Review of The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeod

April 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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AUDIBLE FRONTIERS - The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeodThe Summer Isles
By Ian R. MacLeod; Read by Steve Hodson
Audible Download – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2012
Themes: / Alternative History / Dystopia / History / Fascism / Homosexuality /

I have always been intrigued by alternative histories. Unfortunately my knowledge of history sometimes limits my enjoyment, being more of an overview of the subject. I often can’t tell if an event has been changed, and if so, whether it is significant or not. In some of the better alternate histories you can get away with not knowing too much about the period and still enjoy the story. Thankfully, in this case, I had recently been reading a history of Europe covering the same period from the early 1910’s to 1940.

MacLeod’s The Summer Isles is set primarily in a 1940 where Great Britain lost The Great War in 1918. America doesn’t enter the war and France makes an appeasement with Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany. The result is that Britain, not Germany, is left in a state of shock, feeling betrayed by their supposed allies. A young soldier, John Arthur, rises to power in the bleak years that follow, suggesting a parallel to Hitler, who gets only a single reference, never having the opportunities to gain power that losing the war afforded. The great Empire that was Britain is stripped away in the reparations following the war. That sense of betrayal is used to fuel Arthur’s rise to power as he brings in his political movement “Modernism”. John Arthur’s portrait hangs everywhere, even in the men’s public toilets.

Modernism is a very British take on fascism and drove several of the same horrors that Naziism did in our own history. Jews, homosexuals, intellectuals, the Irish and any and all other ‘deviants’ are persecuted and ultimately removed from the new Modernist society. The Jews in particular are sent to be “resettled” on the eponymous Summer Isles.

The story is told by Geoffrey Brook, a secretly homosexual Oxford history Don, who had some prestige for having been a favourite teacher of John Arthur as a child. Brook is in his 60’s in 1940 when he receives the news that he has at terminal lung cancer.

Brook, in trying to reconcile himself with his past, recounts in flashbacks the one true love of his life that he lost in the Great War. More flashbacks fill in the years before and after that war; several of the scenes flowing together with the present day as Brook’s mind drifts in and out of his reminiscences. Particularly when he visits some of the same locations.

MacLeod’s writing is excellent, at times didactic, as the historian narrator recounts past political and social events, yet by turns touching, confused, detailed and frightened as more personal or recent events are recounted. Slow at times, this fits will with the drifting recollections of the narrator as the hidden story is gradually revealed. The final act of the novel moves at a much faster pace, while still holding convincingly onto the character of the narrator. The Summer Isles was nominated for the John C Campbell Memorial Award, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History and the World Fantasy Award.

The audio narration by Steve Hodson fits the character perfectly. The weariness with life, the broken rapture at prized but lost moments of love and of lust are all perfectly portrayed. He even nails virtually all of the Scottish pronunciations; a pet peeve sf mind, being Scottish myself, with several other narrators.

Posted by Paul [W] Campbell

BBC Radio 3: Night Waves – The Avengers

April 22, 2011 by · 2 Comments
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The Avengers - Steed and Peel

The Avengers was (along with Have Gun – Will Travel) one of my mom’s favourite shows. I can really see the appeal. “It starts with a frenzy of bongos!” Indeed, BBC Radio 3’s Matthew Sweet hosts a wonderful intellectual celebration of The Avengers for the “flagship arts and ideas programme” Night Waves. Recorded for the fiftieth anniversary retrospective, this is a must listen for fans of the series. The show is currently available via the Listen Again system (or whatever they’re calling their limited time streaming system these days). And, just like the show they’re celebrating this retrospective is “extraordinarily sophisticated and extraordinarily playful”.

BBC Radio 3Night Waves – The Avengers at 50
1 Broadcast – Approx. 45 Minutes [DOCUMENTARY/DISCUSSION]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 3
Broadcast: April 20, 2011
Matthew Sweet dons his kinky boots to investigate the phenomenon that was The Avengers, 50 years after it first hit Britain’s television screens. As well as its regular cavalcade of cyborgs, spies and megalomaniacs, The Avengers seemed to present a new action figure: the liberated single female who, week after week, proved to be deadlier than the male. But, asks Night Waves, how progressive was the series’ sexual politics? Was Diana Rigg in her leather cat suit a male fantasy or a feminist icon? And did Honor Blackman always play second fiddle to Patrick Macnee? Matthew has assembled a crack team of thinkers to ponder these mind-bending questions: fans Bea Campbell and Sarah Dunant; historian Dominic Sandbrook; and one of the masterminds behind The Avengers, screenwriter Brian Clemens.
Presenter/Matthew Sweet, Producer/Stephen Hughes

[Thanks Eric!]

