The SFFaudio Podcast #448 – READALONG: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

November 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #448 – Jesse, Scott, and Paul Weimer talk about The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Talked about on today’s show:
1954, a reconstruction of a Norse Saga with Dungeons & Dragons elements, Scott loved it, Jesse found it terrible, and Paul has read it thrice, what would have happened…, Eric Bright Eyes by H. Rider Haggard, idiots and assholes and magic, low magic, striving toward wisdom, the nuclear weapons of magic, Odin, sacrificial Paul, the rules, in the realm of mythology, Beowulf, The Lord Of The Rings, Michael Moorcock’s Elric Of Melnibone, archetypes and gods, greater and deeper, mythic vs. inspired by myth, the language was amazing, Jesse’s not saying much, directly inspired by Beowulf, The Völsunga Saga, an insight into 1000 year old society, The Odyssey, the characters tended to not be very wise, semi-historical, Ragnar Lodbrook, simile nice, toning down the massive metaphors, more about power than it is about ideas, the whole magic sword thing, magic items, H.P. Lovecraft, huge and menacing and powerful and on the edge of our ability to perceive, Skafloc, drawing runes, there’s a demon in here, cursed staves, Dreams In The Witch House, his counterpart (his changeling), screwed at birth, cursed in a Greek or Norse way, more action, not an idea book, all about the ideas, The Forever War, the ideas are not front in center, you can’t touch iron, that’s the rule!, The Magic Goes Away by Larry Niven, werewolves, becoming an outlaw, becoming savage, why is he a werewolf, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, not unlike the world was viewed, the revised edition, Bronson Pinchot’s narration, the 1971 revision (made it worse), Gollanz’s reversion, ‘I welded the Broken Sword back together’, a ‘Book For The Blind’ narration, luke warm, The High Crusade, Three Hearts And Three Lions, a WWII officer dropped into the land of fairy, the plot of the Wonder Woman movie, for copyright reasons?, fiddling, the language in this book, poetry, evocative descriptions, half converted Christians, a ghost tells them, that’s the rules, her brother her lover, that’s the tragedy, echoes, the ending was rushed, Valgard, killed by the device, E.F. Bleiler, noir, doomed from the beginning, the characters doom themselves vs. their doomed because of their destiny, why is this happening?, he calls to the raven, hey there’s a battle down the road, dude!? why did you do that?, James M. Cain, for no good reason, stirring the same area of Scott’s brain, pale recreation of Tolkien, thinking about the meta-aspect, that GRAVITAS, WWII, truth, the eternal verities, the truth of story, poetic truth, philosophers, a truth and a resonance, Dunkirk, its hard to criticize anything that is tongue-in-cheek, the bad geography of Middle Earth (Tor.com), philology, Frank Herbert, geology and ecology, monsters doing monstrous things to each other, what makes them powerful, Marissa, imagine you’re copy-editing someone’s work, fixing a falsity, the Goodreads reviews, the reviews of Beowulf, what’s the Bible’s Goodreads reviews, Gilgamesh The King by Robert Silverberg, the epic vs. the novel, ringing false, is this a high fantasy book?, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, science vs. magic, lets shoot the fireballs at each other, Robert E. Howard, the magic sword mentality, Excalibur and King Arthur, his human thews (though very jaguar-like), the strength of 10-hill giants, a really problematic definition, epic vs. sword and sorcery, about scale and stakes, who is casting the fireballs, “an Atlantean Sword”, the magic is in his manliness, about willpower, born to be screwed, the characters don’t seem to know themselves, they are almost pre-conscious, The Odyssey, I’ve made mistakes – I’m going to make more – and here I go, sticking with the tradition he is writing in, that northern tradition, the Neil Gaiman movie script adaptation of Beowulf, The Saga of Eric Brighteyes, set in Iceland, Henry Treece’s Viking Trilogy, on the PDF Page, Viking Dawn, The Road To Miklagard, Viking Sunset, Beothuk, throw down some quotes, a sequel hook, Ragnarok, the unfinished comic book adaptation from the 1960s, good stuff, a book full of sadness, “whence came you hither, fawn?”, the sacred grove, the dryad screams, The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan, arbitrary rules, the White Christ, real gods vs. fake gods, who and how much power a particular name has, see American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Elf-Trap by Francis Stevens, Carcassonne, Kentucky, why are some characters not allowed to touch iron?, that’s the rules, the afterword, a science fiction-y take, when he isn’t being playful, Three Hearts And Three Lions, marrying science fiction with fantasy, how they can intertwine and make sense of each other, when the Devil shows up, Dante (Alighieri), “the White Christ, time and love”, I knew him of old in my incarnation of Loki, things as other things, fairies from China and India, a very old idea, that’s some deep stuff right there, elf girlfriends vs. human girlfriends, mocking eyes, “oh, you’re one of thooose guys”, “like calls to like”, cold mystery, adopted by elves, mythic, Dragon Magazine, some of the cartoons, straight out of Elric (and this), intelligent swords, willful swords, when you’re sword has a higher intelligence that you do, a tragedy, where’s my place in this world, where’s my place in a Norse saga?, sword dances, a novel for Dungeons & Dragons players, “Brutal, romantic and tragic. no cute hobbits.”

