LibriVox: Moon-Face by Jack London

April 26, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Online Audio 

Aural Noir: Online Audio

There are few authors worthy of re-writing Edgar Allan Poe – few would dare – and of those few fewer still would succeed in the attempt. Jack London is one such and his short story, Moon Face, is one such success. Sometimes subtitled “A Story Of Mortal Antipathy” this story runs nearly the same length as the Poe story that I think inspired it. I’ve read one essay that argues it was inspired by The Tell Tale Heart, but I think it is another. Sure, the unnamed protagonist may be insane, but I think there’s still something to his lunacy – we can go for decades without encountering our own personal Claverhouse – then one day he will appear – and his mere presence is enough to set one’s teeth on edge.

LibriVox - Moon-Face by Jack London

LibriVoxMoon-Face
By Jack London; Read by Gregg Margarite
1 |MP3| – Approx. 13 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: October 01, 2009
|ETEXT|
First published in The Argonaut, July 21, 1902.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #108

May 16, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #108 – Jesse talks with Trent Reynolds (of The Violent World Of Parker blog) about Donald E. Westlake’s Hard Case Crime novel 361 (available as an audiobook from BBC Audiobooks America).

Talked about on today’s show:
Richard Stark, the meaning of the title “361“, Roget’s Thesaurus entry #361, “killer’s don’t run around with a thesaurus”, Hard Case Crime, The Hunter, George Washington Bridge, New York, Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books blog‘s review of 361, Westlake and the USAF, Backflash, Westlake loves theatre people, actors, Hollywood, “dangerous and scary”, Stark had fans in prison, Parker vs. Dortmunder, The Man With The Getaway Face, revenge, stoic vs. existential, our podcast on Memory by Donald E. Westlake, Gregg Margarite, finding purpose in the purposeless world,

“Yeah. All right, this is what I’ve been thinking. To begin with, every man has to have either a home or a purpose. Do you see that? Either a place to be or something to do. Without one or the other, a man goes nuts. Or he loses his manhood, like a hobo. Or he drinks or kills himself or something else. It doesn’t matter, It’s just that everybody has to have one or the other.”

drinking, “there’s no one more pissed off than this guy”, “the drifter mentality”, how Westlake handles supporting characters, the lawyer’s secretary, the cowardly private detective, honesty vs. duplicity, hardboiled vs. noir, House Of Lords (whiskey), get a job at Walmart vs. take over the mob, Florida, Bill’s suicide, going on a drunk, identity, solider vs. airman, he’s not his father’s son, he’s not his brother’s brother, Charles Ardai, the absence of women, the Hard Case Crime cover (by Richard B. Farrell), Lawrence Block, “A Sound Of Distant Drums” is a long running literary joke, Westlake characters generally read paperbacks, Paul Kavanagh novels, Not Comin’ Home To You, Such Men Are Dangerous, a purposeless ex-military guy living on a deserted island in the Florida Keys, The Green Eagle Score, The Black Ice Score, The Blackbird, Grofield, University Of Chicago Press editions with introductions by Lawrence Block, Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr’s “Burglar” books, murder mystery vs. identity mystery, Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian, did Westlake mature out of Parker?, Flashfire, Jason Statham as Parker, Payback, The Hunter, The Man With The Getaway Face, The Mourner, The Score, Two Much, Cops And Robbers by Donald Westlake, the way Westlake paints characters, The Hot Rock, humorous writing, the competent Parker vs. the hapless (bad luck) Dortmunder, Robert Redford, What’s The Worst That Could Happen, The Comedy Is Finished, Donald E. Westlake: an annotated bibliography by David Bratman, coffee, Idi Amin, sadly there is no biography of Donald E. Westlake, Matthew Scudder’s drinking problem, Eight Million Ways To Die, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit: A Manual For Fiction Writers, Lawrence Block should write a Parker book, race-walking, LawrenceBlock.com, Dan Simmons, Garry Disher, Hard Case, “361 is as hard-boiled as fiction comes”, Jim Thompson, The Jugger, Stephen King’s Misery is a spiritual successor to The Jugger, the pragmatism of celebrity/writer privacy, wheelbarrows full of books, too much of a good thing: “too many fans can interfere with your operation”, receiving unsolicited books, advanced reading copies, “it really clarifies your understanding of what your purpose is if you are confronted by a barrage of things that aren’t your purpose”, book tours do two things: sell books and reward the readers, Sheldon Lord, Lawrence Block’s sleaze books are coming to ebook, Random House, Lynn Monroe, Hellcats And Honey Girls, Subterranean Press, Robert Silverberg, Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Triumph Of Evil, Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab, A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, Getting Off by Lawrence Block (Jill Emerson).

