Review of The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

October 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Future for Curious PeopleThe Future for Curious People
By Gregory Sherl; Narrated by Heather Corrigan and Justin Torres
Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Publication Date: 2 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / near future / technology / relationships / librarians /

Publisher summary:

Meet Evelyn and Godfrey. Evelyn is breaking up with her boyfriend, who’s passing out advertisements for his band on a snowy street corner in Baltimore. She’s seen their dismal future together at Dr. Chin’s office: she and her boyfriend, both many years older, singing “Happy Birthday” to a Chihuahua and arguing about cheese. She hopes for more. Meanwhile, Godfrey is proposing to his girlfriend, Madge, who’s not quite willing to take that leap; she wants to see their future together first—just to be sure they’re meant for each other. The Future for Curious People follows Evelyn and Godfrey’s soon-to-be-entwined lives, set in motion by the fabulist premise of a world with envisionists like Dr. Chin. In struggling with their pasts and possible futures, the characters encounter the mysteries of sorrow, love, death, and fate. It’s a story that will capture you with its brightness, its hopefulness, its anxious twists and turns. It is a love story that is ultimately a statement about happiness and how to accept our fleeting existence.

This was a highly enjoyable book about people who can’t help but look into their relationship futures, with great consequences to their current entanglements. The two narrators on the audiobook portray Godfrey Burkes and Evelyn the Librarian very well, alongside distinguishable minor characters with different voices. The varieties of futures don’t get old, in fact they relate to one another and connect to the futures of other characters, as they should.

The book made me laugh quite a few times – it’s the kind of humor that’s just cute, like a romantic comedy. I’m a sucker for light, cute stories when the characters are bookish or quirky or otherwise unusual. This fits the bill!

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

August 28, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo BacigalupiPump Six and Other Stories
By Paolo Bacigalupi; Read by Jonathan Davis, James Chen, and Eileen Stevens
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: December 1, 2010
ISBN: 9781441892201
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Biopunk / Politics / Society/ Environmentalism / Technology / Food / Death / Thailand / Asia /

The eleven* stories in Pump Six chart the evolution of Paolo Bacigalupi’s work, including the Hugo nominated “Yellow Card Man,” and the Sturgeon Award-winning story “The Calorie Man,” both set in the world of his novel The Windup Girl. This collection also demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Bacigalupi’s work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience.

Let me get the praise out of the way first: Paolo Bacigalupi is an imaginative genius with a message. At times the writing is brilliant. “The Fluted Girl” is excellent, well-written, surely a classic. Every idea in every story is worthy of exploration and consideration and the three narrators are just fine, thanks. His views of dystopia are clever warnings; his ideas endlessly fresh and characters sympathetic. Slow pace is forgivable in his stories, like home-cooked food, worth the wait. James Chen’s reading of the Chinese accents is a great addition to the appropriate stories.

But there are problems. I don’t like having a book of short stories that doesn’t list the names – I shouldn’t have to look on-line for names of the stories and the order in which they appear. I also feel strongly that there is a missing editor. Some of the stories feel as though they are not in final draft version. If I had the print version, my teacher’s red pen would have been in hand marking suggestions for edits. Some information seemed more than unnecessary to the stories (these are short stories after all). It is disappointing that such genius is allowed “out” without polish. Is it possible that the world he created in Pump Six, where literacy has all but disappeared, is actually at its beginning, or did Paolo do it on purpose to see if we are paying attention?

Should you listen to this audiobook? Yes. Brilliant, not perfect, but should definitely not be missed.

*Only ten stories included in the audiobook:
Pocketful Of Dharma • (1999) • novelette • read by James Chen
The Fluted Girl • (2003) • novelette • read by Eileen Stevens
The People Of Sand and Slag • (2004) • novelette • read by James Chen
The Pasho • (2004) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
The Calorie Man • [The Windup Universe] • (2005) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
The Tamarisk Hunter • (2006) • short story • read by Jonathan Davis
Pop Squad • (2006) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis
Yellow Card Man • [The Windup Universe] • (2006) • novelette • read by James Chen
Softer • (2007) • short story • read by James Chen
Pump Six • (2008) • novelette • read by Jonathan Davis

Posted by Elaine Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #266 – READALONG: When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells

May 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #266 – Jesse, Luke, and Juliane Kunzendorf discuss When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells

Talked about on today’s show:
Julianne’s first SFFaudio Podcast, what do we call them?, readers and talkers, 1899/1910/1923, When The Sleeper Wakes, The Sleeper Wakes, The Sleeper Awakes, Blackstone Audio’s audiobook version, the serialization in The Graphic magazine, the 1910 preface, “an editorial elder brother”, going to the original sources, a forecast of technology, technological changes between the revisions, aeroplanes and aeropiles, the introduction to the 1923 edition, “fantasias of possibility”, “suppose these forces go on novel”, H.G. Wells thought the rich were evil geniuses (prior to meeting them), “rather foolish plungers”, “vulgar rather than wicked”, Ostrog, “a nightmare of capitalism triumphant”, capitalist/socialism (kind of like Japan), The Unincorporated Man is pretty much the same story, yay Marxism!?, when Graham wakes up, Chapter 7, there only audiobooks in the future, The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling, The Madonna Of The Future by Henry James, Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, phonetic spelling, an H.G. Wells way of writing, is it the nature of a serial, the reader transplanted into the year 2100, The War Of The Worlds, suicide, Isbister, Warming, Ostrog, Lincoln, “body fag is no cure for brain fag”, “while he was breaking his fast”, the language, lying in a crystal box, a passive character, establishing the genre, space elevators, Buck Rogers has the same premise, Idiocracy, Eine Billion Dollar by Andreas Eschbach, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, the importance of money, the gilded age, wealth disparity, the labour company, a dystopia along the lines of Brave New World, the Martian invasion, The Time Machine, is this the start of the Morlocks and the Eloi?, 1984 by George Orwell, the proles, the pleasure cities, distractions, the value of work beyond being paid, a class trap, what is Wells saying?, Wells’ ambivalence towards the proles, there are no more school examinations, is this a meritocracy?, technological dystopias (like 1984), social dystopias, Brave New World is a medical dystopia, genetic dystopias, knowing you live in a dystopia, North Korea, knowledge of other societies, the time before Big Brother, Julia, the Anti-Sex League, genetically dumbified, Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, religious dystopia, advertizing Christianity, prosperity gospels, church revivals, advertising, the babel machines, movies and television, what will this culture do to the culture?, “people don’t read”, airplanes, heavier-than-air aircraft, smashing airplanes into other airplanes, aerial ramming, flying machine vs. aeroplane vs. airplane vs. aeropile, My First Aeorplane by H.G. Wells, rocketships, the pilot’s union, the look of the airplane, the clothing, Victorian age dresses, the church, hanging in the air, the Thames has run dry, megalopolis, the building material, the Eiffel Tower, steel, concrete, plastic, glass, carbon fiber, biotech, Pandora’s Star, a coral house, 3D printing, Ikea Hacks, print on demand houses, economics, factories and automation, The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein, The City And The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke, slide-walk, edamite, Ostrog, Ostrogoths, Lincoln, foment a revolution, race and racism, Senagalese, ostrog as “fortress”, a Serbian Orthodox Church, Ostrog will boss the show, “in bounds”, are these are revolutionary names?, Che Guevara, Abraham Lincoln’s freeing the slaves, thug force, Berlin, June 17th, 1953, the Berlin Wall, outside forces, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Gurkhas, “see we’re all friends”, smiling bright shiny teeth, “they are fine loyal brutes”, racism is in there but it is not the point of the book, The War Of The Worlds, a little hypocritical, we can’t see the issue, massive economic suppression, calculating boys, hypnotism, economic slavery, the wealth gap, the White Council, the blaring speakers, the media firehouse, talk radio, people wearing their headphones everywhere, podcasts, each one of those streams are newspapers, a newspaper for everybody, broadsheets vs. tabolids, your newspaper tells your class, daily free newspapers, Jack The Ripper, Melville Macnaghten, Michael Ostrog (thief and con-man), the symbolism of the aircraft, the three books, Helen is the Madonna of the future, it’s a joke, the novel’s end, ‘my Graham dies without certainty of victory or defeat’, ambiguous airplanes, “literally that’s his dream”, flying dreams, cliffs and high places, Isbister and Warming -> Lincoln and Ostrog, “its fun”, “in such a fall as this countless dreams have ended”, dream falling, the different endings, the future of that future, Olaf Stapledon’s The Last And First Men, many futures, Olaf Stapledon takes what Wells does a little farther, Graham as a Christ figure, risen from the dead… etc., in Graphic detail, full colour holographic Jesus, the empty tomb moment, allusions to other literature in the Bible, Arthur C. Clarke, the Son of Man, A Story Of The Days To Come, the emptying of the countryside, the enclosures, Scotland, Canada, Glasgow, Berlin, well more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities now, Among Others by Jo Walton, Wales, the merits of country living, the economic theory behind everything, access to internet, staring at the internet, services, live entertainment, “my choice of Christian girls was three girls”, poor Luke.

When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells - illustration by H. Lanos
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells - illustration by H. Lanos
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells - illustration by H. Lanos
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
When The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells' 1921 Preface to The Sleeper Wakes
Amazing Stories Quarterly, Winter 1928 - illustration by Frank R. Paul

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Influx by Daniel Suarez

February 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Influx by Daniel SuarezInflux
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 20 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / near future / technology / thriller /

Publisher summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of Daemon–“the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured” –(Publishers Weekly) –imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change. Are smart phones really humanity’s most significant innovation since the moon landings? Or can something else explain why the bold visions of the 20th century–fusion power, genetic enhancements, artificial intelligence, cures for common disease, extended human life, and a host of other world-changing advances–have remained beyond our grasp? Why has the high-tech future that seemed imminent in the 1960’s failed to arrive? Perhaps it did arrive…but only for a select few. Particle physicist Jon Grady is ecstatic when his team achieves what they’ve been working toward for years: a device that can reflect gravity. Their research will revolutionize the field of physics–the crowning achievement of a career. Grady expects widespread acclaim for his entire team. The Nobel. Instead, his lab is locked down by a shadowy organization whose mission is to prevent at all costs the social upheaval sudden technological advances bring. This Bureau of Technology Control uses the advanced technologies they have harvested over the decades to fulfill their mission. They are living in our future. Presented with the opportunity to join the BTC and improve his own technology in secret, Grady balks, and is instead thrown into a nightmarish high-tech prison built to hold rebellious geniuses like himself. With so many great intellects confined together, can Grady and his fellow prisoners conceive of a way to usher humanity out of its artificial dark age? And when they do, is it possible to defeat an enemy that wields a technological advantage half a century in the making?

Influx is a techno-thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole way through. The question of what happens when a small group is allowed to hoard technological advances is very interesting here – is it all really for the greater good? The tone of this book reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton but a bit less thriller and a bit heavier on the speculative science/technology. The story kept up a pretty good pace throughout and did not slow down much even once the mystique of the fantastical technology was revealed.

Whenever I read/listen to a techno-thriller, there is this anticipation of what the technology at work is and how it has become this terrible thing that must be defeated or survived for the rest of the book. That anticipation almost always delivers but some books slow down after that reveal happens. There was a moment or two with Influx that I thought that could happen but Daniel Suarez did a great job of keeping parts interesting that could have been pretty dry. It does mention the prison in the description of the book and I didn’t know if I was in store for a The Count of Monte Cristo..thankfully the prison time was just about as interesting as the rest.

There are many technologies at play in this novel and Suarez made great use of them for some good suspense and actions sequences using them. The only small gripe I had with the novel is that the technologies work too well. Sure they have some really bright minds working on these things but to turn around production quality material in so little time, covertly, and for those things to seemingly not have glitches is kind of unbelievable (even for fiction). There were a couple of minor holes in the usage but overall it was really well done.

As for the audio performance, Jeff Gurner did a good job doing voices for the character and narration. He was always clearly understood and the voices were distinct enough that I could usually tell which character was doing the talking. I would enjoy listening to other books narrated by Jeff Gurner.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

October 6, 2012 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan; Read by Ari Fliakos
Audible Download – 7 Hours 41 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / mystery / technology / cerebral / singularity / metafiction

Every once in a blue moon, a completely off-the-radar book comes zooming in out of left field and smacks you upside the head. I love books about books and bookstores and bibliophiles, so even reading the title was like swallowing a long, curved, gleaming fishhook. The tagline yanked the hook up into my soft palate and began reeling me in:

A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life – mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.

The story is told from the perspective of down-on-the-heel design school graduate Clay Jannon, who lands a graveyard shift gig at the titular bookstore. Mr. Penumbra is an archetypically mysterious bookstore. Jannon soon discovers that the bookstore is merely a front for a lending library catering to a strange cult-like group of readers. Unable to contain his curiosity despite warnings from the proprietor, Clay investigates, aided in his quest by his artistic roommate, his Silicon Valley love interest, and a host of other quirky and likeable characters.

I know what you’re thinking: mysterious books, ancient cults, and a quest for eternal life–sounds like a Dan Brown novel. Not so! Where Brown’s prose is ponderous, even pompous, Sloan’s writing is equal parts wit and vigor. It often reads like early Neal Stephenson or, at its best, a timeless Neil Gaiman. Many superficial elements bear a resemblance to Brown’s work, but in the end this is a Brownian novel for true geeks. Brown’s wild, far-fetched car chases through Paris streets are replaced by equally far-fetched but far more satisfying night-time raids into a secret library with a DIY book scanner and an epic set piece data visualization scrum which takes place at Google headquarters. The novel explores areas as esoteric and diverse as typography, cloud computing, and archaeology. The real engine driving most modern mystery thrillers is action, but ideas fuel Mr. Penumbra.

Even readers like me who prefer fantasy to future tales will find something to like here, since the bibliographic mystery ultimately hinges on a trilogy of fictitious epic fantasy novels, The Dragon Song Chronicles. To say more would spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that even the most die-hard D&D player wouldn’t put down the book wholly disappointed. In one scene, the protagonist obtains a recording of the trilogy read by the author on cassette tape, and, in a nice touch that mirrors the novel’s preoccupation with metafiction, Macmillan Audio renders those particular passages in scfratchy, low-quality audio read by a narrator who stepped right out of the 1980s.

And speaking of narration, Ari Fliakos does a fine job with Mr. Penumbra. The novel is rife with obscure terminology drawing from a diverse wealth of linguistic sources, yet Fliakos makes few if any slips. His youthfully exuberent Clay and his tremulously throaty Mr. Penumbra fit the characters perfectly, as do the voices he selects for most of the other characters. A part of me wishes that Jonathan Davis had narrated this novel, since it then would have felt almost like a more upbeat Snow Crash. But that’s only wishful thinking on my part and not at all fair to Mr. Fliakos. A bad performance could have ruined this otherwise outstanding novel, but his performance does it justice.

The book isn’t perfect. The plot, while engaging, is fairly predictable and formulaic at times. I often found myself easily predicting the next twist. As so often happens in these novels, the romance didn’t quite come off as natural to me, although one could make a strong argument that Sloan intentionally made the love interest ambiguous. These are minor quibbles, however. If anything in this review strikes you as remotely interesting, you should read this book. You won’t regret it.

Posted by Seth

Review of Where’s My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson

August 13, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

 SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Where's My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson, PhDWhere’s My Jetpack?: A Guide To The Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived
By Daniel H. Wilson, PhD; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
1 MP3-CD – 3.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Sample: Click here
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 078617160X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Non-fiction / Technology / Teleportation /

The future is now. And we are not impressed. The future was supposed to be a fully automated, atomic-powered, germ-free Utopia, a place where a grown man could wear a velvet spandex unitard and not be laughed at. Our beloved scientist may be building the future, but some key pieces are missing. Where are the ray guns, the flying cars, and the hoverboards that we expected? We can’t wait another minute for the future to arrive. The time has come to hold the Golden Age of science fiction accountable for its fantastic promises.

Finally, someone has come to take the Golden Age of science fiction to task for all that crap they told us would happen. Who is the hero that’s going to demand our cool stuff? None other than Daniel H. Wilson, PhD, that’s who. That’s right. The guy who saved us from all those robots in his previous book – How to Survive a Robot Uprising. (SFFaudio Review here – we’re on the ball with all this surviving stuff.)

Just like in How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Wilson takes real science facts and gives them to us in a way that will make you laugh out loud. For example, what about those jetpacks we were promised? (Wilson calls the jetpack the “Holy Grail of classic science fiction technology.”) In this book, we find out that Wendell Moore finished the Bell Rocket Belt in 1961. It was basically a rocket mounted to a backpack. He tested it himself. Yes, he strapped a rocket to his belt, and turned it on. We learn exactly how it worked, hydrogen peroxide fuel and all. It produced 300 lbs of thrust – just enough to get a grown man off the ground. The downside? It could only hold 30 seconds worth of fuel. Shockingly, none of the rocket pack pilots died. Wilson then laments the lack of serious innovation in the rocket pack industry since then. “If Wendell Moore could see the state of jetpacks today,” says Wilson, “he would be doing barrel rolls in his grave.”

Jetpacks are just the tip of the rocket. Orbital hotels, robot servants, space elevators, teleportation – it’s all in there.

Stefan Rudnicki delivers another quality narration. One of Wilson’s goals with both of his books was to take the material so seriously that absurdity shows through. Rudnicki understood this, and provided narration to match. Funny stuff.

To hear from the author himself about Where’s My Jetpack?, How to Survive a Robot Uprising, robotics in general, and future projects, check out his interview on the Talking Robots podcast, July 5, 2007 edition. Here’s the direct link to the MP3.

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