Week 1: Think Like a Dinosaur by James Patrick Kelly

March 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

SFFaudio celebrates its 7th anniversary this month! What better way to celebrate than with more posts? I’m going to listen to one short story every weekday through the month of March, and tell you all about it here. Here’s the first!

Science Fiction Audiobook - Think Like a Dinosaur by James Patrick KellyThink Like a Dinosaur
By James Patrick Kelly; Read by James Patrick Kelly
1 Hr – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: James Patrick Kelly
Published: 2007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Physical Laws / Morality / Teleportation /

Before the rest of us knew what this podcasting stuff was all about, James Patrick Kelly was busy reading his stories into a microphone and publishing them over in the “Free Reads” section of jimkelly.net. Many stories have reached his Free Reads listeners, including his Hugo-winning novella Burn. And he’s still at it; his current Nebula nominee, “Going Deep” can be found over there too, free for the downloading.

“Think Like a Dinosaur” was part of another fine audio delivery innovation. In partnership with Audible.com, Jim published 4 sets of stories, called StoryPods, as podcasts-for-purchase delivered through Audible. You can still buy the StoryPods or the individual stories at Audible.

But the story – this is one of those stories that keeps you thinking long afterwards. Like Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” (JPK explains in the afterword exactly how that story influenced this one), the main character is presented with a moral dilemma of the highest order. Things are not exactly the same as in “The Cold Equations”, though, because it’s not clear if the concept of “harmony” is something invented by the aliens in the story, or is an actual, unbreakable physical law.

On thing is for certain, though. “Think Like a Dinosaur” has become as much a part of science fiction’s Great Conversation as Godwin’s story. Required reading!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

January 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Invisible Man by H.G. WellsThe Invisible Man
By H.G. Wells; Read by James Adams
5 CDs – Approx. 5.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781433277528
Themes: / Science Fiction / Invisibility / Chemistry / Biology / Crime / 19th Century / Sussex / Morality / Personal Responsibility /

On a freezing February day, a stranger emerges from out of the gray to request a room at a local provincial inn. Who is this out-of-season traveler? More confounding is the thick mask of bandages obscuring his face. Why does he disguise himself in this manner and keep himself hidden away in his room? Aroused by trepidation and curiosity, the local villagers bring it upon themselves to find the answers. What they discover is a man trapped in a terror of his own creation, and a chilling reflection of the unsolvable mysteries of their own souls.

While nobody could really deny H.G. Wells was an amazing and talented Science Fiction author I think we can all agree that some of his fictions are superior to others. Among those that are not superior is The Invisible Man. This is not from any serious defect in the novel’s writing. Indeed, I cannot see anything that H.G. Wells has really done badly or that he could have done better. So, if it couldn’t have been done better then why isn’t it better? I think the problem stems from two interrelated factors: One is a serious technical gripe, something in the book and unavoidable, and the other being the smallness of that idea. Taken together they make it difficult to fully engage with. What holds back The Invisible Man from an utter perfection is at the weak premise at the very core of the novel, invisibility. Invisibility is both impossible and small. I’ve expanded on its impossibility in another essay. Its smallness is a problem I will tackle here.

Invisibility is a long standing meme in human culture: Plato describes invisibility in the legend of The Ring Of Gyges, Tolkien used a similarly endowed ring in The Lord Of The Rings, and even modern scientific versions of invisibility (the invisible-like camouflage in Predator) are still with us. The problem is invisibility isn’t a story, its barely a half of an idea in terms of ideas – its a place to take a story, but it isn’t a very fruitful one. I felt the same way when I read Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man |READ OUR REVIEW|READ OUR REVIEW|. I though: “A man shrinking, that’s new!” It was new and completely unfruitful. See the fallout from the idea of a man shirking inexorably towards nothingness is a feeling of emptiness. The man shrinks, the world gets bigger. A man shrinks, everyday objects become like mountains and house pets like dragons. Its interesting, to be sure, but it isn’t a story. Like invisibility, no amount of hand-waving can make the explanation scientifically plausible. Unlike, the The Incredible Shrinking Man however I can still recommend The Invisible Man – Wells is the master of Science Fiction. In The Invisible Man he takes a fatally flawed concept, invisibility, and writes the shit out of it. When Griffin, the scientist and anti-hero of the title goes about explaining his methodological reasoning in a Socratic dialogue, he is fully persuasive. Check this passage out:

“Phew!” said Kemp. “That’s odd! But still I don’t see quite … I can understand that thereby you could spoil a valuable stone, but personal invisibility is a far cry.”

“Precisely,” said Griffin. “But consider, visibility depends on the action of the visible bodies on light. Either a body absorbs light, or it reflects or refracts it, or does all these things. If it neither reflects nor refracts nor absorbs light, it cannot of itself be visible. You see an opaque red box, for instance, because the colour absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest, all the red part of the light, to you. If it did not absorb any particular part of the light, but reflected it all, then it would be a shining white box. Silver! A diamond box would neither absorb much of the light nor reflect much from the general surface, but just here and there where the surfaces were favourable the light would be reflected and refracted, so that you would get a brilliant appearance of flashing reflections and translucencies—a sort of skeleton of light. A glass box would not be so brilliant, not so clearly visible, as a diamond box, because there would be less refraction and reflection. See that? From certain points of view you would see quite clearly through it. Some kinds of glass would be more visible than others, a box of flint glass would be brighter than a box of ordinary window glass. A box of very thin common glass would be hard to see in a bad light, because it would absorb hardly any light and refract and reflect very little. And if you put a sheet of common white glass in water, still more if you put it in some denser liquid than water, it would vanish almost altogether, because light passing from water to glass is only slightly refracted or reflected or indeed affected in any way. It is almost as invisible as a jet of coal gas or hydrogen is in air. And for precisely the same reason!”

“Yes,” said Kemp, “that is pretty plain sailing.”

So, I’m of two minds on The Invisible Man. It derives its heart from a weak concept – and like the phlogiston theory of combustion it is discredited, and undeserving of serious consideration. Despite all this I still find myself willing to recommend you read the novella. The psychological rigor that Wells brings to the novel makes The Invisible Man quite possibly the first and last straight Science Fiction story worthy of our attentions.

Narrator James Adams is a capable reader, he reads the third person perspective text with what sounds like an authentic English accent. The clam-shell style case, for the library CD edition that I received, features a bit of fading text on the cover, a design inspired by the invisibility of the title. Unfortunately this makes the details hard to make out in anything other than a bright light environment. Blackstone Audio has four other formats available too: Cassette, MP3-CD, digital download (via Audible.com) and playaway (a kind of disposable MP3 player that can only play one book). Given the widespread availability of The Invisible Man by other audiobook publishers I’d like to have seen some value added materials, perhaps a specially commisioned introduction by Professor Eric Rabkin and or an afterward by Professor Michael D.C. Drout.

One thing I like about paperbooks that rarely (if ever) gets included in an audiobook is a map. Maps are fun and informative. One of the funnest paperback series ever was the old Dell Mapbacks. Here’s the Map from the back of Dell’s edition of The Invisible Man:

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells - A Dell Book (MAPBACK)

And while we’re at it here’s the cover…

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells - A Dell Book - FRONT COVER of the MAPBACK

Posted by Jesse Willis

SFPRP: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

January 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

Luke Burrage, in the first of two shows with me as a guest on Science Fiction Book Review Podcast, is reviewing and talking about The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Its a fun exercise, we run down the whole book and talk about other invisibility stories too. Have a listen…

The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast SFBRP #078 – H.G. Wells – The Invisible Man
1 |MP3| – Approx. 58 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: SFBRP.com
Podcast: Monday, January 18, 2010

Here’s what we talked about:
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, the public domain status of the writings of H.G. Wells, Luke and Jesse in conversation, The War Of The Worlds, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, The First Men In The Moon, Luke’s review of The Time Machine, Sussex, invasion literature, mad scientist, horror, thriller, the village of Iping, invisibility, scientific invisibility, What Was It?, haunted house, the 2000 film Hollow Man, Smoke by Donald E. Westlake, the development of the invisibility meme, creating tension in a scene with exposition, Luke’s review of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, the Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan Raiders Of The Lost Ark story conference |PDF|, a Nazi monkey, Griffin (the titular Invisible Man) as an anti-hero, The Ring Of Gyges (found within Plato’s The Republic), invisibility as a cipher for moral character, invisibility is good for nothing other than spying, if you’re an invisible person you’ll need a confederate, The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Miss Pim’s Camouflage by Lady Stanley, WWI, Invisible Agent, WWII, isolation, moral isolation, anonymity, Eric Rabkin’s point about, refractive index, albinism, the sleight of hand that H.G. Wells uses in The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, The Crystal Egg by H.G. Wells, Mars, long distance communication, what is the serious problem with invisibility? [the answer is a DEFEATER for any truly HARD SF story], the background for The Time Machine is Charles Darwin, evolution and the class system, the background for The War Of The Worlds is invasion literature, war and colonialism, Eddie Izzard‘s colonialism through flags, the background for The Invisible Man is personal responsibility, isolation and moral character, Thomas Marvel (the tramp with an invisible friend), the parallels between The Invisible Man and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Fawlty Towers, psychopathy, sociopathy, the one ring’s invisibility, invisibility for burglary is only half as useful as you’d expect, imagine the Sauron’s ring in the hands of Denethor, Boromir, or Gandalf!, the filmspotting podcast, visit Luke’s website!

http://www.sfbrp.com/?feed=podcast

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Eye For Eye by Orson Scott Card

April 20, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Eye For Eye by Orson Scott CardEye For Eye
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki with Margy Stein
3 CDs – 147 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: ReQuest Audiobooks
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1933299517
Themes: / Science Fiction / Society / Morality / Youth / Power /

“If you’re a half way decent person you don’t go looking to kill people. Even if you can do it without touching them. Even if you can do it as nobody even guesses they were murdered you still got to try not to do it.”

Mick Winger is only seventeen – and already he’s killed over a dozen people. Not on purpose of course; he never meant to hurt anyone. But when Mick gets angry, people die, even the people he loves the most. Set in the contemporary world, Mick is a godfearing young man with a mysterious power – the ability to kill people just by getting mad at them. He doesn’t want to kill people, but sometimes he gets mad and then they die of hideous cancerous tumors – sometimes fast, sometimes slow – depending on how mad he gets. The phenomena is explained by some “bio electrical field” handwaving on Card’s part but that isn’t the heart of the story. Mick’s been an orphan since the day he was born – even as a baby his uncontrollable power killed his caregivers. When he grew old enough to realize the danger he posed to others, he left the orphanage to get a job doing manual labour for a decent father figure. One day Mick finds himself unconciously withdrawing his meager savings and travelling to his birthplace – like a salmon going to spawn – but on the way he meets an older woman who knows his terrible secret. She tells him he doesn’t have to go and tries to persuade him to come with her instead. But Mick has other plans. He’ll go work for the CIA, make some good of his ability to kill. Of course Mick has forgotten even he has to sleep sometime…

I plain loved this book. Not only is the story told crisply and cleanly, but it also gets one doing some deep thinking. Mick’s gift/curse is almost the perfect allegory for gun control. Not even the most rabid NRA members would suggest it’s a good idea to give pistols to toddlers, and that’s basically Mick’s situation. He’s been given a weapon that is so a part of him that he can no more stop it than he can stop breathing. His emotions are tied into a hair trigger of killing. Pity even the most loved friend who is standing near when his emotions run hot. Orson Scott Card has tied this all in with what looks like a cross between an Old Testament inbreeding program and a fundamentalist militia.

This whole situation reminded me of a phrase Robert A. Heinlein once coined: “An armed society is a polite society.”* This concept has been much trumpted by the firearms lobby and Eye For Eye shows just what it would mean if it were practiced. If everyone was like Mick Winger, a community of the armed would also be a community of fear, where even constructive criticism is to be avoided at all costs lest someone take offense. Love thy neighbor doesn’t extend very well when thy neighbor demands the freedom to own nuclear weapons.

In this age of seemingly endless series, thousand page fantasy epics, and general fiction sprawl, it is wonderfully refreshing to listen to a short novel or novella. Request Audiobooks, a brand new player in the audiobook market, has dipped into Science Fiction and Fantasy’s glorious past for some wonderous tales that don’t require a forklift to enjoy. Eye For Eye was first published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Mar 1987 issue, and in 1988 it won the Hugo Award for best novella. Then in November 1990 it was paired as half of the Tor Double Novel #27 with another novella by Lloyd Biggle Jr. (The Tor Doubles are for my money the very best modern treeware series published). For more than ten years this terrific tale sat out of print. Then ReQuest Audiobooks stepped up. And boy did they ever! ReQuest presents the novella in all its glory, and then some. They tapped master narrator Stefan Rudnicki to read it. Rudnicki who’s sonorant basso has performed more Orson Scott Card audiobooks than any other voice on Earth is perfect for the job. Then, they went to Orson Scott Card himself and had him write an original afterword just for the audiobook. To finish it all off, they commisioned some truly eye-catching art. This is my very favorite kind of audiobook. A short novel with an intriguing premise, bristling with driven characters, read by a talented narrator, and sporting a bonus feature. With a USA price point of just $14.95 for three CDs this is like a slice of audio heaven.

*-The quotation comes from the novel Beyond This Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein

Posted by Jesse Willis

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