Review of The Year’s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories

October 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Audiobook Review

The Year's Top Hard Science Fiction StoriesThe Year’s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories
Edited by Allan Kaster; Read by Tom Dheere, Nancy Linari, and Henrietta Meire
9.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Infinivox
Published: 2017

Lately I’ve been craving good Hard Science Fiction tales. You know the kind… Stories in which the science plays a significant role in the plot. Stories in which the “science” in “science fiction” is more than just a setting.

My craving was satisfied by this terrific audio anthology edited by Allan Kaster and read by Tom Dheere, Nancy Linari, and Henrietta Meire. These stories, taken from those published in 2016 in various venues, use your imagination to ask real questions about our universe. The narrators are quite good, confidently throwing science around like they know what these characters are talking about.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be looking forward to next year’s anthology. This is my kind of science fiction.

CONTENTS:
Seven Birthdays by Ken Liu
Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chatterjee by Alastair Reynolds
Number Nine Moon by Alex Irvine
Chasing Ivory by Ted Kosmatka
Something Happened Here, But We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was by Paul McAuley
Of the Beast in the Belly by C.W. Johnson
RedKing by Craig DeLancey
Vortex by Gregory Benford
The Visitor from Taured by Ian R. MacLeod
The Seventh Gamer by Gwyneth Jones
Fieldwork by Shariann Lewitt

For those that like quick story synopses, here is Infinivox’s description of the anthology:
An unabridged audio collection spotlighting the “best of the best” hard science fiction stories published in 2016 by current and emerging masters of the genre, edited by Allan Kaster. In “Vortex,” by Gregory Benford, astronauts find a once thriving microbial lifeform that carpets the caves of Mars dying off. A code monkey tracks down the vain creator of a pernicious software virus that people jack cerebrally in “RedKing,” by Craig DeLancey. In “Number Nine Moon,” by Alex Irvine, illicit scavengers on Mars are on a rescue mission to save themselves after one of their team members dies. A young girl’s thirst for vengeance becomes a struggle for survival when she is swallowed by a gigantic sea creature on an alien planet in “Of the Beast in the Belly,” by C.W. Johnson. In “The Seventh Gamer,” by Gwyneth Jones, a writer immerses herself into a MMORPG community to search for characters being played by real aliens from other worlds. A woman armed with a rifle stalks a herd of cloned wooly mammoths in British Columbia in “Chasing Ivory,” by Ted Kosmatka. In “Fieldwork,” by Shariann Lewitt, a volcanologist struggles with her research on Europa where both her mother and grandmother suffered dire consequences. A daughter pays homage to her mother with mega-engineering projects to deal with climate change over eons in “Seven Birthdays,” by Ken Liu. In “The Visitor from Taured,” by Ian R. MacLeod, a cosmologist in the near future is obsessed with proving his theory of multiverses. The citizens of a small town on a “Jackaroo” planet object to a corporation placing a radio telescope near local alien artifacts in “Something Happened Here, But We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was,” by Paul McAuley. And finally, in “Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chatterjee,” by Alastair Reynolds, a graduate student defends her dissertation on a solar anomaly that threatens humanity.

My favorite stories in the collection were Ken Liu’s “Seven Birthdays” and “The Visitor from Taured” by Ian R. MacLeod. I enjoyed all of the stories, though.
Every one.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Telling by Ursula K. LeGuin

April 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Telling by Ursula K. LeGuinThe Telling (Hainish Cycle)
By Ursula K. LeGuin; Performed by Gabra Zackman
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
ISBN: 978-1-4692-8062-2
6 discs; 7 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / Hainish / planets / libraries / storytelling / alien races / pilgrimage /

Publisher summary:

Once a culturally rich world, the planet Aka has been utterly transformed by technology. Records of the past have been destroyed, and citizens are strictly monitored. But an official observer from Earth named Sutty has learned of a group of outcasts who live in the wilderness. They still believe in the ancient ways and still practice its lost religion — the Telling. Intrigued by their beliefs, Sutty joins them on a sacred pilgrimage into the mountains…and into the dangerous terrain of her own heart, mind, and soul.

When I first started listening to The Telling, I didn’t realize it was in the same universe as  The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, in fact I didn’t know those two books were related either. This story takes place in a loosely related world, but on a new planet. Sutty has been sent to collect the printed historical record, but arrives to discover most of it has been destroyed. Her own life on Terra was destroyed when her lover was killed by drones, and being sent to Aka may or may not be a way to push her out of the way of normal life. Along the way she finds out about a practice called “The Telling,” that is more than just an oral storytelling tradition. The story is concise although it ends a little too abruptly to understand what will happen in the future on Aka. I’m not convinced Sutty has as much power as she thinks she has to effect change.

The reader, Gabra Zackman, does a nice job, although the sounds made during the tellings sounded a little like orgasms. Maybe they were supposed to.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Venus by Ben Bova

July 16, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science fiction Audiobook - Venus by Ben BovaVenus (The Grand Tour Series)
By Ben Bova; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
10 CDs – Approx. 11.7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: February 2011
ISBN: 9781441775726
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Near future / Space travel / Planets /

The surface of Venus is the most hellish place in the solar system, its ground hot enough to melt aluminum, its air pressure high enough to crush spacecraft landers like tin cans, its atmosphere a choking mix of poisonous gases. This is where the frail young Van Humphries must go—or die trying. Years before, Van’s older brother perished in the first attempt to land a man on Venus. Van’s father has always hated him for being the one to survive. Now, his father is offering a ten-billion-dollar prize to the first person who lands on Venus and returns his oldest son’s remains. To everyone’s surprise, Van takes up the offer. But what Van Humphries will find on Venus will change everything—our understanding of Venus, of global warming on Earth, and his knowledge of who he is.

Venus by Ben Bova was first released on audio in abridged format in 2002. I reviewed in it 2004, and from what I wrote there I liked it just fine. This unabridged version (no surprise) was a different and better experience.

I am a fan of Ben Bova’s didactic Grand Tour novels. I like how I come away from each of these novels with a better understanding of how space travel works at our current level of knowledge. I also like how Bova uses what we know about the planets before he starts speculating.

In Venus, eccentric billionaire Martin Humphries summons his son, Van Humpries, to the moon. Prior to the story, Martin’s oldest son Alex had crashed on Venus and was presumed dead. Martin tells Van that he’s offering $10 billion to the person who can retrieve Alex’s remains and that he’s paying for it by cutting Van off financially. Van surprises his father by taking up the challenge himself. There is one other taker, so two teams vie for the prize. Two ships, separately designed and built to withstand the extreme conditions on Venus, race to snag human remains off the surface.

The plot is interesting and satisfying (though with a bit of clunky foreshadowing), but the star of the story is Venus. Bova’s characters reach Venus quickly, so the bulk of the novel is spent floating in their ships. It’s incredibly hot, and the atmosphere thick and roiling. Both ships were designed as dirigibles. Once the crafts reached the atmosphere, they floated like airships through the currents, sinking slowly toward the surface. Of course, it’s not that easy. There are plenty of surprises.

Stefan Rudnicki narrates, and yet again I enjoyed him. He’s one of the best narrators we have. I’m always pleased to hear him perform a good piece of science fiction.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson