Review of Puttering About in a Strange Land

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Puttering About in a Strange Land PKDPuttering About in a Strange Land
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Luke Daniels, Kate Rudd, Amy McFadden
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / marriage / boarding school / literary / infidelity /

Publisher summary:

When Roger and Virginia Lindhal enroll their son Gregg in Mrs. Alt’s Los Padres Valley School in the mountains of Southern California, their marriage is already in deep trouble. Then the Lindhals meet Chic and Liz Bonner, whose two sons also board at Mrs. Alt’s school. The meeting is a catalyst for a complicated series of emotions and traumas, set against the backdrop of suburban Los Angeles in the early fifties. The buildup of emotional intensity and the finely observed characterizations are hallmarks of Philip K. Dick’s work.This is a realistic novel filled with details of everyday life and skillfully told from three points of view. It is powerful, eloquent, and gripping.

Puttering About in a Small Land (written 1957 but first published in 1985) feels very different from Philip K Dick’s usual stuff. It’s a dark and funny slow-burn set in 1950s Southern California, but there are no simulacra, no time slips, and no telepaths, and the only artificial reality is the one built out of society’s expectations of suburban married life.

It also seems unusually sensitive for PKD – not in a corny or sentimental way but just finely tuned into human relationships. He captures the subtle and imperfect communications of a dysfunctional marriage where two people are pretending to work together but are really pushing and pulling below the surface, wanting different things and resenting each other for it.

“I’ll be back pretty soon,” he said. From his eyes shone the leisurely, confident look; it was the sly quality that always annoyed her.

“I thought maybe we could talk,” she said.

He stood at the door, his hands in his pockets, his head tilted on one side. And he waited, showing his endurance, not arguing with her, simply standing. Like an animal, she thought. An inert, unspeaking, determined thing, remembering that it can get what it wants if it just waits.

“I’ll see you,” he said, opening the door to the hall.

“All right,” she said.

The story is told in three alternating points of view: Roger, his wife Virginia, and the “other woman” Liz. All three are trapped, one way or another, in self-made realities they don’t enjoy.

Some readers complain that PKD writes unflattering female characters, and as usual these ones aren’t much to admire: Virginia is gossipy and judgmental, her mother is a controlling nag (who often corners Roger and has some of the funniest scenes in the book), and Liz Bonner is so naïve and childlike she verges on the idiotic.

“She’s sort of a—” Mrs Alt searched for the word. “I don’t want to say lunatic. That isn’t it. She’s sort of an idiot with a touch of mysticism.”

But even so, Virginia has her strengths, and Liz Bonner is lovely in a quirky way. Her flaws and naïve unpredictability are exactly what free her from society’s expectations, and are what attract Roger. Despite the deceit and infidelity, their love story is somehow still beautiful.

And to be fair, PKD also writes pretty unflattering men. For example, Roger not only cheats on his wife, he also abandoned his previous wife and daughter and seems to be a compulsive liar. He’s a bristly, bad-tempered, and indifferent to his wife’s gestures of love and compromise. All he really cares about his TV retail-and-repair business, which is where the book title comes from: he’s a little king “puttering about in a small land.”

The waning of a marriage and infidelity appear in a lot of PKD’s stories, but in this one they really drive this plot. Normally I wouldn’t try to detect an author’s own life in his fiction, but since PKD has openly admitted he weaves autobiographical details into all his stories, it seems safe to see something of him in Roger.

His essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” might give some more clues to his approach to fiction set in the real world. Just because the characters’ universe is based in reality doesn’t mean PKD won’t try to disintegrate it.

I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. … Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live.”

I listened to Puttering About in a Small Land on audio and read the print version too. The audiobook was read by Amy McFadden, Kate Rudd, and Luke Daniels, one for each of the main characters. All three were great, although using three narrators didn’t work so well for me since the story is in third-person. Hearing the same characters read three slightly different ways gave the audiobook a patchwork feel and was a bit jarring and distracting sometimes.

I’d recommend Puttering About in a Small Land for PKD fans but not so much as an entry to his works. For anyone who knows his style, it’s very cool to see a more subtle side of him and to see how beautifully he can write about human relationships in the artificial universe we call reality. Definitely worth the read.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

 

Review of Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

June 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

griftersStarship Grifters (Rex Nihilo #1)
By Robert Kroese; Read by Kate Rudd
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 24 June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / witty SF / robot sidekick / Chaotic Equilibrium / galactic irony /

Publisher summary:

A space-faring ne’er-do-well with more bravado than brains, Rex Nihilo plies the known universe in a tireless quest for his own personal gain. But when he fleeces a wealthy weapons dealer in a high-stakes poker game, he ends up winning a worthless planet…and owing an outstanding debt more vast than space itself!

The only way for Rex to escape a lifetime of torture on the prison world Gulagatraz is to score a big payday by pulling off his biggest scam. But getting mixed up in the struggle between the tyrannical Malarchian Empire and the plucky rebels of the Revolting Front—and trying to double-cross them both—may be his biggest mistake. Luckily for Rex, his frustrated but faithful robot sidekick has the cyber-smarts to deal with buxom bounty hunters, pudgy princesses, overbearing overlords, and interstellar evangelists…while still keeping Rex’s martini glass filled.

The answer is yes.
The question? Should I read this book?

Funny SF is tricky. Funny SF that holds up over an entire novel is a rarity. The writing in this book is sharp, tight, and clever. I laughed out loud enough to lose track of tally or occurrence. In a word, this novel is SMART.

Robert Kroese delivers an action-stuffed SF adventure packed with funny acronyms, believable and outlandish characters, and a plot with more twists than a page of calligraphy or a barrel of monkey tails. Set in a future galaxy, far far away, Starship Grifters tickles our nostalgia with SF references that most should recognize. From those expendable red shirt wearers to large starships that have the capacity for destroying planets, this book is accessible. It is also wonderfully layered for you deep-rooted SF aficionados. I mean when a starship is named Flagrante Delicto, which is Latin, it’s hard to go wrong.

Now, does this mean you’ll love this as much as me? Nope, it don’t. Humor is painfully relative, but I imagine you’ll at least crack a smile or whack a knee. I laughed, often, at times uproariously. It’s been a while since I’ve had such fun with an SF adventure. The key is that this doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we.

Kate Rudd narrates the audiobook, and I highly recommend this for listening. Rudd is amazing! She infuses each character with a sense of individuality and the breath of life. At first I was a little anxious, but within five minutes Rudd had won me over, and within ten, I was a staunch Rudd believer.

Now, go grab a martini and let the listening begin. “It’s time for piggy to go to market!”

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Through the Door by Jodi McIssac

September 10, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Through the DoorThrough the Door (The Thin Veil #1)
By Jodi McIssac; Performed by Kate Rudd
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 23 April 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / Celtic mythology / faerie / motherhood / urban fantasy /

Publisher summary:

Single mom Cedar McLeod leads an ordinary but lonely life, balancing the demands of her career and her six-year-old daughter, Eden. One day, a fight between the two leads to the stunning discovery that Eden can open portals to anywhere she imagines. But before they can learn more about Eden’s extraordinary gift, the young girl mysteriously disappears. Desperate to find answers and her daughter, Cedar seeks out Eden’s father, who left before Eden was born. What she discovers challenges everything she’s ever known about the world around her: Magic is real — and mythical beings from an ancient world will stop at nothing to possess Eden’s abilities. Now, Cedar may have to put her faith in all of them if she hopes to save her daughter’s life. The first in the Thin Veil series, Through the Door is a pulse-pounding adventure that takes listeners across the globe and into the ancient realm of Celtic myths, where the stakes are high and only the deepest love will survive.

Through the Door has an unusual protagonist – a single mother. Cedar is raising her daughter, Eden, with the sometimes critical help of her mother, Maeve. Eden’s father, Finn, left before he even knew Cedar was pregnant. The story follows Cedar’s trials, beginning with the day Eden opens a door and finds not her bedroom, but Egypt.

I was very excited to get this audiobook, as I love Celtic mythology, but I found myself passing on chances to listen to it. I think some of the repeated uses of the Celtic words threw me out of the story a little, and the plot dragged in the beginning and end. Cedar was very refreshing. She was flawed and complicated, and felt like a real person who sometimes make mistakes. Eden acted like a strong little girl, and Maeve seemed like someone’s mother who didn’t approve of all of her choices. It was well-written, and I could tell the author was trying to cover all her bases, but that attention to detail slowed down the action too much. I will definitely be picking up her next book, so I would recommend this to anyone looking for a novel dealing with modern fae, wonderfully drawn characters, and unexpected protagonists.

The narrator is to be commended for her pronunciation of many Celtic words and her clear, emotive work throughout the story. Each disk had a short bit of music to smooth the transition, and the first few sentences from the previous track were repeated before continuing on.

Posted by Sarah R.

Review of The Blight of Muirwood

May 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Scourge of MuirwoodThe Blight of Muirwood (Muirwood #3)
By Jeff Wheeler; Read by Kate Rudd
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 15 January 2013
11 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / fantasy / orphan / servant /

Publisher summary:

A devastating plague continues to rage through the land of Muirwood, and all hope is laid at the feet of the young woman Lia. Called as a magical protector, Lia volunteers to embark on one last quest to rescue the knight-maston Colvin – her great love – and his pupil, the alleged heir to the fallen kingdom of Pry-Ree. Undaunted by injuries, Lia sets off across land and sea warning the kingdom of the great plague that is upon them. The arduous journey leads her to the doors of Dochte Abbey, where her friends are supposedly held. However, a fallen enemy lies in wait for Lia, as well as an unbearable new truth. The revelation will pit Lia’s deepest desires against the fate of her enchanted world.

I finished this in the course of the weekend. This was partly due to various chores and activities I had to finish that allowed me the opportunity to get extra listening in, and partly due to my desire to finish the story.  While I found it enjoyable, it’s ending was mostly predictable, and I didn’t think it was as strong as the previous novel.

One of the aspects of all the books in this trilogy that I didn’t hit upon in my previous reviews is the heavy use of Christian allegory. A key concept to the series is that your ability to channel “the Medium” is largely related to your belief in it. This relates to the notion of giving your will over to that of the Medium and faith that it will protect and bless you if you do so. Many of the abilities of the medium may only be used to the benefit of others and not oneself. There is also a large theme of life after death, and resurrection of the dead. While these themes are present throughout the whole trilogy, they weren’t as much at the forefront as they were in this book. The plot of this novel largely revolves around testing the main character Lea’s faith in the Medium.

I’m reluctant to throw out the term “Deus ex Machina” because I feel that all the events fall within the explained abilities of the Medium. Someone who is strong with it would be able to perform those actions, however I could see someone making a good case for it.

Overall, I think Mr. Wheeler does a good job of wrapping things up with a neat bow. There is certainly room for future stories in the world of Muirwood; the author’s note indicated he has a novella called Maia taking place many years after this trilogy available on his website.

Ms. Rudd is once again the narrator for the third and final book of the trilogy. As with the previous two, she a good, but not great reader with little variety in her character voices. She does attempt to do some accents for a few of the characters, but many of them sounded the same to me.

Review by Rob Zak.