Review of Wild Cards edited by George R. R. Martin

July 31, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Wild Cards edited by George R. R. MartinWild Cards (Wild Cards #1)
Edited by George R. R. Martin; Read by Luke Daniels
19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 2011
ISBN: 9781455833009
Themes: / alternate history / superpowers / alien virus / superhero / urban fantasy / science fiction / horror /

Publisher Summary:

In the aftermath of WWII, an alien virus struck the Earth, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Originally published in 1987, the newly expanded saga contains additional original stories by eminent writers.

The stories contained in the audiobook are:
“Prologue” by George R. R. Martin
“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” by Howard Waldrop
“The Sleeper” by Roger Zelazny
“Witness” by Walter Jon Williams
“Degradation Rites” by Melinda Snodgrass
“Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace” by Michael Cassutt
“Powers” by David D. Levine
“Shell Games” by George R. R. Martin
“The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner
“Transfigurations” by Victor Milán
“Down Deep” by Edward Bryant and Leanne C. Harper
“Strings” by Stephen Leigh
“Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan” by Carrie Vaughn
“Comes a Hunter” by John J. Miller

There are also a variety of “Interludes” in between the stories, which are short bits mostly written in the form of newspaper or magazine articles or first-hand witness accounts. These interludes are often used to bridge the narrative with real events from US history, to provide the reader with insight as to the feelings in this “alternate history” type world.

Generally, this is a story of the effects of an alien virus on humanity between the time shortly following World War II through the late 70’s/early 80’s. The virus was brought to earth by aliens from a planet called Takis. It was developed as a device to give Takisians superpowers to be used as a part of large-scale family wars on Takis. The aliens wanted to test it, so sought to release it on Earth, as humans are genetically very similar to Takisians. “Prologue” introduces us to an alien who is called (by the humans, as his name is not well-suited to human speech) Dr. Tachyon and the “Wild Cards” virus. Dr. Tachyon is also a Takisian, but tried to prevent the release of the virus on Earth. “Prologue” sets the scene and tone for the world of the book. It also provides an insight into Dr. Tachyon’s values: he doesn’t ask first for the President of the US, he instead asks for the top scientists and thinkers. This is an obvious nod by George R. R. Martin to those who have true powers in the US.

“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” tells the story of Jet Boy, an American superhero, and the release of the Wild Cards virus over Manhattan in September, 1946. Jet Boy is a true hero, an all-American kid who came back from fighting in World War II with a superhero story of his ace flying abilities. He is the only superhero in the book who wasn’t a superhero because of the virus, but because of his innate abilities and selflessness. In a theme that becomes common through the book, the reader is reminded that a hero is a hero because of what they do, not because of their skills. Jet Boy tries—and fails—to stop the virus from being released.

The virus is brutal. It only impacts humans, with no effects on other species. It kills most of its victims, but those who survive (only about a tenth of those exposed to the virus) are not left unscathed. Through the rest of the book, the reader is introduced to various people impacted by the virus. The first stories tell mainly of “Aces,” those who get super powers from the virus (usually in the form of telekinesis and/or greatly enhanced physical abilities. Later, the reader is introduced to the concept of “Jokers,” who become horribly deformed due to the virus. The first interlude presents the concept of “Deuces,” those who get an “ace-like” ability that is not particularly useful, like “Mr. Rainbow,” whose ability is to change the color of his skin.

The narrative takes the reader through time: each story is a snapshot of a period in US history and provides a sort of “alternate history” of how that time may have been different if there had been these Aces and Jokers were around. Some of the early stories, taking place during the era of HUAC and McCarthyism, show how the aces became subjects of witch hunts and were forced into service in the US military or intelligence agencies. Jokers are looked upon as second-class beings, a theme that plays a large role during the stories set in the 60’s and 70’s, mirroring the US Civil Rights Movement. Some of the stories are sad, such as “The Sleeper” and “Witness.” Some are a bit more uplifting and triumphant, such as “Shell Games.” A lot of the stories, especially the later ones, become a bit creepy, with people using their powers for selfish reasons, as in “Strings.”

