Review of Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

July 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent Earthseed (The Seed Trilogy, #1)
Written by Pamela Sargent; Read by Amy Rubinate
8 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: December 2011
ISBN: 9781455118335
Themes: / space colonies / adventure / science fiction / space /
Awards: AudioFile Earphones Award; ALA Best Books for Young Adults Selection, 1983

Publisher Summary:

Ship hurtles through space. Deep within its core it carries the seed of humankind. Launched by the people of a dying Earth over a century ago, its mission is to find a habitable world for the children—fifteen-year-old Zoheret and her shipmates—whom it has created from its genetic banks.

To Zoheret and her shipmates, Ship has been mother, father, and loving teacher, preparing them for their biggest challenge: to survive on their own, on an uninhabited planet, without Ship’s protection. Now that day is almost upon them, but are they ready? Ship devises a test, and suddenly instincts that have been latent for over a hundred years take over. Zoheret watches as friends become strangers—and enemies. Can Zoheret and her companions overcome the biggest obstacle to the survival of the human race—themselves?

It is understandable why this book is getting attention again, almost 30 years since it was written: it’s another YA book that is similar to The Hunger Games.

In Earthseed, the reader is introduced to Zoheret, one of many teenagers aboard a ship traveling through space. Zoheret, and her ship mates, were all “born” on the ship, created by the ship (known as “Ship”) from DNA samples of Ship’s creator. Ship was sent from Earth with samples (and programming) from “the last of humanity on Earth,” set with a mission to find another world where no intelligent life exists and “seed” the world with humans. Ship raised these kids (about 50ish in total) from birth, teaching them, fulfilling a parental role. We enter the story as the kids, now teens, are getting ready to spend time in the “holo” (I presume it’s “holo” and not “hollow,” either way, it’s a wilderness environment on-board the ship) to train for what it will be like on the surface of the planet.

At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking that some Lord of the Flies type story is going to happen (I know that’s what I thought), and in fact there are some parallels between Lord of the Flies and Earthseed. However, Sargent does a wonderful job of making the story engaging with some surprising twists and turns along the way. While listening, I felt myself making excuses to listen to more of the story, not wanting to stop. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that at the end, Ship’s residents find themselves making a life on the surface of the new planet and Ship goes off to seed another world.

I thought Amy Rubinate’s narration was superb. I normally don’t care for female narrators; usually they sound too dramatic for my taste. But Rubinate did a great job. I could always distinguish the voices of the characters, whether it was two females, two males, or a male and a female talking, and at no point did I feel like it was overdramatized. Also, the voice she used for Ship was a perfect matronly but somewhat robotic voice.

All three books in The Seed Trilogy are available in audio from Blackstone – Farseed (Book #2) and Seed Seeker (Book #3).

Review by terpkristin.

LibriVox: Rastignac The Devil by Philip José Farmer

March 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxI get the sense that Rastignac The Devil is a satire, using the furniture of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. But I feel really embarrassed about not knowing what is going on, sub-textually, in this interesting, but baffling, novella by Philip José Farmer. Is it all an allegorical satire of some event in 17th century France?

A couple of other notes. Mike Resnick’s Starship series has a character named “Slick.” Slick is an alien with a sentient symbiotic skin (called a “gorib”). Rastignac The Devil has aliens and humans with just such a similar concept – very cool! Gregg Margarite, the narrator, does a very good job with the abundance of French words.

Anyway, like I said, I liked the story, thought it was weirdly cool, but don’t feel like I’ve understood it at all. Could someone fill me in?

LIBRIVOX - Rastignac The Devil by Philip Jose FarmerRastignac The Devil
By Philip José Farmer; Read by Gregg Margarite
2 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 1 Hour 59 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: March 19, 2010
Here is high fidelity fiction at Philip José Farmer’s story-telling best. It’s a vibrant, distractingly different tale of three centuries into the future. And as you read you’ll have a vague, uneasy feeling that it’s all taking place somewhere in the unexplored parts of the universe, even today. From Fantastic Universe May 1954.

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/rss/4158

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

[Thanks also to Barry Eads (aka KiltedDragon)]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

May 18, 2009 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Little Fuzzy by H. Beam PiperSFFaudio EssentialLittle Fuzzy
By H. Beam Piper; Read by Brian Holsopple
5 CDs – 5 Hours 53 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Published: November 2006
ISBN: 9781897304617
Themes: / Science Fiction / Planetary Colonization / Sapience / Law / Mining /

The chartered Zarathustra Company had it all their way. Their charter was for a Class III uninhabited planet, which Zarathustra was, and it meant they owned the planet lock stock and barrel. They exploited it, developed it, and reaped the huge profits from it without interference from the Colonial Government. Then Jack Holloway, a sunstone prospector, appeared on the scene with his family of Fuzzies and the passionate conviction that they were not cute animals but little people…

Little Fuzzy is a novel cherished by a smallish but passionate group of admirers. They seem to love it for its portrayal of the fuzzies themselves. It may be a “furry fandom” book too (but I’m a little afraid to do the research on that). I myself hadn’t heard of the novel, or much of the author, H. Beam Piper, until Little Fuzzy and pretty much everything else written by H. Beam Piper began being posted to Project Gutenberg.

My initial sense of the book was that Little Fuzzy would act as a lens through which historical colonizations could be examined – something like what was done in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word For World Is Forest. But it didn’t work out that way. Piper was not trying to explore historical events as much as what we mean by the word “sapience.” The verdict on the Fuzzies is obvious from the begining, but curiously enough the Fuzzies are still somewhat treated like children even by their human champions. Perhaps this was the only way Piper could easily characterize the right minded human’s benevolence? I wish he were alive so I could ask him about this. For the infantilization of the Fuzzies parallels some attitudes towards the aboriginal peoples facing colonization here on Earth. But like I said, the general focus is on a philosophical examination of the concept of sapience – not colonization.