Ballantine Books - The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson (1961) fanzine illustration

comic book adaptation of The Broken Sword

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Sword of the Lamb by M.K. Wren

May 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Sword of the Lamb by M.K. WrenSword of the Lamb
By M.K. Wren; Read by Scott Brick
MP3 Download – 21 hours, 27 minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Scott Brick Presents
Published: 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Epic / Secret Societies / History / Political Intrigue /

I was thrilled to hear that SFFaudio scored a copy of Sword of the Lamb from Brick by Brick, narrator Scott Brick’s audiobook production company. Hearing Scott wax eloquent on the audio entry for his blog, I was hooked and begged to review it. Among other things he says:

“I loved it right from the beginning – I loved its format, I loved its pathos, I loved its political intrigue, and more than anything else, I loved its characters. The relationship between the two central characters, Alexand DeKoven Woolf and his brother Richard, is one of the greatest I’ve ever read. It is amazingly well-executed, rich in detail and nuance, and unashamedly sentimental. …

As you might have guessed, I tore through the next two volumes just as quickly as the first, and found myself profoundly moved. THE PHOENIX LEGACY is a huge, sprawling epic of political intrigue in the 33rd Century, in which mankind has witnessed amazing technological advancements, yet its society has devolved into a new kind of feudalism. It’s a tale of class struggles across solar systems, it’s THE WINDS OF WAR set in outer space, it’s A TALE OF TWO CITIES meets DUNE, it’s… it’s its own unique creation, a gem that most people, even most science fiction fans, don’t know about.

I’ve asked myself why this is, why this gem exists in bookstores everywhere but has largely gone ignored, but it defies explanation. Maybe it’s because of those damn covers; they really were bad. …”

Or … maybe, it’s because the books, or at least the first book, is not as brilliant as A Tale of Two Cities or Dune. I never read The Winds of War but I have read Gone With the Wind many times. Sword of the Lamb is not as brilliant as Gone With the Wind either. Oh how I hate to be the only person that Scott Brick ever introduced to these books who did not fall in love with them, but there you go. I wanted to love The Sword of the Lamb, I really did. However, every time I felt myself falling for it, the author tripped me up.

