Review of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

October 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Blackstone Audio - The Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburySFFaudio EssentialThe Martian Chronicles
By Ray Bradbury; Read by Stephen Hoye
8 CDs – 9.3 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781433293498
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mars / Mythology / Colonization / Aliens /

All right, then, what is Chronicles? Is it King Tut out of the tomb when I was three? Norse Eddas when I was six? And Roman/Greek gods that romanced me when I was ten? Pure myth. If it had been practical, technologically efficient science fiction, it would have long since fallen to rust by the road.

-Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

I’ve never been a big reader of science fiction, largely because, rightly or wrongly, my perception is that SF worships at the altar of technology, and is fixated upon cold, clinical subject matter for which I have little interest. But if the SF genre contained more books like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, I might view it a lot differently.

The Martian Chronicles tells the story of mankind’s colonization of the red planet. Driven by curiosity and the impending destruction of a worldwide atomic war, men send rocket expeditions to Mars in hopes of settling the planet and finding a place to carry on their civilization. It’s not a traditional novel, but a collection of short stories originally published in Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and a handful of other defunct SF magazines, which Bradbury ties together with a series of vignettes.

The Martian Chronicles was first published in 1950 and Bradbury set the first story, “Rocket Summer,” in a fictional (and then-distant) 1999; this latter printing advances the timeline to 2030. The Martian Chronicles certainly has some SF surface trappings, and the tale “There Will Come Soft Rains” (a haunting story about the aftermath of an atomic war) probably fits that category. But it’s certainly not hard SF. Bradbury doesn’t dwell on the Martian technology nor describe how it works. What little there is described in Bradbury’s inimitable short strokes of brilliant, poetic color: Houses with tables of silver lava for cooking bits of meat, pillars of rain that can be summoned for washing, metal books that sing their stories, like a fine instrument under the stroke of a hand.

In the introduction to the 2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc., production of the book, Bradbury says that the larger themes and deeper meanings of his work were buried in his subconscious as he wrote. It wasn’t until he saw an onstage production of The Martian Chronicles, juxtaposed with a viewing of a traveling Tutankhamun exhibit at the Las Angeles Art Museum, that he made the leap—he had written a myth, not a science fiction story:

“Moving back and forth from Tut to theatre, theatre to Tut, my jaw dropped. ‘My God,’ I said, gazing at Tutankhamun’s golden mask. ‘That’s Mars. My God,’ I said, watching my Martians on stage, ‘That’s Egypt, with Tutankhamun’s ghosts.’ So before my eyes and mixed in my mind, old myths were renewed, new myths were bandaged in papyrus and lidded with bright masks. Without knowing, I had been Tut’s child all the while, writing the red world’s hieroglyphics, thinking I thrived futures even in dust-rinsed pasts… Science and machines can kill each other off or be replaced. Myth, seen in mirrors, incapable of being touched, stays on. If it is not immortal, it almost seems such.”

Rather than explaining the hows and whys of rocket travel, or the describe the atmospheric conditions of the red planet, Bradbury uses The Martian Chronicles to explore the age-old problems of colonization/colonialism, our fears of the unknown, our longing for simpler times, and the limitations of science and technology. It’s intensely elegiac, an ode to the quiet towns and neighborhoods of the 1920s and 30s, before the sprawl of cities and suburbs and the opening of the Pandora’s Box of atomic power.

The heart of the book is the short story, “And the Moon be Still as Bright,” which concerns a fourth rocket expedition to the red planet. The first three missions have failed. Mars is empty, its cities ghostly and vacant. The Martians have been hit hard by chicken pox, infected by the crew of one of the previous expeditions. When several crewmembers of the latest expedition get drunk and vandalize a beautiful Martian city of glass spires, one of the crewmen, Jeff Spender, turns on them in a murderous rampage.

