The SFFaudio Podcast #202 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard

March 4, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The Shadow Kingdom
The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #202 -The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard, narrated by Todd McLaren (from Tantor Media’s Kull: Exile Of Atlantis). This is a complete and unabridged reading of the novelette (1 hour 25 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Tamahome, Jim Moon.

Talked about on today’s show:
Hypnogoria and Hypnobobs, King Kull, Kaa Nama Ka Lajerma, the magic phrase, snake men, shibboleth, the Book Of Judges, the letter after “G” in the alphabet, Z, Jay-Zed, Isaac Asimov’s test unionized, a gloomier and more brooding hero, a more philosophical CONAN, a more fantastical Howard story, wolf-men, a talking cat, animal people, Picts, Atlanteans, the Thurian Age, Mu, Lemuria, Atlantis, the final cataclysm, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Plato, Man from Atlantis, sea-barbarians, Brule the Spear-Slayer, “What, you would have me come alone?”, the Tower of Splendor, kingdom vs. empire, the Empire of The Seven Kingdoms, “squatting and living in the remnants of an older civilization”, secret passages and secret chambers, it’s like a mall, “I am Kull!”, in light of later events, King Kull’s identity crisis, I’m King, stop trying to depose me, Mel Brooks, Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, barbarians vs. traditional societies, constant talking, “a more purple depth of language”, the Shakespearean soliloquy, manly men, Hulk will smash, Weird Tales, By This Axe I Rule, King Conan vs. regular CONAN, Kull as a practice run for CONAN, Exile Of Atlantis, a sort of Science Fiction idea, Philip K. Dick, Robert Sheckley, The Thing (aka Who Goes There?), Eight O’clock In The Morning by Ray Nelson, They Live, waking to the full reality of the world, “the owners of the Earth”, a human mask over an alien face, “are you a snake man?”, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, alien replicants, The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick, identity, Howard isn’t only a purple prose action man, Kull’s philosophical bent, the speaking of the hooves, ruling an alien land, deep time, geologic time, reptoid conspiracy phenomenon, Congress as aliens, V, David Icke, Howard as a message man, there’s something metaphorical happening, a paranoia of trust, the old regime vs. the new regime, a Yes, Minister situation, new broom vs. old guard, a superhero story, the nameless serpent god, Set, Yig, Worms Of The Earth by Robert E. Howard, Thulsa Doom, Conan The Barbarian (1982), the Kull movie (Kull the Conqueror) with Kevin Sorbo, there’s no Brule, big hair and heavy metal guitar, a good farce, Valka’s face, it’s not god-awful.

The Shadow Kingdom illustrated by Hugh Rankin

TANTOR MEDIA - Kull: Exile Of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard

Conan's Brethren - Shadow Kingdom - illustrated by Les Edwards

Marvel Comics adaptation of The Shadow Kingdom

The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard - illustration by Roy Krenkel

The Shadow Kingdom - illustration by John and Marie Severin

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Red Panda Adventures – Season 7

July 1, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

If you haven’t already started listening to The Red Panda Adventures you’re doing yourself a grave disservice. Go back to the beginning and start with Season 1 (that’s HERE).

Superhero Audio Drama - The Red Panda Adventures - Season SevenThe Red Panda Adventures – Season 7
By Gregg Taylor; Performed by a full cast
12 MP3 Files via podcast – Approx. 6 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Podcaster: Decoder Ring Theatre
Podcast: August 2011 – July 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Superheroes / Mystery / Crime / Nazis / War / WWII / Adventure / Toronto / Androids / Espionage / Zombies / Magic / Aliens / Poetry / Astral Projection / Hypnosis / France / Germany / Berlin / Dinosaurs / Identity / Forgery / Romance /

The Red Panda Adventures is a comic book superhero series with a world, now in it’s seventh season, that is only comparable in scale to the entire Marvel or DC universes. But unlike either DC and Marvel, the Red Panda universe has all been written by one man, Greg Taylor. Because of that it has a consistency like the best seasons of Babylon 5.

The first episode of Season 7 follows right on the heels of last season’s final episode. In the season opener, From the Ashes, Kit Baxter gets a visit from the highest power in the land. And what with the Red Panda being presumed dead there’s only one thing to do – find a replacement for Canada’s greatest superhero. The government suggests that an unkillable machine, bent on vengeance, become the new Red Panda. And Kit, is fairly forced to accept the government’s choice. Now I won’t summarize any more of the plot. But, I will say this – Season 7 is a very different season than the previous six seasons.

What isn’t different is Taylor’s scripting. It’s still great, in fact its almost unbelievably great. Taylor has one of those highly distinctive writing styles, one that’s instantly recognizable – he’s like an Aaron Sorkin, a David Mamet, or an Ian Mackintosh. And with Taylor’s style comes a whole lot of substance too. He does incredible things with each half-hour script. Each standalone tale features a carefully measured combination of snappy repartee, genuine mystery, thrilling suspense, and clever action. And he does it all within a expanded universe so consistent so as to have become a kind of complete alternate history. His seven year series, and running, has created an image so vivid as to be completely realized. Taylor’s 1930s-1940s Toronto is far realer to me than any Gotham or Metropolis offered up in comics or movies. In fact to find anything comparable you’d have to go to the Springfield of The Simpsons!

Indeed, for the last seven years I’ve followed The Red Panda Adventures rather avidly and with each season I’ve become more engrossed in the show. The release of a new episode has become so inextricably linked to my listening habits so as to become like a good a visit from an old friend. It’s truly wonderful.

In my re-listening to the first eleven episodes of this Season 7 I picked up dozens and dozens of minor details in dialogue and plot that I’d missed the first time around. Take one point, early in the season, as an example – a character quotes the tagline of the CBS Radio series Suspense as a part of her dialogue.

How wonderful to find that!

And of course there are all the usual line echoes that we know from all past seasons (if you’re curious there’s a whole thread of Taylorisms over on AudioDramaTalk).

As for Season 7 as a whole, it has a sense of deep loss, very much in keeping with the times in which the story is set and the fallout from Season 6. Earlier I mentioned that Season 7 was unlike previous seasons, that’s because it features two overarching, and eventually intersecting, plots. The first, set in Toronto, deals with Kit Baxter, her new sidekick, her new job as associate editor of the Chronicle, and her developing pregnancy. The other plotline, set in Europe introduces us to a new character, a Lieutenant Flynn, a man in a deep denial, and his attempts to fight the Nazis behind their lines. It’s a radical change, and unforeseen change of pace, but not an unpleasant one.

The smaller scale stories from this season, like The Milk Run, work terrifically well too. As even the characters themselves will admit a plot about the forgery of rationing books doesn’t sound very dramatic next to the events unfolding in war torn France. But it’s a job that has to be done, and should be done, and done well it is. And that’s because the relatively harmless domestic crime of forgery is an important part of the story of WWII Toronto. The The Milk Run script tackles it in a way that makes it seem as if such a story could not not be told. In fact, this whole home-front end of the season’s story holds up very well next to the very dramatic later episodes.

One other such, The Case Of The Missing Muse, works very similairly. It’s a story in which we meet a super-villain, with a super-vocabulary, in a mystery that could have been set in any of the previous episodes. But what with the war time setting it of Season 7, and a new Red Panda running the show, it has a resolution that has its own unique wartime fit.

That replacement Red Panda, who in fact is a character from a previous season is still voiced by the wonderful Christopher Mott. The new Panda has a very different personality and temperament than our good friend August Fenwick. His goals as Red Panda are different, his methods are different, and it’s basically everything you like about when a hero regular superhero, from the comics gets, a replacement. It’s a new origins story – a fresh start – with all the promise that brings.

Some have argued that The Red Panda Adventures is really Kit Baxter’s story – and that certainly could be argued especially within the first arc of Season 7. Indeed, Kit Baxter, aka Flying Squirrel, does not get short shrift there. Besides her regular superhero duties, Kit’s also required to train the new Panda, fill in for the shattered Home Team (from last season) and somehow deal with the fact that her butler now knows she’s the Flying Squirrel! But that’s not all over at The Chronicle, the fictional Toronto newspaper that Kit works for, she, and we, get to visit with one of the best editor voices I’ve ever heard. Editor Pearly is your typical fatherly J. Jonah Jameson type caricature of an editor, but with a voice so crazily stressed out, a voice with lines so quickly delivered, you’ll barely understand a word he’s saying. It’s both fun and funny.

Then, just short of the midway point, a kind of focal transition takes place in between episodes 78 and 79, The Darkness Beyond and Flying Blind. The second arc begins slowly but soon ramps up. The aforementioned “Lieutenant Flynn”, and a team of commandos lead by one Captain Parker must escape from a Nazi stalag prison. Once achieved they spend much of the rest of the season either on the run or doing Special Operations Executive style missions in Nazi occupied France or in Berlin itself! And long time fans of the series will recognize the return of a certain Australian accented commando in one episode.

This new military aspect of the show is actually rather remarkable, being like a kind of Canadian version of WWII Captain America. It features a large male cast, allied soldiers, that act like something like a hybrid of the comics like Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos, and The Unknown Soldier. Indeed, in the final episode of Season 7, The Black Heart, the show even gives a nice tip of the hat towards the later Nick Fury (the one who’s an agent for S.H.I.E.L.D.). That final season episode, incidentally, is set to be podcast later this month and features several other reveals, and dare I say reunions, which fans will be sure to love – I know I sure did. Suffice it to say, the Season 7 season-ender is definitely not a cliffhanger.

Here’s the podcast feed:

http://decoderring.libsyn.com/rss

Happy Canada Day everybody, go celebrate with some RED PANDA!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Seeing Ear Theatre: The Moon Moth adapted from the novella by Jack Vance

SFFaudio Online Audio

Yesterday, a friend of mine was woefully mistaken. He said there was only one good audio drama and that it was The Hobbit (referring to the BBC radio dramatization). Well that is a pretty awesome audio drama but he is still totally and completely WRONG.

There are probably hundreds and hundreds of excellent audio dramas, but I was totally caught off guard – what’s that old french saying… ah yes…

“l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier”

Indeed, I only managed to throw out a couple of quick examples before my friend had retired for the evening.

I pointed out the BBC’s dramatization of The Lord Of The Rings and I a then suggested the CBS Radio Mystery Theater and it’s wonderful Alfred Bester story The Walking Dead).

My friend left unconvinced. And it is only now, today, that others spring readily to mind.

In l’esprit de l’escalier I will throw out one more – to him and to the world – and that will be George Zarr’s masterful adaptation of Jack Vance’s The Moon Moth.

It was one of the first audio dramas I reviewed for SFFaudio, back in 2003, and it is still one of the very finest audio dramas I’ve ever heard.

You could |READ OUR REVIEW|, but I think just hearing a few minutes of it will provide enough motivation to propel both you, and my friend, to both the end and a change of opinion.

SEEING EAR THEATRE - The Moon MothSFFaudio EssentialSeeing Ear Theatre – The Moon Moth
Based on the novella by Jack Vance; adapted by George Zarr; Performed by a Full Cast
2 MP3 Files – Approx. 73 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Seeing Ear Theater
Published: 2000?
On the planet Sirene everyone wears a mask according to his status — or strahk — in society. Communication is accomplished through singing accompanied by a plethora of instruments, each of which signifies a different emotional mood or is used to talk to a different social caste. The problem is, the assassin Angmark is a master of Sirenese customs and — like everyone else on Sirene — his face is hidden behind a mask. Our doddering ambassador-detective’s only hope: to learn to use his own mask — the lowly Moon Moth — before Angmark relieves him of a head to put it on. First published in Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1961.

Part 1 |MP3| Part 2 |MP3|

Produced and directed by George Zarr
Sound Design by John Colucci and David Shinn
Music Direction and Sirenese Musical Performance by Douglas Anderson

Cast:
David Garrison as Edwer Thissell and Provisionist Greenward
Tuck Milligan as Haxo Angmark and Messenger Slave
Ian Reed as Esteban Rolver and Bright Sky Bird
Mort Banks as Cornelly Welibus and Maskmaker
Mark Victor Smith as Mathew Kershaul
Leah Applebaum as Computoid, Maiden, Female Slave, and Rex
George Zarr as Steward and Paul
Andrew Joffe as Forest Goblin, Benko, and Sand Tiger
Paul Amodeo as Hostler and Toby

Here are the illustrations, by Dick Francis, from the original publication in Galaxy SF:

The Moon Moth by Jack Vance - illustration by Dick Francis

The Moon Moth by Jack Vance - illustration by Dick Francis

The Moon Moth by Jack Vance - illustration by Dick Francis

And finally, we talked to George Zarr about The Moon Moth, and many other plays, back in SFFaudio Podcast #071. Check it out if you’d like to hear more about how awesome audio drama is.

Posted by Jesse Willis

X-Minus One: Philip K. Dick’s Colony

March 17, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

I guess I’m starting on another Dick kick. I’ve been thinking, and reading a lot of his short stories lately. Thanks in part to the two Blackstone Audio audiobook collections entitled The Selected Stories Of Philip K. Dick.

The first story in Blackstone Audio’s The Selected Stories Of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2 is Colony.

I’ve read Colony maybe a half dozen times over the years, I still find it utterly readable.

First published in the June 1953 issue of Galaxy magazine, Colony is a cleverly plotted one-note tale of paranoia and identity.

Robert Silverberg’s wonderful 1987 essay on it, entitled Colony: I Trusted The Rug Completely, points out how very far ahead of the reader Dick is. Dick indulges our expectations, teases us with a foreshadowing doom and still pulls off the unexpected twist ending. The story is also notable for inventing a couple of minor tropes; namely the Robot Door and the Robot Psyche Tester (both with emotive personalities rivaling that of their fellow human protagonists).

This is one of the few PKD tales given the old radio drama treatment.

Unfortunately, there were a few detrimental changes made to the 1956 X-Minus One adaptation. Maybe it’s the audio drama format that neutralizes much of the humor in Colony. It certainly pacifies some of the absurdities. And the 1950s script adds in an unnecessary bit of sexual harassment that’s absent from the original 1950s text (perhaps so as to have it better fit into the decade). On the whole, however, X-Minus One’s adaptation is still well worth listening to. It retains much of the dialogue and the anti-consumerism message, and it also retains the excellent and story-making ending.

Dick wrote, in regards to this story:

The ultimate paranoia is not when everyone is against you, it’s when everything is against you. Instead of “My boss is plotting against me”, it would be “My boss’ phone is plotting against me”.

Here’s the play:

X-Minus OneX-Minus One – Colony
Based on the story by Philip K. Dick; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 29 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: NBC
Broadcast: October 10, 1956
Colony tells the story of an advance research team scouting the planet Blue in the Aldebaran star system to assess what may be required to render this newly discovered planet habitable. Strange occurrences soon plague members of the scout team, as they are attacked by inanimate objects with the unmistakable intent to kill. It is soon discovered that some force, or entities unknown, have the power to mimic any conceivable object, rendering even seemingly benign items such as a belt, a bath towel, or even a weapon such as a blaster, instruments of murder.

Here are the original illustrations from Galaxy:
Colony by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Ed Emshwiller
Colony by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Ed Emshwiller
Colony by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Ed Emshwiller

And here are the images and the audio combined into a YouTube video:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

October 3, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Ready Player OneReady Player One
By Ernest Cline; Read by Wil Wheaton
15 hours 46 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2011
ISBN: 0307913147
Themes: / Gaming / Virtual Reality / 1980s nostalgia / Dystopia / Near-Future /

Sample |MP3|

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, and like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.  

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle…

If you are a pop culture junkie, or a gamer, or a virtual world inhabitant, this is the book for you.   It was such great fun that I found myself making up reasons to listen to the audio book.  Wil Wheaton has become one of my favorite readers, especially at 1.5 speed.  His casual tone is perfect here.

Don’t be turned away by people who claim that this book is pure nostalgia.  While not heavy-handed, and arguably YA in tone, I found it to be thoughtful on issues of identity in an increasingly virtual world.  And just try imagining the new cities of stacked mobile homes without smiling!

Other fun things – author Ernest Cline has a vibrant blog for the book, including a RP1 Game.  He even posted a Spotify playlist featuring most of the music mentioned in the book.  If that can’t get you in the mood for a little nostalgic romp, you are dead on the inside. Dead!

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Aural Noir Review of Unknown (A Special Edition of Out of My Head) by Didier van Cauwelaert, translated by Mark Polizzotti

August 16, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

BLACKSTONE AUDIO - Unknown by Dider van CauwelaertUnknown (A Special Edition of Out of My Head)
By Didier van Cauwelaert; Translated by Mark Polizzotti; Read by Bronson Pinchot
4 CDs – Approx. 4 Hours 21 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: December 2010
ISBN: 9781441759788
Themes: / Mystery / Identity / Amnesia / Identity Theft / Science / Botany / France /

This fast-paced thriller is the basis for the February 2011 film Unknown, starring Liam Neeson, Frank Langella, Diane Kruger, and Aidan Quinn. Martin Harris returns home after a short absence to find that his wife doesn’t know him, another man is living in his house under his name, and the neighbors think he’s a raving lunatic. Worse, not a single person — family, colleague, or doctor — can vouch for him. Worse still, the impostor shares all of Martin’s memories, experiences, and knowledge, down to the last detail. He is, in fact, a more convincing Martin than Martin himself. Is it a conspiracy? Amnesia? Is Martin the victim of an elaborate hoax, or of his own paranoid delusion? In his high-powered new novel, Didier van Cauwelaert, the award-winning author of One-Way, explores the illusory nature of identity and the instability of the things we take for granted. Dispossessed of his job, his family, his name, and his very past, Martin Harris is an Everyman caught in an absurd and yet disturbingly convincing nightmare, one that seems to have no exit and that resists every explanation. Part moral fable, part Robert Ludlum-style thriller, Unknown is a fast-paced tale of one man’s desperate attempt to reclaim his existence — even at the cost of his own life.

Unknown is an old fashioned mystery story with an amateur detective who is trying to solve the most important case of his life – his own. The narrative, told in first person, is brisk, fresh, and just slightly foreign. It was such a good for me to have a short novel like this, one that wrapped itself up in less than a day and a half of listening! It reminded me of such wonderful standalone novels as Ed McBain’s Downtown |READ OUR REVIEW| and Donald E. Westlake’s Memory. But unlike those two novels, which had passive protagonists, Martin Harris is competent and determined. He had me investigating and pondering right along with him. I, like he, was attentive to his dilemma, was constantly working through the possibilities of what might be going on, following the thought processes and tripping over the doubts he had in every scene. And, I did all this after seeing the film! I’m really kicking myself about that. Had I read the book, before watching the movie, I think I would have enjoyed the novel quite a bit more. That said, the novel isn’t the movie. The novel is different in tone and detail.

It’s cool to have an intelligent protagonist who thinks through dozens of possible scenarios despite being constantly bombarded by failure. The portrait Didier van Cauwelaert paints, of a distraught victim of identity theft, is full of the kinds of ambiguity and doubt that feels like a very European version of a Robert Ludlum novel. The protagonist may be American, but the novel feels French. The little things that might mean something are everywhere, all the characters seem to have a back story, all of which might be red herrings or just nothing at all and the focus on character and inner-space was surprising. Had the novel been twice the length I doubt I would have enjoyed it half as much.

Bronson Pinchot’s facility with accents is perfect for this novel set in Paris with an American hero. The audiobook is currently available at the Overstock 50% off discounted price (on CD). My thinking is that I did this all wrong, I should have watched the movie after reading the book. If you do it in the right order, let me know what you think of the book, and the movie.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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