First, a brief synopsis of The Sword of the Lamb. Set in the 33rd century, mankind has long since populated many planets. Their government, called The Concord, looks as if it is about to take that inevitable downward slide into a dark age, which would be the third in known history. This is a feudal system governed by the Lords of trading houses and supported by two servant castes, who are actually not much more than slaves. We see the story through two brothers of the DeKoven Woolf House, Alexand and Rich. Alexand is the eldest son and being groomed for the power and responsibility he will eventually inherit. Rich, fragile because of a childhood illness, takes the path of scholar and sociologist. Both boys have been greatly influenced by their tutor who was a passionate supporter of the downtrodden lowest “bond” class. The combination of logic and insistence that “bonds” are people who deserve more than they receive sends both young men down paths they could not possibly foresee, including involvement with the underground movement, The Society of the Phoenix.

This is a book where the relationships shine. The brothers are very different but have an unbreakable understanding and bond. Alexand and his love, Adrien, likewise have a meeting of minds and hearts that leaves them inseparable. Make no mistake about it, these are indeed epic characters and we want to see them succeed and achieve their heart’s desire no matter what the cost. Wren has a gift for dialogue and even seemingly unimportant situations are compelling and interesting when there are characters involved. She uses this to great advantage in painting characters in the book.

Likewise, her plot is interesting. It is true that one can foresee the major story lines before they come along. (Let’s face it, Alexand and Adrien had it much too easy in their match. It practically screamed “star-crossed lovers coming next scene!”). However, that is forgivable if the story is told well. Much of the time, Wren pops in surprising little twists and turns in the broader plot that make the story much more interesting and keep us thinking.

With all that going for it, what could go wrong?

Info-dumps.

Nothing can kill a story like too much exposition and this book has it in spades. Wren can’t resist from the very beginning when the tutor is going to bid the boys goodbye and decides to give them one last quiz. (Hey, what easier way to just throw a thousand years’ worth of history at the reader?) She can’t resist making us listen to old computer tapes of university lectures from leading sociologists about a woman’s diary during one of the terrible societal breakdowns long ago or recordings of insightful university lectures. She can’t resist even when we are being introduced to that long awaited encounter with the actual Society of the Phoenix. We’re excited! We’re seeing a secret society! But first, let’s have someone sit around and think at very great length about how they are organized and who hates who. Gee, who doesn’t love a sharp rap over the knuckles and a history lesson before beginning an adventure?

In short, the author doesn’t trust her characters to be able to carry the story without giving us a lot of background that doesn’t matter at all. Things are getting going, we are in a white-heat to see what will happen next, and she grinds it all to a halt with yet another long, boring description. By the time she’s done, we barely care about the story any more. At least, that’s how it hit me. Luckily, her genius with characters was such that I would reluctantly be pulled back into the story. Only to have her once again stick out her foot and trip me on the way to the finish line. Overall, I tend to blame the book’s editor. This is something they are supposed to catch. And didn’t.

To be fair this may be something that stands out in audio form much more than on the printed page. I would have been skipping, or at best skimming, those long expositions in a regular book. Scott Brick is an enormously talented narrator and he pours his heart and soul into the book as we would expect since he loves it so. I’m not sure he is capable of doing a bad job of narrating anything. But even he couldn’t lessen the abyss of those sections. In the end, I finally would just skip ahead as best I could to get to the spots where the story would pick up and move forward. It was always worth it. The story was good. The characters, of course, were great. The narration was fantastic. But those info-dumps … they were killers.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking. Maybe most people don’t loathe info-dumping the way that I do. Fair enough. However, let’s consider those other epics to which this book was compared. A Tale of Two Cities. Gone With the Wind (my own addition, I know). Dune. It didn’t matter if we knew much or, indeed, anything, about the French Revolution, the American Civil War, or Arakis and the Empire. The authors all managed to get in the information we needed, and even a little more, without having our eyes glaze over. In fact, we barely noticed that we were being fed background information at all. That is the difference between a truly classic epic novel and a pretty good book that’s kinda long.

