Review of Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley

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

SFFaudio Review

ChimpanzeeChimpanzee
Written and narrated by Darin Bradley
Publisher: Resurrection House via Audible
Publication Date: 9 October 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 5 hours, 46 minutes

Themes: / dystopia / unrest / cognitive theory / virtual reality / revolution /

Publisher summary:

Unemployment has ravaged the U.S. economy. Foreclosures are rampant. People struggle everywhere, exhausted by the collapse that destroyed their lives . . .

Benjamin Cade is an expert in cognition and abstract literature, and before the flatlined economy caught up to him, he earned his living as a university instructor. Now, without income, he joins the millions defaulting on their loans—in his case, the money he borrowed to finance his degrees. But there are consequences.

Using advances in cognitive science and chemical therapy, Ben’s debtors can reclaim their property—his education. The government calls the process “Repossession Therapy,” and it is administered by the Homeland Renewal Project, the desperate program designed to salvage what remains of the ravaged U.S. economy. The data Ben’s repossession will yield is invaluable to those improving the “indexing” technology—a remarkable medical advance that has enabled the effective cure of all mental disorders. By disassembling his mind, doctors will gain the expertise to assist untold millions.

But Ben has no intention of losing his mind without a fight, so he begins teaching in the central park, distributing his knowledge before it’s gone in a race against ignorance. And somewhere in Ben’s confusing takedown, Chimpanzee arrives. Its iconography appears spray-painted and wheat-pasted around town. Young people in rubber chimpanzee masks start massive protests. A new use of the indexing technology shows up in bars across the country. It’s called “chimping” . . . named after the mysterious protest movement, and it uses goggles and electrodes to reverse the curative indexing process, temporarily (recreationally) offering those inclined a mental illness of their own choosing.

As Ben slowly loses himself, the Chimpanzee movement seems to grow. And all fingers point to Ben . . . or maybe the voice that speaks to him every time he uses the chimping rig. As civil unrest grows, and Homeland Security takes an interest, Ben finds himself at the center of a storm that may not even be real. What is Chimpanzee? Who created it? What does it want?

And is there even enough of Ben left to find out?

What I prefer in my dystopia is realism and possibility, that it could happen here, in my lifetime. I read dystopia for the horror, for the thrill. That is the brilliance Darin Bradley brings to his novels, both in Noise and in Chimpanzee. It helps that Chimpanzee takes place in a town an hour from where I live, a place I visit often, particularly the arts district, where quite a bit of the action takes place. The events are very vivid to me, described in that place. They will be vivid to others for different reasons, but basically anyone watching the news in the last few years will feel they know the world of this novel.

The premise of Chimpanzee (see description above) may be even more chilling to those of us working in academia, who have seen the impact of the various economic downturns on expensive liberal arts educations. Now that there are no job guarantees, and no guarantee on the investment made (often by the students through hefty loans), people are starting to question the benefit of the system we have maintained for so long. I hate this conversation, because I work at one of those schools, and depend on it for my livelihood. So did the author, for a while. And that’s where reality and the terror of this possible future start to blur within the novel.

There is a lot in this novel that might feel over the reader’s head.  I would encourage people who don’t understand every word from the rhetoric of cognitive theory to press on –  treat it like a classic science fiction info dump.  Let it wash over you, grasp what you can. You will be in the same place as the students in the story, who also are put into a position of creating their own meaning, applied to their real situations.

There is a concept of virtual reality in this novel that I liked, called chimping, something you can do at a bar with your friends.  It becomes an important part of the story in ways I will not give away here.

The audiobook has a story to its making. In the insert, it talks about the initial difficulty Resurrection House had in distributing the audio version.  It includes a warning:

“Because some books aren’t meant for sedans on highways. They may have too many voices, or they may have jagged corners that snag plots, or they may have things with no business being in stories… like symbols or formulae or languages we don’t understand. You can listen to them, if you’re ready to pay attention.”

I did not heed the warning and listened to some of this audio production while driving around. The first time I encountered a repossessed memory, the sound used to represent the hole, the deletion, it almost sent me off the road.  When I played it at home, my husband jumped out of his skin. It would be remiss not to warn you.

Otherwise, the audio moves back and forth between a radio-play style performance from multiple readers with sound effects and music, and the author’s own narration.  I liked the music choices and the sound effects were generally effective.  Having sound effects in some parts magnifies the silence of the others. Benjamin Cade spends a lot of time inside his head, and losing what is in his head, so I think that silence is well warranted.  It takes some getting used to, but I ended up appreciating it.  The author also does a good job delivering his narration in a noirish tone, where short sentences shine.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge

June 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fast Times at Fairmont HighFast Times at Fairmont High
By Vernor Vinge; Performed by Eric Michael Summerer
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 2 April 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours

Themes: / near future / virtual reality / young adult / techie /

Publisher Summary:

In a near future where wireless mind links and wearable computers blur the line between artificial reality and ‘real’ reality, it’s final exam time at San Diego’s Fairmont Junior High. Juan Orozco and his friends have a killer idea for their off-line project. But can a bunch of 13-year-olds really figure out the secret of what’s going on at Torrey Pines Park?

As this is a novella, it’s quite short. I just couldn’t get into it. The technology in it was interesting, but that was about the only part I found enjoyable. It’s about a bunch of middle school kids at a high-tech school.

The main character Juan has been convinced by his friend to partner up with Miriam, a girl he doesn’t know for their “offline” project, where they aren’t allowed to make use of net that is even more prevalent in their lives as it today with today’s smart phones.

I’ve been told this is set in the same world as Rainbows End, which I haven’t read (link goes to SFF Audio readalong). Mr. Vinge does set up an interesting world, even if this particular story isn’t very interesting, so if that’s true, maybe I would enjoy that novel better.

The reader, Eric Michael Summerer, was alright, but nothing special. His accent for William kept reminding me of George Takei.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

January 16, 2013 by · 4 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: / video games / treasure hunt / 1980’s / virtual reality /

(Since this was reviewed previously on the site, you can view the earlier review for summary and MP3 sample.)

Ready Player One is pure nerd candy, geek heaven, or whatever you want to call it – it was an experience I couldn’t stop if I wanted to and didn’t want to end.

It usually takes me quite a while to get through an audiobook and that’s usually because I only listen to it at certain points of my day – when I’m in the car or walking to or from a new destination. Otherwise, I either have other commitments or other reading material.

I listened to Ready Player One in about 3 days. That’s unprecedented for me.  I couldn’t stop myself, it was too good. I’d listen to it in the car, then on the way, then I’d get there and have to listen to just a bit more. Soon, it was my entire lunch break, before bed, EVERY SPARE MOMENT!

In the near future, 2044, everyone’s connected to the OASIS, a virtual reality that lets you guide your avatar through a virtual world filled with a myriad of planets, games, and experiences. You can go to school, order a pizza (which gets routed to your local pizza joint of choice), and participate in other…adult activities.

The creator of the OASIS, is, of course, a mega-billionaire and our story begins with a short video (description) of James Halliday’s last will and testament…an elaborate egg-hunt designed to give everything to the one who can find the three keys and pass through the three gates already programmed into the OASIS.

Halliday was obsessed with the ’80s and promises that those who share his obsession are the only ones who have a chance.

This is the perfect example of write what you know. Cline’s created a future obsessed with the ’80s, the hairdos, the clothing, the games, everything. I was surprised by how much I knew given I spent less than a decade in that era and none of it paying attention to pop culture that’s for sure. Eighties knowledge is, however, icing on the cake, but far from necessity.

We follow Wade Watts in his journey as a gunter (egg hunter) as he finds time and means to get online, even amidst the squalor that is his home life, at least as long as he can get away without his Aunt trying to pawn all his stuff.

Wade begins the story in school, taking classes (mostly those that will help him on the hunt) and arguing with friends and foes alike over the best episodes of Family Ties and other Halliday discoveries.

Like many people on the OASIS, especially those in school, Wade is a geeky kid who doesn’t have too many friends and do I even need to mention his way (or lack of way) with women? Probably not.

While mostly a fun adventure with riddles and puzzles, fighting and leveling up, Ready Player One explores what is actual reality – do you have to do things in person or is it the feelings you get? And if so, can’t you get it all online?

The Audio Experience

Did I mention Wil Wheaton reads this here audiobook? Overall, he’s perfect for this. The quintessential nerd talking about dungeons and dragons and classic ’80s pop culture and video games. At one point, he even gets to mention his own name, how fun would that be?

His reading, however, isn’t all rainbows and fizzlepops. He reads a bit slow at times and en-un-ciates some words too slowly as well. The problem is that awkward silences (though very short) take away from the reading and pull you out of the story, making you realize someone’s just reading out loud to you instead of taking you to a far-off world. Rest assured, these problems were only toward the beginning of the story and did not last throughout.

Ready Player One is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Matrix, an instant classic right up there with Ender’s Game. Ready Player One is the best prediction of our future I’ve ever witnessed. Space ships and alien encounters? Yeah right. We’ll all be online.

5 out of 5 Stars (Brilliant!)

Review by Bryce L.

LibriVox: Pygmalion’s Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum

October 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Pygmalion’s Spectacles was first published in 1935 in the aptly named Wonder Stories magazine. Four years after it’s first publication it was reprinted in Startling Stories as a “classic” and it was placed in their “Scientifiction Hall Of Fame.” It was reprinted again in Fantastic Story magazine in the Spring 1955 issue. Three magazine publications is a rare occurrence for any SF story. So, what makes this story special?

Well, this tale of utopia, immortality, and romance, is also, most probably, the very first story to feature the concept of virtual reality.

Here’s the description from the Wikipedia entry:

A comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality was published in 1935 in the short story Pygmalion’s Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum. In the story, the main character, Dan Burke, meets an elfin professor, Albert Ludwig, who has invented a pair of goggles which enable “a movie that gives one sight and sound […] taste, smell, and touch. […] You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it.”

And though the ideas may be pioneering, the plot of Pygmalion’s Spectacles is very similar to Fitz-James O’Brien’s The Diamond Lens, itself an excellent SF tale. The tone of their respective endings differs, but their plot, in which a man falls in love with an intangible woman, is straight out of the Greek mythology that Weinbaum alludes to. And they both use science, rather than magic to get to their respective endings.

There is, I should also point out, a LibriVox |MP3| recording of the Metamorphoses by Ovid, a 2,000 year old poem featuring the myth of Pygmalion.

Pygmalion's Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Here is a |PDF| made from the Pygmalion’s Spectacles publication in Fantastic Story. And here are two LibriVox versions (my advice, go for the first one):

LibriVoxPygmalion’s Spectacles
By Stanley G. Weinbaum; Read by Gregg Margarite
1 |MP3| – Approx. 43 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: January 13,2009
He put on the glasses and fell in love with a dream… First published in Wonder Stories, June 1935.

LibriVoxPygmalion’s Spectacles
By Stanley G. Weinbaum; Read by Chrystal Layton
1 |MP3| – Approx. 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: November 17, 2007
He put on the glasses and fell in love with a dream… First published in Wonder Stories, June 1935.

Pygmalion’s Spectacles illustration by Lumen Winter (from Wonder Stories, June 1935):
Pygmalion's Spectacles -  illustration by Lumen Winter

Pygmalion’s Spectacles illustration by Virgil Finlay (from Fantastic Story Magazine, Spring 1955):
Pygmalion's Spectacles - illustration by Virgil Finlay

Painting of Pygmalion and the statue by Jean-Baptiste Regnault:
Jean-Baptiste Regnault - Pygmalion

[Thanks to Tim at The Drama Pod for the reminder]

Posted by Jesse Willis

New Releases: Six NEW Philip K. Dick Audiobooks

October 20, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases 

New Releases

Brilliance Audio has released five new Philip K. Dick audiobooks, none ever audiobooked before, all novels, all available now!

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The Divine Invasion by Philip K. DickThe Divine Invasion
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Dick Hill
8 CDs – Approx. 9 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 18, 2011
ISBN: 9781455814497
God is not dead: he has merely been exiled to an extraterrestrial planet. And it is on this planet that God meets Herb Asher and persuades him to help retake Earth from the demonic Belial. Featuring virtual reality, parallel worlds, and interstellar travel, The Divine Invasion blends philosophy and adventure in a way few authors can achieve. As the middle novel of Dick’s VALIS trilogy, The Divine Invasion plays a pivotal role in answering the questions raised by the first novel, expanding that world while exploring just how much anyone can really know — even God himself.

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - Lies, Inc. by Philip K. DickLies, Inc.
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Luke Daniels
6 CDs – Approx. 7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 18, 2011
ISBN: 9781455814381
When catastrophic overpopulation threatens Earth, one company offers to teleport citizens to Whale’s Mouth, an allegedly pristine new home for happy and industrious émigrés. But there is one problem: the teleportation machine works in only one direction. When Rachmael ben Applebaum discovers that some of the footage of happy settlers may have been faked, he sets out on an eighteen-year journey to see if anyone wants to come back. Lies, Inc. is one of Philip K. Dick’s final novels, which he expanded from his novella The Unteleported Man shortly before his death. In its examination of totalitarianism, reality, and hallucination, it encompasses everything that Dick’s fans love about his oeuvre.

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - Now Wait For Last Year by Philip K. DickNow Wait For Last Year
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Luke Daniels
7 CDs – Approx. 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 18, 2011
ISBN: 9781455814428
Earth is trapped in the crossfire of an unwinnable war between two alien civilizations. Its leader is perpetually on the verge of death. And on top of that, a new drug has just entered circulation — a drug that haphazardly sends its users traveling through time. In an attempt to escape his doomed marriage, Dr. Eric Sweetscent becomes caught up in all of it. But he has questions: Is Earth on the right side of the war? Is he supposed to heal Earth’s leader or keep him sick? And can he change the harrowing future that the drug has shown him?

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The Simulacra by Philip K. DickThe Simulacra
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Dick Hill
7 CDs – Approx. 9 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 18, 2011
ISBN: 9781455814541
On a ravaged Earth, fate and circumstances bring together a disparate group of characters, including a fascist with dreams of a coup, a composer who plays his instrument with his mind, a First Lady who calls all the shots, and the world’s last practicing therapist. And they all must contend with an underclass that is beginning to ask a few too many questions, aided by a man called Loony Luke and his very persuasive pet alien. In classic Philip K. Dick fashion, The Simulacra combines time travel, psychotherapy, telekinesis, androids, and Neanderthal-like mutants to create a rousing, mind-bending story where there are conspiracies within conspiracies and nothing is ever what it seems.

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer by Philip K. DickThe Transmigration of Timothy Archer
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Joyce Bean
7 CDs – Approx. 9 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 18, 2011
ISBN: 9781455814558
The final book in Philip K. Dick’s VALIS trilogy, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer brings the author’s search for the identity and nature of God to a close. The novel follows Bishop Timothy Archer as he travels to Israel, ostensibly to examine ancient scrolls bearing the words of Christ. But more importantly, this leads him to examine the decisions he made during his life and how they may have contributed to the suicides of his mistress and son. This introspective book is one of Dick’s most philosophical and literary, delving into the mysteries of religion and of faith itself. As one of Dick’s final works, it also provides unique insight into the mind of a genius, whose work was still in the process of maturing at the time of his death.

Each of the above is currently available through Audible.com too.They’ve also got Dick’s non-fiction/memoir that’s been called “The Exegesis.” This comes as a kind of a surprise, even though we knew the paperbook was coming, this thing is massive, even edited, and may make for some very strange road trips. Here it is:

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The Exegesis Of Philip K. Dick edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan LethemThe Exegesis Of Philip K. Dick
Edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem; Read by Fred Stella
36 CDs – 44 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 7, 2011
ISBN: 9781455814626
Based on thousands of pages of typed and handwritten notes, journal entries, letters, and story sketches, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick is the magnificent and imaginative final work of an author who dedicated his life to questioning the nature of reality and perception, the malleability of space and time, and the relationship between the human and the divine. Edited and introduced by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, this is the definitive presentation of Dick’s brilliant, and epic, work. In the Exegesis, Dick documents his eight-year attempt to fathom what he called “2-3-74,” a postmodern visionary experience of the entire universe “transformed into information.” In entries that sometimes ran to hundreds of pages, in a freewheeling voice that ranges through personal confession, esoteric scholarship, dream accounts, and fictional fugues, Dick tried to write his way into the heart of a cosmic mystery that tested his powers of imagination and invention to the limit. This volume, the culmination of many years of transcription and archival research, has been annotated by the editors and by a unique group of writers and scholars chosen to offer a range of views into one of the most improbable and mind-altering manuscripts ever brought to light.

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

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