Later, atop a hill, Captain Wilder approaches Spender in an effort to get him to surrender. Spender, who initially seems crazy, is revealed as the man with the clearest vision. He knows what modern man is like, a professional cynic who wants to tear down and rebuild in his own image, citing Cortez’s mission to Mexico (which wiped out nearly all traces of the Aztec Empire). Spender has read the Martians’ books and seen the relics of their culture, and discovers that it is a perfect balance of science and religion, nature and man (Martian) in harmony, with neither side dominant. Says Spender:

“[The Martians] quit trying too hard to destroy everything, to humble everything. They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful. It’s all simply a matter of degree. An Earth Man thinks: ‘In that picture, color does not exist, really. A scientist can prove that color is only the way the cells are placed in a certain material to reflect light. Therefore, color is not really an actual part of things I happen to see.’ A Martian, far cleverer, would say: ‘This is a fine picture. It came from the hand and the mind of a man inspired. Its idea and its color are from life. This thing is good.’”

It’s interesting to note that the Martians are not perfect, and in striving for balance they may have lost something. In “Ylla,” the second story/chapter of the book, a Martian woman upsets her husband to the point of murder. As the Martians are telepathic, Ylla is able to “speak” to the astronauts as they draw near in their silver rocket. She learns their burning desires and their strange songs. Despite the harmonious, tranquil, idyllic environment all around her, the brown-skinned, golden-eyed Ylla wants to be swept away to earth, crushed in the embrace of the white-skinned, dark-haired, blue-eyed Nathaniel York. For all its piggishness and destructiveness, the race of men is passionate, burning with the desire to live and explore.

As with all of Bradbury’s tales, The Martian Chronicles contains its share of humor, terror, heartbreak, and hope, and is written in Bradbury’s beautiful, one-of-a-kind style. It holds a deserved place as science fiction classic, even as it transcends the genre and defies our attempts to categorize it.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of Ender In Exile by Orson Scott Card

January 15, 2009 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Ender in Exile by Orson Scott CardEnder in Exile
By Orson Scott Card; Read by David Birney, Cassandra Campbell, Emily Janice Card, Orson Scott Card, Gabrielle de Cuir, Kirby Heyborne, Don Leslie, Stefan Rudnicki, and Mirron Willis
12 CDs – Approx. 14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781427205124
Themes: / Science Fiction / Colonization / Starships / Religion / Politics / War / Aliens /

Over the last six years or so, Orson Scott Card has had nearly everything he’s written published as an audiobook. His writing is particularly suited to audio; his style is dramatic, clear, and driven by conversations, both internal and external. Card’s storytelling ability is also first rate.

The other half of an audiobook is its presentation, and here Card’s audiobooks also excel. In the Ender and Ender’s Shadow series of audiobooks, Stefan Rudnicki has led a talented crew of narrators in expert productions. Ender in Exile is the ninth novel written in the universe started by Ender’s Game, and all of them have been produced in a similar manner – with multiple narrators that change with shifts in the point of view of the story.

The entire novel takes place between the last two chapters of Ender’s Game. I’ll try not to spoil Ender’s Game for those who haven’t read it, but the main events of that book have finished, and the teenaged Ender Wiggin can not stay on Earth for various and interesting reasons. He is put on a colony ship, and much of the book takes place there. The conflict for him is not over. He’s distrusted by powerful adults, and because of his fame he distrusts the motives of everyone else. He’s still very much alone.

You’d think after four novels about Ender Wiggin that there wouldn’t be anything else to say about him. But Ender in Exile is one of the best novels in the series, mostly because of the insight it provides into the most interesting aspect of Ender Wiggin’s life: his transformation from Battle School student to Speaker for the Dead.

An atypical aspect of this novel is that it is really a sequel to two books: Ender’s Game and Shadow of the Giant. Because of the relativistic effects of space travel, three of the four Shadow novels take place while Ender is en route to his colony. Some of the things that happen in those books affect events in this one.

Despite all that, this book can be read standalone, though a good experience is made even better by knowing the whole story.

And, a bonus mini-review from DanielsonKid: It was very good, but I wouldn’t call it one of his best.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

April 19, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Ghost Brigades by John ScalziThe Ghost Brigades
By John Scalzi; Read by William Dufris
Audible Download – 10 Hours 28 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio / Audible.com
Published: March 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military SF / War / Telepathy / Space Travel / Galactic Civilization / Consciousness Uploading / Colonization /

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms. For the universe is a dangerous place for humanity – and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF most find out why Boutin did what he did.

The Colonial Defense Forces brass have stumbled upon a device containing a copy of the consciousness of one of their foremost research scientists. In order to find out what he knows they’ll embody him in a genetically modified clone body – and name that being Jared Dirac. But when the transfer happens Dirac doesn’t seem to have the memories he’s supposed to – and so Dirac is enlisted in the Special Forces (AKA the “Ghost Brigades”) only to eventually become involved in a search for his missing progenitor.

The Ghost Brigades is a thoughtful extension of the ideas created in Old Man’s War. I’m of two minds on series books, I understand the appeal – you get more of what you liked – but the drawbacks are usually the exact same thing – you get more of the same and thus fewer new ideas! But, on the other hand you do get more of the same feeling. Scalzi’s writing style is streamlined, efficient and good humored. I really zipped through The Ghost Brigades too, it took the space of three days or so. One thing that lessened my enthusiasm was the perspectival change. In Old Man’s War we follow one character’s first person POV from beginning to end. Whereas in The Ghost Brigades the closest we get to a central character is Jared Dirac, who occupies about three fifths of the POV. The rest is either Jean Sagan (a memorable character from OMW) or various minor characters. Still, there are plenty of interesting curly-cues coming off of the ideas established in OMW. The Gameron’s (a group of purpose built space-faring soldiers) and the various aliens and villains all have interesting things to say. Also welcome are the speculations on the nature of consciousness and memory as well as more on everybody’s favorite piece of future tech – the “BrainPal”! The BrainPal, I am certain, is something Scalzi will be forever remembered for. Beyond the central plot, which involves two BrainPal researchers, one human, one not, there is the classic ‘galactic human empire at constant war’ motif. It’s cool.

During the listening I was reminded of a pen and paper RPG in the space adventures game I made after reading Starship Troopers and The Forever War in the 1980s. The missions the CDF-SF soldiers undertook in The Ghost Brigades could have come from one of the “modules” I made (I was pretty proud of that stuff so think of it as a serious compliment). As the novel progressed I came to like the ideas of The Ghost Brigades more and more, especially those espoused by a traitor to humanity – giving a very noir spin to the common thread connecting the universes of Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Old Man’s War. If you loved Old Man’s War you’ll definitely like The Ghost Brigades.

One of the coolest parts of the book came in a speech about one of the alien species – Scalzi takes the David Brin “uplift” idea and mixes in a little Daniel Dennett – namely Dennet’s brilliant reply to John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument (a thought experiment on artificial intelligence) – to terrificly thoughtful effect. Scalzi’s philosophy degree pays off yet again!

Narrator William Dufris reprises his SFFaudio Essential reading duties with this, the second Scalzi novel to be audiobook’d. Dufris has a secret weapon, he’ll sneak up on you – delivering simple lines in ways you might not have if you picked up in the paperbook and read it aloud for a friend. He’s reading all the words, but he’s performing the characters. His experience in the reading OMW contributes to the continuity of pronunciation and line delivery. I hope Macmillan Audio will consider Dufris when audiobooking some of Scalzi’s non-series novels too.

*And remember folks, after listening to The Ghost Brigades you can pick up the FREE AUDIOBOOK of The Sagan Diary HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Andre Norton’s The Defiant Agents claimed for our SFFaudio Challenge

June 18, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

SFFaudio News

Meta SFFaudio - SFFaudio Contest - Make audiobook win an audiobookCindy Woods, a repertory player and producer for the long running Arbiter Chronicles, has written in to claim The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton. Yep, this is one of the titles in our SFFaudio ‘Make An Audiobook Challenge.’

Cindy is aiming to finish the recording by summer’s end, though as an already busy contributor and editor for the Prometheus Radio Theatre podcast it may take a bit longer.

