Review of Elvenquest AUDIO DRAMA

August 8, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Elvenquest featuring Stephen Mangan with Darren Boyd, Sophie Winkleman, Alistair McGowan, and Kevin EldonElvenquest
Written by: Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto
Cast: Stephen Mangan, Alistair McGowan, Sophie Winkleman, Darren Boyd, Kevin Eldon, Dave Lamb. Also featuring Chris Pavlo, Carrie Quinlan, Lizzy Watts, and Clare Willie.
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Released: 3 August 2009
Publisher: AudioGO

Synopsis: Sam is a fantasy novelist who is whisked off to a Tolkien-style parallel universe by a noble elf, a sexy warrior princess, and a feisty dwarf called Dean. Why? Because Sam’s dog is the Chosen One who is destined to save “Lower Earth” from the evil Lord Darkness.

Three words: Fun. Fun. Fun.

A smartly written script and a great cast make for a wonderfully hilarious send-up of the fantasy quest story and of fantasy novels in general.

Writers Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto hit all the right notes: the Chosen One, a prophecy, elves, dwarves, warrior maidens, demons, goblins, trolls, unicorns, deadly traps and puzzles, and colonic irrigations, to name a few. Imagine Lord of the Rings as written by Douglas Adams, Mel Brooks, and the Monty Python troupe and you get the picture.

Most importantly–the cast. The cast, I think, really nails the script with excellent performances and crackerjack comic timing.

Stephen Mangan as Sam Porter seems to be, at times, channeling Simon Jones as Arthur Dent and it works. Sam, like Arthur, is out of his depth in Lower Earth and is simply trying to fit in.

Alistair McGowan plays Lord Darkness like a mixture of Alan Rickman’s Sheriff from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder. He’s even got a Blackadder-like delivery and intonation.

Vidar the Elf Lord isn’t the brightest crayon in the box but makes up for it by being gung-ho and bombastic and Darren Boyd captures that beautifully. He sounds like he’s having too much fun declaiming and waxing rhapsodic.

Dave Lamb, as Amis the Dog/the Chosen One, is canine exuberance personified. Sophie Winkleman is superb as Penthiselea the Warrior Princess, lending the right touch of kick-ass chick with a sword, as well as being the voice of grounded reason for the others and, in many cases, the straight man–er, woman.

As Dean the Dwarf and Kreech the evil sidekick, Kevin Eldon manages to portray seemingly polar opposite characters who happen to share a “love” for violence. Dean wants to dash into battle at every opportunity while Kreech wants to unleash the goblin hordes on the questers.

The one thing that irked me while listening was the laugh track. I didn’t think it needed to be there and, at first, was distracting. But I got used to it enough that it “faded” into the background.

According to this site, the show was recorded in front of a live audience. Explains the track.

But I still think it’s unnecessary.

Other than that, this is a top-of-the-line production and I highly recommend it. Especially if you love comedy and fantasy. And comedic fantasy.

Posted by Abner Senires

Review of A Galaxy Trilogy Volume 2 – A Collection of Tales from the Early Days of Science Fiction

May 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

A Galaxy Trilogy, Vol. 2A Galaxy Trilogy, Vol. 2 – A Collection of Tales from the Early Days of Science Fiction
By David Osborne, E.L. Arch, and Manly Banister; Read by Tom Weiner
11 CDs – Approx. 13 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781433291081
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / First Contact / Politics / Cold War / Russia / Washington, D.C. / Colorado / Amnesia / Prophecy / Sociology / Iowa / Teleportation /

Back in the 1950s at the dawn of science fiction, writers were turning out wildly imaginative stories for the pulp magazines. Robert Silverberg, writing as David Osborne, estimates he wrote over a million words in one year. Here are three more exciting stories from those heady days from the pioneers of science fiction.

Discs 1 – 3: Aliens From Space by David Osborne (Robert Silverberg)

First published in 1958, under a pseudonym, this Robert Silverberg short novel is set in a fascinatingly futuristic 1989. It is in a period of relative peace on Earth since the recent collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. With this new détente in the offing only an outside influence could disrupt the path to global harmony. And that is exactly what happens when an alien spacecraft lands in an Iowa cornfield. It seems that these aliens have been watching Earth for millennia, and now we are on the cusp of ‘regular interplanetary travel’ these alien beings wish Earth to accept their hand/tentacle in friendship. This aid would be especially needed too as it seems there is another alien species out there in the galaxy – one which would likely destroy the Earth, and all humans, given half a chance. A team of diplomats and scientists from around the world is quickly assembled to negotiate a treaty and alliance. Among them is Professor Brewster, a prominent scientist of psychosociology. He thinks the aliens are hiding something. But could it just be their very alienness? He points out the advanced technology they offer comes with its own problem; receiving technology from an technologically advanced civilization doesn’t advance the recipient’s own culture – it merely makes the culture dependent upon the giver’s civilization. But is that a small cost compared with annihilation?

