Review of Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

November 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Martian Time SlipMartian Time-Slip
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance AudioPreview
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours
Themes: / science fiction / outer space / Mars / Martians / time travel /

Publisher summary:

‘The writing is humorous, painful, awesome in its effect on both mind and heart…There are few modern novels to match it.’ —Rolling Stone

On an arid Mars, local bigwigs compete with Earth-bound interlopers to buy up land before the Un develops it and its value skyrockets. Martian Union leader Arnie Kott has an ace up his sleeve, though: an autistic boy named Manfred who seems to have the ability to see the future. In the hopes of gaining an advantage on a Martian real estate deal, powerful people force Manfred to send them into the future, where they can learn about development plans. But is Manfred sending them to the real future or one colored by his own dark and paranoid filter? As the time travelers are drawn into Manfred’s dark worldview in both the future and present, the cost of doing business may drive them all insane.

Martian Time Slip has everything I love about Philip K Dick’s writing: artificial life, unsettling visions, chaos and decay, hilarious satire, and story horizons that stretch into eternity.

PKD’s Mars is a strange and slightly alien version of 1960s California: a desert suburbia where the powerful waste water to show off their status, neglectful housewives pop pills and complain about their “whiny and dreadful” neighbors, and dodgy door-to-door salesmen offer illegal Earth foods like turtle soup and smoked frogs legs.

Since machines degrade quickly in the dry climate and resources for constructing new things are scarce, repair is a big business on Mars. The story starts when Jack Bohlen, a working-class repairman and latent schizophrenic, is diverted from a remote repair job to help some Bleekmen out in the desert.

Bleekmen are the subjugated natives of Mars, apparently related to ancient humans and the sole residents of the planet for thousands of years until the colonists arrived. Now’s they’re left to work menial jobs, and even their mystic practices are being “corrected” by the newcomers. For example, after they give Jack a lovely but creepy gift called a water witch, they explain how it works…

More carefully examining the water witch, Jack saw that it had a face and vague limbs. It was mummified, once a living creature of some sort; he made out its drawn-up legs, its ears . . . he shivered. The face was oddly human, a wizened, suffering face, as if it had been killed while crying out.

“How does it work?” he asked the young Bleekman.

“Formerly, when one wanted water, one pissed on the water witch, and she came to life. Now we do not do that, Mister; we have learned from you Misters that to piss is wrong. So we spit on her instead, and she hears that, too, almost as well. It wakes her, and she opens and looks around, and then she opens her mouth and calls the water to her.”

While on this mission, Jack runs into Supreme Goodmember Arnie Cott, the leader of the Water Works Union (one of the most powerful positions on Mars). Arnie is an obnoxious, manipulative, and racist schemer. He decides he can use Jack and so brings him in on one of his schemes to harness the precog abilities of an autistic boy, thus giving Arnie an advantage in real estate investment.

However, once he brings the autistic boy Manfred Steiner and Jack together, things start to gets very, very weird (in the best kind of way).

Originally, I was almost going to give this book a low rating, thinking it might be the first PKD book I’ve read that I didn’t really like. I kept going back to the audiobook and thinking I’d re-started in the wrong place, or that I’d zoned out and missed something the last time. It wasn’t until I decided to try a print version that I realized the reason I was losing my way was a side-effect of the novel’s beautiful and crazy structure, which spirals around and folds back in on itself.

Once I had a handle on this, I fell in love with it. This novel doesn’t reward broken up or distracted reading, but if you can give it dedicated attention, it’s brilliant.

I thought the audiobook I listened to, narrated by Jeff Cummings for Brilliance Audio, was well performed and the characters were easily differentiated, even though personally the narrative style wasn’t for me. In my mind, I tend to hear PKD’s characters as sort of dry and indifferent, so some of the characters in this version seemed too enthusiastic for my taste. But this is a very subjective thing and I imagine this reading would work well for lots of listeners. Just check out the sample audio before you buy.

This is a funny, eerie, and unforgettable story and definitely recommended, especially for PKD fans!

Posted by Marissa van Uden

Review of Alien Honor by Vaughn Heppner

February 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Alien Honor by Vaughn HeppnerAlien Honor (A Fenris Novel #1)
By Vaughn Heppner, Read by Jeff Cummings
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / interspecies slavery / telepathic FTL spaceships / galactic colonizing / Philosoraptors / science fiction / space / aliens /

Publisher summary:

2457 AD. The longest space voyage in history has begun: 230 light years from a ravaged Earth to the pristine star system of New Eden — a beacon of hope following the Doom Star days. Aboard the ship are human colonizers, the Space Navy, fierce “Monitors” once bred to fight Cyborgs, and four “Specials” — humans with psionic abilities, capable of ripping holes in space to jump vast distances. But one Special has his own agenda and when an alien presence makes an offer he can’t refuse, the entire mission takes a deadly turn. Cyrus Gant, a former Dust-dealing gang member from Earth’s subterranean slums, is onto the renegade Special. And while his psi powers aren’t as strong as he might like, Cyrus’s street smarts more than make up for this seeming disadvantage. This will be crucial, because as the ship makes the final, frightening leap toward New Eden, Cyrus is everyone’s last hope for survival.

Alien Honor is Vaughn Heppner’s opening book in the Fenris series, which is set in 2457 AD. Humans are using telepaths to power FTL (faster-than-light) spaceships. The majority of the book focuses on Cyrus Gant, a gritty gang boss who was plucked out of the slums and trained in a special program for the development of telepathic humans. Earth sends a colonizing ship 230 light years to the New Eden star system with hope for a new beginning. Of course, things go horribly wrong and we encounter dinosaurs in space posing as philosopher-kings, as one does when venturing into space.

Vaughn Heppner is ambitious. SF is a genre known for tackling issues of social inequality set against an alien backdrop as a means of providing alternative perspective. We encounter interspecies slavery, telepath typecasting, and military stereotypes reinforcing the old misguided mantra of stronger=bigger=better. Unfortunately, Heppner’s near continual use of contemporary language/slang became an increasing source of irritation. The story is set over four hundred years in our future, yet Heppner has characters dropping insults like “prick” and “bastards.” Anytime I stumbled across characters using present-day language and contemporary idioms, it yanked me out of Heppner’s world.

Jeff Cummings narrates the audiobook and does a fair job. As a reader, he never becomes bigger than the story. There were times when I felt his delivery was overdramatic and slower in pace than I am accustomed to, but this is minor.

Personally, I felt things picked up nicely when the dinosaurs came on the scene. I mean come on, space Velociraptor cast as philosopher-king. You know what that means, right? Philosoraptor, YEAH-BABY!!!

And yes, I’m a proud owner of a Philosoraptor t-shirt.

Posted by Casey Hampton.