Review of FlashForward by Robert J. Sawyer

January 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Flashforward by Robert J. SawyerFlashForward
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Mark Deakins
9 CDs – Approx. 10.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 1433252945
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Time Travel / Disaster / Physics / Toronto / CERN / Murder / Mystery / Switzerland /
A scientific experiment begins, and as the button is pressed, the unexpected occurs: everyone in the world goes to sleep for a few moments while everyone’s consciousness is catapulted more than twenty years into the future. At the end of those moments, when the world reawakens, all human life is transformed by foreknowledge. Was that shocking revelation a peek at the real, unalterable future, or was it only one of many possible futures? What happens when a man tries to change it, like the doctor who has twenty years to try to prevent his own murder? How will the foreknowledge of a part of “then” affect the experience of the “now”?

This is the sixth Robert J. Sawyer novel that I have enjoyed. But, I didn’t get into it via the usual route. I started watching the TV series without explicitly knowing that it was an audiobook, that it was by Robert J. Sawyer, or that the novel even existed. But after seeing the TV series go into a mid-season hiatus I discovered the novel, and decided this was the perfect chance to read the story upon which it was based. Having seen the first half of the first season, and having read the novel, I recommend that you don’t watch any of the FlashForward TV series until you have read the audiobook. Both are really good and worthy, but different. The TV show is not spoiled by the audiobook, but seeing how it was adapted should add some value. The novel veers towards Hard SF, whilst the TV show is more of a Hollywood drama with SF leanings.

I personally found a couple of blemishes in the novel’s story that may only bother a few others. George Bernard Shaw and I agree that your particular country is not that interesting just because you were born there. I can understand mentioning TRIUMF and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, they are useful to the plot and interesting. But the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)? I ride it every day, and I don’t care. This and a few other Canada Canada Canada details are like being beaten with a Canadian hockey stick. Does the truly “True Great North” need to be bragged about? How un-Canadian. Another quibble, for me, was Sawyer use of John A. Wheeler’s Participatory Anthropic Principle, where things exist only when observed by a consciousness. I cannot fathom anybody believing this anthropocentric twaddle, the idea should be banished like the dark matter, astrology, and celestial spheres. Humans are neither that powerful nor that important.

Despite these quibbles FlashForward has an obliging rationalistic science slant. Consistency reigns. If you like to hear scientists with reasonable amounts of emotions talking, this book is for you. The conversations were what I expect from physicists. The visions of the future, caused by the flashforwards of the title, were very down to earth and believable. The audiobook also mixes in a modicum of mystery, via a future “who done it.” I predicted some of the events and was pleasantly surprised by others in this not-too-long a story. The ending, though plausible, did not unfurl as I had expected.

Narrator Mark Deakins gave a realistic delivery. His only error being when he twice mis-pronunced “Dyson” with the accent incorrectly on the last syllable, as in “Die-sown.” FlashForward is definitely worth a listen.

U.K. Audio Drama Podcast: Estalvin’s Legacy

December 1, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

SFFaudio Online Audio

SFFaudio Challenge entrant Paul Campbell (he’s working on Rebels Of The Red Planet) has been podcasting his Science Fiction audio drama series Estalvin’s Legacy since early this summer. This promising series features “Mystery, Adventure, Romance, Disaster and War across Alternate Realities” – all that and a cast of a dozen U.K voice actors! There are three episodes out so far. I’ve listened to the first, it drops you straight into the middle of a cast of complex characters with a backstory that begins to be revealed – very promising! And Estalvin’s Legacy has possibly the best tagline for an audio drama series I’ve ever heard:

“The universe exists – for now.”

Have a listen to the slick promo |MP3| and then check out the series itself…

Estalvin’s Legacy - A Science Fiction Podcast Audio DramaEstalvin’s Legacy
By Paul W. Campbell; Performed by a full cast
Podcast – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Podcaster: Cossmass Productions
Podcast: Started June 2007
Ranging across the many parallel, and not so parallel, alternate realities of the Cossmass. Things aren’t right in the greater reality know as the Cossmass. It encompasses thousands upon thousands of alternate realities. The stability of the Cossmass has been weakening. The collapse of an entire reality stream is no longer a mere theory. The Kalsorin have an uneasy truce with the La’Shareti. Both have influence across several Reality Clusters. But the Kalsorin are keeping a secret from the La’Shareti that would bring a war that they could not win. In a remote Cluster: Nicolas is older than he looks, and his memory is fading fast. Sarah and Peter have only known each other a short time when Liam appears. Liam has travelled the Cossmass for many years, always keeping out of sight of the Kalsorin. Until now.

Subscribe to the podcast via this feed:

http://cossmass.co.uk/series/estalvinslegacy/feed

Posted by Jesse Willis

2 versions of A Pail Of Air up on Zombie Astronaut

April 15, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

Online Audio

MP3 webzine - Zombie AstronautThe Zombie Astronaut has again posted up two adaptations of the same script, this time its Fritz Leiber‘s classic short story A Pail Of Air.

Alfred and Effie live on an Earth that has been knocked off it’s orbit and is drifting without the warmth and light of the Sun. The last radio station went off the air a year before their son, Bud was born. They survive in an apartment building, slowly burning what coal they can find to keep warm and keep the air from freezing. Then one day when Bud went out to get a pail of frozen air, he saw a light moving through the building across the way…

WNBC X-Minus One |MP3|
WMUK Special Projects Future Tense |MP3|

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC7’s The 7th Dimension re-airs I Am Legend

January 6, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

BBC 7's The 7th DimensionBBC7’s The Seventh Dimension is rebroadcasting their unabridged reading of Richard Matheson’s classic 1954 novel I Am Legend! This mournful tale combines Science Fiction, Horror and Noir. It is, simply put, awesome.

When Robert Neville finds he is immune to the plague that has decimated the Earth’s population, he encounters unimaginable evil as he searches for a cure.

The reading starts Thursday January 11th 2007 at 6.30pm UK time. With a repeat at 12:30am that evening. Look for following episodes for the next eight weekday evenings. The narrator is Angus MacInnes, you may recognize his voice as that of Gold Leader from the original Star Wars movie. [LISTEN TO A CLIP]

Review of Gravity By Tess Gerritsen

January 7, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Gravity by Tess GerritsenGravity
By Tess Gerritsen; Read by Campbell Scott
4 Cassettes – 4.5 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0671046187
Themes: / Science Fiction / Disease / Disaster / Biology / Scientist / Medical /

Emma Watson, a brilliant research physician, has been training for the mission of a lifetime: to study living beings in space. Jack McCallum, Emma’s estranged husband, has shared her dream of space travel, but a medical condition has grounded and embittered him. He must watch from the sidelines as his wife prepares for her first mission to the International Space Station. Once aboard the space station, however, things start to go terribly wrong. A culture of single-celled organisms known as Archaeons, gathered from the deep sea, is to be monitored in the microgravity of space. The true and lethal nature of this experiment has not been revealed to NASA. In space, the cells rapidly multiply and soon begin to infect the crew-with agonizing and deadly results

If I had to write a review of this novel in one sentence it would read: “Gravity is like Blood Music for people who’ve never heard of Greg Bear.” Gravity is described by the publisher as “A Novel Of Medical Suspense”, which to me sounds like a crooked way of saying “science fiction for people who don’t like to get caught reading science fiction.” I used to have contempt for the writers of such deceptive doublespeak, but these days I’m more likely to save my contempt for the people who in actuality demand their literature be named in such disingenuous ways. The publishers really aren’t to blame. If they label it as science fiction it won’t get reviewed in the mainstream media – and it won’t be purchased by the fickle public who’d willfully pass up a book with a “science fiction” label in favor of a “medical thriller” or “techno thriller” label. Can someone please explain to me what is so wrong about being caught reading a novel with the words “science fiction” on the spine? I’ve heard people say they won’t buy books because the cover looked too “science-fictiony”. I suggest to you that to not like science fiction is to shut one’s self off from ideas. And though many people claim not to like science fiction, I think if they’d look critically at what they are reading they’d find themselves reading it – just under another name. Be honest with yourself, admit it, you do like it, that is all I ask.

But I stray from the path. Gravity reads a bit like Robin Cook’s Coma, but the major theme has more in common with Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain than it does with hospital politics. The abridgement here is successful and Tess Gerritsen’s descriptions are clear but a bit dumbed-down. As an M.D. she should be fully capable of ratcheting up the science-speak, but for one reason or another chose not to. Despite this, I have few complaints. This is a good time passer. The story has an interesting setting and overall I was left with a satisfactory feeling. That said, I felt no pressing need to track down more of Gerritsen’s ‘Novels Of Medical Suspense.’

A few other problems: Simon & Schuster Audio has not spaced the tapes properly. Each side is of unequal length requiring much fast-forwarding. They also declined to mention when a side is ending, so the reading of a sentence ends as if it were simply a thoughtful pause and then tape plays on for many minutes. This is bad planning – for such a big company there are no good excuses.

Reader Campbell Scott’s precise intonation and clinical reading matches the medical perspective taken by Gerritsen in Gravity. Scott is no cuddly-dear of a voice, nor is he a cuddly-dear of a film actor and yet I find myself always pleased to spend some time with him now and again – he always manages to somehow draw me in even though his stiff demeanor makes me want to shy away.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Night Of The Triffids By Simon Clark

November 5, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

The Night of the Triffids by Simon ClarkThe Night Of The Triffids
By Simon Clark; Read by Stephen Pacey
10 Cassettes – 12 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Chivers Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0754007669
Themes: / Science Fiction / Disaster / Society /

I was twelve years old when I discovered John Wyndham’s awe-inspiring The Day of the Triffids. For me, standing between the world of childhood and the mysterious new world of adulthood, it was a revelation [it] wasn’t merely a good story; it was such a powerful transforming experience that the hero’s struggle for survival has stayed with me ever since.”
-Author Simon Clark

Chock full of adventure, action, politics, revolution, and romance, The Night Of The Triffids is horror author Simon Clark’s sequel to the venerable 1951 John Wyndham novel The Day Of The Triffids. Wyndam’s story was about a confluence of two natural disasters – the appearance of some strange green lights in the sky that blinded anyone who looked at them and the subsequent rampage of a carnivorous walking plant called a Triffid – which was previously only a curiosity. The narrator of that tale was Bill Masen, a man who by pure chance managed to avoid becoming blinded like 99% of humanity. At the end of The Day Of The Triffids, the hero, Bill Masen and his wife and four-year-old son David leave the British mainland to join a new colony on the Isle of Wight. In a way that story was a kind of retelling of The War Of The Worlds, excepting that the aliens weren’t from Mars. That novel was a powerful disaster tale heavily influenced by the cold war era in which it was set. Simon Clark’s sequel takes place twenty-five years. It is told by David Masen, Bill Masen’s now grown-up son, who is an aviator in the fledgling Isle of Wight Airforce. The Masen family, along with a handful of other British survivors, have started rebuilding society on that Island off the south of Britain. But when a new disaster strikes humanity in its weakened state may not survive.

There are very few genuine science fiction elements in this book, the closest being the soft science fiction idea of adopting new values for new situations. As an example, the few remaining people have decided to take a crash effort to increase the population – and in so doing have created something called “Mother Houses”. These are convent-like homes where fertile women give birth and infertile women raise babies – all in an effort to maximize the birth rate. I’m not sure if Clark knew it or not but frighteningly, the Nazis’, had something similar – the “Lebensborn,” which were mother houses, set up by Heinrich Himmler to care for unmarried pregnant women whose “racial” characteristics (blond hair, blue eyes) fit the Nazis’ Aryan ideal. “Racially pure” SS members were encouraged to visit often and sire many young children for the Fuhrer. Horrific as such a baby factory sounds in The Night Of The Triffids this is but one of the ‘necessary evils’ that society is experimenting with. The good news is that it all manages to replicate
much of the feel of The Day Of The Triffids, but where Clark really stumbles is with the plotting. The opening scene and the ensuing couple of chapters are very interesting, and made me wonder where it all was going. But that mystery was dropped until a throw away explanation in the final chapter. And as the Brits say that ‘just isn’t cricket’. The whole book has a stumbling along bumbling along plot that doesn’t allow you to guess where it might be going – perhaps this was in part due to what I would assume was to be its target audience – preteens and young teens – heck it may have even been a stylistic choice. I don’t know.

What I do know is that what success Night Of The Triffids does have is due in no small part to the first person perspective. English narrator Stephen Pacey does good work with the compassionate everyman David Masen, his other voices including variously accented Americans are good too, though they were fairly easy to tell that it was a ‘put-on’ accents. If you’re not expecting it to surpass much less equal the original The Night Of The Triffids will be acceptable entertainment.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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