After some initial trepidation I found myself hanging on the every word of this WONDERFUL audiobook. H. Beam Piper is an amazing storyteller. His homespun folksiness allows him to make grammatically wrong choices, but none that ever misconstrues his intended meaning. For example:

“He dropped into a chair and lit a cigarette. It tasted badly, and after a few puffs he crushed it out.”

I think Grammar Girl would have a problem with this noting that ‘cigarettes don’t have tongues so they can’t taste well or badly’ – despite this, I think Piper’s Little Fuzzy is some of the most transparent and plainspoken prose that I’ve ever read. Narrator Brian Holsopple doesn’t have a vast range with which to pitch his voice, but he subtly manages to give accent and attitude to every character. His voicing of the entire fuzzy vocabulary (just the one word: “yeek”) is nearly as broad – giving curiosity, understanding, determination and suggestion to every yeek in the book. There was a small editing gaffe on disc 3, a repeated line, and another similar one on disc 5 but otherwise the production was perfect.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

July 25, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Red Mars by Kim Stanley RobinsonRed Mars
By Kim Stanley Robinson, read by Richard Ferrone
17 cassettes / 24 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0788740849
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Future history / Mars / Space exploration / Space flight / Planetary colonization / Terraforming

If I were to play you the prolog from Red Mars, neither telling you the title nor showing you the case (with Olympus Mons shown actual size), you would know immediately that it came from a very large book. The mystical meditation on the red planet that opens this tome plumbs the depths of human history and the width of human culture, conjuring a sense of vast space for the story that follows.

And what follows is a massive dose of exhilarating hard science fiction, the first volume in an epic trilogy charting the future history of the colonization of Mars. It grabs us with an opening sequence of mid-novel action, then backs up to lead us more meticulously from the selection of the first one hundred explorer/settlers to their first attempts at independence from the faltering socioeconomic powers of Earth nearly twenty Martian years later. Told through the eyes of half a dozen of these “First Hundred”, the novel details the technical, political, and to some extent personal growth of the colonists through their training on Earth’s Antarctica, the long space voyage between the planets, the rise of the first settlements and buildings, the initial attempts at terraforming, the breakaway of some of the settlers to another colony, the arrival of the next, larger and more diverse waves of colonization, and on to a cataclysmic finale. The story covers a lot of ground with striking believability.

The strongest point of the novel is its marvelous set-pieces, such as the radiation storm scene on the voyage out, a nearly deadly encounter with a Martian dust storm in a dirigible, and a perilous escape down a canyon system that is being destroyed by a torrential flood. Some of the best would be slight plot spoilers to mention, so I won’t. But suffice it to say they are all lovingly crafted, filled with mental eye-popping detail, and yet integrated well into the plot. This is science fiction with its fundamental sense of wonder not only intact, but bursting from every page like an alien from the abdomen. As you might expect, some of this detail and the buildup to monumental scenes leaves a few slow parts in the narrative, but the payoffs are almost always phenomenal.

Also strong is the fundamental clash of old and new economic systems, which contrast idealized concepts of human worth with the dehumanizing iniquities of our international market economy pushed to its all-too-readily conceivable limits. I tend to cheer at any work that is not afraid to point out how the cancerous growth of international corporations in our modern world devours the planet’s resources yet returns nothing of value to the overall system. This book gave me a lot of alternative ideas to dream about, and some Darth Vader-sized economic evil to hiss at cathartically.

One thing I didn’t like was the huge number of fundamental breakthroughs that are made by the “First Hundred” in various fields of science after they leave the messiness of life on earth. That premise borrows a little too much from Frederick Pohl’s Jem, for one thing. For another, as someone who does science and engineering for a living, I don’t believe that if you separate a bunch of scientists and engineers from the mundane glop of real life, you suddenly end up with astounding technical breakthroughs. If it were that easy, you could get any amazing breakthrough you wanted just by throwing a bunch of scientists and engineers in a nice padded cell.

Also, as with most hard science fiction, you could quibble that the characters lack the depth of believable human beings, and that the necessities of the plot move the characters more than their individual natures and decisions determine the plot. But you shouldn’t be reading this book for the same reasons you’d read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Come on! Red Mars may do little to illuminate the unrequited yearnings of the human soul, but that’s not the point. It boils over with effervescent ideas, dynamic images, and inspiring speculation on what human minds and hands can achieve. The characters here may feel a little hollow, and their individual voices may be pretty much interchangeable, but they do their job: they lead us into an exciting, vibrant, thrilling future world.

I will admit that the weaknesses in characterization are not greatly aided by Richard Ferrone’s narration. Don’t get me wrong, I found his cigarette-charred, “In a world where…” voice (somewhat reminiscent of my grade school secretary Mrs. Byrd) to be reliably intriguing. And he can spit out the ten-dollar words and knotty concepts in the exposition with lucid authority. However, his voice characterizations are often indistinguishable. It is possible to find yourself confused about who is speaking when the dialog comes without tag lines. This is partly Robinson’s fault for failing to provide distinctive speech patterns for all the characters, but that’s exactly where the voice of the narrator is supposed to help most. For several characters, it does. But for many, it does not.

I consider the above detractions to be minor points, however. Overall, you will find so much to gasp at, delivered with such powerful enthusiasm by both the author and the narrator, that it would be a crime to miss it. I owe a significant fine just for pushing Red Mars down my reading list for so long. If you’re looking for a hard SF novel that will make you sit up and say “Wow!” out loud, then you should get your hands on this one immediately.

Posted by Kurt Dietz