Review of The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter T. Leeson

May 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

AUDIBLE - The Invisible Hook by Peter T. LeesonThe Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates
By Peter T. Leeson; Read by Jeremy Gage
Audible Download – Approx. 7 Hours 41 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible, Inc.
Published: September 4, 2009
Themes: / Economics / Piracy / History / Slavery / Democracy / Anarchy /

Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss–it’s time to go a-pirating! The Invisible Hook takes readers inside the wily world of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century pirates. With swashbuckling irreverence and devilish wit, Peter Leeson uncovers the hidden economics behind pirates’ notorious, entertaining, and sometimes downright shocking behavior. Why did pirates fly flags of Skull & Bones? Why did they create a “pirate code”? Were pirates really ferocious madmen? And what made them so successful? The Invisible Hook uses economics to examine these and other infamous aspects of piracy. Leeson argues that the pirate customs we know and love resulted from pirates responding rationally to prevailing economic conditions in the pursuit of profits.

I love non-fiction, and I love books that look at history, books that look at history through one lens or another are even better! And so there is much to love in The Invisible Hook. The title is a play on Adam Smith’s elegant metaphor for how markets work, the invisible hand. Most of the examples cited deal with the Atlantic and Caribbean pirates, rather than earlier Roman era or modern day pirates. But we get a sense of how it likely worked in other regions and times. Chapters on the paradoxical attitudes towards pirate slavery, the wildly contradictory stories about piratical impressment, and the chapter on the Jolly Roger, the pirate flag, are absolutely fascinating. And, as something of a piratical hobbyist myself, I’m pleased to report they deliver clear insights only hinted at in other non-fiction books about piracy. You know you’ve got a good book in hand when you find yourself relating the premises, arguments, and conclusions of whole chapters to friends.

How good is the analysis really? That’s kind of hard to tell. Democracy and equality as a function of economics? Wonderful! Seems logical, seems plausible. And that’s the sort of thing you don’t hear often enough. Indeed, economist Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, gets a shout out early on in The Invisible Hook. This is a book in that vein, a kind of entertaining pop-economics, well written, and very thoughtful. But it also boasts the same kind of inarguable psychohistory-style post-analysis of such books. It reminds me of books like William Rosen’s The Most Powerful Idea in the World, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Well written history looked at through the lens of a soft science makes the seemingly inexplicable events of history seem almost inevitable. That is to say, this book should be just one of many such on such topics. In the end though how can you not wanto to read a book that makes piracy, as depicted in The Princess Bride, actually very plausible?

But this is not as merry a ship as it might be. As with many book published these days, there’s some bit of puffery. Concepts well illustrated in a paragraph or two are revisited, whole passages nearly reworded, and I’m betting that this for reasons of market driven economics. It might be that each chapter can be looked at on it’s own, textbook style, but listened to as I did, back to back the chapters have a tendency to revisit the same ports too often. This is one of my major complaints about books these days. Too many books are being published with too many words that don’t say different things. At under eight hours even this relatively slim volume, by today’s market standards, but it’s still puffier than any pirate’s shirt really ought be. It is like a pirate cutter on the stalk, slowed down by a sea-anchor of unneeded repetition. Saying the same thing over and over and over. Get my point? Okay, its the market, and to be fair Adam Smith’s own The Wealth Of Nations is a bloody long book, 36 hours! I’d be willing to bet my strong right arm that the original article, as published by Levitt (mentioned in the book), would be an even better audiobook than this very fine one, and no doubt it’d measure at least a peg leg shorter.

Narrator Jeremy Gage is from the old school of audiobook narration, the kind I like. He doesn’t so much as perform a book as read it. His conspiratorial tone typically him a great choice for first-person POV novels, like Lawrence Block’s Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. This is the first non-fiction book I’ve heard him narrate. So now I can say he’s great for non-fiction too.

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: Shadows In The Moonlight by Robert E. Howard

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Shadows In The Moonlight by Robert E. Howard

`Shadows

Though Robert E. Howard had originally titled this Conan adventure “Iron Shadows In The Moon” it was actually first published under the title Shadows In The Moonlight. Current publications, and adaptations, tend to favour Howard’s original title. But either way the novelette, featuring a shipload of pirates, a shapely maiden, and a giant ape, makes for some very good reading.

LibriVoxShadows In The Moonlight
By Robert E. Howard; Read by Phil Chenevert
4 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 1 Hour 31 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: April 17, 2013
First published in Weird Tales, April 1934.

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/rss/7755

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

Iron Shadows In The Moon - illustrated by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

Iron Shadows In The Moon - illustrated by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

Iron Shadows In The Moon - illustration by Mark Schultz

Iron Shadows In The Moon - illustration by Mark Schultz

Iron Shadows In The Moon - illustration by Cary Nord

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

September 23, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Hachette Audio - Arguably: Essays by Christopher HitchensArguably: Essays
By Christopher Hitchens; Read by Simon Prebble
24 CDs – Approx. 28.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: September 1, 2011
ISBN: 9781611139068
Themes: / Non-fiction / History / War / Biography / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Iran / Afghanistan / Germany / North Korea / France / Dystopia / Utopia / Religion / Tunisia / Piracy / Terrorism / Feminism / Pakistan /

The first new collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens since 2004, Arguably offers an indispensable key to understanding the passionate and skeptical spirit of one of our most dazzling writers, widely admired for the clarity of his style, a result of his disciplined and candid thinking. Topics range from ruminations on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men to the haunting science fiction of J.G. Ballard; from the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell to the persistent agonies of anti-Semitism and jihad. Hitchens even looks at the recent financial crisis and argues for arthe enduring relevance of Karl Marx. The audio book forms a bridge between the two parallel enterprises of culture and politics. It reveals how politics justifies itself by culture, and how the latter prompts the former. In this fashion, Arguably burnishes Christopher Hitchens’ credentials as-to quote Christopher Buckley-our “greatest living essayist in the English language.”

Here’s a question I was thinking about while listening to Arguably.

What is fiction for?

One answer, the bad one, is that it’s for entertainment. That’s certainly where many readers are willing go, and the fiction writers who write it too. Maybe that’s precisely why so much fiction is just so very shitty.

To me, if you aren’t exploring ideas in your fiction, then you really aren’t serving a greater purpose. Idea fiction, fiction with ideas rather than just action and plot, is to my mind a kind of supplement to the wisdom found in writings on history, biography and science.

Of the many lessons learned I in listening to the 107 essays in Arguably I was particularly struck by the wisdom Christopher Hitchens gleaned from his reading of fiction. Hitchens reviews many books in this collection, nearly half of the essays are book reviews. Books like 1984, Animal Farm, Flashman, The Complete Stories Of J.G. Ballard, Our Man In Havana, and even, surprisingly, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows all get fascinating, critical, and reverent reviews.

Yet Hitchens also takes the lessons with him into his writing about his travels. Hitchens writes about visits to such places as North Korea, Cyprus, Afghanistan, and Kurdish Iraq. When talking about his visit to Beirut we see what comes when Hitchens, a man of ideas, acts upon them. The essay, The Swastika and the Cedar sees the convictions of the commited anti-fascist Hitchens beaten and nearly kidnapped for an act of vandalism on a prominently displayed swastika. Writes Hitchens:

“Well, call me old-fashioned if you will, but I have always taken the view that swastika symbols exist for one purpose only—to be defaced.”

In a review of two books, Lolita and The Annotated Lolita, Hitchens applies the controversial subject in a real life look at the modern, and very non-fictional oppression and objectification of women. Indeed, the ideas he appreciated in fiction helped Hitchens to come to grips with the real world.

I think the worst essay in this collection is the one on the serving of wine and restaurants, Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite. It was simply a waste of the talent, too light, too easy a target. And yet, even that essay, the worst essay in all 107 has a memorable anecdote: “Why,” asks Hitchens’ five year old son, “are they called waiters? It’s we who are doing all the waiting.”

As to the narration of the audiobook. I’m ashamed to admit that I was initially dismayed when I saw that Christopher Hitchens had not narrated this audiobook himself. I was wrong to worry. Incredibly, Simon Prebble seems to have have become Hitchens for this narration. Prebble perfectly captures the erudite words, so eloquently performs them, and with an accent so like that of Hitchens’ own so as to make me think that it was Hitchens who had actually read it.

I think the worst essay in this collection is the one on the serving of wine and restaurants, Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite. It was simply a waste of the talent, too light, too easy a target. And yet, even that essay, the worst essay in all 107 has a memorable anecdote: “Why,” asks Hitchens’ five year old son, “are they called waiters? It’s we who are doing all the waiting.”

Here’s a list of the book’s contents, with links to the original etexts when available, along with my own notes on each:

ALL AMERICAN
Gods Of Our Fathers: The United States Of Enlightenment – a review of Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen

The Private Jefferson – a review of Jefferson’s Secrets: Death And Desire At Monticello by Andrew Burstein

Jefferson Vs. The Muslim Pirates – a review of Power, Faith, And Fantasy: America In The Middle East: 1776 To The Present by Michael B. Oren

Benjamin Franklin: Free And Easy – a review of Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, And Political Thought by Jerry Weinberger

John Brown: The Man Who Ended Slavery – a review of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked The Civil War, And Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds

Abraham Lincoln: Misery’s Child (aka Lincoln’s Emancipation) – a review of Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame

Mark Twain: American Radical – a scathing review of The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

Upton Sinclair: A Capitalist Primer – a review of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

JFK: In Sickness And By Stealth – a review of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 by Robert Dallek

Saul Bellow: The Great Assimilator – review of six novels by Saul Bellow (The Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures Of Augie March, Seize The Day, Henderson The Rain King, and Herzog)

Vladimir Nabokov: Hurricane Lolita – reviews of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr.

John Updike: No Way – a review of The Terrorist by John Updike (with reference to The Coup too)

John Updike: Mr. Geniality
– a critical review of the affable Due Considerations: Essays And Considerations by John Updike

Vidal Loco – Gore Vidal went crazier, more elitist and perhaps more racist as he got older (with attention and quips for Quentin Crisp and Oscar Wilde and Joyce Carol Oates)

America The Banana Republic – Hitchens on the “socialistic” bank bailout of 2008 (“socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the rest”)

An Anglosphere Future – a review of The History Of The English Speaking Peoples by Andrew Roberts (with reference to both Sherlock Holmes and The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as to Cecil Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling)

Political Animals – a review of Dominion: The Power Of Man, The Suffering Of Animals, And The Call To Mercy by Matthew Scully

Old Enough To Die – on capital punishment as applied to children

In Defense Of Foxhole Atheists
– a visit to the United States Air Force Academy and the tax funded proselytizing

In Search Of The Washington Novel – a search for some good fiction about Washington, D.C.

ECLECTIC AFFINITIES
Isaac Newton: Flaws Of Gravity – a stroll through the medieval streets of Cambridge with the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers who worked there

The Men Who Made England: Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” – a review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Edmund Burke: Reactionary Prophet – a review of Reflections On The Revolution In France by Edmund Burke

Samuel Johnson: Demons And Dictionaries
– a review of Samuel Johnson: A Biography by Peter Martin

Gustave Flaubert: I’m With Stupide – a review of Bouvard et Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert translated by Mark Polizzotti

The Dark Side Of Dickens
– a review of Charles Dickens by Michael Slater a biography (Hitchens was a not uncritical admirer of the subject)

Marx’s Journalism: The Grub Street Years – a glowing review of Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism Of Karl Marx edited by James Ledbetter, foreword by Francis Wheen (Marx admired the United States, and other fascinating facts about the father of communism)

Rebecca West: Things Worth Fighting For – an introduction to Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West

Ezra Pound: A Revolutionary Simpleton – a review of Ezra Pound, Poet: A Portrait Of The Man And His Work: Volume I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920 by A. David Moody (a biography of the fascist poet)

On “Animal Farm” – an introduction to Animal Farm

Jessica Mitford’s Poison Pen – a review of Decca: The Letters Of Jessica Mitford edited by Peter Y. Sussman

W. Somerset Maugham: Poor Old Willie – a review of W. Somerset Maugham: A Life by Jeffery Meyers

Evelyn Waugh: The Permanent Adolescent – a look at the enigmatic life, writing, religion, and sexuality of Evelyn Waugh

P.G. Wodehouse: The Honorable Schoolboy – a review of Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum

Anthony Powell: An Omnivorous Curiosity – a review of To Keep The Ball Rolling: The Memoirs Of Anthony Powell

John Buchan: Spy Thriller’s Father – a review of John Buchan The Presbyterian Cavalier by David R. Godine (with discussion of The 39 Steps and a fantasy novelette The Grove Of Ashtaroth)

Graham Greene: I’ll Be Damned – a review of The Life Of Graham Green: Volume II: 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry

Death From A Salesman: Graham Greene’s Bottle Ontology – an introduction to Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene

Loving Philip Larkin (aka Philip Larkin, the Impossible Man) – a review of Philip Larkin: Letters To Monica edited by Anthony Thwaite

Stephen Spender: A Nice Bloody Fool – a review of Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography by John Sutherland

Edward Upward: The Captive Mind – a look at the British novelist and short story Edward Upward

C.L.R. James: Mid Off, Not Right On – a review of Cricket, The Caribbean, And World Revolution by Farrukh Dhondy

J.G. Ballard: The Catastrophist – a review of The Complete Stories Of J.G. Ballard

Fraser’s Flashman: Scoundrel Time – a look at the George MacDonald Fraser series of Flashman books and the connection with The Adventure Of The Empty House

Fleet Street’s Finest: From Waugh To Frayn – an essay on the dubious romance of journalism

Saki: Where The Wild Things Are – a review of The Unbearable Saki: The Work of H.H. Munro by Sandie Byrne

Harry Potter: The Boy Who Lived – a review of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

AMUSEMENTS, ANNOYANCES, AND DISAPPOINTMENTS
Why Women Aren’t Funny – a controversial essay on why more comedians are male and why women laugh at them the way they do

Stieg Larsson: The Author Who Played With Fire – a look at the phenomenon of the bestselling author of The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo

As American As Apple Pie – a literary and chronological history of the blowjob, with reference to Valdamir Nobokov’s Lolita

So Many Men’s Rooms, So Little Time – a fascinatingly insightful argument on what’s was going on with the Larry Craig bathroom airport scandal and related phenomena

The New Commandments – deconstructing the Ten Commandments

In Your Face – are bans on burqas and veils actually bans, or are they liberation?

Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite – ill mannered waiters are ruining the business of wine drinking

Charles, Prince Of Piffle – a damning look at the prince who shouldn’t be king

OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS
Afghanistan’s Dangerous Bet – a visit to Afghanistan, it’s all about the women

First, Silence The Whistle-Blower – is there any hope for democracy in Afghanistan?

Believe Me, It’s Torture – a report on what it’s like to be water-boarded

Iran’s Waiting Game – a visit to Iran and a meeting with Hussein Khomeini the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini

Long Live Democratic Seismology – on democracy, Chile, Iran, and earthquakes

Benazir Bhutto: Daughter Of Destiny – a personal remembrance of the brave liar, Benazir Bhutto

From Abbottabad To Worse – an explanation for the existence of Pakistan as the U.S.A.’s worst best friend

The Perils Of Partition – on what dividing a country does to it (it’s like a man with a broken leg – he can think of nothing else)

Algeria: A French Quarrel – a review of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne

The Case Of Orientalism (aka East Is East) – a review of Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Robert Irwin

Edward Said: Where The Twain Should Have Met – a review of Orientalism by Edward Said

The Swastika And The Cedar – a visit to “the Arab street”

Holiday In Iraq – Hitchens on holiday in Kurdish Iraq: it’s lovely

Tunisia: At The desert’s Edge – a lavish and lengthy visit to Africa’s gentlest country

What Happened To The Suicide Bombers Of Jerusalem? – why is no one writing about the dog that didn’t bark?

Childhood’s End: An African Nightmare – on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The Vietnam Syndrome – on the horrific effects of Agent Orange and the legacies of dioxin

Once Upon A Time In Germany – a review of the movie The Baader Meinhof Complex, it explores the origins of The Red Army Faction

Worse Than “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – North Korea is a slave state seemingly modeled on 1984

North Korea: A Nation of Racist Dwarfs – a visit to North Korea

The Eighteenth Brumaire Of The Castro Dynasty – a look at the Castro regime’s familial coup

Hugo Boss – a visit to Venezuela with Sean Penn and a meeting with Hugo Chávez – he’s nuts

Is The Euro Doomed? – what will be the fate of Europe’s common currency?

Overstating Jewish Power – In the Israeli American relationship who’s pulling who’s strings?

The Case For Humanitarian Intervention – a review of Freedom’s Battle: The Origins Of Humanitarian Intervention by Gary J. Bass

LEGACIES OF TOTALITARIANISM
Victor Serge: Pictures From An Inquisition – reviews of The Case Of Comrade Tulayev and Memoirs Of A Revolutionary by Victor Serge

André Malraux: One Man’s Fate – a review of Malraux: A Life by Olivier Todd, translated by Joseph West

Arthur Koestler: The Zealot – a review of Koestler: The Literary And Political Odyssey Of A Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell

Isabel Allende: Chile Redux – an introduction to The House Of The Spirits by Isabel Allende

The Persian Version – a review of Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology Of Contemporary Iranian Literature edited by Nahid Mozaffari

Martin Amis: Lightness At Midnight – a review of Koba The Dread: Laughter And The Twenty Million by Martin Amis

Imagining Hitler – the problem of evil, and Hitler, with reference to Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum and Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw

Victor Klemperer: Survivor

A War Worth Fighting – a persuasively systematic review of Churchill, Hitler And The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire And The West Lost The World by Pat Buchanan

Just Give Peace A Chance? – a critical review of Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker

W.G. Sebald: Requiem For Germany – a review of On The Natural History Of Destruction by W.G. Sebald

WORDS’ WORTH
When The King Saved God – for the love of the King James version

Let Them Eat Pork Rinds – Berthold Brecht, Charles Dickens and various other sources inform Hitch’s view of the Hurricane Katrina relief disaster

Stand Up For Denmark! – a still timely plea for preferring free speech to religious tolerance

Eschew The Taboo - on the banning of words, particularly the word “nigger”

She’s No Fundamentalist – a spirited defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Burned Out – the verb “fuel” is fueled by journalistic sloppiness

Easter Charade – on life and death and Terri Schiavo

Don’t Mince Words – the disenfranchisement of south Asians in Britain isn’t the cause of bombings, hatred of women is.

History And Mystery – al-Qaeda in Iraq, jihadists, or “insurgents”? Do words matter? Of course they bloody well do.

Words Matter – political slogans make of “every adult in the country” an “illiterate jerk who would rather feel than think”

This Was Not Looting – how can a government “loot” it’s own weapons manufacturing facility? The government of Iraq managed it according to The New York Times.

The “Other” L-Word – a lighthearted piece on the prominence of the word “like” and it’s use

The You Decade – what’s wrong with you (marketing to the selfish)

Suck It Up – the Virginia Tech shootings prompted the wrong response from the world (namely that it prompted one)

A Very, Very Dirty Word – the English empire, in centuries to come, may only be remembered for soccer and the phrase “fuck off”

Prisoner Of Shelves – on the indispensability of books

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #160 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Red Nails by Robert E. Howard

May 14, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #160 – Jesse, Tamahome, and Brian Murphy (of The Silver Key and Black Gate) talk about Red Nails by Robert E. Howard (read by Gregg Margarite for LibriVox). The audiobook runs 3 Hours 21 minutes and the discussion begins after that.

Talked about on today’s show:
Comics, the comic adaptation of Red Nails, Conan Saga, Savage Tales, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Storyteller, Wolverine, the REH Comics Yahoo! Group, Beyond The Black River, Tower Of The Elephant, Karl Edward Wagner, Queen Of The Black Coast, grimness, pirates, torture, lesbianism, happy endings, “so much for that decades old gang war”, it’s Red Nails is like a Tom Baker Doctor Who serial, haunted city, a feud culture, Tolkemec’s laser, “if it bleeds we can kill it”, Conan the chauvinist, Valeria kicks ass, is the story told from Valeria’s POV?, it begins like a mystery, the “dragon” is a dinosaur (sort of), Techotl, writer shorthand, Star Trek (Let That Be Your Last Battlefield), Techotl is Gollum-like, Red Nails as a gang war, why didn’t they all get rickets and starve, Howard was the original locavore, a roofed city vs. a domed city, Hatfields vs. McCoys, the black pillar of vengeance, ConanRedNails.com, HBO can do no wrong, copyright vs. trademark, Dark Horse’s Chronicles Of Conan #4, colour and colouring, Howard as a stylist, Book X of The Odyssey, The Land of the Lotus Eaters, The Dark Man: The Journal Of Robert E. Howard Studies, using digital copies to research (control-f), Aztec, Toltecs, cannibalism, Jack London, Harold Lamb, William Morris, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, sword and sorcery, horror, The Black Stone, Worms Of The Earth by Robert E. Howard, Tantor Media’s tantalizing collection Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, condemn Howard’s racism praise his writing, Orson Scott Card, Al Harron of The Blog That Time Forgot, Apparition In The Prize Ring by Robert E. Howard, Ace Jessel, Solomon Kane, what will we do after?, just an average weekend with laser beams, the gonzo ending of Red Nails, BrokenSea’s The Queen Of The Black Coast audio drama, Bill Hollweg, legal trouble, Sherlock Holmes, Disney’s John Carter vs. Dynamite Entertainment‘s Warlord Of Mars.

Red Nails - interior fold out art by Ken Kelly

Red Nails - Ending - art by Barry Windsor-Smith

Red Nails by Robert E. Howard

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

March 13, 2011 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

BLACKSTONE AUDIO - On Stranger Tides by Tim PowersOn Stranger Tides
By Tim Powers; Read by Bronson Pinchot
10 CDs – Approx. 11.7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: August 2010
ISBN: 9781441754981
Themes: / Fantasy / Pirates / Magic / Caribbean / Voodoo / Zombies /

On Stranger Tides follows the exploits of John “Jack Shandy” Chandagnac, who travels to the new world after the death of his puppeteer father to confront his uncle, who has apparently made off with the family fortune. During the voyage, he befriends Beth Hurwood and her father Benjamin Hurwood, an Oxford professor. Before they arrive at their destination, their ship is waylaid by Blackbeard (via Davies) and his band of pirates. With the help of the professor and his assistant, the captain is killed and Chandagnac is pressed into piracy and sorcery as Blackbeard searches for the Fountain of Lost Youth (and other nefarious goals). Chandagnac, newly dubbed “Jack Shandy,” must stop the evil plot and save Beth Hurwood.

I was all set to buy the audiobook, when I found an iPhone app for half as much.  The app has some problems though.  The sleep function only works when you disable locking on the phone.  So if you fall asleep, you might get screen-burn.  Also, frequently the app would lose its place in the current chapter, and if I didn’t write down my place in Simplenote app, I would have had to start the chapter over.  Otherwise it was a bargain.

I have some reservations with this book as an audiobook.  Bronson Pinchot is very dramatic in his reading of the dense text, but if you’re in your car or walking in public with some ambient noise, some of the whispering (Blackbeard), mumbling, and toothless (Skank) characters may be hard to hear.  Plus, the plot is so Byzantine, if you miss some important piece of information, you may not know what is going on later on, and get bored.  And watch out because some of the characters have multiple names, like Blackbeard may also be called Thatch or Hunzie Conzo (?), and others.  Hurwood and Shandy’s uncle assume different identities as well.  Even ships like the Vociferous Carmichael may change their identities.  This link may help (possible spoilers).  (Help me, Wikipedia, with a better plot summary.)  By the way, this is how you spell ‘Bocor’ (“Hatian witchdoctor”).  You’ll want to google it .  I’m still not sure what a ‘loa’ is.  Plus you have to watch out for scenes that only take place in fantasy, or within characters’ minds.  I found much more enjoyment when I listened to the book in a quiet room and actually took notes.  But it took a little more effort than I want from a novel.  The characters didn’t seem to have much depth to me, except maybe the evil zophtig Leo Friend.  So the plot is the highlight, and there are some good scenes toward the end, some memorable death and puppetry.

Also, listening to Tim Powers’ 2010 interview (scroll down) on the Agony Column helped me appreciate the book more.  He talks about this book around the 8 minute mark.  His method is to research and find ’20 cool true things’ and string them together into a novel.  (Yes, Blackbeard was real.)  If only the book had a nice appendix.

Remember, never eat a chicken with writing on the beak.

posted by Tamahome

Recent Arrivals: Listen For Pleasure, Blackstone Audio, Brilliance Audio, Galaxy Audio, CWLA Press, Macmillian Audio

March 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

Here’s an unusual sort of recent arrival, an ex-library copy of one of the 1980s Ellery Queen collections…

Listen For Pleasure  - Ellery Queen Presents Custer's GhostEllery Queen Presents: Custers Ghost, Breaking Free, Labyrinth Of Life and A Bagdad Reckoning
By various; Read by William Hootkins and Bob Sherman
2 Cassettes – Approx. 2 Hours 10 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listen For Pleasure
Published: 1986
ISBN: 0886461790
Here are four entertaining stories from Ellery Queen, the world’s leading mystery magazine. Custer’s Ghost by Clark Howard is the story of an ancient Indian who makes his way to Montana to meet the sole other survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Breaking Free is William Bankier’s tale of the future when “Talent Scouts” recruit entertainers to live in the Pleasure Dome. But not all of their recruits are willing ones. Labyrinth Of Life and A Bagdad Reckoning are from James Powell’s celebrated series of Scheherazadian Tales – a fable of ancient Bagdad and one of the long-ago land of the kings Midaz of the Iron Word and Sardon the Quick.