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Blood Groove by Alex Bledsoe

November 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Blood Groove by Alex BledsoeBlood Groove
By Alex Bledsoe; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
7 CDs – Approx. 8.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781433243880
Themes: / Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / Vampires / Revenge / Love / 1970s / 1910s / Memphis / Wales /

When centuries-old vampire Baron Rudolfo Zginski was staked in Wales in 1915, the last thing he expected was to reawaken in Memphis, Tennessee, sixty years later. Reborn into a new world of simmering racial tensions, he must adapt quickly if he is to survive. Hoping to learn how his kind copes with this bizarre new era, Zginski tracks down a nest of teenage vampires, who have little knowledge of their true nature, having learned most of what they know from movies like Blacula. Forming an uneasy alliance with the young vampires, Zginski begins to teach them the truth about their powers. They must learn quickly for there’s a new drug on the street created to specifically target and destroy vampires. As Zginski and his allies track the drug to its source, they may unwittingly be stepping into a trap that can destroy them all.

The vampire is the Mr. Potato Head of Fantasy fiction. It’s an old and worn out monster, fully mythologized with more than 100 interchangeable preternatural powers and weaknesses from which to assemble a fully customized vampire. For what might be a complete list of them check out the terrific website TVTropes.org. It cites a wonderfully cynical list of vampire tropes under the title: “Our Vampires Are Different.” So then the question is: If there is nothing really new under the sunless skies of vampire fiction why do we pick up them up? It’s a good question and one worth pondering. I picked up Blood Groove in large part because of the title. I liked the pun, figuring it referred to a blood groove (or fuller) on a sword and/or the idea of groovy 1970s vampires and/or the dado in a forensic pathologist’s slab. And before I picked up Blood Groove I noticed other Bledsoe books (probably a pun to be made there too) had cute titles like: The Sword-Edged Blonde and Burn Me Deadly.

Alex Bledsoe doesn’t give any new power to the vampire that he hasn’t had before, but he does add a new figurative kryptonite (like sunlight and garlic and crosses) to the mix. In fact, it’s creation and dissemination is central to the plot of Blood Groove. Along the way we also get an historical setting (1975), a virtual tour of parts of Memphis, Tennessee, some trivia about Elvis Presley and a relatively unpredictable story.

One of the elements that surprised me was not knowing who the protagonist of Blood Groove was. The vampires seemed the focus, and yet there was almost nothing that could make them sympathetic in a heroic or anti-heroic way. We’d meet one, he’d be killed, and then I thought “Okay…and?” but the story wouldn’t explain – which was a nice move actually. So for a good chunk of the novel the characters, all well fleshed out, appeared in scenes, died or were killed, only to be replaced by new characters with new agendas and new back-stories. The period shifted too. First we are in 1975 Memphis, then 1915 Wales. Eventually it settles down and we’re given fresh references, almost devotionals actually, to two early 1970s movies Blacula and Vanishing Point. As with many an urban fantasy novel these days there’s a mixing up of sex and love. Blood Groove doesn’t feel particularly paranormal romancy – but it’s probably not too far from the edges of curve.

Narrator Stefan Rudnicki gives voice to about a dozen characters of mixed gender, ethnicity and accent. Most obviously the East European vampire Baron Rudolfo Zginski has a suitably Bela Lugosi type accent. As with every Rudnicki read audiobook I’ve heard his rich voiced narration in Blood Groove is always in service to the text. One reviewer on Amazon.com put it well: “[Reading Blood Groove] was like eating a brownie with nuts when you don’t like the nuts.”

The trailer for Vanishing Point:

The trailer for Blacula:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Recent Arrivals: Brilliance Audio, Full Cast Audio, Penguin Audio

November 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

Which website has a stack of more than a dozen recently arrived audiobooks looking for reviews? Would you be surprised to learn it’s called SFFaudio.com? We knew you knew that.

Nearly 200 ratings on audible, where it premiered back in July, give this audiobook a score of 4.39 out of 5. Impressive. And, check it out, narrator Jay Snyder (aka Dan Green) is also the voice actor for Yugi Moto from the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime series.

