Review of Consumed by David Cronenberg

October 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

consumedConsumed
By David Cronenberg; Narrated by William Hurt
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 30 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 50 minutes

Themes: / body horror / technofear / medical / sex / conspiracy /

Publisher summary:

The exhilarating debut novel by iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg: the story of two journalists whose entanglement in a French philosopher’s death becomes a surreal journey into global conspiracy.

Stylish and camera-obsessed, Naomi and Nathan thrive on the yellow journalism of the social-media age. They are lovers and competitors – nomadic freelancers in pursuit of sensation and depravity, encountering each other only in airport hotels and browser windows.

Naomi finds herself drawn to the headlines surrounding Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, Marxist philosophers and sexual libertines. Célestine has been found dead and mutilated in her Paris apartment. Aristide has disappeared. Police suspect him of killing her and consuming parts of her body. With the help of an eccentric graduate student named Hervé Blomqvist, Naomi sets off in pursuit of Aristide. As she delves deeper into Célestine and Aristide’s lives, disturbing details emerge about their sex life – which included trysts with Hervé and others. Can Naomi trust Hervé to help her?

Nathan, meanwhile, is in Budapest photographing the controversial work of an unlicensed surgeon named Zoltán Molnár, once sought by Interpol for organ trafficking. After sleeping with one of Molnár’s patients, Nathan contracts a rare STD called Roiphe’s. Nathan then travels to Toronto, determined to meet the man who discovered the syndrome. Dr. Barry Roiphe, Nathan learns, now studies his own adult daughter, whose bizarre behavior masks a devastating secret. These parallel narratives become entwined in a gripping, dreamlike plot that involves geopolitics, 3-D printing, North Korea, the Cannes Film Festival, cancer, and, in an incredible number of varieties, sex. Consumed is an exuberant, provocative debut novel from one of the world’s leading film directors.

“Let me unbox you…”
-Aristide Arosteguy

This is a novel best suited to two audiences: those looking for innovative horror, and people interested in visionary possibilities of new media. It would also be good for fans of first-time novelist David Cronenberg’s work in film, but I suspect they’d fall into the first two categories.

(I fall into all three, being a lifelong Cronenberg fan since I first saw the mad genius of Videodrome.)

Consumed is, as one might expect from the author, a challenging and strange book. I can describe the plot like this: two journalists investigate a Parisian crime, wherein a husband killed and ate part of his wife. The (former) couple were influential philosophers, Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, and a cute parody of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. They made waves with a theory of consumer society (hence one meaning of the title). Naomi and Nathan are lovers and colleagues, fellow gadget hounds, but they usually live apart, and follow their joint inquiry along separate, parallel lines.

What follows is a picaresque or road trip, as the two N’s travel the world: Paris, Japan, Canada, Hungary, Cannes, Holland. Cronenberg teasingly refuses to give us much local color, offering instead the thin, usually tech-mediated views of our protagonists, or sketches of the people they meet.

So much for the plot’s initial action. But I’d also need to tell you more about the book’s style. Consumed adores its surfaces and fetishes. It lovingly describes clothing, technologies, record covers (oh yes), body parts, and interior decorating exactly as far as major characters obsess over them. Technology looms large; this is very much a novel about modern digital devices and how we intimately use them.

Consumed is also about pushing against discussing awkward or awful topics, mostly in a horrific way. Without spoilering too much, I can mention offhandedly cannibalism, murder, autocannibalism, apotemnophilia, acrotomophilia, deformed body parts, sexually transmitted diseases, cancerous body parts, and medical fetishism. Which brings us back to Cronenberg’s tone. He doesn’t revel in these topics, but comes to them thoughtfully, from a character’s mind, almost (and sometimes literally) clinically.

In a sense Consumed is an update of Videodrome, a deep dive into our current media obsessions and how they warp (and delight) ourselves. “Naomi was in the screen” is how it begins. In a sense this is about limitation, especially by the end. Yet Cronenberg isn’t simply a techno-skeptic, at least not in the text; he’s too fond of devices and their powers. He sees their depths, and shares them with us through his well-informed, perverse vision.

It’s also a horror novel by any stretch of the term. There’s body horror, dread, suspense, and even a touch of something deeper by the end.

It is also funny, although not everyone laughs with me. There are running gags, like many characters’ obsession with landing a New Yorker story, or in Naomi and Nathan’s banter, or nearly everything the bad Hungarian surgeon says.

I’d recommend this to the audiences mentioned above.

William Hurt does a terrific job with the audiobook overall, handling a wide range of accents. He seems especially at home with Aristide Arosteguy’s voice. Early on Hurt inserts odd, non-Shatnerian pauses into sentences that disconcert, but this ceases by the middle of the book. It’s a pleasure to listen to.

Posted by Bryan A.

Review of The Scarifyers (9) The King Of Winter by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

October 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Scarifyers (9) The King Of WinterThe Scarifyers (9) The King Of Winter
By Simon Barnard and Paul Morris; Performed by a full cast
Digital Download or 2 CDs – Approx. 1 hour 34 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Bafflegab
Published: October 17th, 2014 (PRE-ORDER AVAILABLE NOW)

Midsummer, 1938. When a train porter is frozen to his living room chair (then nearly crowned Miss Croydon), MI-13’s Harry Crow and Professor Dunning are on the case. But what links the unfortunate porter to the equally glaciated peer-of-the-realm, Lord Trumpley? MI:13’s investigations lead them to exclusive gentleman’s establishment, The Tartarus Club, whose membership appears to be rapidly dwindling. What is the secret of the Tartarus Club? Why are the villagers of Thornton Gibbet afraid of a 300-year-old ghost? And why is it snowing in June? As everlasting winter sets in, Crow and Dunning find themselves pitted against their greatest foe yet… THE KING OF WINTER.

Harry Crow, played by David Warner, and Professor Dunning, played by Terry Molloy, make a terrific duo. Though the main thrust of The King Of Winter is towards laughs the imposing voice of Warner is pure gravitas. This is the actor who played “Evil” in Time Bandits, the Cardassian torturer on Deep Space Nine, and the Master Control Program in the original TRON. Seeing him, or rather hearing him, commandeer a pair of tennis rackets for use as makeshift snowshoes is a truly delightful experience. Terry Molloy, though a staple of BBC radio drama, is probably more famous as the actor who portrayed the evil Davros, the creator of the Daleks. In The Scarifyers Molloy plays against the megalomaniacal type he’s so well know for, being a meek professor of occult literature. Together in The King Of Winter Dunning and Crow investigate the sudden freezing of seemingly unconnected men. There are also mysterious disappearing coins, oddly-aproned men (in a certain secret society that controls the entire world), and ribald jokes!

The period root of The Scarifyers series isn’t all that grounds this madcap show. Take, for example, Professor Dunning’s name. Dunning is the protagonist of M.R. James’ most famous story, Casting The Runes. And where The King Of Winter diverges from the mainstream of weird fiction is in the humour – this is very funny stuff what with two royal Georges, two green men, and two Father Christmases kicking each other. In fact, the writers throw in practically every kind of comedy, from thinly veiled ridicule of famous modern public figures, to the poking fun at dramatic convention itself. Personally, my favourite parts are the god-awful puns and word humour. This is particularly evident in this adventure as there’s a Shakespearian stage play in the climax – when a stage-frightened Professor Dunning improvises his rhymed lines, dressed as a tree … well you’ve got to hear it

Worthy of repeated listening The Sacrifyers: The King Of Winter, like its terrific theme song, is rousing comedic fun.

Cast:
David Warner as Harry Crow
Terry Molloy as Professor Dunning
Guy Henry as Charles Blackthorn
David Benson as Alexander Caulfield-Browne and Reverend Spicer
Stephen Critchlow as Prince George and Sir Reginald Flash
Lisa Bowerman as Dr Crook and Miss Lewis Smith
David Bickerstaff as Lord Huntingdon and Roger Dillcock
Alex Lowe as Hartley and King George VI

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #136 – READALONG: Neuromancer by William Gibson

