By Neal Stephenson; Read by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 May 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 31 hours 55 minutes
Themes: / science fiction / apocalypse / space station / humanity / disaster /
What would happen if the world were ending?
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain….
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown…to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
Executive Summary: Another interesting book from Mr. Stephenson, that was somehow a bit too short for me despite its 32 hour duration. This one won’t be for everyone, but I’d put it on par with many of his previous books.
Audio book: This was my first time listening to a book narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal. She’s really excellent. So excellent, that I was pretty disappointed when it changed to Will Damron for Part 3. I’m not sure why they did this. Was Ms. Kowal too busy to finish recording? Was it intentional?
That isn’t to say Mr. Damron is a bad narrator. I just didn’t like him as much as Ms. Kowal, and the change in narration was jarring. If there was any place in the book it was appropriate to change, it was with Part 3, but I think it would have been better suited if they had just stuck with Ms. Kowal.
I’ve been a fan of Mr. Stephenson ever since picking up Snow Crash back in college. I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve enjoyed all but one of those that I have.
I had no idea what this book was about when I volunteered to review it. Much like most of his work, it’s long. The start is a bit slow, and as usual it goes off on tangents and into way more detail than is necessary on things. In some of his books, I’ve enjoyed those tangents and the excess of detail. In others, less so. This one was somewhere in the middle for me.
This is the kind of thing that will turn many readers away early on. I was never bored myself, but I wasn’t really engaged in the book until nearly halfway. In a book this long, that will be too much of a commitment for many. However, I suspect if you enjoy the detail and tangents, you’ll be engaged much sooner.
This book is split into three parts. The first part is essentially a present day disaster story. The second is largely a space opera, and the third is a bit of a post apocalyptic tale.
Many authors might have focused on one aspect of this story. Instead of giving us bits of history that help shaped the world of part 3, we live many of the details in parts 1 and 2. For me personally, I would have liked part 1 to be shorter with more time spent on part 3. Part 2 was my favorite of the book, but that may be because I felt despite being a third of the book, part 3 ended too soon.
I have questions still. A lot of them. Is Mr. Stephenson planning a sequel that will contain some of these answers? I hope so.
This isn’t a case of a long book that abruptly ends though. For me the issue is that Mr. Stephenson did such a good job with the world building that I want more. I felt like there wasn’t enough. I would have happily sacrificed much of the present day (which I found slower anyways), for more time in the future story with the world he created.
Mr. Stephenson doesn’t spend all the time on world building either. He develops several interesting characters that are used to make most of the story character-driven. We have a largely female cast, and somewhat diverse background for most of them.
Overall, while this isn’t my favorite Neal Stephenson book, I really enjoyed it, and I hope we get another book set in the same world that he built in part 3.
Review by Rob Zak.
Ender’s Game Alive
By Orson Scott Card; Performed by a full cast
Publisher: Skyboat Media
7 hours 24 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / science fiction / childhood / aliens
Sometimes you hear about something and can’t wait to get your hands on it because you want to experience it, to touch it, see it, whatever. You have expectations and hope like mad that in the end, you won’t be disappointed.
for me, the new audio drama adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game fits the above description perfectly. The fact that Card wrote the script himself only made the anticipation worse because the bar went higher. It was raised further when I found out who was producing it: the folks at Skyboat Media. To find out whether or not they succeeded, the end result, (enemy’s gate), is down.
An important note for Ender’s Game fans, I am going to be limiting my scope to the book when reviewing this audio play. For the purposes of this review, the film does not exist. I want to tackle that challenge under its own merits. Any references to it will be made in passing if at all. With that said, our gate is open; on with the review.
The setup: a young boy at the age of six is taken from his home to attend a school for brilliant minds; to turn the “little dorklings” into soldiers and commanders because there is a war going on. This is the third such conflict with this alien race and our protagonist (unknown to him at the onset), is being groomed to be the commander that leads the entire fleet, hopefully, with good results. If not, the human race is doomed.
Our story follows Andrew Wiggin (nicknamed “Ender” by his sister) from the very beginning of his journey; even before that when the decision is made by his parents to have him with the full knowledge that this goes against the population policy in place.
“No more thirds.”
Of course, because this is the international fleet (I.F.) making the request; the rules are bent. All they have to do is sign on the dotted line and fill out the forms. If they don’t, genetic material will be seized and used until the right child is born and sent to battle school; a space station that prepares its students for lives spent as part of the fleet.
Ender’s parents are a special case because their first two children , Peter and Valentine, are geniuses. Why the first wasn’t chosen for the school, (as explained by the commander in charge), is because the kid is plum psycho. Why the sister isn’t picked is because she’d break under actual battle pressure when real losses come her way. And thus the fleet wants the parents to give it another go or else. This is the world Ender is born in. He’s at a disadvantage from the start. The running theme is, “Let’s see how ender handles it.”
The audio play does a great job of setting the appropriate pieces on the chessboard and letting the game play out. The story to tell is Ender’s story. Where it deviates from the book is the fleshing out of the interactions between the staff observing his progress. This is a necessary change since the book mostly takes place from Ender’s mind and point of view. This may seem like The Cabin in the Woods kind of gimmick but it is an important evolution in the way the story is being told. The play has to present things from a different angle and come to the same conclusions; adjusting things as needed to fit the plot’s progression.
the second major deviation is the focus on the other Wiggin children subplot. There are hints to it but it is treated almost as an afterthought. The reasoning for this change is sound; political debates and research would only drag down the story and make the listening experience tedious in places.
All in all, the major plot points of the novel are hit home like a well-aimed shot. There are subtle clues to other works that have been written since Ender’s Game came out in 1985. There are adjustments to some scenes to give the audio play a different feel than just a retreading of the original story step for step. This gives us something a little unexpected and fresh as we take the 7 hour, 24 minute journey.
If you have listened to the audio book of Ender’s Game, several of the casting choices will be no surprise. You hear a particular person’s voice and feel a sense of familiarity that makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Each character is brought to life. You know them, understand them, will not always agree with them or the decisions they make, but can listen to these portrayals and feel like you are the proverbial fly on the wall throughout the story. And when you listen to a scene as heart-felt as when Ender breaks down before his next assignment to command school, you really connect with the emotions in the room. This is how good storytelling becomes great by simply allowing the actors to raise the bar by their performances. The scenes before build up to a moment that is devastating in its impact.
The sound design and score never distract from the dialogue. And for the most part, the editing of the words spoken is top notch. Occasionally, you will hear the hum of the studio where lines were being recorded. If this issue were a constant refrain, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the play as much. As it stands, I only noticed such things myself when listening to the play a second time. That just shows you how engaging the whole packages when listening to it. Even though I noticed these issues, I wasn’t distracted.
At the end of the original audio book, Orson Scott Card said that it was the definitive way to experience his novel. With Ender’s Game Alive, that statement may (and should) be revised. It is a masterful work of audio fiction. Of course, this is in part to the source material. But the transformation from novel to audio play is not an easy undertaking. Orson Scott Card’s background in theatre shines through in this presentation; letting the dialogue drive the story forward. The many actors take on the roles and bring them to life. You won’t mind when adults are playing children. You just want to hear where the story goes. Aside for the minor audio issues, (studio hum in a couple scenes which I won’t spoil here and the inconsistent panning of characters when talking to each other), the production is definitely a recommended listen if you are a fan of Ender’s Game. I give it five out of five toon leaders; that’s one victory ritual.
Posted by Allen Sale
We recently received four collections from Speculative! via Brilliance.
Murray Leinster Collection
Includes: The Pirates of Ersatz, The Aliens, Operation Terror
By Murray Leinster; Read by Jim Roberts and Ran Alan Ricard
In The Pirates of Ersatz, Murray Leinster presents a fast-paced, light-hearted adventure story with a touch of Monty Python and much derring-do. The hero, Bron Hodon, comes from a planet where there is only one vocation – space piracy. His dream is to become an electrical engineer so he makes his way to a planet with a “perfect society” and invents a power source that should benefit all. The perfect society does not appreciate it, accuses him of creating “death rays” and forces him to flee to Darth, a much more primitive planet. There, and in space, he undergoes a number of rollicking adventures that make him wonder if space piracy – with a twist – might not be so bad after all. This tongue-in-cheek space adventure has often been compared to The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison.
