The SFFaudio Podcast #059

May 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe 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

Review of Blake’s 7 – Point Of No Return and Eye Of The Machine

August 25, 2009 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Blake's 7 - Point Of No Return and Eye Of The MachineSFFaudio EssentialBlake’s 7 – Point Of No Return and Eye Of The Machine (Vol. 1.2 & 1.3)
By Ben Aaronovitch and James Swallow; Performed by a full cast
2 CDs – Approx. 70 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: B7 Media
Published: November 2008
ISBN: 9781906577063
Themes: / Science Fiction / Politics / Crime / Artificial Intelligence / Terrorism / Noir /

‘Blake’s 7 draws much of its inspiration from the legend of Robin Hood. It follows a small band of outlaws, under a figurehead leader, leading a rebellion against a tyrannical regime.’

A History and Critical Analysis of Blake’s 7 by John Kenneth Muir

This is the second release in the first season of Blake’s 7 prequel stories. For more information on the original the Trilogy Box Set and Volume 1.1 of the prequel series read our reviews HERE and HERE.

Point of No Return and Eye Of The Machine are two more rousing and unconventional adventures in the Blake’s 7 reimaginging. As is typical with most excellent series the music, sound design and acting are absolutely stellar. But, it is the writing which amazes me the most. There are two ways you can go with remakes of old television series. One is to write it so that the dumbest people in your audience won’t have any trouble following it (New Doctor Who I’m looking at you). The other is to re-imagine, re-construct and re-engage with those who loved a smart Science Fiction series for its intelligence. I’m happy to say that this new Blake’s 7 series is in the latter category. Feelings of surprise and utter engagement followed from the opening moments of a rainswept city soundscape to the final credit sequence. I was rapt, imagining the goings-on as vividly as if they were projected onto 1,000 foot screen. Here are my thoughts on each of the two episodes in this set…

Point of No Return – (Episode 1.2)
Written by James Swallow, directed by Andrew Mark Sewell

Point of No Return depicts a critical juncture in the life of Major Stefan Travis. Travis is a Blake’s 7 baddie, the Guy of Gisborne to Roj Blake’s Robin Hood. In this prequel story we find Travis assigned to investigate Carl Varon. Varon is a kind of proto-Blake – a political troublemaker who claims to have been setup by the powers that be. The evidence is against Varon is damning. There’s a laundry list of horrific charges against him. Plus, there’s all the video evidence. So what’s Travis’ problem? Just that Varon may be entirely innocent. Travis has two duties. 1. A duty to the state. 2. A duty to the truth. Which will he choose?

Actor Craig Kelly plays Travis. To my ears his voices sounds pretty similar to the original TV series actor Brian Croucher. What benefits Kelly here is that he gets a much meatier role than poor Croucher (the TV Travis) ever got. He also benefits by playing against a veteran like Peter Guinness. Guinness has a Jekyll And Hyde-like role in this story, we get him as the innocent man in jail and as a political terrorist (during some video playback sequences). Jake Maskall has the least to do here, playing Sub-Lieutenant Garcia. His role being to mostly act as a naive assistant to Travis.

Eye Of The Machine – (Episode 1.3)
Written by Ben Aaronovitch, directed by Andrew Mark Sewell

Eye Of The Machine also follows a baddie (but one of the less bad baddies). Kerr Avon (the Will Scarlet of Blake’s 7) in this prequel story is a brilliant and geeky post-graduate student at Oxford in 2230. The university’s campus, like so many on Earth, is roiling with political protest movements. Avon wants nothing to do with politics, but a fellow student is hot for two things – political change and Kerr Avon. Meanwhile Avon’s brilliance in his chosen studies has caught the eye of a respected cyberneticist professor. Professor Ensor is working on an artificial intelligence breakthrough – he needs a mind like Avon’s. Will Avon’s attendance at Freedom Party meetings or the ambitious Professor Ensor be his undoing?

