The SFFaudio Podcast #265 – READALONG: Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

May 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #265 – Jesse, Tam, and Paul Weimer discuss Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

Talked about in this episode:
1976, “hey it’s Zelazny”, Tibor and whatnot, “The Great C.“, waking from a gnostic dream of oblivion, “the book is opaque to say the least”, “on the pilg”, recommended for super Dick-fans who like religion, New Wave (basically shitty), Christianity, Ted White, the Sector General novels, mythology and religion, 80-85% Dick, post-apocalyptic story, the local A.I., the sacrifice of the Athenians to the Minotaur, like a Jeopardy game, heliocentricity vs. geocentricity, “Benford, Bear, and Brin’s new Foundation trilogy”, Hari Seldon in a chimpanzee body, The Best Of Gregory Benford, it’s a paycheck, “If you wanna read this piece of shit that’s fine … I’m getting paid.”, cynicism, looking for the truth behind things, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Tibor’s conversations, there’s no fixed ground, Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After The Bomb, the fallout from nuclear fallout, Utah, Denver, “where are they getting this coffee?”, the socio-economic underpinnings of this book are fantasy, The Man In The High Castle, is he really worried about his bottle?, Autofac, the consequences of automated production, an economic weapon a weapon of war, Gresham’s law, The Crawlers, incs = incompletes, the thalidomide baby phenomenon, Arthur C. Clarke, Of Withered Apples (and our podcast about it), the apple tree scene doesn’t pay-off, the dog, episodic feel, the parallel pilgrimage of Peter Sands, the guy with the face problem, devil from the sky, Lufteufel (from the German words “Luft,” meaning “air,” and “Teufel,” meaning “Devil”), the class of people who engage with believers but don’t believe themselves, if you go into churches…, if there is a point to this story, representation, no photos of Jesus, does it matter if we worship a false image?, drawing a symbol, “the novel is extremely gnostic”, Zelazny’s Amber series, Islam goes the opposite way, depictions of Muhammad, believers tend not to worry about such details, the Klingons, the gnostic gloss, “it works as what it is”, the miracle of the arms and legs, a vision of the Deus Irae, what’s going on with the cow?, she’s a holy cow, the authors say?, “the cow slept and dreamed – Tibor ruminated.”, mechanical arms only (no legs), the crucifixion in reverse, the endings, Lufteufel and his daughter, dissolution, he does partake in divinity, Dr. Abernathy, Luke Daniels, the ozone in the air, an Arthurian motif, the healing of the wound, The Last Defender Of Camelot, dedicated Stanley G. Weinbaum and The Martian Odyssey, connecting the books, The Martian Odyssey is important and interesting but not great, “a classic of the field”, the first Science Fiction to come out of the 1920s, mostly junk, aliens that are just alien, where it fits in the history of Science Fiction, PKD’s favourite author was A.E. van Vogt, changing things up every thousand words, a formative influence on both Dick and Zelazny?, Eric S. Rabkin, maybe they had coffee together, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., dung beetles, the lizards (Lizzies), the talking bird, “the little black boys”, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison, transformed by Am, another name for God or Popeye, evil turns into good, it’s all for the best, the philosophy behind Voltaire’s Candide, “it was good that we had a nuclear war”, the story of Noah, the ultimate Spring cleaning, religious people don’t tend to get stuck at that point, “maybe I’m wrong”, somebody is going to enjoy that sermon by Dr. Abernathy, the passing of good out of evil, internal arguments, “good” is not as strong as “evil”, a very clever sophistic argument that kind of works, a lot of German, allusions to other literature, and “the stars threw down their spears”, William Blake’s Tyger Tyger, a gnostic poem, the currency of half-forgotten poems, funerals and weddings call for the imagery and vocabulary of poetry, cultural tools for sealing social relationships, The Stars My Destination, what is gnosticism?, going out into a cave…, a vision quest, revelations, Jesus’ marriage, canonized gnosticism, religion as Jesus fan fiction, fan service, Galactic Pot Healer, a crisis of faith, a god needs help, a lack of editing, the meditation/drug thing, pastors can be grumpy without coffee and cigarettes, Abernathy is an asshole.

Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick DELL SF

Daw Books - DEUS IRAE by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

DEUS IRAE by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny - Illustration by Corben

The Great C. by Philip K. Dick

Tyger Tyger by William Blake

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

May 15, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover Art for Grave MercyGrave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers; Read by Erin Moon
Publisher: Recorded Books
Publication Date: 3 April 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours 14 minutes
Themes: / historical fiction / assassins / medieval / politics / young adult

Ismae, our protagonist, is a teenage nun assassin in fifteenth-century Brittany. That descriptor alone, issued by a guest on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, was enough to hook my attention and reel me into listening to this book. The term “nun assassin” alone, evoking a strong sense of cognitive dissonance, is rife with narrative potential. Mix in some fantastic elements of ancient gods  masquerading as saints and set the whole thing against a late medieval backdrop, and you would seem to have all the ingredients for an entertaining, emotional, and perhaps even thought-provoking novel. Unfortunately, Robin LaFevers’s young adult novel Grave Mercy falls short in almost every regard.

The novel opens with great promise. Ismae finds herself rescued inexplicably from an arranged marriage and whisked away to the convent of Saint Mortain, who, in LaFevers’s universe, is the ancient Britonic god of death who lives on in the guise of a Catholic saint. She quickly gains acceptance as one of Mortain’s servants and begins her training as an assassin. We meet several of her Sisters in training, who show immense promise as complex, complicated characters. Ismae immediately shows promise in the deadly arts, especially in the brewing of poisons. The stage is set for a Potteresque term of training, comeraderie, and schoolyard intrigue. I very much wanted to read that book.

Unfortunately, we are soon whisked three years into the future just as Ismae receives her first assignment as a full-fledged assassin. Easily dispatching her first victim, she then undertakes a much more difficult assignment at the behest of the Abbess. This task throws her smack-dab in the middle of Brittany’s courtly circle, where the young Duchess struggles to fend off both French invaders and equally persistent suitors. Under the pretense of serving as mistress to Duval, the Duchess’s bastard brother, Ismae must try to sort out the tangled web of politics and allegiances.

Wait, what? Where’s my Bildungsroman? I was looking forward to a classic coming-of-age story, but instead find myself listening to a book of court intrigue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with court intrigue, of course, except that most of the members of court in Grave Mercy are utterly forgettable, and those who do show a spark of personality don’t receive much stage time. There are no Lannisters or Starks here. Characters from the novel’s tantalizing early chapters hardly receive a second mention. The plot simply doesn’t hold together.

My second complaint is more subjective: the novel just isn’t rooted enough in fantasy. Mortain, the ancient god of death who marks his targets for the sisters of the convent, is potentially a fantastic character, or at least a useful construct, but sadly we learn about him and him only indirectly. Had we been treated to more time at the convent, we might have learned more of his mysterious ways. The novel also hints that other old gods also live in LaFevers’s Brittany, and presumably the remaining novels in the His Fair Assassin series shed more light on their nature. This volume, however, resembles historical fiction more than fantasy.

Despite its medieval setting, there isn’t much in the writing and themes that bear much resemblance to the writing or thought of the Middle Ages. The prose, while capable and at times even captivating, feels thoroughly modern in its tone and diction. The characters converse in a colloquial style that feels sterile and devoid of even the veneer of medieval cultures that most authors apply when setting stories in this time period. Ismae is an empowered young woman of the 21st-century variety, and the undertones of trauma and survival also have a modern ring to them. LaFevers is writing for a young adult audience, which in theory should make these choices easier to swallow. I grew up reading authors like Tolkien and Kipling and even Shakespeare, though, so I don’t buy into the assumption that fiction should be diluted for young readers. I’m not saying that this was necessarily LaFevers’s explicit intension, but rather that the current YA culture subconsciously encourages these trends. The genre’s very existence, to some extent, proves my point.

Erin Moon’s mellifluous narration makes Grave Mercy a pleasant listening experience even if the story itself is uneven. She captures Ismae’s quavering sense of vulnerability, and gives distinct voices to the other characters, at least to the extent the writing allows. Her pronunciation of French place-names, with one or two minor exceptions, is pretty much spot-on. Nothing ruins an otherwise-perfect audiobook like even a few pesky mispronunciations. So even though I wasn’t always captivated by the story, Moon’s performance kept me listening to the end.

