Review of The Magician King by Lev Grossman

July 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Magician King by Lev GrossmanThe Magician King
By Lev Grossman; Read by Mark Bramhall
13 CDs – Approx. 16 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2011
ISBN: 1611760259
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizard School / Alternate Worlds / Gods /

What does it mean to be the Hero on a Quest? What does it cost? Perhaps this is something you might want to find out before you go looking everywhere for one.

It is two years since the final scene in The Magicians (Read the Review). Quentin Coldwater is now one of the Kings of Fillory, that Narnia-esque fantasy land from the series of books he read as a child. Fellow King and Queens are fellow Brakebills Academy graduates Elliot, the self-obsessed fop, and Janet with whom Quentin had a very brief dalliance, with tragic consequences. There are to be two Kings and two Queens of Fillory with Quentin’s pre-Brakebills friend Julia taking the fourth crown.

Quentin is still emotionally scarred from the tragedies of the first book and is struggling to find a reason in his life. Again this leads him towards a search for a Quest. Despite being a King in a magical realm where you would have to go far out of your way to prevent the land from producing a bountiful harvest. It still isn’t enough, Quentin feels the need to be doing something important. One thing the Fillory was good for in the books about it that he read while growing up, was that the Chatwin children always had a quest to complete when they visited.

After a false start on a quest involving a madly thrashing over-sized clock-tree, Quentin embarks on a trip to the most remote island of the realm of Fillory. To collect on unpaid taxes. He was getting desperate to find his quest and this come up at the wrong time. Never mind that the cost of outfitting the ship and getting there would out strip the value of the unpaid taxed several times over.

Accompanying Quentin on his fools quest is Queen Julia. In The Magicians Julia was the school friend that also sat the Brakebills entrance exam, but didn’t make the cut. Half of The Magician King is told from Julia’s perspective, as we follow what brought her from failing that exam to where we found her floating in the air beside Elliot and Janet at the end of The Magicians. This half of the book is the more compelling of the two as we learn about the world of Magic that isn’t controlled by the establishment as exemplified by the Brakebills Academy.

The main quest that Quentin and Julia follow, The Search for the Seven Golden Keys of Fillory, inadvertantly takes them out beyond the furthest isle of Fillory and lands them in the one place neither of them ever wanted to be. Back home of Earth. Although Earth isn’t as magical as Fillory, there are still wonders here to be found, such as Dragons.

Julia is the real treasure in this novel. A minor character in the first book, she rivals and surpasses Quentin for the position of protaginist. Although half the book is written from Quentin’s perspective, you should pay close attention to Julia. The two halfs tell of the terrible path that this poor tortured woman drove herself along after glimpsing the secret world of Brakebills. She is a broken and empty shell as Queen Julia, slowly finding parts of herself as she and Quentin struggle to find the Keys that will prevent Magic from dissappearing from all of the different realities. Especially important to Fillory as it can’t even exist without Magic. For the Old Gods have returned. No, not Cthulu. The Gods who created the Neitherlands, and accidentily left open the loophole that allows humans to do magic at all.  Something got there attention and now they know that there is a loophole, and they are working to close it.

Quentin and Julia are both compelling characters. Quentin is still a bit of the Emo kid he was in the first book and his desire to be the Hero teaches him the cost real Heros must be prepared to pay. Julia through the two storylines has a woderful depth to her. She isn’t necessarily likeable, she is even more obsessive then Quentin in the flashback story. An obsession that costs her dearly.

Grossman’s world of Magic, although having some of the trappings of a Narial-like fairytale, it has much more in common with the original dark fairytales before they were sweetened for Victorian children. Magic is powerfull and the consequences, when they come, are swift, severe and utterly pittyless. We do get to see the awesome potential of the Magic that Quentin wields as he finds in himself the real Magician King. What he and his friends had been doing before was just playing with kid-gloves.

Mark Branhall again narrates, bringing out each character well and maintains consistent voices for characters from The Magicians.

This is a more developed narrative than the first book, which stood well on it’s own and didn’t leave you feeling there was a need for a sequel. The Magician King‘s story is also self-contained, but you should have read book one to appreciate it properly.

