Review of Heart of Rage by James Swallow

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Yet another entry in the 7th Anniversary SFFaudio Story Review Marathon! (For the cure!)

Fantasy Audiobook: Warhammer 40,000: Heart of Rage by James SwallowWarhammer 40,000: Heart of Rage
By James Swallow; Performed by Toby Longsworth
1 CD – 75 minutes – [AUDIO ORIGINAL]
Publisher: The Black Library
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781844167968
Themes: / Science Fiction / War / Aliens / Cyborgs /

My not-so-vast knowledge of the Warhammer universe stems from two bits of information only; first, it started as a game I’ve seen played at cons with small figures on tabletop landscapes, and second, that it’s about war.

Add this third fact: The Black Library’s Warhammer productions bring mayhem to your ears like nothing else I’ve heard. It all starts with the superior dramatic reading of the narrator, who in this case is Toby Longworth. He performs all of the characters as distinct roles, bringing each one to life as if this were an audio drama. Next, sound is added that pays particular attention to what is being narrated. The sound is also not front and center – the story doesn’t pause so that an effect can be heard. It’s all mixed together in a perfect integration of narrator and sound into one organic production.

This technique does NOT work for everything – in fact, I normally dislike audio drama/audiobook hybrids, but this is done just right. I enjoyed the technique in Star Trek and Star Wars audiobooks, and this is even more skillful.

“Heart of Rage” is a Warhammer 40,000 story that last a bit over an hour. Big battle-ready fellows Nord and Kale come across a tyrannid (satisfactorily nasty baddies) hive ship, and fighting ensues. Fans of this universe should enjoy this production.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Sunrise Alley by Catherine Asaro

February 24, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction audiobook - Sunrise Alley by Catherine AsaroSunrise Alley
By Catherine Asaro; Read by Hillary Huber
10 CDs – Approx. 11.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Published: December 2007
ISBN: 1433213007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Romance / Androids / Artificial Intelligence / California / Cyborgs /

When a shipwrecked stranger washed up on the beach near research scientist Samantha Bryton’s home, she was unaware that he was something more than human. He said his name was Turner Pascal—but Pascal was dead, killed in a car wreck. This man only held the remainder of Pascal’s consciousness in a technologically-enhanced humanoid body. He was, in fact, an experiment by the notorious criminal Charon, a practitioner of illegal robotics and android research. Charon has been secretly copying human minds into android brains, with plans to make his own army of slaves. On the run from this most ruthless criminal, Samatha and Turner seek help from Sunrise Alley, an underground organization of AIs and androids that have gone rogue. But these cybernetic outlaws are rumored to have their own hidden agenda.

It may not be so much that women and men are from different planets as women and men care about different things. Or it may be just that Catherine Asaro and I care about different things. Very different things. I have this hypothesis: people, even when they are lying to you, or writing fiction, can tell you a lot about themselves by what they focus on over and over. The word that kept coming up over and over again in Sunrise Alley was “trust.” Catherine Asaro, or at least her viewpoint character, Samantha Bryton, cares a whole helluvalot about trust. Me, I don’t care about trust, at least not in the way Asaro seems to wants me to. Based on the scenes in Sunrise Alley Asaro seems to think that being chased is also of great interest to a reader. Maybe it is to some readers. It isn’t to me. Turner Pascal, the mobile MacGuffin, is being chased prior to the novel’s start. Then Turner, the bellboy turned android, and Samantha, the scientist turned beachcomber, are chased all over the globe. They are chased in cars, by helicopter, by jet, on foot, in cars again.

The meme of an artificial person, android or evolving intelligence as Asaro dubs it, is often an interesting idea to work with in fiction. Philip K. Dick did some amazing things with it Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? as did Alfred Bester in Fondly Fahrenheit. Even later career Robert A. Heinlein managed to tell a compelling story with an artificial person in Friday. William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a globe trotting adventure with an artificial intelligence as the MacGuffin. But Catherine Asaro’s take on AI and androids leaves me empty and depressed.

When Samantha and Turner aren’t being chased by unseen foes they are usually making love in one of Samantha’s many beds (in one of her many houses), or in a tastefully decorated secure facility bedrooms (where they are being held prisoner). But those looking for scene after scene of socially redeeming hot piston on human action will also be sadly disappointed. The order of the day in Sunrise Alley is for the scientist and the bellboy to show each other their emotions, their vulnerable sides and speak essentially the same dialogue over and over.
The android, Turner, has an inferiority complex and his savior/companion/scientist girlfriend is needed to shore up his insecurities. The central problem in the novel, other than their being chased, comes when Turner starts to modify his body in order to solve their problems and escape their captors (because apparently Samantha has no skills herself). In doing this Turner is increasingly loosing the handsome human looks he was given by his evil maker (the bad guy who we don’t get to meet for more than half the novel). This makes Samantha have to deal with the increasing repulsion she feels towards Turner’s increasingly mechanical-looking body. And that is basically encapsulates my big problem with this story. Writing sentences about a character’s emotional life and his/her feelings towards another character’s body parts makes me really, really annoyed.

I like idea fiction, stories that tell me something on an intellecutal level. Asaro’s Sunrise Alley seems to be merely operating on the level of wish-fulfillment. Samantha Bryton is beautiful, wealthy, and unemployed by choice. When the novel begins a handsome, insecure man has just washed up on her beach. She rescues him and drags him to the safety of her inviting home. Did I mention that Samantha also has two homes in the woods? One is near the beach in a forest, another is in some other forest, just a convienient chapter’s distance away. Both homes are filled with top-notch security, lovely decor and garages full of vehicles to make James Bond greatly envious. The explanation of why a quietly retired scientist needs to own two woodsy homes within a few hours driving distance of each other isn’t at all satisfactory. And neither is the explanation as to why she has a spy cars with built-in cloaking devices, bulletproof glass, oil slick droppers and mortars.

The worst sin that Asaro commits, in my opinion, is the final revelation which comes in the form of a pathetic pseudoscience, namely repressed memory.Sunrise Alley is not just a bad novel, but badly conceived, badly written and generally bad. This is the worst novel I have ever read. This is the worst I have ever reviewed. This is the worst I have ever finished.

Narrator Hillary Huber is tasked with making Samantha Bryton’s neurotic thoughts come alive. She pitches her voice a little deeper when voicing Turner Pascal. Huber is a fine narrator, this material is beneath her skill.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Saturn’s Race by Larry Niven and Steve Barnes

May 10, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Saturn's Game by Larry Niven and Steve BarnesSaturn’s Race
By Larry Niven and Steve Barnes; Read by Scott Brick
10 Cassettes or 12 CDs – 13 Hours 54 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books On Tape, Inc.
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0736659374 (cassette), 0736671366 (cd)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Artifical Intelligence / Consciousness Uploading / Cyborgs / Politics / Population Control / Life Extension /

Chaz Koto is a citizen of Xanadu, a near future perfect society hosting the wealthiest men and women on Earth. Along with his fellow citizens, he bears the burden of a dark secret that the outside world would be shocked to hear. Lenore Myles is a student who travels to Xanadu and becomes involved with Koto. When Koto unwittingly lends her his access codes, Lenore stumbles upon the grisly truth behind Xanadu’s glittering facade.

The title is deceptive. The planet Saturn plays no role in the plot and nobody in the book is racing anywhere. This is an earth-bound adventure set in the near future. I figured out what the title meant near the end of the book, but the rest of the novel was relatively predictable. For instance, there is a revelation that happens within the first couple of chapters but it was so broadly telegraphed in the first scene the involved character shows up in that I was bored by the revelation rather than surprised by it. Ultimately Saturn’s Race is one of those novels that just fails to gel. There’s a plot, plenty of interesting ideas and a resolution, but frankly the plot is mediocre, the ideas relatively minor, and the resolution comes through only on the most basic level.

For me, the most memorable concept used in Saturn’s Race is that of “metaphors.” Basically Niven and Barnes illustrate that metaphors, like computer languages or a computer graphic interface, are used as handy tools to leverage work. It’s why poetry can say so much with so few words – the words are densely packed, brimming with meaning. It is also why a little pointer dragging a few color pixels across a screen can unmake or move a file in ways far quciker and easier than by command line interface. In other words computer programs are really elaborate metaphors for the manipulation of data. This is brought to life in the novel when a character runs an artifical intelligence program that simulates Rex Stout’s corpulent detective Nero Wolfe. It’s a neat idea. But ultimately the novel didn’t move me as I had hoped it might. Overall, this is passable faire, but I doubt I’d need to listen to it again anytime soon.

The cover art for Saturn’s Race is almost incomprehensible. Is that a seahorse on there? I can’t tell. The paperback version has a painting of two genetically-modified sharks on the cover. That would have been more apropos. Reading the book is the ubiquitous Scott Brick. Scott does his very best to bring energy to the lackadaisical pace. For the most part it works, since the novel doesn’t bore in the listening, though I’m sure I’d have stopped reading were I experiencing the paper edition. Saturn’s Race is still available to be purchased from the Books On Tape website. But who knows how long that will be for? BOT was forced to dump a good chunk of its older science fiction titles when it got purchased by the aptly titled Random House a couple years ago and this fact has made many of its excellent unabridged titles quite valuable on the secondary market. The same loss may happen again soon to the remaining BOT library. I don’t think out of print copies of Saturn’s Race will be selling for thousands any time soon, but if you think you ever might want a copy acting sooner rather than later may save you some money.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of ENGLISH 3020 Studies In Narrative: Science Fiction & Fantasy

April 18, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science FictionIndependent and Distance Learning – ENGLISH 3020 Studies In Narrative: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Lectures by P.C. Hodgell and Michael Levy
20 MP3 Lectures
LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/Engl3020.htm
Approx 19 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: University Of Minnesota
Published: 2002 (But recorded over several years)
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror / Time Travel / Gothic Horror / Utopias / Dystopias / Religion / Vampires / Urban Fantasy / High Fantasy / Sword and Sorcery / Cyberpunk / Messiah / Apocalypse / Future War / Supermen / Robots / Feminism / Computers / Robots / Androids / Cyborgs / Dungeons & Dragons / Aliens /

Pat Hodgell and Mike Levy discuss the details of SF&F’s history in under 20 hours – no mean feat. Though in amongst the broad academic strokes there are many nice discussions listeners should note. These are academic university lectures, and not an entertainment talk show so the evidentiary schema is the primary focus.

The lectures are vaguely sequential to the history of science fiction and fantasy. The first lectures by Levy discusses the origins of Science Fiction, tackling the progenitive triumverate of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, H.G.Wells, and Jules Verne. The second lecture explores the early and mid twentieth century figures in the field: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Hugo Gernsback, John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein. For the third and fourth lectures Fantasy author Pat Hodgell and the course’s instructor presents the origins of modern Fantasy from its roots in gothic novels and romanticism and then the various 19th century fantastic writings.

Levy’s turn on the fifth lecture covers the early Utopian and Dystopian stories with particular attention to the novels We, 1984 and Brave New World. His insightful commentary continues into the sixth lecture and covers post World War II SF with Astounding Vs. Galaxy Science Fiction Magazines, and the novels Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants, Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano and John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider. For lectures seven and eight Hodgell investigates English Fantasy authors Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Handing off to Levy again for lectures nine and ten covering the general theme of Religion and the specific themes of Messiah and Apocalypse with the novel examples of James Blish’s A Case Of Conscience, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle For Leibowitz, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land.

Lecture eleven covers the theme of evolutionary Supermen – homo superior in his early fictional incarnations and where the strange motivation to write about them comes from. Lecture twelve is similar to eleven except its focus is on the manufactured heirs to humanity in the form of Computers, Robots, Androids and Cyborgs. This is also the first lecture to include a guest, SF author William F. Wu! Lectures thirteen and fourteen cover the ever popular Time Travel theme, including Connie Willis’ Firewatch, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, Michael Moorcock’s Behold The Man and two of Heinlein’s excellent SF short stories All You Zombies and By His Bootstraps.

Lectures fifteen and sixteen investigate fantasy fiction after Tolkien’s influence covering the various themes of Horror, Vampires, Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery and the influence of the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Among the stories specifically discussed are Fritz Leiber’s Smoke Ghost, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” novels, Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” novels and Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” stories. Lectures seventeen and eighteen examine women’s role in science fiction, with the themes of Utopias and Feminism, discussion of the novels Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon and The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as discussion of it’s authors, the likes of Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Triptree Jr. and Octavia Butler.

Lecture nineteen breaks from the lecturing professor mold with Pat Hodgell doing an interview in the home of Minnesota SF author Gordon R. Dickson. He talks about how he writes, where he gets his ideas (from history dontcha know) and about the writing process – and this is a very valuable interview as Dickson is now deceased. Dickson novels discussed include among others Dorsai! and Soldier Ask Not. Pat Hodgell concludes the lecture series with a roundtable discussion with herself, Levy and SF author Elanor Arnason. Together they talk about Cyberpunk, William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the film Blade Runner, the use of Aliens in SF and some final thoughts about where they thing SF and F is going.

The sound quality of these lectures isn’t great. There are many background noises, people whispering, lecturers too close and too far from the mic, Gordon R. Dickson coughs a bit and various other aural annoyances are legion. But, it was recorded at a good level and I don’t think I missed one word that was above a whisper – these are lectures and they are free so don’t complain! The funny thing is after hearing these lectures I feel a very strange urge… to learn more about Minnesota. I’ve never had that urge before but Pat Hodgell and Mike Levy manage to include so many Minnesota references and connections into their lectures they sold me on the whole ‘10,000 Lakes to Explore’ deal! Hmmm, maybe these lectures are being given away for free because their underwritten by the Minnesota Tourism Bureau? In any case I heartily recommend you give one or some of these lectures a try they are good listening and good edjamacation.

Here’s a breakdown of the lectures::

Lecture 1 – 29 Minutes 6 Seconds – SF FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_1A.MP3)

Lecture 2 – 27 Minutes 8 Seconds – SF FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_1B.MP3)

Lecture 3 – 26 Minutes 46 Seconds – FANTASY
FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_2A.MP3)

Lecture 4 – 27 Minutes 10 Seconds – FANTASY
FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_2B.MP3)

Lecture 5 – 26 Minutes 7 Seconds – THE FUTURE
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_3A.MP3)

Lecture 6 – 26 Minutes 3 Seconds- THE FUTURE
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_3B.MP3)

Lecture 7 – 28 Minutes 2 Seconds- HOBBITS AND INKLINGS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_4A.MP3)

Lecture 8 – 27 Minutes 9 Seconds- HOBBITS AND INKLINGS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_4B.MP3)

Lecture 9 – 27 Minutes 18 Seconds- SCIENCE FICTION AND
RELIGION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_5A.MP3)

Lecture 10 – 26 Minutes 57Seconds – SCIENCE FICTION
AND RELIGION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_5B.MP3)

Lecture 11 – 27 Minutes 18 Seconds – SUPERMEN
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_6A.MP3)

Lecture 12 – 28 Minutes 11Seconds – ROBOTS, ANDROIDS
AND CYBORGS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_6B.MP3)

Lecture 13 – 26 Minutes 7 Seconds- TIME TRAVEL
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_7A.MP3)

Lecture 14 – 27 Minutes 11 Seconds – TIME TRAVEL
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_7B.MP3)

Lecture 15 – 28 Minutes 2 Seconds – MODERN FANTASY AND
HORROR
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_8A.MP3)

Lecture 16 – 43 Minutes 47 Seconds – MODERN FANTASY
AFTER TOLKIEN
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_8B.MP3)

Lecture 17 – 27 Minutes 30 Seconds -WOMEN IN SCIENCE
FICTION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_9A.MP3)

Lecture 18 – 27 Minutes 57 Seconds -WOMEN IN SCIENCE
FICTION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_9B.MP3)

Lecture 19 – 44 Minutes 16 Seconds – AN INTERVIEW WITH
GORDON R. DICKSON
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_10A.MP3)

Lecture 20 – 43 Minutes 46 Seconds – CYBERPUNK AND
ALIENS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_10B.MP3)

Posted by Jesse Willis

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