Fantasy Audiobook - Day By Day Armageddon by J.L. BourneBeyond Exile: Day By Day Armageddon (book 2 in the Armageddon series)
By J.L. Bourne; Read by Jay Snyder
8 CDs – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: August 10, 2010
ISBN: 9781441874863
Sample: |MP3|
START INTERCEPT – Armies of undead have risen up across the U.S. and around the globe; there is no safe haven from the diseased corpses hungering to feed off human flesh. But in the heat of a Texas wasteland, a small band of survivors attempt to counter the millions closing in around them. – INTERCEPT COMPLETE — Survivor, Day by day, the handwritten journal entries of one man caught in a worldwide cataclysm capture the desperation — and the will to survive — as he joins forces with a handful of refugees to battle soulless enemies both human and inhuman from inside the abandoned Hotel 23. But in the world of the undead, is mere survival enough?

Here’s the follow up to The Unincorporated Man |READ OUR REVIEW|. The part I like most about this sequel is that it is slightly shorter than the original.

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - The Unincorporated War by Dani Kollin and Eytan KollinThe Unincorporated War
By Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin; Read by Eric G. Dove
19 CDs – Approx. 22 Hours 37 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: May 11, 2010
ISBN: 1441858016
Sample: |MP3|
The Kollin brothers introduced their future world, and central character Justin Cord, in The Unincorporated Man. Justin created a revolution in that book, and is now exiled from Earth to the outer planets, where he is a heroic figure. The corporate society, which is headquartered on Earth and rules Venus, Mars, and the Orbital colonies, wants to destroy Justin and reclaim hegemony over the rebellious outer planets. The first interplanetary civil war begins as the military fleet of Earth attacks. Filled with battles, betrayals, and triumphs, The Unincorporated War is a full-scale space opera that catapults the focus of the earlier novel up and out into the solar system. Justin remains both a logical and passionate fighter for the principles that motivate him, and the most dangerous man alive.

Neal Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle” – no matter how you measure it – begins with this audibook. I’m always for starting at the beginning.

BRILLIANCE AUDIO Quicksilver by Neal StephensonQuicksilver
By Neal Stephenson; Read by Simon Prebble
12 CDs – Approx. 14 Hours 35 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: August 2010
ISBN: 9781441874962
Sample: |MP3|
Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight.

This mortal, meaning me, plans on listening to this intriguing sounding book before the year is out. It was originally published, in a shorter version, under the title … And Call Me Conrad. Check out the fascinating Wikipedia entry describing its long an convoluted publishing history.

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - This Immortal by Roger ZelaznyThis Immortal
By Roger Zelazny; Read by Victor Bevine
6 CDs – Approx. 6 Hours 29 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: August 25, 2010
ISBN: 1441875018
Conrad Nomikos has a long, rich personal history that he’d rather not talk about. And, as arts commissioner, he’s been given a job he’d rather not do. Escorting an alien grandee on a guided tour of the shattered remains of Earth is not something he relishes – especially since it is apparent that this places him at the center of high-level intrigue that has some bearing on the future of Earth itself. But Conrad is a very special guy…

Narrator Christina Traister, in addition to narrating audiobooks, also teaches stage combat in the Department of Theatre at Michigan State University. That’s cool.

Fantasy Audiobook - Blood Trinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna LoveBlood Trinity: The Belador Code, Book 1
By Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love; Read by Christina Traister
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 19, 2010
ISBN: 9781441863515
Sample: |MP3|
Atlanta has become the battlefield between human and demon. All her life, Evalle Kincaid has walked the line between the two. Her origins unknown, she’s on a quest to learn more about her past … and her future. When a demon claims a young woman in a terrifying attack and there’s no one else to blame, Evalle comes under suspicion. Now she’s on a deadly quest for her own survival. Through the sordid underground of an alternate Atlanta where nothing is as it seems to the front lines of the city, where her former allies have joined forces to hunt her, Evalle must prove her innocence or pay the ultimate price. But saving herself is the least of her problems if she doesn’t stop the coming apocalypse. The clock is ticking and Atlanta is about to catch fire…

Not only does the protagonist of Heaven’s Spite have unbelievably fake sounding name, so does the author. Lillith Saintcrow, however, insists that it is in fact her real name! Now considering how cool sounding it is I can entirely imagine someone having her name legally changed to Lillith Saintcrow. And, I’ve also got to hand it to any author/character combination who can use the word “Fuckwad” in the opening of her paranormal romance parkour novel! Check out how they made the cover for another of Saintcrow’s urban fantasy books too.

