Review of Dangerous Women

October 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Dangerous Women Dangerous Women: Stories
Edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Narrated by Scott Brick, Jonathan Frakes, Janis Ian, Stana Katic, Lee Meriwether, Emily Rankin, Harriet Walter, Jake Weber
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 3 December 2013[UNABRIDGED] – 32 hours, 49 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / short stories / fantasy / women /

Publisher summary:

All new and original to this volume, the 21 stories in Dangerous Women include work by twelve New York Times bestsellers, and seven stories set in the authors’ bestselling continuities—including a new “Outlander” story by Diana Gabaldon, a  tale of Harry Dresden’s world by Jim Butcher, a story from Lev Grossman set in the world of The Magicians, and a 35,000-word novella by George R. R. Martin about the Dance of the Dragons, the vast civil war that tore Westeros apart nearly two centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones.

Also included are original stories of dangerous women–heroines and villains alike–by Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Sherilynn Kenyon, Lawrence Block, Carrie Vaughn,  S. M. Stirling, Sharon Kay Penman, and many others.
 
Writes Gardner Dozois in his Introduction, “Here you’ll find no hapless victims who stand by whimpering in dread while the male hero fights the monster or clashes swords with the villain, and if you want to tie these women to the railroad tracks, you’ll find you have a real fight on your hands.  Instead, you will find sword-wielding women warriors, intrepid women fighter pilots and far-ranging spacewomen, deadly female serial killers, formidable female superheroes, sly and seductive femmes fatale, female wizards, hard-living Bad Girls, female bandits and rebels, embattled survivors in Post-Apocalyptic futures, female Private Investigators, stern female hanging judges, haughty queens who rule nations and whose jealousies and ambitions send thousands to grisly deaths, daring dragonriders, and many more.”

Stories and Narrators (in order of appearance):
“Some Desperado” by Joe Abercrombie; Read by Stana Katic
“My Heart Is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott; Read by Jake Weber
“Nora’s Song” by Cecelia Holland; Read by Harriet Walter
“The Hands That Are Not There” by Melinda Snodgrass; Read by Jonathan Frakes
“Bombshells” by Jim Butcher; Read by Emily Rankin
“Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn; Read by Inna Korobkina
“Wrestling Jesus” by Joe R. Lansdale; Read by Scott Brick
“Neighbors” by Megan Lindholm; Read by Lee Meriwether
“I Know How to Pick ’Em” by Lawrence Block; Read by Jake Weber
“Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson; Read by Claudia Black
“A Queen in Exile” by Sharon Kay Penman; Read by Harriet Walter
“The Girl in the Mirror” by Lev Grossman; Read by Sophie Turner
“Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress; Read by Janis Ian
“City Lazarus” by Diana Rowland; Read by Scott Brick
“Virgins” by Diana Gabaldon; Read by Allan Scott-Douglas
“Pronouncing Doom” by S.M. Stirling; Read by Stana Katic
“Name the Beast” by Sam Sykes; Read by Claudia Black
“Caregivers” by Pat Cadigan; Read by Janis Ian
“Lies My Mother Told Me” by Caroline Spector; Read by Maggi-Meg Reed
“Hell Hath No Fury” by Sherilynn Kenyon; Read by Jenna Lamia
“The Princess and the Queen” by George R. R. Martin; Read by Iain Glen

It took me a really long time to make it through this book, even with skipping stories, and that was a big sign that it wasn’t working for me. I love and read a lot of anthologies, and Dangerous Women was odd in that it only paid lip service to the theme. Most of these stories had nothing to do with women, dangerous or otherwise, instead focusing on men talking about women. Overall, while I was disappointed in this anthology, and would not recommend it, here are my spoiler thoughts on some of the best and worst individual stories (scroll to the end for a link to more!):

“The Hands That Are Not There” by Melinda Snodgrass
Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: the Next Generation is the narrator!!! Fortune 500? Strip club? OK, I’m missing the dangerous women portion of this story at the beginning, and am a little confused overall. The main character doesn’t seem to have a great opinion of women in general. Suppose that’s not surprising considering this takes place during a bachelor party. “Sassy little buttocks”? I giggled when he shouted “blackout’. Genetic manipulation? What am I listening to?

Holy. Hell.

Aside from the novelty of the narrator, this was just bad. The characterization of women left a bad taste in my mouth. The prose was an unfortunate shade of purple. The plot twist was silly. So. Bad.

“Bombshells” by Jim Butcher – A Harry Dresden story
I’ve never read any of the Dresden books, although I’m vaguely familiar with the story, and this was a sorely needed palette cleanser after the last story. Except for the leg-shaving bit. Wut? That came across as trying a bit too hard. Bit more telling than showing than is to my taste. And hearing the phrase ‘soul gaze’ spoken out loud just pointed out how silly it is. Holy infodump on how magic works, but overall both the narrator and writing was A+.

“Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn
Eeeeeee! Night witches! I love female pilots!

The writing is concise and easy to follow, but full of effective details that really conveyed the feeling of a fire fight. The plot was just heartbreaking. And a lovely relationship between siblings is the focus, rather than a romantic one. Such a nice change! This was an excellent portrayal of female non-competitive friendship. So good. One of the highlights of the anthology.

Narrator had a distinctive, lovely voice.

“I Know How to Pick ’Em” by Lawrence Block
Noir up the wazoo! This was a man’s man kind of a story, I guess. Wow. I had to skip this after he started fantasizing about beating the woman he was with. He had so much hate for women. I felt a little sick just listening.

Narrator has great, gritty voice.

“Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson
This was a great story. Silence was amazing, and the world had just enough detail for you to believe and fill in the rest of the blanks. Her background as a bounty hunter was inventive, and I loved seeing the people people who crossed her get their eventual comeuppance.

Narrator had just enough weariness in her voice to be pleasing and appropriate to the story.

“The Girl in the Mirror” by Lev Grossman – A Magicians story
Fabulous characterization of mischievous girls at a magical school. Their talk is real, and the details are well delineated. Think Harry Potter but darker and meaner. Adorable short story. Just lovely.

As an added bonus, Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark on Games of Thrones, was the narrator. She hit the perfect tone, and I would definitely listen to her narration again.

“Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress
This was a very quiet, intense, and bleak story. The women are essentially kept for breeding in a post-apocalyptic setting, but during a young girl’s ‘budding’ ceremony, one woman voices her desire to be more. The narrator is the nurse, in charge of the health of the other women. There’s an undertone of packs and the urban forest in this story, like I was waiting for them to turn into werewolves. Women have dressed codes to avoid tempting men, but are somewhat in charge of deciding who they have sex with. The group finds a TV and get it to work. They watch a ballet. Now one of the beta males wants to learn how to dance to entertain the pack. They find a moment of beauty, but lose it just as quickly.

The narrator has an understated style that worked really well for this.

“Pronouncing Doom” by S.M. Stirling – An Emberverse story
This was the most unpleasant part of this whole experience.

At first I was interested, as there was a main character traveling with a baby and some practical discussion of how life with children after the apocalypse works. There were disabled characters, and the women seemed to have some autonomy in the society.

However, the story then turned into a rape trial. The victim recounts escalating abuse from one man, and how the other women blamed her for his actions. Then she describes his violent sexual assault of her, and I turned it off. I had no motivation to finish this story.

The narrator was very pleasant, and her deadpan accounting of the assault was chilling.

“Caretakers” by Pat Cadigan
It starts out with an innocent question about female serial killers. These two sisters live together and while one is obsessed with Red Dawn (Go Wolverines!) the other loves to watch shows about serial killers. There was a lot of realistic characterization driving the story, and rising tension as you begin to wonder exactly how much the sister likes serial killers.

Narrator did a fantastic job, fading back to let the story stand on its strengths.

“Lies My Mother Told Me” by Caroline Spector – A Wild Cards story
I felt a little behind by the abrupt entrance of the first scene, but loved the discussion of prettiness in relation to society. Parades and zombies and consumerism. Mothers and daughters and self-esteem. Fat and bubbles as defense. The villain was such a dick, and such a stereotype of gamer dudes. Overall amazing!

Fantastic narrator.

“The Princess and the Queen” by George R.R. Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire story
Finally. this is the whole reason I was interested in the first place. I’ve read a couple of the ASOIAF books, so I was interested in what Martin would do with two super-powerful women. Not much, it turns out.

Sooooo – everyone in Westeros has always been terrible and power-hungry? OK then. First Night rites? Really? Ahhhh I am so bored. Never has anything with dragons in it bored me as much as this has. It’s about queens, yes, but it’s still the men who do almost everything.

Good narrator, though.

Sarah reviewed each and every story, which you can see on her GoodReads review.

Posted by Sarah R.

Review of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

January 13, 2012 by · 11 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Name of the Wind by Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind
By Patrick Rothfuss; Read by Nick Podehl
28 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2011
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Magicians / University /

The emperor may have clothes, but they didn’t fit me
A review by Brian Murphy

What do you want out of your fantasy? Exotic places? People different than the ones you know? High language? The clangor of battle? Wonders cold and distant and magnificent? The calling of silver trumpets? You don’t get any of this in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. It feels very … pedestrian, and common. Rothfuss’ created world is very much like our own, and is altogether too much with us. Worst of all, its protagonist is annoying as hell. In my opinion.

I was fully prepared to love The Name of the Wind. I knew about the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon, and the rave reviews from bloggers whose tastes and opinions frequently mirror my own. I was excited to see fantasy/SF luminaries like Robin Hobb, Ursula LeGuin, and Orson Scott Card (“He’s the great new fantasy writer we’ve been waiting for,” the latter wrote) singing its praises, and was fully prepared to do the same.

But the long and short of it is this: I didn’t love this book, and for long stretches, I didn’t even like it. Which makes me a bit sad, as I too was anticipating the arrival of a new great hope to emerge (or rescue, depending on your point of view) from the current crop of fantasy writers. As it turns out, I’m still waiting.

All that said, I recognize The Name of the Wind as a pretty solid artistic endeavor. In no way would I describe it as objectively bad, and the more I thought about it, I realized that it’s just not to my tastes. So I thought I would detail in this review why I didn’t like it, and then speculate on a few of the reasons why so many others have found it appealing. Of course, since I didn’t like The Name of the Wind very much, this review will spend much more time on the former, so be prepared.

The Name of the Wind is the first in a planned trilogy called The Kingkiller Chronicles. It details the life and times of a young man named Kvothe, a brilliant and talented magician doing his best to stay out of the limelight by posing as a simple innkeeper. When we meet Kvothe he’s in his early to mid 20s and is already a legend, though the events of his life have been exaggerated and mythologized. The Name of the Wind is essentially about a single day in which Kvothe sets the record straight for the loremaster Chronicler by giving the latter the full and true account of his youth and his subsequent rise to fame. We learn about Kvothe’s upbringing with a traveling group of minstrels and performers, to his days as a homeless street urchin, up through his first year at a University for wizards.

The Name of the Wind is epic fantasy length-wise (approximately 700 pages, and 23 discs in the audio version), but has nothing to do with J.R.R. Tolkien. It has everything to do with Harry Potter—Potter with a harder edge, yes, but Potter, unmistakably. When I read the description of the book and some of the reviews on Amazon I was expecting something closer to Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series—mythic, serious, a book with lessons to teach us about human nature and our place in the world. Instead I got a harmless, overlong soap opera.

I think we need a new name for this type of fantasy. This “positive” review (“Lovely and Undemanding” by Jo Walton or Tor.com) expresses one of my problems with the novel: its lightweight nature. Writes Walton, “It’s not very demanding—and I wonder if that’s precisely part of its wide appeal and success… I wonder if “undemanding” is something we actually seek in fantasy, if it’s part of the star quality that DAW instantly recognised in Rothfuss? … The Name of the Wind is a lovely read, but at the end there isn’t much to say about it.”

There is something to say about The Name of the Wind, of course, but the word that comes to mind is ordinary. I don’t mind applicability to the real world in my fantasy fiction, but what I don’t want is 1:1 equivalency. Aside from some sprinkled anachronisms (calling a week “a span,” or invoking the name of “Tehlu” instead of God) Rothfuss’ world is too much like our own. Half or more of the book is about Kvothe’s struggles with … student loans. Most of the problems Kvothe encounters are pedestrian: Young love, separation from his parents, completion of school projects on time, teachers who just don’t understand him. His college days also suffer from what I would call 90210 syndrome—despite the heavy workload we’re assured he’s suffering under, Kvothe seems to have endless time for hanging out with friends and sipping wine at the bar, or saving the town from marauding dragons. Which is much cooler than schoolwork, of course, but not entirely realistic. This is a problem, given that one of the conceits Rothfuss employs in The Name of The Wind is that he’s telling us a “real” story as opposed to a cliché fantasy. He uses the construction, “Now if this were a book, then X would have happened, but this is not a fantasy, and so here’s the real truth,” time and time again. But the problem is we never once feel like we’re in something other than a well planned, well coordinated, safe fantasy. Rothfuss does not have the maturity as a writer to pull off this conceit, in my opinion. Despite its claims to the contrary The Name of the Wind is a genre novel in every sense of the word. Again, that’s not a bad thing, and many readers have enjoyed it and will continue to do so. But let’s not pretend it’s anything more than another Belgariad.

This brings me to my first major problem with The Name of The Wind: I don’t like Kvothe. I don’t need to identify with the main character to enjoy a story, but I have to at least enjoy residing in their head space. I come up just short of actively despising the dude (Rothfuss does deserve praise for evoking that reaction in me, but I would bet it wasn’t his intent). The only way to explain Kvothe is that he is some avatar of the Gods. It’s utterly impossible for a boy his age to know what he knows. A precocious human child does not even come close to explaining his impossible adroitness and encyclopedic knowledge. Even after spending three years as a homeless street urchin, during which he did little but beg for coins and bread, Kvothe can rattle off every historical and anatomic question thrown at him by a brilliant panel of instructors to gain admission to the university. At one point he finds a dead man with a crossbow and knows how long the man has been dead, the type of crossbow he’s using, its cost, its usage, the fact that it’s illegal, etc. This is supposedly a medieval setting and yet what we have in Kvothe is a medieval McGyver, a walking Wikipedia page, applying scientific rigor and clear-headed rationality to every situation he encounters (another thing that irks me: The medieval tech level of Rothfuss’ world makes no sense. We have a college of brilliant teachers who have mastered anatomy and physics and every natural science known to man, yet are stuck reading rare books over candlelight and riding on horses).

One Amazon reviewer said that “Kvothe’s cockiness, arrogance, and impatience are constantly and quite believably landing him in trouble.” Except that they really don’t. Kvothe is not cocky and arrogant, save on a very superficial level. Impatient, yes. But his impatience lands him in minor scrapes from which he emerges undamaged or perhaps lightly scathed. He is, basically, perfect in every way, able to overcome every challenge with ease. For example, Kvothe takes the stage at a prestigious tavern to “earn his pipes,” a challenge which requires him to play before a tough, knowledgeable crowd to earn the distinction of master musician (yes, he’s an incredibly gifted lute player too. I didn’t mention that yet?). A jealous student sabotages Kvothe’s lute string so that it breaks at the height of his performance. But Kvothe is unflappable. It’s not even a real crisis, just a chance for Kvothe to again prove that he is that much better than we could have even thought. He finishes the most difficult song in the land with five strings and doesn’t miss a beat. Afterwards the audience weeps uncontrollably. There always seems to be a crowd around to applaud his every word. Hordes of faceless onlookers cheer his every act, applaud his every song, laugh at his every joke.

Kvothe’s only reported “fault” is his awkwardness with women and his inability to understand them, yet during one scene he compares his love Denna to a half dozen flowers with practiced, poetic ease, wooing her as no suitor before ever could. Denna returns the favor, spending paragraphs describing how Kvothe’s eyes change color when his emotions are aroused and how beautiful his red hair is. Kvothe flatters her back, telling her that only one other person has ever noticed that his eyes change color… this is bad romance novel stuff.

As for its originality? Sorry, I’m not seeing that either. The magic system seems very much cribbed from Ursula LeGuin, the conceit that knowing the true name of something grants you power over it.

So after all that grousing what is there to recommend about The Name of the Wind? At the sentence level Rothfuss is a pretty good writer. I think he’s better than Terry Brooks, and better than Stephen Donaldson. The Name of the Wind is compulsively readable, which is no mean feat. Stephen King has been labeled by a number of critics as pedestrian or lightweight, yet most of these guys can cite chapter and verse of his books and have apparently read all of them straight through. That’s because he’s so darned readable. So is Rothfuss. The story is easy to follow and carries you along to the end.

Second: Rothfuss gives you a lot of cool stuff to gawk at. Teachers engaged in a decades long war over the proper way to shelve books. A room where papers are cast to the wind and land on tiles labeled with “yes,” “no” and “maybe,” answering your questions unerringly like a medieval magic eight ball. And so on. Again, very Harry Potter-esque with its fine imaginative touches. Rothfuss also embeds lots of “Easter Eggs” and bits that prove significant later on, or lead the reader to speculate about their importance in the story. There’s lots of chatter by fans about why the evil Chandrian are so secretive, what the Underthing (mysterious passages and rooms beneath the school) are all about, and so on.

Yet a third reason: The Name of the Wind is a nice change of pace from the “GrimDark” fantasies of Joe Abercrombie, George R.R. Martin, and Richard Morgan, where everyone is a bastard and ends up raped, or dead, or both. We can cheer for Kvothe, and enjoy his scrapes, and perhaps remember what it was like to love our first girl with an unrequited love, or when we could barely scrape together six bucks on a Thursday night for a pizza.

In summary, The Name of the Wind is the product of a good writer with a lot of potential but did not deliver what I was looking for. Your mileage will vary, of course.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of The Prestige by Christopher Priest

April 23, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Prestige by Christopher PriestThe Prestige
By Christopher Priest; Read by Simon Vance
10 CDs – 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 0786168412
Themes: / Science Fiction / Magic / Magicians / 19th Century / Electricity / World Fantasy Award /

It’s difficult to say how long it’s been since I’ve been so enthralled with an audiobook as I was with this unabridged version of the World Fantasy Award-winning The Prestige. In very few words, the production was excellent. Simon Vance narrated, and since the story is primarily told through journal entries of the two main characters, he was basically called upon to portray these two dark, intricate magicians. He unreservedly succeeded – his performance was stellar. Because of his subtle care, the surprises of the novel were enhanced by his reading. And there are many surprises.

The main characters are late 19th century stage magicians (or “prestidigitators”, as they call themselves) named Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier. They perform in London, but at the height of each magician’s popularity, they tour America and Europe. But not together. No, these two guys are mortal enemies, out to better the other by whatever means necessary. Each one in turn performs a trick on stage that seems impossible to the other, and their personal quests are rooted in finding out how the other does it, and then to perform it better.

The novel is filled with fascinating detail about these magicians and their tricks. But even more interesting are the journals themselves. It becomes quickly apparent that the journal writers are not reliable. Christopher Priest was masterful in the way he made sure that the journal writers were speaking squarely from their own point of view, which was not always technically true; rather, like journal writers everywhere, they would write something about their own motives that justified events to themselves. The result is an intricate web that is slowly unraveled throughout the book. It’s an audiobook that merits a second listen; knowing what I know now, having finished, a second listen would reveal the breadcrumbs I missed along the way. I suspect I left several on the trail.

Also prominent is Priest’s portrayal of life in the 19th century. The values, the language, and the daily life of the characters all feel accurate, though I am no 19th century historian. The world’s reaction to the advent of electricity is a fascinating example. I couldn’t help but to think of modern parallels with the advent of the internet.

At first glance, this novel is fantasy. It even won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. But is this a fantasy novel? It really isn’t. Yes, there are magicians here, but they are stage magicians. As such, their tricks have perfectly reasonable explanations. Each of the main characters do specific remarkable things, but the reasons given for the way these things work are not magical, but scientific. More, I will not say, because this is a novel to be discovered for yourself, not to be read about. After I finished the book, I watched the recent film version. Be assured that there are enough major differences that a listen to this book will be a different (though similar) and very worthwhile experience – worthwhile enough to be the latest addition to SFFaudio’s Essential List.

Audio Sample: LINK

Posted by Scott D. Danielson