The SFFaudio Podcast #434 – READALONG: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet

August 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #434 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, Julie Davis and Maissa Bessada talk about The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet

Talked about on today’s show:
Peter Lorre is not in Dracula, 1929, Black Mask, Sam Spade, The Dain Curse, 1941 movie, Star Trek: The Next Generation: “The Big Goodbye”, Mr Leech, Laurence Tierney, Cyrus Redblock, Sindey Greenstreet, Gutman, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, The Black Bird (1975), Wilmer, The Twilight Zone, Effie Perine, his mom is his secretary, watching for kicks, seeing the bird in colour, Satan Met A Lady (1936), the BBC Saturday Night Theatre adaptation, John Huston, Constantinople became Istanbul, we disagreed!, too right to fool with, we agreed!, Raymond Chandler vs. Dashiell Hammet, same genre, so heavy on description, a Pinkerton man, doing the right thing (for different reasons), hard-boiled to the core, a narrow code, moral problems, big on description and framing scenes, immersed into the world by following the words, seeing the movie in the book, seeing the power, an ‘impatient grimace’ is stage direction, text devoted to description, the opposite of a Philip K. Dick novel, what film does, the scene where Bogart leaves after pretending to be angry, that shaking hand, best screenplay adaptation, unlike Philip Marlowe, who is the homophobe? the author or the character or both or neither?, a perspective, we notice like she does, don’t blame me for being a fake, is there a homophobe?, Brigid is baiting Cairo, the one you couldn’t make, when you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it, you could make a strong case, Jesse was baiting, what Spade is doing, who is the gay man in this story, Wilmer gets the slurs, Joel Cairo, smells of gardenia, fruity, a Greek passport, speculation that Gutman is gay, a gay gang or a queer gang, genial, William Dufris’ narration of the novel, thinking for oneself, a blonde Satan, the teeth thing, a trademark, Humphrey Bogart, another kind of gay man, “the boy” “Wilmer you’re like a son to me, but sons can be replaced. There’s only one Maltese Falcon”, a really strange family, where Julie goes for her gay family information, Wesley Crusher’s mom, touching Picard, a weird family meeting in Picard’s ready room, the Klingon, Data the Pinocchio character, the characters in the holodeck story, the detective friend, all after “the item”, what makes the dynamic so awesome, the highest point in the film, “I spent 17 years looking”, let’s go to Constantinople, Peter Lorre has purpose and meaning, they invite Spade to come along, the movie makers loved, it the audience loved it, and that’s how we get Casablanca, reuniting over and over, three kinds of men, the tough cynical tough guy with a code, the sycophant (the leech), I need you stand with your hands behind your neck, every future episode, that pistol, that is why we love Joel Cairo, the Gutman Sidney Greenstreet is so dynamic, I love talking to a man who loves to talk, the palming of the $1,000 bill, I have to have my games, apologizing while insulting, the key to his relationship with Wilmer, Gutman loves manipulation, find me a character that isn’t manipulating, even Effie is manipulating, everybody is manipulating everybody, what the hell!?, a hetero sort of version of the gay team, Archer’s cheating, there’s a woman out here, she’s a spectacularly bad judge of character, everybody is cynically manipulating everybody else, even the cops are in on it, the Star Trek adaptation, sharing pickled pig feet, not with those caps, here to offer insight, Julie’s going to disagree halfway through, why does this novel work so well, as opposed to any of the other Dashiell Hammett novels, chasing a whatsit, almost identical plots: Ronin (1998), an international cast, San Fransisco, “I need a kiss”, everybody is manipulating each other, the great whatsit, the McGuffin, Mike Spillane a glowing suitcase, the room lights up and you’re face comes off, Pulp Fiction, why does this all resonate, in a world without God we do not have any purpose for existence, the price of the Maltese Falcon goes up and up and up, it could be worth an infinite amount of museum, something worth chasing after, maybe my life can regain a purpose, we get a sense of ‘oh yes, this is something can chase after’, why we love they don’t kill Gutman is they are allowed to go one along with their quest, that god shaped hole, high five, Scott! Scott!, the Flitcraft case in chapter 7, looking at it very obliquely, death is real, not the life he wants, he recreates the life he was living, the proper pronunciation of “Spokane”, what’s the point of the Flitcraft story, Spade telling a story, fleshing Spade out, how Spade wound up in San Fransisco, coming out of the mists, backstories, a ball of snow rolling down a hill, Cairo’s backstory, that’s why he’s a private detective, captured by pirates, lost in France for history, not Mr Wells’ history, a history of humanity, a micro-story,

