Moxon’s Master by Ambrose Bierce

June 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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Moxon's Master by Ambrose Bierce

I’m not a very good chess player, but I love playing. There’s a an elegance and a simplicity to the basics of it. And from those basic rules an incalculable complexity emerges – one that makes every game different. But I don’t much like playing against a computer. There’s little sense of victory if I win and if I lose I tend to question the point in playing at all. There’s something about pitting a mind against a mind – and most chess programs I’ve played against don’t seem to have one.

Moxon’s Master, by Ambrose Bierce, is about chess. It uses some basic analogies and metaphors – in just the way H.G. Wells does so well to make the implausible sound plausible. Bierce wields facts about plant tropism and Herbert Spencer’s definition of life in a skillful argument for machine intelligence. It’s rather masterful actually!

LibriVoxMoxon’s Master
By Ambrose Bierce; Read by Roger Melin
1 |MP3| – Approx. 28 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: May 2, 2012
First published in the San Francisco Examiner, April 16, 1899.

|PDF|

[Thanks also to Laura Victoria and Barry Eads]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Guardian Short Stories Podcast: My Dream Of Flying To Wake Island by J.G. Ballard

May 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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Willliam Boyd explains his love of J.G. Ballard’s short story My Dream Of Flying To Wake Island:

In the short history of the short story – not much longer than 150 years – very few writers have completely redefined the form. Chekhov, pre-eminently, but also Hemingway and Borges. JG Ballard has to be added to this exclusive list, in my opinion. Ballard’s models for his haunting stories are closer to art and music, it seems to me, than to literature. These are fictions inspired by the paintings of De Chirico and Max Ernst, which summon up the mesmerising ostinatos of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Character and narrative are secondary – image and symbol dominate with a surreal and hypnotic intensity, and the language reflects this. Ballardian tropes – empty swimming pools, abandoned resorts, psychotic astronauts, damaged doctors, the alluring nihilism of consumer society and so forth – are unmistakably and uniquely his. “My Dream of Flying to Wake Island” is a true Ballardian classic.

This is a story you can listen to again and again.

Guardian Short Stories PodcastMy Dream Of Flying To Wake Island
By J.G. Ballard; Read by William Boyd
1 |MP3| – Approx. 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Guardian Short Stories Podcast
Podcast: December 11, 2010
First published in Ambit #60 (Autumn, 1974).

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Breaking Point by James Gunn

March 29, 2010 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Welcome to Reviewopolis! Three stories to go…

Breaking Point
By James Gunn; Read by Julie Davis
Approx 2 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Forgotten Classics
Podcast: March 2009 (Episodes 111-113)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Space Travel / Psychology /

The strength of the unit is the sum of the strengths of its members. The weakness of the unit can be a single small failing in a single man.

First, a few notes about the Forgotten Classics podcast: I really enjoy this podcast for a few reasons. Julie is an avid podcast listener, and if you are looking for podcast recommendations, look no further. She opens most episodes with something interesting from the Podosphere. These Podcast Highlights come from all over the map! For example, at the beginning of one the episodes containing this story (Episode 113), she highlights “Bob Dylan’s Themetime Radio Hour”. Would you have predicted Bob Dylan and James Gunn in the same podcast?

Another thing I like about Forgotten Classics is Julie’s commentary. She comments on the material she’s reading at the end of each podcast, providing a denouement that makes me think she’s just closed the book and knows everything I know up to this point in the story and nothing more.

Perhaps most important is the fact that Julie is a very good narrator. She reads clearly and with emotion. Stories are well-paced and enhanced by her pleasant voice.

The story at hand is “Breaking Point”, by James Gunn, which was first published in Space Science Fiction in March of 1953. A starship crew lands on an alien planet, crew a fairly well-oiled machine. The Captain recalls Leinster’s “First Contact”, when he mentions to the crew the importance of keeping the location of Earth secret “at all costs, until we’re sure we’re not going to turn up a potentially dangerous, possibly superior alien culture.” They quickly realize that they have done exactly that, when some external force, through unknown technology, won’t allow the hatch to be opened.

At this point, one of the crew members snaps. How could the hatch not open? There are many safeguards – this should not be happening! Cue the hysterial laughter. The aliens then start closing the crew in with a mysterious black (nothingness!) wall. Crew members flip out, one by one, as they try to figure out what’s happening before the walls close in completely. Are the aliens moving to close them all in, or are the alien moves specifically designed to unnerve specific crew members one at a time?