A friend of mine pointed out that Greg Bear’s 1987 novel The Forge Of God has a similar premise. There are many terrific ideas in the gloriously short novel. Aliens From Space is a kind of cold war apologue, a prisoner’s dilemma situation. Wrong action invites destruction or at the very least, great loss. In a way the Brewster character reminded me of Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs And Steel fame). Diamond and Brewster, by asking interesting questions, find interesting answers.

Discs 4 – 7: The Man With Three Eyes by E.L. Arch (Rachel Cosgrove Payes)

The Man With Three Eyes is not a terrific Science Fiction novel. But, it is a fair meta-Science Fictional story. It works well as a quasi-period piece/alien invasion story/Agatha Christie-style mystery. It’s set in 1967 New York, more specifically in Greenwich Village. It’s protagonist, I won’t call him a hero, is an Irishman, Dan Gorman. He works as a Science Fiction magazine illustrator and lives in Mrs. Mumble’s boardinghouse. That’s the central location for the plot, as it’s a virtual United Nations of ethnically diverse characters. There’s an Afghan, a German, a Mohawk, a Welshman, an Eskimo (not an Inuit), an Ethiopian, and a refugee from Hong Kong. They all seem to get along pretty well until Dan accidentally places himself in the middle of an alien espionage ring operating out of a dead drop joke shop. There, he picks up a “third eye” and takes it to a party to impress a girl. It doesn’t work like he expects (but then I can’t imagine it’d work at all), and instead acts like the titular object in H.G. Wells’ short story The Crystal Egg (giving the user a vision of aliens on another planet). Dan then leaves the party and looses the eye in his own apartment. The next two thirds of the novel feature everyone hunting for it.

Sound confusing? It is, at least a bit. I found myself wondering how fast E.L. Arch had written The Man With Three Eyes Or if he had written it on a bet. But, like I said, I think it kind of works anyway. It’s not really a good Science Fiction story, but it ain’t a bad story and can probably tell you a lot about how Science Fiction stories were written in the mid 1960s New York. It felt quite a bit like what I imagine time travel to Greenwich Village in the 1960s would feel like.

Discs 8 – 11: Conquest Of Earth by Manly Banister

The aliens came to earth more than two ice ages ago. Now, under millenia of domination by these invaders, one Man amongst a small cadre of six Men with mental powers, elite combat training and a deep education in all things human, can manoeuver to throw off the chains that have sapped Earth of most of its precious resource, water.

Like the Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s Dune, Manly Banister has created a far future quasi-planetary romance with and especially compelling depiction of what it would mean to be trained to detect and interpret every nuance of human physiology. In fact this whole short novel is like a pocket version of Dune – what with all the quasi-religious/scientific ideas, the overlords, the secret societies and the deserty planet-ness. Conquest of Earth may have more ideas per hour as any other audiobook I’ve listened to in the last decade. When Kor Danay (aka the Scarlet Sage) graduates from his training he begins a quick journey across Earth that leads to scenes of assassination, disguise, mind reading and later an unusual trip off-world with a quickly romanced wife named, get this, Soma! One reviewer called the plot “aimless” and “desultory” and I can see that. The whole story feels disjointed in a way that cannot really be understated. Kor has many abilities the set him apart from other people, and even his fellow “Men.” First up, he has the ability to speed up the molecules of his body so as to, from his perspective, stop time! This trope, by the way, was probably first proposed in the The New Accelerator by H.G. Wells, and later by Star Trek in an episode called “Wink Of An Eye.” One lengthy later sequence features another quasi-Star Trek fore-echo too, namely in “The Paradise Syndrome.“ Did I mention that Kor also has a ”Divisible Mind” which may be the key to defeating the enemy Trisz? He does!

In terms of the style of writing, well, there is a nice soliloquized-style explanation of why the Trisz should not be thought of as actually evil despite being insidious energy beings or a being who rule (or rules) the Earth with an iron fist. There is a lot of other zany stuff going on in this novel: teleportation, trickery, a prophetic computer, and a dose of amnesia (for good measure). I will admit Conquest Of Earth comes off as if it was plotted by a mish-mash of meth’d up aliens in order to win a stream of consciousness contest, but somehow it really didn’t seem to bother me. And, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it had won.

David Osborne is an acknowledged pseudonym of Robert Silverberg. E.L. Arch was a pseudonym of Rachel Cosgrove Payes (being an anagram of her first name: “Rachel”). But it is entirely unclear to me who Manly Banister is or was. There is some discussion of the improbably named Manly Banister HERE, but no Wikipedia article currently exists on this person. Even the narrator name, Tom Weiner, is an alias.

Narrator Tom Weiner’s voice lends depth and presence to the three novels – he adds an appropriate alien lisp to some of the alien speakers, plays around with accents and delivers it all a gravitas and seriousness that doesnt mock this fun material. Listening to A Galaxy Trilogy Volume 2 felt very rewarding!

