Review of Hammer Chillers Season 1: Sticks and Stone, The Devil in Darkness & Don’t Go There

SFFaudio Review

Hammer Chillers: Series One

Mr Jim Moon already introduced us to the legendary Hammer studios Chillers series. If you want to learn more about the background and the first three episode of Series 1 read his review here.

In order to avoid redundancy I will concentrate on the final three episodes, namely Sticks and Stones, The Devil in Darkness and Don’t Go There.

 

Episode 4 – Sticks and Stones

By Robin Ince; Performed by a full cast:

Released: ? June 2013

 

Neil Stanley is a nice man. He has a nice house, a nice wife, a nice life. But Neil has a secret. He’s an internet troll, spending every spare moment posting hate-filled messages online.

When he begins trolling talent-show contestant Sam Pinker, his threats begin to come true. Is Neil acting upon his online taunts? Or is something else to blame?

Oh man it does make me feel a bit like a troll myself starting off with a negative review. In short, I was a bit disappointed. Sticks and Stones failed to draw me in, and get me interested in the “what’s next?”

Is it because the connection that author Robin Ince attempt to draw similarities between medieval witch trials and modern day talent show contestants is not entirely convincing and rather forced? Or is it because he tries to pack too much into half hour or so of audio drama time? This drama could have done with a longer treatment to give it more room to build up the characters and the plot.

This is not meant to shake a stick at the production per se or the actors. In all fairness, it’s not like Sticks and Stones is really bad, it just left me with an unsatisfied feeling of “meh”.

 

Episode 4 – The Devil in Darkness

By Christopher Fowler; Performed by a full cast:

Released: July 5, 2013

Mia never takes the eerie old lift in the St Petersburg International Archive. But one night she leaves late and is forced to break her rule. She’s travelling down with the only other passenger when the lift jams between floors.

Andrei is a Russian electrician, and tries to free them, but he can’t get the doors open. As the days pass their bond grows stronger, while they grow weaker.

But what are those strange noises? Are supernatural forces trapping them in the lift? Or is the truth even more terrifying?

The fifth episode The Devil in Darkness starts of with a well-established scenario: the Locked Room, or, in this case the stuck elevator. It doesn’t help that it’s the weekend and the building is empty. Or is it? The old walls hold bad memories from the days when the basement housed the torture chambers of the Tscheka the Bolshevik secret police from the early days after the revolution.

Writer Christopher Fowler manages to avoid pretty much everything that was wrong with Sticks and Stones. The cast is reduced to two characters and the action boiled down to two people slipping into darkness and despair as the days run by. The acting is fine and the sound design is used to good effect. In the end the story surprises with a twist that at least had me thinking: Of course, but why didn’t I see this? I grant this to the believable and good performance of the actors Dylan Charles and Lauren Kellegher and the way the listener is subtly set up to think in the wrong direction.

 

Episode 6 – Don’t Go There

By Stephen Volk; Performed by a full cast:

Released: July 15, 2013

John and Laura Daulby’s son is lying in a coma in hospital, on a Greek holiday island. But John refuses to believe his son is just another victim of bad drugs.

He enters the hedonistic world of 18-30 clubbers to get to the truth, and meets the enigmatic and beautiful Stheno.

Finding himself increasingly attracted to her – in the same way his son was – he realises that she may just be a Greek myth come to life…

At 44 minutes this is the longest of the Hammer Chillers so far and this gives writer Stephen Volk ample time to develop the story. Volk whose love for the paranormal and horror genres has been widely demonstrated in his TV and film work (Gothic, Ghostwatch, Afterlife) visits ancient Greek myths.

The atmosphere of a small Greek island that is virtually deserted by day and a clubber’s paradise by night is transported quite effectively. Having said that though, at first I found the bigotry of John Daulby applied a little too thickly but it sets the stage nicely for the character’s gradual acceptance that there might be more to his son’s condition than just a bad trip. As with most of the other Hammer shows the motifs (soul-sucking femme-fatale seductress) is not new but well transported into the modern day. After listening you’re tempted to warn your kids to be careful whom they snog at techno parties in countries with a long mythological tradition.

This episode’s cast is great and benefits from Cyprus-born Daphne Alexander’s fluency in Greek. Few things ruin it for me as much as badly faked accents.

Overall, I would recommend the second half of Hammer’s first season of Chiller audio dramas. The episodes are short and self-contained so they are easily accessible and don not require you having to keep up-to-date with a massive multi-episode storyline ends with a cliffhanger every season. That also means that the occasional “miss” might stick out more but one in six isn’t a bad ratio so far.
All episodes can be downloaded individually or purchased for a modest subscription fee right from Hammer Chillers online. There is also digipack CD version for those who still like to have a hard copy.

Posted by Carsten Schmitt

BBC Learning: Tales From Ancient Greece

June 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Learning -Tales From Ancient GreeceI probably should have told you about this podcast earlier, the thing is, I forgot just how stupid BBC policy can be. So, hurry up and subscribe to this great podcast before what remains of the earlier files drop out of the feed!

Tales from Ancient Greece, a production of BBC Learning, is a dramatized retelling of the Greek mythology. Officially the show is “particularly suitable for children aged 9 to 11,” but I like it quite a bit too. The premise is that Hermes, the winged messenger god, was a witness to practicality every famous Greek myth and in each 15 minute show he’ll take us on one such adventure. Here’s a snippet of the official description:

“[Hermes’] stories are full of laughter and sorrow and unusual people, places and creatures. The series includes such favourites as the story of Persephone, King Midas, the Minotaur and Medusa.”

Unfortunately you’ve already missed Orpheus and Eurydice (episode 2) and Persephone (episode 1)!

The show is weekly and began with Episode 0, beginning on May 1, 2013 (it was just an introductory 9 second podcast announcing that the show would be weekly).

Podcast feed: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio/greekmyths/rss.xml

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

My favourite episode so far was that of Perseus And The Gorgon (episode 4) |MP3|. I’ve even LEGOized it!

Perseus and the Gorgon (Medusa)

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #182 – READALONG: The Odyssey by Homer (Books XXI to XXIV)

October 15, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #182 – Scott and Jesse talk, in the sixth of a six part series, about the books XXI, XXII, XXIII and XXIV of The Odyssey by Homer.

Talked about on today’s show:
The E.V. Rieu translation and the , The Great Bow, Odysseus Strings His Bow, The Battle In The Hall, Slaughter In The Hall, Odysseus And Penelope, The Great Rooted Bed, The Feud Is Ended, Peace, flexing that bow, canny suitors, does Penelope know what’s going on?, the Wikipedia entry for The Odyssey (and the Slaying Of The Suitors):

The next day, at Athena’s prompting, Penelope maneuvers the Suitors into competing for her hand with an archery competition using Odysseus’ bow. The man who can string the bow and shoot it through a dozen axe heads would win. Odysseus takes part in the competition himself: he alone is strong enough to string the bow and shoot it through the dozen axe heads, making him the winner. He then turns his arrows on the Suitors and with the help of Athena, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoteus the cowherd, he kills all the Suitors. Odysseus and Telemachus hang twelve of their household maids, who had betrayed Penelope or had sex with the Suitors, or both; they mutilate and kill the goatherd Melanthius, who had mocked and abused Odysseus. Now at last, Odysseus identifies himself to Penelope. She is hesitant, but accepts him when he mentions that their bed was made from an olive tree still rooted to the ground. Many modern and ancient scholars take this to be the original ending of the Odyssey, and the rest to be an interpolation.

The next day he and Telemachus visit the country farm of his old father Laertes, who likewise accepts his identity only when Odysseus correctly describes the orchard that Laertes had previously given him.

The citizens of Ithaca have followed Odysseus on the road, planning to avenge the killing of the Suitors, their sons. Their leader points out that Odysseus has now caused the deaths of two generations of the men of Ithaca: his sailors, not one of whom survived; and the Suitors, whom he has now executed. The goddess Athena intervenes and persuades both sides to give up the vendetta, a deus ex machina. After this, Ithaca is at peace once more, concluding the Odyssey.

Melanthius prompts his own mutilation, a mutilating evil dude, “horror swept through the suitors”, on the question of the axe heads, the “battle master”, “cased in bronze”, a “turbid jet” of blood, how awesome would it be to see a bardic performance of The Odyssey?, Sir Ian McKellen, the compliant bard, the ancient Greek holy books, the host-guest relationship, the morality of killing your house-guests, why should you read The Odyssey? Because it doesn’t present a world classifiable into good and evil, the inviolability, Iranian hospitality, how Iranians talk (a circuitous path to making a point), why can’t Odysseus even trust his dad?, the primacy of patriarch, the killing of the twelve maidens, what is the moral message?, an unjustified liar, Agamemnon ghost, “that Penelope’s pretty great”, “talk about odd behavior”, the immovable (marriage) bed, an olive tree, “the gods have made you daft”, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Odysseus in Antarctica?, Odysseus runs his life crazily, Odysseus’ name means “trouble”, impiety to Polyphemus, the Trojan War was Odysseus’s fault, a kind of comedy like Voltaire’s Candide, a satire of The Odysseus, True History by Lucian of Samosata, “the natural ending”?, Athena’s solution, the end of The Stand by Stephen King, is the deus ex machina ending satisfying?, Poseidon’s rage, the Norweigan version of The Odyssey (Beowulf), the Beowulf movie, Beowulf is tough braggart but is not wise, melancholy gods, the hero is the villain, the merciless Odysseus, the unquestionable Odysseus.

Thirteen Axe Heads?

The Odyssey - Marvel Classics art by Jeff Jodloman

The bard at work from Classics Illustrated

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: Pygmalion’s Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum

October 10, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Pygmalion’s Spectacles was first published in 1935 in the aptly named Wonder Stories magazine. Four years after it’s first publication it was reprinted in Startling Stories as a “classic” and it was placed in their “Scientifiction Hall Of Fame.” It was reprinted again in Fantastic Story magazine in the Spring 1955 issue. Three magazine publications is a rare occurrence for any SF story. So, what makes this story special?

Well, this tale of utopia, immortality, and romance, is also, most probably, the very first story to feature the concept of virtual reality.

Here’s the description from the Wikipedia entry:

A comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality was published in 1935 in the short story Pygmalion’s Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum. In the story, the main character, Dan Burke, meets an elfin professor, Albert Ludwig, who has invented a pair of goggles which enable “a movie that gives one sight and sound […] taste, smell, and touch. […] You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it.”

And though the ideas may be pioneering, the plot of Pygmalion’s Spectacles is very similar to Fitz-James O’Brien’s The Diamond Lens, itself an excellent SF tale. The tone of their respective endings differs, but their plot, in which a man falls in love with an intangible woman, is straight out of the Greek mythology that Weinbaum alludes to. And they both use science, rather than magic to get to their respective endings.

There is, I should also point out, a LibriVox |MP3| recording of the Metamorphoses by Ovid, a 2,000 year old poem featuring the myth of Pygmalion.

Pygmalion's Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Here is a |PDF| made from the Pygmalion’s Spectacles publication in Fantastic Story. And here are two LibriVox versions (my advice, go for the first one):

LibriVoxPygmalion’s Spectacles
By Stanley G. Weinbaum; Read by Gregg Margarite
1 |MP3| – Approx. 43 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: January 13,2009
He put on the glasses and fell in love with a dream… First published in Wonder Stories, June 1935.

LibriVoxPygmalion’s Spectacles
By Stanley G. Weinbaum; Read by Chrystal Layton
1 |MP3| – Approx. 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: November 17, 2007
He put on the glasses and fell in love with a dream… First published in Wonder Stories, June 1935.

Pygmalion’s Spectacles illustration by Lumen Winter (from Wonder Stories, June 1935):
Pygmalion's Spectacles -  illustration by Lumen Winter

Pygmalion’s Spectacles illustration by Virgil Finlay (from Fantastic Story Magazine, Spring 1955):
Pygmalion's Spectacles - illustration by Virgil Finlay

Painting of Pygmalion and the statue by Jean-Baptiste Regnault:
Jean-Baptiste Regnault - Pygmalion

[Thanks to Tim at The Drama Pod for the reminder]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Last Call by Tim Powers

September 11, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Last Call by Tim PowersLast Call
By Tim Powers; Read by Bronson Pinchot
16 CDs – Approx. 19.1 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: December 2010
ISBN: 9781441757364
Themes: / Fantasy / Gambling / Immortality / Las Vegas / Poetry / Arthurian Legend / Greek Mythology / Egyptian Mythology

Scott Crane abandoned his career as a professional poker player twenty years ago and hasn’t returned to Las Vegas, or held a hand of cards, in ten years. But troubling nightmares about a strange poker game he once attended on a houseboat on Lake Mead are drawing him back to the magical city. For the mythic game he believed he won did not end that night in 1969—and the price of his winnings was his soul. Now, a pot far more strange and perilous than he ever could imagine depends on the turning of a card. Enchantingly dark and compellingly real, this World Fantasy Award–winning novel is a masterpiece of magic realism set in the gritty, dazzling underworld known as Las Vegas.

Tim Powers’ Last Call (1992 William Morrow and Co.; 2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.) is studded with references to old myths, snatches of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” the art of poker playing, and the unique culture and atmosphere of old and new Las Vegas. It contains numerous major and minor characters, overarching themes and subplots, and digressions into probability theory. In other words, it demands close reading and attention to detail. Listening to it in half-hour chunks as I did while driving to work was probably not the best idea, and may have affected my review of the book, but what follows is an honest appraisal.

There’s a lot to like in Last Call, and I lot I liked. At its heart it’s really about the vast, mysterious forces driving the universe and the ways in which they manifest in our lives. Why does tragedy pass over a criminal and take a good person instead? Why does a disease like cancer randomly strike a family man with a wife and children to support? Although life appears chaotic and meaningless, perhaps there are active, purposeful forces of fate at work as well, old gods that exist outside our typical suburban lives but can be sought out and appealed to, and even manipulated. In Last Call Powers breathes new life into ancient myths like the Arthurian Fisher King, the Greek god Dionysus, and the Egyptian goddess Isis, incorporating themes of resurrection and physical health tied to spiritual health. These ancient demigods reappear in the forms of unlikely modern-day characters, including broken-down ex-gambler Scott Crane and his estranged foster-sister Diana. Last Call also includes a cast of memorable bad guys, including a bloated fat hit man Trumbull who is convinced that eternal life can be had through the consumption of raw flesh, and the chief baddie Georges Leon, a mystic who achieves immortality through stealing and possessing the bodies of the living. Crane is the central figure in the story, a man who in 1969 played a portentous game of Assumption with a powerful set of tarot cards. Twenty years later Crane returns for a second game against Leon with nothing less than his soul on the line.

Last Call is ultimately a hopeful book, as it implies that there may be a purpose to our lives and a way to control one’s destiny, if you can read the cards and master the archetypes of the Tarot. In Powers’ hands playing cards are a metaphor for the mysteries of life and the skill and luck required to navigate its uncertain waters.

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods employs a similar conceit of old gods reincarnated in the modern world but I must say I enjoyed Gaiman’s take better. Powers is a talented writer and I enjoyed his descriptions of the seedy soul of Las Vegas, as well as some memorable set-pieces he creates, including an encounter with the ghost of the infamous gangster Bugsy Siegel beneath the waters of Lake Mead. But the slow pace of the narrative, the meandering plotline, the too-numerous characters and plotlines that drop in and out of the story without sufficient explanation and resolution (Crane’s wife Susan, for example), and tedious descriptions of card game after card game make Last Call a difficult listen and at times an outright chore, despite the fine narration by Bronson Pinchot.

Perhaps my lukewarm reaction to Last Call has something to do with the fact that I I’m not a fan of card playing; Vegas is a cool place to visit and I’ve tried my hand at a few slot machines, but sitting down at a table in the company of hardcore gamblers has zero appeal for me. If you read Last Call watch closely for the signs, the subtle flush of cheek or restless eyes that the best card players know how to detect and interpret. As for casual readers: Beware.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Ancient Rome Refocused: Interview with Eric Shanower artist/author of the Age Of Bronze comics

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Ancient Rome RefocusedI’m a big fan of Roman history, but over the last twenty-five years or so I’ve pretty much exhausted every source and story. I could probably tell you more about the Imperial family tree than my own. And that’s probably why I hadn’t subscribed to any new Roman history podcast recently. But, a recent visit to Age-Of-Bronze.com informed me that Eric Shanower, the artist/author of Age Of Bronze (an amazing comic book series detailing from beginning to end the entire epic story of The Trojan War), was a recent guest interviewee on a podcast called Ancient Rome Refocused.

Here’s the interview: |MP3|

There’s also a transcript of the interview HERE.

Podcast feed: http://rob33.hipcast.com/rss/ancient_rome_refocused.xml

And, if you’re looking for a massively longer interview, check out SFFaudio Podcast #080, which is my own two hour talk with Shanower from last fall.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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