Review of Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb

November 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fools FateFool’s Fate (Tawny Man Trilogy #3)
By Robin Hobb; Performed by James Langton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 35 hours
Themes:  / fantasy / Farseer / assassin / dragon /
Publisher summary:

FitzChivalry Farseer has become firmly ensconced in the queen’s court. Along with his mentor, Chade, and the simpleminded yet strongly Skilled Thick, Fitz strives to aid Prince Dutiful on a quest that could secure peace with the Outislands—and win Dutiful the hand of the Narcheska Elliania.The Narcheska has set the prince an unfathomable task: to behead a dragon trapped in ice on the isle of Aslevjal. Yet not all the clans of the Outislands support their effort. Are there darker forces at work behind Elliana’s demand? Knowing that the Fool has foretold he will die on the island of ice, Fitz plots to leave his dearest friend behind. But fate cannot so easily be defied.

Disclaimer: This is a review of the third book in a trilogy and the review will likely include spoilers from preceding books. I’d strongly recommend starting with the first book in the trilogy (Fool’s Errand) or better yet, Assassin’s Apprentice since the Farseer trilogy is very good and all these books are related.

Fool’s Fate is the last book of the Tawny Man trilogy. The story picks up immediately where Golden Fool left off as the Farseers are preparing to travel to the island Aslevjal to kill the dragon Icefire. The Fool has also told FitzChivalry that they must save Icefire to put the world on a better path. Which will Fitz decide: his oath of loyalty and allegiance to the Farseer throne or his role as the Catalyst of the White Prophet? I’ve really enjoyed all of the books in this trilogy leading but this book stands out as something special.

The whole premise of the book is based on a challenge Prince Dutiful was goaded into and that the adults don’t particularly want to do. It’s pretty obvious that something else is at play with the Outislanders in making this challenge and the result is a fantastic conclusion to the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies. As already stated, FitzChivalry’s struggle with his role as the Catalyst while also serving his realm have you wondering what will happen all the way up to the climax.

As I listened to this story, I really felt like a full story was being told in which I couldn’t see the seams. I normally can’t help my mind picking a story apart into its elements to determine what’s going to be important later in the story but things weren’t so obvious here. There are so many things going on that it just feels like an active world as opposed to having just a few conveniently introduced devices to be used later (for instance, you know when Harry Potter learns a new spell that it will almost certainly be the sole thing that gets him out of trouble later. Expecto Patronum!). What will be important here? New understandings of the Wit from Webb? The newly forming Skill coterie? Chade’s blasting powder? Something old Elderling tools? Hobb does a great job working everything together into a good ride.

If there is one weakness in this book, it’s that it wraps things up too well. When I say too well, I mean that the falling action and conclusion of the book feel like the resolution to both the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogy as so much of what happens even concludes questions you may not even realize you had. The falling action and conclusion also take up about 1/3 of the book which kind of threw me. I was avidly consuming the story through the climax but then felt like things dragged out a bit afterward. Don’t get me wrong – I loved all of it, I just thought it was worth mentioning.

As with the previous installments of this trilogy, James Langton does a fantastic job with his narration of this book. There were times I forgot I was even listening to an audio book because I was just so into it. If I had one gripe it would be that some voices sound quite similar but those that do rarely have scenes together (Hap, Dutiful, Swift). I would definitely look for Langton reading other books.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Tales of Terror

November 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Tales of TerrorTales of Terror Collection
A Night in Whitechapel, Was It a Dream?, Caterpillars, John Mortonson’s Funeral
By: Ambrose Bierce, Guy de Maupassant, E.F. Benson; Performed by Victor Garber
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 1 disc, 1 hour!
Themes: / short stories / horror / classic / supernatural /
Publisher summary:

‘Night in Whitechapel’ French short-story master Guy de Maupassant offers this chilling look into one of the world’s best known cities. When two young men make a trek to London on a cold December evening, they expect to take in the city and maybe a pub or two along the way. But a chance encounter with a mysterious woman soon has them questioning not only the proceedings of their evening but their sanity as well. ‘Was It a Dream?’ Guy de Maupassant once again delivers a spine-tingling narrative. A young man recounts the tragic death of his love, claimed by an unknown illness. In his grief, he wanders the cemetery where she is buried to find a dark secret that she, and many other corpses, share. ‘Caterpillars’ Stories of the supernatural from E.F. Benson have been terrifying audiences for decades—even making the transition to television adaptation. In “Caterpillars,” a man recalls his terrifying stay at a haunted Italian villa. You will never look at caterpillars in the same way. ‘John Mortonson’s Funeral’ Perhaps best known for The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce is a mainstay of nineteenth-century American literature. In “John Mortonson’s Funeral,” Bierce adds horror to his satirical lens. The mourners at this funeral will be forever changed.

“Night in Whitechapel” – Guy de Maupassant
When two young men make a trek to London on a cold December evening, they expect to take in the city and maybe a pub or two along the way. But a chance encounter with a mysterious woman soon has them questioning not only the proceedings of their evening but their sanity as well.

“Was It a Dream?” – Guy de Maupassant
A young man recounts the tragic death of his love, claimed by an unknown illness. In his grief, he wanders the cemetery where she is buried to find a dark secret that she, and many other corpses, share.

“Caterpillars” – E.F. Benson
A man recalls his terrifying stay at a haunted Italian villa. You will never look at caterpillars in the same way.

“John Mortonson’s Funeral” – Ambrose Bierce
The mourners at this funeral will be forever changed.This collection is well named. All of these tales have a certain creepiness factor that will leave your skin crawling if you think about them too much. They also have the virtue of not being the usual “classic” horror tales included in most anthologies, although they are by authors acknowledged as master storytellers.

What enhances the subtlety and creeping horror is Victor Garber’s soft spoken narration. As any good actor would, he reads each tale differently to reflect its own character, but never with obvious technique that draws the listener away from the story itself. My favorite was “Was It a Dream?” in which the protagonist’s lovelorn state gradually gives way to shuddering fear in the graveyard. The transition was so seamless that I couldn’t tell you when it happened and by the end of the tale I myself was horror stricken.

The collection is short, clocking in at slightly more than an hour, but it is choice. Definitely recommended.

Posted by Julie D.

Sigma2Foxtrot – a German language SFF audio podcast

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Sigma2FoxtrotSigma2Foxtrot is a new SFF audio podcast by the guys behind the Arkham Insiders podcast. Inspired by, and partially modeled on, The SFFaudio Podcast. We heartily recommend it to all German speakers and listeners interested in “Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Hard-boiled crime!”

Here’s the podcast feed:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/Sigma2foxtrot

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest Aguirre

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Hereclix and PompHeraclix and Pomp: A Novel of the Fabricated and the Fey
By Forrest Aguirre; Narrated by Brandon Massey
Publisher: Audible Studios via Resurrection House
Publication Date: 14 October 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 7 minutes

Themes: / reanimation / golem / necromancer / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

Heraclix was dead and Pomp was immortal. That was before Heraclix’s reanimation (along with the sewn-together pieces and parts of many other dead people) and Pomp’s near murder at the hands of an evil necromancer. As they travel from Vienna to Prague to Istanbul and back again (with a side-trip to Hell), they struggle to understand who and what they are: Heraclix seeks to know the life he had before his death and rebirth, and Pomp wrestles with the language and meaning of mortality. As they journey across a land rife with revolution and unrest, they discover that the evil necromancer they thought dead might not be so dead after all. In fact, he might be making a pact to ensure his own immortality….

Heraclix and Pomp: A Novel of the Fabricated and the Fey is a story about mortality, at the end of the day. It has horror and fantasy trappings, but at its core, it deals with finding oneself and dealing with mortal matters. The story is told through the guise of Heraclix, a golem, pieced together from many beings, and Pomp, a fairy faced with mortality. I think this book is probably a 2.5-star book…on the one hand, I liked the characters and the world and the idea. But on the other, I was bored a lot of the time when listening, and the book felt repetitive.

The book seems to do a lot of moral speaking, all from the frame of Heraclix or Pomp. Brought together when a sorcerer’s attempt at a spell goes haywire, Heraclix suffers a re-birth of sorts, while Pomp is nearly killed in the doing of the magic. Bound by their shared experience, they set off to first escape the sorcerer and then to learn more about Heraclix’s past. As he travels Europe and The Middle East, Heraclix learns whose parts literally make up his whole–he is a golem of patched together parts from people, most of whom he learns about in his travels. Pomp, meanwhile, is from the land of the Fey, used to being a prankster and not having to worry about a thing. However, the sorcerer almost killed her, brining her face to face with her on mortality, so she learns more of what it is to be human (or at least, human-like) while helping Heraclix learn about himself.

I enjoyed the world that Aguirre developed, and I enjoyed the characters. The book takes place in the time shortly after The Crusades, in parts of the world I don’t often see come up in books. Heraclix and Pomp run into vagabonds, sorcerers, gypsies, kings, nomads, and a host of other characters as they search between Vienna and Instanbul–and a variety of places in between, including a trip to Hell. The telling of the various stories of the lives that Heraclix was a part of was charming and not like most things I’ve read.

But…somehow, it wasn’t enough. I repeatedly found my mind wandering during the narration, found myself having to go back to the beginnings of chapters to see what I’d missed. The book seemed to work very well one chapter at a time…at first, but even then, I was finding other things to read. Some of the language used seemed purposefully obscure, and a lot of the scenes felt like repeats–Heraclix and Pomp enter a setting, they find some part of Heraclix’s past, they are chased out into another setting, rinse, repeat. I think if the book had been shorter, it might have helped. It’s not that it was bad (it certainly wasn’t), but I think more might have been left on the editor’s desk.

The narration, performed by Brandon Massey, was decent. His voice is strong, good for an audiobook, if a little droning at times. The biggest “problem” with the narration might be more due to the story itself. It was sometimes hard to keep track of characters, of who was who. This was especially problematic when characters from the early parts of the book would be re-introduced at the end of the book. Audiobooks are much harder to flip back through to refresh your memory, after all. Massey’s voice sounded familiar to me, though looking through my library, he hasn’t narrated anything else that I’ve read. His voice would be good in a mystery or other novel when there are only a few characters.

All in all, I liked this book, but wished that it had been a little less obscure and a little less repetitive. That doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t give it a try if it sounds interesting. But maybe try it out in a print format.

Posted by terpkristin.

 

 

Review of Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Martian Time SlipMartian Time-Slip
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance AudioPreview
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours
Themes: / science fiction / outer space / Mars / Martians / time travel /

Publisher summary:

‘The writing is humorous, painful, awesome in its effect on both mind and heart…There are few modern novels to match it.’ —Rolling Stone

On an arid Mars, local bigwigs compete with Earth-bound interlopers to buy up land before the Un develops it and its value skyrockets. Martian Union leader Arnie Kott has an ace up his sleeve, though: an autistic boy named Manfred who seems to have the ability to see the future. In the hopes of gaining an advantage on a Martian real estate deal, powerful people force Manfred to send them into the future, where they can learn about development plans. But is Manfred sending them to the real future or one colored by his own dark and paranoid filter? As the time travelers are drawn into Manfred’s dark worldview in both the future and present, the cost of doing business may drive them all insane.

Martian Time Slip has everything I love about Philip K Dick’s writing: artificial life, unsettling visions, chaos and decay, hilarious satire, and story horizons that stretch into eternity.

PKD’s Mars is a strange and slightly alien version of 1960s California: a desert suburbia where the powerful waste water to show off their status, neglectful housewives pop pills and complain about their “whiny and dreadful” neighbors, and dodgy door-to-door salesmen offer illegal Earth foods like turtle soup and smoked frogs legs.

Since machines degrade quickly in the dry climate and resources for constructing new things are scarce, repair is a big business on Mars. The story starts when Jack Bohlen, a working-class repairman and latent schizophrenic, is diverted from a remote repair job to help some Bleekmen out in the desert.

Bleekmen are the subjugated natives of Mars, apparently related to ancient humans and the sole residents of the planet for thousands of years until the colonists arrived. Now’s they’re left to work menial jobs, and even their mystic practices are being “corrected” by the newcomers. For example, after they give Jack a lovely but creepy gift called a water witch, they explain how it works…

More carefully examining the water witch, Jack saw that it had a face and vague limbs. It was mummified, once a living creature of some sort; he made out its drawn-up legs, its ears . . . he shivered. The face was oddly human, a wizened, suffering face, as if it had been killed while crying out.

“How does it work?” he asked the young Bleekman.

“Formerly, when one wanted water, one pissed on the water witch, and she came to life. Now we do not do that, Mister; we have learned from you Misters that to piss is wrong. So we spit on her instead, and she hears that, too, almost as well. It wakes her, and she opens and looks around, and then she opens her mouth and calls the water to her.”

While on this mission, Jack runs into Supreme Goodmember Arnie Cott, the leader of the Water Works Union (one of the most powerful positions on Mars). Arnie is an obnoxious, manipulative, and racist schemer. He decides he can use Jack and so brings him in on one of his schemes to harness the precog abilities of an autistic boy, thus giving Arnie an advantage in real estate investment.

However, once he brings the autistic boy Manfred Steiner and Jack together, things start to gets very, very weird (in the best kind of way).

Originally, I was almost going to give this book a low rating, thinking it might be the first PKD book I’ve read that I didn’t really like. I kept going back to the audiobook and thinking I’d re-started in the wrong place, or that I’d zoned out and missed something the last time. It wasn’t until I decided to try a print version that I realized the reason I was losing my way was a side-effect of the novel’s beautiful and crazy structure, which spirals around and folds back in on itself.

Once I had a handle on this, I fell in love with it. This novel doesn’t reward broken up or distracted reading, but if you can give it dedicated attention, it’s brilliant.

I thought the audiobook I listened to, narrated by Jeff Cummings for Brilliance Audio, was well performed and the characters were easily differentiated, even though personally the narrative style wasn’t for me. In my mind, I tend to hear PKD’s characters as sort of dry and indifferent, so some of the characters in this version seemed too enthusiastic for my taste. But this is a very subjective thing and I imagine this reading would work well for lots of listeners. Just check out the sample audio before you buy.

This is a funny, eerie, and unforgettable story and definitely recommended, especially for PKD fans!

Posted by Marissa van Uden

The British Library Podcast – A Gothic Story

November 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

The British Library Podcast - A Gothic Story

The British Library Podcast has a very good primer for gothic fiction in a new podcast episode entitled A Gothic Story. Presented by Charlie Higson, here’s the official description:

To accompany the British Library’s exhibition Terror & Wonder: the Gothic Imagination, British horror writer Charlie Higson tells the true story of how the vampire and the zombie were born. From the first gothic novel to 19th century Romantics Lord Byron and Mary Shelley and from Hammer horror to the Night of the Living Dead, Charlie reveals how our favourite monsters evolved and triumphed. Along the way, Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) reads extracts to chill the spine and thrill the senses.

Get the 1/2 hour |MP3| or listen to the sample below:

More information is HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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