While this novel fits into the variously titled, “Time Trader,” “Ross Murdock” and “Time War” series it is eminently readable on its own.

The novel’s premise posits a future “cold war” background in which the opposing Russian and U.S. governments use two of their subject peoples (Apache and Mongol) to colonize a distant planet. What starts off as two colonization programs soon escalates into an all-out proxy war. The Defiant Agents is a fun Science Fiction adventure tale from 1962. Here’s the Manybooks.net description:

Alien technology scavenged by U.S. and Russian scientists has started a race to colonize planets outside our solar system — and the U.S. scientists are losing! In a desperate move the American government decides to use a group of Apache volunteers in an experimental attempt to colonize a primitive planet, but before they can even begin their spaceship crashes on the planet Topaz…

And to help Cindy reach her Summer 2007 completion date here’s our inspirational art:Science Fiction Audiobook - The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton

Go Cindy! Go!

Review of Of Fire and Night by Kevin J. Anderson

September 21, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Of Fire and Night: Saga of the Seven Suns Book 5 by Kevin J. AndersonOf Fire and Night: The Saga of Seven Suns Book 5
By Kevin J. Anderson; Read by David Colacci
16 CD’s or 2 MP3-CDs – 19 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 9781597372176 (CD), 9781597372213 (MP3-CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Military / Colonization / Alien Races / Political Intrigue / War /

In the science fiction/fantasy world, it’s not uncommon to be presented with the distinct challenge of writing a review of a middle volume of an ongoing saga without revealing anything that might spoil the previous volumes for potential readers. I’m very enthusiastic about this worthwhile series, though, so the job is made easier. In short, I’ve enjoyed all five books in the Saga of Seven Suns to date, and this volume in particular.

The Saga of Seven Suns is an epic space opera by the prolific Kevin J. Anderson. As the fifth volume in the epic, Of Fire and Night has much backstory and a couple of volumes to go before the story ends. In this book, humankind faces serious odds in a war against the Hydrogues, an alien race that lives inside gas giant planets. As faction after faction turns against the humans, things are dire indeed. Political and military maneuverings amongst humans and aliens are the order of the day here as humanity fights for their very survival.

Other players include the faeros, who are beings that live in suns. The Green Priests who are changed humans that are able to communicate with each other through the living World Tree, no matter where they are. The Roamers, a human faction of space dwellers that are determined to be separate from the Earth-based Hansa, but are called back into the fold by the threat to all humanity. And the enigmatic Ildyrians, whose entire history is collected in a book called “The Saga of Seven Suns”. In this universe, Anderson has created a long list of compelling characters and a darned good story.

Following this now for five volumes (all available on audio – the first two from Recorded Books and the rest from Brilliance Audio), this series has lived up to the hopes I had for it. It is thoroughly entertaining, and I find myself eager for the next volume, which is due next year. Anderson turns up the heat with each book, and juggles the many ingredients of the saga like a masterful chef. I highly recommend the entire series. It’s science fiction that has the “kick your shoes off and settle in” quality of an epic fantasy.

David Colacci is also masterful in his narration, and I’m not using that word lightly. I find him on par with some of the best narrators out there. He was as engaging and entertaining as any narrator I’ve heard throughout this long audiobook. There are some readers that I very much look forward to hearing, and Colacci is now on that list.

And a tip of the hat to the sound engineers. At times, Colacci’s voice is enhanced, like when a hydrogue is speaking, for example. I’ve said over and over again on this site how terrible a mistake it is to do that in an unabridged novel, and yet here it is, perfectly done. The vocal enhancements were sparse and completely effective.

In addition, each audiobook after the first in the series has a “the story so far” segment of significant length (20+ minutes of detail). I appreciate that very much as I’ve listened to the audiobooks as they’ve been released, around a year apart. I checked, and the segment is indeed part of the print version of the books. I found it a particularly helpful part of each audiobook, and am glad it was included.

LINKS

  • Saga of Seven Suns section of Kevin J. Anderson’s website
  • Audio Sample of this book from Brilliance Audio
  • Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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