Review of Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

July 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

cavesCaves of Steel (Robots #1)
By Isaac Asimov, read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 43 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / science fiction / robots / detectives / over-population / colonization /

Publisher summary:

A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.

“Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the ” R” stood for robot.”

I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.

Many years later, listening to William Dufris’ splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey’s personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov’s imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.

I’m not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn’t deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.

I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person’s consciousness.

All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.

Highly recommended.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE
Wikipedia notes:

It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov’s Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.

All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Ender’s Game Als Ungekürztes Hörspiel (the GERMAN language audio drama)

July 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - GERMAN audio dramaEnder’s Game Als Ungekürztes Hörspiel
By Orson Scott Card; Performed by a full cast
Audible Download – Approx. 8 hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Audible.de
Published: October 24, 2013

Much has been said about Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game from 1985 and there is still much to discuss. Of course there is much more than the ‘Oh, the titular game was real!’ ending. This ending may appear to be a very cheap solution to the reader today. But despite this, the novel’s implications are still delivering up-to-date topics for us to discuss. When the game was manipulated by the military and the kids had been hoodwinked into committing genocide against the Buggers – we can ask ‘what does that say about grown-ups manipulating kids in general?’ Orson Scott Card’s novel remains a classic SF because it constructs ideas within us.

To me this novel is a very particular story and after a long hiatus in the SF field I wanted to go back to the roots of my usual reading habits which used to be SF, Fantasy and Horror. I listened to the episodes of The SFFaudio Podcast and the name Orson Scott Card was sprinkled in here and there. In Cologne I went into an English bookstore named “Fine Tea and Books,” run by a very friendly guy named Christopher Potter – he also happens to be a Conan fan expert in recommending SF. He told me to read Orson Scott Card’s novel “Ender’s game” and so I did and I was immediately immersed into it.

Then I heard about a German audio drama, exclusively published by Audible. And then too I heard of an English language version. Orson Scott Card himself wrote the script for the show and it was translated into German by Andrea Wilhelm. A very experienced director of the audio drama, Balthasar von Weymarn (also well regarded as producer of the audiodrama company “Interplanar”). In addition von Weymarn is head of the Mytho­lo­gi­cal Round­Ta­ble® Char­ter Ber­lin der Joseph Camp­bell® Foun­da­tion, and a screenwriter who no doubt knows his stuff.

Together with audio technican Jochen Simmendinger, von Weymarn had to coordinate 101 voice actors, including 40 child and teen voice actors at a recording studio in Berlin. The deadline was very tight because the German audio drama had to be released simultaneously with the start of the movie adaptatoion. The pressure was high but Baltashar von Weymarn loves challenges as he said “A challenge makes it fun.”

Von Weynarm is into the story and knows the novel well. A good director does not only consult the script, but researches much about the author and the cicrumstances around which the novel was written. Von Weynarm knows it all, he wonders why kids are trained that way, what kind of government rules Earth, and he goes deep into the story itself. And this hard thinking shows up in the production. The director’s interpretation of the audiodrama script, as well as of the novel, drives his imagination, evokes mind pictures that von Weynarm is able to explain to his actors. Perhaps every director has to work that way. However, Balthasar von Weynarm had to do it with 40 young and 61 adult actors, each one had to fulfil her or his part and the director had to explain how it all had to be done. This is an amazing achievement.

Due to the fact that the script was written by Orson Scott Card himself the director’s interpretation has it’s limits. But von Weynarm’s production maximizes the script’s power. There is no narrator. All “off-screen” information is given to us via comments by spectators of certain scenes. These spectators observe actions that are happening somewhere else and then anallyze these action right away. This is the issue director and his ensemble can show action. All that can be explained through the voice is well done. Music is also used, but shows up more between the scenes. And so as to fuel the listener’s imagination there are also addedsound effects, created by sound designer Tommi Schneefuss. Schneefuss does a terrific job because the sound effects are not intrusive nor too disturbing. They fit into the setting.

A special issue must have been the casting of the kid actors especially because there were strict specifications by the author. The central character Ender was played by 12-year-old Arne Kapfer. And because his mother was cast for this audio drama he was asked to join the cast. This is a tricky part in all audio drama productions, von Weynarm reports, because boys at that age can suddenly have their voice change. Arne Kapfer though is a pro himself, and brings in five years worth of experience as TV commercial actor. And at home his parents have their own recording studio. It was great to hear the development of Ender was transported through Arne Kapfer’s voice. His slight intonations toward sarcasm, in particular scenes in the Battle School, were very well performed. Kapfer brought in a lot of talent – though voice acting is only a hobby as he has career aspirations toward geology.

The producer of the audio drama is the Lauscherlounge company that works together with most of the best voice artists in Germany – many of whom t apper in “Ender’s Game.” Take for example one of my all-time-favourite voice actors Udo Schenk, who played Colonel Graff. Schenk is the voiceover artist for Garry Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, David Morrissey, Ray Liotta and many more. Timmo Niesner for Chamrajnagar (who dubs Elijah Wood), and Erich Rauker as Mazer Rackham (artist for Will Patton). Their talents form a neat audio drama that is both enjoyable and the very essence of the novel. Does this audiodrama replace the book? No, but it enlarges the listener’s understanding of the novel and it’s a whole lot of fun to hear. The seven hours pass almost too quickly.

Until recently the book itself was long out of print in Germany but because of the movie it was re-published in the general SF section of the Heyne Verlag and not marked out as a YA book.

Posted by Mirko

Review of Steel World by B. V. Larson

July 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Steel World steelworldSteel World (#1 in Undying Mercenaries)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 3 December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / dinosaurs / regeneration / military sf / alien bean counters / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed.The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy. As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers…someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a soft and accessible military SF walk-through. If tropes don’t pose a nuisance, this might just graze your fancy.

B. V. Larson’s Steel World is passable military SF, but it’s not a genre standout. If you’re looking to scratch that itch, this will do the trick, but it may not satisfy. All the ingredients are here. We have humans from Earth fighting on a distant planet inhabited by aliens, futuristic weapons, and the technology to make death nearly nonexistent. All the trope-trappings are here of course too, a young recruit, training, deployment, battles, technology, spaceships, etc. But what we don’t have? Genre originality. But it should be said that one doesn’t need break the mold of military SF to have good military SF. In Larson’s case though, it may have helped to step outside the lines in order to make a memorable impression.

For the most part I enjoyed the ride, but I was ready for it to end. The writing affected a forced feel. I was disappointed with the glossed over battle scenes, stereotypical gruff commander, manor in which the recruits fraternized, and the abrupt ending reinforcing the soldier’s inability to “come home” again all felt too prepackaged to ring that bell of authenticity. I struggled with the at times awkward anachronisms. Similes sporting pigs at county fairs, and basic phrases referencing the Internet, the act of brown-nosing, shopping cart wheels, horseshit, and people being pricks kept pulling me out of the future and plunking me back in the contemporary.

Mark Boyett narrates the audiobook, and does a nice job. Boyett has a clean yet slightly senior sounding voice that is incongruous with the main character’s youthful inexperience. While this is feasible to overlook, it never fully leaves the listener’s consciousness. Boyett sounds more like an old man on a porch than a jacked up soldier full of bloodlust and vitality who never stops checking out the backsides of female officers.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

June 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

griftersStarship Grifters (Rex Nihilo #1)
By Robert Kroese; Read by Kate Rudd
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 24 June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / witty SF / robot sidekick / Chaotic Equilibrium / galactic irony /

Publisher summary:

A space-faring ne’er-do-well with more bravado than brains, Rex Nihilo plies the known universe in a tireless quest for his own personal gain. But when he fleeces a wealthy weapons dealer in a high-stakes poker game, he ends up winning a worthless planet…and owing an outstanding debt more vast than space itself!

The only way for Rex to escape a lifetime of torture on the prison world Gulagatraz is to score a big payday by pulling off his biggest scam. But getting mixed up in the struggle between the tyrannical Malarchian Empire and the plucky rebels of the Revolting Front—and trying to double-cross them both—may be his biggest mistake. Luckily for Rex, his frustrated but faithful robot sidekick has the cyber-smarts to deal with buxom bounty hunters, pudgy princesses, overbearing overlords, and interstellar evangelists…while still keeping Rex’s martini glass filled.

The answer is yes.
The question? Should I read this book?

Funny SF is tricky. Funny SF that holds up over an entire novel is a rarity. The writing in this book is sharp, tight, and clever. I laughed out loud enough to lose track of tally or occurrence. In a word, this novel is SMART.

Robert Kroese delivers an action-stuffed SF adventure packed with funny acronyms, believable and outlandish characters, and a plot with more twists than a page of calligraphy or a barrel of monkey tails. Set in a future galaxy, far far away, Starship Grifters tickles our nostalgia with SF references that most should recognize. From those expendable red shirt wearers to large starships that have the capacity for destroying planets, this book is accessible. It is also wonderfully layered for you deep-rooted SF aficionados. I mean when a starship is named Flagrante Delicto, which is Latin, it’s hard to go wrong.

Now, does this mean you’ll love this as much as me? Nope, it don’t. Humor is painfully relative, but I imagine you’ll at least crack a smile or whack a knee. I laughed, often, at times uproariously. It’s been a while since I’ve had such fun with an SF adventure. The key is that this doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we.

Kate Rudd narrates the audiobook, and I highly recommend this for listening. Rudd is amazing! She infuses each character with a sense of individuality and the breath of life. At first I was a little anxious, but within five minutes Rudd had won me over, and within ten, I was a staunch Rudd believer.

Now, go grab a martini and let the listening begin. “It’s time for piggy to go to market!”

Posted by Casey Hampton.

The SFFaudio Podcast #268 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The New Accelerator by H.G. Wells

June 9, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The New Accelerator by H. G. WellsTheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #268 – The New Accelerator by H.G. Wells; read by Mr Jim Moon. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (40 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and Mr Jim Moon!

Talked about on today’s show:
1901, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, The Speckled Band, Swamp Adder, baboons, faulty sources, generous irregularities, Dracula by Bram Stoker, the science, the speed of sound, the effect of heat on fast moving objects, how do they communicate?, the sound of the band, Audacity, Edison cylinders, sloooowing doooowwn, “let it go a bit”, the effect of gravity, “let’s go out the window”, footprints in the flower bed, a giddiness?, a sketch of The Invisible Man, Gibberne, the dog, “you’ve dropped your hankie”, naughtiness -> alienated, Star Trek, Star Trek: Voyager, The Twilight Zone, The Ring Of Gyges, invisibility, The Lord Of The Rings, “a matter for the courts”, a story about methamphetamine, positive uses, what would a society with this drug widespread be like?, Victorian gentleman, dry whiskey (mescaline), opium, cannabis, Alice In Wonderland, pharmacy, a drug fearing society, writing under the influence, why a “new” accelerator, miracle cures, Coca-cola packed with cocaine, baby soothing tinctures packed full of heroin, radium condoms, a green potion, what’s the retarder for?, Ritalin, Focusyn, “become a glacier”, When The Sleeper Wakes, sleeping aids, amphetamines, WWII, chocolate bars laced with amphetamines, “go pills”, The Food Of The Gods by H.G. Wells, boomfood, Wells would have known the Invisible Man would be blind, how science effects people, a minister could dose his assistant, is Gibberne gibbering?, Gibberne looks like “Mephistopheles”, Griffin, sinful, Faust, burning in hell, Mephistophelean, the narrator as Wells, The Strand (late 1899), is the allusion to an actor dressed as Mephistopheles or Henry James?, Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle, everything is just clothing, “language is the garment of thought”, the effect of the retarder, a glacier like absence of alacrity, an entire revolution of civilized existence, the time garment of which Carlyle speaks, very-meta and existential, Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (god-born devil-dung), “we put on a new garment and that changes us”, clothing as a metaphor, the purpose of uniforms, dress-codes, signifiers, bowler hats, the chef’s hat, Daniel Ellsberg, wearing a suit to get arrested, the philosophy of violence, without knowing the allusion…, “just another of those dudes”, The Clock At The End by W.F. Harvey, being bound by time, a little story about drugs is very impactful, drugs and perception, as you age your perception of the passing of time speeds up, younger people doing their thing, ahhh yes more of the same, wisdom/cyncism of age, “no matter who you vote for the government always gets in”, things were slower in the old days, the time investment vs. a couple of clicks, phone addiction, screen addiction, he’s got a book addiction, “Mr Jim Moon is like Wikipedia with a beard”, a diary as an external hard-drive for your mind, the clothing of it, hand-mirrors, selfies, dead situations, Flappy Bird, screens as retarders and accelerators, new etiquette and new protocols, the effect of gin on the U.K., the effect of a new clothing or technology needs to work itself through the culture, tobacco, coffee, designer drugs, the backlash against comics, TV, videogames, simultaneous negative reaction, an immune reaction, the Freakonomics podcast, the temperance movement, alcohol as the safe drink (before tea and coffee), small beer (weak ale), a merry afternoon, was history so bloody in Europe because people were so pissed (drunk)?, drugs as technology, “when the robots come”, the robot in your kitchen is your dishwasher, the anti-coffee movement, “the devil’s cup”, when opium was cheaper than gin, opium -> morphine -> heroin -> methadone, health panics, Mormonism, the reason people take drugs, 12% of rats and bees have a predisposition to addiction, bee hives have bouncers, fermented apples, “its a fun little story about a cute little idea”, the mad scientist story, Dr Jekyll’s potion, new relevance for The New Accelerator, smart drugs, steroids, “among the chattering classes”, it’s all happening almost unnoticed, a new frontier of pharmacy.

