Review of The Martian by Andy Weir

August 4, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

MartianThe Martian
By Andy Weir; Narrated by R.C. Bray
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 22 March 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 53 minutes

Themes: / astronaut / Mars / engineering / space exploration / NASA /

Publisher summary:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Five stars for pure entertainment and because math made it suspenseful.

That’s right, math made it thrilling. Look at it this way, you’re stranded on a planet that’s essentially trying to kill you. You could just keel over and die … like I would most likely do in the same situation, or you could figure out how to stay alive.

Start with the math. NASA planned for 30 days worth of food for 6 people. The next time someone will be on the planet is in 4 years. Even rationing that food only gets you a little over a year’s worth.

Wait, what if you can’t even contact someone to tell them you’re alive and need to be rescued, more math.

It’s the math that made this book exciting. In fact, this XKCD comic pretty much explains it:

Knowing how long until you’re dead is the suspense.

Couple entertaining math (how is this even possible?) with one of the best characters ever created, Mark Watney, and you have an insanely great story.

Mark Watney is an absolutely hilarious character, especially coupled with the situation he’s in (stranded on Mars) and with whom he’s dealing with (NASA, aka the smartest people ever).

Exchanges like this are that much funnier when it’s freaking NASA he’s talking to:

“[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling. [12:07] Watney: That’s what she said. [12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?”

Probably the best part is that it’s not cause he’s going crazy from being alone for so long, it’s just how he is and that’s awesome.

I not only thought of Watney as a close friend, but I felt like I lived on Mars in this book. You’re constantly aware of how much depends on every little thing not screwing up, how dependent someone is on things we take for granted on a planet that’s actually hospitable to life. And then everything goes wrong.

Which brings me to really the only kind of awkward thing about the book. With the way it’s set up (through log entries and third person omniscient when not with Watney), Andy Weir kind of has to go out of his way to tell you how things are going wrong. Suddenly, you’re brought out of the narrative to be informed how the constant pressure on one area caused the wearing down of material and suddenly … HUGE problem occurs.

Otherwise, I had a blast with this book. The narration by R.C. Bray was top notch. Not that I know anything different, but he nailed the sarcasm and wit of Watney and made this book go more than smoothly. I thought of him as Watney and completely forgot about the narration. That’s when you know it’s good.

This is one of those audiobooks I finished in such a short time because it’s all I wanted to do. I usually have audiobooks for the commute, but this is one you find yourself listening to at every possible moment. That’s when I know I’ve found gold. Eureka, put down what you’re reading and jump on The Martian train (I haven’t lost my metaphors have I?).

5 out of 5 Stars (Cause everything worked together to make this one damn fine read)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

March 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyThe Martian Chronicles
By Ray Bradury; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / Mars / science fiction / short stories /

Ray Bradbury is a storyteller without peer, a poet of the possible, and, indisputably, one of America’s most beloved authors. In a much-celebrated literary career that has spanned seven decades, he has produced an astonishing body of work: unforgettable novels, essays, theatrical works, screenplays and teleplays, and numerous superb short-story collections, including The Martian Chronicles: masterfully rendered stories of Earth’s settlement of the fourth world from the sun. Bradbury’s Mars is a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor—of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a silently destroyed civilization. It is here the invaders have come to despoil and commercialize, to grow and to learn—first a trickle, then a torrent rushing from a world with no future toward a promise of tomorrow. The Earthman conquers Mars…and then is conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race.Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is a classic work of twentieth-century literature whose extraordinary power and imagination remain undimmed by time’s passage. In connected, chronological stories, the grandmaster of science fiction enthralls, challenges, and delights us, exposing in stark and stunning spacelight our strengths, our weaknesses, our follies, and our poignant humanity, on a strange and breathtaking world where humanity does not belong.

I’ve never read anything by Mr. Bradbury before. I’m not really well read in the “classics”. There is too much modern stuff I want to read, and in general I prefer fantasy to Sci-Fi. But when Brilliance Audio was releasing some of his better known works on Audio CD (although the production itself was done by Audible) last year, I jumped at the chance to finally give him a try.

I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk this year, and was trying to figure out what to read AFTER this book to get me out of it. Since it was short, I wanted to listen to it sooner rather than later, write up my review then move onto something else.

Apparently I just needed to listen to this. Apart from one story (Way in the Middle of the Air) which made me really uncomfortable and showed it’s age. It appears to have been eliminated from several of the more recent editions of this book, and I wish I had skipped it as it really adds very little to this collection.

Everything else was enjoyable. A bit depressing, but enjoyable. Mr. Bradbury paints a bleak picture of a future that thankfully never came. This isn’t hard sci-fi by any means, but more like dystopian space opera.

I would have never thought something bleak would lighten my mood, but the stories were that good, and the prose are excellent. They reminded me a lot of the Twilight Zone, although I know these stories predate that show. I think The Silent Towns could easily have been an episode of the show, as could several others.

I think my favorite of the collection is Usher II. I can’t pretend to get all the references apart from Poe and Lovecraft, but his tale of revenge for censorship is quite good. I’ll have to check out the Poe story The Fall of the House of Usher that seems to have influenced it.

Mark Boyett’s voice reminds me a bit of Rod Serling, which as I get into a bit below seemed a perfect fit. I know there are multiple versions of the audiobook. I’m not sure how easy they are to get a hold of, but this one seems like a good option.

Overall this is an excellent collection of stories, and if like me you haven’t read it/anything by Mr. Bradbury, this seems like as good a place as any to start.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Ilium by Dan Simmons

December 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Ilium by Dan SimmonsIlium (Ilium #1)
By Dan Simmons; Narrated by Kevin Pariseau
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 25 Discs; 30 hours
Themes: / Mars / gods / ancient Greece / scholars / Shakespeare / fantasy /
Publisher summary:
From the towering heights of Olympos Mons on Mars, the mighty Zeus and his immortal family of gods, goddesses, and demigods look down upon a momentous battle, observing—and often influencing—the legendary exploits of Paris, Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, and the clashing armies of Greece and Troy.Thomas Hockenberry, former 21st-century professor and Iliad scholar, watches as well. It is Hockenberry’s duty to observe and report on the Trojan War’s progress to the so-called deities who saw fit to return him from the dead. But the muse he serves has a new assignment for the wary scholic, one dictated by Aphrodite herself.With the help of 40th-century technology, Hockenberry is to infiltrate Olympos, spy on its divine inhabitants…and ultimately destroy Aphrodite’s sister and rival, the goddess Pallas Athena. On an Earth profoundly changed since the departure of the Post-Humans centuries earlier, the great events on the bloody plains of Ilium serve as mere entertainment.Its scenes of unrivaled heroics and unequaled carnage add excitement to human lives devoid of courage, strife, labor, and purpose. But this eloi-like existence is not enough for Harman, a man in the last year of his last 20. That rarest of post-postmodern men—an ‘adventurer’—he intends to explore far beyond the boundaries of his world before his allotted time expires, in search of a lost past, a devastating truth, and an escape from his own inevitable ‘final fax.’ Meanwhile, from the radiation-swept reaches of Jovian space, four sentient machines race to investigate—and, perhaps, terminate—the potentially catastrophic emissions of unexplained quantum-flux emanating from a mountaintop miles above the terraformed surface of Mars.

If someone were to describe this book to me (if they even could), I don’t know if I would believe how much I absolutely enjoyed it. Dan Simmons is a mad genius.

Shakespeare-quoting humanoid robots, Greek Gods, post-humans, and old-style humans somehow make the craziest awesome story imaginable.

Ilium is a story told through essentially three unrelated viewpoints. First, there’s Hockenberry. This is told in first person. Hockenberry is called a “Scholic,” a human from our the 20th century (our time) who was rebirthed in a future where Homer’s Trojan War is being fought. His job is to report on the war … to the Greek Gods.

At first, this is completely confusing. Why? is a question I asked myself over and over, but it begins to make sense with time. Plus, it’s hard not to be fascinated with the events of the Iliad. It’s also impressive how much research went into it, though that’s only an assumption since my knowledge of the Trojan War is essentially from the movie, Troy (but I have read the Odyssey!).

The second viewpoint is the humans, mainly Daemon. Daemon is a self-involved fool who is unlikeable to say the least. But who wouldn’t be when you have everything handed to you on a silver platter by robots called servitors (sp – I did listen to the audio so forgive me), like all humans everywhere. Pleasure is their life, knowledge … is lacking.

The third viewpoint is that of a sonnet-loving humanoid robot called a “moravec” and named Mahnmut. Specifically, and only, Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s work consists of exploring the moon of Jupiter called Europa. Mahnmut is called in on a mission with a group of moravecs to explore some occurrences on the planet mars.

At first, I was highly entertained, though confused, with the events of the Trojan war and the other parts were just above boring. Slowly, the story takes hold and it had me hook, line, and sinker.

Listening to the audiobook, I was looking forward to my morning and evening drives and not too sad to do errands on my lunch hour either. Somehow, it ALL makes sense even though it sounds like the oddest collection of classics to make up a cohesive story all its own. What does Shakespeare have to do with the Iliad or Proust (his work makes appearances too) for that matter, all set in the future with technology that gives humans everything they ever want or need?

It’s crazy I tell ya. Crazy! How did I like this book this much? I’m telling you, Simmons is a mad genius. I will just sit back and let him take me on his journey. It’s amazing. I question not.

Kevin Pariseau is the narrator of this audiobook and while at first I thought he over-acted the part of Hockenberry, though somehow not the other parts, I really grew to like him and found out that it was literally just the character of Hockenberry that he was playing. And it’s impressive given how many Greek words and names he’s got to …erm… name.

The only problem is that Ilium is only half the story. It stops at a huge cliffhanger and I’m already heading to Olympos to see how this ends.

5 out of 5 Stars (Mind … blown)

Posted by Bryce L.

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

The SFFaudio Podcast #291 – READALONG: Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

November 17, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #291 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, and Marissa van Uden talk about Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick.

Talked about on today’s show:
1964, first serialized as All We Marsmen, a pair of boxing insects, threads that lead nowhere, “a wonderful train-wreck of a novel”, the two audiobook versions, repeating scenes are disconcerting in the audiobook, repeating moments, at Arnie’s apartment, is this a byproduct of the writing process?, problems with marriage and plumbers, The Search For Philip K. Dick by Anne R. Dick, “Goodmember Arnie Kott Of Mars”, Chinatown, The Two Jakes, developers, Heliogabalus, time travel, the broken Friendly Dad robot, the school is monitoring, when you’re reading your Kindle Amazon is watching you, school is to make you conservative, preserving Earth culture, the time gate anthology, Robert Silverberg, autonomous robots, door to door salesmen, teaching machines, the different robot teachers, Immanuel Kant robot, with certainty he pointed down the hall, a western bias (the interests of Philip K. Dick), Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, Julius, Winston Churchill, Tiberius, Thomas Edison, warfare, history, a million neat ideas, Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great, schizophrenia and autism, experiencing time at a different rate, derangement in a sense of time, A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., Camp BG, setting your watch by the stars and by the seasons, schizophrenia as a tendency but not a disability, daylight savings time, recipe for going to jail: act as if daylight savings isn’t real, its what the novel is about, the Soviets, an American Mars, a Bradburyian Mars, Martians as elves, the Bleekmen, water witch, hunter/gatherers nomadic culture, the “tame” Bleekman, the dream-quest is payback, a “pilg” (pilgrimage), Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny, the trek through the desert, Tibor, Psychology Today, “oh, boy!”, thiotimoline, reconciling realities, “gubble gubble”, sharped tongued secretary, bicycles in outer space, she’s the predator, he’s the predator, Arnie and Manfred, sniffing around Doreen, they’re from the “TOMB WORLD”, Silvia is the most common female character name PKD uses, an analogy (or metaphor) for marriage, uppers and downers, drugs and coffee, back to the keyboard, Dr. Glaub is desperate to make some money, Dick’s own financial concerns, Anne, webbed fingers, inside the minds of horrible people, the dialogue driven sex scene is kinda creepy, why is she with this guy?, access to all the booze, why does Jack go back to his wife?, the perfunctory affairs are unbelievable, unredeemable, somehow it seems to all work, the Swiss rocket, Bleekmen are homo-sapiens, the S.M. Stirling Lords Of Creation novels, Mars as California, Australian aborigines, “dreamlines dreamsongs and dreamtime“, Ludwig Binswanger, psychiatry, psychology, Ellen had split her life, the “tomb world”,” degenerate and degenerating”, being trapped in your own body, “a narrowing a contracting”, gubble as a marker, Being John Malkovich, “Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich!”, our bodies with their low needs distract them from our purposes (if we have any), oblivious to suffering, depression, it’s all brain chemistry, anorexia, obsession with death, Mafred’s “sick” drawing, Amweb as the “tomb world”, the Manfred illustration, the nightmare woman, “her tongue wants to cut”, seeing into the future is seeing death, awesome imagery, a recurring image, The Minority Report, armless and legless (limbless characters), the movie adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, dialogue driven storytelling, what are they reacting to?, mental processes, “it was there to be found”, Virgil Finlay, reading it harder, a post apocalyptic zombie novel, building up a picture, open to being expanded, PKD is concise, most books aren’t dialogue driven, creative writing classes, showing off descriptive skills, novels vs. poetry, is J.R.R. Tolkien responsible for this?, a reverence for the landscape, what color is the dust?, visuals are everything has colonized Science Fiction and Fantasy in the last 30 years, eating meals and walking the landscape, this book isn’t a distraction from life, a meta-description of life, what makes this a SF story?, “the chamber”, the technology is your mind and your brain, even Mars isn’t very different, mars rats, what do the bleekmen hunt?, water witches!, does the water witch protect Jack?, the pistol, the real SF idea behind this is PKD is trying top figure out what déjà vu is, the “I know what is going to happen next” feeling, we are very poor at capitalizing on our future knowledge, the slipped gear, “Oh, little Jackie.”, Philip K. Dick’s science fiction is Psychology Today, an ansible, this problem in science and the social situation between these characters, lying in bed in a hypnagogic state, doing dream style processing of mental white noise in a semi-conscious state, “all different all equally true”, different angles, the broken mosaic, the fact that these books are dated doesn’t age the books, the Brilliance Audio audiobook narrated by Jeff Cummings, Grover Gardner (Tom Parker) narration of Martian Time-Slip, the bicycles floating into space, a horrible human being (he wastes water), Heliogabalus -> Helio (sun -> son) will Gabalus (gubble) less, Elagabalus, the religion of the Roman Empire, a scene, W.A. Mozart, “I love Mozart!”, Bruno Walter conducting, that hideous racket, encoding messages, Manfred Steiner, is this the sign?, they emerged from her pores, whoever’s perspective we see the scene from they all enter the “tomb world”, “teeming with gubbish”, “he wanted to bite her lip”, the pivot point, screeches, the screech of the bus, music, what do dogs think of music?, what do autistic people think of music?, trance music, a Dickian idea, music and sound, the bus brakes screech, “fire!”, bears at the zoo cavorting for peanuts, the suicide, “more evidence that Arnie is a horrible human being”, we just need a little bit of hope, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Galactic Pot-Healer, Fair Game by Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made, there are 36 public domain Philip K. Dick stories, Time Out Of Joint (is Paul’s favourite Dick novel), a constructed town,

Martian Time-Slip WORD CLOUD

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

All We Marsmen illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Blackstone Audio - Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

Posted by Jesse Willis

Eric S. Rabkin talking about Mars

May 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

SFFaudio News

Professor Eric S. Rabkin talking about Mars.

Saturday Morning Physics – March 25, 2006.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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