Review of Bellwether by Connie Willis

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

SFFaudio Review

BellwetherBellwether
By Connie Willis; Narrated by Kate Reading
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Publication Date: February 2009
[UNABRIDGED] – 6 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / pop culture / scientific discovery / chaos theory / Robert Browning / office assistants / fads /

Publisher summary:

Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennett O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep. But a series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions – with the unintended help of the errant, forgetful, and careless office assistant Flip.

This is my favorite Connie Willis book, hands down. She blends pop culture, scientific discovery, chaos theory, Robert Browning, fads and an infuriating office assistant to produce a book where thinking for oneself gets you blank looks of incomprehension. Willis’s books come in two flavors, either funny or grim (as she herself describes her serious works). This is definitely one of the funny ones.

This was written in 1996 so it is interesting to see that certain fads have evolved and that some have floated away. (It’s been a long time since I thought about Pet Rocks or mood rings, for example.) Listening to the audiobook, I realized that it gave me a real sense of perspective on a lot of things that drive me crazy by reminding me that these are simply the most current fads (Paleo / gluten-free diets, smart phones, SnapChat, etc.).  These too shall pass although the chaos will probably remain. And I’m actually okay with that.

Kate Reading’s narration really brought the book alive. I especially enjoyed her characterizations of Flip, Management, and Shirl, all of which added extra fillips of humor to the story. Having read the book several times before listening, I was impressed how well she captured the main character that I “heard” mentally. I will definitely be listening to this the next time I need a dose of anti-fad sensibility.

This is a light, fun book which nonetheless has a core of common sense and deeper meaning.

Why do only the awful things become fads? I thought. Eye-rolling and Barbie and bread pudding. Why never chocolate cheesecake or thinking for yourself?

Posted by Julie D.

The SFFaudio Podcast #274 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn And His Family by H.P. Lovecraft

July 21, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn And His Family
The SFFaudio PodcastEldritch Tales by H.P. LovecraftThe SFFaudio Podcast #274 – Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn And His Family by H.P. Lovecraft, read by Gildart Jackson (this audiobook comes to us courtesy of Blackstone Audio’s Eldritch Tales). This is a complete and unabridged reading of the story (28 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Mr Jim Moon, and Samantha Wikan

Talked about on today’s show:
The story was also published as Arthur Jermyn and The White Ape, Weird Tales, 1921, The Wolverine, the 1980s, “that’s not a big deal”, “our more enlightened times”, Lovecraft’s letter to Weird Tales, Rhodesia, “the Dark Continent”, “our brothers and sister in the jungle”, racism, Allan Quatermain, telegraphing the twist, is Lovecraft making a joke?, a more horrific reading, no Elder Gods, no Dreamlands, atavism and degeneration, great grandmother was a gorilla, miscegenation, bestiality, Dagon, Shadow Over Innsmouth, atavism, losing sanity points, Sir Wade Jermyn (African explorer with a “Portuguese wife” -> Philip Jermyn (a very agile sailor) -> Robert Jermyn (an anthropologist) -> Nevil Jermyn (runs off with a dancer) – > Alfred Jermyn (joins the circus) -> Arthur Jermyn (the poet scholar), Lovecraft became despondent when his family had to leave their home, Lovecraft’s mom said he was “exceedingly ugly”, Lovecraft’s father (died in an asylum), a tainted heritage, fear of degeneration, the ape goddess, diluting the noble bloodline, Arthur was the most unattractive one that was allowed out of the bedroom, Nevil’s siblings, a music hall singer of “unknown origin”, a lack of respect for the lower classes, below or above one’s station, a common sailor, the gamekeeper’s daughter, Winesburg, Ohio, Ray Bradbury’s inspiration for The Martian Chronicles, who is telling this story?, “demoniacal hints”, oppressive science, a future echo to Pickman’s Model, squamous eldritch adjectives, a gentleman in a club, “the gorilla boxing match death”, a smoking jacket holding court, clubman tales, Lord Dunsany, Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales Of The White Hart, Isaac Asimov’s The Black Widowers Club, Supernatural (1977 BBC TV series), “the club of the damned”, blood freezingly funny, “really ugly or unconventionally beautiful”, Arthur’s life story is quite sad, we really empathize with Arthur Jermyn, Victorian society, aren’t we all Arthur?, a lot of people probably don’t like the idea we are related to apes, maybe we should reject it even though its true, Douglas Adams “Earthmen are not proud of their ancestors and never invite them around to dinner”, digital watches, the ape city, hybrids, what of the other side?, S.T. Joshi’s reading, “that last clause is critical”, the white apes as the missing link, “the entire white race”, the only explanation, miscegenation assumes certain things, eugenics, “he married that ape”, “he made an honest ape of her”, the illustration from Weird Tales, how pretty was she?, the community’s contempt, judgements from a group of racist assholes, “that being said I’d rather be a poet than a sailor”, the butler, the servants, the black nanny, “the aged Soames”, the 1993 comic book adaptation by Stephen Phillip Jones, the visitor named “Seaton”, the only one who survives is Alfred, the adaptation goes off on this weird tangent -> The Terror Of Blue John Gap (first published in 1910), Samuel Seaton is in both stories (The Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn And His Family and The Terror Of Blue John Gap, She by H. Rider Haggard, a more realistic version of that story, Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the lost city of Opar (a lost colony of Atlantis), the John Carter books, this story is underrated, the humour and the pathos, not going into purple overdrive, the Jorkens tales, dry British wit, take off the Cthulhu blinkers, Jesse would like Mr Jim Moon to read aloud The Terror Of The Blue John Gap, Blue John (the mineral), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “obviously its insane”, Heart Of Darkness , Henry Morton Stanley, Dr. Livingston, Penny Dreadful is a mash-up of late 19th century horror fiction, Timothy Dalton plays a kind of Allan Quatermain kind of character, Mina Harker, demon possession, “raping their way across Africa”, the Grand Tour, “sending sons to the colonies for hunting, drinking, and whoring”, Sir Wade is the White God, the Congolese natives’ stories are all true, what’s in the box?, two statues?, a subterranean ocean, a fish man?, “I’m your great grandfather boy”, the Spawn of Cthulhu, “Deep Ones can mate with any species”, when we read Lovecraft we do a disservice to force connections to the Cthulhu Mythos, presenting it as a theory, “the locket!”, “what’s in the locket?”, the locket was empty, they threw the locket in a well, interpretations, stopping the spread vs. just being horrified, putting them over the percentage, “they had to make it not be”, having an ancestor delivered to your door, “Sir Wade collected things one wouldn’t ordinarily collect”, what did he bring back?, tending away from the Cthulhu Mythos, Cthulhu plushie, Lovecraft would never have said: “Sanity points?! Great idea!”, The Hound by H.P. Lovecraft (and it’s black museum), Lovecraft used the Necronomicon as “a backdrop and a reference and a flavour”, appreciating the stories as stories, it’s touching!

The White Ape - illustration by William F. Heitman

The Worlds Of H.P. Lovecraft - art by Wayne Reid

The Worlds Of H.P. Lovecraft (1993 Caliber Comics) art by Wayne Reid

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #266 – READALONG: When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells

May 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #266 – Jesse, Luke, and Juliane Kunzendorf discuss When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells

Talked about on today’s show:
Julianne’s first SFFaudio Podcast, what do we call them?, readers and talkers, 1899/1910/1923, When The Sleeper Wakes, The Sleeper Wakes, The Sleeper Awakes, Blackstone Audio’s audiobook version, the serialization in The Graphic magazine, the 1910 preface, “an editorial elder brother”, going to the original sources, a forecast of technology, technological changes between the revisions, aeroplanes and aeropiles, the introduction to the 1923 edition, “fantasias of possibility”, “suppose these forces go on novel”, H.G. Wells thought the rich were evil geniuses (prior to meeting them), “rather foolish plungers”, “vulgar rather than wicked”, Ostrog, “a nightmare of capitalism triumphant”, capitalist/socialism (kind of like Japan), The Unincorporated Man is pretty much the same story, yay Marxism!?, when Graham wakes up, Chapter 7, there only audiobooks in the future, The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling, The Madonna Of The Future by Henry James, Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, phonetic spelling, an H.G. Wells way of writing, is it the nature of a serial, the reader transplanted into the year 2100, The War Of The Worlds, suicide, Isbister, Warming, Ostrog, Lincoln, “body fag is no cure for brain fag”, “while he was breaking his fast”, the language, lying in a crystal box, a passive character, establishing the genre, space elevators, Buck Rogers has the same premise, Idiocracy, Eine Billion Dollar by Andreas Eschbach, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, the importance of money, the gilded age, wealth disparity, the labour company, a dystopia along the lines of Brave New World, the Martian invasion, The Time Machine, is this the start of the Morlocks and the Eloi?, 1984 by George Orwell, the proles, the pleasure cities, distractions, the value of work beyond being paid, a class trap, what is Wells saying?, Wells’ ambivalence towards the proles, there are no more school examinations, is this a meritocracy?, technological dystopias (like 1984), social dystopias, Brave New World is a medical dystopia, genetic dystopias, knowing you live in a dystopia, North Korea, knowledge of other societies, the time before Big Brother, Julia, the Anti-Sex League, genetically dumbified, Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, religious dystopia, advertizing Christianity, prosperity gospels, church revivals, advertising, the babel machines, movies and television, what will this culture do to the culture?, “people don’t read”, airplanes, heavier-than-air aircraft, smashing airplanes into other airplanes, aerial ramming, flying machine vs. aeroplane vs. airplane vs. aeropile, My First Aeorplane by H.G. Wells, rocketships, the pilot’s union, the look of the airplane, the clothing, Victorian age dresses, the church, hanging in the air, the Thames has run dry, megalopolis, the building material, the Eiffel Tower, steel, concrete, plastic, glass, carbon fiber, biotech, Pandora’s Star, a coral house, 3D printing, Ikea Hacks, print on demand houses, economics, factories and automation, The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein, The City And The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke, slide-walk, edamite, Ostrog, Ostrogoths, Lincoln, foment a revolution, race and racism, Senagalese, ostrog as “fortress”, a Serbian Orthodox Church, Ostrog will boss the show, “in bounds”, are these are revolutionary names?, Che Guevara, Abraham Lincoln’s freeing the slaves, thug force, Berlin, June 17th, 1953, the Berlin Wall, outside forces, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Gurkhas, “see we’re all friends”, smiling bright shiny teeth, “they are fine loyal brutes”, racism is in there but it is not the point of the book, The War Of The Worlds, a little hypocritical, we can’t see the issue, massive economic suppression, calculating boys, hypnotism, economic slavery, the wealth gap, the White Council, the blaring speakers, the media firehouse, talk radio, people wearing their headphones everywhere, podcasts, each one of those streams are newspapers, a newspaper for everybody, broadsheets vs. tabolids, your newspaper tells your class, daily free newspapers, Jack The Ripper, Melville Macnaghten, Michael Ostrog (thief and con-man), the symbolism of the aircraft, the three books, Helen is the Madonna of the future, it’s a joke, the novel’s end, ‘my Graham dies without certainty of victory or defeat’, ambiguous airplanes, “literally that’s his dream”, flying dreams, cliffs and high places, Isbister and Warming -> Lincoln and Ostrog, “its fun”, “in such a fall as this countless dreams have ended”, dream falling, the different endings, the future of that future, Olaf Stapledon’s The Last And First Men, many futures, Olaf Stapledon takes what Wells does a little farther, Graham as a Christ figure, risen from the dead… etc., in Graphic detail, full colour holographic Jesus, the empty tomb moment, allusions to other literature in the Bible, Arthur C. Clarke, the Son of Man, A Story Of The Days To Come, the emptying of the countryside, the enclosures, Scotland, Canada, Glasgow, Berlin, well more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities now, Among Others by Jo Walton, Wales, the merits of country living, the economic theory behind everything, access to internet, staring at the internet, services, live entertainment, “my choice of Christian girls was three girls”, poor Luke.

When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells - illustration by H. Lanos
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells - illustration by H. Lanos
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells - illustration by H. Lanos
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells' 1921 Preface to The Sleeper Wakes

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #256 – READALONG: Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

March 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #256 – Jesse, Tamahome, Luke Burrage, Seth, and Mark Turetsky talk about the audiobook of Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (as narrated by Mark Turetsky for Blackstone Audio)!

Talked about on today’s show:
On the book title’s proper spacing and hyphenation; Have Gun, Will Travel TV show; Heinlein’s last “juvenile” novel; Mark “over the moon” about the opportunity to record the book; novel nominated for Hugo in 1959; parts of the novel are hard SF; Philip K. Dick’s completely unrelated story The Father Thing; ways of manipulation in the novel; Mark’s favorite character voices; correlations between the Earth characters and space characters; debunking the possibility that the story was all a dream or imaged à la Wizard of Oz; cross-novel characters in Heinlein’s novels i.e. Space Family Stone; novel followed up by Starship Troopers; detailed description of the space suit possibly inspired by Heinlein’s work on bomber pilot pressure suits during World War II; The Martian by Andy Weir; casual drug use in the novel; Mark didn’t do the helium voice in space suit scenes; comparison to full cast audio version; Kip’s conversations with inanimate space suit bear resemblance to Gravity; on the novel’s setting in time and its world building flaws; slip sticks and slide rules; slide rule “the best invention since girls”; Kip’s dad should “get off his ass and get a job”; Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and its inspiration on Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog via its appearance in this novel’s opening lines; Heinlein’s infallibility; going Galt; the father is an asshole; the father is Heinlein; money in fiction; money baskets in Stranger in a Strange Land; old men hooking up with young women in Heinlein; Podkayne of MarsTime for the StarsTunnel in the Sky is a mash-up of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games; the story’s narrative perspective; on learning outside of school, “I’m gonna learn this shit on my own”; novel encapsulates Luke’s life philosophy, “There’s no such thing as luck. There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.”; the novel’s accelerating plot; The Puppet Masters; on adapting the novel to the silver screen; PBS’s adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven; the relative weakness of the novel’s last section; Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; time travel “breaks” fiction; Lisa Simpson would read this book; John Scalzi’s blog post An Anecdotal Observation, Relating to Robert Heinlein and the Youth of Today; people today don’t read books (or read the wrong kind of books); is science fiction the most enlightened of fiction genres?; phone books are useful for starting fires; Luke tells an inspiring story about the Magellanic Cloud; “the cure for boredom is curiosity”; where animals keep their brains.

Have Space Suit - Will Travel

Have Spacesuit - Will Travel - illustration by Ed Emshwiller

Emsh interior illustration for HAVE SPACE SUIT - WILL TRAVEL

Posted by Jesse Willis

New Release: Eldritch Tales – A Miscellany Of The Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft

March 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases 

New Releases

Available via Downpour.com (and Audible.com) this massive collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories, poems and essays is absolutely MUST GET listening.

Eldritch Tales by H.P. Lovecraft

Eldritch Tales – A Miscellany Of The Macabre
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by Tom Weiner, Simon Vance, Simon Prebble, Bronson Pinchot, Elijah Alexander, Malcolm Hillgartner, Sean Runnette, Stefan Rudnicki, Gildart Jackson, Robertson Dean, Pamela Garelick, and Armando Durán
Download – Approx. 20.1 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio / Downpour.com
Published: 2014

Table of contents:
History of the NECRONOMICON
The Alchemist
A Reminiscence of Dr Samuel Johnson
The Beast in the Cave
Memory
Despair
The Picture in the House
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Psychopompous: A Tale in Rhyme
The White Ship
The House
The Nightmare Lake
Poetry and the Gods (with Anna Helen Crofts)
Nyarlathotep
Polaris
The Street
Ex Oblivione
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
The Crawling Chaos (with Winifred Virginia Jackson)
The Terrible Old Man
The Tree
The Tomb
Celephais
Hypnos
What the Moon Brings
The Horror at Martin’s Beach (with Sonia H. Greene)
The Festival
The Temple
Hallowe’en in a Suburb
The Moon-Bog
He
Festival
The Green Meadow (with Winifred Virginia Jackson)
Nathicana
Two Black Bottles (with Wilfred Blanch Talman)
The Last Test (with Adolphe de Castro)
The Wood
The Ancient Track
The Electric Executioner (with Adolphe de Castro)
Fungi From Yuggoth
The Trap (with Henry S. Whitehead)
The Other Gods
The Quest of Iranon
The Challenge from Beyond
In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walked
Ibid
Azathoth
The Descendant
The Book
The Messenger
The Evil Clergyman
The Very Old Folk
The Thing in the Moonlight
The Transition of Juan Romero
Supernatural Horror in Literature [unabridged essay]
Afterword: Lovecraft in Britain by Stephen Jones

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Aftermath by Charles Sheffield

October 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

AftermathAftermath (The Supernova Alpha Series #1)
By Charles Sheffield; Read by Gary Dikeos
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Publication Date: 1 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 19.8 hours

Themes: / supernova / catastrophe / EMP / cults / cancer patients / Mars /

Publisher summary:

It’s 2026, and catastrophe has struck from an unexpected source. The Alpha Centauri supernova has risen like a second sun, rushing Earth toward its last summer. Floods, fires, starvation, and disease paralyze the planet. In a blue aurora flash of gamma rays, all microchips worldwide are destroyed, leaving an already devastated Earth without communications, transportation, weaponry, or medicine.

The disaster sets three groups of survivors on separate quests. A militant cult seizes the opportunity to free their leader, known as the Eye of God, from the long-term coma to which a court sentenced her. Three cancer patients also search for a man in judicial sleep: the brilliant scientist—and monstrous criminal—who alone can continue the experimental treatment that keeps them alive. From a far greater distance come the survivors of the first manned Mars expedition, struggling homeward to a world that has changed far beyond their darkest fears. And standing at the crossroads is one man, US President Saul Steinmetz, who faces a crucial decision that will affect the fate of his own people—and the world.

Aftermath, the first in a rather ambitious post-disaster series by Charles Sheffield, follows multiple interwoven plot lines which follow characters from several walks of life after a supernova has wreaked havoc on Earth. Ever wanted to know what might happen to the President in a worldwide disaster situation? How about astronauts scheduled for re-entry or cancer patients undergoing experimental treatment or violent criminals awoken from a deep sleep? Well, you might be surprised by how boring the answers are.

This book is spectacularly average in every way. There are a plethora of characters, all equally shallow and generic in their own way, and none of who provide any sort of emotional grounding for the reader. President Steinmetz seems to be the least capable leader possible in the event of a national crisis since his primary concern is whether he should hook up with his ex-girlfriend or a sexy low-level white house worker. Cancer patients Art and Dana are just some average, down home, relatable folks who decide that releasing a psychopathic serial killer is completely acceptable as long as he can keep them alive for a few more years. Even the journal entries of the serial killer felt somewhat pedantic and boring. Sheffield makes an admirable attempt at providing ethnic, age and class variety in his characters but in the end, it’s pretty obvious they were all written by the same man.

Nevertheless, the plot keeps trucking along at a slow but steady pace. It’s overly long with lots of scientific jargon thrown in for good measure. However, it feels a lot like a watered down version of bigger and better apocalyptic literature (although if it leaves most of the government’s infrastructure in place, it’s not much of an apocalypse). Most of the plot lines lack a climax and the ending seems like it arrives at an arbitrary point but in all honesty, by that time I was just grateful this nearly 20 hour audiobook had an ending. Even an emergency astronaut landing and a crazed cult fail to make things more exciting.

Gary Dikeos matches the book in being a spectacularly average narrator. It’s certainly not inspired but, in spite of a particularly annoying voice for the president, it’s a serviceable reading. This is a book I would only recommend to hardcore post-apocalypse aficionados, since there are far better examples of the genre to keep everyone else occupied.

Posted by Rose D.

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