Review of Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

August 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Spell or High WaterSpell or High Water (Magic 2.0 #2)
By Scott Meyer; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / hacker / time travel / fantasy / humor / Atlantis /

Publisher summary:

The adventures of an American hacker in Medieval England continue as Martin Banks takes his next step on the journey toward mastering his reality-altering powers and fulfilling his destiny. A month has passed since Martin helped to defeat the evil programmer Jimmy, and things couldn’t be going better. Except for his love life, that is. Feeling distant and lost, Gwen has journeyed to Atlantis, a tolerant and benevolent kingdom governed by the Sorceresses, and a place known to be a safe haven to all female time-travelers. Thankfully, Martin and Philip are invited to a summit in Atlantis for all of the leaders of the time-traveler colonies, and now Martin thinks this will be a chance to try again with Gwen. Of course, this is Martin Banks we’re talking about, so murder, mystery, and high intrigue all get in the way of a guy who just wants one more shot to get the girl. The follow-up to the hilarious Off to Be the Wizard, Scott Meyer’s Spell or High Water proves that no matter what powers you have over time and space, you can’t control rotten luck.

I’m convinced Luke Daniels could read the phone book and make it sound interesting. When given a funny book to read he shines even more. He may be my favorite audio book reader. His voices are great and seems to really bring the characters to life.  I grabbed the first book in this series a few months ago because partially because it sounded interesting, but mostly because it was read by Luke Daniels. I grabbed this book however because I really enjoyed the first one and was excited to see that a second book was out.

My favorite character in the series is probably Philip, and he seemed to get more focus in this book. This book also addressed my major criticism of the first book: Where are all the women? This book sees us visit Atlantis, which was used as the explanation for why there was almost no women. I enjoyed the female characters introduced in this one, especially the Brits.

Time travel stories are really hard to write well as it can all be very confusing. I think Mr. Meyer does a great job of handling this by having the characters be just as confused as everyone else. They offer several theories to explain things, but seem just as unsure of the plausibility as I was. This is definitely not a hard sci-fi book.

The humor in this book probably wasn’t as good as the first one, but that didn’t make the story any less fun. I did find the parts focused on Jimmy to be less enjoyable than the stuff with Philip and Martin however.

Overall I think this was another great entry in this series. Almost everything was nicely wrapped up, while the epilogue planted the seeds for a possible third book. I hope he does write a third because I’ll happily listen to it. If not, maybe I can get Luke Daniels to read me the phone book.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Marshall versus the Assassins by M. Harold Page

August 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Marshal vs. the Assassins by M. Harold PageMarshal versus the Assassins (A Foreworld SideQuest)
By M. Harold Page; Performed by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 13 minutes

Themes: / Foreworld / Mongoliad / crusades / fantasy / assassins /

Publisher summary:

Sir William the Marshal, legend in his own time, has promised to go on crusade, a vow made to his Young King as he lay dying. But when the Oliphant, legendary war horn of Roland, is stolen by the lethal Assassins, he’s charged with returning the relic in order to stop the very thing he’d vowed to undertake—a crusade; this one engineered by the thieves. With his small band of trusted companions—Sir Baldwin, his tourney compatriot; Eustace, his squire; and Henrik, the giant Norseman—William sets out to take back the relic. But treachery abounds, and when William loses two of his companions, he discovers an unlikely ally—Da’ud, an Assassin himself, bent on taking the Oliphant from the heretic faction that has stolen it. The three fight their way across land, sea, and desert, only to find themselves facing an army…and the Oliphant within their grasp.

This is another book in the Foreworld Sidequest world, another story based on the a real-life character in a real-life time. This time, the character is William the Marshal, a knight who served Henry the Young King. The story grounds itself it William’s time with Henry the Young King, about a relic that Henry earned and William’s promise to Henry on Henry’s deathbed. William promised he would lead a crusade, though while trying to gather the funds to do so, the Oliphant (a supposed relic from the time of Charlemagne) that was buried with Henry is stolen by assassins. The Knights Brethren charge William with its recovery, declaring that failure to do so would give rise to a new crusade.

The self-contained story finds William set out on this task, coming across new crosses and double-crosses and creating alliances with some of the most unlikely characters. The tale was entertaining with many fight scenes–indeed, it seemed that William travelled primarily from scuffle to scuffle and had some semi-mystic power to not only survive but survive victoriously in each skirmish. To be fair, in such a short story, it can be difficult to keep track of motives and characters, and sometimes this was the case here, but in general, it was a short and fun story.

Simon Vance narrated this story, another diversion from series regular Luke Daniels. As usual, Vance’s work was not only fantastic, but with his English accent, it felt like he “belonged” in the world. Unlike other stories, this one didn’t reference characters or places mentioned in other books/stories, minimizing the chance for confusion with pronunciation differences. This makes the story more “stand-alone” but may also be frustrating for those hoping for more stories from well-known characters. Regardless, it was an entertaining way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.

Posted by terpkristin.

The SFFaudio Podcast #278 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Wonderful Window by Lord Dunsany

August 18, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The Wonderful Window by Lord Dunsany

The SFFaudio PodcastDowncastThe SFFaudio Podcast #277 – The Wonderful Window by Lord Dunsany; read by John Feaster. This is an unabridged reading of the story (11 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and John Feaster.

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Downcast, a terrific podcast app for iPhone and iPad.

Talked about on today’s show:
Saturday Review, February 4th, 1911, the secret story behind of all of modern fantasy, do you listen to podcasts?, our SPONSOR: Downcast, an app for iPhone and iPad, small size, big impact, location based downloading, a super-customized experience, audio drama, The Red Panda Adventures, Decoder Ring Theater, Downcast allows you to lock episodes, the key to understanding, the beginning of binge-watching, Sidney Sime, The Book Of Wonder by Lord Dunsany, its criminal that Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, a new podcast idea, Appendix N: Inspirational And Educational Reading, The Dungeon Master’s Guide, take up this mantle, Gary Gygax, Dunsany’s last champion, Poul Anderson, John Bellairs, Leigh Brackett, Frederic Brown, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, August Derleth, Lord Dunsany, Philip Jose Farmer, Gardner Fox, Robert E. Howard, Sterling Lanier, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton, Andrew J. Offutt, Fletcher Pratt, Fred Saberhagen, Margaret St. Clair, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack Vance, Stanley Weinbaum, Manly Wade Wellman, Jack Williamson, Roger Zelazny, let’s understand it, S.T. Joshi, “the death of wonder”, bullshit, the inaccessibility of our fantasies, did the Arabic man see Golden Dragon City?, wouldn’t we see something different?, “the magi”, the Scheherazade salesman, its about writing fantasy, its about reading fantasy, reading life and real life, getting addicted to Game Of Thrones, it seems like it is about television, serial fiction, the August days are growing shorter, winter is coming, George R.R. Martin, prose poems, deft brushstrokes, a more devastating fairy tale, is the window a metaphor within that world, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, the yellow robes, mood and temperament, what would Oprah see?, a soap opera, silent pictures, the constellations, The Crystal Egg by H.G. Wells, science fiction, Jesse’s pet theory on the opening credit sequence of Game Of Thrones, the four houses, dragons and bears, orrery, Ptolemy vs. Copernicus, epicycles, orbital clockworks, Ringworld by Larry Niven, the inside of a Dyson sphere, Westeros, a fish-eye lens, a D&D style hex system, the mechanistic unplaying of the plot, it’s not a half-assed Tolkien, HBO, a metaphor for The Wonderful Window, maybe it’s a bowl?, a fantastically wealthy Lannister home?, that guy’s based on The Kingpin, credit sequence, Dexter‘s morning routine, murdering coffee, “oh my god it’s over”, envisioning greater lives, some guy in Golden Dragon city is looking through a window at 1911 London, Lion City (London), make it WWI, the zeppelin terror, had it been written a few years later would we not assume the red bear as Communist Russia, escape to the secondary world, beaten down into the proper shape for Business, capital “B” business, “a touch of romance”, daydreaming, a frock coat, a bookstore, “emporium”, Walmart as a soul crushing emporium, howling newsboys, the birds in the belfries, “the seven”, analogues for priests and nuns, dragons the most evocative fantasy animal, a silver field, what prompts the destruction of Golden Dragon city, Darkon (2006), LARPers, interesting, good, and sad, fantasy lives on the weekend, a cardboard factory, typical American upper-lower class jobs, religion, plunking away god-dollars, the popular conception of D&D, video games, Elvis’ hips, KISS, better jobs, Detroit in ruins, work, podcasts to stave off the rats gnawing, John’s gaming group, soul crushing and beautiful, Edward Plunkett, H.G. Wells, toy soldiers, the start of modern war-gaming, empire, “this dang story”, 14th century Hungary, Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, names, Friend, Spork, Carmilla (is a savory name), carnstein (flesh-stone), Mergin and Chater -> margin and cheater?, a used bookstore business is not one designed to make money (precisely), Chapters, the artificial love of books, the way Scrooge would run his business, the one room apartment, “tea-things”, we ended on a happy note, fantasy and escapism, there’s not much else past The Silmarillion, Elmore Leonard, Jack L. Chalker‘s last unpublished book, old-fashioned TV watching (no recording), “this window goes nowhere”, Mr. Sladden’s destruction of the window is better than had it been broken by someone else, the scent of mysterious spices, a breath of Golden Dragon City.

Word Cloud for The Wonderful Window by Lord Dunsany

Game Of Thrones as Golden Dragon City

Masters Of Fantasy - Lord Dunsany by Neil Austin

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

August 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The GreyfriarThe Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1)
By Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith; Narrated by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: April 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

1870. A time known as The Great Killing.The vampire clans arose and slaughtered humanity with unprecedented carnage in the northern parts of the world. Millions perished; millions were turned into herd animals. The great industrialized civilizations of the world were left in ruin. A remnant fled south to the safety of the ever-present heat which was intolerable to vampires. There, blending with the local peoples, they rebuilt their societies founded on human ingenuity, steam and iron.The year is now 2020. The Equatorian Empire, descendant of the British Empire, stretches from Alexandria to Cape Town. Princess Adele, quick witted, combat trained, and heir to the throne, is set to wed the scion of the American Republic, a man she has never met. Their marriage will cement an alliance between the nations and set the stage for war against the vampires in an attempt to retake the north. Prepared to do her duty, she finds herself caught in a web of political intrigue and physical danger. The Greyfriar, a legendary vampire hunter from the north, appears ready to rescue the Princess and return her home—but he harbors secrets of his own. As the power struggle between the vampires and humans increase, Adele and the Greyfriar are caught in the middle, on the run, being hunted and fighting for not just their own lives, but for the future of humanity.

The Greyfriar is a surprisingly good book. I listened to this book mainly because I like James Marsters as a narrator and wasn’t sure what to expect from the story. The authors came up with an interesting way of treating vampires that thankfully does not involve making them out to be some sex symbols as seems to be the norm these days. The story makes use of several familiar tropes but they are combined to good effect and in such a way that the story was quite good. The authors’ prose and choices of wording give the book an aged tone that fits the setting of the story.

The premise of the story is that vampires attacked in great numbers just before humans had the industrial revolution and much of the human populace has been wiped out. There are some surviving empires/governments that have lasted the 100 or so years since the attack and mankind is ready to go to war to reclaim what they’ve lost. The story is not urban fantasy but more like…vampire steampunk as best I can describe it. The humans aren’t so advanced in technology that they completely outclass the vampires and the vampires aren’t so powerful that humans can’t have some successes in fighting back.

Vampires in the Vampire Empire series are not exactly your normal vampire – and that’s a good thing. Much of what you and I would think are traits of vampires turn out to be silly human superstitions cultivated over a century of fighting and/or staying isolated from them. They don’t die in the sun, they have retractable claws and fangs, can change their body mass so they can fly, can heal rapidly, etc. These traits leave the authors plenty of room for aerial fights on air ships and all kinds of fun scenes.

While I liked how the groundwork for the world was set up, the characters themselves were probably the weakest part for me. Everyone except for a few of the main characters were fairly one dimensional and caricatures of the proper English nobility, the American cowboy, etc. The main characters make up for this in how they grow through the course of the book but man. The majority of humans harbor some strange prejudices on vampires that’s kind of hard to believe (the biggest for me was that they seem to think they’re not much more intelligent than animals). This was a stretch just because they’re clearly in contact with people who know better and have plenty of evidence to the contrary. These were minor complaints and I’m still looking forward to starting the next book.

On the audio side of things, James Marsters does not disappoint. I have enjoyed his performances in the Dresden series and you will hear many similar voices to what he uses there. His characters are easily distinguishable and his narration is clear.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

August 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

towerlordTower Lord (Raven’s Shadow #2)
By Anthony Ryan; Narrated by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 24 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / warrior /

Publisher summary:

Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’ vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm.

But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’ wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do. The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.

How do you follow up a debut novel that seems to be almost universally loved by those who have read it? By writing a book that may be even better in my opinion.  My opinion may not be shared by everyone who loved Blood Song. This is definitely a different book from that.

Instead of a single narrative about Vaelin told in the form of a flashback, we are instead given three new point of view characters in addition to Vaelin and the interludes from the perspective of the chronicler.  Two of the characters, Frentis and Lyrna, will be instantly familiar from the first novel. The fourth, Riva, was probably my favorite. As a new character she probably got the most character development of the four. I think having two male POVs and two female ones gave the novel a good balance.

I found Lyrna’s story to start a bit slow, but I was quickly grabbed by the book as a whole and eventually sucked into her narrative as well. Much like Blood Song this is one of those books that grabbed hold and didn’t let go. I hated to put it down and loved to pick it back up.

I’m glad for the format change as I think Mr. Ryan was able to tell a much larger story as a result. There were parts of the story where the various POV’s overlapped, but there were also a lot of things that would have gone otherwise unmentioned if he stuck with just Vaelin’s story.

There are some excellent action scenes, though probably fewer overall than the first. While the first book was more a hero’s journey, this book is more epic fantasy with larger implications to the realm as a whole.

There are answers to many of the big questions I had from the first novel. Often times it seems like authors jealously guard all their book’s secrets and wait until the last possible minute to reveal them. Not so with this series. I felt there were several big reveals in parts 2 and 3 that other authors might have held back.  There are plenty of new questions to take the place of those that are answered that kept me wanting to keep listening and find out what would happen next.

Mr. Ryan has put himself in a precarious position of writing two really excellent novels in what I believe is supposed to be a trilogy. Now the expectations are that much higher for the finale of what has quickly become one of my favorite series.

Stephen Brand is a great narrator that could stand to have his volume boosted. He does an excellent job with voices and inflections, but can be frustratingly quiet in places.

If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. And if you haven’t read/heard of this series you should check out Blood Song as soon as you can.

Review by Rob Zak.

The SFFaudio Podcast #275 – READALONG: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #275 – Jesse and Mr Jim Moon discuss Ivanhoe: A Romance by Sir Walter Scott

Talked about on today’s show:
1820, the Tantor Media audiobook as read by Simon Prebble, 3 comic book adaptations!, the July 2014 BBC Radio 4 adaptation (1hr), General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, immensely important, Wamba and Gurth, looking at adaptations, refinement, Robin Hood (1973), the splitting of the arrow, a willow wand, daring-do fiction, archery, folktale, Will Scarlet splits the arrow in the Queen Katherine Ballad, the historical inaccuracies, Rob Roy, a plump text, King Richard and Friar Tuck, The Merchant Of Venice by William Shakespeare, a very Shakespearean novel, pithy and punchy, dialogue and banter, The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, fully motivated characters, Athelstane, colour cloaks, where does Isaac stat at Ashby?, Chapter 2 Gurth is “this second Eumaeus”, Ivanhoe is a retelling of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, the usurpation, the governance of Scotland, the Saxons as the Scots under the English yoke, Loxley, Prince John, King John, Magna Carta, robber barons, Brian de Bois-Guilbert (wants Rebecca), Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, “Front of Beef” (wants Isaac’s money), Maurice de Bracy (wants Rowena), war and God, the 1997 BBC TV adaptation of Ivanhoe, an Arthurian style obsession, the reconciliation, Athelstane is almost a Hobbit, Athelstane death is a comedic version of a Guy de Maupassant or Edgar Allan Poe premature burial story, The Fall Of The House Of Usher done as farce, Monty Python And the Holy Grail, surprisingly few deaths, “boys own adventure”, The A-Team, Ulrica’s death, the the Waverley Novels, almost a Fantasy, magic, The Prisoner Of Zenda, venison, the Douglas Fairbanks Robin Hood, the Black Knight – who could it be?, how easy would the disguises be seen through in 1820, bigger than Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, stage adaptations, Waverley places around the world, Abbotsford, British Columbia is named (in part) after Sir Walter Scott’s home, Ivanhoe’s popularity in the southern United States, invasion, slavery and chivalry, underselling the power of fiction (as compared with non-fiction), On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin, The Communist Manifesto, Tolkien, understanding fiction, the revelation of truth through fiction, novels were once quite novel, the need for novels, models of action, 1984 changes, helps and improves you, “what is honorable action?”, the power of oaths, rapacious acquisition vs. honorable service, the destruction of the Templars, banishment was a harsh punishment, an obsession with love, Rebecca is the female Ivanhoe, the role of the Jews in the book vs. the adaptations, banking, this is not an anti-Semitic book (shockingly), the coin counting scene, the roasting scene, Friar Tuck is super-anti-Semitic, Churchill’s background, why is it that English were not as anti-Semitic as most of Europe?, a zeitgeisty historical novel, looking at the present through a historical lens, puffy, the level of intellect is very high – the etymology of pig, Lincoln Green, the final battle, a powerfully intellectual book for a piece of fiction, mid-19th century fiction isn’t as punchy, wit and intelligence in peasant characters, J.K. Rowling must have read Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott’s was “the Wizard Of The North”, Cedric <-the name comes from this book, "freelance" <-lances for hire, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Robin Hood (Ridley Scott), Robin Hood’s nom de guerre, ITV’s Robin Of Sherwood <- both Robin Hood mythologies are in it!, the "Dread Pirate Roberts", a good knight but a bad king, pagan gods, Herne the Hunter, Ivanhoe popularized the Middle Ages, Arthurian scholarship, folk customs, the ancient Egypt craze, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, a big powerful book, A Song Of Ice And Fire is kind of the anti-Ivanhoe, the Dunk And Egg stories, surprisingly modern, the symmetry of Ivanhoe, a tonic for gallstones, HBO should commission Ivanhoe, the 1952 version, the 1982 version, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Hamill, Kevin Costner vs. Alan Rickman, a noir ending averted.

Rebecca and Ivanhoe - illustration by C.E. Brock (1905)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Clarence Leonard Cole (1914)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Posted by Jesse Willis

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