Julie said exactly what I was thinking when she mentioned that this story would be a comfortable fit on The Twilight Zone. Very weird stuff. It also reminded me of Stephen King’s The Langoliers, with the real world being blacked out in sections while people flee. Here, though, there’s nowhere to flee.

At the heart of the story is a conversation between the Captain and the medical officer about teams and how they are put together. Paresi, the medical officer tells the Captain:

Look, this is supposed to be restricted information, but the Exploration Service doesn’t rely on individual aptitude tests alone to make up a crew. There’s another factor—call it an inaptitude factor. In its simplest terms, it comes to this: that a crew can’t work together only if each member is the most efficient at his job. He has to need the others, each one of the others. And the word need predicates lack. In other words, none of us is a balanced individual. And the imbalances are chosen to match and blend, so that we will react as a balanced unit.

This while their living space continues to shrink. Is the medical officer saying that there is no such thing as a balanced individual, or that unbalanced people were purposefully selected and fitted together to make “a crew”? Either way, interesting. Thanks, Julie, for the story!

This story was completed as part of The 4th Annual SFFaudio Challenge.
Podcast Feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/forgottenclassics

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Forgotten Classics: Breaking Point by James Gunn

March 5, 2010 by · 7 Comments
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Forgotten ClassicsMy friend, Julie D. of the Forgotten Classics podcast, has recently completed her unabridged reading of Dorothy Macardle’s novel The Uninvited. Now she’s working on a pure Science Fiction story, picked from SFFaudio Challenge #4. But that’s not all, Julie begins the podcast with some thoughts on James Gunn’s best known work, a series of scholarly collections entitled: The Road To Science Fiction. I have volumes 3 and 4 in my paperbook collection.

The Road To Science Fiction: Volume 1: From Gilgamesh to Wells edited by James GunnThe Road To Science Fiction: Volume 2: From Wells to Heinlein edited by James GunnThe Road To Science Fiction: Volume 3: The Road To Science Fiction: Volume 3: From Heinlein to Here edited by James GunnThe Road To Science Fiction: Volume 4: From Here to Forever edited by James Gunn

There are also two more recent volumes The British Way (Vol. 5) and the other places Around The World (Vol. 6). But I won’t post their cover art here because they really suck.


Forgotten Classics Presents - Breaking Point by James GunnBreaking Point
By James Gunn; Read by Julie D.
Podcast – [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Forgotten Classics
Podcast: March 2009 –
The ship was proof against any test, but the men inside her could be strained and warped, individually and horribly. Unfortunately, while the men knew that, they couldn’t really believe it. The Aliens could—and did.

Podcast feed:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/forgottenclassics

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Unicorn Variation By Roger Zelazny

June 2, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobooks - Unicorn Variation by Roger ZelaznyUnicorn Variation
By Roger Zelazny; Read by Rene Auberjonois
1 Cassette – 83 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Durkin Hayes
Published: 1995
ISBN: 0886467365
Themes: / Fantasy / Unicorns / Mythical Creatures / Chess / Angels /

Roger Zelazny wrote some of my favorite fantasies. I view him now as one of Neil Gaiman’s primary influences, as they both cover the same mythical territory in their fiction. (In fact, Neil Gaiman would be a perfect choice to pen scripts for Zelazny’s Amber novels – hint hint nudge nudge).

“Unicorn Variations” is a story from later in Zelazny’s career. In it, a man finds himself playing a chess game with a unicorn, the result of which could determine the fate of the human race. The unicorn talks quite a bit and has a sharp tongue with a dry sense of humor. The man in the story meets several mythical beasts, and they all know how to play chess, including Sasquatches, who are particularly good at it. A thoroughly enjoyable story.

“Angel, Dark Angel” is also included. It is much shorter than the cover story, and begins with a man who receives a phone call giving him the identity of a person he’s got to go meet. No more on this one – let Zelazny unfold it for you.

Rene Auberjonois is absolutely first-rate. I really enjoy his cadence and his personable tone. In the first story, he has the opportunity to use several different voices, which he does with wonderful skill, bringing the story to life as a great narrator can.

This one’s out of print – check eBay!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson