Review of Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

September 23, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Hachette Audio - Arguably: Essays by Christopher HitchensArguably: Essays
By Christopher Hitchens; Read by Simon Prebble
24 CDs – Approx. 28.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: September 1, 2011
ISBN: 9781611139068
Themes: / Non-fiction / History / War / Biography / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Iran / Afghanistan / Germany / North Korea / France / Dystopia / Utopia / Religion / Tunisia / Piracy / Terrorism / Feminism / Pakistan /

The first new collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens since 2004, Arguably offers an indispensable key to understanding the passionate and skeptical spirit of one of our most dazzling writers, widely admired for the clarity of his style, a result of his disciplined and candid thinking. Topics range from ruminations on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men to the haunting science fiction of J.G. Ballard; from the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell to the persistent agonies of anti-Semitism and jihad. Hitchens even looks at the recent financial crisis and argues for arthe enduring relevance of Karl Marx. The audio book forms a bridge between the two parallel enterprises of culture and politics. It reveals how politics justifies itself by culture, and how the latter prompts the former. In this fashion, Arguably burnishes Christopher Hitchens’ credentials as-to quote Christopher Buckley-our “greatest living essayist in the English language.”

Here’s a question I was thinking about while listening to Arguably.

What is fiction for?

One answer, the bad one, is that it’s for entertainment. That’s certainly where many readers are willing go, and the fiction writers who write it too. Maybe that’s precisely why so much fiction is just so very shitty.

To me, if you aren’t exploring ideas in your fiction, then you really aren’t serving a greater purpose. Idea fiction, fiction with ideas rather than just action and plot, is to my mind a kind of supplement to the wisdom found in writings on history, biography and science.

Of the many lessons learned I in listening to the 107 essays in Arguably I was particularly struck by the wisdom Christopher Hitchens gleaned from his reading of fiction. Hitchens reviews many books in this collection, nearly half of the essays are book reviews. Books like 1984, Animal Farm, Flashman, The Complete Stories Of J.G. Ballard, Our Man In Havana, and even, surprisingly, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows all get fascinating, critical, and reverent reviews.

Yet Hitchens also takes the lessons with him into his writing about his travels. Hitchens writes about visits to such places as North Korea, Cyprus, Afghanistan, and Kurdish Iraq. When talking about his visit to Beirut we see what comes when Hitchens, a man of ideas, acts upon them. The essay, The Swastika and the Cedar sees the convictions of the commited anti-fascist Hitchens beaten and nearly kidnapped for an act of vandalism on a prominently displayed swastika. Writes Hitchens:

“Well, call me old-fashioned if you will, but I have always taken the view that swastika symbols exist for one purpose only—to be defaced.”

In a review of two books, Lolita and The Annotated Lolita, Hitchens applies the controversial subject in a real life look at the modern, and very non-fictional oppression and objectification of women. Indeed, the ideas he appreciated in fiction helped Hitchens to come to grips with the real world.

I think the worst essay in this collection is the one on the serving of wine and restaurants, Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite. It was simply a waste of the talent, too light, too easy a target. And yet, even that essay, the worst essay in all 107 has a memorable anecdote: “Why,” asks Hitchens’ five year old son, “are they called waiters? It’s we who are doing all the waiting.”

As to the narration of the audiobook. I’m ashamed to admit that I was initially dismayed when I saw that Christopher Hitchens had not narrated this audiobook himself. I was wrong to worry. Incredibly, Simon Prebble seems to have have become Hitchens for this narration. Prebble perfectly captures the erudite words, so eloquently performs them, and with an accent so like that of Hitchens’ own so as to make me think that it was Hitchens who had actually read it.

I think the worst essay in this collection is the one on the serving of wine and restaurants, Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite. It was simply a waste of the talent, too light, too easy a target. And yet, even that essay, the worst essay in all 107 has a memorable anecdote: “Why,” asks Hitchens’ five year old son, “are they called waiters? It’s we who are doing all the waiting.”