As I look back, I’ve tried reading several assassin-themed fantasy novels: Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, Brent Weeks’s The Way of Shadows, and Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study. This is the first one I’ve actually finished. Assassins should make for compelling, dynamic characters spinning taut webs of dramatic tension. But for some reason they have always fallen short in this reader’s estimation. Maybe my subconscious finds them somehow inherently distasteful, or maybe the kinds of stories they find themselves in just aren’t to my liking. Take that into consideration in my review. If you like assassin stories, you’ll probably find much to enjoy about Grave Mercy.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

May 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review
littlefuzzyLittle Fuzzy
By H. Beam Piper; Read by Jim Roberts
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 11 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours

Themes: / alien intelligence / human intelligence / corporate greed / pipe smoking / science fiction / aliens /

Publisher summary:

On the planet Zarathustra, a sunstone prospector named Jack Holloway receives a strange guest at his door one night – a mysterious, small, fuzzy alien – which promptly makes itself at home. Before long, “Little Fuzzy’s” whole family joins him. Hardened Jack is transformed into their “pappy” and chief protector, and his life is forever changed. The creatures, however, turn out to be quite intelligent. Sapient life on Zarathustra, however, would be disastrous; this leads Jack and his friends on a quest to discover the answer. The quest becomes a matter of urgency when the company that has been growing rich from mining the planet decides to exterminate the Fuzzies to protect their contract. What follows is murder, deceit, kidnapping and intrigue at its best.

Jack Holloway is a human prospector on the planet Zarathustra. As Holloway works his claim, he encounters an indigenous life form dubbed Little Fuzzy. These creatures appear quite intelligent. But if the Little Fuzzy proves to hold sapient intelligence, it’ll cram a giant monkey wrench into the industrial machine that is planetary mining and mineral extraction. It’s Little Fuzzy verses big money in this quaint 1962 SF adventure.

While H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy might show its age, its message still holds an edge. At what point do we as sentient beings stop exploiting natural resources/habitat for profit. Since we are still struggling to come to terms with this question today, it’s fun to examine this problem when set against a distant planet with cute fuzzy tool-wielding prawn-eating creatures.

I discovered Piper’s Little Fuzzy through John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation. Scalzi wrote his book in tribute to Piper’s work, and I can see why. Piper writes a fun SF story that evokes thought and problem solving. Scalzi’s book possesses more immediacy than Piper’s Little Fuzzy, and Scalzi creates a character in Holloway that is less heroic than Piper’s Pappy Jack. I prefer Scalzi’s interpretation to Piper’s, but that is due to writing style more than anything else. Piper’s work possesses more content while Scalzi’s work holds more character intimacy and action.

Jim Roberts narrates this audiobook, and initially I wasn’t thrilled with his slow-paced delivery. It seemed too deliberate and too aged for my perception of Holloway. But then I realized that my mental image of Jack Holloway was from Scalzi, and Piper’s Pappy Jack is different. When I concluded this, I realized that Roberts was a great match for Piper’s Holloway. And while the POV doesn’t entirely rest upon Pappy Jack’s shoulder, it does for the majority of the story. Roberts and Holloway became one, and I came to truly enjoy the reading style of Jim Roberts.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys classic SF. It’s more thought-provoking than action driven, and in this light, it succeeds.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of To Honor You Call Us by H. Paul Honsinger

May 12, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

tohonorTo Honor You Call Us (Man of War #1)
By H. Paul Honsinger; Read by Ray Chase
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 18 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours

Themes: / military SF / swords in space / rat-faced aliens /

Publisher summary:

