Review of Energized by Edward M. Lerner

November 18, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Energized by Edward M. LernerEnergized
By Edward M. Lerner; Read by Grover Gardner
Length: 10.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Published: 2012
ISBN: 1470813033
Themes: / Science! / satellites / engineers / NASA / terrorists / oil / energy / space / thriller /

The SFFaudio crew pegged me to read this book because the description says that one of the main characters is a NASA engineer. I always think it’s funny when people specify “NASA” engineer. It’s like on TV shows when you see people working near the space shuttle, they’re all wearing NASA hats. Nobody does that. The description could just as easily said “aerospace engineer” and the meaning would be the same…but less sexy, somehow. I admit, I was weary of reading this one at first. My experience with people who write about “NASA engineers” is that they have no idea what they’re talking about excepting cursory research. I’m happy to report that Edward M. Lerner does know what he’s talking about with regards to the space and satellite stuff (looking at his bio, it’s no surprise). That said, I went into this thinking it was going to be a science fiction book. It’s much more a mystery/thriller with science fiction elements. It’s as much “science fiction” as Daemon is (which is to say, not much).

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s probably worth mentioning that I am currently employed by a company that (among other things) designs and builds satellites, both for the government and the commercial sector. I currently work on the commercial side of things and have never worked on a NASA contract. There are definite holes and inaccuracies with the science and engineering in this book. But most people won’t recognize them, and they don’t impact the overall enjoyment of the story.

That disclaimer done with, Energized was pretty entertaining. Set in the near-future United States, the world has gone through a “crude-tastrophe” and the price of oil has skyrocketed to the tune of $20+/gallon to fill up a car. There is a fixed market, controlled mostly by Russian interests, for oil, so naturally the US explores alternate energy sources. Unfortunately, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s virtually impossible to produce enough energy via alternate sources overnight. NASA has been working on a large-scale satellite that can beam solar energy to earth from space.

The first third of the book (maybe closer to the first half) deals with the public (and private sector) reactions to this kind of a satellite and introduces the reader (listener?) to the concept and its risks. Admittedly, this section could have been shorter without sacrificing much of the story; it did seem to drag on a bit.

The second section of the book introduces the “thriller” aspect. As anybody in the aerospace industry is aware, the stuff built “for the powers of good” in/for space can usually be used to do evil. Sure enough, terrorists find a way to take over the satellite and use its harnessed energy to destroy ground-based and air-based targets. As is typical for thrillers, there are some good guys in the area, capable of stopping the terrorists. In this case it’s Marcus Judson, NASA engineer, one of the lead consultants for the power satellite project, along with some of his colleagues. Yet again, this section seemed overly long and drawn out.

However, the length of the first two sections may only seem long in relation to the final section–the part where the final “battle” occurs and either good or evil triumphs. This part felt a bit rushed, comparatively. In retrospect, I think it was probably the right length and that the other two parts were just a bit too long. I won’t spoil it for you, but the final “battle” involves maneuvering (literally and metaphorically) on the ground and on the 2 mile-on-a-side power satellite. It stretches the belief but still left me interested and wanting to listen to see what happened next.

As I stated previously, the book was enjoyable. It was a bit far-fetched but not so far-fetched as to be completely unbelievable. The science fiction elements are there and create an atypical setting for most mystery/thriller type books, and I’d recommend this to anybody that enjoys the mystery/thriller genre.

Grover Gardner is one of my favorite narrators and he shines in this type of book. He also narrates the Andy Carpenter books, another mystery/thriller series, so it feels natural for him to read Energized. The only “weirdness” I had is that the Andy Carpenter books have a character named Marcus as well, so hearing of two very different “Marcus” characters read by the same narrator was a bit jarring at times.

All in all, this is a popcorn-type book, easily consumed and digested. It does have its flaws (with the technical side of things as well as story length), but they’re not so big as to ruin the fun. If you’re in the market for a hard science fiction book with far-reaching themes, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re in the mood for a thriller with science fiction elements, you’ll probably enjoy Energized well enough.

Review by terpkristin.

A conversation between Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley

November 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Archive.org has a wonderful 90 minute English language conversation between two famous German rocket scientists!

Check it out |MP3|

A historic conversation between German rocket scientists Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley. Highlights include the development of the German rocket programs during WWII, and the space program in the 1950′s. Recorded June 9th and 23rd, 1959, in New York City and Redstone Arsenal, Huntstville, Alabama.

Indeed hearing Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley talk is very cool.

Ley and von Braun talk about:
old school days in Germany, Hermann Oberth‘s influential book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (“By Rocket Into Interplanetary Space“), Fritz Lang movie Woman In The Moon, rocketry and rockets from the V-2 to the Saturn rocket family, geosynchronous satellites, the Mercury project, space stations, weather satellites, the Van Allen radiation belt, the role of humans in space, sending men around the Moon, the logistics of photographing and visiting Venus and Mars, space probes, a “semi-philosophical question about Man’s rights in space”, theological objections (and blessings), the compatibility between religion and science, Blaise Pascal, extraterrestrial life, vegetation on Mars, smart aliens, Arthur C. Clarke’s first law.

As you can see it is very historic!

Wernher von Braun (left) and Willy Ley (right)

I won’t say much more about the fascinating Wernher von Braun as I recently posted a biographical radio dramatization about him. But I will point out that Willy Ley is pretty damn amazing. Ley was an avid reader of Science Fiction, contributed science articles to Astounding Stories and Galaxy Magazine and was a member of the Trap Door Spiders – there is a wonderful Wikipedia entry about him to explore HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #059

May 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #059 – Jesse and Scott talk with Science Fiction author David J. Williams about his recently completed Autumn Rain trilogy.

Talked about on today’s show:
Mirrored Heavens (book 1 in the Autumn Rain trilogy), The Burning Skies (book 2 in the Autumn Rain trilogy), The Machinery Of Light (book 3 in the Autumn Rain trilogy), writing in the present tense, memory, espionage, using past tense is “privileging the narrative”, cold war, cyberspace, cyberpunk, space as the ultimate high ground, militarizing space, satellites, “rods from god“, the straylight run scene from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, war, Future Of War by David J. Williams |PDF|, WarGames (1983), The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, lagrange points, space elevators, skyhooks, space stations, The Fountains Of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke, terrorism, Philip K. Dick, the Vietnam War vs. the Korean War, Kahlil Gibran, China, 2008 South Ossetia War, Clarion Workshops, Richard K. Morgan, all good series should end.

Posted by Jesse Willis

GeekBlips: TV that inspires

November 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

SFFaudio News

Geek Blips Robyn Lass, the editor of GeekBlips.com asked me to contribute to a “blogger opinion” article, kind of a mind meld like post (of the kind SFSignal.com regularly does). Here’s the question she asked:

“If you could have the ability/gadgetry of your favorite science fiction TV or Movie character and join them – in their world – on one of their adventures, who would it be and why?”

Yeah. So, I wasn’t sure I could answer the question. Join their adventures? That’s not me exactly. But, there was something there. I thought about it for a few hours. Then, I finally wrote this:

A few years ago there was a pirate broadcast called Prisoners Of Gravity that would regularly interrupt a lame TV Ontario nature show called Second Nature. Lasting just under a half hour, it was hosted by a crazy Canadian who had strapped a rocket to the roof of his Camaro, launched himself into space and then crashed into an orbiting satellite. From there, in his high castle, Commander Rick (aka Rick Green) lived, surrounded by the things he’d brought with him: computers, comics and lots of paperback books.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, a shadowy crew of SF fans would rove the bookstores and Science Fiction conventions recording interviews with the creators of SF and Fantasy. They’d take the interviews with writers like Robert J. Sawyer, Alan Moore, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis, and upload them all to Commander Rick in the satellite. From there Rick would record these interviews onto audio cassettes and keep them for use in his live broadcasts. He would also make use of the telephone and satellite video feeds that he had access to in order to record live interviews with his guests during the show. The programs were compiled and broadcast with the help of a mute, but highly intelligent, computer named NanCy. Topics discussed were different every episode,with individual shows on censorship, superheroes, humor, religion, fairy tales, Mars, cyberpunk, war, overpopulation, sex and much, much more.

The series aired 139 episodes over a five years mission – it is rumored that Commander Rick died (having perhaps run out of food) – but it is also rumored that he returned to earth – since then NanCY has managed just a very few transmissions in the form of reruns. There was no better news magazine program that explored SF, Fantasy, Horror and comics and their various themes and ideas.

I’ve been thinking it would be really great to strap a few solid rocket boosters to the roof of my own car and do my own show. In the meantime I’ve been bidding on ebay for used spacesuits. One day I may win one.

You can see the original article |HERE|. You’ll find a few other peoples’ answers too.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Dr. Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick

August 24, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

dr_bloodmoney150.jpgDr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Tom Weiner
7 CD – 8.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781433245503
Themes: / Science Fiction / Telepathy / Post Apocalypse / Nuclear War / Satellites / Psychokinesis / California /

Philip Dick’s post-nuclear-holocaust masterpiece presents a mesmerizing vision of a world transformed, where technology has reverted back to the nineteenth century, animals have developed speech and language, and humans must deal with both physical mutations and the psychological repercussions of the disaster they have caused. The book is filled with a host of Dick’s most memorable characters: Hoppy Harrington, a deformed mutant with telekinetic powers; Walt Dangerfield, a selfless disc jockey stranded in a satellite circling the globe; Dr. Bluthgeld, the megalomaniac physicist largely responsible for the decimated state of the world; and Stuart McConchie and Bonnie Keller, two unremarkable people bent the survival of goodness in a world devastated by evil. Epic and alluring, Dr. Bloodmoney brilliantly depicts Dick’s undying hope in humanity.

The subtitle, of Dr. Bloodmoney is or How We Got Along After the Bomb, the idea for it came from the original publisher (ACE Books) who wanted to capitalize on the subtitle of the movie Dr. Strangelove. I can almost see it too. For me, this wasn’t Philip K. dick’s best novel. But, if you liked his best novel, you’ll like this one. I did. The thing is, no matter which one of Dick’s novels is your favourite, Doctor Bloodmoney will remind you of it – if only for the author’s voice. Dick, more than with any other emotion, writes with sympathy. You feel for his characters, their petty goals, their yearnings, their little prejudices. The plot on this one is almost unimportant, it’s also hard to sum up in a sentence, but I’ll try: A radio repairman with no limbs (due to phocomelia) has superpowers, which he uses to predict/cause WWIII, then becomes ultra-powerful as a big fish in a small pond.

The rule about writing what you know is more difficult in Science Fiction. Nobody’s been to Mars yet. Nobody has met an alien. But you can clearly see what Dick knows showing up on the pages of his SF novels. When he wrote Dr. Bloodmoney he was really into Jungian and Freudian analysis, he was reading Of Human Bondage and was probably an avid mushroom picker. The plot doesn’t really matter as this is a situation with a set of Dickian characters. What stands out, what will remain in my memory are the scenes, characters interacting with each other and themselves. Thinking their thoughts, acting their acts. When we meet the title character, Bruno Bluthgeld, for the second time later in the book, (he’s not the star), he’s showing off his talking sheep dog to a little girl. She asks to hear the dog speak. It does, and the tears came to my eyes. When Stuart McConchie goes into San Fransisco he parks his horse only to come back and find it eaten by the city’s underclass. It really is all there: The salesmen, the repairmen, the cheating wives, the murderous children and the sympathetic animals. Everything we expect from a Dick tale.

Blackstone Audio narrator Tom Weiner is fast becoming a new favourite. His natural timbre is basso but he can do a lot with it. Performance is the key, everybody gets a voice of their own. In this novel that’s especially necessary as there are more than a dozen characters sharing the plot and dialogue. Blackstone has more Dick headed to audiobook too. The Man In The High Castle has already been released. Ubik is winging it’s way to us right now and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, Valis, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch should be released over the next few months. We are living in very Dickian times my friends.

Posted by Jesse Willis