Colin Salmon (playing Avon) is a movie star with stage acting chops. Anna Grant (played by Keeley Hawes) is fast talking and passionate. She’s terrific. Ensor, is played by Geoffrey Palmer, a veteran of virtually every television series made in the U.K.. In this he’s slimy, mean-spirited and perfect. The script jumps back and forth between the events as they unfolded chronologically and sometime shortly after ‘what happened’ wherein Ensor and Grant give one sided answers to an interrogator’s questions. Both Episode 1.2 and 1.3 use just three actors each but we don’t need even more. These scripts are perfectly polished audio drama gems. Highly recommended.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Aural Noir Review of Fever by Sean Rowe

August 8, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

As part of our revival of the Aural Noir label, we’ll be re-running some of our classic (offline) Aural Noir posts, including this “vintage” audiobook review which was first posted in December 2005…

Tantor crime audiobook - Fever by Sean RoweFever
By Sean Rowe; Read by William Dufris
5 CDs – Approx 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1400101778
Sample: |MP3|
Themes: / Crime / Heist / Noir / Thriller / Terrorism / Florida / Cuba / Nautical / Family /

Raw, is probably the best one-word sum up of Sean Rowe’s first novel Fever. Rowe’s prose lacks the polish found in novelists like Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake and Elmore Leonard, but he doesn’t lack what it takes to eventually become worthy of hanging out with these masters, especially if he keeps writing like this!

Fever follows a tight knit group of fuck-ups through their attempt to rob thirty million dollars of stashed drug money from an aging cruise ship plying the waters between Miami and Cuba. The crew, on paper at least, looks like it should be able to handle anything. It consists of an ex-FBI agent Matt Shannon, his step brother (an ex-DEA agent named Jack Fontana), an emergency room nurse named Julia, a former Black Panther, and a South American soldier of fortune. Despite their collective skill set these are all losers in almost every way. Shannon’s past is slowly revealed, working backwards we know that he’s an in-debt alcoholic, with a dead wife, missing an index finger and has a step-brother who is a recently paroled felon. When the step-brother frames Shannon in the sinking of a freighter Matt is half-blackmailed into going along, with a vague desire to somehow help his brother. The rest of the crew are nearly as sad, Julia was an orphan who was sexually abused from a young age. And Jack Fontana is dying after serving his sentence. Even the minor characters have their share of problems…. one passage detailing the last job the mercenary took killing Indians in the jungles of South America is brutal, funny and illustrative of just how unlikely this string will be of pulling off this or any job. The malformed love triangle between Shannon, his brother, and Julia pays off in a tasty neo-noir style. In fact love, brotherly and the other kind is probably at the heart of this story. Fever is extremely enjoyable, the dialogue is crisp and fun, the scenes are imaginative and original. A constant surprise awaits in every chapter. None of it goes exactly according to plan and that makes it all the better to follow. The novel’s few problems seem mostly structural, scene transitions aren’t handled as well as I’d like and despite it being a first person perspective we never really get an idea of what’s going on inside the narrator’s head. This could be a deliberate style on the part of Rowe, as both flaws could be thought to pay off in certain ways later in on the book, but I’m thinking a more seasoned novelist might have been better able to give us everything. I eagerly look forward to reading the next Sean Rowe novel!

Read by the always reliable William Dufris, the first person perspective plays into such classics as Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Dufris’ natural timbre doesn’t exactly embody the gravelly voiced loser we imagine as the narrator but his voicing of the rest of the crew is spot on. Men, women, a Colombian drug lord, the string and even minor characters like an aging boxer all sound just like you’d want them to. Tantor Media, an exciting new player in unabridged audiobooks has packaged Fever in a clamshell CD case with leaved pages. The cover is the same as the Little Brown & Co. original and the sound quality is phenomenal. The pricing is extremely reasonable too. I think Tantor is probably the most exciting new big little publisher of the decade!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