The Aliens: Among other things, Murray Leinster is credited with the invention of “parallel universe” stories and in 1956 he won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Leinster wrote over 1,500 short stories in his career and two of the best, “First Contact” and “The Aliens”, deal with humanity’s first encounter with an alien race. In this story, the human race is expanding through the galaxy and so are the Aliens. When two expanding empires meet, war is inevitable. Or is it?
Operation Terror: Murray Leinster’s science fiction stories typically dealt with themes of frustration with human frailty and its limitations, cynicism vs. idealistic ethics, and romance. When a mysterious alien spacecraft lands in a lake in Colorado and the invaders begin using a paralyzing ray that no one can understand or stop, it takes an ingenious man like Lockley to save the girl and solve the mystery of the aliens.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Collection
Includes: The Big Trip Up Yonder, 2BRO2B
By Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Performed by Emmett Casey and Kevin Killavey
The Big Trip Up Yonder: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was known for blending satire, black comedy, and science fiction, and that is exactly what he does in this story. It was written in 1954 and first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction. In the chronology of his works, it came between Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan. The story takes place in a future in which the population has grown so huge, due to an anti-aging product, that generations are forced to live together in crowded apartments. The family in this story is ruled by a dictatorial grandfather, the owner of the apartment and oldest of the clan.
2BR02B: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was known for blending satire, black comedy, and science fiction, and that is exactly what he does in this little gem of of a story from 1962. In the chronology of his works, it came between Mother Night and Cat’s Cradle. The title is pronounced “2 B R naught 2 B” and references the famous phrase, “To be or not to be” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The story takes place in a future when diseases and aging have been eliminated and, as a result, the government has taken measures to insure population control
Edmond Hamilton Collection
Includes: City at World’s End; The Stars, My Brothers
By Edmond Hamilton; Performed by Jim Roberts
City at World’s End: The midwestern town of Middletown is the “first strike” of a new super bomb. However, instead of destroying the town, the attack rips a hole in the space-time continuum, sending the town and it’s inhabitants to a distant Earth, cold and foreboding. The story of their struggle, survival, and ultimate success in rekindling the planet and dealing with the people and aliens of the future is the stuff of great science fiction. As you listen, see if you agree with the many who think this story was the origin of the Star Wars characters Chewbacca and Leia.
The Stars, My Brothers: Edmond Moore Hamilton was a popular science-fiction author during the “Golden Age” of American science fiction. “The Stars, My Brothers” is considered one of his best, and certainly most imaginative, stories. A spaceman is killed in space and frozen. He is left orbiting the space station where he was killed in the hope that a method will be found to bring him back to life. That day finally comes a hundred years later, when he awakens to a very different world and comes to realize he has become both a symbol and a pawn in a human/alien conflict.
Alan Edward Nourse Collection
Includes: The Coffin Cure, Image of the Gods
By Aland Edward Nourse; Performed by Ben Hurst
The Coffin Cure: No one likes a cold. It has plagued mankind for generations. When Dr. Coffin and his colleagues finally devise a cure for this ailment, the discovery is met with excitement worldwide. A month later though, noses everywhere start to rebel. Can they find a cure for the cure and do it in time to save their own necks?
Image of the Gods: In this story, an earth colony discovers that their relationship with the mother planet has suddenly changed due to an overthrow of the Earth’s government. They decide not to go along with the new totalitarian regime and to declare their independence. They expect a fight for liberty and get it. However, their relationship with the natives of the planet, the “dusties”, changes the whole situation in a very dramatic way.
The SFFaudio Podcast #059 – Jesse and Scott talk with Science Fiction author David J. Williams about his recently completed Autumn Rain trilogy.
Talked about on today’s show:
Mirrored Heavens (book 1 in the Autumn Rain trilogy), The Burning Skies (book 2 in the Autumn Rain trilogy), The Machinery Of Light (book 3 in the Autumn Rain trilogy), writing in the present tense, memory, espionage, using past tense is “privileging the narrative”, cold war, cyberspace, cyberpunk, space as the ultimate high ground, militarizing space, satellites, “rods from god“, the straylight run scene from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, war, Future Of War by David J. Williams |PDF|, WarGames (1983), The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, lagrange points, space elevators, skyhooks, space stations, The Fountains Of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke, terrorism, Philip K. Dick, the Vietnam War vs. the Korean War, Kahlil Gibran, China, 2008 South Ossetia War, Clarion Workshops, Richard K. Morgan, all good series should end.
Posted by Jesse Willis
By Mike Resnick; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 8 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: December 16th 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Galactic Civilization / Aliens / Rebellion / War / Military SF / Space Station /
The date is 1968 of the Galactic Era, almost three thousand years from now. The Republic, dominated by the human race, is in the midst of an all-out war with the Teroni Federation. Almost a year has passed since the events of Starship: Mercenary. Captain Wilson Cole now commands a fleet of almost fifty ships, and he has become the single greatest military force on the Inner Frontier. With one exception. The Republic still comes and goes as it pleases, taking what it wants, conscripting men, and extorting taxes, even though the Frontier worlds receive nothing in exchange. And, of course, the government still wants Wilson Cole and the starship Theodore Roosevelt. He has no interest in confronting such an overwhelming force, and constantly steers clear of them. Then an incident occurs that changes everything, and Cole declares war on the Republic. Outnumbered and always outgunned, his fleet is no match for the Republic’s millions of military vessels, even after he forges alliances with the warlords he previously hunted down. It’s a hopeless cause…but that’s just what Wilson Cole and the Teddy R. are best at.
A good audiobook can make a regular day enjoyable. A great audiobook can put a delightful spring in your step for a whole week. Starship: Rebel has made for absolutely terrific listening. As I was listening to it over the course of a week or so I’d wake up in the morning, remember that I’d still got a few hours of listening left, and smile as if I’d won the Nobel Prize for luck. I’ve heaped a lot of praise for this terrific series of audiobooks since Audible Frontiers started releasing it back in Spring 2008. The closest I’ve come to criticism has been a little humming and hawing about how the series is ‘short on ideas and originality.’ That, it feels like a better version of Star Wars. And that’s all still true, nothing in the Starship series feels anything like innovative. The weapons technology has no new ideas, the faster than light space travel relies on the same few tropes, the aliens are all Star Wars-ish. Despite this, there is an amazing feeling of being safely ensconced in the hands of a master storyteller when listening to this series. The team of writer Mike Resnick with narrator Jonathan Davis is absolutely stupendous.
With this book, Book 4, Resnick is raising the stakes by forcing Captain Cole and the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt to take on the Republic itself. And that’s good, but it isn’t everything. Resnick also pulls an unexpected maneuver – a very important character is killed about a third of the way into the novel – and that hit, a real hit, shakes up that feeling of familiarity and safety in a way that just freezing Han Solo into a block of carbonite can never do. Barring accidents I expect to be enjoying another terrific week when Starship: Flagship, the 5th and final book in the Starship series, comes out in December 2009.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
By Robert A. Heinlein; Read by Tom Weiner
11 CDs – 13.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Published: December 2007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Marriage / Time Travel / Parallel Worlds / The Moon / Space Station /
When a stranger attempting to deliver a cryptic message is shot dead at his dinner table, Ames is thrown headfirst into danger, intrigue, and other dimensions where Lazarus Long still thrives, where Jubal Harshaw lives surrounded by beautiful women, and where a daring plot to rescue the sentient computer called Mike can change the direction of all human history.
There are a lot of things to dislike about The Cat Who Walks Through Walls:
1. Characters: Heinlein’s characters are either ultra-confident know-it-alls or utterly buffoonish straw-men. Heinlein will happily spend a good ten minutes explaining to you the workings of suborbital flight in a vacuum, but won’t explain (and worse yet – will have the other characters agree) to highly improbable societal systems in cast off sentences like – ‘all sexual options are invested in women’ (on the moon). Then he follows it up with jury trials of accused rapists lasting 30 seconds. Personally, I suspect that any system that threw away habeas corpus in favour of whatever one gender said was good – wouldn’t last very long. It’s possible to imagine a society in which women play a dominant role – but I don’t find it plausible to find any society in which one gender can say one word “rape” (true or not) – and have the accused rapist be instantly ripped apart. Heinlein ignores the problems of: No evidence, no witnesses, no trial. It doesn’t fly Mr. Heinlein.
2. Things missing: First, the internet, especially email, everyone is still mailing paper letters from Lagrange space stations to the Moon! Second, DNA testing. Talk of positively identifying someone all runs along the lines of “fingerprints” and “blood types.” Third, GPS. On Heinlein’s moon you can only tell where you are by using inertial trackers or getting a starfix.
3. A glaring omission: There’s one more thing missing, the last half of the book. Seriously, this book is all prologue, with lots of interesting action, but the entire build up is concluded on the last disc.
4. Too much: There are also things this book has too much of. First, all the many male characters are always calling themselves, denying that they are, or accusing each other of being “henpecked.” This, no matter what universe or era they come from! I’ve never heard any of my married friends use that term. Second, no matter which continent, planet or timeline, the many husbands in this novel come from, they all playfully joke about “beating” their wives. I just don’t know what to do with that information. Is this common in your marriage?
Now, having stated off this review with the above it may sound as if I dislike the novel. And that’s not strictly true. I don’t, not really. But, on the other hand, this is the third audiobook release of it and some of the novelty is starting to wear off. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls has a crackerjack opening scene, some amazing hard SF early on, and a goodly amount of redeeming entertainment value. This is a novel for the truly die-hard Heinlein fans. It was written with the intent of rewarding them for their many years of dedicated reading. It does that. It contains dozens and dozens of characters, many of whom are cameoing from previous Heinlein novels. Lazarus Long (Methusela’s Children), and Hazel Stone (The Rolling Stones) both play substantial roles in the novel. Other characters making appearances include Jubal Harshaw (Stranger In A Strange Land) and Manuel Garcia O’Kelly Davis aka Manny (The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress). In fact, as a reward to loyal readers, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls pairs rather nicely with Heinlein’s The Number Of The Beast in that both it and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls are fond examinations of both the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre and Heinlein’s own career. The key that ties both together is Heinlein’s idea of “pantheistic solipsism.” The idea behind which is that many universes exist under an explanation of ‘the world is myth.’ “The World as Myth” means that influential authors, like L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Heinlein himself are actually creating real parallel universes simply by writing vividly about them. In other words, the fictional stories we really enjoy, ARE ACTUALLY REAL. It’s a neat idea, but it’s better explored in The Number Of The Beast. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, other than being a rewarding odyssey for fans, is more about marriage than any particular SF idea. Richard Ames gets married in chapter two, and honeymoons on Luna – all the while being chased by assassins and hounded by officious bureaucrats. And that’s where the schism comes in. Heinlein has a no-nonsense, no compromises attitude towards bureaucracy, every situation is black or white. And that holds true for marriage too. Except when it doesn’t.
Robert Heinlein Richard Ames will put his foot down, draw a line in the sand, and say “this far no farther”. He’ll hold fast, when confronted by social or bureaucratic interaction not too his liking. He’ll do the same in marriage… and then redraw the lines of his convictions to preserve the marriage. I find the latter rather realistic, but the former utterly unrealistic.
Narrator Tom Weiner has been given the thankless task of voicing about three dozen characters. Worse, there are few attributions in the text itself. Pages and pages of dialogue go by without any breaks. This being the third audiobook edition of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls I think back to George Wilson’s solid reading for Recorded Books, and Robert Vaughn’s abridged reading for Simon & Schuster. Vaughn’s is still my favourite, despite it being abridged to hell. Vaughn should have become a professional audiobook narrator. Weiner’s version, Blackstone’s release, is a close second.
Posted by Jesse Willis