Here’s a list of the book’s contents, with links to the original etexts when available, along with my own notes on each:

ALL AMERICAN
Gods Of Our Fathers: The United States Of Enlightenment – a review of Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen

The Private Jefferson – a review of Jefferson’s Secrets: Death And Desire At Monticello by Andrew Burstein

Jefferson Vs. The Muslim Pirates – a review of Power, Faith, And Fantasy: America In The Middle East: 1776 To The Present by Michael B. Oren

Benjamin Franklin: Free And Easy – a review of Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, And Political Thought by Jerry Weinberger

John Brown: The Man Who Ended Slavery – a review of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked The Civil War, And Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds

Abraham Lincoln: Misery’s Child (aka Lincoln’s Emancipation) – a review of Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame

Mark Twain: American Radical – a scathing review of The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

Upton Sinclair: A Capitalist Primer – a review of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

JFK: In Sickness And By Stealth – a review of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 by Robert Dallek

Saul Bellow: The Great Assimilator – review of six novels by Saul Bellow (The Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures Of Augie March, Seize The Day, Henderson The Rain King, and Herzog)

Vladimir Nabokov: Hurricane Lolita – reviews of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr.

John Updike: No Way – a review of The Terrorist by John Updike (with reference to The Coup too)

John Updike: Mr. Geniality
– a critical review of the affable Due Considerations: Essays And Considerations by John Updike

Vidal Loco – Gore Vidal went crazier, more elitist and perhaps more racist as he got older (with attention and quips for Quentin Crisp and Oscar Wilde and Joyce Carol Oates)

America The Banana Republic – Hitchens on the “socialistic” bank bailout of 2008 (“socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the rest”)

An Anglosphere Future – a review of The History Of The English Speaking Peoples by Andrew Roberts (with reference to both Sherlock Holmes and The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as to Cecil Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling)

Political Animals – a review of Dominion: The Power Of Man, The Suffering Of Animals, And The Call To Mercy by Matthew Scully

Old Enough To Die – on capital punishment as applied to children

In Defense Of Foxhole Atheists
– a visit to the United States Air Force Academy and the tax funded proselytizing

In Search Of The Washington Novel – a search for some good fiction about Washington, D.C.

ECLECTIC AFFINITIES
Isaac Newton: Flaws Of Gravity – a stroll through the medieval streets of Cambridge with the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers who worked there

The Men Who Made England: Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” – a review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Edmund Burke: Reactionary Prophet – a review of Reflections On The Revolution In France by Edmund Burke

Samuel Johnson: Demons And Dictionaries
– a review of Samuel Johnson: A Biography by Peter Martin

Gustave Flaubert: I’m With Stupide – a review of Bouvard et Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert translated by Mark Polizzotti

The Dark Side Of Dickens
– a review of Charles Dickens by Michael Slater a biography (Hitchens was a not uncritical admirer of the subject)

Marx’s Journalism: The Grub Street Years – a glowing review of Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism Of Karl Marx edited by James Ledbetter, foreword by Francis Wheen (Marx admired the United States, and other fascinating facts about the father of communism)

Rebecca West: Things Worth Fighting For – an introduction to Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West

Ezra Pound: A Revolutionary Simpleton – a review of Ezra Pound, Poet: A Portrait Of The Man And His Work: Volume I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920 by A. David Moody (a biography of the fascist poet)

On “Animal Farm” – an introduction to Animal Farm

Jessica Mitford’s Poison Pen – a review of Decca: The Letters Of Jessica Mitford edited by Peter Y. Sussman

W. Somerset Maugham: Poor Old Willie – a review of W. Somerset Maugham: A Life by Jeffery Meyers

Evelyn Waugh: The Permanent Adolescent – a look at the enigmatic life, writing, religion, and sexuality of Evelyn Waugh

P.G. Wodehouse: The Honorable Schoolboy – a review of Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum

Anthony Powell: An Omnivorous Curiosity – a review of To Keep The Ball Rolling: The Memoirs Of Anthony Powell

John Buchan: Spy Thriller’s Father – a review of John Buchan The Presbyterian Cavalier by David R. Godine (with discussion of The 39 Steps and a fantasy novelette The Grove Of Ashtaroth)

Graham Greene: I’ll Be Damned – a review of The Life Of Graham Green: Volume II: 1939-1955 by Norman Sherry

Death From A Salesman: Graham Greene’s Bottle Ontology – an introduction to Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene

Loving Philip Larkin (aka Philip Larkin, the Impossible Man) – a review of Philip Larkin: Letters To Monica edited by Anthony Thwaite

Stephen Spender: A Nice Bloody Fool – a review of Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography by John Sutherland

Edward Upward: The Captive Mind – a look at the British novelist and short story Edward Upward

C.L.R. James: Mid Off, Not Right On – a review of Cricket, The Caribbean, And World Revolution by Farrukh Dhondy

J.G. Ballard: The Catastrophist – a review of The Complete Stories Of J.G. Ballard

Fraser’s Flashman: Scoundrel Time – a look at the George MacDonald Fraser series of Flashman books and the connection with The Adventure Of The Empty House

Fleet Street’s Finest: From Waugh To Frayn – an essay on the dubious romance of journalism

Saki: Where The Wild Things Are – a review of The Unbearable Saki: The Work of H.H. Munro by Sandie Byrne

Harry Potter: The Boy Who Lived – a review of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

AMUSEMENTS, ANNOYANCES, AND DISAPPOINTMENTS
Why Women Aren’t Funny – a controversial essay on why more comedians are male and why women laugh at them the way they do

Stieg Larsson: The Author Who Played With Fire – a look at the phenomenon of the bestselling author of The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo

As American As Apple Pie – a literary and chronological history of the blowjob, with reference to Valdamir Nobokov’s Lolita

So Many Men’s Rooms, So Little Time – a fascinatingly insightful argument on what’s was going on with the Larry Craig bathroom airport scandal and related phenomena

The New Commandments – deconstructing the Ten Commandments

In Your Face – are bans on burqas and veils actually bans, or are they liberation?

Wine Drinkers Of The World, Unite – ill mannered waiters are ruining the business of wine drinking

Charles, Prince Of Piffle – a damning look at the prince who shouldn’t be king

OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS
Afghanistan’s Dangerous Bet – a visit to Afghanistan, it’s all about the women

First, Silence The Whistle-Blower – is there any hope for democracy in Afghanistan?

Believe Me, It’s Torture – a report on what it’s like to be water-boarded

Iran’s Waiting Game – a visit to Iran and a meeting with Hussein Khomeini the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini

Long Live Democratic Seismology – on democracy, Chile, Iran, and earthquakes

Benazir Bhutto: Daughter Of Destiny – a personal remembrance of the brave liar, Benazir Bhutto

From Abbottabad To Worse – an explanation for the existence of Pakistan as the U.S.A.’s worst best friend

The Perils Of Partition – on what dividing a country does to it (it’s like a man with a broken leg – he can think of nothing else)

Algeria: A French Quarrel – a review of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne

The Case Of Orientalism (aka East Is East) – a review of Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Robert Irwin

Edward Said: Where The Twain Should Have Met – a review of Orientalism by Edward Said

The Swastika And The Cedar – a visit to “the Arab street”

Holiday In Iraq – Hitchens on holiday in Kurdish Iraq: it’s lovely

Tunisia: At The desert’s Edge – a lavish and lengthy visit to Africa’s gentlest country

What Happened To The Suicide Bombers Of Jerusalem? – why is no one writing about the dog that didn’t bark?

Childhood’s End: An African Nightmare – on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The Vietnam Syndrome – on the horrific effects of Agent Orange and the legacies of dioxin

Once Upon A Time In Germany – a review of the movie The Baader Meinhof Complex, it explores the origins of The Red Army Faction

Worse Than “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – North Korea is a slave state seemingly modeled on 1984

North Korea: A Nation of Racist Dwarfs – a visit to North Korea

The Eighteenth Brumaire Of The Castro Dynasty – a look at the Castro regime’s familial coup

Hugo Boss – a visit to Venezuela with Sean Penn and a meeting with Hugo Chávez – he’s nuts

Is The Euro Doomed? – what will be the fate of Europe’s common currency?

Overstating Jewish Power – In the Israeli American relationship who’s pulling who’s strings?

The Case For Humanitarian Intervention – a review of Freedom’s Battle: The Origins Of Humanitarian Intervention by Gary J. Bass

LEGACIES OF TOTALITARIANISM
Victor Serge: Pictures From An Inquisition – reviews of The Case Of Comrade Tulayev and Memoirs Of A Revolutionary by Victor Serge

André Malraux: One Man’s Fate – a review of Malraux: A Life by Olivier Todd, translated by Joseph West

Arthur Koestler: The Zealot – a review of Koestler: The Literary And Political Odyssey Of A Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell

Isabel Allende: Chile Redux – an introduction to The House Of The Spirits by Isabel Allende

The Persian Version – a review of Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology Of Contemporary Iranian Literature edited by Nahid Mozaffari

Martin Amis: Lightness At Midnight – a review of Koba The Dread: Laughter And The Twenty Million by Martin Amis

Imagining Hitler – the problem of evil, and Hitler, with reference to Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum and Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw

Victor Klemperer: Survivor

A War Worth Fighting – a persuasively systematic review of Churchill, Hitler And The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire And The West Lost The World by Pat Buchanan

Just Give Peace A Chance? – a critical review of Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker

W.G. Sebald: Requiem For Germany – a review of On The Natural History Of Destruction by W.G. Sebald

WORDS’ WORTH
When The King Saved God – for the love of the King James version

Let Them Eat Pork Rinds – Berthold Brecht, Charles Dickens and various other sources inform Hitch’s view of the Hurricane Katrina relief disaster

Stand Up For Denmark! – a still timely plea for preferring free speech to religious tolerance

Eschew The Taboo – on the banning of words, particularly the word “nigger”

She’s No Fundamentalist – a spirited defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Burned Out – the verb “fuel” is fueled by journalistic sloppiness

Easter Charade – on life and death and Terri Schiavo

Don’t Mince Words – the disenfranchisement of south Asians in Britain isn’t the cause of bombings, hatred of women is.

History And Mystery – al-Qaeda in Iraq, jihadists, or “insurgents”? Do words matter? Of course they bloody well do.

Words Matter – political slogans make of “every adult in the country” an “illiterate jerk who would rather feel than think”

This Was Not Looting – how can a government “loot” it’s own weapons manufacturing facility? The government of Iraq managed it according to The New York Times.

The “Other” L-Word – a lighthearted piece on the prominence of the word “like” and it’s use

The You Decade – what’s wrong with you (marketing to the selfish)

Suck It Up – the Virginia Tech shootings prompted the wrong response from the world (namely that it prompted one)

A Very, Very Dirty Word – the English empire, in centuries to come, may only be remembered for soccer and the phrase “fuck off”

Prisoner Of Shelves – on the indispensability of books

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #158 – READALONG: The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth

April 30, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #158 – Last week’s podcast was an unabridged reading of The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth. This week Jesse discusses it with the narrator, Mark Douglas Nelson!

Talked about on today’s show:
SciPodBooks.com, the SciPodCast, The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth, The City At World’s End by Edmond Hamilton, the virtues of democracy, Oath Of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, H. Beam Piper, Space Viking, a wealth of ideas, Frederik Pohl, the story as a straw man, Robert A. Heinlein, telepathy, witches, dystopia, utopia, polo played with jeeps (mounted with 50 caliber machine guns), the syndicate vs. the mob, Ireland, Iceland, libertarianism, the Prometheus Unbound review of The Syndic, polyandry, an economy run on alcohol, sex, and gambling, laissez faire capitalism, monopolies, robber barons, taxes vs. shakedowns, “a real mess of a book”, should a society compromise its ideals to save itself?, is the joke on us?, a velvet gloved invisible hand, The High Crusade by Poul Anderson, the children’s crusade, WWII, rule by mob vs. rule by mobsters, Ron Paul, the sustainability of a war based economy need not much concern the arms manufacturer, Isaac Asimov, The City At World’s End has a real plot, disaster stories, new ideas trump big flaws, “writing by the seat of your pants”, space opera, E.E. “Doc” Smith, respect for science and scientists, Farnham’s Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein, The Green Odyssey by Philip Jose Farmer, LibriVox.org, Riverworld series, rolling ships, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, the problem of endless series, StarShipSofa, The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman, A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Voyage To Arcturus by David Lindsay, “philosophy, philosophy, philosophy”, it starts with a séance, C.S. Lewis, Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves And Wooster, Leave It To Jeeves, LibriVox’s new funding (from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation), Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, Gregg Margarite, Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper, Kevin J. Anderson, Principles Of Economics, iambik audio, Wonder Audio, All Or Nothing by Preston L. Allen, The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi, Toshiro Mifune, Akira Kurosawa, High And Low, Netflix, Sweet And Lowdown, One O’Clock Jump by Lise McClendon, A Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton, Talents Incorporated by Murray Leinster, goofy, the William Woodsworth Microphone Showdown, do expensive mics make great narrators?

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #121 – READALONG: Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

August 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #121 – Scott, Jesse, Tamahome and Gregg Margarite talk about Joe Haldeman’s novel Forever Peace.

Talked about on today’s show:
The Forever War, Forever Peace, Forever Free, Haldeman’s experiences in South-East Asia (during the Vietnam War), William Mandella, Mandala, Julian Class, Philip Klass (William Tenn), racism, remotely controlled soldier robots, jacks, empathy, sharing menstruation, baldness as a fashion, the nanoforge (a molecular nanotechnology), caper, Stranger In A Stranger Land, heist, “two novellas smushed together”, John W. Campbell, Ben Bova, self help groups, one conceit that remains unexamined, magic machine (aka a sub-atomic replicator), Mack Reynolds, telepathy, asymmetric warfare, prescience, Libya, Pakistan, the two peaces of Forever Peace, what of the aftermath?, applying Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics to people, Gregg is a creature capable of killing, not everyone wants to be the black sheep, is 98% of humanity humanizable?, the earth where everyone is gay, the earth where everyone is a clone, “a giant of SF”, The Memory Of Earth by Orson Scott Card, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, do you grok the group?, “The Hammer of God”, Jonestown, David Koresh, a religion that requires you believe in evolution, punctuated equilibrium, treating the bible like a science book (is problematic), we’re gonna drill into you brain and then you won’t have those feelings anymore, a utopian dystopia, Malthusian theory, the singularity, A Clockwork Orange, moral conviction vs. physical restriction, Gregg needs his murderer (and we do too), Starship Troopers, false consciousness, Women’s Studies, The Tea Party,

“False consciousness is the Marxist thesis that material and institutional processes in capitalist society are misleading to the proletariat, and to other classes. These processes betray the true relations of forces between those classes, and the real state of affairs regarding the development of pre-socialist society”,

