River of Blue Fire (Otherland #2)
By Tad Williams; Narrated by George Newbern
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 30 October 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 24 hours, 24 minutes
Themes: / cyberpunk / virtual reality / science fiction /
Otherland. In many ways it is humankind’s most stunning achievement: a private, multidimensional universe built over two generations by the greatest minds of the 21st century. But this most exclusive of places is also one of the world’s best kept secrets, created and controlled by an organization made up of the world’s most powerful and ruthless individuals, a private cartel known – to those who know of their existence at all – as The Grail Brotherhood. Though their purpose in creating Otherland is still a mystery, it may not remain so for long. For they have exacted a terrible price from humanity in the process, and even their highly organized global conspiracy cannot hide the nature of their crimes forever. And now a small band of adventurers has penetrated the veil of secrecy that prevents the uninitiated from entering Otherland.
But having broken into the amazing worlds within worlds that make up this universe, they are trapped, unable to escape back to their own flesh-and-blood bodies in the real world. And as dangers and circumstances split their party into small, widely scattered groups, their only hope of reuniting lies in returning again and again to the River that flows – in one form or another – through all the worlds. But the odds seem to be completely against them as they – and the one outsider with whom they might join forces – become hopelessly lost in realms where an Ice Age tribe’s fears can only be quenched in blood – where insects are as large and deadly as dinosaurs – where they are caught in the war between a man made of straw and one made of tin – where cartoon ads take on a life of their own – where humans strive to survive in the aftermath of an alien invasion – and where one among their party is actually The Grail Brotherhood’s most terrifying weapon – a sociopathic killer who has never failed and whose current mission is to make certain that not even one member of this little invasion force lives long enough to reveal the truth about Otherland to the people of Earth.
The sequel to City of Golden Shadow and the 2nd book (of 4) in the Otherland series, River of Blue Fire is a solid “middle book” in the series.
Picking up where City of Golden Shadow left off, this book moved the pieces of all the players in the story without seeming to progress the plot too much. This is a common feature of “middle books” so was expected, though made the reading (listening) slow sometimes. At the point that City of Golden Shadow left off, the “hero” group was somewhat divided, with Renie and Xabbu in one simulation, Orlando and Fredericks in another, and the rest of the “hero” group in yet another sim. Paul Jonas’ sim, too, went through a few worlds, separated from the rest of the crew. Much of this book was spent with them still spilt, each learning more about the rules of the simulation world through their experiences in the world. Martine’s character, and her disability, were explored in detail in this book, bringing her to the forefront of the third hero group as a main character (to go along with Renie and Orlando). The bad guys also moved, and some of their motives were identified…and the mysterious Sellers, while staying in one (hidden) location, seemed to be doing more to try to help bring down the Otherland.
All in all, there isn’t much to say about this book that I didn’t say about City of Golden Shadow. I enjoyed this book, though didn’t think it was as strong as the first book in the series. In this book, author Tad Williams had some fun with the simulation worlds, making alternate worlds of popular stories such as The War of the Worlds and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was fun to go through the book and try to see what book was referenced (if any) for each sim world. The book was fun and the cyberpunk ideas were interesting, but there was nothing new introduced in this book. The rules were better defined through the course of the plot, but there wasn’t a lot of actual progression towards the heroes saving the day (or not).
The audiobook was great to listen to, if the narration was slightly slow. I listened to it slightly sped up (using the 1.5x feature for spoken word playback on my iPhone) and it seemed perfect. The only downside to listening to these books in audio is that now I want the 3rd book in the series, Mountain of Black Glass to come out in audio…I’m not sure when or if it will be done, but I hope that it does come soon so that I can continue listening instead of having to switch to some printed media. Audiobooks are a great way to experience this series (so far).
Posted by terpkristin.
Talked about on today’s show:
1959, New worlds, the Wikipedia entry, the New Worlds triptych, facial tattoos, A Clockwork Orange, Back To The Future II, body modification, terrible lifestyle choices, patois, Ragle Gumm, drugs, themes, the most 1950s story ever, Marilyn Monroe, fear of nuclear war, why keep evolving the culture?, no radio, Lawrence Olivier, The Prince And The Showgirl (1957), The SF Masterworks cover, Life magazine, The Truman Show (1998), pens, Mrs. Kittlebine is a Lunar spy, the model, the planted magazines, who was Ragle’s minder, The Prisoner, Mr. Black’s real wife, Philip K. Dick was extremely interested in cheating wives, marital infidelity, the breakdown of the nuclear family, being a writer, “your channeling yourself here Phil”, living in a false reality, mental illness, The Thirteenth Floor (1999), a horror trope, The Matrix (1999), Craig Bierko is a leading man from an alternate universe, “everything is a little off”, the colour palettes are off, very 1999ish, the future (2024) is the present, a much more coherent Matrix, it came from an alternate world, a little too much dancing, eXistenZ (1999), The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod, The Tunnel Under The World by Frederik Pohl (from 1955), running advertizing experiments, what is the purpose of simulated worlds?, rough day at work? … go out and be a serial killer (in a simulated world), they’re working from home (like Ragle Gumm), The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Pohl worked on Madison Ave., robots, was the world physically real?, the slips of paper, the bus isn’t quite really there, the bus station, the solider, endless problems, progress is never made, one step forward three steps back, the diner, the malt, is he on a treadmill with hypnosis?, are they in drawers?, it’s in Wyoming, Kemmerer, Wyoming, technically insane, more insane?, Brazil (1985), Sucker Punch (2011), which reality is real?, any clues?, there’s no satisfaction, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, stacked problems, the guy learning to be a patrolman, the bus driver who doesn’t know how to drive a bus, they’re actors, brainwashing, falling through the cracks, mirrored scenes, ‘it borrows unapologetically’, thinking hard, we’re all happy at the end of The Truman Show, the outside world, our future is in the stars, Time Out Of Joint could never be a Hollywood movie, imagine The Truman Show minus the love interest, conservative endings, science class in a fake high school, there’s no existential crisis, Truman’s soul, he wanted to be an explorer, shilling the products, product placement, his happy ending is to escape the simulation, the rich father-in-law, 0% crime, how would they know?, turtles all the way up?, the granddaddy of all these stories, Hamlet, William Shakespeare was the original meta-man, to catch the conscience of the King, The Taming Of The Shrew‘s induction, Christopher Sly, it’s Trading Places (1983), a very weird framing device, plays within plays, Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, a really good conversation, Dick’s worst books, Dick’s early books, Dr. Futurity, Eye In The Sky, carbon tetrachloride, coffee, the lasagna, existential crises, after his safe was blown up, an invitation from V-Con, X-Kalay, pretending to be a heroin addict, amphetamines, a mind like a Ferrari, Dick’s unsold mainstream novels, suburban 1950s reality falling apart, Ragle Gumm’s name, a character named Phil, half a prison of his own making, choosing to return to reality, the power station, The Kettlemen’s, surreal and weird, based on a real incident, monitoring devices, a mad person ranting, are they faking?, how brainwashed can they be?, borderlands, defense in depth, “this is Ragle Gumm”, the whole business with the light-cord, “I have to get back to my base,” he said. “Phil and I have to be in by eight o’clock or we’re AWOL.”, “Is that you Wade?”, author insert, post-it notes, 3M, “soft drink stand”, “SOFT-DRINK STAND, DOOR, FACTORY BUILDING, HIGHWAY, DRINKING FOUNTAIN, BOWL OF FLOWERS”, virtual reality, so intuitive, pattern recognition skills, nonsense, white noise, paranoid psychosis, another Jim Carrey movie, The Number 23 (2007), creepy and weird, on the list, Virginia Madsen, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004), Adjustment Bureau vs. Adjustment Team, a dog falls asleep, a talking dog, the least good, Imposter (2001), the short film, the original story, a robot that thinks its a scientist, why him?, Total Recall, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, implanted memories, don’t watch the remake, machinations, a secret agent, false endings, which story is the real one?, sitting on a park bench, why is this whole world being built up?, consider the scene…, the fake pressure, even if…, back to Shakespeare, the whim of a Lord, an essential skill, for advertizing, Rene Descartes, cogito ergo sum, imagine an evil demon, post-religious people, we don’t require a purpose, our purpose is to read Philip K. Dick books and drink coffee and watch old movies, a poetic polish by J. Michael Straczynski, Bishop Berkeley, its not a toaster its a post it with the word “toaster” on it, a rock on the dark side of the Moon’s existence isn’t contingent on our perception of it, God perceives everything, the elevator scene, their building up the world as it goes, Dick’s thinking hard and we’re thinking with him, the object or the word, Friedrich Nietzsche, Tibor McMasters from Deus Irae, “this book [Time Out Of Joint] doesn’t end it disintegrates” -Frederik Pohl, missing words, narrator Jeff Cummings, this book requires more study or less, 110.5 slips of paper, the Truman Show delusion, why they’re Tweeting so much, Skype is completely transparent to the NSA (computers), The Thirteenth Floor is beautiful to look at, what our reality is like, computer games, not knowing the difference, does the world (the GAME SERVER) exist when you’re not playing it?, what if it’s robots (AIs) running around in there?, Minecraft, when they built an 8-bit computer inside Minecraft, a giant physical object in a simulated world, there will be a computer program inside the Minecraft computer that can run Minecraft, what’s wrong with The Thirteen Floor, the time is wrong, a simulated world within a simulated world would take more time every time they go up a level, assuming the laws of physics, Inception does that, an infinity of time as a moment, all Science Fiction can be tied together by this novel, is it a Masterwork, it itself is not luminous but it is a conductor of light, it feels very inspired by, a good book for people who’d never read Science Fiction, a peek behind the curtain of reality.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Themes: / cyberpunk / virtual reality / science fiction /
Surrounded by secrecy, it is home to the wildest dreams and darkest nightmares. Incredible amounts of money have been lavished on it. The best minds of two generations have labored to build it. And somehow, bit by bit, it is claiming the Earth’s most valuable resource – its children.
I hate to admit this, but I judged this book by the cover at first. I knew nothing about the book when I started listening, I hadn’t even read the blurb in the description. I saw a fantastical-looking image on the cover and, knowing that Tad Williams typically writes fantasy novels/series, I just assumed it was a fantasy novel. I was wrong. This is actually a cyberpunk book, a quite good one at that. There was only one downside to the book, which I may as well get out of the way now: it’s not a complete story. The book ends with no plot lines resolved and more questions than answers…so, if you read this book, be prepared to read at least the next book in the series (River of Blue Fire. I say “at least” because I have only just started that book (and it’s 24.3 hours long!), and I have no idea if it resolves any of the story. There are 4 books in the Otherland series in total (City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass, and Sea of Silver Light, the first two of which are available in audio so far).
The plot is intriguing. In a future-world setting (the book was written in 1996), virtual reality (VR) in the form of using an avatar to explore the “net,” is fairly commonplace. Many people, instead of congregating/living in cities with malls and town centers and such, live good parts of their lives in the virtual world. At least, the younger people seem to do this. Main character Reny (a nickname for Irene) is a teacher of computer science/VR manipulation at a university. One day she comes home to find her little brother, Steven, comatose after spending some time in the VR world. Setting out to try to figure out what left him in the coma, she comes across a hint of a world called “Otherland,” a world within the VR world. In parallel, a kid named Orlando is exposed to “Otherland” in a part of his online video game. They find themselves searching for answers on Otherland, enlisting the help of some others who have also found out about the mysterious world, all seeking answers for what it is and why it’s harming kids. There is another story in the book, of a man named Paul. He may or may not have been a soldier in World War II, but somehow has found himself stuck in the world of Otherland without the ability to escape. There is also the story of those running Otherland, some with more nefarious reasons than others…
The entire plot is engaging, if sometimes a little confusing to keep track of who is where (especially at first, as the world and characters are introduced). That said, the book drew me in more or less from the get-go, and I found excuses to listen more as I went about my days. Williams, unlike many authors I’ve read recently, is able to describe the world and the technology organically through the telling of the story. Where some people would spend time info-dumping, Williams is able to make the world comprehensible by explaining things to characters, or having the reader go along with the process of discovery with the characters. For a book written in 1996, Williams was somewhat a visionary of technology and how people use it. In the book, there are VR systems (think: Oculus Rift taken to the extreme), normal day-to-day use of the internet, tablets, videophony…things that are in the early years of widespread adoption now.
The characters in this book are very interesting. I’ve read a lot of complaints, recently, from people who wish that there were more women and/or minorities in the books that they read, especially genre fiction. This book doesn’t have that problem. Reny is a South African black woman, and one of her closest friends through the story is a native African. One of the main villains is Australian and there seem to be people from across the globe involved in either the world or trying to study the world. When Reny needs help, she turns to another woman (another professor in computer science-type fields) for aid, and though men are involved, they are on an equal footing with the women. While I normally don’t fault a book for having weak female characters, it was refreshing to have such diversity in the book.
George Newbern’s narration was fantastic, if a little slow. I found that I had to bump up the playback speed slightly, otherwise it felt like the pauses were a little too long, the speech a little too slow. This made some of the characters or world aspects a little hard to understand at times (pronunciation-wise), but that didn’t detract from the story. It was always easy to keep track of who was talking and what was going on, thanks to Newbern’s voices for the characters and for the main narration.
All in all, I really liked this book. I wish it had come to some form of closure, or at least given some more hints on the motives of the villains, but that’s a minor complaint. I’ve already started the second book and can’t wait to see where the story goes.
Posted by terpkristin.
Themes: / dystopia / unrest / cognitive theory / virtual reality / revolution /
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
Fast 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 /
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.
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.