Paradoxically this is both Heinlein’s first and last novel…

Science Fiction Audiobook - For Us, the Living by Robert A. HeinleinFor Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs
By Robert A. Heinlein; Read by Malcolm Hillgartner
6 CDs – Approx. 6.8 Hours Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441743398
From Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein comes a long-lost first novel, written in 1939, introducing ideas and themes that would shape his career and define the genre that is synonymous with his name. July 12, 1939: Perry Nelson is driving along the palisades when another vehicle swerves into his lane, a tire blows out, and his car careens off the road and over a bluff. The last thing he sees before his head connects with the boulders below is a girl in a green bathing suit, prancing along the shore. When he wakes, the girl in green is a woman dressed in furs, and the sun-drenched shore has been replaced by snowcapped mountains. The woman, Diana, rescues Perry from the bitter cold and takes him to her home to rest and recuperate. Later they debate the cause of the accident, for Diana is unfamiliar with the concept of a tire blowout and Perry cannot comprehend snowfall in mid-July. Then Diana shares with him a vital piece of information: the date is now January 7, the year 2086. When his shock subsides, Perry begins an exhaustive study of global evolution over the past 150 years. He learns, among other things, that a United Europe was formed; the military draft was completely reconceived; banks became publicly owned and operated; and in the year 2003, two helicopters destroyed Manhattan in a galvanizing act of war. But education brings with it inescapable truths—the economic and legal systems, the government, and even the dynamic between men and women remain alien to Perry, the customs of the new day continually testing his mental and emotional resolve. Yet it is precisely his knowledge of a bygone era that will serve Perry best, as the man from 1939 seems destined to lead his newfound peers even further into the future than they could have imagined. A classic example of the future history that Robert Heinlein popularized during his career, For Us, the Living marks both the beginning and the end of an extraordinary arc comprising the political, social, and literary crusading that is his legacy.

More Heinlein! Never commercially available as an audiobook, before now…

Science Fiction Audiobook - Time for the Stars by Robert A. HeinlenTime For The Stars
By Robert A. Heinlen; Read by Barrett Whitener
6 CDs – Approx. 6.8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781433230462
Travel to other planets is now a reality, and with overpopulation stretching the resources of Earth, the necessity of finding habitable worlds is growing ever more urgent. There’s a problem though—because the spaceships are slower than light, any communication between the exploring ships and Earth would take years. Tom and Pat are identical twin teenagers. As twins they’ve always been close, so close that it seemed like they could read each other’s minds. When they are recruited by the Long Range Foundation, the twins find out that they can, indeed, peer into each other’s thoughts. Along with other telepathic duos, they are enlisted to be the human transmitters and receivers that will keep the ships in contact with Earth. But there’s a catch: one of the twins has to stay behind—and that one will grow old—while the other explores the depths of space and returns as a young man still.

Dejah want to read this one?

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsThe Gods Of Mars (The Martian Series, Book 2)
By Edgar Rice Burroughs; Read by William Dufris
7 CDs – Approx. 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441774613
This is the extraordinary story of John Carter, who returns to the Red Planet in search of his beloved, Dejah Thoris. John lands in the Valley Dor, which is populated by vicious plant men, and discovers the Lost Sea of Korus, guarded by the great white apes and horrifying lions of Barsoom. It is here that he finds the princess Thuvia, who is a captive of the Holy Therns, high priests who eat only the flesh of humans slain by their plant men. But this is only the beginning of John Carter’s adventures under the double moons of Mars before he fights his way back to his own people as the Prince of the House of Tardos Mors.

I hadn’t even heard of it but apparently this is the first in a well regarded and long running series by the recently deceased Kage Baker…

Science Fiction Audiobook - In the Garden of Iden by Kage BakerIn the Garden of Iden: A Novel of the Company (Company Book 1)
By Kage Baker; Read by Janan Raouf
10 CDs – Approx. 11.7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441774330
The first novel of Kage Baker’s critically acclaimed, much-loved series, The Company, introduces us to a world where the future of commerce is the past. In the twenty-fourth century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza, the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company. Breathtakingly detailed and written with great aplomb, In the Garden of Iden is a contemporary classic of the science-fiction genre.

Discussed on SFFaudio Podcast #096

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Lighthouse Land by Adrian McKintyThe Lighthouse Land (The Lighthouse Trilogy, Book 1)
By Adrian McKinty; Read by Gerard Doyle
9 CDs – Approx. 10.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: January 2011
ISBN: 9781441771506
Introducing the first young adult novel from crime fiction writer Adrian McKinty—whose adult books have been called “unputdownable” (Washington Post), “exceptional” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “profoundly satisfying” (Booklist)—this is the start of an epic sci-fi trilogy with an unforgettable hero. When Jamie’s mother inherits a small island and moves her little family from Harlem to Ireland, her troubled son sees a chance to start over, far away from the bullies and the pitying stares. Cancer has left Jamie without an arm or the will to speak. But Muck Island is no sanctuary, and it offers more than solitude and sea views. Jamie learns that he is heir to an ancient title—Laird of Muck, Guardian of the Passage—and certain otherworldly responsibilities. With the help of a mysterious object he discovers in the island’s old lighthouse, Jamie sets out on a dangerous interstellar mission that could change the course of his life—and the universe—forever. Tautly paced and brilliantly imagined, this novel will thrill sci-fi fans eager for new heroes and new worlds to explore.