The Terran Union is engaged in a vast interstellar war against the KragRuthless aliens intent on exterminating humankind. In 2315, the wily Max Robichaux is given command of the USS Cumberland, a destroyer with state-of-the-art capabilities but a combat record so bad, she’s known as the “Cumberland Gap.”Capt. Robichaux’s first mission: to take his warship to the Free Corridor, where the Krag have secretly been buying strategic materials, and to seize or destroy any ships carrying enemy cargo. Far from the fleet and under enforced radio silence, Max relies only on his determination and guile…and the support and friendship of his chief medical officer, the brilliant Dr. Sahin.Because even as he deals with the ship’s onboard problems and the stress of carrying out her risky assignment, Max and the doctor discover that the Cumberland and her misfit crew are all that stands in the way of a deadly Krag attack that threatens to end the war—and humanity—once and for all.A far-future story in the tradition of “ships of wood, men of iron” novels, To Honor You Call Us and the Man of War series combine the adventure of exploration, the excitement of war, and the dangers of the unknown through the eyes of a ship and her crew.

H. Paul Honsinger’s To Honor You Call Us is on the softer side of Military SF. Rat-faced aliens religiously motivated and determined to exterminate humans play the role of villain. The stage is the stars, and the stars teem with alien life. Some species resemble catfish; others appear to mirror carnivorous teddy bears.

The year is 2315. Rough and tumble Max Robichaux is promoted to Captain, and the story follows his journey into deep space to fight the dreaded rat-faced Krag. In this era of FTL (Faster Than Light) space jumps, pulse cannons, and universal interspecies translators, we also encounter boarding parties, cutlasses, traditional firearms, beer and liquor rations, and battle-axes.

I struggled with this book. The characters are not very engaging, the dialogue feels clunky, and neither of these are helped by a novel written entirely in passive voice. Honsinger overloads his prose with anachronistic stumbling blocks jarring the reader from the 2315 present-day. I didn’t want to at first, but I was willing to accept sword wielding boarding parties in space. I drew the line at the ships commissary selling t-shirts (all sizes), ball caps, pins, coffee mugs, pillowcases, pendants, charm bracelets, polo shirts, shotglasses, workout shorts, throw pillows, Christmas tree ornaments, etc. When I encounter a character saying, “Maybe Santa Claus will come by in his sleigh and act as a missile decoy,” I stop and scratch my noggin. The year is 2315, what character drops this antiquated holiday reference? And why does a character observe, “The sounds reminded Max of a child playing with his oatmeal by using a drinking straw to make bubbles.” Are there really still straws and oatmeal in 2315? Don’t get me wrong, I like oatmeal, but I’ve never used a straw with it before.

The struggle lies in Honsinger’s earnest desire for his story to be taken seriously. If this had been presented as a farce, a jape upon the genre of Military SF like the film Galaxy Quest poked good-naturedly at its contemporary counterparts, I could have better rolled with the punches. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Honsinger’s incessant desire to drop knowledge in the form of military history on the reader is tiring, and does nothing to advance the story. When it’s all said and done, this reads like fanfic, poorly written fanfic.

I listened to the audiobook. Ray Chase is the narrator, and damned if he didn’t make this book better.

Since To Honor You Call Us is the first in the Man of War series, I fully expect Honsinger’s writing to improve as the story continues. And while I do feel burned by this book, I might be willing to pick up the next volume, in time, if Honsinger figures out what he is writing, drops the passive voice, and commits to more intensive revision.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

 

The SFFaudio Podcast #264 – READALONG: The Martian by Andy Weir

May 12, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #264 – Jesse, Jenny, Tam, Julie, Bryan, and Mike discuss The Martian by Andy Weir.

Talked about in this episode:
Dust on Mars is too thin to allow for sandstorms; terpkristin says NASA would never build a faulty antenna; and we finally introduce the book; is The Martian science fiction?; the one-way Mars mission Mars One; reminiscent of Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky; Mike tracks Watney’s journey through Google Mars; why NASA picks boring locations to land their first missions; Andy Weir on Science Friday; the most far-fetched element of the book is its lack of budgetary concerns; Bradley Cooper in the film adaptation?; The Martian and Gravity have depressing implications; the novel’s (Heinleinian?) lack of character development; Mark Watney is in “full on Macgeyver mode”; most pilots are boring; many LOLs in the book; Andy Weir’s webcomic Casey and Andy; strong language in the novel; stoichiometry; feasibility of plot points; engineer-as-hero motif pitted against bureaucracy; Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum; Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe; Robinson Crusoe on Mars starring Adam West; The Makeshift Rocket by Poul Anderson, a spaceship powered by beer; From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and First Man on the Moon by H.G. Wells; Robinsoniad; Thunder and Lightning series by John Varley; Rocket Ship Galileo by Heinlein, featuring Nazis on the Moon!; the United States falling behind in the Space Race; Stephen Hawking on the dangers of artificial intelligence; Mars Attacks!; the novel’s lack of Earth focus makes it literally escapist; Heinlein’s prophetic Destination Moon; send more potatoes to space; pop culture references; “I’m a space pirate.”; The Case for Mars by Bob Zubrin, a non-fiction proposal for reaching the Red Planet; Red Mars and other Kim Stanley Robinson novels; Marooned starring Gregory Peck; GravityApollo 18, a found-footage horror film; Falling Skies; Bruce Campbell and Martin Koenig in MoontrapPrincess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs; A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey Landis; Transit of Earth by Arthur C. Clarke bears a strong resemblance to The Martian; new party game: “You an astronaut on Mars. What’s the last music you listen to before you die?”; We Who Are About To by Joanna Russ; hope in fantasy and science fiction; Jesse hopes they don’t make a sequel; locked-room scenarios; Portal; would Earth really expend so many resources to save a single human being?; Ascent by Jed Mercurio; T-Minus: The Race to the MoonLimit by Frank Schätzing; PlanetesThe Souther Reach by Jeff VanderMeer for more botanist action; The Apollo Quartet by Ian Sales; Voyage by Stephen Baxter, dramatized by BBC Radio.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir (Mars Itinerary)

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Flesh and Blood by Daniel Dersch

May 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

fleshandbloodFlesh and Blood
By Daniel Dersch; read by Amy McFadden
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 4 March 2014
[UNABRRIDGED] – 7 discs; 8 hours

Themes: / Vatican / vampires / Nazis / horror / romance /

Publisher summary:

A veteran New York City journalist, Claire Hagen has learned not to trust everything she hears. So when her younger sister lands in a mental hospital after claiming a vampire is feeding off her blood, Claire is naturally skeptical. A search of her sister’s apartment convinces her: The delusions are a side effect of the drugs she discovers her sister had been taking.But a deeper investigation uncovers more than Claire bargained for. Why was a man who claimed to know her sister from an online vampire forum shot dead moments after Claire interviewed him? Why are her sister’s symptoms getting worse in the hospital? And why have agents from the Vatican taken a sudden interest in Claire?Consumed by doubt and growing paranoia, Claire barely has time to ponder her next move before a violent confrontation in her apartment changes everything. She quickly finds herself on the run with a mysterious stranger who says he wants to protect her but may not be quite what he seems. Can she trust him?

For a good portion of the story in this novel, I was entertained. But the longer the story progressed, the more detached and less interested I became. By the time the end rolled around, I just didn’t care about the characters. While various portions of the story intrigued me, the narrative’s main flow felt too streamlined, structured, and shallow. I also depart feeling that the storyline was compressed. This is fifty pounds of story jammed into a twenty-pound sack. But Daniel Dersch shows promise, and I will be curious to observe his writing improve. He already does what many of his contemporary counterparts fail to do, which is to have a subject performing a verb upon an object. Dersch’s sentence construction is pleasing, and for what it’s worth, this small attention to good writing practice aided my enjoyment factor.

I felt Clair Hagen was a little too stereotyped. She seems driven to prove her resourcefulness, but appears to yearn for a strong man. The “daddy” references got a little weird, but maybe we can chalk that up to this being a translated work. The chapters in this book denote a change in POV (point of view). At first I liked this alternating split narrative thing that Dersch pulls off. But the longer this unspooled, the shorter the chapters got, and all too soon the shortness of the intervals became a distraction.

Amy McFadden narrates the audiobook, and at first I struggled with her rhythm and delivery. In the beginning, I thought her voice was grating. But the longer I listened, the more I felt McFadden captured the essence of Clair. Somewhere in the middle, McFadden won me over, and I think she does a great job with this audiobook.

Fans of contemporary vampire stories will most likely enjoy this for what it is.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

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