Review of The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

September 30, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Book Cover for The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni
By Helene Wecker; Read by George Guidall
Audible Download – 19 Hours 43 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / Magical Realism / Contemporary Fantasy / Judaism / Immigration / Reincarnation

Every year brings new books. Some are sequels, new entries in beloved series, like favorite vacation spots we return to again and again. Others are new works by a proven author, a trusted tour guide taking us to someplace new. Still others are entirely new works by unknown authors who have received praise from the critics or the publisher’s marketing juggernaut, like learning that Costa Rica is the new cool place to visit. But every now and then, I stumble upon a new novel completely by chance, as if turning down the wrong alley in a crowded city and finding a new gem. Last year that novel was Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookshop. This year, it’s Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni.

Let’s start with the official blurb:

Helene Wecker’s dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

But a bit of cover copy can’t begin to capture the wonder of Wecker’s world. In theme and tone the novel sits squarely between contemporary fantasy in the vein of American Gods on the one hand and the subtle magical realism of books like Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude on the other. The scope is too intimate and the characters’ aims too prosaic for the novel to fall in line with contemporary or urban fantasy. Yet it’s also too relentlessly magical to keep company with literary fiction only spiced sparingly with magic. I say it sits between these two genres, but in another way it encompasses both at once. It’s both an incredibly human story and an entirely alien one. Yet the human and the mythical coexist comfortably on the streets of 19th-century New York City: they flirt, they fight, they even fall in love.

When I read the synopsis and the novel’s first few chapters, I was afraid The Golem and the Jinni would devolve into a thinly veiled commentary on the plight of New World immigrants or, worse, an anachronistic attack on Middle East cultures clashing in the United States. Fortunately, Wecker indulges in the former only sparingly and the latter not at all. Like most good literature, the book describes rather than proscribes. The poverty of the Jewish Quarter and Little Syria alike, where the respective mythical creatures take up residence, speaks for itself. Historical context and modern analogues are there to find if you dig for them, but ultimately Wecker is telling a story, a story of two beings entirely different in nature, one of Earth and one of Fire, who meet in the unlikeliest of places.

And yes, they do meet, but not until many hours into the audiobook. The novel takes a leisurely pace, but that doesn’t make it any less irresistably compeling. The narrative strikes that perfect balance between plot and characterization, both feeding off of and into one another. With a novel of this length there are the inevitable brief dry spells, but in those rare cases the strength of Wecker’s prose and the beauty of the world she has conjured carry the listener through. The book’s final chapters also felt a bit hurried, as endings often tend to be, but a lovely epilogue allows the listener to linger in the world a little longer and say goodbye to its charming cast of characters, human and otherwise.

I mentioned American Gods earlier, and it’s difficult not to think of Neil Gaiman’s masterwork when reading The Golem and the Jinni, since both novels tell the story of what happens when profoundly magical beings come to this profoundly un-magical land of America. As an audiobook listener, the similarities were all the more difficult to ignore because George Guidall lends his considerable voice talent to both works. His unhurried, understated narration fits the novel’s tone perfectly, and his voice moves mercurially from the demure speech of Chava the Golem to the taut clip of Ahmad the Jinni. It’s hard to imagine a better narrator for bringing this story to life.

I deeply hope this is but the first of many wondrous works to issue forth from the pen, or keyboard, of Helene Wecker. Rarely does a book’s world or characters captivate me so completely. If you’re looking for the next great work of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, or just plain old fiction, look no further.

Posted by Seth Wilson

The SFFaudio Podcast #232 – READALONG: The Prestige by Christopher Priest

September 30, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #232 – Scott, Jesse, Jenny, and Tamahome talk about The Prestige by Christopher Priest.

Talked about on today’s show:
Simon Vance, Blackstone Audio, The Prestige (2006), explicit, cursing vs. casting spells, I’m going to trick you, a nice complement to the book, Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, Momento, The Princess Bride, epistolary, Dracula, Pike’s Peak, Colorado Springs, under the influence of the man on top of the mountain, David Bowie, Nikola Tesla, Any sufficiently advanced technology…, what is the genre?, Gothic fiction, old fashioned horror, Science Fiction, Scott’s review, Fantasy, a nice twist of Lovecraft, the deaths, “the other detective” (Jenny’s Freudian slip), a mystery, Sherlock Holmes, the prestige materials, Borden vs. Angier, Penn & Teller, seance (fake) vs. prestidigitation (the pact), the pledge -> the turn -> the prestige, you ruined our act, “when Simon Vance says…”, “some days you love me, some days you don’t”, did she know?, the honest liar, Christian Bale, does it matter who sired a child matter if you’re identical twin may have inseminated your wife?, which twin is it (the father or the uncle), Fallon, doubling, everything is doubled, a double agent, Olivia or Julia?, Andrew Wesley Borden -> Nicolas Julius Borden, Lord Caldlow, a book with two authors, revenge via tribute, A,B,C,D,E,F, what happened when the great-grandson of Borden was three years old?, a repeated pattern, a red herring, invited to Dracula’s castle, Franklin was imprisoned in California but his cult has a duplicator in the basement in England, another Angier wraith or the same one?, why Lovecraftian?, wiggling bodies, The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft, a return to a Gothic home, an explanation for the premise of The Outsider, did the wraith of Angier fail?, 100 times, noir, can the Tesla machine duplicate the soul?, AMAZING!, a side trip, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, wraiths, “waiting to wake up”, telepathy, addicted to transportation, pain and depression, is it a teleportation machine? a photocopier?, Star Trek‘s transporter, Think Like A Dinosaur by James Patrick Kelly, the metal rod, “that’s the thing about science”, “more like a real Tesla”, Tesla spoke English with an accent, Angier is American in the movie, Hugh Jackman, California, Jesus came out of the tomb, the cult denies the appearance of Franklin, a bi-locating religious fanatic, Angier’s first magic practice was at a pub called “The Land And Child”, The Church Of Christ Jesus, the history of the house, during WWII it was RAF Transport Command, Christopher Priest is really really smart, Angier -> Anger?, how the French get Angier and Angier and Angier!, his brother, because that’s what he’s looking for that’s what he sees, The Fly (1986), “explicit material”, The New Transported Man (PUN!) vs. In A Flash, a doubling and a denialing of the doubling, “he’s really stuck on the doubling”, The Lamb is The child, pointless and flat women, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, wooden women, Katherine, Borden’s wife’s journals, it’s a guy show really, everybody gets the short shrift except for these two and a half guys, where in literature are women magicians, Now You See Me, stage performance magicians, why doesn’t Luke Burrage go into magic?, Luke is the evil twin, would she wear the tophat?, Zatana (DC Comics), a female magician who acts as the assistant, a missed opportunity, Lady Katherine is very enigmatic and is playing some sort of game, a wink from The Invisible Man (by H.G. Wells), playing cards hidden under pint glasses, the James Patrick Kelly problem, killing yourself is ok if you have a copy?, Identity Theft by Robert J. Sawyer, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War handwaves the problem away, they don’t rot?, was the soul transported too?, What’s with the echo?, Angier’s cancer goes into remission when the ghostly Angier gets closer, Good Kirk vs. Rapey Kirk, wimpy Kirk need the rapey Kirk, recombination, complete transfers work well for the transported Angiers, Borden’s injury, Angier’s injury, the Borden seaside history is all lies, the Bordens were cartwrights and coopers, IT’S ALL LIES, stop with the woodworking (the JESUS motif again), one of the mes, when did they start living as one man, you’re supposed to apply the lesson of the Chinese magician to the entire story, one of the few things unchanged between the book and the movie, a fake that’s also true (doubling again), the timeline is somewhat mysterious, one of the Borden’s is more of a writer and the other is more of an editor, “I’m staying with my girlfriend”, fantastic narrative, a relatively modern book that will become and remain a classic, it’s porous and open and hard, book vs. movie, Tam fell asleep and became confused, beautiful moments, Tesla is almost like a magician, he is like a wizard, brilliant genius weirdo, the nemesis, Thomas Alva Edison vs. Tesla (doubling), AC vs. DC, Edison’s DC vs. Tesla’s AC, and ultimately a synthesis, electrifying an elephant, “it’s like they were two magicians competing”, Nyarlathotep by H.P. Lovecraft is about a Tesla-like character doing essentially a Tesla-show, possibly an elder god, Dracula Edison Gothic Horror Science Fiction Horror Detective Noir Fantasy, The Inverted World, The Islanders, twins, fraternal twins vs. identical twins, the Christopher Priest Wikipedia entry, denouement, a tie-in edition of the paperbook, the movie’s editing, The Magic by Christopher Priest, David Langford’s review:

“It seems entirely logical that Christopher Priest’s latest novel should centre on stage magic and magicians. The particular brand of misdirection that lies at the heart of theatrical conjuring is also a favourite Priest literary ploy – the art of not so much fooling the audience as encouraging them to fool themselves… The final section is strange indeed, more Gothic than sf in flavour, heavy with metaphorical power. There are revelations, and more is implied about the peculiar nature of the Angier/Tesla effect’s payoff or “prestige” – a term used in this sense by both magicians. The trick is done; before and after, Priest has rolled up both sleeves; his hands are empty and he fixes you with an honest look. And yet … you realise that it is necessary to read The Prestige again. It’s an extraordinary performance, his best book in years, perhaps his best ever. Highly recommended.”

a prestigious career in newspapers, he wants to be a dead body (or many), the great reveal was surprising, Frankenstein, very much in the Gothic tradition.

The Prestige by Christopher Priest - read by Simon Vance

The Prestige - LEGOized

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #231

September 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #231 – Jesse and Luke Burrage (from the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast) talk to audiobook narrator Simon Vance.

Talked about on today’s show:
Jonathan Davis, Pat Fraley, Scott Brick is the Brad Pitt of audiobooks and Simon Vance is the George Clooney of audiobooks, how Simon Vance got started, reel to reel tape recorder, Winnie The Pooh, BBC Radio 4, 1980s, Brighton, RNIB, Grover Gardner, George Guidall, The Book At Bedtime, Margaret Thatcher, California, San Francisco, Christian and devotional audiobooks, “we sound more intelligent (but we’re not)”, Stieg Larsson, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Audiofile Magazine, Earphone Awards, England, Sweden, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the apprenticeship, Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan, a classic dystopia, Thirteen (aka Black Man), The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands, artfulness and in-artfulness of narration, Doctor Who, overwhelming music -> overwhelming emotion, The Lord Of The Rings, the good narrators do the unexpected, “boo”, Dune by Frank Herbert (the full-cast audiobook), Goodreads.com, Simon Prebble, V For Vendetta by Steve Moore, the comic + the movie + Simon Vance = great audiboook, Natalie Portman was awesome, Stephen Rea, most novelizations are terrible, Hugo Weaving, James Bond, Ian Fleming, AudioGo, Blackstone Audio, the Green Knowe books, Listen And Live, Kate Fleming, The Prestige by Christopher Priest, a complicated book, a second chance, The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast review of The Prestige (episode #177), the movie of The Prestige, a final trick, one of the best Science Fiction movies of the last ten years, a thinking man’s book (and movie), The Illusionist, stage magic vs. CGI magic, The Magic Circle, Left for Dead: The Untold Story Of The Tragic 1979 Fastnet Race by Nick Ward and Sinead O’Brien, survival, Antarctica, fiction vs. non-fiction, a cabinet of heads, WWII, the Patrick O’Brian books (the Aubrey–Maturin series), Master And Commander, the incomplete book 21, Robert Hardy and Tim Piggot-Smith, what SFF Simon Vance book should we check out?, The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, The Exodus Towers, The Plague Forge, zombie apocalypse, aliens, “good honest adventure”, Pan Books Of Horror, c, Rama, Rama II, The Man In The High Castle, Philip K. Dick, Mark Twain, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, a PDF listing Simon Vance’s audiobooks, out of print audiobooks, Audible.com, Christopher Priest’s other audiobooks are done by other audiobook narrators, Peter Ganim, Robert J. Sawyer, The Player Of Games by Iain M. Banks, rights issues, keep your audiobooks.

V For Vendetta read by Simon Vance

Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan - read by Simon Vance

Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan - read by Simon Vance

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

September 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

discourseA Discourse in Steel (Egil and Nix #2)
By Paul S. Kemp; Read by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio
ISBN: 978-1469271750
[UNABRIDGED] 9 CDs

Themes: / buddy sword and sorcery / assassins /

Publisher summary:

Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword- and hammer-play for them! But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild. And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head.

When I read The Hammer and the Blade, the first Egil and Nix book, I had a good time with this buddy-sword-and-sorcery (is that redundant?). The characters were entertaining if a bit melodramatic, the action spot-on, and the writing professionally done.

A Discourse in Steel exceeds The Hammer and the Blade on just about every level (probably even the melodrama). I thoroughly enjoyed Discourse and a lot of that could be because I’ve gotten to know the characters that much more.

First, you have to know that A Discourse in Steel is more a second Egil and Nix book than a sequel. Yes, it follows the The Hammer and the Blade in both publication and timeline, but the events in Discourse are self-contained just like those in Hammer. In fact, you don’t need to know anything to jump into this book.

Egil and Nix are just a great pair. I enjoyed them in the first book, but found their relationship and the events a bit cliche at times. Here, I’m convinced they’re cliche and melodramatic, but it’s such a good combination with tons of heart that you can’t help but be won over. I mean, look at this exchange:

“Graduates of the conclave are bungholes,” Nix said absently, and rifled his satchel. He quickly found the tallow sticks and the scribing wand and pulled them out. He also anticipated Egil’s jest and cut it off. “I didn’t graduate priest, as you know.”

“Possibly still a bunghole though.”

“Conceded.” Nix said, with a tilt of his head.

I had to pull over and write that one down. This also means any mistakes are mine although I’m sure I got all the words right.

In Discourse, Egil and Nix are up against an entire guild … and the guild is the one that should be worried. In the first book, they were so powerless, it was a bit frustrating even though it worked for an interesting plot. This one really got me for this reason right here. Their attitude was awesome, I’d recommend not messing with them when they’re even remotely serious. :)

And since I “read” the audio version, I have to comment on Nick Podehl. This was my first read by him and this guy seemed made for the duo that is Egil and Nix. He was hilariously sarcastic and blended the melodrama well too. It’s actually quite interesting because Nick is reading my current book which is very serious. At first, it didn’t work because I was used to the fun and sarcasm, but now I can’t even believe they’re the same person. Nick is an excellent narrator, I’ll be happy seeing his name on audiobooks in the future.

Speaking of that, I’m looking forward to reading more of Kemp’s work in the future too. I can’t believe he balances four kids, a corporate attorney position, and writing. Plus, he finds time to discuss on reddit.com/r/fantasy and other places where fans congregate.

A Discourse in Steel is exactly what it claims to be. It’s tons of fun with plenty of action and while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it knows when to be serious. Kemp stepped up his game and I’m looking forward to more adventuring with Egil and Nix.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Carrie by Stephen King

September 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

carrieCarrie
By Stephen King; Narrated by Sissy Spacek
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (now only available through Audible.com)
Publication Date: 24 August 2012
[Unabridged] – 7 hours; 20 minutes

Themes: / telekinesis / adolescent bullying / religious fervor / hog slaughter / revenge / horror /

Publisher summary:

An unpopular teenage girl, whose mother is a religious fanatic, is tormented and teased to the breaking point by her more popular schoolmates. She uses her hidden telekinetic powers to inflict a terrifying revenge.

I’ve wanted to read Carrie for a while now.  It’s one of those iconic works that you’re compelled to read, more out of a sense of obligation to the author’s craft than a product of individual literary desire.  I’m not one of those Stephen King aficionados that could play King Trivia and know every answer.  I’ve read some of his books, and most of those have been fantastic.  Some weren’t.  Truthfully, I’d love to sit down and just talk shop with King.  Just to be able to shoot the breeze about writing, the shape of a story, how to switch tense to make something pop, and a load of other stuff that most likely doesn’t blow the hair back for that many folks.

Stephen King has a knack for drawing a character that evokes empathy from the reader.  I can’t say I enjoyed the question and answer portions, the jagged breakaways from the main narrative flow, or the investigation that lies at the far end of this story.  But I love how King slows down a scene, making time stretch beyond normal, beyond the pocketful of seconds, far past the internal clockwork of mind can account for in a passing moment.  I also really appreciated some of King’s choice of language.  And I’m giving King bonus points for quoting Dylan lyrics, thanks Stevie!