And here’s the follow-up…

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Lighthouse War by Adrian McKintyThe Lighthouse War (The Lighthouse Trilogy, Book 2)
By Adrian McKinty; Read by Gerard Doyle
8 CDs – Approx. 9.3 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441774408
Jamie O’Neill is back on Earth, where no one but his best friend Ramsay knows he’s the hero of a great war that saved an alien nation. Now he’s back to being a kid with one arm, no girlfriend, and a band that plays bad songs about intergalactic romance. Then news breaks on the Internet: a space probe has picked up a coded message from far across the galaxy. NASA’s best scientists can’t figure out what it says. Only Jamie and Ramsay realize it’s a message from Altair. They’re needed again. This thrilling sequel to The Lighthouse Land is packed with even more adventure, battles, and humor than its predecessor, and secures Adrian McKinty’s place as one of science fiction’s most exciting new voices.

An OSC book read by EJC (his daughter). It’s been available digitally for a while |READ OUR REVIEW|, but now it’s available in a DRM-free version too…

Fantasy Audiobook - Stonefather by Orson Scott CardStonefather
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Emily Janice Card
3 CDs – Approx. 3.1Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781433259210
When Runnel leaves his mountain valley to head for the great city of the water mages, he has no idea of his own magical talents. But soon, without meaning to, he complicates and endangers the lives of everyone he comes to know and care about, for when it comes to magic, there are rules and laws, and the untrained mage-to-be must be careful not to tap into deep forces and ancient enmities. Otherwise, other people might end up paying the price for his mistakes.

Liparulo is the author of more than a dozen novels. How come I’ve never heard of him?

Fantasy Audiobook - Timescape by Robert LiparuloTimescape (The Dreamhouse Kings Series, Book 4)
By Robert Liparulo; Read by Joshua Swanson
6 CDs – Approx. 6.8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441777508
Which door would you go through to save the world? David, Xander, and Toria King never know what new adventures—and dangers—await them beyond the mysterious portals hidden on the top floor of their new house. They have battled gladiators and the German army, dodged soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, and barely escaped a fierce attack in their own home. Still they are no closer to finding their mother, who was pulled by powerful forces through a portal and lost in time. Their only hope is to turn the tables on Taksidian, the menacing stranger who wants them out of the house so he can use it for his own twisted purposes. But everything changes when a trip into the near future reveals the devastating outcome of Taksidian’s schemes—a destroyed city filled with mutant creatures. It is only then that the Kings realize what they’re really fighting for—the fate of humanity itself.

Is this Silverberg’s most famous series?

Fantasy Audiobook - Valentine Pontifex by Robert SilverbergValentine Pontifex (The Majipoor Cycle, Book 3)
By Robert Silverberg; Read by J. Paul Boehmer, Hillary Huber, Don Leslie, and Stefan Rudnicki
12 CDs – Approx. 14.2 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781433250682
The extraordinary story continues in this magnificent installment of the bestselling Majipoor series, begun in Lord Valentine’s Castle. Dark dreams disturb Lord Valentine’s sleep, a forewarning of the danger that threatens the peace of Majipoor. The Shapeshifters have set in motion a terrifying plan to regain their stolen world and their allies—the ancient gods rising from their eons-long slumber beneath the oceans of the great planet. Suddenly, Valentine faces the greatest crisis of his reign. Either he must plunge Majipoor into a bloody nightmare of war, plague, and chaos, or surrender his life to the mercy of the vengeful Shapeshifters.

There are so many novels in this series they’ve stopped numbering them…

Science fiction Audiobook - Venus by Ben BovaVenus (The Grand Tour Series)
By Ben Bova; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
10 CDs – Approx. 11.7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441775726
The surface of Venus is the most hellish place in the solar system, its ground hot enough to melt aluminum, its air pressure high enough to crush spacecraft landers like tin cans, its atmosphere a choking mix of poisonous gases. This is where the frail young Van Humphries must go—or die trying. Years before, Van’s older brother perished in the first attempt to land a man on Venus. Van’s father has always hated him for being the one to survive. Now, his father is offering a ten-billion-dollar prize to the first person who lands on Venus and returns his oldest son’s remains. To everyone’s surprise, Van takes up the offer. But what Van Humphries will find on Venus will change everything—our understanding of Venus, of global warming on Earth, and his knowledge of who he is.

Must listen to this SOON…

Science Fiction Audiobook - A Stainless Steel Rat is Born by Harry HarrisonA Stainless Steel Rat Is Born (Stainless Steel Rat, Book 6)
By Harry Harrison; Read by Phil Gigante
6 CDs – Approx. 7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441881441
SAMPLE |MP3|
In this prequel to the Stainless Steel Rat. Slippery Jim is a brash 17-year-old who has left his parents’ porcuswine farm, planning to embark on a life of crime. The book opens with Jim bungling a bank job so that he can be arrested and sent to prison, where he plans to learn the art of being a master criminal. Deciding that the Bishop should be his mentor, Jim sets about proving himself worthy of the master’s attention. He eventually has to flee his home planet of Bit O’ Heaven with the Bishop, but Garth, the Captain of the ship who promised them safe passage, sells them into slavery. The latter part of the book details Jim’s adventures on the planet Spiovente, a semi-industrial world fighting feudal wars with weapons smuggled in (against League regulations) by Captain Garth.

According to the description, elves are racial purists. I have always suspected they were racists.

Fantasy Audiobook - Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes LackeyElvenbane
By Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey; Read by Aasne Vigesaa
16 CDs – Approx. 19 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441814258
Two masters of epic fantasy have combined in this brilliant collaboration to create a rousing tale of the sort that becomes an instant favorite. This is the story of Shana, a halfbreed born of the forbidden union of an Elvenlord father with a human mother. Her exiled mother dead, she was rescued and raised by dragons, a proud, ancient race who existed unbeknownst to elven or humankind. From birth, Shana was the embodiment of the Prophecy that all-powerful Elvenlords feared. Her destiny is the enthralling adventure of a lifetime.

Two words: Space pirates.

Science Fiction Audiobook - Honor Among Enemies by David WeberHonor Among Enemies (Book 6 in the Honor series)
By David Weber; Read by Allyson Johnson
16 CDs – Approx. 20 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781611062144
For Captain Honor Harrington, it’s sometimes hard to know who the enemy really is. Despite political foes, professional jealousies, and the scandal that drove her into exile, she’s been offered a chance to reclaim her career as an officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy. But there’s a catch. She must assume command of a “squadron” of jury-rigged armed merchantmen with crew drawn from the dregs of her service and somehow stop the pirates who have taken advantage of the Havenite War to plunder the Star Kingdom’s commerce. That would be hard enough, but some of the “pirates” aren’t exactly what they seem . . . and neither are some of her “friends.” For Honor has been carefully chosen for her mission – by two implacable and powerful enemies. The way they see it, either she stops the raiders or the raiders kill her . . . and either way, they win.

What better way to stock your seraglio than with one of these? Wait … make that your seraglio‘s bookshelf

Science Fiction Audiobook - Odalisque by Neal StephensonOdalisque
By Neal Stephenson; Read by Simon Prebble, Katherine Kellgren and Kevin Pariseau
11 CDs – Approx. 14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: March 2010
ISBN: 9781611062250
The trials of Dr. Daniel Waterhouse and the Natural Philosophers increase one hundredfold in an England plagued by the impending war and royal insecurities, as the beautiful and ambitious Eliza plays a most dangerous game as double agent and confidante of enemy kings. The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson’s award-winning series, spans the late 17th and early 18th centuries, combining history, adventure, science, invention, piracy, and alchemy into one sweeping tale. It is a gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive historical epic populated by the likes of Isaac Newton, William of Orange, Benjamin Franklin, and King Louis XIV, along with some of the most inventive literary characters in modern fiction. This complete and unabridged presentation of The Baroque Cycle was produced in cooperation with Neal Stephenson. Each volume includes an exclusive introduction read by the author.

The shortest audiobook we’ve ever received…

Fantasy Audiobook - The Giant King by Kathleen T. PelleyThe Giant King
By Kathleen T. Pelley; Read by Kathleen T. Pelley
1 CD – Approx. 11 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: CWLA Press
Published: 2010
ISBN: 9781587601415
TEACHER’S GUIDE |PDF|
Some people say he works from his heart, carving “not what is, but what could be.” When Rabbie goes to a distant town to sell his carvings, he finds the town besieged by a fierce and destructive giant. The townspeople despair, but Rabbie suggests that if the giant were treated like a king, he might behave like one. Readers will be charmed by the message of this heartwarming Scottish fable: that what is loved will reveal its loveliness.

There’s already a review of this hybrid audiobook/audio drama over on SFsite.com

Audiobook - On Blazing Wings by L. Ron HubbardOn Blazing Wings
By L. Ron Hubbard; Performed by a full cast
2 CDs – Approx. 2 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Galaxy Audio
Published: March 2011
ISBN: 1592122329
Take flight into all the action in the full-cast version of On Blazing Wings featuring Bob Caso. Also starring R.F. Daley, Christina Huntington, John Mariano, Phil Proctor and Kelly Ward. Each production is packed with music and cinema-quality sound effects, putting you right into the heart of the story. American David Duane long ago gave up his dream of being a professional artist. Instead, there’s something else he’s good at, something that countries will pay good money for—his services as an ace fighter pilot on sale to any country whose business is war, regardless of its politics. Duane’s cold-edged neutrality takes him to Finland—combating Russian Communists bent on destroying a supply base. After leading multiple attacks against the Russians and pushing them further and further back, his luck runs out when his plane is shot down. Instead of crashing in flames, Duane finds himself in an elusive netherworld—a mystery-enshrouded city of luxury and golden minarets. There, Duane discovers his true destiny, one that he half-remembers but must struggle to reject in order to save the woman he loves—a woman who happens to be an officer . . . in the Russian ranks.

Perhaps its not a new idea, but I’m still intrigued by a young Sherlock Holmes…

Audiobook - Death Cloud by Andrew LaneDeath Cloud
By Andrew Lane; Read by Dan Weyman
6 CDs – Approx. 7 Hours Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillian Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781427211224
It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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