He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

“It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs, he had got out of step, not into step, with life. He said he knew before he had got twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace again until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By the time he had eaten his luncheon, he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.

how perfectly fascinating, she’s always lying, Tacoma, you’re never going to change, she doesn’t get it, I’ve lied so long I don’t know how to do anything else, s specific note, a specific word, thank you for saying “fuck”, this book had censorship, the word “gunsel”, punk, a male prostitute or sex slave, projecting homophobia, a back and forth exchange, in the lobby of a hotel, “the fairy”, New York aren’t you, Baumes’ rush (the 1920s equivalent of the three strikes law), bums and hobos and gunsels, shove off, you can tell G I said so, he never brings his eyes up, he’s almost not there, shove off, performance art, that would go over big on 7th avenue, censorship, sailors, where sailors go to pick up…, to shake loose information, he’s employing homophobic language to provoke, Miskatonic.org Rara Avis (the rare bird), bulletin boards, amateur scholars, he can’t act, a Lux Theatre adaptation, Hollywood actors recreating movies as radio dramas, Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade, a strange line, You’re the sister of the boy who stood on the burning deck, Casabianca, we don’t know how Casablanca came to be, a great classic out of a filler, a wonderful confluence of events, strange international relations, Vichy France, the Nazis, that great speech, a romantic positive speech, come around to me in 20 years, do you think either one of them loved each other?, his philandering, they’re all angels, what does love leave to them, he’s the hetero version of Cairo, sent to sleep with the Russian, a fun speech (pure bullshit), the ending of Casablanca, this could be the beginning of a beautiful…, Jesse’s independent research, the letter of transit is the Maltese Falcon, they ripped this off!, a solid but unspectacular hit, a work of genius, standing the test of time, you’re principles, she’s worth and so is the boyfriend, cipher, what does that amount to?, not a hill of beans (in this crazy world), here’s my code, I’m not playing the sap for you, low spirits, by late 1941, the cynicism, a comedy by accident, comedy, you’ll forgive me but it’s not good for me to be alone with you, poor Joel Cairo, we can give up you, it’s really striking when they replicate that relationship, Spade made a cigarette, Lauren Bacall, a kind of remake of Casablanca, To Have And Have Not, Bold Venture, Slate Shannon and Sailor Duvall and King Moses, set in Havana, playing to type, ideas vs. character, a story full of ideas – but demonstrated, Hammett leaves you to put it together, what was going on his head?, Red Harvest, even leaner, his style is amazing, he’s super-smart, he doesn’t put genius into the characters, people make movies about his life, fought in both WWI and WWII, evil mercenaries operating for giant evil corporations, Lillian Hellman, HUAC, throw a veteran of two world wars thrown in prison as “unamerican”, The Thin Man, The Adventures Of Sam Spade, talking everybody’s space away, the original Rat Pack, Errol Flynn, Eva Gardner, quite a pack, the den mother, a good to do list for anybody, she’s wise beyond her years, self-possessed, a match for any man, You Must Remember This podcast: Bogie Before Bacall, Bacall After Bogie, so 1945, asking Peter Lorre for dating advice, another really wise guy, better five good years than nothing, go for it you idiot!

Black Mask, September 1929 - The Maltese Falcon
The Maltese Falcon and Humphrey Bogart
The Maltese Falcon (Folio Society)

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Weird Circle: The Werewolf (aka The White Wolf Of The Hartz Mountains)

February 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

“Capt. Marryat, besides writing such short tales as The Werewolf [aka The White Wolf Of The Hartz Mountains], made a memorable contribution in The Phantom Ship (1839), founded on the legend of the Flying Dutchman, whose spectral and accursed vessel sails for ever near the Cape of Good Hope.”

-H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror In Literature

Normally I wouldn’t contradict H.P. Lovecraft, but he didn’t have the internet to do his research. The Werewolf he is referring to, we think, is actually Chapter 39 of The Phantom Ship – that chapter is a story within the greater narrative and has often been reprinted without the surrounding novel.

This 1944 radio drama adaptation is very tame compared with the savageness of the original (for more on that see the PDF below).

The Weird CircleThe Weird Circle – The Werewolf
Adapted from the novelette by Captain Frederick Marryat; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 29 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: MBS, NBC, ABC
Broadcast: May 7, 1944
Provider: Archive.org
A widower, living in the Hartz Mountains, takes a new wife to help raise his children, but the strange wedding vows he makes will come back to haunt him.

Here’s a |PDF| of The White Wolf Of The Hartz Mountains.

The White Wolf Of The Hartz Mountains - illustration by H.R. Millar

The White Wolf Of The Hartz Mountains -illustration by H.R. Millar

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Mighty Carlins by Collin Doyle

August 2, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Mighty CarlinsThe Mighty Carlins
By Collin Doyle; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 87 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Producer: The Wireless Theatre Company
Released: June 12, 2013
Themes: / Family / Humour / Black Comedy /

On the anniversary of his wife’s death, Leo Carlin and his two sons come together for their traditional night of sharing the good and not so good memories of the dearly departed Mrs Carlin. Beers are drunk. Plans are hatched. Secrets are revealed. The Mighty Carlins is a black comedy that celebrates a family at its worst.

Before I start talking about alcohol soaked childhoods, failed ambitions, stuck lives and dead-end plans, I want to clarify, The Mighty Carlins is an entertaining, compelling, audio drama replete with fun, twists and surprises.

On the anniversary of their mother’s death, two brothers, Mike and Davie get together with their father Leo, to share memories about their mother. It’s obvious from the conversation between Leo and Mike while they wait for Davie that this is not, nor has it ever been, a happy little family. The parents’ main objective through their lives together seemed to revolve around having enough liquor to make it through another night. Mike has a failed marriage and a couple of crashed business plans behind him and not much ahead. Self absorbed, inattentive Leo is more interested in humiliating his sons than engaging in anything meaningful. Most broken of all is the younger brother Davie, who despite a lifetime of proof against it, still believes he can find something worthwhile in these two. The three shards of broken glass that was once a family have this annual ritual for the benefit of Davie who’s desperate to find at least one happy memory he can hold onto against the bleak reality of his past and the looming future that holds no discernible difference. Gathered together to share memories about their mother, none of those remembrances enter the picture until the final quarter of the play. Until then the stories they tell are a mishmash of conspiracies, lies and betrayals with a few truths thrown in to mix it up a little.

To me, the play felt a lot like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? where words are like scalpels and sentences are designed to inflict just enough damage to illicit pain, but not quite enough to stop the flow of conversation. Dialogue throughout glues the family combatants together while simultaneously shredding them apart.

Rather than follow a straightforward moving line, threads of story meander out of the narrative, swirl around, duck under, over, other threads, sometimes tying up loose ends, but more often leading to more questions instead of answers. Is this a mystery we’re listening to? Is there going to be a big reveal at the end? Is there anything holding this family together besides pain and lies? Each thread, each tangent tugs us through the labyrinth of these lives.

Despite wrecked childhoods, going nowhere lives and empty big plans for the future, The Mighty Carlins is not in any way depressing. It’s intriguing and captivating and at times laugh aloud funny. It features biting dialogue, well drawn, sympathetic (in the cases of the sons) characters who really shouldn’t be very likable at first glance, but ultimately are, failures et al.

Collin Doyle’s writing is strong and the whole piece is well crafted. It’s uniformly well performed, thoroughly enjoyable and engaging from start to finish.

From The Wireless Theatre Company website:

We believe that bringing a theatre company of this nature to the internet is a positive cultural contribution as the nature of audio plays is particularly suited to performance and publications of work by a large cross section of the community; we encourage and support any contributors, and will always strive to provide a forum for new talent. Our website is found purely through search engines and word of mouth – so if you like what you hear – PLEASE tell your friends!

I wholeheartedly agree. Check out The Wireless Theatre Company. Tell your friends.

cast:
Shane Rimmer
Christopher Ragland
Christian Malcolm

Music by Michael Seal

Directed by Paul Blinkhorn

Produced by Jack Bowman and Robert Valentine

Edited by Paul Darling

Engineered by Carlos Ziccarelli at Unity Studios, London.

Posted by Maissa Bessada

LibriVox: My Favorite Murder by Ambrose Bierce

August 18, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Online Audio 

Aural Noir: Online Audio

My Favorite Murder by Ambrose Bierce

There are two readings of My Favorite Murder, by Ambrose Bierce, on LibriVox. Bill Mosley’s reading has a more appropriate accent, but Peter Yearsley’s is funnier, perhaps because of his English accent. The high minded language of the protagonist, combined with the frightening descriptions, makes Yearsley’s version more essentially hilarious.

If you’re familiar with Jack London’s Moon-Face, and liked that story, I think you’ll like this one too.

LibriVoxMy Favorite Murder
By Ambrose Bierce; Read by Bill Mosley
1 |MP3| – Approx. 25 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: June 3, 2010
First published in the San Francisco Examiner, September 16, 1888.

LibriVoxThe Parenticide Club – My Favorite Murder
By Ambrose Bierce; Read by Peter Yearsley
1 |MP3| – Approx. 49 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: December 29, 2005

And here’s a printable |PDF|.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of “There Are Things I Want You to Know” about Stieg Larsson and Me by Eva Gabrielsson and Marie-Francoise Colombani

August 14, 2011 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

TANTOR MEDIA - There Are Things I Want You To Know About Stieg Larsson And Me by Eva Gabrielsson and Marie-Françoise Colombani“There Are Things I Want You to Know” about Stieg Larsson and Me
By Eva Gabrielsson and Marie-Françoise Colombani; Read by Cassandra Campbell
5 CDs – Approx. 5 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: June 21, 2011
ISBN: 9781452652344
Themes: / Biography / Sweden / Family /
Sample |MP3|

There is only one person who can tell Stieg Larsson’s story better than he can, and that is his lifelong companion, Eva Gabrielsson. This is her book.

There is no doubt that writing this book was a blend of catharsis and revenge for Stieg Larsson’s life partner. For the listener it provides deep insights into the man, his habits and his motivations for writing his books. All that annoying coffee drinking in the books actually IS a reflection of Stieg’s own life habits and I now forgive him for the every detailed sip in the books.

I am also left wanting to read the other perspectives on Stieg’s life, in case Eva’s is not objective in her views. It “feels” as though she is truly telling the story of a man who truly brought his fight for justice and morality from his life to his fiction. (There are other biographies out there.) He blended facts and fiction – and for those of us listening from North America – provided a view of political troubles in our idealized Sweden. Eva adds another layer of Swedish conservatism with her difficulties as Stieg’s lifelong partner, having no children, her union went unrecognized by the state and Stieg’s assets were claimed by his almost estranged father and brother.

Of note to you, dear readers, is the fact that both Stieg and Eva were huge Science Fiction fans. If you haven’t dipped into the trilogy yet, Eva’s explanation of Salander’s (the main character) cyborg-like brain in a Pippi Longstocking body with superhuman strength may whet your appetite.

It is clear as Eva’s tale unfolds that she was intimately involved in the unfolding of Stieg’s trilogy. In a way they are her stories too – the books – their children in some odd way. This story may be the story of her custody battle for the rights to finish writing (raise to adulthood) Stieg’s final book, The Vengeance Of God. From listening to her tale and her writing style, I am positive that she will have no difficulty bringing the story to completion, should she be given the opportunity.

The reader, Cassandra Campbell, has been the narrator (or one of) in a host of books I have listened to and enjoyed (especially The Help). I was surprised that she pronounced the Swedish words and places perfectly adding immensely to my enjoyment of this audiobook.

Posted by Elaine Willis

Review of Discord’s Apple by Carrie Vaughn

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - Discord's Apple by Carrie VaughnDiscord’s Apple
By Carrie Vaughn; Read by Angela Dawe and Luke Daniels
8 CDs – Approx. 9 Hours 12 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: July 6, 2010
ISBN: 9781441876003
Sample |MP3|
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Gods / Family / Romance / Greek Mythology / Colorado / Terrorism / Arthurian Legend / Russia / Los Angeles / Immortality /

When Evie Walker goes home to spend time with her dying father, she discovers that his creaky old house in Hope’s Fort, Colorado, is not the only legacy she will inherit. Hidden behind the basement door is a secret and magical storeroom, a place where wondrous treasures from myth and legend are kept safe until they are needed again. Of course, this legacy is not without its costs: There are those who will give anything to find a way in. With the help of her father, a mysterious stranger named Alex, and some unexpected heroes, Evie must guard the storeroom against ancient and malicious forces, and protect both the past and the future even as the present unravels. Old heroes and notorious villains alike rise to fight on her side or to do their best to bring about her defeat. At stake is the fate of the world and the prevention of nothing less than the apocalypse.

Novels with alternating storylines, like Discord’s Apple, are probably easier to write than regular single plot novels. I’ve never come across one that defeated the main problem of such novels. It’s the problem of comparison. The present (alternate present) storyline in Discord’s Apple is far less compelling than those parts which are set during, and in the immediate years following, the Trojan War. By disc three it had become abundantly clear that the two storylines would meet up – and that the more interesting part of the book would be subsumed by the lesser. But, as the novel progressed MORE storylines were added and none of them were very promising. First there was The Eagle Eye Commandos story, the story of a set of G.I. Joe knock-offs that are, we are told, ‘the most popular comic book series in the USA.’ That storyline is told in a third person ominscient POV, as if were’ reading over Evie’s shoulder while she writes it on her laptop. That’s a big problem. I’ve seen scripts for comic books. They look nothing like what Evie writes for her artist collaborator – she’s writing standard prose, not a comics script, the artist would have to adapt what Evie wrote and dumping most of it. Then, just to confuse things just a little more, we get an out of nowhere historical Walker family storyline. It goes nowhere. Then, another short lived storyline will pop up for a chapter, then disappear, never to be heard from again. By disc five, these trends, along with many other warning signs, had cast a dread pall over my hopes for the novel’s conclusion.

It is never good when an author shows contempt for her story or for her readers. Carrie Vaughn is guilty of both of these authorial sins. As was pointed out in detail on Charlie Stross’ blog even the opening scene of Discord’s Apple is a mess. It is, of course, described (not shown) and features the destruction of “The Kremlin” by an Cessna full of kerosene:

He made a noise like a deflating balloon. “The Kremlin’s been bombed. Obliterated. A Cessna filled with drums of kerosene rammed it. They’re thinking it’s Mongolian rebels.”

She took a moment to register that he was talking about current events and not a plot point in their comic book. “Then our May storyline is out the window.”

The Eagle Eye Commandos couldn’t raid the building complex if it wasn’t there. She should have seen this one coming.

“Yeah. Unless we can put some kind of ‘how things might have been’ spin on it.”

Uh …. no. How could she have seen this coming? That whole passage should stop you in your tracks. Let me lay it out for you:

1. The biggest Cessna ever built carries no more than a dozen passengers and crew, the Cessna brand, moreover, is widely known to be a small aircraft manufacturer, with pretty much every single model ever built measuring far less than the 16 meters of their very largest passenger jet.

2. The Kremlin, meanwhile, is a massive fortress without one central structure. It measures a vast 68 acres and yet this plane full of drums of kerosene “obliterated” it. I would be very much surprised to learn that even the worlds biggest aircraft could completely destroy the Kremlin with any number of drums of Kerosene stuffed into it. Consider this, even with a maximum capacity of 27,276 liters the largest water bomber in the world, the Martin Mars, world only be able to drench four acres in a single pass. At that rate it would require no less than sixteen passes to completely cover the Kremlin with Kerosene – and that would assume that every pass had no overlaps.

3. Worse, why would “Mongolian rebels”, of all rebels, attack the Kremlin? That makes absolutely no sense at all. Russia and Mongolia have essentially been staunch allies for the last five hundred years. Russia never annexed Mongloia, doesn’t claim any part of it as a part of Russia, and didn’t even incorporate it into the Soviet Union. This is an absolutely monumental gaff – as backward as expecting the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City to be attacked by Quebec separatists.

And she should have ‘seen it coming’?

Other signs of contempt for the reader litter the novel. At one point the main character, a comic book writer, notes that the events that have just happened to her seemed unbelievably “overwrought” – after which she makes a point of filing them away for future use as a plot twist in her comic book series. She wants to add an unbelievable and overworked event to her own writing … what is a reader supposed to takeaway from that other than Vaughn is pissing on our shoes? Is she thumbing her nose at comics?

More stumbling blocks – as the “terrorism” in Russia continues we’re told that trainyards and shipyards are the targets. Yeah …. no …. that doesn’t sound like terrorism – it sounds like war. Terrorism is violence intended to foster terror. Blowing up a shipyard, attacking a citadel, derailing a train – that all is far more targeted than than strategic bombing of Europe in WWII. Carrie Vaughn seems blissfully ignorant of the meaning and import of the word “terrorism.”

But it doesn’t stop there! Vaughn has her central character, a rough analogue for herself, say that the Trojan Horse was the “car bomb” of its day. After hearing that I was figuratively shaking my head for about an hour.

That character, Evie Walker, then does some stunt driving while being chased by a herd of coyotes. In so doing she executes something she calls a “Hollywood turn.” … What I assume that Vaughn was actually referring to is, in fact, called either a Rockford or Moonshiner’s or J-Turn (and never a “Hollywood turn”).

Evie Walker also casually mentions that a drive through Los Angeles requires multiple stops and searches – adding hours to a commute. But it doesn’t end there, even the small town in Colorado, as depicted in Discord’s Apple, exist under a draconian police state. A drive through the city center means a warrant-less search of your vehicle and a questioning by police. There’s also food rationing. It isn’t explained, none of it. That’s shocking and interesting stuff and yet it has absolutely no follow up in the book whatsoever. Evie Walker doesn’t seem alarmed by it, finds it mildly annoying (and maybe even comforting), but she doesn’t mention it as being particularly shocking or even attempt to explain why it isn’t. What the fuck?

At first I thought maybe that my problems with Discord’s Apple were the same kinds of problems I had with Catherine Asaro’s Sunrise Alley |READ OUR REVIEW|. I thought that maybe Carrie Vaughn’s focus and interest just wasn’t on the stuff I care about: ideas, attention to detail, and the surprising (but logical) consequences to those ideas and details. But upon further consideration I don’t think that’s true. Vaughn’s writing technique for Discord’s Apple consisted of remixing her Sinon fan-fiction with events in her own life, filtered through a magical grab bag of other mythology and politics that she is only very dimly interested in. A few aspects of this novel could have worked had they been more focused and perhaps less slap-dashed together. Was she writing on a tight deadline? Couldn’t she do some revision? I don’t know.

The return of King Arthur (and Merlin) – ok why not? Sadly, this epic pair seem to be merely active mannequins in Discord’s Apple – their presence may have initially been to offer a possible rival love interest for the protagonist, but that doesn’t even come close to ripening. What about that artist penciler/inker partner on the comic book Evie Walker is writing? Oh him? Apparently he’s there solely to give Walker someone to talk to, setup the novel’s unpaid off premise. He just dries up and blows away.

What about that mysterious new dog, Queen Mab, that Evie’s father has? You know, the one with more emotion, knowledge and expression than all the rest of the characters in the novel? Oh that? It’s just what Vaughn would call her “Wash” techniques – something designed to manipulate the audience’s expectations. Consider me manipulated.

It is terrible.

The best part of the novel, the part that is actually alright – good even – the part that Vaughn wrote with passion and attention: That’s Sinon’s story. The rest, set in Evie’s time (or whenever else Vaughn went with the roving POV) is full of characters that are only minimally purposeful. Their goals are only strong enough to push them onto the stage, not strong enough to explain what they’re doing there or explain why they skulk-offstage when someone else is talking.

Or to put it another way – if this novel was a piece of clothing it would be a sweater. But unfortunately it’d be the kind of sweater that started out as a smart-looking and comfortable scarf and has now has been inexplicably knit-into an unwieldy sweater/dress/hat garment with a dozen fist sized holes in it. This sweater may be somewhat fashionable in some parts of the book store sweater store. Maybe it’ll be popular with the talented readers who don’t have time to think about what they’re reading. But for a Science Fiction reader, like me, who tries on a book sweater thinking it will be a garment with a particular purpose in mind, well he may find that every string of that sweater’s yarn wants to unravel. Or to put it in Carrie Vaughn style terms:

It’d be like the arrival of the president of the radical monarchist league (driving an Austin-Healey Bug Eyed Sprite with 17 liters of re-fried beans in the glove compartment) to an Outer Limits cast reunion party in Ruritania. Yep. It’s going to mess-up President Al Franken’s America in many magically unproductive ways! I should have seen it coming.

The shame of it is that Vaughn’s probably could write a lot better than Discord’s Apple. What works in the novel works well. Over on John Scalzi’s blog Vaughn wrote:

I have more ideas than I will ever be able to write in my lifetime. One of my solutions to this dilemma is to put as many ideas in a book as I can manage. The more disparate the better, because finding connections between seemingly unrelated ideas can make for great stories.

In a grad school Latin course, I translated bits of the Aeneid and fell in love with Sinon. He’s the Greek spy left behind to talk the Trojans into bringing the horse into the city. He’s brash, clever, and really awesome. So I committed a very long piece of fanfic telling what happened to Sinon after the war — he was kidnapped by a very pissed-off Apollo, made a slave, granted immortality so he’d be a slave forever, and. . .well. You’ll just have to read about it, because his story is the second part of Discord’s Apple, in which we learn that the Trojan War never really ended. (It all fits together, honest.)

At first, I didn’t know quite what to do with this very long piece of fanfic. I got to thinking about the nature of epic literature in general, and I decided that Sinon’s story needed to be part of Evie’s story. You see, “Evie returns home to discover an amazing heritage” is just an idea. But Evie and Sinon meeting each other, the chaotic events surrounding that meeting, and the fact that the goddess Hera still wants to get her hands on that apple – that’s a story.

Throw in King Arthur and my deep and irrational fondness for 1980′s GI Joe comics and what I ended up with was a novel about family, storytelling, history, and war and how they get tangled together.

This right here is the whole problem. Ideas are what stories should be about. But what Vaughn doesn’t realize is that not all ideas are gold. Not all ideas should include everything you think to include, not all of them fit together. A book about a comic book writer living in a Alternate Present USA police state? That sounds really cool. A book about King Arthur returning? That could be cool. A book about a woman who returns home to take care of her dying father only to discover that every magical artifact from history is in the basement? COOL! All together it is a mess.

Vaughn’s not short of ideas, not even short of good ideas. She’s short of a filter, an editor. Vaughn needs to have someone really critiquing the shit out of her ideas, really making the novel focused. Vaughn is a huge Sinon of Ithaca fan, and with the parts of this book set during and after the Trojan War she has made me one too. The market may not be clamoring for fiction rooted wholly in Greek Mythology, or for a book about a comic book writer living in an alternate USA, but I am. What I’m not clamoring for is a novel about all of those things in one.

The audio production itself is faultless. Discord’s Apple is a two narrator production with the vast majority of the reading is by Angela Dawe. Dawe performs everything except for the Bronze Age storyline which is delivered by Luke Daniels. Both Dawe’s and Daniels pronunciation and delivery are flawless.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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