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 Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

August 6, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Naked Sun by Isaac AsimovThe Naked Sun
By Isaac Asimov; Read by William Dufris
7 CDs or 1 MP3-CD – 8 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2007
ISBN: 140010422X (CDs), 1400154227 (MP3-CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mystery / Robots / Artificial Intelligence / Sociology / Alien World

On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. To this strange and provocative planet comes Detective Elijah Baley, sent from the streets of New York with his positronic partner, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations.

[disclaimer- As an audiobook publisher (www.wonderaudio.com), I have a working relationship with the narrator, William Dufris. I have no other professional associations with this title. Although I’ve kept the paragraph about the narration on this title brief, reader’s may question the objectiveness of the review in such cases. On the other hand, just because I have an association with an author or narrator doesn’t negate my reason or enthusiasm for that artist.]

The Naked Sun is a sequel to The Caves of Steel. It can be read or listened to without first acquainting yourself the first title, but it’s recommended that they be read in order…(The Caves of Steel was also designated an SFFaudio Essential by a different reviewer).

Like the first book, the main character is Earthman detective Elijah Baley. And he is reunited with robot and assistant Daneel Olivaw. He is sent to Solaria, which is hostile to Earth, to investigate a murder. Asimov takes the setting of The Caves of Steel and flips is on it’s head. In that first book the setting was of a vastly overpopulated Earth living in the confines of gigantic city/buildings. The mere thought of being outside is frightening to Earth’s inhabitants.

In The Naked Sun, Elijah Bailey, is sent to the planet Solaria to investigate a murder. Solaria’s inhabitants live on vast estates alone or with their spouses. They communicate with one another via holographic telepresence. They call this “viewing” versus “seeing.” “Seeing” is when they are in one another’s physical presence. They have a natural aversion to “seeing” and consider it a social taboo. This has additional relevance to our own society, or should I say to our social media networked world. Socially, we have moved closer to the virtual aspects of a world like Solaria than the world of 1956 when the novel was first published in Astounding Stories.

Asimov’s writing style is very clean, sparse and not very stylistic in a literary way. He’s fond of moving the story along with one-on-one dialogue. This is not untypical of the mystery genre and serves the Robot Novels very well. One of William Dufris’ strengths is handling dialogue. And he’s perfect for these novels. His voice characterization are distinctive, and he’s got a gift for pacing a conversation.

The murder mystery is very satisfying and there’s a much larger implication between the future of Earth and the Spacers giving the novel a larger feel than just a murder mystery with a SF setting. I find The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun to be the best of Asimov’s novels and should be on every SF enthusiast’s list of must listens.

There is another sequel with Elijah Baley and Daneel Olivaw called The Robots of Dawn. This title was written much later in Asimov’s career and is also published by Tantor with William Dufris as narrator.

Posted by The Time Traveler of the Time Traveler Show

Review of Fleet Of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

July 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Fleet Of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. LernerFleet Of Worlds
By Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner; Read by Tom Weiner
8 CDs – Approx 9.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 1433229420
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Aliens / Physics / Space Travel / Sociology /

Larry Niven teams up with fellow science-fiction writer Edward M. Lerner to take a closer look at the events leading up to Niven’s first Ringworld novel. Kirsten Quinn-Kovacs is among the best and brightest of her people. She gratefully serves the gentle race that rescued her ancestors from a dying starship and nurtures them still. But, if only the Citizens knew where Kirsten’s people came from! A chain reaction of supernovae at the galaxy’s core has unleashed a wave of lethal radiation that will sterilize the galaxy. The Citizens flee, taking with them their planets, the Fleet of Worlds. Someone must scout ahead, and Kirsten and her crew eagerly volunteer. But as they set out to explore for any possible dangers in the Fleet’s path, they uncover long-hidden truths that will shake the foundations of worlds.

Not knowing much about Edward M. Lerner or his style, it’s hard to know precisely what parts of this novel he wrote. On the whole it definitely feels like a Larry Niven book. And of course that’s a very good thing. Surprisingly nice, this “known space” novel doesn’t feel like it’s just embellishing the dark corners we’d little explored before. There is material to be mined, and mine it they do. We learn more about the General Products corporation, early Puppeteer influence on Terra, and the back story to Niven’s classic The Borderland Of Sol. The heart of the novel though is Nessus’ interaction with a crew of Humans. As well, Niven and Lerner, introduce an entirely new and compelling alien species, though we really don’t get to interact with them. Its hard to get into much more without giving out a lot of spoilers. Suffice it to say, this is a fine, though definitely lesser entry into the “known space” canon. When recommending a novel universe, I would always start with the strongest book in that universe, and expand out from there. If you haven’t read any Niven novels before this one, go listen to Protector and Ringworld first. Then, if you are as enchanted as I was with it, come back to Fleet Of Worlds for more.

Tom Weiner, who is one of Blackstone Audio’s new narrators, previously heard in A Galaxy Trilogy, brings authority to the narrative of Fleet Of Worlds. He has to work pretty hard to do both the puppeteer contralto that is supposed to sound like “Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Marilyn Monroe, and Lorelei Huntz all rolled into one.” But both it and the human females Weiner performs come off well enough – giving more of an impression of a voice change than any actual transformation.

Update: Edward M. Lerner tells me that that the follow up to Fleet Of Worlds, titled Juggler Of Worlds, is also slated for a Blackstone Audio release!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Caves Of Steel by Isaac Asimov

July 14, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Caves of Steeel by Isaac AsimovThe Caves of Steel
By Isaac Asimov; Read by William Dufris
6 CDs – 7.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9781400104215
SAMPLE |MP3|
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mystery / Robots / Artificial Intelligence / Sociology / New York /

A millennium into the future, two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together.

Elijah Baley and his wife and son live in an overcrowded New York city (the titular Caves Of Steel) in our distant future. Outside the insular Earth, humans have colonized many planets with their robot servants to assist them. These “Spacer” worlds are rich, have small populations, and high standards of living. The Earthers all live in vast city complexes and never venture outside. The Spacers maintain an embassy, from which they seek to help their backward progenitors – but this help is both resented and rebuffed. The latest incident is revealed when Elijah Bailey, a New York detective, is called into his superior’s office and tasked with solving a murder in the “spacer” enclave. But his boss has one more demand of him. Elijah must partner up with a robot named R. Daneel Olivaw for the duration of the case.

Asimov’s vision of New York in The Caves Of Steel fits neatly somewhere in between the well envisioned arcologies like “Todos Santos” (Larry Niven and Steve Barnes’ Oath Of Fealty), future cities like “Mega-City One” (Judge Dredd) and that of “Diaspar” (found in Arthur C. Clarke’s The City And The Stars). As such it is an experience not to be missed. The mixture of politics, psychology and sociology that’s found in Asimov’s Foundation novels is also present. But central to the experience of The Caves Of Steel is Mystery. It is a Mystery in a Science Fiction setting and not the other-way round. The well realized economy, culture, and characters (this latter in a surprisingly good turn for Asimov) are all carefully explained so as to set up the mystery – even the red-herrings are important to the plot.

Isaac Asimov basically invented the small sub-genre of the Science Fiction Mystery, and this was the novel that started it all. I’ve read lots of other books of his, including one straight Mystery that was set at a Science Fiction convention (starring a detective modeled on Harlan Ellison). And like that novel, this one keeps you guessing right up until the very end. That’s a good thing too – Asimov doesn’t cheat. We’ve got a city full of suspects, but the motive – when it’s ultimately revealed – is as logical as the deduction is sound.

It isn’t an insult to say that William Dufris sounds like a robot. He sounds like a robot when it’s a robot speaking, and sounds like a man when it’s a man speaking. He can also inflect his voice to sound more feminine – which is handy for females (and female robots too). Suffice it to say William Dufris reads Asimov’s spare and unadorned prose with alacrity. I’m excited to say the sequel, The Naked Sun is also available from Tantor!

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC Radio 7 reruns Brave New World

June 8, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

Online Audio

BBC 7's The 7th DimensionThough BBC7 doesn’t offer a single podcast [GRRR!], the do have one endearment that we can appreciate… re-runs! BBC Radio 7’s the 7th Dimension is re-broadcasting the ten part abridgment of Brave New World. Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic, first published in 1932, depicts an ominous,l but not wholly repulsive vision of future society. This abridged version has been previously broadcast on both BBC7 and BBC4.

