Review of Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams

July 14, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Sea of Silver LightSea of Silver Light (Otherland Book #4)
By Tad Williams; Read by George Newbern
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 17 March 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 37 hrs, 32 mins

Themes: / science fiction / cyberpunk / virtual reality / virtual worlds / serial killer / Otherland /

Publisher summary:

A group of adventurers searching for a cure for comatose children find themselves trapped in a sequence of virtual worlds, the only opponents of a conspiracy of the rich to live forever in a dream. Now, they are forced to make an uneasy alliance with their only surviving former enemy against his treacherous sidekick Johnny Wulgaru, a serial killer with a chance to play God forever.  Few science fiction sagas have achieved the level of critical acclaim-and best-selling popularity-as Tad Williams’s Otherland novels. A brilliant blend of science fiction, fantasy, and techno thriller, it is a rich, multilayered epic of future possibilities.

The finale to the Otherland series, Sea of Silver Light wraps up the multitude of story lines that began in City of Golden Shadow. While the book dragged in places, and some may find that the book (and the series, especially in the middle books) wanders a bit too much, it is hard not to appreciate Tad Williams’ amazingly prescient series, especially if you’re a fan of a) the internet and b) classic literature. It’s probably safe to say that the wandering will not be for everybody, but for those that enjoy the mystery and the references to other works, the series could be a lot of fun.

A series written in the mid-late 90’s, the books cover amazing breadth of topics with a wide cast of characters in this world and in a parallel online world. What started as a cyberpunk story quickly unfolded into a much larger world with many players with significantly different motivations–on all sides of the story. With unlikely/atypical heroes (a South African woman, an African “bushman”, a blind woman, two teenagers, a mom, and a guy who doesn’t know his own past, not to mention a 5 or 6-year old girl, an ancient man…the cast is huge!) and a sprawling world, it’s easy to see why some people are overwhelmed. The more intriguing part, though, is trying to piece together the entire story, trying to figure out who’s involved in the world and for what purpose…and what the online world really is. I will admit that when the world was pieced together, it seemed pretty out there…but I was so engrossed that I didn’t really mind. The only part I really did mind was the end; the book felt maybe a little too neat, and a little too drawn out at the end. That said, it does leave an opening for Williams to return to the world (and looking on Goodreads, it seems as if he may have done just that with a short story in Legends II.

It’s hard to describe the book and what happened in the series without venturing into spoiler territory. Basically, Renie, a young South African woman who is a sort of professor or teacher of computer engineering-type classes at a local university, finds one day that her brother is in a coma of sorts, a result of playing an online game. Games in the future world that Williams created are played online in a virtual reality simulation type schema, where users have different levels of gear that immerse them (fully or to varying degrees) into a virtual world. Some users go so far as to get neural cannulas, so that they can “jack in” and have the VR system provide a direct link to their brain, become fully immersed. Renie, wanting to try to find out more about how her brother came to be in the coma, went online to try to learn what she could of what he got into. Unsurprisingly, she found herself sucked into and literally stuck in a virtual world, unable to disconnect (sort of like Sword Art Online). While there, she meets others who have family members with the same affliction as her brother, and still others who have been recruited by an unknown agent to help Renie and those who are trying to help their children/family members. In parallel, there is the story of the Grail Brotherhood, a private group of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest elite, who wish to achieve immortality, and invest heavily in a system to do so. In a third story line, there is additional intrigue about a psychopath who calls himself “Dread” and seems to seek out ways to torture and kill others, online and in reality. His story ends up weaving and in some ways connecting the Grail Brotherhood and those of the people trying to help the children. Throughout, there are a multitude of worlds created by various users of the online system, many with literary references (such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The War of the Worlds) or other evolving schema (such as a virtual rainforest that actually begins to evolve in the simulation world, similar to how it might have on earth). Williams uses cyberpunk, the idea of virtual/simulation worlds, and some more fantastical elements (some characters have special abilities, particularly abnormal/special mental powers) to weave a tale that leaves the reader picking up puzzle pieces and slowly piecing things together, just as the heroes do in the story.

I’m most amazed at how prescient Williams was. The book was written in the mid-90’s, yet there are references to things in the world today, innovations that were barest ideas of science fiction in the 90’s. The first and most obvious observation is that the VR world, while more immersive than anything we really have today, is very much akin to the internet of today, with people spending entire lives and making entire livelihoods on the internet. People use tablet-like devices to connect to the networks, to make calls, to shop, to go into their simulation worlds–much like an iPad or other tablet of today. People watch movies on the internet, so-called “Net Flicks” (I really wonder if that’s how Netflix’s name came to be), and an automated robotic floor-sweeping robot (Roomba, anyone) makes an appearance or two. Kids have “storybook sunglasses” which sound a bit like more immersive (and frankly more fun) versions of Google Glass. Just today, I read an article on Slashdot about body hacking through the vagal nerve, a topic that’s actually brought up in the book (as a therapy that is abused, oddly enough). There are other examples, which reading in 2015, are fun nuggets to pick up along the way. It’s crazy how forward-thinking this book was, how much it got “right” even for 2015 (I think the book is supposed to take place closer to 2050).

I liked this book and really enjoyed the series. I think that listening was a fantastic way to experience the book, to be able to lay back and shut my eyes and become immersed in the book as the characters are immersed in their world. The narration was (as I’ve said in my other reviews) great, if a little slow. But that meant that I could speed the book up slightly in the playback, cutting down some of the listening time.

The book (and series) may not be for everyone. I think it’s fair to criticize this book for going on a little “too long” or for being a little “too neat,” and it’s equally fair to think that Book 1 started slow or that books 2 and 3 wandered a bit (they absolutely were “middle books” in a series, which not everybody enjoys). But I still really liked the series. I look forward to reading it again in the future, maybe in a few years, to see how much I can pick up in advance, knowing as I do now, how the book ends.

Posted by terpkristin.

The SFFaudio Podcast #320 – READALONG: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick

June 8, 2015 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #320 – Jesse, Paul, and Marissa talk about The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick

Talked about on today’s show:
1957, 1983, early Philip K. Dick, A Glass Of Darkness, a Biblical reference, written prior to Solar Lottery, revision, refinement, rewrite, Ace Doubles, Sargasso Of Space, is this book a lot smarter than we are?, an ambitious book, Persian mythology, European publications, Virginia, Beamer’s Knob, why is this set in rural Virginia?, a Virginia novel, anywhere USA, PKD lived in D.C. as a kid, returning to your hometown, The Commuter by Philip K. Dick, collapsing the wavefront (?), a different couch, also a baby and a wife, the park and the cannon and “the Stars and Bars”, recreating the park, Ted’s superpower is a good memory, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Men In Black, Lilo & Stitch, my mere existence is my superpower, Ted saves the universe, the harpy wife, dispelling the Ahriman’s illusion, when only the town drunk agrees with you…, less doubt than usual, a pat ending, a typical Philip K. Dick character leaving the dull wife, he’s going to see her everywhere, Upon The Dull Earth, The Odyssey, bringing a dead wife back to life, she inhabits the bodies of everyone he meets, Being John Malkovich, everybody is Malkovich, what is the wife doing in this book?, phone calls can get through the barrier, a plot device, she’s the harridan wife, Stephen Brust’s characters martial problems, a dirty and sweaty wife, a passive aggressive way to get a divorce, he’s not present in the conversations, is Mary already manipulating him?, eighteen before …. how did Mary do this?, why mommy and daddy can’t live together, sluggy pus monster, a Lovecraftian shoggoth, this is Philip K. Dick’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth with a positive spin, the Dagon movie, Stuart Gordon, not an SF novel, not a typical fantasy novel, mythological fantasy?, more Neil Gaiman, fantasy horror, like the horror world in Eye In The Sky, Katamari Damacy, Expendable (aka He Who Waits) by Philip K. Dick is a kind of joke story, insects in a war with spiders, our allies the birds, The Outer Limits episode ZZZZZ, a honeytrap!, if Dick had been more of a horror writer, reality distortion, Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field, changing the reality of the world around you with your personality, all children have the superpower of imagination … then loose them as they grow up, action figures and dolls, unless you play role playing games, a consensual participatory hallucination, The Days Of Perky Pat by Philip K. Dick, Chew-Z, in game gold (bought using real world money) to buy things for your sims, League Of Legends, “skins”, virtual goods is a billion dollar business, a kind of a trap, we are manipulated by other people’s perceptions of us, a smart book, the wanderers, The Faith Of Our Fathers, competing realities, Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, meeting a girl who is an avatar of a god, this is a completely different kind of faith, false gods, Galactic Pot-Healer, Ohrmazd, ghosts, aren’t there any wanderers where you’re from?, rotting in the walls, the drunk, Zoroastrianism, The Builder by Philip K. Dick, the ultimate review of The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, how would this book be appreciated in Iran?, a goddess with black hair, renewal, “Mary and Peter are in fact engaged in a low-intensity supernatural proxy war”, the forces of deception and corruption vs. clarity and sunlight, Ahrimati as a soil fertility goddess, the overturned logging truck scene, stopping time and boasting about it, Mary’s first interactions with Ted Barton, a real Mary and a golem of Ahrimati, the novel is a bit undercooked, golems for the gods, golems making golems, making men out of clay and women out of men made out of clay, Prometheus, religions as by the Brothers Grimm, Prometheus and Pandora’s box, Shiva and death metal, an essay by Barb Morning Child on The Cosmic Puppets, in the age of Wikipedia, a worthwhile book, how early is it?, too dualistic and too pat, by year of composition, The Cosmic Puppets is Dick’s 5th composed novel, height of his powers, The Man In The High Castle, Galactic Pot-Healer is Dick’s best novel (according to Jesse), a British-American cold war, L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear, when the IRS went up against the Church of Scientology, all of L. Ron Hubbard’s fiction are holy texts

Satellite Science Fiction, December 1956 - A Glass Of Darkness by Philip K. Dick
A Glass Of Darkness by Philip K. Dick - Satellite SF, December 1956 interior art
A Glass Of Darkness by Philip K. Dick - Satellite SF, December 1956 illustration by Arnold Arlow
Urania 280 - La Citta Sostituita A GLASS OF DARKNESS by Philip K. Dick
The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick - illustration by Ed Valigursky
The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick ENGLISH
The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick FRENCH
Les Pantins Cosmiques by Philip K. Dick
The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick POLISH

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of METAtropolis

October 21, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

METAtropolisMETAtropolis
By Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Shroeder
Read by Michael Hogan, Scott Brick, Kandyse McClure, Alessandro Juliani, and Stefan Rudnicki
Audible Download – 9 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Future Cities / Internet / Computers / Virtual Worlds / Survival / Economics / Environment /

METAtropolis is a shared-world science fiction collection with stories from five different authors who have been busy making their marks on the history of science fiction literature: Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder. The ties that bind these excellent stories are imagined future cities in the same future world, which is filled with detail and innovation by the authors.

Also excellent are the narrators. Scott Brick and Stefan Rudnicki are well-known and respected by audiobook listeners, and they read one story each with their usual professionalism. The other three stories are read by actors from Battlestar Galactica: Michael Hogan (Col. Tigh), Kandyse McClure (Dee), and Alessandro Juliani (Lt. Gaeta).

Jay Lake starts the collection with “In the Forests of the Night”, with Michael Hogan narrating. The story takes place in Cascadiopolis, a settlement in Oregon that is visited by a man named Tygre Tygre. John Scalzi, the editor of this collection, introduces each story, and here he says that Lake, who is skilled at world-building, did a lot of the heavy introductory lifting in this story. That’s true, and the story is filled with information, but it is never dull. Hogan’s narration keeps us on our toes.

Next up is Tobias Buckell who takes us to The Wilds of suburban Detroit in “Stochasti-city”, with Scott Brick reading. In the future, commuting to work becomes unsustainable, and entire neighborhoods are abandoned, but some still live there, like the protagonist of this story. He makes his living “turking” – finding odd jobs that someone on the net will pay for. I’ve never been to Detroit, but imagining the abandoned suburbs and the city itself was easy with Buckell at the helm of this rich, thought-provoking tale.

Elizabeth Bear, in “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood”, introduces us to Katie, who also lives in Detroit. Kandyse McClure narrates here, and does a wonderful job with the most character-driven story of the five. The story opens with Katie riding her bicycle through a downtown Detroit that is nearly impassable, due to potholes and general infrastructure failure. As it continues, she’s got some hard choices to make.

John Scalzi’s entertaining story is next, read by Alessandro Juliani. There are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments in “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis”, which is about a recent graduate’s first job in the city. Also filled with detail (would you take a shower with grey water?) and entertaining. Juliani reads with perfect timing.

And last is Karl Schroeder’s story, “To Hie from Far Cilenia”, read by Stefan Rudnicki. This is a wonderful story of cities of a different type. Idea-rich, action-packed – it’s got it all. It’s a perfect cap to a great bunch of stories, taking things in a completely different direction. A virtual world superimposed on the “real” one, but ins’t the virtual one just as real? Rudnicki is excellent, like always.

The shared world idea is not a new one, but this completely successful collection of great stories may renew the enthusiasm for this sub-genre. Is this a sub-genre? The actual stories of any shared-world collection can be of any sub-genre. But the point is that this is a thought-provoking, exciting group of stories that deserves high praise. An SFFaudio Essential!

ADD: I forgot to mention – get the first story for free over at Audible! CLICK HERE for details.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson