New Release: Eldritch Tales – A Miscellany Of The Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft

March 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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New Releases

Available via Downpour.com (and Audible.com) this massive collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories, poems and essays is absolutely MUST GET listening.

Eldritch Tales by H.P. Lovecraft

Eldritch Tales – A Miscellany Of The Macabre
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by Tom Weiner, Simon Vance, Simon Prebble, Bronson Pinchot, Elijah Alexander, Malcolm Hillgartner, Sean Runnette, Stefan Rudnicki, Gildart Jackson, Robertson Dean, Pamela Garelick, and Armando Durán
Download – Approx. 20.1 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio / Downpour.com
Published: 2014

Table of contents:
History of the NECRONOMICON
The Alchemist
A Reminiscence of Dr Samuel Johnson
The Beast in the Cave
Memory
Despair
The Picture in the House
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Psychopompous: A Tale in Rhyme
The White Ship
The House
The Nightmare Lake
Poetry and the Gods (with Anna Helen Crofts)
Nyarlathotep
Polaris
The Street
Ex Oblivione
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
The Crawling Chaos (with Winifred Virginia Jackson)
The Terrible Old Man
The Tree
The Tomb
Celephais
Hypnos
What the Moon Brings
The Horror at Martin’s Beach (with Sonia H. Greene)
The Festival
The Temple
Hallowe’en in a Suburb
The Moon-Bog
He
Festival
The Green Meadow (with Winifred Virginia Jackson)
Nathicana
Two Black Bottles (with Wilfred Blanch Talman)
The Last Test (with Adolphe de Castro)
The Wood
The Ancient Track
The Electric Executioner (with Adolphe de Castro)
Fungi From Yuggoth
The Trap (with Henry S. Whitehead)
The Other Gods
The Quest of Iranon
The Challenge from Beyond
In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walked
Ibid
Azathoth
The Descendant
The Book
The Messenger
The Evil Clergyman
The Very Old Folk
The Thing in the Moonlight
The Transition of Juan Romero
Supernatural Horror in Literature [unabridged essay]
Afterword: Lovecraft in Britain by Stephen Jones

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Brick By Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson and Bill Breen

July 8, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Brick By Brick - How Lego Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy IndustryBrick By Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry
By David Robertson and Bill Breen; Read by Thomas Vincent Kelly
Approx. 10 Hours 23 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: June 25, 2013
ISBN: 9780449806524
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Business / LEGO / STAR WARS / Denmark / Copyfight /

Sample |MP3|

I’m not one for business books, and this is explicitly a business book. The closest I’ve come to one, in the last decade, was Joseph Finder’s corporate espionage thriller Paranoia. On the other hand, I really am one for LEGO and Brick By Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry is an audiobook about The LEGO Group.

Most of the book is about the recent history of LEGO, how it became unprofitable, and how it, through controlled innovation, recovered from that unprofitably. Along the way there is a fair amount about the company’s history – and even more importantly about the philosophy behind the “system” of The LEGO Group’s core product, the LEGO bricks themselves.

I started with LEGO in the mid-1970s, and barring a few pieces (lost, vacuumed, and stolen) along the way I still have much of it. But, similar to many other AFOLs (adult fans of LEGO) I experienced a decline in interest in LEGO as I entered my teens. As a kid I appreciated that LEGO allowed you to build your own toys, as a tween I programmed my own robotic LEGO creations (LEGO LOGO for Apple II) – but shortly thereafter the corporation seemed somehow go off track – creating products that were less LEGO sytem than LEGO branded toys. That is until around the mid-1990s. And that’s about when my re-invigoration of interest in LEGO started. No coincidence there, as this was also about the same time as the company’s financial revival. It seemed that the more I got more into LEGO the more the company became financially viable – but, of course, it was actually the reverse.

Indeed, Brick By Brick is essentially Robertson and Breen trying to figure out how the company works, where it went wrong, and how it recovered. In doing this they have looked at a number of failed projects, how they came to fail, how the company reorganized itself and how, with help from both adult LEGO fans and child LEGO fans they learned to operate without patent protection.

One of the more interesting comparisons between companies that Robertson and Breen make is that of LEGO to Apple. The parallels between the companies’ aesthetic philosophies (and cult like devotion by their customers) are many. I myself am a committed Apple iPhone user, not because I buy into the ecosystem, but rather because of the sculptured discipline of the technology. Likewise, though Megablocks and other LEGO competitors are making bricks that are 100% compatible with (and cheaper) than LEGO I am scrupulously careful to weed out MEGABLOCKS and other “fake lego” from my collection. The iPhone’s competitors aren’t really competitors, and the LEGO system’s competitors aren’t really competitors.

Back to the book, David Robertson and Bill Breen talk about a number of LEGO lines that I like, particularly the CITY, SPACE, and CASTLE lines but they also explain the thinking behind popular licensed IPs like STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Several chapters cover the creation of the successful BIONCLE line (originally conceived as a line called “VOODOO HEADS”), the innovative board game division (that sneakily gets moms to buy more LEGO), and the massively expensive failure of the LEGO UNIVERSE project (an ambitious project aimed at disrupting LEGO’s own core market). And that last one is one of the most fascinating sections of Brick By Brick. By trying to make the experience perfect, by trying to produce a graphically rich massively multiplayer online game without bugs, then charging a whopping $40 to start playing it LEGO screwed up royally. The failure of the LEGO Universe project is all the more ironic in that a lone computer game programmer, Markus “Notch” Persson, came to create a sucessful kind of digital competitor to LEGO system, in the form of Minecraft. Peterson’s success, using almost no resources and no money, make the error of LEGO hierarchy all the clearer. But in an even more ironic move LEGO has since produced a Minecraft set!

In my view the only thing missing from Brick By Brick is talk about the very successful, collectible Minifigures line (now up to Series 10). To my ears Minifigs get very short shrift in Brick By Brick. I’d love to hear a two or three hour audiobook about that alone.

There’s very little to say about narrator. Thomas Vincent Kelly is a relatively new narrator, his reading is clear and precise, like the LEGO system. The occasional Danish place-name pronunciation, and the names of the LEGO products themselves are the only real narrative challenges. Kelly delivers.

David Robertson: The Story of LEGO from BrightSightGroup on Vimeo.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Sailing Alone Around The World by Joshua Slocum

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

SFFaudio Review

Sailing Alone Around The World by Joshua SlocumSailing Alone Around The World
By Joshua Slocum; Read by Alan Chant
1 |M4B|, 22 Zipped MP3 Files, or Podcast – Approx. 7 Hours 52 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: May 9, 2007
|ETEXT|
Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail around the world alone in a small boat. He personally rebuilt an 11.2 metre sloop-rigged fishing boat that he named the Spray. On April 24, 1895, he set sail from Boston, Massachusetts. More than three years later, he returned to Newport, Rhode Island, on June 27, 1898 having circumnavigated the world, a distance of 46,000 miles (74,000 km). In 1899 he described the voyage in Sailing Alone Around the World now considered a classic of travel literature. It is a wonderful adventure story from the Age of Sail and a book of which Arthur Ransome declared, “boys who do not like this book ought to be drowned at once.”

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/bookfeeds/sailing-alone-around-the-world-by-joshua-slocum.xml

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

I was listening to an episode of the CBC Radio One Ideas podcast, entitled Sailing Alone Around The World |MP3|, and was struck by the story of the first man to do that very thing. The program uses excerpts from Slocum’s book of the same name, and interviews those modern solitary sailors who’ve followed in Slocum’s wake. The fact that, in some sections of the sea, the next nearest human being to a lone sailor might be someone on the International Space Station, was an astounding revelation to me. The fact that there have been fewer solitary circumnavigators than there have been people in space, also astounding. So, not even half-way through the show I set my sights on LibriVox, where I searched for, found, and downloaded an M4B of the audiobook.

Slocum was an Canadian by birth and a naturalized American. In the late 19th century, upon finding himself out of work (the age of coal powered ships had begun in earnest), Slocum found there was no more call for a tall ship captain. One day Slocum finds himself having been gifted with an aged sloop. And so he sets about refitting it, hires himself out to himself plans to write a book (serialized in the Century magazine), loads up his cabin with food, supplies and lots of books, and sets sail on a solitary circumnavigation of the planet earth.

What he finds in the adventure is, simply put, real adventure! Slocum is alone for the entire trip except for The Spray itself, Slocum’s sloop, which is full of emotions (it feels happy when the sailing is good, and becomes anxious when in port too long). Similarwise he has a few passengers, there’s a hungry goat, a sneaky bilge rat, and a long suffering spider (it meets another just like it half a planet away from where it was born).

In his more than three years at sea Slocum meets with ship thieves, admirals, colonial governors, the widow (and adopted son) of Robert Louis Stevenson, friendly natives, hostile natives, officious bureaucrats, friendly bureaucrats, storms, reefs, sickness, and even a ghost!

Along the way he salute’s the sea god Neptune, ports at many memorable anchorages, including the island of the real life inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (Alexander Selkirk), and becomes an international celebrity.

Slocum’s narrative is helped by his enjoyable sense of humor and hindered by his prejudices. And while the various characters that he meets in the book may sometimes benefit from Slocum’s breezy writing style I got no real sense of the other side of the story. Incidents with thieves, one man steals his pistol, and one South American boy tries to steal his ship, come across as far less frightening than they might really have been. Indeed, there’s something of a deliberate storyteller to this travel narrative, something which reminds me of Sławomir Rawicz’s extraordinary adventure memoir The Long Walk (it may have been entirely made up). That said, the documentation seems far more present, and the journey here does seem to have actually occurred.

Narrator Alan Chant has an English accent and a relaxed reading style. There’s a bit of background noise in the recording, but the audio is very serviceable. Each chapter begins and ends with a bit of seabird song. Recommended.

A Brush With Fuegians

The Voyage Of The Spray

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter T. Leeson

May 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

AUDIBLE - The Invisible Hook by Peter T. LeesonThe Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates
By Peter T. Leeson; Read by Jeremy Gage
Audible Download – Approx. 7 Hours 41 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible, Inc.
Published: September 4, 2009
Themes: / Economics / Piracy / History / Slavery / Democracy / Anarchy /

Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss–it’s time to go a-pirating! The Invisible Hook takes readers inside the wily world of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century pirates. With swashbuckling irreverence and devilish wit, Peter Leeson uncovers the hidden economics behind pirates’ notorious, entertaining, and sometimes downright shocking behavior. Why did pirates fly flags of Skull & Bones? Why did they create a “pirate code”? Were pirates really ferocious madmen? And what made them so successful? The Invisible Hook uses economics to examine these and other infamous aspects of piracy. Leeson argues that the pirate customs we know and love resulted from pirates responding rationally to prevailing economic conditions in the pursuit of profits.

I love non-fiction, and I love books that look at history, books that look at history through one lens or another are even better! And so there is much to love in The Invisible Hook. The title is a play on Adam Smith’s elegant metaphor for how markets work, the invisible hand. Most of the examples cited deal with the Atlantic and Caribbean pirates, rather than earlier Roman era or modern day pirates. But we get a sense of how it likely worked in other regions and times. Chapters on the paradoxical attitudes towards pirate slavery, the wildly contradictory stories about piratical impressment, and the chapter on the Jolly Roger, the pirate flag, are absolutely fascinating. And, as something of a piratical hobbyist myself, I’m pleased to report they deliver clear insights only hinted at in other non-fiction books about piracy. You know you’ve got a good book in hand when you find yourself relating the premises, arguments, and conclusions of whole chapters to friends.

How good is the analysis really? That’s kind of hard to tell. Democracy and equality as a function of economics? Wonderful! Seems logical, seems plausible. And that’s the sort of thing you don’t hear often enough. Indeed, economist Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, gets a shout out early on in The Invisible Hook. This is a book in that vein, a kind of entertaining pop-economics, well written, and very thoughtful. But it also boasts the same kind of inarguable psychohistory-style post-analysis of such books. It reminds me of books like William Rosen’s The Most Powerful Idea in the World, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Well written history looked at through the lens of a soft science makes the seemingly inexplicable events of history seem almost inevitable. That is to say, this book should be just one of many such on such topics. In the end though how can you not wanto to read a book that makes piracy, as depicted in The Princess Bride, actually very plausible?

But this is not as merry a ship as it might be. As with many book published these days, there’s some bit of puffery. Concepts well illustrated in a paragraph or two are revisited, whole passages nearly reworded, and I’m betting that this for reasons of market driven economics. It might be that each chapter can be looked at on it’s own, textbook style, but listened to as I did, back to back the chapters have a tendency to revisit the same ports too often. This is one of my major complaints about books these days. Too many books are being published with too many words that don’t say different things. At under eight hours even this relatively slim volume, by today’s market standards, but it’s still puffier than any pirate’s shirt really ought be. It is like a pirate cutter on the stalk, slowed down by a sea-anchor of unneeded repetition. Saying the same thing over and over and over. Get my point? Okay, its the market, and to be fair Adam Smith’s own The Wealth Of Nations is a bloody long book, 36 hours! I’d be willing to bet my strong right arm that the original article, as published by Levitt (mentioned in the book), would be an even better audiobook than this very fine one, and no doubt it’d measure at least a peg leg shorter.

Narrator Jeremy Gage is from the old school of audiobook narration, the kind I like. He doesn’t so much as perform a book as read it. His conspiratorial tone typically him a great choice for first-person POV novels, like Lawrence Block’s Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. This is the first non-fiction book I’ve heard him narrate. So now I can say he’s great for non-fiction too.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

March 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The World Until YesterdayThe World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
By Jared Diamond; Read by Jay Snyder
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 31 December 2012
ISBN: 9781611761474
[UNABRIDGED] 16 CDs – 19 hours

Themes: / humanity / community / society / history /

Publisher summary:

Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.

The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of years—a past that has mostly vanished—and considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.

This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us. A characteristically provocative, enlightening, and entertaining book, The World Until Yesterday will be essential and delightful reading.

The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond is at its heart a consciousness-raising book. It opens our eyes to the way we live, the ways we used to live, and what we now take for granted. The book covers many broad subjects, and although Jared Diamond had to condense each of them to fit them all into one book, there is enough detail to give readers a clearer perspective about what it means to be a human in a community, and there are plenty of great anecdotes too.

The audiobook narration is great. Jay Snyder comes across as personable and interested in what he’s talking about, so it’s easy to stay engaged all the way through. He helped to make the huge spectrum of ideas and information easy to absorb.

Each subject in the book is explored from the context of different societies, ranging from traditional small-scale societies to modern nation-state societies. The subjects covered include the sharing of territory and resources; managing disputes; the benefits and inherent harms of certain justice systems; how we maintain friendships; how we deal with strangers or enemies; how we treat our children and the elderly; what cultural blind-spots we have when it comes to dangers, diseases; varying ideas about nutrition; and how religion has evolved for different purposes in different cultures and eras.

The anecdotes from Jared Diamond’s many experiences living with traditional, small-scale societies range from scary to comical (although of course, we who live in the West are usually the comical ones). The story about the deranged, murdering “sorcerer” who roamed the New Guinea jungle at night gave me the chills. And I cracked up laughing at the story about the New Guinea tribe who could not believe the first white Europeans they ever saw were people and not spirits. The European explorers stayed with them and kept insisting they were just regular humans, but the tribe didn’t believe them until later, when they checked the explorers’ toilet. It had never occurred to me to wonder whether ghosts shit.

Jared Diamond does not romanticize traditional life: he explores what works and what doesn’t in all the different societies. While he is passionate about certain ideas (e.g. the hidden harms in certain child-rearing practices in the West, or the benefits of constructive paranoia), he also tries to remain objective and offers critics’ viewpoints too.

The World Until Yesterday is also a call to action because it not only shows what people in large modern cultures can learn from small traditional societies, it also explains how we might integrate the more beneficial practices into our personal lives (and simultaneously phase out some of the weirder ones).

Overall, this was a fascinating book with loads of insights into what it means to be human as viewed through the lens of other cultures. I think a lot of ideas from this book will stay with me for a long time, and I’m sure I’ll listen to this again at different times of my life when I want a clearer perspective on my community, culture, or even my own behavior as an individual.

Review by Marissa van Uden.

Review of Where’s My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson

August 13, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

 SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Where's My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson, PhDWhere’s My Jetpack?: A Guide To The Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived
By Daniel H. Wilson, PhD; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
1 MP3-CD – 3.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Sample: Click here
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 078617160X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Non-fiction / Technology / Teleportation /

The future is now. And we are not impressed. The future was supposed to be a fully automated, atomic-powered, germ-free Utopia, a place where a grown man could wear a velvet spandex unitard and not be laughed at. Our beloved scientist may be building the future, but some key pieces are missing. Where are the ray guns, the flying cars, and the hoverboards that we expected? We can’t wait another minute for the future to arrive. The time has come to hold the Golden Age of science fiction accountable for its fantastic promises.

Finally, someone has come to take the Golden Age of science fiction to task for all that crap they told us would happen. Who is the hero that’s going to demand our cool stuff? None other than Daniel H. Wilson, PhD, that’s who. That’s right. The guy who saved us from all those robots in his previous book – How to Survive a Robot Uprising. (SFFaudio Review here – we’re on the ball with all this surviving stuff.)

Just like in How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Wilson takes real science facts and gives them to us in a way that will make you laugh out loud. For example, what about those jetpacks we were promised? (Wilson calls the jetpack the “Holy Grail of classic science fiction technology.”) In this book, we find out that Wendell Moore finished the Bell Rocket Belt in 1961. It was basically a rocket mounted to a backpack. He tested it himself. Yes, he strapped a rocket to his belt, and turned it on. We learn exactly how it worked, hydrogen peroxide fuel and all. It produced 300 lbs of thrust – just enough to get a grown man off the ground. The downside? It could only hold 30 seconds worth of fuel. Shockingly, none of the rocket pack pilots died. Wilson then laments the lack of serious innovation in the rocket pack industry since then. “If Wendell Moore could see the state of jetpacks today,” says Wilson, “he would be doing barrel rolls in his grave.”

Jetpacks are just the tip of the rocket. Orbital hotels, robot servants, space elevators, teleportation – it’s all in there.

Stefan Rudnicki delivers another quality narration. One of Wilson’s goals with both of his books was to take the material so seriously that absurdity shows through. Rudnicki understood this, and provided narration to match. Funny stuff.

To hear from the author himself about Where’s My Jetpack?, How to Survive a Robot Uprising, robotics in general, and future projects, check out his interview on the Talking Robots podcast, July 5, 2007 edition. Here’s the direct link to the MP3.

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