Fantasy Audiobook - Heaven's Spite by Lilith SaintcrowHeaven’s Spite: Book 5 in the Jill Kismet series
By Lilith Saintcrow; Read by Joyce Bean
7 CDs – Approx. 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 27, 2010
ISBN: 9781441886835
Sample: |MP3|
Jill Kismet has no choice but to seek treacherous allies — Perry, the devil she knows, and Melisande Belisa, the cunning Sorrows temptress whose true loyalties are unknown. Kismet knows Perry and Belisa are likely playing for the same thing — her soul. It’s just too bad, because she expects to beat them at their own game. Except their game is vengeance. Nobody plays vengeance like Kismet. But if the revenge she seeks damns her, her enemies might get her soul after all…

Cherie (aka BelovedBitterSea) sez: “genocide is bad and life should be fair” – You know I’m liking YouTube more and more if only for reviews like Cherie’s – it’s for Foundation, the novel preceding this audiobook…

Fantasy Audiobook - Intrigues by Mercedes LackeyIntrigues: Valdemar: Collegium Chronicles, Book 2
By Mercedes Lackey; Read by Nick Podehl
9 CDs – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 5, 2010
ISBN: 9781423308003
Sample: |MP3|
Mags was an orphan and slave of ‘bad blood’ who toiled a gem mine all his young life. He would have died before adulthood, had he not been Chosen and taken to Haven to be trained in the new Herald Collegium. Now, Mags was never hungry and never cold. He slept in a real bed in his own room and, most importantly, he had Dallen, who was like another part of himself. And yet, aside from Lena and Bear, both loners like he was, he couldn’t relate to most of the Herald, Healer, or Bard trainees. He was the only trainee who came from what—to the others—was unimaginable poverty. There was another factor that contributed to Mag’s isolation. Foreign assassins, masquerading at court as envoys were discovered. As they fled from the Guard, one of them seemed to “recognize” Mags. Now, Mags was an object of suspicion. He had always been curious about his parents, but after the incident it became urgent for Mags to discover exactly who his parents were. And at Haven, he had access to the extensive Archives. Poring through the Archives, he got only incomplete information: his parents, found dead in a bandit camp, had been two of a number of hostages, some of whom had survived. The survivors had told the Guard that Mags’ parents spoke a language that no one understood or recognized. This information did not help, for the ForeSeers had been having visions of the king’s assassination by “one of the foreign blood”. Some had even Seen Mags with blood on his hands. How could Mags defend himself against a crime that hadn’t yet been committed?

Here’s the sequel to Sandman Slim. It’s a paranormal romance/urban fantasy told humorously in first person! Narrator MacLeod Andrews sounds very good while telling the story with what sounds like a conspiratorial smirk. Check out Kadrey’s video about the first book in the series too.

Fantasy Audiobook - Kill the Dead by Richard KadreyKill The Dead
By Richard Kadrey; Read by MacLeod Andrews
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 5, 2010
ISBN: 9781441806642
Sample: |MP3|
James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, crawled out of Hell, took bloody revenge for his girlfriend’s murder, and saved the world along the way. After that, what do you do for an encore? You take a lousy job tracking down monsters for money. It’s a depressing gig, but it pays for your beer and cigarettes. But in L.A., things can always get worse. Like when Lucifer comes to town to supervise his movie biography and drafts Stark as his bodyguard. Sandman Slim has to swim with the human and inhuman sharks of L.A.’s underground power elite. That’s before the murders start. And before he runs into the Czech porn star who isn’t quite what she seems. Even before all those murdered people start coming back from the dead and join a zombie army that will change our world and Stark’s forever. Death bites. Life is worse. All things considered, Hell’s not looking so bad.

Narrator Ralph Lister reads with an English accent. If I had my drothers all aliens (and Nazis) would be played by English actors. First published in 1968.