Posted by Paul [W] Campbell

The SFFaudio Podcast #166 – TOPIC: SFF FORMS (Short Story, Novella, Novellete, Novel, Fix-up, Trilogy, World)

June 25, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #166 – Jesse, Luke Burrage, and Eric S. Rabkin discuss, at length, the SFF FORMS (Short Story, Novella, Novellete, Novel, Fix-up, Trilogy, World). Here’s the premise:

Science Fiction Forms: Short Story, Novella, Fix-Up, Novel, Trilogy, and World. Respectively, they might be exemplified thus: Short Story (“Mars Is Heaven!“), Novella (“Flowers for Algernon“), Fix-Up (The Martian Chronicles, which contains a revised version of “Mars Is Heaven!” or The Seedling Stars, Accelerando, and Beggars In Spain, all of which began as novellas), Novel (originals, like 1984, and derivatives like Flowers for Algernon or Varley’s novel Millennium coming from his short story “Air Raid“), Trilogy (original Foundation series), World (the ultimate Foundation world or Heinlein’s Future History [shared with others] or Banks’s Culture or LeGuin’s Hainish series [created just for the authors, but let’s not forget about fan fiction]). What are the special challenges and rewards in reading and writing in these diverse forms? What special challenges or rewards attend on reusing material in another form? Is the formal plasticity of SF unique among literary genres?

Talked about on today’s show:
Eric’s suggestion, literature with a capital “L”, The Dead by James Joyce, The Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, Luke’s Science Fiction Book Review Podcast, the format, the themes, the variability of short story form, the feghoot, Day Million by Frederik Pohl, Accelerando, Stories Of Your Life And Others by Ted Chiang, The Tower Of Babel, stripped away vs. embellished to the nth degree, Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Understand by Ted Chiang, The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat, fantasy, the unexplicit story, valid reactions, the etymology of “text”, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, a persuasive existential journey, The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, San Fransisco, short stories as objects of frivolity or training, the brilliance of an idea is not always enough, a novel can act as a community to an individual, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury vs. The Fireman by Ray Bradbury, is the novel inherently more participatory than a short story?, the failure of technology vs. the power of nature, The Masque Of The Red Death, teaching Science Fiction with short stories and novels, The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame (Volume 1), the composite novel, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, A.E. van Vogt, the fix-up, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, Accelerando by Charles Stross, Lobsters by Charles Stross, the cat changes function, “an intellectual framework”, Robert A. Heinlein’s future history, the composite novel, Isaac Asimov, future history vs. psychohistory, Michael Moorcock, I, Robot, Robbie, the three laws, Stephen Byerly and Susan Calvin, unAsimovian assumptions, the full dose of SF, Reason, The Evitable Conflict, is Stephen Byerly a robot or a man?, the Mérode Altarpiece (a medieval iconographic trope), art history, Luke doesn’t think Asimov is that clever, R. Daneel Olivaw, the three laws are fairytale laws, positronic brains are positive, the three laws are for people (not just robots), The Bicentennial Man, Asimov’s powers, Asimov’s business acumen, Brandon Sanderson, shared worlds, gods, Mormonism, Daniel Clowes, The Death Ray, Elantris, “The Alexandria Quartet” by Lawrence Durrell, reading The Martian Chronicles backwards, Luke’s fiction, Alastair Reynolds, Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Irregulars, whodunit ain’t the attraction, The Adventure Of The Speckled Band, a matter of cutting, A Clockwork Orange, it’s better without the extra chapter, the commercial effect (or the effect of commercialism), popular literature, the flabby novel, Robert J. Sawyer, Hominids, Calculating God, William Shakespeare, The Royal Ontario Museum, horse evolution, God needs a starship!?, where to find a paleontologist, “a hundred pages of nothing happening”, a circular argument, writing to the story’s demands, Kevin J. Anderson, commercial constraints shouldn’t be points of pride, the thickness of books, The Lord Of The Rings, does more succinct = more better?, novellas are novels with threads missing?, The Hobbit, the ambition of the author, Luke is rejecting the basic premise, The Stand by Stephen King, is it a better story short or long?, changes and updates and additional material, don’t let Asimov near a typewriter unless you want something written, Against The Fall Of Night by Arthur C. Clarke, The City And The Stars, expanding everything, Monster Story, “it came to me in a dream”, Minding Tomorrow, Nightfall (the short story) vs. Nightfall (the novel), “it’s a lot like a perfectly nice novel that eventually becomes a masterpiece”, The Lion of Comarre, it’s not a commercial podcast, a civil rowdiness, Eric’s Coursera course: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, rechunking, forums, essays, 18,000 registered students, University of Michigan, only the competitors are qualified to judge the competitors, a history of the U.S. Civil War, Luke’s kitchen, grades, “there is no absolute abstract grade for anything”, Science Fiction and Politics (Courtney Brown), the governor of a steam engine, Luke confuses two professors, “yes, by golly, that was a very good thing of it’s kind”, The Odyssey by Homer, a foundational classic, The Bible, the Benjamin Franklin bible, there should be an SFBRP review of The Odyssey, Luke’s Matthew Mark Luke Skywalker, Star Wars, Joseph Campbell, time for coffee!

The Mérode Altarpiece

Startling Stories, November 1948 - Against The Fall Of Night by Arthur C. Clarke

Against The Fall Of Night by Arthur C. Clarke (page 11 of Startling Stories, November 1948)

Against The Fall Of Night by Arthur C. Clarke (page 12 and 13 of Startling Stories, November 1948)

Posted by Jesse 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

The SFFaudio Podcast #109 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick

May 23, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #109 – a complete and unabridged reading of The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick. First up, the complete story from Wonder Audio, followed by a discussion of it with Jesse, Scott, and Tamahome.

Talked about on today’s show:
Wonder Audio, Philip K. Dick, The Twilight Zone, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein, what is the Philip K. Dick way, empathy, a lack of empathy, paranoia, Science Fiction or Fantasy?, definitely a horror story, not a lot of technology, aliens, other dimensions, Lovecraftian!, who is the titular stranger?, Byron Sonne, Bradley Manning, The Invasion, what’s the purpose of controlling the humans?, Passengers by Robert Silverberg, The Hidden, Men In Black, gods, scary picture of Beelzebub, The Walking Dead, third person – deep penetration vs. omniscient, Fair Game by Philip K. Dick (SFFaudio Podcast #097), To Serve Man by Damon Knight, honeypot, would be cool: a TV series with a new PKD story every week, The Ray Bradbury Theater, H.G. Wells, The Star by H.G. Wells, next week: Dream Park by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Next A Good Story Is Hard To Find podcast: Stories Of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Fallen is brown!, Elias Koteas

Science Fiction Adventures December 1953 - COVER

Science Fiction Adventures - December 1953 - Table Of Contents

The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick

The Hanging Stranger - illustration by Smith

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Gilgamesh the King by Robert Silverberg

March 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Gilgamesh the King by Robert SilverbergGilgamesh the King
By Robert Silverberg; Read by William Coon
MP3 Download – Approx. 13 Hours 22 Mins – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Eloquent Voice, LLC
Published: September 2010
ISBN: 9780984413898
Themes: / Fantasy / Gods / Demi-gods / Ancient Civilization /

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest known works of literature, being from around 2200 B.C. It tells of Gilgamesh the king of Uruk (a city-state in Sumer) who is half human and half god.

If you are as unfamiliar with the story as I was, here it is in a nutshell. Gilgamesh is running rather roughshod over the people of Uruk. When they beg the gods to make him a good king, the gods create Gilgamesh’s equal, a wild man named Enkidu. After discovering that they are indeed equals, the two become fast friends and have many adventures together, one in particular because Gilgamesh rejects the goddess Ishtar’s marriage proposal. When the gods become offended by one of the adventures and take Enkidu’s life as forfeit, Gilgamesh becomes obsessed with the idea of immortality. He then sets off on a new series of adventures in quest of eluding death, only to find that all men must die. He returns to Uruk and becomes the good king that the people wanted all along.

After a story has been around as long as the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is not surprising that there are several versions which have been recovered on ancient clay tablets. What is surprising is that Gilgamesh’s story is alive and well in different versions in modern culture, ranging from music to television to video games. That makes it more understandable that Robert Silverberg, that prolific master of science fiction, brought his talents to bear on retelling the tale in 1984. One wonders how earlier authors missed taking advantage of a story with such fantastic elements: a demi-god, slayer of monsters and master warrior, searching for the key to immortality.