I don’t believe it’s a secret that there’s blood in this story.  There’s also murder and violence.  What most surprised me was my reaction to the scene with the pigs.  I won’t go into detail here, but this scene evoked the most emotional reaction for me, and I found this interesting.  I had and felt compassion for Carrie, but the part with the pigs and potato chips stood out like broken glass under a bright moon.

Sissy Spacek as narrator does a solid job.  Her delivery is dependable, and she does not try to act the story.  She does not insert herself as a character in her reading.  I was able to hear a slight amount of audible feedback in this audio rendition, and am disappointed that the sound engineers didn’t clean the tracks up before distribution.  This audiobook is prefaced with a few words from Stephen King.  He gives a little background to how Carrie was saved from the dustbin, and how its publication came just in time.  I for one am a fan of Stephen King speaking about his history and life, and so I enjoyed this little introduction.  I find King’s voice pleasant and easy to listen to.

 Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Kenobi: Star Wars by John Jackson Miller

September 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

kenobiKenobi: Star Wars
Written by John Jackson Miller; Read by Jonathan Davis
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 27 August 2013
ISBN: 9780804148221
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours; 36 minutes
Download Excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Star Wars / Jedi /
Publisher summary:

The Republic has fallen.
Sith Lords rule the galaxy.
Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has lost everything . . .
Everything but hope.
 
Tatooine—a harsh desert world where farmers toil in the heat of two suns while trying to protect themselves and their loved ones from the marauding Tusken Raiders. A backwater planet on the edge of civilized space. And an unlikely place to find a Jedi Master in hiding, or an orphaned infant boy on whose tiny shoulders rests the future of a galaxy.
 
Known to locals only as “Ben,” the bearded and robed offworlder is an enigmatic stranger who keeps to himself, shares nothing of his past, and goes to great pains to remain an outsider. But as tensions escalate between the farmers and a tribe of Sand People led by a ruthless war chief, Ben finds himself drawn into the fight, endangering the very mission that brought him to Tatooine.
 
Ben—Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, hero of the Clone Wars, traitor to the Empire, and protector of the galaxy’s last hope—can no more turn his back on evil than he can reject his Jedi training. And when blood is unjustly spilled, innocent lives threatened, and a ruthless opponent unmasked, Ben has no choice but to call on the wisdom of the Jedi—and the formidable power of the Force—in his never-ending fight for justice.

Star Wars Kenobi takes place between the events of Episode III and Episode IV and explains how Obi-Wan Kenobi settled in on Tatooine and became “Old Ben” that we see at the beginning of Episode IV. While that is mostly true, the feel I got from this book was more like, “The adventures of a bunch of frontier settlers on Tatooine who have problems with Tusken Raiders and each other with a Jedi in hiding mixed in”. While the title of the novel is “Kenobi” more of the story is centered around those settlers and their problems than around Obi-Wan himself. The book isn’t bad for it, it’s just not necessarily what I would have expected based on the title and description.

I liked the book overall. There were some points where it felt like the story could have resolved sooner but I found the overall conclusion satisfactory. The western/frontier setting is pretty interesting with the sets of problems that frontier life and sand people can give you. I liked John Jackson Miller’s portrayal of Obi-Wan as this passive guy that perpetually avoids conflict but gets forced reluctantly into action. You get some more insights into how Obi-Wan is reacting to the events of Episode III and where he thinks things went wrong.

If you like Star Wars books, this is a definite read. If you don’t haven’t read many, this book is not a bad place to start since it doesn’t rely on any back story beyond the movies. The pace of the book keeps up pretty well throughout with only a few slow moments so overall this was a quick fun book. I have to admit that I was into the book enough that I wanted to hit some of the characters if they didn’t get theirs eventually.

Jonathan Davis does a great job reading this book. His Obi-Wan impression does not disappoint and he does a great job with the other characters. One of the main characters is a bit of a schmoozer and he pulls it off really well (I just wanted to smack that guy sometimes.) The sound effects and music are always a plus in Star Wars books. My only grief here is that there are many scenes at a local store and the background sounds are that of a grocery store scanner – which I found incredibly distracting.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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