June 18, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Little Brother by Cory DoctorowLittle BrotherSFFaudio Essential
By Cory Doctorow; Read by Kirby Heyborne
MP3 Download – 11 Hours, 54 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: May 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Young Adult / Terrorism / Philosophy / The Internet /

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works-and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems. But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days. When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

I rarely feel uncomfortable when reading a book. Cory Doctorow made me feel uncomfortable. I had a deep and growing unease as I listened to Little Brother. Talking about it with a friend, in between early chapters, I at first had a hard time pinning down exactly what was bothering me so much. But, after explaining what the book was about I suddenly realized what the one nagging issue was that was causing this growing unease: It was the villains. They were “all straw men” I told my friend, “not three-dimensional, or believable.” Their villainy “wasn’t realistic,” said I. But soon after that, in cataloging their various villainies, I realized that everything that was happening in the near future USA where Little Brother is set, was already actually happening in the United States (or its offshore territories). It was at that point when I realized that what I had at first been seeing as a poor choice on Doctorow’s part (making the villains one dimensional, completely unsympathetic, and therefore unrealistic) – was not valid. Doctorow is talking about the United States in the very same way George Orwell was talking about the Soviet Union in 1984, or Margaret Atwood, the world, in The Handmaid’s Tale. I can’t effectively argue that real world villainy is unrealistic. The villains of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are not unrealistic and neither are those of Little Brother. After I realized that, my attitude of dissatisfaction changed to one of alliance with the book. And the longer I’ve thought about it, the more I am convinced. This is a book that people, especially young people, should be reading. This is an important book. It addresses in a very accessible way, some of the very pressing issues confronting our new age.

Doctorow is both revolutionary and conservative. He wants to overthrow those who would shackle us to an old business model and preserve the long and honourable tradition of revolution. In the book, Marcus, the main character, has a couple of internet handles. The first, “w1n5t0n,” is a tip of the hat to the oppressed victim-protagonist of 1984, and the second is “Mikey.” That one’s a nod towards the proactive leader of the Luna revolution in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. I think Little Brother takes equal inspiration from both these masterworks of Science Fiction. That’s a strong recommendation in itself. Whether this will turn out to be a tenth as influential as either of those classics will turn on how much it resonates with you. This is a book I want people to read.

Another friend, who stopped listening to the book, said Little Brother was full of “infodumps”, and he has a point. It is full of infodumps. But, I think that term gets a bad rap. Science Fiction, as Cory Doctorow himself points out, has a long tradition of the infodump, and, since this is more than just a novel, it has to have a good share of technological and mathematical explanations. In my opinion, the way the novel is written, it doesn’t at all come off as particularly hard to take. Cory Doctorow, in fiction and in real life, is a clear and concise explicator of technologies. He comes up with terrific analogies that illustrate his points, and I therefore think the charge of excessive infodumping is like saying “her hair is too red,” it says more about your predilection for blondes or brunettes than about any particular red-head’s hair colour. Check out one of the infodumps from the book:

If you ever decide to do something as stupid as build an automatic terrorism detector, here’s a math lesson you need to learn first. It’s called “the paradox of the false positive,” and it’s a doozy.

Say you have a new disease, called Super-AIDS. Only one in a million people gets Super-AIDS. You develop a test for Super-AIDS that’s 99 percent accurate. I mean, 99 percent of the time, it gives the correct result — true if the subject is infected, and false if the subject is healthy. You give the test to a million people.

One in a million people have Super-AIDS. One in a hundred people that you test will generate a “false positive” — the test will say he has Super-AIDS even though he doesn’t. That’s what “99 percent accurate” means: one percent wrong.

What’s one percent of one million? 1,000,000/100 = 10,000

One in a million people has Super-AIDS. If you test a million random people, you’ll probably only find one case of real Super-AIDS. But your test won’t identify one person as having Super-AIDS. It will identify 10,000 people as having it. Your 99 percent accurate test will perform with 99.99 percent inaccuracy.

