Review of Dust by Joan Frances Turner

February 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - Dust by Joan Frances TurnerDust
By Joan Frances Turner; Read by Eva Amurri
8 CDs – Approx. 9 Hours 57 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: September 02, 2010
ISBN: 9780142428535
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / Zombies / Disease / Death / Resentment / Indiana /

Nine years ago, Jessie had a family. Now, she has a gang. Nine years ago, Jessie was a vegetarian. Now, she eats very fresh meat. Nine years ago, Jessie was in a car crash and died. Nine years ago, Jessie was human. Now, she’s not. After she was buried, Jessie awoke and tore through the earth to arise, reborn, as a zombie. Jessie’s gang is the Fly-by-Nights. She loves the ancient, skeletal Florian and his memories of time gone by. She’s in love with Joe, a maggot-infested corpse. They fight, hunt, dance together as one—something humans can never understand. There are dark places humans have learned to avoid, lest they run into the zombie gangs. But now, Jessie and the Fly-by-Nights have seen new creatures in the woods—things not human and not zombie. A strange new illness has flamed up out of nowhere, causing the undeads to become more alive and the living to exist on the brink of death. As bits and pieces of the truth fall around Jessie, like the flesh off her bones, she’ll have to choose between looking away or staring down the madness—and hanging onto everything she has come to know as life…

Here’s my take on Dust: Jessie is full of resentment, having died young in a car accident. Besides dying Jessie lost an arm and Jessie turned zombie. When Jessie was alive Jessie was a vegan – but now in Jessie’s undead form – Jessie works with a gang of bitter former humans (don’t call them zombies) that eat free range and organic animals like squirrels, possum and deer. Jessie and her associates communicate telepathically (because their mouths don’t make speech very well anymore). The undead very frequently address Jessie by her first name, which is Jessie. Jessie has many indignant conversations with her fellow embittered undead. They often punctuate their sentences with kicks, shoves and punches that break each other’s bones and dislodge sloughing off flesh. This is to be expected for Jessie. Despite these seemingly acrimonious interactions Jessie seems to love and respect her spiteful companions. They all share Jessie’s disdain for the un-undead (living people). Jessie and her surly companions have a hard life, having to deal with maggots, bloating and living out of doors all-year round. Then, after we understand Jessie well enough, Jessie’s living brother turns up, he’s interested in making peace with Jessie. But, Jessie isn’t having any of it. Jessie thinks he’s just a stupid “hoo” (that’s what Jessie and her friends call living humans). Jessie’s brother has a story to tell, but Jessie isn’t really willing to hear it. Next, a disease starts plaguing some of Jessie’s companions. Jessie thinks this is bad, but typical. Jessie also discovers something bad is happening to the stupid hoos. Jessie thinks that is what they get for being stupid hoos. But then the bad thing that hurts Jessie’s friends is something that turns the undead into less-rotty versions of themselves Jessie is angry. Jessie resents that her severed arm regrows. Jessie doesn’t want to look like a stupid hoo. The disease makes Jessie and everyone, even the stupid hoos, very hungry. That is bad, for Jessie, but deserving for the stupid hoos. The end (for Jesse).

You may be able to tell that I intensely disliked this novel. It was well written, with clear exposition, and it has clearly delineated story. Unfortunately Dust taught me nothing except that a clear exposition of the disagreeable does not improve it much. If you’re not teaching me anything, at least make the book fun. My dislike of Dust also stems from the fact that it posits multiple gimmes (a singular central conceit which may remain unexamined). Dust lets the reader assume nothing, the ground-rules aren’t fixed, and new rules are seemingly arbitrarily added on every tenth page. This means I, as a reader, cannot participate in the world of the book as much as sit back and observe what the author does with it. That is not fun. Based on the clarity of Dust I expect that Joan Frances Turner is capable of writing a fine novel, one that explores something more fruitful than resentment (which I will admit is a way to go with a zombie story told from the perspective of a zombie). But the zombie novel, as a phenomenon, may also be the problem. It may be time for people to stop writing stories from the perspective of a zombie. From my perspective Dust puts the final nail in the coffin of zombie stories told from the zombie’s perspective.

The audiobook of Dust does not contain the handy map that’s in the paperbook’s endpapers. Turner herself writes on her blog saying “the geography of the book is so vital to the story.” As to the narrator, typically when a narrator isn’t doing it for me I start looking for notable defects – asking myself “what is it that specifically bugs me about the narration?” Often this delivers some sort of gripe, like bad word pronunciation, an unconvincing accent or improper emphasis in important passages. I thought I spotted one badly pronounced word (“onerous”), but as it turns out, at least according to the Dictionary.com pronunciation guide, it is I who had been pronouncing “onerous” wrong! That said, Eva Amurri’s narration still doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure why. Other reviewers have praised her performance.

Here is the paperbook’s map (as illustrated by Claudia Carlson and designed by Tiffany Estreicher):

DUST by Joan Frances Turner MAP

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: The Planet Savers by Marion Zimmer Bradley

May 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxMarion Zimmer Bradley is best known as the author of The Mists Of Avalon, but her most long running series is set not in a fantasy middle ages of Earth, but rather on a far future Earth colony called Darkover. There are more than 40 books in the Darkover series. We have the very first one now available, thanks to LibriVox.org and the laudable narrator Mark Douglas Nelson!

The story’s pretty cool too, it’s told in first person by Dr. Jay Allison, an amnesiac. Allison shortly discovers that he is the only doctor on the planet qualified to solve the coming medical crisis, a “48-year fever” that’s a planetary pandemic that recurs at 48 year intervals. Making things even more difficult, we soon discover that his amnesia, is actually being caused by his multiple personality disorder (aka dissociative identity disorder).