A minor issue with this collection includes the distinct lack of markings on the discs. 11 CDs are in the set, with three short novels, but none of them is marked with which novels are on which discs. On the other hand, all three novels begin at the beginning of a CD.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The World Set Free by H.G. Wells

April 30, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

H.G. Wells Month

Science Fiction Audiobook - The World Set Free by H.G. WellsThe World Set Free
By H.G. Wells; Read by Shelly Frasier
1 MP3-CD or 6 CDs – Approx. 6.5 Hrs [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1400150108 (MP3-CD); 1400100100(CDs)
/ Science Fiction / Atomic Power / Atomic Bombs / War / Utopia / Politics / Futurism / Prophecy / World State /

“Never before in the history of warfare had there been a continuing explosive; indeed, up to the middle of the twentieth century the only explosives known were combustibles whose explosiveness was due entirely to their instantaneousness; and these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them.”

The Father of Science Fiction first works are still among our classics. With excellent treatments of alien invasion (The War of the Worlds), space travel (First Men in the Moon), proto-genetic manipulation (The Island of Dr. Moreau), and of course time travel (The Time Machine). In his first decade of a writer he had written these classics as well as The Invisible Man, and The Food of the Gods, as many classic short stories.

Wells continued his writing career for another 40 years. Always remaining a popular author. So what happened to all these books he wrote? What happened to this iconoclast of SF? Why were his later works seldom reprinted and so hard to find? In his day, books like Tono-Bungay and Ann Veronica were huge critical and commercial successes. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and other public domain sites, his more obscure works are now obtainable. Much of his later work does not qualify as SF. But there are a number of his novels that deal with prophecies and future utopias and do qualify as SF.

The World Set Free was one of those future visions. Written and published upon the cusp of World War I, the novel proves that Wells had a gift for prophecy, although many of the details played out in a different way. In the novel the World War would not occur till 1956.

The main impetus of the novel is the advent of atomic power, both as a bomb and as a power source. The atomic bomb has many similarities to the actual bombs, including decaying radiation. Wells’ portrait of a World War would lead to numerous atomic bombs destroying civilization.

Wells had hoped from the ashes of a World War that nationalism would dissolve and a new world state would evolve. He portrays the World War in a horrific way. For one who saw the war as a way to a new world order, he does not handle the horrors of war with kid gloves.

Wells uses a narrative device that this book is written from a far utopian future. And from this far future perspective, it tells of the dark days of the war and then of the end of countries and the beginning of the world state. The tone is scholarly and leaves the listener/reader distanced from the characters.

I believe Wells started to see himself as an educator to the masses. That through his writing, both fiction and non-fiction, he could change the world. Sounds like a maniacal delusion, but he was an extremely popular writer. He was the equivalent to a rock star in terms of cultural popularity, but with the intellectual clout of an author. Unfortunately this didactic charge, he placed on himself, put storytelling subordinate to the message. Despite these flaws, the novel is filled with many thought provoking ideas.

Shelly Frasier narrates the novel. After an introduction, in which she speaks with an American accent, she switches to an English accent for the text of the novel. After getting use to this change, I found her accent and characterization quite good and she turns in a solid performance.

Review of Archibald MacLeish’s The Fall Of The City

May 3, 2006 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Radio Drama Review

Science Fiction Radio Drama - The Fall Of The City by Archibald MacLeishThe Fall Of The City
Based on the script by Archibald MacLeish; Perfomed by a full cast
1 CD – 32 Minutes 11 Seconds [RADIO DRAMA]
Producer / Publisher: Willamette Radio Workshop / LodestoneCatalog.com
Produced / Published: 2004 / 2006
Themes: / Fantasy / Allegory / Prophecy / Utopia / Dystopia / Totalitarianism /

“- In a time like ours seemings and portents signify -“

What few of the pre-WWII fantasy radio dramas produced tended to be allegorical, The Fall Of The City is no different in that respect. This one however has a unique feature – it was written as an extended dramatized poem “verse for radio” as they called it. The original production starred the then ubiquitous Orson Welles and a number of other Hollywood stars. This is the modern re-recording of the original 1937 radio drama. The folks at Willamette Radio Workshop have put the results to CD, but it was actually broadcast on WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa, Florida in the fall of 2004. The production asks several questions appopriate for totalitarian times: ‘What freedom is worth?’ ‘What is freedom?’ And most importantly, “freedom from what?”

As Fall Of The City begins, a ghostly almost prophetic figure has appeared in city’s cemetary for three days running. When she finally speaks to the gathered mob she fortells the arrival of a conqueror, warning “The city of masterless men will take a master, there will be shouting then, blood after.” The citizenry, shocked that their advanced state may be under dire threat are agitated into a debate about the possible actions they might take to ensure their continued freedom. I found it an experience not unlike that of a staged Greek tragedy, thus it is all three high-browed, reflective and wise. To say more might be to reveal to much. What I can say without fear of spoiling the experience for you is that this is an artful production, sound design and music are beautifully rendered with voice acting in absolute top form. I’d be interested to hear if the team at Willamette will be taking on MacLeish’s 1938 follow up Air Raid another of his poetry dramas.

Posted by Jesse Willis