The SFFaudio Podcast #246 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Hypnos by H.P. Lovecraft

January 6, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #246 – Hypnos by H.P. Lovecraft; read by Mr. Jim Moon. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (23 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Mr Jim Moon, Julie Hoverson, and Melvin Cartegena.

Talked about on today’s show:
An early Lovecraft story, a favourite Lovecraft, getting tangled in the mythos, similar elements, Beyond The Wall Of Sleep, chronology, artists vs. scientists, Polaris, alternative dream realities, a mystic connection to a star, The Dreams In The Witch House, the funniness, a man falls in love with a statue, statuesque features, Greek mythology, He, sudden and instant friends, recurrent themes, a smarter friend, is this the original Fight Club?, The Hound, The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe, not enough drugs in Kent, London, the Fu Manchu Limehouse connection, caffeine and amphetamines, aging, astral projection, ‘a man with Oriental eyes’, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Abdul Alhazred (was a Lovecraft persona), The Nameless City, Einsteinian theory, S.L. = Samuel Loveman, “all the cosmos is a jest”, wordless understanding, The Picture of Dorian Gray, an Olympian brow, Hypnos is the god of sleep the son of night and the brother of death, Charles Baudelaire, The Statement Of Randolph Carter, Harley Warren = Samuel Loveman, Ambrose Bierce, together but ahead, a column of gold, a red light, breaching the chambers of Hypnos, ambiguity, a symbolic or allegorical Tyler Durden, a way to avoid writing dialogue, “control the universe and everything under it”, in dreams you do control the universe, Lucid dreaming, “it’s not like Inception“, certain techniques, dream logic, Seattle, Tetris before bed, documenting dreams, Lucid dreaming is ultimately pointless, Julie’s dreams, NREM vs. REM dreaming, the function of dreams, sorting and practicing, incubating a dream at the temple of Hypnos, Phantasy (one of Hypnos’ sons), plungings and soarings, scary dreams, aether, The Police, Wrapped Around Your Finger, someplace beyond time, drifting, Ovid’s family tree for the family of Hypnos, Death and Sleep look like each other, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Phobotor, Phanatos, Hypnos lived in a cave without a door, at the entrance of the cave were poppies and other flowering drugs, mandragora, old guys at young gay parties, screaming starts happening, if it were written today, who is this story being told to, a confession from an asylum or hospital, a cosmic joke, a schizoid break, his brow was white as of marble, volumes exchanged in a look, Freddy Krueger, dream mythology, Dreamscape, Inception, The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny, Uncle Scrooge in The Dream Of A Lifetime, Sleepwalkers, Naomi Watts and Ray Wise, Guy de Maupassant, a sequel, Masters Of Horror: Cigarette Burns, John Carpenter, many remakes, There’s A Family Of Gnomes Behind My Walls And I Swear I Won’t Disappoint Them Any Longer by J.R. Hamantaschen, weird dubiousness, Masters Of Horror: The Dreams In The Witch House, Wake up Julie!

Hypnos by H.P. Lovecraft - illustration by William F. Heitman

Uncle Scrooge in The Dream Of A Lifetime

CineBooks - Hypnos

CineBooks - Hypnos

Hypnos by H.P. Lovecraft LEGOized

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

January 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Lord of Opium by Nancy FarmerThe Lord of Opium (Matteo Alacran  #2)
By Nancy Farmer; Read by Raúl Esparza
Publisher: Simon and Schuster YA
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hrs, 31 minutes

Themes: / YA / clones / genetic engineering / science fiction / gadgets /

Publisher summary:

Matt has always been nothing but a clone—grown from a strip of old El Patron’s skin. Now, at age fourteen, he finds himself suddenly thrust into the position of ruling over his own country. The Land of Opium is the largest territory of the Dope Confederacy, which ranges on the map like an intestine from the ruins of San Diego to the ruins of Matamoros. But while Opium thrives, the rest of the world has been devastated by ecological disaster—and hidden in Opium is the cure. And that isn’t all that awaits within the depths of Opium. Matt is haunted by the ubiquitous army of eejits, zombielike workers harnessed to the old El Patron’s sinister system of drug growing—people stripped of the very qualities that once made them human. Matt wants to use his newfound power to help, to stop the suffering, but he can’t even find a way to smuggle his childhood love, Maria, across the border and into Opium. Instead, his every move hits a roadblock, some from the enemies that surround him…and some from a voice within himself. For who is Matt really, but the clone of an evil, murderous dictator?

I wish that I could have read The Lord of Opium as a teenager. If I had, I would have probably loved this book, which is packed with sinister characters, difficult moral choices, scifi gadgets, and enough action to rival any movie. Before we go any further in this review, I will say that if you buy books for a teenager, or enjoy teen novels, then you absolutely should read both The Lord of Opium and its predecessor The House of the Scorpion. That said, I had the misfortune of reading this book not only as an adult, but as an English major, writer, and as a teacher who has guided multiple years of students through reading The House of the Scorpion. Therefore, I am intimately aware of every flaw in the story.

Matteo Alacrán is the clone of a  drug lord known as El Patrón, created as a source of spare parts for his aging progenitor. Fortunately for him, El Patrón is now dead, along with his entire family and all of the other drug lords, leaving Matt as the sole ruler of Opium at the age of fourteen. This is not just an inherited position. Matt, as the clone of El Patrón, is the only person with the correct genetic code and fingerprints to unlock the lethal border security system that surrounds the entire country.

Yes, I said fingerprints. In case you are unaware, clones do not share fingerprints with their progenitors, just as identical twins do not share fingerprints, yet Matt having similar fingerprints to El Patrón is a key element of both books in this series.

If it sounds like I am fixating on a single issue, I promise that I am merely mentioning the fingerprints as a spoiler-free example of the sort of problem that runs throughout The Lord of Opium. Matt adopts an eejit (a sort of mind-controlled slave) as a pet and happens to discover a way to make her remember a small part of who she is. Matt’s friends come to visit and find long lost family members. Matt gets sick, is brought to a new hospital, and learns that he is not the only remaining clone of El Patrón. Matt’s bodyguard suggests a dangerous and completely unnecessary adventure, and Matt finds a clue that will be essential to the climax of the story. And the list goes on, and on.

I don’t want to give away the entire plot of the novel, so I won’t explain how any of these events are related, but I think they are worth mentioning to demonstrate the problem that I have with The Lord of Opium. Namely, that it is a novel of big ideas trying to masquerade as a teen fiction book. Had this story been told for an adult audience, or broken into several parts and told as a series of adventures for teens, I think that the author would have been more successful in crafting a compelling story. All of the pieces are there, from the vicious politics of the Dope Confederacy, to the isolated community of the Biosphere, to the ecological wasteland of God’s Ashtray. Each of these elements is glossed over in the text of this novel, serving as little more than a source of or solution to one conflict or another, but each could easily be the core element of an entire novel.

It is worth noting that I am now over five hundred words into this review and I have hardly mentioned any character other than Matt. This is intentional. The single best thing about this novel is the development of a new character named Cienfuegos, and I don’t want to take away any of your pleasure in reading about him, and the single worst part of this novel is probably Matt’s interactions with his girlfriend Maria, which I will leave for you to suffer.

As it is, The Lord of Opium is a competent novel that strains at the seams with obvious foreshadowing, unexplored plot lines, and a climax that hangs almost entirely on mistakes and coincidence. The character development is incredibly uneven, but so good in parts that I find myself wishing for an entire novel about one minor character or another. It is not a bad novel by an means, but it could have been so much more.

The audiobook of The Lord of Opium is one of the best productions that I have heard this year. Raúl Esparaza gives a pitch-perfect performance, complete with distinct and appropriate voices for nearly every character. Matt sounds young, but is never whiney. The voices for female characters are distinct, but not overly high-pitched. Particularly good are the voices for El Patrón (as he appears in Matt’s memory) and the Farm Patrol chief Cienfuegos, both of which are perfectly sinister without slipping into the realm of costume villainy.

Posted by Andrew Linke

Review of Deadly Sting by Jennifer Estep

January 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review
Deadly StingDeadly Sting (Elemental Assassin #8)
By Jennifer Estep, Read by Lauren Fortgang
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / urban fantasy / assassin / museums / magic /

Publisher summary:

Red is definitely my color. Good thing, because in my line of work, I end up wearing it a lot. Most people shy away from blood, but for an assassin like me — Gin Blanco, aka the Spider — it’s just part of the job. Still, it would be nice to get a night off, especially when I’m attending the biggest gala event of the summer at Briartop, Ashland’s fanciest art museum. But it’s just not meant to be. For this exhibition of my late nemesis’s priceless possessions is not only the place to be seen, but the place to be robbed and taken hostage at gunpoint as well. No sooner did I get my champagne than a bunch of the unluckiest thieves ever burst into the museum and started looting the place. Unlucky why? Because I brought along a couple of knives in addition to my killer dress. Add these to my Ice and Stone magic, and nothing makes me happier than showing the bad guys why red really is my color.

Our story starts out with Gin moping …she misses Owen and while she is trying to hide it. Her friends and family can feel her despair. Finn tries to shake things out a bit by manipulating her into attending an event where all of Mab Monroe’s treasures are being showcased…which is awesome because Gin has to get a dress! Finn and Eva also have an ulterior motive of getting Gin and Owen to talk.  Which does not go so well since Owen has a date and then there is a heist by a group of giants. The giants are banding together because they are sick of being body guards and being taken for granted so they are taking their place in the criminal empire…or so it would seem.

As I read this book I kept thinking of the movie Die Hard and in the end it works out, actually I think it more than worked out the book is a lot more fun than some of the others. I listened to it on audio and as always the narrator Lauren Fortgang does a great job bringing the story to life. It is funny I am not sure if they switched narrators that I would continue with the story. Anyway back to the book the story is very succinct and the plot has a good solid pace. This book could have easily been a novella but the plot was strong enough to keep me entertained throughout the entire book. This time around Gin actually felt more like an assassin, even though she was still bumbling around it made much more sense.  It was also nice to see Gin getting mixed up in something where it was not about someone trying to kill her for revenge or an elemental trying to collect power. While she does not get any new powers in this book she seemed to use her stone and ice magic with a lot more finesse. It was also wonderful to see how she choose to deal with Jonah he has been a burr on her butt for a long time.

While I enjoyed the plot of this story I did not care for the lack of growth in the characters. At the end of Widow’s Web one could understand how and why Owen was mixed up and confused. After certain events in this book he should have been crystal clear and even at the end there was a lack of resolution. Add to that Gin still has a need to shoulder everything emotional on her own shoulders almost to the point where it does not make sense. Speaking of things that don’t make sense is Gin can freeze and object and make it animate to a degree so why can’t she just freeze people? The water villain in the last story did it was water so why not ice??

While the lack of character growth was disappointing I did enjoy the overall story. It looks like we have a new nemesis on the scene bringing about a new story arch which could be interesting.

Posted by Dawn V.

Review of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

January 2, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius and Reluctant Prophet
By Alister E. McGrath; Read by Robin Sachs
13 hours 56 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Oasis Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / biography / religion / fantasy / medieval literature

Before setting out on this review, I must apologize for the liberal use of the first-person pronoun, which I normally use sparingly. This book intersects my personal and professional interests at several points, so I’m not even going to attempt an objective, impartial review, if such a thing is even possible. I am, as Lewis was, a student of medieval literature, though I can only dream of reaching his depth of knowledge and scope of imagination in this field. Furthermore, I undertook part of my studies at Oxford University, which was home to Lewis for much of his life. The City of Dreaming Spires, as Matthew Arnold called it, exerted a profound influence on Lewis’s life and work, and having walked its winding cobbled streets and ancient quadrangles it’s easy to understand why. Last, but certainly not least, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia had a profound impact on my intellectual and imaginative development as a child. In this I suspect I’m not alone, and I hope this review will encourage readers to learn more about the life and mind behind one of the wellsprings of modern fantasy.

Before discussing the biography itself, I should say something of its author. Though currently Professor of Theology at King’s College, London, McGrath’s previous post was in Oxford, where I had heard his name spoken with a great deal of respect while I was there. The biography lists ever so slightly in the direction of Christianity, reflecting its author’s background in theology and apologetics, but on the whole it’s a balanced work firmly grounded in scholarly research of Lewis’s works and correspondence. The biography, of course, deals extensively with Lewis’s religious and spiritual development so central in his life and work, but the work by no means white-washes Lewis’s life or even his faith. This audio recording is preceded by an interview with McGrath, whose calm, measured voice assures us as listeners that we’re chosen a trustworthy guide down the path of Lewis’s life.

Like most biographers, McGrath takes a strictly chronological approach, with very few detours either to backtrack or to foreshadow. The narrative takes us through Lewis’s birth and childhood in Northern Ireland, through his lengthy tenure at Osxford University, to his final years as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. The biography strikes a delicate balance between Lewis’s rich inner life as reflected in his writings and his sometimes tumultuous outer. In the former case, McGrath devotes considerable space to Lewis’s conversion experience and subsequent development of his spirituality. As an academic, I was also pleased that Lewis’s scholarly works, notably on Edmund Spender’s Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost, receive some attention. In regards to Lewis’s personal life, the biography charts Lewis’s many professional disappointments resulting from his popular religious work and the rift that formed between Lewis and other Oxford academics. Lewis’s relationships also receive some attention, in particular his long-running peculiar arrangement with the older Mrs. Moore and his controversial marriage to Joy Davidman. Of course, there is significant interplay between Lewis’s inner and outer lives, and McGrath expertly weaves these strands together to illustrate how one sometimes influenced the other. The book concludes by reflecting on the rise of Lewis’s reputation in various circles, religious and popular, after his death in 1963.

Two whole chapters are dedicated to Lewis’s development of The Chronicles of Narnia. McGrath packs a lot of material into these relatively few pages, from Narnia’s inception in Lewis’s mind, to the debate over the proper reading order of the books (Lewis’s ordering, order of publication, or internal chronology), to the works’ modern reception, especially Philip Pullman’s criticism. This section also manages to delve a little deeper, too, highlighting the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this imaginative, not imaginary, world. McGrath deals with the question of whether Narnia is an allegory, and also links the work to Plato’s Republic and the allegory of shadows in the cave. Obviously this is a lot of topics to cram into so little space, and I would have liked a more thorough treatment, but to be fair this is a biography, not a work of literary criticism. McGrath has promised a fuller, more scholarly edition of this book in the near future, which will likely feature copious footnotes providing a wonderful paper trail for the Narnia enthusiast eager to learn more. SFFaudio readers should also note that Lewis’s lesser-known Space Trilogy also receives brief treatment in this biography.

Though built on academic bedrock, C.S. Lewis: A Life is written in a lively, accessible style. McGrath uses Lewis’s own words, or the words of his associates, when possible, which imbues the book with a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the work. I sometimes felt as though I were in the room with Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings as they discussed important religious, mythological, and literary matters. Like Lewis himself, McGrath also has a way of explaining complex intellectual and theological matters in a way that an average reader like me can understand. This is, in my view, the hallmark of any solid intellectual or literary biography. My only criticism of the book, and it’s a trifling one, is that McGrath hardly even alludes to any sexual relations between Lewis and Mrs. Moore, or later between Lewis and Joy Davidman, even though it’s obvious there was some sort of sexual element to these relationships. Perhaps McGrath found this matter distasteful, or thought the book’s Christian readers would. In any case, this omission is to me the one glaring lacuna in an otherwise thorough life story.

Robin Sachs’s stately narration lends the perfect air of British respectability to the audio edition. His pronunciation of some of the book’s more arcane linguistic and literary terms are, for the most part, spot on. As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of an interview with Alister McGrath, is a welcome addition, and provides additional insights into an already insightful work. Another minor quibble: I feel the interview should have been included at the end of the audiobook, rather than the beginning. I prefer to go into a book unbiased by the author’s later thoughts on the book. Again, though, this quibble is very minor. What does conclude the audiobook, however, is an amazing recording of Lewis at his deep-timbres lecturing finest.

There are certainly many other windows into the lives of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings. Despite the influence of these authors on my own life, I have to admit I have not read most of these other works. So I’m very glad that one of the first I’ve read has proved to be such an enlightening and entertaining journey, (mostly) free from the partisanship and polarity that plague some biographies of relatively recent figures. I can’t think of many readers who wouldn’t benefit from or at least be entertained by Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Souvenir by Philip K. Dick is PUBLIC DOMAIN

January 2, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: News 

SFFaudio News

Souvenir, a short story by Philip K. Dick, is PUBLIC DOMAIN.

This was not previously known due to a fraudulent attempt to renew the copyright after it had expired.

Souvenir was first published in Fantastic Universe, October 1954.

Here is the table of contents for that magazine. It shows its presence in that issue:

Fantastic Universe, October 1954 table of contents (includes Souvenir by Philip K. Dick

The fraudulent attempt at renewal (evidence HERE) attests that Souvenir was first published in Fantastic Universe, October 1955. It was demonstrably not. Here is the table of contents for that issue:

Fantastic Universe, October 1955 table of contents

In order to be protected by copyright Souvenir would have had to have been properly renewed in its 28th year. It was not.

Souvenir by Philip K. Dick is PUBLIC DOMAIN.

Here is a |PDF| of Souvenir by Philip K. Dick.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Redshirts by John Scalzi

January 2, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Redshirts by John ScalziRedshirts
By John Scalzi; Performed by Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 11 June 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / Star Trek / humor / space /

Publisher summary:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is even more thrilled to be assigned to the ship’s xenobiology laboratory, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers. Life couldn’t be better . . . until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranked crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I’ve been kind of on a Scalzi kick lately. I guess I’ve needed some light sci-fi without too much brain interaction. And I don’t say that as a bad thing. I know so many times “light” and “fun” come off in the pejorative, but I rarely mean it that way. Honestly, I think that’s the high watermark of fiction. I’m not trying to learn anything, although I always do. I’m not trying to to do anything but enjoy my free time.

I value other aspects of a novel plenty. I love a complex plot, great characters, beautiful prose. But the most important thing to me is fun. Entertainment. How wrapped up I am in a book is the most important aspect. Obviously many things contribute to that including plot, characters, prose, etc. However, a lack of any of these is also possible.

Redshirts is just that. It’s fun. It’s a story that keeps you turning pages, or in the case of this audiobook, that keeps you in your car longer than necessary. It’s far from perfect, in fact I had plenty of problems with the narrative and they mainly fall in the codas, but I’ll get to it.

The way Redshirts is laid out, it is a main story followed by three codas at the end called First Person, Second Person, and Third Person. The main story is an exciting mystery where the characters realize someone dies off each time there’s a mission. It’s funny at times, a bit overdone at other times**, but mostly a fun ride with an intriguing mystery I wanted to see solved. It had me until the end when I just couldn’t suspend disbelief anymore.

**I think reading the jokes that were overdone may have been funnier. Sometimes a joke that is funny on paper just isn’t quite so funny spoken aloud. Tis a fact of life I continually relearn. :)

Then come the codas. First Person was okay. It was an odd continuation of the story that kind of makes sense. Second Person is just an annoying way to read anything. Please no one write second person ever again. Ever. Who is “you” when it’s both the narrative and the protagonist using it? Third Person was also unnecessary. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Scalzi got to the end of the main story, realized it was the dreaded novella length (unsellable) instead of a full novel and started to explore some side issues and threw them onto the end.

Wil Wheaton

I’m not making any friends with this, but I had a hard time with Wheaton’s narrating in this one. He’s obviously perfect for the job, he’s a Star Trek star and his personality on The Big Bang Theory, Twitter, you name it, is as snarky as it gets. Perfect for a book about the redshirts that die off every episode. The only problem is he doesn’t really do voices. He changes his voice when people are slurring words or yelling, but not by character. I’ve grown a bit spoiled by this probably, but I really need that now to tell characters apart. I rely on it and when it’s not there, it’s tough.

Luckily, here there are not too many characters, but I continued to confuse people throughout the entire book and that doesn’t happen normally. Otherwise, sans dialogue, Wheaton’s incredible.

The Hugo Award

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with the choice of Redshirts for the Hugo Award this year even before I’d read it. Halfway through reading this, my mind hadn’t changed. After reading the codas nothing’s changing. However, the thing I’m actually quite happy about with Redshirts winning a Hugo is for the same idea I started this review explaining.

Fun. Entertainment.

I’m glad Redshirts won because I think entertainment is a great reason to win an award. I know the voting process for the Hugos has its own problems and it comes down much of the time to the author having a loyal following, but I’m still glad a book like this can win an award at all. I hope more do.

3 out of 5 Stars (recommended with reservation)

Posted by Bryce L.

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