The Strand Magazine 1901 - THE NEW ACCELERATOR by H.G. Wells
The Strand Magazine 1901 - THE NEW ACCELERATOR by H.G. Wells
The Strand Magazine 1901 - THE NEW ACCELERATOR by H.G. Wells
The Strand Magazine 1901 - THE NEW ACCELERATOR by H.G. Wells
The Strand Magazine 1901 - THE NEW ACCELERATOR by H.G. Wells
The Strand Magazine 1901 - THE NEW ACCELERATOR by H.G. Wells

The Strand Magazine 1899 had two candidates for Mephistopheles

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Brad Lansky and the Alien at Planet X

May 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audio Drama - Brad Lansky and the Alien at Planet XBrad Lansky and the Alien at Planet X
(Brad Lansky, Episode 1)
1 hour 16 minutes – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Protophonic
Published: 2014
Themes: / Audio Drama / Science Fiction / artificial intelligence / Space Travel / cybernetics / aliens /

It’s difficult to believe that Protophonic is ten years old. I know it is because there’s a notice on their website that says so, and, in celebration, they are giving away this remake of the first installment of the Brad Lansky series for free – for a short time. I urge you to go check it out.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. At Protophonic, the sound is the thing. Each track Protophonic produces is a rich soundscape that needs to be enjoyed using a pair of good headphones. I also recommend that you give it your full attention – turn everything off, and let this audio work magic.

As each track starts, the sound sets the scene. More than once, I was surprised by the images in my mind. How easily they appeared in reaction to the sound, and how vivid the scenes were in my imagination. Much to the credit of Protophonic, no time at all is spent in dialogue establishing the setting. Actors never say things like, “My, just look at this blue spaceport!” The rich audio in cooperation with my imagination provided the setting. Indeed, Protophonic has trusted the listener with more than a typical audio drama would, and I found it an exhilarating experience. I enjoy the feeling of collaboration, and I like knowing that my mental picture of this story is sure to be different from another listener’s. It’s also wonderful that the story both depends on and works with whatever the listener brings to the table.

This first Brad Lansky production opens with a Ship AI (called Echolocator) telling co-pilot Dieter Rothman news of a distress call. Dieter and Captain Sandy Larkin meet at the main control console to discuss the situation, and things get tense quickly. Soon after, at Shanghai Spaceport, Brad Lansky and co-pilot Alex John meet with Zara, a life-form scientist, who tells them that Sandy Larkin is missing. Lansky and John immediately start searching. What follows includes alien life, artificial intelligences, cybernetic persons, and space travel.

In short: Brad Lansky and the Alien at Planet X is a very enjoyable work of science fiction, highly recommended for superior audio presentation. This is a remake of the first installment, and there are currently four other episodes to enjoy. The last two (episodes 4 and 5) are winners of the Mark Time Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Production of the Year.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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