted by Julie D.

Dateline 2006: The George R.R. Martin Podcast

March 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

Online Audio

The George R. R. Martin PodcastWith the Game of Thrones hype engine at full speed (and heck yeah I’m going to watch it), I’m reminded of a short lived podcast from George R.R. Martin back in 2006. I just checked, and the files are still there. It ran for 8 episodes right around the time that A Feast for Crows was released.

The feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheGeorgeRRMartinPodcast

Or the individual episodes:
Episode 1: The Birth of A Song of Ice and Fire – |MP3|
Episode 2: The Origin of George R. R. Martin the Writer – |MP3|
Episode 3: Good Advice for Aspiring Writers – |MP3|
Episode 4: Tales of Hollywood – |MP3|
Episode 5: Weird Stuff — Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror – |MP3|
Episode 6: An Excerpt from A Feast For Crows – |MP3|
Episode 7: Games, Comic Books, and Figures – |MP3|
Episode 8: The Fans – |MP3|

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

FREE LISTENS REVIEW: The 39 Steps by John Buchan

March 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Review

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan39 steps cover

SourceLibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 4 hours, 20 minutes
Reader: Adrian Praetzellis

The book: Before Dan Brown or The Bourne Identity, John Buchan got the ball rolling in the man-on-the-run conspiracy novel sub-genre in 1915. The 39 Stepsfollows Richard Hannay, a South African mining engineer who has moved to London to start a new life. Hannay finds this new life dreadfully boring until he crosses paths with a secret agent who has uncovered a shocking conspiracy. Soon, the shadowy members of the Black Stone are on the trail of Hannay and he must discover the meaning of the phrase “the thirty-nine steps” before time runs out.

This was a fun light read. The plot relies far too much on serendipitous circumstances to be believable, but the story is exciting and fast-paced enough to let the ridiculous coincidences slide. Buchan strikes the right balance between making Hannay competent enough to be interesting without making him a do-everything superman. I can easily see how this novel became a favorite among soldiers in the trenches of World War I: it’s great escapist fiction.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: As I mentioned in my review of Treasure Island, Praetzellis is probably the best narrator at LibriVox. In fact, I’d put him in the top 10 of all narrators working in audiobooks, professional or amateur. He does wonderful voices for each of his characters, from a deep Scottish brogue to the received pronunciation of government officials. I’ve read this book before in print and don’t remember enjoying it near as much as I did from Praetzellis’s narration.

Posted by Seth

The SFFaudio Podcast #100

March 21, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #100 – Scott and Jesse talked to John Joseph Adams about his careers as editor, anthologist, and audio fan

Talked about on today’s show:

Wastelands anthology, Book Of Cthulhu canceled, John’s reviews for Audible, Lightspeed Magazine, Joe Haldeman, More Than the Sum of His Parts, I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You, Cats in Victory, Fantasy Magazine, The Dog King, flat fee vs sharing royalties, Locus magazine stats retracted, internet vs print market, Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy #32 discussion – can’t read scifi in the future, David Barr Kirtley, Fantastic Fiction at KGB, Word Wars, The Living Dead anthology, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, George R.R. Martin, Brian Dunning the Skeptoid, The Tolkien Professor, The Improbable Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes on audio [Our Review], hard to get all the audio rights, The Living Dead 2 audiobook almost happened, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, is that John’s picture at lightspeedmagazine.com?, good news — she said yes, swearing is ok, Odyssey writer workshop, Aggie Con, too many writing podcasts?, Jesse doesn’t want to be a writer, reading slush (unsolicited manuscripts), can’t edit yourself, the output of Isaac Asimov, Wastelands modeled after Beyond Armageddon, “anthologies don’t sell”, Brave New Worlds, how about utopian?, role of editor, Passengers by Robert Silverberg, Daemon Knight, to listen to your editor or not, John W. Campbell, The Cold Equations, Flowers For Algernon, Daniel Keyes ignored suggestion, does novel editing still exist?, novels are getting fatter, I Am Number FourJames Frey’s Fiction Factory (James Patterson?), wrong lessons from George Lucas, purpose of scifi?, Harlan Ellison ® is registered, Ben Bova, The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells, Ted Chiang, scifi for schools?, Twilight as homework?, Ray Bradbury, The Pedestrian

Posted by Tamahome

LibriVox: The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft

March 19, 2011 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxWritten in three days (October 16–19, 1924), this classic H.P. Lovecraft short was published posthumously in Weird Tales. If you’re Lovecraft fan you may already know that the dwelling of the title was a real building, which still stands at 135 Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Today, a strange, nigh gargantuan tree o’rehangs it (viewable at 41°49′46.9″N 71°24′30.5″W). Kind of makes you wonder what nourishes the roots of such monstrous vegetation. Doesn’t it?

LIBRIVOX - The Shunned House by H.P. LovecraftThe Shunned House
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by Gregg Margarite
1 |MP3| – Approx. 1 Hour 8 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: June 19, 2010
|ETEXT|
“A tale of revolting horror in the cellar of an old house in New England.” First published in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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