Fantasy Audiobook - Priest-Kings of Gor by John NormanPriest-Kings Of Gor: Gorean Saga, Book 3
By John Norman; Read by Ralph Lister
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 15, 2010
ISBN: 9781441849021
Sample: |MP3|
This is the third installment of John Norman’s popular and controversial Gor series. Tarl Cabot is the intrepid tarnsman of the planet Gor, a harsh society with a rigid caste system that personifies the most brutal form of Social Darwinism. In this volume, Tarl must search for the truth behind the disappearance of his beautiful wife, Talena. Have the ruthless Priest-Kings destroyed her? Tarl vows to find the answer for himself, journeying to the mountain stronghold of the kings, knowing full well that no one who has dared approach the Priest-Kings has ever returned alive….

Told in first person, by the chameleon voiced Phil Gigante, here’s the 1970 sequel to an audiobook I am listening to right now. I suspect I’ll be gobbling up this sequel soon too.

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge by Harry HarrisonThe Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge (book 2 in the Stainless Steel Rat series)
By Harry Harrison; Read by Phil Gigante
5 CDs – Approx. 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 12, 2010
ISBN: 9781441881144
Sample: |MP3|
DiGriz and Angelina are happily married and expecting the birth of their sons. The planet Cliaand is waging interstellar war, and against the odds, its Grey Men are invading and taking over planet after planet. The Rat is sent to Cliaand to start a one-man guerrilla campaign to put a stop to the plans of the planet’s leader, Kraj. He is aided by the Amazons, a force of liberated freedom fighters, and eventually by his wife who arrives to help him win the war and keep him out of the arms of the Amazons.

This audiobook asks: “King, Country, Crown. What would you die for?” Author Celine Kiernan is also, apparently, working on a graphic novel.

Fantasy Audiobook - The Rebel PrinceThe Rebel Prince (book 3 in the Moorehawke Trilogy)
By Celine Kiernan; Read by Kate Rudd
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: October 18, 2010
ISBN: 9781441891679
Sample: |MP3|
Wynter Moorehawke has braved bandits and Loup-Garous to find her way to Alberon — the exiled, rebel prince. But now that she’s there, she will learn firsthand that politics is a deadly mistress. With the king and his heir on the edge of war and alliances made with deadly enemies, the Kingdom is torn not just by civil war – but strife between the various factions as well. Wynter knows that no one has the answer to the problems that plague the Kingdom – and she knows that their differences will not just tear apart her friends – but the Kingdom as well.

This series has a very interesting premise. In Rachel Aaron’s universe all inanimate objects, in addition to people (and perhaps animals), have spirits. I’m not sure if there have been any Fantasy novels that have used animism before this one. Although, now that I think of it, I guess one could take it a step further and give even abstract nouns spirits as well – but that’s a different zeitgeist altogether.

Fantasy Audiobook - The Spirit Rebellion by Rachel AaronThe Spirit Rebellion: The Legend of Eli Monpress, Book 2
By Rachel Aaron; Read by Luke Daniels
10 CDs – Approx. 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 1, 2010
ISBN: 9781441886576
Sample: |MP3|
Eli Monpress is brilliant. He’s incorrigible. And he’s a thief. He’s also still at large, which drives Miranda Lyonette crazy. While she’s been kicked out of the Spirit Court, Eli’s had plenty of time to plan his next adventure. But now the tables have turned, because Miranda has a new job — and an opportunity to capture a certain thief. Things are about to get exciting for Eli. He’s picked a winner for his newest heist. His target: the Duke of Gaol’s famous “thief-proof” citadel. Eli knows Gaol is a trap, but what’s life without challenges? Except the Duke is one of the wealthiest men in the world, a wizard who rules his duchy with an iron fist, and an obsessive perfectionist with only one hobby: Eli.

One tale, from this collection of Bruce Coville short stories, is available for FREE DOWNLOAD |HERE|.

Fantasy Audiobook - Oddly Enough by Bruce CovilleOddly Enough
By Bruce Coville; Read by various
4 CDs – Approx. 4 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Published: October 2010
ISBN: 9781936223350
A collection of nine short stories about “vampires, werewolves, ghosts, unicorns.”

Here’s a new young adult novel, the first of three, set in a dystopian world in which boys and girls are matched by their society.

Fantasy Audiobook - Matched by Ally CondieMatched
By Ally Condie; Read by Kate Simses
8 CDs – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: November 30, 2010
ISBN: 9780142428634
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate … until she sees Ky Markham’s face.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

September 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Bade Itself by Joe AbercrombieThe Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One)
By Joe Abercrombie; Read by Steven Pacey
Audible Download – 22 Hours 18 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Published: 2010
ISBN: 9781409111443
Provider: Audible.com
Sample |MP3|
Themes: / Fantasy / Sword and Sorcery / Dark Humor / Revenge / Violence /

For a couple years now, Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy has been at the top of my to-read list, but as I’m a slow print reader, the series inevitably yielded to more readily available audiobooks. Imagine my delight, then, when I recently realized that Orion Publishing Group had published the series in audio last June. The wait was worth it. The opening volume, The Blade Itself is a darkly humorous tale full of antiheroes and intrigue. Abercrombie’s strong writing and wry wit set The Blade Itself a cut above other novels in the reactionary subgenre of fantasy spawned by George R.R. Martin.

At first blush, the world of the First Law Trilogy looks like your average fantasy world. The bulk of the action takes place in Adua, capital city of The Union, a land with a dotard king facing imminent war on two fronts: the newly-unified North and the Gurkish Empire to the South. The city, and especially its central citadel the Agriont, is teaming with ambitious councilman, posturing soldiers, and brutal inquisitors. The North, as one might epect, is a sparse unwelcoming land peopled by warrior clans recently unified under the iron fist of King Bethod. In The Blade Itself we see only snatches of the Gurkish Empire, but it follows the usual desert formula for southern kingdoms. (Why do most fantasy series seem to be set in the Northern hemisphere?) This opening volume hints at an intricate magic system that underlies and informs the world, but so far it’s rather underdeveloped.

The viewpoint characters bring this seemingly run-of-the-mill fantasy world to life in vibrant color. Each character is an antihero, in some sense of the word. Like George R. R. Martin, Richard K. Morgan, and other recent writers, Abercrombie is writing against the tropes of the traditional good-versus-evil format of epic fantasy. Unlike some other writers in this vein, though, Abercrombie rarely seems too self-conscious about what he’s doing. Logen Ninefingers, dubbed the “bloody-nine” in the North, does not read like an anti-Aragorn, nor does Bayaz, First of the Magi, read like an anti-Gandalf. Rather, they’re fully developed characters in their own right.  Then there’s San dan Glokta, survivor of a horrible ordeal of torture at the hands of the Gurkish Empire who has in turn become a torturer for the inquisition. Rounding out the cast is Jezal, a headstrong noble youth determined to win the year’s fencing contest. With the exception of Jezal, these characters have endured tremendously hard lives, so naturally their thoughts aren’t filled with sunshine and butterflies. This is a dark book.

The fun lies in watching these characters come together and interact with one another. As in any good book, too, it’s fun to watch these characters, who we’ve come to empathize with even if we don’t actually like them, overcome their internal and external challenges. The most obvious case is Jezal and his fencing contest, which is brought to a most satisfying concentration. Then there’s Glokta, trying to stay afloat in the political post of Inquisitor, all while struggling merely to get out of bed. Then there’s Logen, fleeing his reputation as the “bloody-nine.” And at the heart of it all is Bayaz, First of the Magi, whose story hints at the direction the series may ultimately take. Bayaz, though not a point-of-view character, drives the plot in many ways, either subtly or overtly manipulating events to suit his needs.

If the book has a weakness, it’s the ending. Endings are always tricky things to pull off, especially in the first novel of a trilogy, where an author must bring the present volume to a satisfying conclusion while enticing the reader to continue with the series. Unfortunately, Abercrombie leans too far towards the latter. While the last hour or two of audio will be a treat for fans of vividly-depicted action sequences, they’re light on any satisfying story development. The ending certainly isn’t bad, it just left me a bit disappointed. On the other hand, it also did its job in whetting my appetite for the next volume.

As alluded to earlier, the standout character in The Blade Itself is perhaps Abercrombie’s deft writing style. Admittedly, it took some getting used to. I remember complaining on Twitter back when I first had a go at reading the print edition that the book was too full of sentence fragments and “said bookisms.” I stand by that complaint. The thing is, the style really fits the world and especially the characters. The dialogue reads like you’re sitting in on the conversation, especially under the standout narration by Steven Pacey. And while I’m not personally a fan of long action sequences, there’s no doubt that Abercrombie writes them masterfully. You can feel every bone-jarring sword blow and taste the tang of blood in the air.