That’s the paradox of the false positive. When you try to find something really rare, your test’s accuracy has to match the rarity of the thing you’re looking for. If you’re trying to point at a single pixel on your screen, a sharp pencil is a good pointer: the pencil-tip is a lot smaller (more accurate) than the pixels. But a pencil-tip is no good at pointing at a single atom in your screen. For that, you need a pointer — a test — that’s one atom wide or less at the tip. This is the paradox of the false positive, and here’s how it applies to terrorism:

Terrorists are really rare. In a city of twenty million like New York, there might be one or two terrorists. Maybe ten of them at the outside. 10/20,000,000 = 0.00005 percent. One twenty-thousandth of a percent. That’s pretty rare all right. Now, say you’ve got some software that can sift through all the bank-records, or toll-pass records, or public transit records, or phone-call records in the city and catch terrorists 99 percent of the time. In a pool of twenty million people, a 99 percent accurate test will identify two hundred thousand people as being terrorists. But only ten of them are terrorists. To catch ten bad guys, you have to haul in and investigate two hundred thousand innocent people.

Guess what? Terrorism tests aren’t anywhere close to 99 percent accurate. More like 60 percent accurate. Even 40 percent accurate, sometimes. What this all meant was that the Department of Homeland Security had set itself up to fail badly. They were trying to spot incredibly rare events — a person is a terrorist — with inaccurate systems.

That all struck a chord with me. I don’t live in The States, yet I know that at least some people down there are blindly accepting these “safety measures” as not only a necessary evil, but as at least somewhat effective. The last time I took an airplane in The States I overheard a conversation in which a woman was telling her family that the Transportation Security Administration’s confiscation of her own lip gloss was for her protection. And she wasn’t being ironic!

Narrator Kirby Heyborne comes from a theater, movie, and music background. His youthful voice captures Marcus and his friends in an effective straight reading. This is audiobook narration as it should be. Two interesting afterwords by people mentioned in the book and a detailed bibliography cap the novel. There is no hardcopy edition of this audiobook available, but a DRM-free MP3 download is. GET THAT HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures

April 6, 2008 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audio Drama - Blake's 7Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures (Trilogy Box Set)
By Ben Aaronovitch, Marc Platt and James Swallow; Performed by FULL-CAST
3 Audio CDs & 1 CD-ROM – Approx. 225 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: B7 Media
Published: 2007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Galactic Civilization / Politics / War / Terrorism / Spaceships /

In the third century of the second calendar, the galactic Federation, once a beacon of democracy and peace, has become a corrupt tyranny. Roj Blake stood up for the ordinary people. The establishment framed him for crimes he didn’t commit and sentenced him to permanent exile on the notorious prison planet of Cygnus Alpha. The Federation thinks it has seen the last of Roj Blake. The Federation will wish it had.

The producers of this stunning re-imagining Terry Nation’s late 1970s television series have improved upon the original Blake’s 7 in the same way as Battlestar Galactica was improved upon in its new TV series. This set, contains the three re-cut episodes Rebel, Traitor, and Liberator (and 40 minutes of bonus features). It is absolute audio drama perfection. The show is fast, surprising, darkly thrilling and utterly unflinching. Roj Blake is a folk hero, like Robin Hood or Pancho Villa. His struggle to free the deluded citizens of the galactic federation is full of ambiguities not found in the simplistic Star Wars films. If you like audio drama, you’ll love Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures!

Alistair Lock, responsible for sound effects, fills the soundscape with original and re-worked B7 sounds. The music is orchestral, and reminiscent of the original show. The acting in all three stories is absolutely top-shelf, Derek Riddell (Doctor Who) is the hardened, yet compassionate, Roj Blake. The treacherously reliable Kerr Avon is played by Colin Salmon (Tomorrow Never Dies). Michael Praed (of Robin Of Sherwod fame) guest stars, it’s a real who’s who of British Actors! Even Carrie Dobro (last seen in Babylon 5’s Crusade), playing Jenna, gets a meaty role she can really sink her teeth into.
I first listened to the Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures on the Sci Fi channel UK’s website as the five minute episodes were released. They sounded great! But, because they were released three times a week, and because each episode began and ended with lengthy intros and outros (lasting a minute or so) it was nigh impossible to follow the story. NOT SO with this re-cut version!

Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the set…

Disc 1: Rebel by Ben AaronovitchRebel is not only easy to follow, it is impossible not to follow! The show is super-compelling – like a tractor beam sucking you in. The adventure starts on Earth with a government special-ops team trying to capture the elusive Roj Blake. Blake was an opposition leader, now he’s an accused pedophile and terrorist. He’s soon caught, but not cowed. At his sham trial he acquits himself well, but still gets convicted after the fair judge (played by Frances Barber) gets re-programed. Blake is sentenced to exile on a prison planet, but instead of being neutralized he and some fellow prisoners manage to find what may turn out to be a real source for change in the Federation – an alien ship of immense power!

Disc 2: Traitor by Mark Platt
Blake and company, now in possession of a starship with tech beyond that of the Federation, must master the artificially intelligent and suicidal computer. Traitor is action packed, scene transitions take micro-seconds, point of view shifts by sound (you can tell where you are by what the voice of the speaker sounds like). As in Rebel the physics and science are done in a deliberate “hard SF” style. Unbeatable audio action.

Disc 3: Liberator by James Swallow
In part three, the Scottish accented Supreme Commander Servalan (Daniela Nardini) and her lackey Space Commander Travis (Craig Kelly) hatch a plan to eliminate Blake and steal his new ship. Meanwhile, with their ship now in fully working order Blake’s seven argue as to the best course of action. Should they, as Avon suggests,turn pirate? Or should they, as Blake wants, turn “Liberator” into a flagship of resistance? A few light-years away something is waiting…

Special Features [CD-ROM]:

Blake’s 7: A Rebellion Reborn – [VIDEO]
A terrific 17 minute video documentary offering behind the scenes studio footage, on camera interviews and commentary on what made the old television series so great. Watching this will sell any old Blake’s 7 fan on this new series!

Sci Fi 360 – [VIDEO]
A short (4 Minutes 16 Seconds) video about Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel UK, shot at the Sci-Fi-London 6 Festival.

Sci Files – [VIDEO]
Another short video (2 Minutes 1 Second) promoting the show. It too aired on the Sci-Fi Channel UK.

Blakes 7 Theme – [MUSIC]
An MP3 featuring an extended (2 Minutes 10 Seconds) version of the new B7 theme!

Blooper Reel -[AUDIO BLOOPERS]
An MP3 (5 Minutes 43 Seconds) of outtakes from the recording of the three episodes.

“He’s The One” – [MUSIC]
An MP3 rock ballad about Roj Blake performed by Slashed Seat Affair.

Wallpaper
Various sizes of desktop wallpaper featuring B7 art.

The producers tell me we haven’t heard the last of the Blake’s 7 Audio Adventures! So, get on board citizens, the rebels need your strength.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Red Monday Audio Drama explodes into existence today!

November 26, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

OnlineAudio

Red Monday - Audio DramaGuess what today is? Yup, it’s Red Monday! That countdown clock website turned out to mean something after all! I got this chilling email early this morning…

You are receiving this message because you asked to be notified of the “Event.” Consider this your notification. We weren’t able to stop it. It has already occurred.

> A nuclear weapon has just exploded in Los Angeles.
> Millions of people are trying to get out.
> ..three are trying to get in.

Hi, I’m J. Marcus Xavier, executive producer of Red Monday–the all-new action / adventure audio drama from StarKnight Productions. The countdown clock has finally reached zero, and Red Monday has arrived. The premiere episode is now live and available for FREE download at www.redmonday.com. Please visit and listen.

Check out the RedMonday.com site where you can download the first episode for free. Subsequent episodes sell for $1.67 each or just $4.99 for the entire series.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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