Silverberg spins a mesmerizing tale that follows the basic plotline of the original epic. Told by Gilgamesh himself, it begins with the funeral of his father and 6-year-old Gilgamesh’s realization that friends and servants are being sent to their death so they can serve the king in the next life. Thus, the theme of man’s struggle with the inevitability of death is introduced. We also meet the young girl who will become the high priestess of Inanna (Sumerian goddess equivalent to Ishtar). As the personification of the goddess of love and war, she both tempts and infuriates Gilgamesh in a lifelong struggle for love and power. As well as the exciting adventures and fun of seeing how Silverberg interpreted the original epic, we see also that Gilgamesh is pondering the big questions of life: why must people die, what is the meaning of life, and how to balance destiny with action and free will.

In the afterword, Silverberg himself admits that he strove to give the story a historical setting and tell it from the point of view of the original Gilgamesh, the king, although he wove in elements of the epic. I have seen reviewers who lament this approach. It is true that in some of Gilgamesh’s adventure Silverberg has stripped them of their fantastic elements and the result was to make those parts mundane compared to the epic. However, I do not think that this book’s critics give Silverberg enough credit. As Mary Stewart did with her Arthurian novels (The Crystal Cave, etc.) and C. S. Lewis did in his retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche (Till We Have Faces), Silverberg carries the reader to ancient times and into the mind of the main character. Gilgamesh experiences the gods’ power and magic and, thus, so does the reader. The writing style is appropriately spare and simple, as if to echo how it would have been written in antiquity, as well as how difficult it would have been for an action-oriented hero to get his thoughts written down.

William Coon’s narration is what makes this book come alive. I honestly doubt if I would have stayed with the book past the first few chapters if he hadn’t communicated Gilgamesh so clearly. Coon’s ability to slightly change intonation so that listeners feel Gilgamesh’s emotions and motivations was what pulled me into caring about the character. That same ability to slightly change intonation and inflection allowed him to faithfully communicate other characters so that I could feel I knew Inanna and Enkidu especially. Somehow his reading also managed to echo that spare, simple style that one would imagine was faithful to early storytelling. Suffice it to say that William Coon’s narration transformed the book into a trip to the past for me. Perhaps it is that narration, in fact, which allowed me to overlook the elements which critics decried when Silverberg chose a scientific explanation over a mystical one.

This was a superior listening experience and I highly recommend the book based on that fact, as well as the book itself.

Posted by Julie D.

LibriVox – LibriVox – History Of Egypt, Chaldæa, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 1 & 2

October 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

They don’t make books like the used to. Check out the first two volumes of this STUNNING twelve volume History Of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, first published in English between 1903 and 1906. The complete collection (either 12 or 13 books) contains more than 1,200 coloured plates, photographs, drawings and illustrations!


LibriVox - History Of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 1
History Of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 1
By G. Maspero; Edited by A.H. Sayce; Translated by M.L. McClure; Read by Professor Heather Mbaye
29 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 7 Hours 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: June 24, 2009
Source: Gutenberg.org
A masterwork by of one of the fathers of modern egyptology. This work, in twelve volumes, was translated from the French original, “Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’Orient classique.” Maspero was a largely self-taught master of hieroglyphic translation. In November 1880, he was placed at the head of a French archeological mission, which developed later into the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale.

Podcast feed:

http://librivox.org/bookfeeds/hist-of-egypt-vol-1-by-maspero.xml

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LibriVox - History Of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 2History Of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 2
By G. Maspero; Edited by A.H. Sayce; Translated by M.L. McClure; Read by Professor Heather Mbaye
36 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 7 Hours 53 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: October 8, 2009
Source: Gutenberg.org
A masterwork by of one of the fathers of modern egyptology. This work, in twelve volumes, was translated from the French original, “Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’Orient classique.” Maspero was a largely self-taught master of hieroglyphic translation. In November 1880, he was placed at the head of a French archeological mission, which developed later into the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale.

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Posted by Jesse Willis

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