The Planet Savers was first published as a “short novel” in a 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction magazine. In 1962 it became immortalized as one half of one of the famed Ace Doubles series (# F-153):

ACE DOUBLE (F-153) The Planet Savers by Marrion Zimmer Bradley

LIBRIVOX - The Planet Savers by Marion Zimmer BradleyThe Planet Savers
By Marion Zimmer Bradley; Read by Mark Douglas Nelson
4 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 3 Hours 11 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: May 28, 2010
The Terran colony on the planet Darkover faces imminent destruction by a plague of the deadly Trailmen’s Fever. The only hope is to develop a serum in time, but this requires the cooperation of the elusive native Trailmen, the brilliant parasitologist Dr. Jay Allison, and his split personality. First published in Amazing Science Fiction Stories, November 1958.

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/rss/4246

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

Part 1 |MP3| Part 2 |MP3| Part 3 |MP3| Part 4 |MP3|

Here is a map of the planet Darkover (created for Wikipedia by David Speakman):

Map Of Darkover

[Thanks also to Betty M. and Diana Majlinger]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Diabolic Plots: The Best Of Pseudopod

November 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Diabolical PlotsThe Diabolical Plots blog has a post called “The Best of Pseudopod” here’s a snippet:

“Since July I’ve been plumbing the depths of Pseudopod’s backlog and now I’m sad to say I’ve listened to everything they’ve offered to date. Now I only get one new Pseudopod a week like the rest of the world (released every Friday). But now that I’ve listened to all of Pseudopod’s offerings, I feel qualified to make a list of the Best of Pseudopod, my top ten favorite stories that have been posted to the site (and a few that ALMOST made the list).”

And here are the top 10 picks:

1.
PseudopodDeep Red
By Floris M. Kleijne; Read by Ben Phillips
1 |MP3| – Approx. 20 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: November 21st, 2008


2.
PseudopodSuicide Notes By An Alien Mind
By Ferrett Steinmetz; Read by Phil Rossi
1 |MP3| – Approx. 34 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: October 2nd, 2009


3.
PseudopodStockholm Syndrome
By David Tallerman; Read by Cheyenne Wright
1 |MP3| – Approx. 21 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: June 29th, 2007


4.
PseudopodCome To My Arms, My Beamish Boy
By Douglas F. Warrick; Read by Phil Rossi
1 |MP3| – Approx. 32 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: April 17th, 2009


5.
PseudopodThe Button Bin
By Mike Allen; Read by Wilson Fowlie
1 |MP3| – Approx. 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: June 12th, 2009


6.
PseudopodLast Respects
By Dave Thompson; Read by Scott Sigler
1 |MP3| – Approx. 27 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: March 30th, 2007


7.
PseudopodHometown Horrible
By Matthew Bey; Read by Elie Hirschman
1 |MP3| – Approx. 25 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: July 24th, 2009


8.
PseudopodStepfathers
By Grady Hendrix; Read by Nerraux
1 |MP3| – Approx. 8 Minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: June 20th, 2009


9.
PseudopodThe Music of Erich Zann
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by B.J. Harrison
1 |MP3| – Approx. 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: July 25th, 2008


10.
PseudopodGarbage Day
By Russell L. Burt; Read by Elie Hirschman
1 |MP3| – Approx. 3 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Pseudopod
Podcast: January 1st, 2008

[via SFSignal]

Posted by Jesse Willis

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 Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

August 29, 2003 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Andromeda Strain by Michael CrichtonThe Andromeda Strain
By Michael Crichton; Read by Chris Noth
2 Cassettes – 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 1993
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mystery / Disease / Disaster / Scientist / Medical /

A top secret research satellite falls to Earth near a small town in Arizona. Hours later a recovery team discovers that something  has killed off the town’s entire population except for an old man and a new-born baby, statistically the most likely age groups to succumb to any normal disease. In anticipation of such an event a team of microbiologists assembles in a top-secret, underground laboratory in the Nevada desert. This laboratory was designed to handle an accidental introduction of virulent organisms into Earth’s atmosphere and ecological systems. The team begins to study the survivors and the “toxic” satellite and discovers several black/green patches of deadly bacteria that they have code-named: The Andromeda Strain.

First Published in 1969, The Andromeda Strain is one of Crichton’s best science fiction tales and a terrific scientific mystery story! As the microbiology team races against the clock, trying to figure out the toxic effect of the alien infection, the US government contemplates a nuclear cauterization of the infected crash site. But when The Andromeda Strain mutates it begins to eat through plastic lab suits and rubber gaskets protecting the scientists and the population from escaping toxins. Its a real thriller of a story, and was successfully turned into a great feature film directed by Crichton himself.

This fine novel is only available as an abridgement, and this is unfortunate. The missing portions actually improve the novel to a very large degree because the novel is written in the style of a non-fiction report of events. The original text includes, images, citations, timelines and references, their absence is a disservice to the remaining story. Chris Noth, most famous for his role on the NBC television series Law And Order, reads with a rich and compelling voice. But Noth does merely a satisfactory reading, he makes good attempts with the scientific jargon replete throughout the novel, but they are often mispronounced. Added to this is his lack of range for the voices. Given more audiobook experience Noth will probably become a good reader, in this audiobook however, his performance is merely satisfactory. All in all well worth a listen, but I sincerely hope an unabridged edition is released.

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