I approached this audiobook with some hesitation. I feared that no narrator could match Michael Page’s performance of Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold. At best, I feared, I’d be disappointed; at worst, I wouldn’t even be able to listen to the book in its entirety. Fortunately, Steven Pacey is equal to the task of narrating such an ambitious work. His narration walks the fine balance of capturing the characters’ voices–literally and figuratively–without calling too much attention to them and thereby detracting from the story. The toothless Glokta, for instance, speaks with just a hint of a lisp, a slight slurring. Every now and then, his narration moves a touch too far toward the dramatic, but for the most part it’s spot on.

The Blade Itself, if it were a film, would carry a solid R rating, and therefore isn’t for everyone. Strong language and violence abound. Under its dark veneer of brutality, however, the novel shines with complex characters, compelling writing, and a story that, though not yet fully baked, promises to yield great rewards in subsequent novels.

Posted by Seth Wilson

JAMES BOND: You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming

August 8, 2010 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

Aural Noir: Online Audio

“You only live twice:
Once when you’re born
And once when you look death in the face.”

-James Bond

You Only Live Twice (1964 Playboy Magazine)

If you’ve only seen the movie version of You Only Live Twice you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Ian Fleming’s original novel is strikingly different from the movie of the same name. The movie, written at least in part by Roald Dahl, uses very little of the book – just a few of the characters and a couple of the settings. And while the movie’s story structure is very familiar, (having been later recycled in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and Tomorrow Never Dies) this stands in sharp contrast to the seemingly one-off nature of the novel (and the radio drama).

You Only Live Twice (1964 Playboy)

At the novel’s start Bond is despondent and listless over the death of his wife (recently murdered by Ernst Stavro Blofeld). Seeing Bond unable to do his job, M promotes him and gives him a “last-chance opportunity to shape up.” Bond is re-numbered as 7777, and assigned an “impossible mission”: to convince the head of Japan’s secret intelligence service, Tiger Tanaka, to betray the CIA and provide access to their top secret Soviet communique decryption machine. Much of the middle of the novel then takes the form of a kind of homosocial courtship between Bond and Tanaka. Eventually, Tanaka agrees to give up the data, but only in exchange for Bond’s agreeing to assassinate an eccentric resident alien named Dr. Guntram Shatterhand. Shatterhand, it seems, is operating a politically embarrassing “Garden of Death” where too many Japanese are going to commit suicide. Aided by former Japanese movie star Kissy Suzuki, Bond accepts the assignment on his personal authority, and with help in the form of make-up and training, attempts to penetrate Shatterhand’s coastal castle. Throw in a marriage, a pregnancy, lots of ninjas and a temporary case of amnesia and you’ve got one loaded story!!

You can get a great sense of of the novel from the exceedingly faithful radio dramatization available over on RadioArchive.cc!

Michael Jayston makes a fine Bond and Clive Merrison’s performance as Tanaka is solid, if not authentically Japanese.

BBC Radio 4You Only Live Twice
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming; Adapted by Michael Bakewell; Performed by a full cast
1 MP3 – Approx. 90 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broacaster: BBC Radio 4
Broadcast: 1990
Provider: RadioArchive.cc
Cast:
James Bond…..Michael Jayston
‘M’…..David King
Henderson…..Jame Laurenson
Tanaka…..Clive Merrison
Kissy…..Sayo Inaba
Trembling leaf…..Danielle Allen
Ando…..Bert Kwouk
Priest…..Danid Bannerman
Blofeld…..Ronald Herdman
Irma…..Maxine Audley
Molony…..Michale Turner
Kono…..Mark Straker
Tracey…..Emma Gregory
Mariko…..Tara Dominick

And, the unabridged audiobook (as narrated by Simon Vance) is available over at Blackstone Audio.

BLACKSTONE AUDIO - You Only Live Twice by Ian FlemingYou Only Live Twice
By Ian Fleming; Read by Simon Vance
6 CDs or 1 MP3-CD – Approx. 6.8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2001
ISBN: 9781433261350 (cd), 9781433290398 (mp3-cd)
Bond, a shattered man after the death of his wife at the hands of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has gone to pieces as an agent, endangering himself and his fellow operatives. M, unwilling to accept the loss of one of his best men, sends 007 to Japan for one last, near-impossible mission. But Japan proves to be Bond’s downfall, leading him to a mysterious residence known as the “Castle of Death,” where he encounters an old enemy revitalized. All the omens suggest that this is the end for the British agent and, for once, Bond himself seems unable to disagree…

Posted by Jesse Willis

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