following orders (as false consciousness), Stockholm syndrome, identifying with your oppressor, why do people do things that are against their own interests?, Costa Rica, withholding technology vs. holding resources hostage, Plato’s cave, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, is Jesse making an argument for absolute truth?, what is truth?, “one person’s murder is another person’s dinner”, “God exists or he doesn’t exist”, “assuming we agree on the definition of God”, “we have a bedrock of truth”, Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction, “we’re here and we’re invading your software”, our perception of reality changes, “how can it not always be this way?”, “it’s The Matrix“, Gregg can find reasonable doubt in his own existence, Cogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am), René Descartes, “I doubt therefore I am”, Tama has no take, good and bad vs. right and wrong, a mass of conflicting impulses (ambivalence), Heinlein’s militaristic thinking vs. Haldeman’s militaristic thinking, Heinlein’s Future History series, religious conversion, telepathy vs. total immersion, Jonathan Swift, “you can’t reasons someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into”, there are two tenets in Greggism, what you believe doesn’t has to be true, Alan Moore’s personal made-up religion, Scott isn’t a Catholic because of feeling alone, Joseph Campbell “everything is true”, “he was born with a plowshare”, magical thinking, “that’s true for you and that’s fine”, a religious wacko who wants to end the world seems like a tired villain, Source Code, Moon is fantastic (but Source Code is not), the Norwegian whack job, can’t we find another kind of religion, Carl von Clausewitz, The Operative from Serenity (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), effective villains, Robert E. Lee, Adolph Hitler vs. Joseph Stalin vs. Mao Zedong, the Tehran Conference, “Uncle Joe”, Stalin’s ending was noir, Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton has a great (and dirty) villain, Orson Scott Card’s Buggers, Speaker For The Dead, Ender’s Game, zombies are like a force of nature, Heinleinian villains are not diabolical, the ultimate orbital platform, the English Empire, “besides we’re better than you”, why do English actors always play villains? American accents = movie stars, Vancouver is a science fiction ghetto, iambk audio, the proper pronunciation of “about” in Canada, shock vs. shark, accents are lazy ways of speaking, George Wilson (the narrator of Forever Peace), P.G. Wodehouse, Bertie and Jeeves, the secret language of (drunken) Cockneys, no stupid voices please (in audiobooks), if you hire Nicholson for you movie your movie is a Jack Nicholson movie, Gregg’s signature voice may lose him work, why does the narrative switch between first and third person throughout Forever Peace, Yes, Minister, Goodreads.com, senior civil servant (3rd person) vs. elected official (1st person), The Long Habit Of Living by Joe Haldeman, The Forever War is told in first person (right?)

RECORDED BOOKS - Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

April 26, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

RECORDED BOOKS - Saturn's Children by Charles StrossSaturn’s Children
By Charles Stross; Read by Bianca Amato
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781440750113, 9781440750106
Themes: / Science Fiction / Androids / Robots / Sex / Slavery / Identity / Venus / Mars / Mercury / Eris /

The Hugo Award-winning author of numerous best-sellers, Charles Stross crafts tales that push the limits of the genre. In Saturn’s Children, Freya is an obsolete android concubine in a society where humans haven’t existed for hundreds of years. A rigid caste system keeps the Aristos, a vindictive group of humanoids, well in control of the lower, slave-chipped classes. So when Freya offends one particularly nasty Aristo, she’s forced to take a dangerous courier job off-planet.

This novel’s title comes from the myth that Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture and harvest), ate his children at birth for fear of them usurping him. Its an apt starting point for a tale about robots More interesting is that Saturn’s Children opens with a reading of Asimov’s three laws of robotics

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

…and then informs us that there are no humans left alive. There is, however, a whole solar system full of robots, all willing and able to obey all three laws. So what happened to all those humans? The novel is the answer to that question.

Saturn’s Children is told from the point of view of Freya Nakamichi-47 a gynoid (that’s a female android). She was activated (born) long after the last human had died. Freya, despite never having met one, still longs for her lost love (any human). Indeed, even the mere thought a human being makes her sexually excited. This is because, as a self described grande horizontale, Freya’s destiny was to be a sexual companion to any human that owned her. Now, without a master, she finds work where and when she can. But after a nasty run-in with an Aristo, a wealthy robot that owns other robots (called Arbiters), Freya will take any work that gets her off planet. Soon she’s employed by Jeeves, a masculine android who is more like her in shape and purpose than most robots. Freya’s first assignment is to transport a bio-engineered package across the solar system. But the pink police (a kind of anti biological proliferation organization), and another, more shadowy, organization are determined to stop her. Along the way Freya visits Cinnabar (a city on rails) that’s perpetually in Mercury’s shadow, drawing power from the temperature difference between Mercury’s light and dark sides), has sex with a rocket ship and grows some new hair.

Freya does a whole lot more than that too. She has a lot more sex for one. But beyond the sex there is some more fully cerebral stimulation going on in Saturn’s Children. The idea of a post-human solar system is an interesting one, and Stross plays with it quite effectively. This is a theme that I think hasn’t been done often enough in SF. The closest novel, in scope, if not in tone, is perhaps Clifford D. Simak’s City (in which intelligent dogs and robots have inherited a humanless Earth). This humanless solar system is, as I mentioned, quite vividly explored, with floating cities (like Bespin’s Cloud City) on Venus, waste heated bio-labs on the frozen dwarf planet of Eris, and a truly frightening description of what’s happened to poor old Earth. Stross has quite a lot of fun playing with the world he’s created here, naming a city Heinleingrad, naming a robot butler character after P.G. Wodehouse’s famous “gentleman’s personal gentleman.” It all mostly works with Saturn’s Children seeming to take most of its inspiration though from Heinlein’s novel Friday. Both novels feature artificial female persons as secret couriers, both tell their own stories, both secrete their smuggled cargos in their abdomens. Later on in Saturn’s Children there is some playing with the ideas promulgated in Heinlein’s 1970 novel I Will Fear No Evil. And, identity, in a world where brain data, and brain states, are easily and quickly copyable, isn’t as simple as it is with us meatbags. On the whole I enjoyed Saturn’s Children and found it full of interestingness. It was as most novels are these days, too long, and in need of a critical editor. The worst sin here is that the ending is rather weak, and features an afterword that leaves open the possibility of a sequel or seven.

Narrator Bianca Amato, a South African accented “ALIEN OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY” (according to her resume), mispronounces a couple of the more obscure words but the general gist of her reading is highly competent. It helps a whole lot that Freya’s story is told in first person. I’m not sure what the present tense adds to the narrative other than being a little noticeable and not particularly harmful. Also, as I mentioned in a recent podcast, the Recorded Books cover art is boring, whereas the Ace Books paperbook edition is fabulous!

Check out the dust jacket from the paperbook edition:

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross - The PAPERBOOK's Dustjacket

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: The Swoop! by P.G. Wodehouse

August 5, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxThe Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England is a short comic novel by P G Wodehouse, first published in the UK in 1909. Its subtitle is “A Tale of the Great Invasion.” This one may strain the sub-genre of alternate history to its breaking point, but I figure its probably worth it. As hero, Clarence Chugwater (all of 14 years old), assisted by a band of Boy Scouts must halt the invasion of England! This is one of the many “invasion” novels written from the late 1870s to WWI. H.G. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds is one of these. Many others were written, most involving the invasion of England. This kind of book was even more popular, in its time, as all the vampire and zombie tales are today. Think of it as the disaster movie of its time with this one on the comic end.

LibriVox audiobook - The Swoop! by P.G. WodehouseThe Swoop!
By P.G. Wodehouse; Read by Kristin Hughes
17 Zipped MP3s or Podcast – Approx. 2 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: August 2008
The Swoop! tells of the simultaneous invasion of England by several armies — “England was not merely beneath the heel of the invader. It was beneath the heels of nine invaders. There was barely standing-room.” (ch. 1) — and features references to many well-known figures of the day, among them the politician Herbert Gladstone, novelist Edgar Wallace, actor-managers Seymour Hicks and George Edwardes, and boxer Bob Fitzsimmons.

Podcast feed:

http://librivox.org/bookfeeds/the-swoop-by-p-g-wodehouse.xml

Posted by Jesse Willis