November 28, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #136 – Jesse, Tamahome, Eric S. Rabkin, and Jenny talk about Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Talked about on today’s show:
What was really going on in 1984, the introduction to the audiobook, 3 MB of RAM, Commodore 64, Apple IIe, TI-99/4A, the 10 Year Anniversary Edition of Neuromancer, video arcade vs. arcade, Tank War Europa, Spy Hunter, Sinistar, BBC audio drama adaptation of Neuromancer, cyberpunk, Jenny couldn’t connect with Case the first time, Alfred Bester, the revolutionary effect of Neuromancer, “a very special book”, Mexico City, “an important novel”, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, The New Yorker’s parody of Neuromancer, the New Wave, “one great new idea per book”, Samuel “Chip” Delany, The Einstein Intersection, The Lovesong Of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot, “The sky above the port…”, Blade Runner, “time to murder and create”, Hesiod, “And he never saw Molly again.”, an untethered morality, the Rastafarian religion, WWI, virtual worlds, Second Life, Gibson’s intentions, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, conspiracy, The Crying Of Lot 49, William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch, “the silent frequency of junk”, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, Dorothy’s shoes, L. Frank Baum, “the face of evil is the face of total need”, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, “slouching through the streets of Paris”, Case is a “man of decided inaction”, God was Adam’s employer, Dixie Flatline wants to die, Free Will, Eric felt for Case, 1980s, Watergate, a totemic fascination with color and material, branding, Pattern Recognition, the Sanyo spacesuit, Hosaka is a computer?, a dead channel would be blue (today), Ian Fleming, James Bond, Walther PPK, “elegance and cosmopolitanism”, John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, Escape From New York, Johnny Mnemonic, the fear of what technology is going to bring, Case’s youth, detritus vs. kipple, Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip, Galactic Pot-Healer, “you can’t prove that the United States exists” in Neuromancer, Case was a street-kid, Gibson has built something that has mythic power, the lame Braun robot, Molly -> Mother -> Mary, SSN vs. SIN, a Case study (pun), he has been assigned a SIN, Oedipus, they function as if they were physical, Case: “You know you repeat yourself man.” Dixie: “Yeah, it’s my nature.”, the Sprawl trilogy and “when it changed”, when is Neuromancer set?, “a rich kid’s hideout”, real kipple vs. fake kipple, “built by carpenters to look rustic”, 18th century fake ruins, Versailles (and the Hameau de la reine), the Tessier-Ashpool are fucked up, Mona Lisa Overdrive, cloning, Count Zero, “they dumped themselves into this matrix”, communication technologies begin with porn, A Chorus Line, SimStim gets short shrift in Neuromancer, Strange Days, Molly’s meat-puppet memories, 1-900 numbers, the lotus eaters, Circe, the Sirens song, The Lion of Comarre by Arthur C. Clarke, the heisters are motivated or moved by their A.I. puppet-master, Case’s motivation, Molly’s motivation, Corto/Armitage’s motivation, like Rabbit in Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, these characters want to believe in their own free will, Neuromancer‘s motivation, “who’s the bad guy in this book?”, “who isn’t?”, the shuriken is the only moral totem in the book, dystopia vs. dystopic, “the wavelength of amphetamine”, spit instead of cry, Jenny is kind of cheating (because she’s read the sequels), is Molly wrong for Case?, Eric questions the new pancreas, it’s Noir (because everyone smokes), Jo Walton’s review of Neuromancer (see the top and comment 59.), Jesse appreciates the world (and the great motivation of the plot), Eric likes Case (in part) because he’s the only one who doesn’t want to physically hurt anyone else, O’Neil colony, the fake French youths, Case is not Neo, The Matrix is a fairy tale with a prophecy whereas Neuromancer is Science Fiction, the Sprawl Trilogy vs. The Matrix Trilogy, Star Wars, “stuck in bullet time”, V: For Vendetta is a fantastic movie, Jenny thinks we should listen to the soundtrack to The Matrix, “the machine and the moment”, Tama thought the second half of Neuromancer dragged, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also Necromancer‘s antecedent ,”what do we owe to what we create?”

Neuromancer

Julian Assange has a copy of Neuromancer by William Gibson

Posted by Jesse Willis

FREE LISTENS REVIEW: The 39 Steps by John Buchan

March 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Review

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan39 steps cover

SourceLibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 4 hours, 20 minutes
Reader: Adrian Praetzellis

The book: Before Dan Brown or The Bourne Identity, John Buchan got the ball rolling in the man-on-the-run conspiracy novel sub-genre in 1915. The 39 Stepsfollows Richard Hannay, a South African mining engineer who has moved to London to start a new life. Hannay finds this new life dreadfully boring until he crosses paths with a secret agent who has uncovered a shocking conspiracy. Soon, the shadowy members of the Black Stone are on the trail of Hannay and he must discover the meaning of the phrase “the thirty-nine steps” before time runs out.

This was a fun light read. The plot relies far too much on serendipitous circumstances to be believable, but the story is exciting and fast-paced enough to let the ridiculous coincidences slide. Buchan strikes the right balance between making Hannay competent enough to be interesting without making him a do-everything superman. I can easily see how this novel became a favorite among soldiers in the trenches of World War I: it’s great escapist fiction.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: As I mentioned in my review of Treasure Island, Praetzellis is probably the best narrator at LibriVox. In fact, I’d put him in the top 10 of all narrators working in audiobooks, professional or amateur. He does wonderful voices for each of his characters, from a deep Scottish brogue to the received pronunciation of government officials. I’ve read this book before in print and don’t remember enjoying it near as much as I did from Praetzellis’s narration.

Posted by Seth

Aural Noir review of The Monster Of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

April 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

HACHETTE AUDIO - The Monster Of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario SpeziThe Monster Of Florence: A True Story
By Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi; Read by Dennis Boutsikaris
8 CDs – Approx. 9.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781600242090
Themes: / Crime / History / Mystery / Murder / Serial Killer / Conspiracy / Italy / Florence / Sardinia / The Renaissance /

In 2000, Douglas Preston and his family moved to Florence, Italy, fulfilling a long-held dream. They put their children in Italian schools and settled into a 14th century farmhouse in the green hills of Florence, where they devoted themselves to living la dolce vita while Preston wrote his best-selling suspense novels. All that changes when he discovers that the lovely olive grove in front of their house had been the scene of the most infamous double-murders in Italian history, committed by a serial killer known only as the Monster of Florence.

If you’re a fan of Douglas Preston’s fiction you’ll be all into digging the biographical details he adds to this illuminating non-fiction account of a real monster and the labyrinthine twists and turns the investigation took. Those readers looking for insight into Thomas Harris’ Hannibal novels can find this story impactful too. Myself, I was most interested in the unparalleled access this fearsome story details, namely the historical forces that shaped Florence, Tuscany and Sardinia from ancient days, through the Renaissance, the 1960s, 1970s, and on up to the present. Preston, with help from Spezi, provides elucidating details about how the killer (or killers) got away with 16 murders that took place between 1968 and 1985. Their book, this audiobook, is an indictment of Florentine and Italian journalists, the Italian national police , the Florentine investigators, and one prosecutor in particular. In short, after more than 30 years of criminal investigation the case remains an unsolved mystery. Spezi and Preston do take a guess at the culprit, and they back that guess up with a logic chain that is a helluva-lot-more compelling than the official explanation. But, just thinking about it all, a week or two later, I’m still shaking my head. The final disgrace of this story came as a result of a convergence between the Public Minister of Perugia, Giuliano Mignini, and a fraud psychic named Gabriella Carlizzi. Together they explained to themselves, and the arresting police, that Mario Spezi was actually involved in the murders and was a member of a satanic cult.

Even more worrisome, if it is possible to imagine, is what Preston argues is a fairly widespread Italian cultural embrace of something called “dietrologia.” Literally meaning “behindology,” dietrologia is the practice of assuming that nothing notable is as it actually appears – that something hidden (often sinister, cynical and/or conspiratorial) is behind any and all notable events. In Canada we might call it acting paranoid, or being a conspiracy theorist. In Italy, apparently, it is regularly practiced around the dinner table. And it’s all fun and games, I guess, until you end up throwing innocent people in jail. During the writing of The Monster Of Florence Spezi was arrested for either being a collaborator with the Monster or actually being the serial killer himself. Meanwhile Douglas Preston was interrogated, told to confess, threatened with arrest, and forced to leave Italy upon pain of prosecution. The Monster Of Florence case was completely bungled. This was a clusterfuck on par with the notorious California’s McMartin preschool investigation and trial. I guess it all goes to show that police and prosecutorial incompetence is alive and well in the new and old worlds both.

Reader Dennis Boutskaris takes full control of the narrative, becoming the voice of Preston (and Spezi) for the entire audiobook. To my untrained ears his Italian accent sounded fine. The cover art, as mentioned in the audiobook, comes from a photograph of a statue in Piazza della Signoria, in Florence (The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna |JPG|). In addition, on the final disc, there is an informative interview with Douglas Preston.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Aural Noir review of Killing Floor by Lee Child

February 11, 2010 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - Killing Floor by Lee ChildKilling Floor
By Lee Child; Read by Dick Hill
12 CDs – Approx. 14 Hours 48 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 9781423339854 (cd)
Themes: / Thriller / Murder / Mystery / Detective / Georgia / Conspiracy / Counterfeiting / Music /

All is not well in Margrave, Georgia. The sleepy, forgotten town hasn’t seen a crime in decades, but within the span of three days it witnesses events that leave everyone stunned. An unidentified man is found beaten and shot to death on a lonely country road. The police chief and his wife are butchered on a quiet Sunday morning. Then a bank executive disappears from his home, leaving his keys on the table and his wife frozen with fear. The easiest suspect is Jack Reacher – an outsider, a man just passing through. But Reacher is not just any drifter. He is a tough ex-military policeman, trained to think fast and act faster. He has lived with and hunted the worst: the hard men of the American military gone bad.

I’d heard about Lee Child for a while before I started reading his books. For a time there there was some confusion in my mind about who he was and what he wrote. I heard vague talk down the isles of bookstores. “Got any Child?” They’d say. “Lincoln?” They’d whisper. Or was it “Lee?” Then I’d hear about some character called “Repairman Jack” – or was it “Jack Reacher?” So with the confusion in the hearing it took a while longer than usual for the facts about who wrote what to float up from my unconscious to the part of my brain that thinks: “interesting.” The last time I heard about Lee Child was in Jolly Olde Books in Port Moody. That’s a used bookstore I frequent. The guy who runs the place reads Lee Child, and a couple of other booksellers I see in their from time to time were reading him too. They got to talking about how addictive the series was and that was the final clincher. When you run a used bookstore you really have your pick of books. They were reading Lee Child, so I thought I’d better get on the case too. Luckily Brilliance Audio has released most of this series, with at least one other done by Random House Audio.

But, even having the audiobook in hand, I had a hard time getting interested in listening to it. It sure doesn’t help to have such a generic title. And just look at it, the cover art is boooring. Apparently this is a very popular series, a bestselling series. That explains both the generic cover and the generic title. Killing Floor, the name sounds like just about every other techno-thriller/courtroom thriller/forensics thriller you’ll find in the supermarket paperback book rack; and that cover art only tells you vaguely about the genre – nothing about the story. The story starts out promisingly enough though. The story is told in first person, past tense (my preferred person and tense) by the protagonist, Jack Reacher. He tells us what is happening without much embroidery. When Reacher is arrested for murder, within the first few seconds of the novel, I was intrigued. It seemed like some sort of variation on David Morrell‘s First Blood: A stranger walks into small town USA and is arrested by corrupt cops. Fun. When the facts of Reacher’s backstory eventually drip out I still found myself fairly interested. Child’s explanation as to why Reacher is such a bad-ass actually makes pretty good sense too. What kind of police deal with the world’s most dangerous criminals? Child’s answer is: Military Police. The criminals the US Army deals with have been trained with every conceivable deadly art: firearms, hand to hand combat, artillery, grenades, demolitions – the many different ways of killing. A military policeman (MP) has to be trained better with these weapons than the criminals he confronts. And so an MP has to deal with the army’s best trained criminals: Green Berets, Rangers, Delta Force. Jack Reacher, we eventually find out retired from the army as a Major, having run his own criminal investigation unit (homicide investigation). A bit convienient but not too implausible. The mystery itself seems fairly interesting and Child wants to play fair. But there is one giant co-incidence that badly mars the narrative. It’s fairly well lampshaded by Reacher, but even in doing that I wasn’t wholly willing to forgive Child.

This novel has plenty of good characters and characterization. I can also see the seeds of themes that will probably reappearing in later books in the series. Like many novels of the last 25 years that I complain about Killing Floor is overly-long for the material it contains. The action sequences in the later chapters of the book are solid, but there were too many for the machinations of the plot. After listening all the way through I’d say this a solid novel with fairly good storytelling. I can see exactly what Lee Child is doing and am not particularly impressed. He’s gonna make a lot of money, but I can’t imagine anyone would ever bother to re-read one of these books. More likely they’ll just pick up another in the series and get more of the same kind of thing, just a bit different. It’s a slightly less obvious Mack Bolan story, a romance novel for men. So this is several steps removed from anything like spectacular.

Narrator Dick Hill has been a major audiobook narrator for longer than I’ve been an audiobook listener (that’s a long time). In Killing Floor he personifies Jack Reacher with a conspiratorial first person voice. When playing the other major players, criminals, love interests and fellow investigators he switches tone just enough to make it clear who’s speaking. I hope he reads more books in this series as if he does, and I get up enough interested to read another, I’d like him to narrate it.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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