Sadly, Sword of the Lamb is the latter.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

July 14, 2003 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Fantasy Audiobooks - Eaters of the Dead by Michael CrichtonEaters of The Dead
By Michael Crichton; Read by Victor Garber and Michael Crichton
2 cassettes – 3 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audiobooks
Published: 1998
ISBN: 0679460330
Themes: / Fantasy / Historical Fiction / Alternate History / Vikings / Arabs / Mythology / Neanderthals / Epic /

In the year A.D. 922, Ibn Fadlan, a devout Muslim nobleman, left his home in Baghdad on a mission to the King of the Bulgars. During his journey, he met various groups of “barbarians” who he reported as having varying degrees of bad hygiene and alcoholism. It was a classic clash of cultures story that revealed more about both societies than any other type of narrative could. Whilst encamped in a Norseman trading village word came of a request for warriors to return to Scandinavia to battle an unnamed foe. Because the Norsemen were so superstitious, Fadlan was shanghaied as the “13th warrior”, a necessary foreigner, and forced to accompany the war party. Under the leadership of Buliwyf, Fadlan and eleven other Norsemen journeyed far to the North, to a land where the nights last only a few minutes, where sea monsters abound in the oceans and where shimmering lights in the sky are a nightly occurrence. Once there he and his companions must fight a battle against the Eaters Of The Dead.

If the premise is familiar it may be because you’ve seen the movie “The 13th Warrior,” which is based upon this novel. Supposedly this is a true story taken from the journals of an Arab courtier named Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. In reality it is only partially based on those writings. Crichton wrote Eaters Of The Dead based on a bet. He argued that Beowulf, the oldest surviving epic in British literature, could be successfully turned into a satisfying adventure story. In the real life writings of Ibn Fadlan Crichton found a viewpoint chracater who’d be able to witness the adventure of Beowulf and his fight against Grendel first hand. Starting with actual journal entries from Ibn Fadlan, Eaters Of The Dead begins as non-fiction. About a third of the way into the reading, Crichton stops using Fadlan’s journals, starts writing in the style of Fadlan, and begins telling his version of Beowulf. Sounds simple, but because Crichton doesn’t tell us any of this in his introduction, it isnt.

Confusing things further, Victor Garber’s reading of the story is interupted every so often by commentary by Michael Crichton! Crichton doing commentary on Crichton confuses things to a high degree, and yet somehow it works! This is a compelling story, likely because it draws so heavily from the deeply rooted mythology including snippets of ideas from everything from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to modern anthropological theories regarding the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Victor Garber does a good job reading, his only flaw is that his Arbaic accent sounds a bit to much like a Punjabi accent. Crichton too reads his commentaries well. As with many abridgments this one leaves the listener wanting more of the story, though thankfully it doesn’t suffer from the equally common failing of being incomprehensible.

As with all Michael Crichton novels, this turns into a Frankestienian morality tale in the vein of “there are some things men wernt meant to know”. For the most part it works, but what bothers me most about Eaters Of The Dead is its fence sitting nature. Not strictly fiction nor strictly non-fiction, Crichton has chosen to deliberately blend the reality and the fantasy without any disclaimer of even the most generous “based on a true story” or even the weaker “inspired by true events”. Instead he deliberately tricks us into thinking this is a true story by interspersing his own commentaries about the translation! True stories are inherently more interesting than fiction, no doubt Crichton chose to capitalize on this by deliberately obscuring the fact that he basically made up the whole last 2/3rds of the book! Had there been a disclaimer about this at the beginning of the book I’d have been much happier with it. That said, the story is fun, an interesting ride, and certainly one of Crichton’s best novels, but it isn’t even in the same class as say Robert Silverberg’s terrific A Hero Of The Empire, which also deals with historical figures in ancient Arabia.. If you absolutely insist on reading Michael Crichton novels I’d recommend you actually NOT read his Science Fiction! Read his fantasy, read Eaters of The Dead and then if you want a non-SFF treat try Crichton’s admirable The Great Train Robbery (also based on a true story), which is far better than his constant rehashing of Frankensteinian plots about cloning, time travel, etc.