Brave New World by Aldous HuxleyBrave New World
By Aldous Huxley; Read by Anton Lesser
10 X 15 Minute Episodes – Approx. 2.5 Hours [ABRIDGED]
BROADCASTER: BBC7’s The 7th Dimension
BROADCAST: Monday to Friday at 6:45pm (repeats 12:45am) UK Time*
A nightmare vision of the future, where humans are battery farmed and cloning and consumerism is rife.

All ten parts will be made available via the Listen Again service shortly after they air.

Jesse Willis

Review of The Children of Men by P.D. James

June 4, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Children Of Men by P.D. JamesThe Children Of Men
By P.D. James; Performed by John Franklyn-Robbins
9 CDs – 10.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 1993
ISBN: 1419323431
Themes: / Science Fiction / Infertility / Dystopia / Sociology / Politics / Terrorism / England /

“O’ merciful God and heavenly Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men, look with pity, we beseech thee, upon the sorrows of thy servant for whom our prayers are desired. In thy wisdom thou hast seen fit to visit him with trouble, and to bring distress upon him. Remember him O Lord in mercy; sanctify thy fatherly correction to him; endue his soul with patience under his affliction, and with resignation to thy blessed will; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; lift up thy countenance upon him, and give him peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

-English Book of Common Prayer

Set in 2021, The Children Of Men posits a future in which not a single human child has been born for more than two decades. In the year Omega, the last year for babies, there began a frantic search for the inexplicable cause of human infertility. Twenty years later they’ve all but given up. The “Omegas,” as the youngest generation are being called, are spoiled, egotistical and violent. The middle-aged who’ve appear to have lost their purpose are all either visiting the state sponsored sex-shops or raising animal proxies as their children (kitten baptisms is all the rage in London these days). The elderly teetering on the edge of a social system increasingly disinterested in them are encouraged to suicide at the slightest hint of infirmity. Leading Britain through this crisis is the long time “Warden” of England, a man named Xan Lyppiatt. Xan is an all-but-dictator who has the confidence of the people. Xan’s cousin is Theo Faron, an Oxford history professor who lives under a cloud of self-recrimination for the death of his son. Into Theo’s life comes a woman named Julian, who on behalf of herself and her underground movement wants Theo to take a message to the Warden. Sadly, the message falls upon deaf ears and Theo expects never to see Julian again. But he does when in an unprecedented revelation Theo is given conclusive proof that the impossible has happened, Julian is pregnant.

The Children Of Men is a ponderous and elegant rumination on topics rarely tackled in Science Fiction. Though P.D. James does nothing to conclusively indicate an overt idea behind the novel’s premise, we can’t help but wonder. Is this fact of the infertility and the fact of a pregnant woman not a contradiction? Are we to conclude this was a freak mammalian parthenogenesis? What else could cause such a pregnancy? James undercuts this line of argument with one plot point and with another she reinforces it. But it wasn’t just the living men who are infertile. Oh no, for what are we to make of the fact that in James’ future even the healthy sperm, frozen well before the “Omega Year,” has been rendered impotent? Clearly the lone pregnancy, as it is laid out, bears some resemblances to the biblical story of the Virgin Mary. But James downplays it. Perhaps we are to conclude both from the books title that the infertility crisis is something akin to a modern day world-wide-flood event. Should we be wondering if the society in The Children Of Men is being punished for something? If we are to take this what-if and run with it, we must then ask what the famous Scottish skeptic-philosopher David Hume demanded, and wonder if uniformity has been violated? Irregardless, the questions themselves are valuable, and the environment in which the are asked is possibly unique and certainly interesting. For some, The Children Of Men‘s ending may make them see it as a hopeful novel, but I believe the ending is more in the tradition of what you see is in it is what you bring to it. For the deliberately childless, what changes? Perhaps nothing, perhaps something.

Narrator John Franklyn-Robbins is asked to shift between first and third-person narration. He does so, with characterization all but non-existent. This is what old-school audiobook aficionados like to call a “straight” reading. His accent is the prime attraction, and casts the entire novel is a completely different direction than the 2006 film version. Listeners should persevere through the slow start as they will be well rewarded later on. Recorded Books does not showcase it’s original art on its website so the arrival of the actual audiobook is always a surprise. This one’s got their older style line art which I’ve always appreciated.

Posted by Jesse Willis

« Previous PageNext Page »