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC7: The Scarifyers – The Nazad Conspiracy

September 5, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

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BBC Radio 7 - BBC7The Scarifyers: The Nazad Conspiracy (2006)
3 episodes beginning on Sunday, September 7 at 1800GMT
Starring Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy
Written and directed by Simon Barnard
Produced by Cosmic Hobo Productions

Detective Inspector Lionheart, veteran (don’t say old!) crime-fighter based at Whitechapel police station, and Edward Dunning, professor of Ancient History at London University (and prolific writer of ghost stories), become, somewhat unwittingly, paranormal investigators for the “very new” MI-13.

Dunning & LionheartAided by, among others, Aleister Crowley, “the wickedest man in the world,” Lionheart and Dunning must follow enigmatic and often ghastly clues, infiltrate mysterious secret cults and foil the darkest of diabolical plots against England and humanity.

But not without a grand sense of British humor. The Scarifyers, set in the late 1930’s, combines deadpan wit and Lovecraftian themes with the result being nothing short of hilarious. The writing is charming, delicious, surprising and never cornball, and the character performances are superb. Indeed, it’s my favorite audio play series in years.

The Nazad Conspiracy is the first Scarifyers adventure.

Christmas 1936.

Professor Dunning (Terry Molloy) doesn’t believe in the supernatural. So he’s more than surprised when an invisible winged demon appears in his drawing room.

The Metropolitan Police’s longest-serving officer, Inspector Lionheart (Nicholas Courtney), doesn’t believe in the supernatural either, wings or no wings. So he’s less than impressed when Russian emigres begin dying impossible deaths all over London.

Together, Lionheart and Dunning must face quarrelsome Generals, sinister clowns and Russian demons as they unravel THE NAZAD CONSPIRACY.

The first episode of The Nazad Conspiracy will air on Sunday, September 7 at 1800GMT in the 7th Dimension time slots. Episodes 2 and 3 will follow on consecutive Sundays. Listen to the trailer for the show here.

The Scarifyers is produced by Cosmic Hobo Productions and stars Nicholas Courtney as Lionheart and Terry Molloy as Dunning. Many will remember Courtney as Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (The Brigadier), and Molloy as Davros (creator of the evil Daleks), both from the Doctor Who TV series (and the occasional Big Finish production). Also, David Benson, “man of a thousand voices,” appears as the reoccurring character, Aleister Crowley, always giving a memorable and “spirited” performance.

For more information about The Scarifyers, including actor bios, character and story info, announcements, downloadable content, and series ordering info –3 adventures so far: The Nazad Conspiracy, The Devil of Denge Marsh (2007) & For King and Country (2008)– be sure to stop by the Cosmic Hobo Productions website.

And if you want to hear the best radio show theme song since Dick Barton: Special Agent, check out The Scarifyers theme by Edwin Sykes here!

Posted by RC of RTSF

BBC7 presents: Down and Safe (Blake’s 7)

August 26, 2008 by · 2 Comments
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BBC Radio 7 - BBC7

Down and Safe: A Celebration of Blake’s 7
Presented by fan Mitch Benn.
Airdate: August 25, 2008 (aired 3 times).

Holy moly, I was busy and away and almost missed this excellent radio retrospective of Blake’s 7. (Fortunately for all of us, it is still available to listen to -see below.) Clocking in at three hours, Down and Safe covers the whole shebang, from the groundbreaking and influential late 70’s television series to the latest version reimagined and presented as audio drama, with clips and snippets and informed commentary and…

…And, speaking of audio drama, well, check out the BBC7 blurb: The BBC 7 bank holiday rebellion starts with the history and rebirth of a sci-fi classic, with episodes including The Syndleton Experiment (1999), Liberator (2007) and When Vila Met Gan (2008).

Yep, you heard right. Three complete full cast audio plays -they form the bulk of the show; three different and very entertaining takes on the Blake’s 7 universe that you shouldn’t miss (unless you have a very good excuse like, say, hives). So, space science fiction luvvers everywhere, be sure to check out Down and Safe here, here, here (RealPlayer required) or here (webpage – RealPlayer required) through Sunday, August 31!

Posted by RC of RTSF

Five Children and It on BBC7

August 15, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

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BBC Radio 7 - BBC7 Good stuff is happening on BBC7 lately, like Mike Walker’s remarkable 6-part historical drama series, Caesar!, that aired over the last two weeks. This Saturday, 7 Drama will present the full cast dramatization of Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It (which certainly ranks as one of the best ever titles for a kids novel), a story about a magical sand fairy (that) grants five children a series of wishes

A little background, quoting here from Wikipedia, Edith Nesbit popularized an innovative style of children’s fantasy that combined realistic, contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects and adventures. In doing so, she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling -as well as C. S. Lewis and Michael Moorcock. Yow!

Some will recall Nesbit for her memorable novel, The Railway Children, and the film and BBC television series based on the book (presented wayyy back in the 1960’s). I said some will -if they’re willing to admit that they’re old enough to have watched Star Trek: TOS in prime time.

Now, I have to admit that I haven’t heard this production before but given the Beeb’s track record, the play should be good. At an hour and a half long, there should be enough time to cover the story while keeping things moving at a brisk pace. Also, BBC dramatizations tend to feature excellent child actors. This should be a big plus here. -A lot of “shoulds”, I know, but being a fan of Edith Nesbit’s books to begin with, of course I’m looking forward to this.

Check out Five Children and It with me on Saturday, August 16 from 12:00- 13:30 GMT. Teleport to 7 Drama here to do so. Or you can use the Listen Again feature to hear the show for six days after it airs.

Lastly, you can read and download Edith Nesbit’s novels online at Project Gutenberg. All are in the public domain. Yay!

Posted by RC of Radio Tales of the Strange and Fantastic

Review of His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

October 21, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
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Fantasy Audiobook - His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi NovikHis Majesty’s Dragon
By Naomi Novik; Read by David Thorn
5 CDs – 6.5 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9780739354131
Themes: / Fantasy / Hard Fantasy / Alternate History / Dragons / 19th Century / War / Britain / France /

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

Abridged! And here I thought we were beyond abridged audiobooks. I wasn’t even sure I’d ever see another abridged audiobook on a bookstore bookshelf again, let alone find myself listening to one. After all is said and done though, His Majesty’s Dragon wasn’t badly abridged, there were no jarring transitions, even if it felt as if large parts of the story were missing. Narrator David Thorn and his English accent gave Temeraire and the other dragons a kind of menacing innocence, full of a promise of danger and odd loyalty.

The world of His Majesty’s Dragon posits an alternate history where dragons, once the sole province of kings and emperors across Europe and Asia, are now a weapon delivery platform of choice for the military during the Napoleonic Wars. Will Laurence, a promising young sea Captain of the Royal Navy, captures a French ship carrying a precious bounty, an unhatched dragon egg. Unfortunately, what little the ship’s surgeon knows about dragon eggs is that this one will hatch soon. Too soon, in fact, for if the dragon within is to be of any use it must be harnessed immediately upon hatching to a sailor with whom it will have a lifelong bond.

Much of the action of the novel takes place in the training grounds of Britain’s “Aerial Corps.” The writing is professional and amicable, the characters are interesting and I get the sense this story will definitely appeal to the Harry Potter crowd, especially those who like a little romance in their fantasy. One of the standouts, character-wise, is a female dragon captain, who though battle hardened and physically scarred, packs an emotional wallop in the few scenes she graces. As this is the first book in a series it leaves a lot open at its conclusion, and perhaps my disappointment with the lack of integration within the larger pattern off history will be addressed by the subsequent books.

About that disappointment: History fans, like me, will probably be disappointed with the lack of historical detail. There’s good stuff, but not enough of it. Worse though, Novik’s world isn’t fully thought through. The changes she’s made to her historical setting don’t include any wide-ranging hard consequences. For instance, just having another sentient species on Earth would have had tremendous religious, societal and political ramifications to our history. But if individual members of that sentient species are as powerful as a Lancaster bomber you’d expect even more. These necessary changes are absent, or if not entirely omitted they are at least checkmated by dragons on opposing armies. Sure there attitudinal changes, mostly disdain, coming from the aspects of society that don’t interact with dragons on a daily basis, but this feels like the “muggle” solution, a cheat, like was done in the Harry Potter books. And that doesn’t fit the alternate history with one minor change vibe Novik was going for. Dragons, like the armor plated, jool-loving, fire-breathing creatures Novik uses, would have to impact culture from bow to stern. Just think how many cultures have mythical dragons in their history, now make them real! Simply put, there was work to be done and that work wasn’t done in His Majesty’s Dragon. Admittedly, the threads of the significant changes Novik has woven into her image are good. Attitudes toward women have changed within the Aerial Corps, and this is the most fascinating aspect of the book for me. But the dragon aspect of history feels as if they was just plopped atop an already existing rich tapestry of history, the threads attaching it to real history don’t go deep enough, and ultimately, this may be a case where the history and the fantasy are incompatible. But perhaps this is only an issue in the abridged version? If so I’d definitely be up for more in the Temeraire series – in which case I’d really need to get my mitts on the unabridged editions for subsequent books.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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