Review of The Beast of Calatrava

June 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Beast of CalatravaThe Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld SideQuest
By Mark Teppo; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / knights Templar / alternate history / fantasy / Foreworld /

Publisher summary:

After a battle left Ramiro Ibáñez de Tolosa’s face terribly disfigured, the knight of the Order of Calatrava abandoned his sword for a pastoral existence. But his beastly appearance horrifies all those who cross his path — with the exception of his adoring and pregnant wife. Can he keep Louisa and their unborn child safe from the war that is coming to Iberia? As Ramiro prepares for his child’s birth, Brother Lazare of the Cistercian order searches for a means to inspire men as he travels with the crusading Templars. He seeks swords of legend — named blades carried by heroes of old — believing such symbols have the ability to rally men in a way no king could ever accomplish. But when he learns of the stories told of the mysterious monster that haunts the Iberian battlefields, he wonders what sort of power this new legend might contain — the legend of a man whose scarred face and cold demeanor cannot hide his heroic soul. 

Note: This book is available individually (as I listened to it) or as a part of the book SideQuest Adventures No. 1, which includes The Lion in Chains, this story, and The Shield-Maiden: A Foreworld SideQuest.

As with The Lion in Chains, this story is a “SideQuest” in the Foreworld Saga, basically a side story to the main-line books intended to give readers more information on certain characters. Unfortunately, unlike The Lion in Chains, even after I finished the book, I wasn’t 100% certain where this fit within the grand scheme of the world. The main characters in this story were not in the main Mongoliad books, and without taking some time to look at the print/ebook versions of this and the other books, I’m not sure I could draw a straight-line reference. I’m equally uncertain as to when, relatively speaking, this book takes place (relative to the events in The Mongoliad: Book One).

More frustratingly, I found myself lost while listening to this story. As happened other times during my reading of the Mongoliad main-series books, it was easy to get confused as to which character was which and who was who. If I haven’t said it before, this is a series begging for a good wiki with a character roster, and possibly a map. While these things may show up in a print/ebook edition, they were not easy to find on the web for quick perusal while listening (at least, I couldn’t easily find anything). The overall thrust is that it’s a story about a former knight, abandoned for dead when his order was defeated, who has turned into “The Beast of Calatrava,” basically a disfigured killer, killing to protect his property and the people (generally) of Iberia, no matter their creed. In parallel, the Templars have arrived in Iberia on a crusade, and brought with them some other soldiers, including some monks, on the search for a legendary weapon. Much of the book is dedicated to The Beast’s personal demons and the growing tension in the “Christian Army” that includes the Templars, monks, and other religious figures, and moves these characters around like chess pieces in seemingly unrelated matches. In the last 30 minutes or so of the audiobook, the story lines somewhat converge, and the ending comes more or less as might be expected.

I don’t know what to say about this story. It really seemed to wander, and was hard to follow along. While I was somewhat used to this in the main Foreworld books, I was able to accept temporary confusion, knowing it would get brought together later, and that my persistence would pay dividends. In this story, with everything being self-contained, that payoff wasn’t there, and in the grand scheme, I’m not sure why much other than the last 30 minutes of the story made any difference…and, since this story doesn’t relate directly to the main-line books, it didn’t feel like it made “sense” in the bigger picture. Without the tie-in to the larger world, this could have been any story set in the same world, so therefore didn’t feel as satisfying.

It will be interesting to see how the final book in SideQuest Adventures No. 1 plays out, whether it will be more like the first story (which was great) or this one (which was unsatisfying).

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of 1634: The Baltic War by Eric Flint and David Weber

May 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover art for 16341634: The Baltic War
By Eric Flint and David Weber; Read by George Guidall
Publisher: Recorded Books
Publication Date: 17 September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 26 hours 20 minutes
Themes: / alternate history / time travel / military

1634: The Baltic War, although a weighty volume in its own right, is but one stitch in the giant tapestry that is Eric Flint’s sweeping Ring of Fire series. The series imagines the tumultuous Thirty Years War in seventeenth-century Europe disrupted by the arrival of a small West Virginia town sent back in time from the year 2000 by a freak cosmic accident. As masterfully told in the series opener 1632, the injection of modern technology and ideas into this bleak post-Reformation world has immediate and far-reaching consequences. The synopsis for 1634: The Baltic War illustrates just how much things have changed.

The Baltic War which began in the novel 1633 is still raging, and the time-lost Americans of Grantville – the West Virginia town hurled back into the seventeenth century by a mysterious cosmic accident – are caught in the middle of it.

Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden and Emperor of the United States of Europe, prepares a counter-attack on the combined forces of France, Spain, England, and Denmark – former enemies which have allied in the League of Ostend to destroy the threat to their power that the Americans represent – which are besieging the German city of Luebeck.

Elsewhere in war-torn Europe, several American plans are approaching fruition. Admiral Simpson of Grantville frantically races against time to finish the USE Navy’s ironclad ships – desperately needed to break the Ostender blockade of the Baltic ports. A commando unit sent by Mike Stearns to England prepares the rescue the Americans being held in the Tower of London.

In Amsterdam, Rebecca Stearns continues three-way negotiations with the Prince of Orange and the Spanish Cardinal-Infante who has conquered most of the Netherlands. And, in Copenhagen, the captured young USE naval officer Eddie Cantrell tries to persuade the King of Denmark to break with the Ostender alliance, all while pursuing a dangerous romantic involvement with one of the Danish princesses.

This overview gives a sense of the novel’s sweeping scope, both geographically and in terms of content. In some ways, this book and the series as a whole brings to mind Neal Stephenson’s ambitious Baroque Cycle, but while Stephenson’s work focuses on scientific and cultural developments Flint and Weber, at least in this volume, are telling a story of war. This isn’t to say that culture is absent from the chapters of 1634. Indeed, the novel draws both insight and humor from the juxtaposition of modern popular culture and European values. In one early scene, for example, a concert features classic Baroque harpsichord followed by a modernist piano concerto featuring music by Chopin and closing with twentieth-century Christmas songs. It’s also amusing to hear Europeans try and puzzle out exactly who this Elvis Presley character was.

While, as I said, 1634: The Baltic War is a military novel, and does feature occasional scenes of violence and hardship, overall its tone is light and even casual despite the depth and complexity of the book’s subject matter. While this renders the book almost instantly accessible, I can’t help but feel that at times the lack of gravitas fails to do justice to the enormity (in its original sense) of the Thirty Years War. To return to the previous comparison, Stephenson’s writing in the Baroque Cycle is much more opaque and, well, baroque, but the style seems to suit the subject matter. On the plus side, the story benefits from Eric Flint’s considerable experience in writing alternate history along with David Weber’s military background. Despite the world’s massive scope, every corner of it feels lived in and fleshed out.

George Guidall takes on the arduous task of bringing together seventeenth- and twentieth-century characters and cultures in this melting pot of a novel, and as usual Guidall is up to the challenge. From the brusk military clip of Admiral Simpson to the slight lilt of the larger-than-life Gustavus Adolphus, Guidall makes every element of the story from both past and present come alive.

Listeners who love military fiction, alternate history, or time travel can’t go wrong with 1634: The Baltic War, though to fully appreciate the novel they would do well to begin with the first installment in the Ring of Fire series, 1632. As perhaps is inevitable with a series of this magnitude, there are flaws and aspects that fail to please. But this book is only one chapter in what might just be Eric Flint’s magnum opus.

Posted by Seth Wilson

The SFFaudio Podcast #191 – READALONG: The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

December 17, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #191 – Jesse, Tamahome, and Jenny talk about the Brilliance Audio audiobook, The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick.

Talked about on today’s podcast:
Racy?, 1950s, hermaphrodites, relativism is mandated by the government, reverse Nazism, the Wikipedia entry for relativism, relativism as a tool against disbelief, L. Ron Hubbard, The Way To Happiness, communism, “good explorations”, Doug Cussick, political correctness, the opposite of communism?, China, Chinese communism, WWII, “Hitler was a precog”, escape your fate by embracing your fate, seeing into the future after your death, the devolution of a mind in a dead brain, a molluscular and mineral afterlife, grab bag of ideas, giant alien jellyfish, Brilliance Audio, pollen?, spores?, polyps?, planula!, Floyd Jones (is he the hero?), the Venus babies, the people in the Womb, seven mutants in a warehouse in San Fransisco, artificial animals, Venusian wallpaper?, hot and moist, The Truman Show, people have to get off of Earth, the Moon as the 51st state, King Newt running the Moon, pantropy, tropism, genetic modification, Nexus by Ramez Naam, More Than Human by Ramez Naam, Kim Stanley Robinson, More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon, the ending, Jones as the new Jesus, contempt for the audience, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, kids getting off on power, suicide, Hitler’s death, “how could a precog be wrong?”, future knowledge of your own knowledge, its very confusing, is Cussick the main character?, rebellion by shoplifting, sexism, WWIII, “asparagus sucks!”, women as litmus paper, she always held the majority opinion, visiting a racist elderly relative, “No grandma! That’s wrong!”, irony, the nameless character has a fascinating story, why don’t we get a sense of the masses, paralleling the rise of Hitler, lebensraum, interesting scenes interspersed with less interesting scenes, domestic scenes vs. organizational scenes, Tyler’s story, the Venus children, paranoia, Shell Game by Philip K. Dick, redundant exists, The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, Counter Clock World, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, The Zap Gun, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner, Robert Downey Jr., A Scanner Darkly, The Man In The High Castle, alternate history, most people who live in SF universes don’t read SF, a BBC adaptation of The Man In The High Castle, an epic story about a guy who makes jewelry, Terry Gilliam, Anthony Boucher, “a hasty and disappointing effort”, perk up vs. zone out, civil war or aliens?, a golden land of opportunity and adventure (and slime).

ACE - The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

Damon Knight on The World Jones Made

ACE Double - The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

Sphere - The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #189 – Tim Prasil’s MARVELLOUS BOXES

December 3, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastDecoder Ring TheatreMarvellous BoxesThe SFFaudio Podcast #189 – Jesse, Tamahome, Jenny, and Tim Prasil talk about the six episode anthology series Marvellous Boxes, recorded and podcast by Decoder Ring Theatre. But first we play an episode, Facing Cydonia.

Talked about on today’s show:
The Magic Of The Movies, The Crasher, horror, stage play (post Meridian Radio Players), Thinking In Trinary, Decoder Ring Theatre, Gregg Taylor, the Cobol Club, OTR, radio commercials, flash fiction, CBC, The Age Of Persuasion, “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!”, Plotting For Perfection (the short story), stage play, the Vera Van Slyke stories, occult detectives, Fitz-James O’Brien, audio dramatizations of the Vera Van Slyke stories, Black Jack Justice, The Red Panda Adventures, why be locked into the 1/2 hour audio drama format?, A Demon Once Removed, a one set one act play, Nicole (the peripheral character with a personality), Chekhov’s Gun, an alternate history, “Gregg Taylor need not be played by Gregg Taylor”, Orson Welles, history, Frozen Words Thawed, Remembering The Martians, an all black cast of MacBeth, The War Of The Worlds, H.G. Wells, The Tempest (as an alien contact story), William Shakespeare, a controversy over the character names in Facing Cydonia, Jenny will sing us a song, the boxes, “are there more boxes in you?”, ghosts, the button, the wax cylinder recorder, the Piltdown Man hoax, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an authentic hoax, Conan Doyle is the most gullible, the Cottingley Fairies, FairyTale: A True Story, Harry Houdini, Terry Jones, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, the EULA on wax cylinders, Thomas Edison, the most science-fictiony story, Plotting For Perfection, a femme fatale story without the femme fatale, “talk about your retro-causality”, “a box with a hole in it”, Andrea Lyons?, Scene Of The Crime, Remembering The Martians, racism, difference, tolerance, Doctor Who – The Power Of Three, fish people, are the Martians really dead?, binary fission, fruitful names, Jacob, Jason, Easter eggs, Finbar, The Silver Tongued Devil, The Sonic Society, Roger Gregg, it’s a pseudo-documentary, a joke/haiku, “conclusions should be drawn with a pencil not a pen”, Aliens Are Like Mirages, “it’s an indictment I’m just not sure what it’s an indictment of”, “if we had this power would we use it?”, the curiousness of the chaplaincy, prequels are for readers not writers, the miracle, the yup, human history in a nutshell, To Serve Man, narrative structure, why is X-Minus One a good name?, Marvellous Boxes as a name doesn’t have a super-punch, steampunky, “steamy contraptions”, Murdoch Mysteries (CBC TV), “a little less steam and a little more electricity”, Netflix in Canada sucks, Weeds, Walk Off The Earth.

Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From The Living Dead by Max Brooks

September 28, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO - The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From The Living Dead by Max BrooksThe Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From The Living Dead
By Max Brooks; Read by Marc Cashman
Approx. 8 Hours 38 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: September 12, 2006
ISBN: 9780739342725
Themes: / Zombies / Humor / Horror / Apocalypse /

The next time a Class 2 zombie outbreak occurs in my neighborhood, I’ll be well-prepared to deal with the shambling corpses of hungry undead now that I’ve read Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From The Living Dead.

The Zombie Survival Guide dispels exaggerated myths and legends of the undead and instead presents the reader with unvarnished “truths” about zombies. You’ll find information on zombies’ physical strength, sight, hearing, and rate of decay, and the pros and cons of various weaponry for battling the undead (everything from medieval maces and claymores, to M-16s and flamethrowers). It describes various scenarios for identifying early signs of localized (Class 1) outbreaks, to full-blown widespread undead infestation (Class 3). You’ll find best practices for battling zombies in urban settings, in harsh desert and swamp environments, even under the sea. The Zombie Survival Guide tells you how to defend your home by stocking up with key food and supplies and moving to your second floor and destroying all staircases (recommend for Class 2), or how to survive on the run as you move to the most remote and therefore safest parts of the planet in a world-wide zombie apocalypse in which mankind is overrun (Class 4). The best vehicle should an outbreak occur? You might not guess it, but it’s a bicycle. On a bike you can easily outrun the slow, slouching pace of zombies, it will never run out of gas, you can carry a bicycle over rough terrain, and you can maneuver a bike through the inevitable traffic jams that accompany a full-on panic. Motorcycles are very good too, though their noise attracts the undead. Boats are also a secure means of travel, says Brooks, but watch your anchor line—zombies walking on the ocean floor can use it to climb up to your boat. “Hundreds” of hapless victims have died this way, Brooks tells us.

The Zombie Survival Guide serves as a perfect gateway to Brooks’ highly recommended World War Z |READ OUR REVIEW|. If for nothing else, and you find Brooks’ post-apocalyptic strategems and survival tactics tedious, I’d recommend this book simply for the highly entertaining “Recorded Outbreaks” section. Here Brooks describes various zombie outbreaks throughout history, from ancient tales recorded in chilling primitive artwork, all the way up through living eyewitness accounts from the early 21st century. These are written in the economical journalism style that Brooks’ employs so effectively in World War Z, lending these “outbreaks” a documentary-style feel, which makes them seem more realistic and terrifying. According to Brooks there have been many zombie outbreaks throughout history—perhaps even in my neighborhood, hence my need to be ready—but these have been largely laughed off by skeptical media, ascribed to outbreaks of disease, localized madness, or industrial pollution, or covered up by governments or the CDC, fearful that public knowledge would result in full-scale panic.

For all its earnestness you have to take The Zombie Survival Guide with a heavy dose of salt. While it’s written in a deadpan style and never descends into farce, and purports to be a “real” guide for complete protection against the walking dead, when you read passages like “If you want to know the true danger of an airborne (parachute) attack against zombies, try dropping a square centimeter of meat on a swarming anthill. Chances are, that meat will never touch the ground. In short, air support is just that—support. People who believe it to be a war-winner have no business planning, orchestrating, or participating in any conflict with the living dead,” you can’t help but laugh (I did laugh out loud, several times). While not as well-written or as compelling as World War Z, for zombie aficionados The Zombie Survival Guide is nevertheless a must-read.

Marc Cashman narrates with a dry, clipped voice that perfectly suits the how-to nature of The Zombie Survival Guide. There’s a touch of William Shatner in his delivery, with dramatic pauses in odd places, but that only adds to the fun.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of Wild Cards edited by George R. R. Martin

July 31, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Wild Cards edited by George R. R. MartinWild Cards (Wild Cards #1)
Edited by George R. R. Martin; Read by Luke Daniels
19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 2011
ISBN: 9781455833009
Themes: / alternate history / superpowers / alien virus / superhero / urban fantasy / science fiction / horror /

Publisher Summary:

In the aftermath of WWII, an alien virus struck the Earth, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Originally published in 1987, the newly expanded saga contains additional original stories by eminent writers.

The stories contained in the audiobook are:
“Prologue” by George R. R. Martin
“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” by Howard Waldrop
“The Sleeper” by Roger Zelazny
“Witness” by Walter Jon Williams
“Degradation Rites” by Melinda Snodgrass
“Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace” by Michael Cassutt
“Powers” by David D. Levine
“Shell Games” by George R. R. Martin
“The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner
“Transfigurations” by Victor Milán
“Down Deep” by Edward Bryant and Leanne C. Harper
“Strings” by Stephen Leigh
“Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan” by Carrie Vaughn
“Comes a Hunter” by John J. Miller

There are also a variety of “Interludes” in between the stories, which are short bits mostly written in the form of newspaper or magazine articles or first-hand witness accounts. These interludes are often used to bridge the narrative with real events from US history, to provide the reader with insight as to the feelings in this “alternate history” type world.

Generally, this is a story of the effects of an alien virus on humanity between the time shortly following World War II through the late 70’s/early 80’s. The virus was brought to earth by aliens from a planet called Takis. It was developed as a device to give Takisians superpowers to be used as a part of large-scale family wars on Takis. The aliens wanted to test it, so sought to release it on Earth, as humans are genetically very similar to Takisians. “Prologue” introduces us to an alien who is called (by the humans, as his name is not well-suited to human speech) Dr. Tachyon and the “Wild Cards” virus. Dr. Tachyon is also a Takisian, but tried to prevent the release of the virus on Earth. “Prologue” sets the scene and tone for the world of the book. It also provides an insight into Dr. Tachyon’s values: he doesn’t ask first for the President of the US, he instead asks for the top scientists and thinkers. This is an obvious nod by George R. R. Martin to those who have true powers in the US.

“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” tells the story of Jet Boy, an American superhero, and the release of the Wild Cards virus over Manhattan in September, 1946. Jet Boy is a true hero, an all-American kid who came back from fighting in World War II with a superhero story of his ace flying abilities. He is the only superhero in the book who wasn’t a superhero because of the virus, but because of his innate abilities and selflessness. In a theme that becomes common through the book, the reader is reminded that a hero is a hero because of what they do, not because of their skills. Jet Boy tries—and fails—to stop the virus from being released.

The virus is brutal. It only impacts humans, with no effects on other species. It kills most of its victims, but those who survive (only about a tenth of those exposed to the virus) are not left unscathed. Through the rest of the book, the reader is introduced to various people impacted by the virus. The first stories tell mainly of “Aces,” those who get super powers from the virus (usually in the form of telekinesis and/or greatly enhanced physical abilities. Later, the reader is introduced to the concept of “Jokers,” who become horribly deformed due to the virus. The first interlude presents the concept of “Deuces,” those who get an “ace-like” ability that is not particularly useful, like “Mr. Rainbow,” whose ability is to change the color of his skin.

The narrative takes the reader through time: each story is a snapshot of a period in US history and provides a sort of “alternate history” of how that time may have been different if there had been these Aces and Jokers were around. Some of the early stories, taking place during the era of HUAC and McCarthyism, show how the aces became subjects of witch hunts and were forced into service in the US military or intelligence agencies. Jokers are looked upon as second-class beings, a theme that plays a large role during the stories set in the 60’s and 70’s, mirroring the US Civil Rights Movement. Some of the stories are sad, such as “The Sleeper” and “Witness.” Some are a bit more uplifting and triumphant, such as “Shell Games.” A lot of the stories, especially the later ones, become a bit creepy, with people using their powers for selfish reasons, as in “Strings.”

All in all, Wild Cards serves as an interesting statement on humanity through the guise of a “what if” scenario. All of the stories are eminently believable—at no time did anything that happened seem overwhelmingly unlikely. To some extent, that’s a bit of a sad statement on humanity—as the book goes on, aces and jokers alike seem to be only interested in helping themselves, looking out for their own (often misguided) interests.

The narration, done by Luke Daniels, was pretty good in the audiobook. He had a good speed and good intonation for most of the characters, and it was easy to tell each character apart. As often happens with male narrators trying to do female voices, some of the females sounded whiny, but it wasn’t so over the top so as to be unlistenable. After listening to this narration, I’ll be keeping Luke Daniels on my radar when looking at audiobooks.

Personally, I preferred the stories in the first half of the book to those in the second half. In the second half, the stories got quite a bit darker, more creepy and violent. After the strong lead-in with the Prologue and “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway,” I quite enjoyed the origin stories and the weaving-in of events in US history. As the book progressed, the stories didn’t seem quite as engaging—for one, I actually repeatedly fell asleep while listening, and ended up having rewind and re-listen to some of the others. There was also one story that was too graphic both in terms of sex and violence for me, “The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner. By the end, I wasn’t interested in more stories of people serving their own interests. There are other books in the series, which I have heard are more like the stories at the end of the book—I’m not sure that they’ll be for me. But I enjoyed this anthology well enough and would recommend it to others interested in a cross of science fiction, general fiction, and horror genres.

Review by terpkristin

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