All in all, Wild Cards serves as an interesting statement on humanity through the guise of a “what if” scenario. All of the stories are eminently believable—at no time did anything that happened seem overwhelmingly unlikely. To some extent, that’s a bit of a sad statement on humanity—as the book goes on, aces and jokers alike seem to be only interested in helping themselves, looking out for their own (often misguided) interests.

The narration, done by Luke Daniels, was pretty good in the audiobook. He had a good speed and good intonation for most of the characters, and it was easy to tell each character apart. As often happens with male narrators trying to do female voices, some of the females sounded whiny, but it wasn’t so over the top so as to be unlistenable. After listening to this narration, I’ll be keeping Luke Daniels on my radar when looking at audiobooks.

Personally, I preferred the stories in the first half of the book to those in the second half. In the second half, the stories got quite a bit darker, more creepy and violent. After the strong lead-in with the Prologue and “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway,” I quite enjoyed the origin stories and the weaving-in of events in US history. As the book progressed, the stories didn’t seem quite as engaging—for one, I actually repeatedly fell asleep while listening, and ended up having rewind and re-listen to some of the others. There was also one story that was too graphic both in terms of sex and violence for me, “The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner. By the end, I wasn’t interested in more stories of people serving their own interests. There are other books in the series, which I have heard are more like the stories at the end of the book—I’m not sure that they’ll be for me. But I enjoyed this anthology well enough and would recommend it to others interested in a cross of science fiction, general fiction, and horror genres.

Review by terpkristin

The SFFaudio Podcast #123

August 29, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #123 – Scott, Jesse, Tamahome, Matthew Sanborn Smith (Hairy Mango), and Jenny (Reading Envy) talk about audiobooks, recent arrivals and new releases.

Talked about on today’s show:
Scott’s recent arrivals, The Magician King by Lev Grossman, a gritty Harry Potter?, Ghost Story by Jim Butcher has a new narrator John Glover (not Crispin Glover), Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs, the Crossroads film, We’re Alive — A Story Of Survival zombie audiodrama, originally a podcast, The Walking Dead comic, Terry Goodkind’s The Omen Machine, long sentences on the cover, Mango version?, The Keeper Of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, the scandanavian thriller genre, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, we make an exception for noir, straight science fiction, Poul Anderson’s Genesis, singularity?, the cover, several Joe Ledger stories (like Patient Zero) by Jonathan Maberry, it’s like evil corporations and terrorism, he adapted The Wolfman (2010) movie, Ghost Road Blues, something for October, Blackstone interview with Maberry and Gardner, two by Abaton Radio Theater, Cat Wife, Baby, radio scripter Arch Oboler, Tam could use a radiodrama, L. Ron Hubbard’s Greed, yellow peril, dramatized kind of like Graphicaudio, Dianetics, Kevin Hearne’s Hexed, they begin with ‘H’, Witchy Woman (song), an adult The Lightning Thief, Lost Voices by Sarah Porter, mermaids, where’s the older mermaids?, sirens, werewolves, Out Of The Waters by David Drake is not military science fiction, the periodic table series, Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos, read by the author, it’s YA, (41:38) Matt tells us about Grant Morrison’s Supergods, it’s a autobiography/comic book history, All-Star Superman comic, narrator John Lee swears well, Grant experimented with everything, Voltaire, does the audio need pictures?, We3, artist Frank Quitely, New X-Men, Dan DiDio on the DC Comics relaunch, Jenny doesn’t read comics (but she reads graphic novels), superheroes don’t stay dead, Criminal comic, the George R.R. Martin effect, The Boys comic satirizes superheroes, (52:18) Jenny is listening to James Joyce’s Ulysses (wow), The Testament Of Jesse Lamb by Jane Rogers, kind of a prequel to Children Of Men, not on audio yet, the Man Booker prize longlist, Ulysses radiodrama, listening for 24 hours in a row, Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein (our next readalong), The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi exclusively on Audible, (one of narrator Scott Brick’s favorites) glossary of terms in The Quantum Thief, made-up terms, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, fictional thief character Arsène Lupin (oh yeah, Lupin III is an anime), differentiating the voices of characters, how to win a Hugo, Blackstone new releases, The Holloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, animated movie version, Bronson Pinchot is the narrator, Balky, Beverly Hills Cop, Robert Heinlein’s The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, reddish substance, Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams, it’s the old legit cyberpunk, Nancy Kress’s Beggars In Spain, Ghost In The Wires (non-fiction) by super hacker Kevin Mitnick, Mitnick on Triangulation, (1:09:00) Audible new releases,The Moon Maze Game: A Dream Park Novel by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, it’s about the 80’s, Return To 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Barlow and Skidmore, Jules Verne, John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, it’s new-wave-y, paranormal romance filter, Downward To Earth by Robert Silverberg, sounds like John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation, T. C. McCarthy’s Germline, McCarthy’s Big Idea on Scalzi, The Mandel Files by Peter F. Hamilton (when’s the audiobook coming?), Noir by Richard Matheson, the upcoming film Real Steel, fighting robots, The Twilight Zone, it’s heart wrenching like the last Harry Potter movie, Wheat Belly (diet book), Jenny’s gluten-free brownies, self-help audiobooks, Eckhart Tolle books, the word “healthy”.


Posted by Tamahome

New Releases: Eloquent Voice, 3Daudioscapes, Blackstone Audio

August 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases 

New Releases

Our friend, and narrator, William Coon has a wonderful new collection of C.M. Kornbluth short stories available through OverDrive, NetLibrary and Audible.

ELOQUENT VOICE - The Little Black Bag And Other Stories by C.M. KornbluthThe Little Black Bag and Other Stories
By C.M. Kornbluth; Read by William Coon
WMA, MP3 or Audible Download – Approx. 4 Hours 2 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Eloquent Voice
Published July 15, 2011
ISBN: 9780983089865 (retail), 9780983089865 (library)
Although C.M. Kornbluth died an untimely death at age 34, in his short career he managed to write dozens of short stories and a number of novels, often collaborating with other writers. The five stories in this collection are all his own, and show a writer at the height of his powers. In “The Little Black Bag” (1950) a disgraced physician finds salvation in a high tech doctor’s bag that has inadvertently been transported from the future. “The Altar at Midnight” (1952) explores an unintended consequence of space flight, where astronauts become physically deformed by their work in space, thus making them outcasts back on Earth. “MS Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie” (1957) presents a humorous tale of a writer who finds enlightenment but ends up in an insane asylum. “The Adventurer” (1953) is a tale of political intrigue, in a future where our Republic has become a dynasty for one ruling family. In “The Marching Morons” (1951), a follow-up to “The Little Black Bag,” a 20th Century man awakes in a distant future, where intelligence has been mostly bred out of humanity.

Here’s an interesting sounding mini-collection from a small publisher never before mentioned on SFFaudio…

A Dollar For Your Soul and The Vision Vine by Earl VickersA Dollar for Your Soul and The Vision Vine
By Earl Vickers; Read by Derrick Barrett
1 CD or Download – Approx. 60 Minutes [UNABRIDGED?]
Publisher: 3Daudioscapes.com
Published: 2010
Featured in this collection are two short stories, “A Dollar for Your Soul” and “The Vision Vine” “A Dollar For Your Soul” – Based on a true story about a high-school soul-selling pyramid scheme, this story is a timeless look at Ponzi schemes and the madness of crowds. It was originally published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, and a Russian translation appeared in Yesly (“If”) magazine (voted Europe’s best science fiction magazine). “The Vision Vine” is a short story about a tribal culture in conflict with modern civilization. A young boy journeys to a strange virtual world and attempts to bring the two worlds together. This story originally appeared in Whole Earth Review and has also been published in Russian and Japanese

This sounds like an excellent audiobook…

BLACKSTONE AUDIO - The Age Of Wonder by Richard HolmesThe Age Of Wonder: How The Romantic Generation Discovered The Beauty And Terror Of Science
By Richard Holmes; Read by Gildart Jackson
17 CDs – Approx. 20.4 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: July 1, 2011
ISBN: 9781455114320
The Age of Wonder is a colorful and utterly absorbing history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of science. When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes’ thrilling evocation of the second scientific revolution. Through the lives of William Herschel and his sister, Caroline, who forever changed the public conception of the solar system; of Humphry Davy, whose near-suicidal gas experiments revolutionized chemistry; and of the great Romantic writers, from Mary Shelley to Coleridge and Keats, who were inspired by the scientific breakthroughs of their day, Holmes brings to life the era in which we first realized both the awe-inspiring and the frightening possibilities of science—an era whose consequences are with us still.

I’ve wanted to get my hands on this book for about 20 years, I’ve heard things about it…

BLACKSTONE AUDIO - Hardwired by Walter Jon WilliamsHardwired
By Walter Jon Williams; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
10 CDs – Approx. 11.7 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: July 1, 2011
ISBN: 9781433253065
In Walter Jon Williams’ classic cyberpunk novel, the remnants of a war-ravaged America endure in scattered, heavily armed colonies, while the wealthy Orbital Corporations now control the world. Cowboy, an ex-fighter pilot who has become “hardwired” via skull sockets directly to his lethal electronic hardware, is now a panzerboy, a hi-tech smuggler riding armored hovertanks through the balkanized countryside. He teams up with Sarah, an equally cyborized gun-for-hire, to make a last stab at independence from the rapacious Orbitals. Together, they gather an unlikely gang of misfits for a ride that will take them to the edge of the atmosphere.

For the first time on audio… but I’ve read this, I have the paperback. I know I have read it. But for the life of me I cannot remember it at all. Which is doubly odd given the premise of the story: The main character is missing his memories!!!

BLACKSTONE AUDIO - The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag by Robert A. HeinleinThe Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag
By Robert A. Heinlein; Read by Tom Weiner
4 CDs – Approx. 4.3 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: July 1, 2011
ISBN: 9781433265815
Jonathan Hoag has a curious problem. Every evening, he finds a mysterious reddish substance under his fingernails, with no memory of how it got there. Jonathan hires the husband-and-wife detective team of Ted and Cynthia Randall to follow him during the day and find out. But Ted and Cynthia find themselves instantly out of their depth. Jonathan leaves no fingerprints. His few memories about his profession turn out to be false. Even stranger, Ted and Cynthia’s own memories of what happens during their investigation do not match. There is a thirteenth floor to Jonathan’s building that does not exist, there are mysterious and threatening beings living inside mirrors, and all of reality is not what they thought it was. Part supernatural thriller, part noir detective story, Heinlein’s trip down the rabbit hole leads where you never expected.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Prisoners Of Gravity – Amnesia / Total Recall: watch or listen to the show

January 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

As nobody other than my good friend Rachelle Shelkey has been doing much boosterism for our favorite television show I thought I’d give it another boost… Prisoners Of Gravity was absolutely the best interview theme show I’ve ever seen. The three videos below make up the bulk of one episode from the 5th (and final) season of PoG. The episode is titled “Amnesia / Total Recall“.
In the show Commander Rick, the host, talks to David Cronenberg, Walter Jon Williams, C.J. Cherryh, Harry Harrison, Pat Cadigan, Nancy Kress, Kim Antieau, Samuel R. Delany, Ray Bradbury, Megan Lindholm and Terry Pratchett about the use of AMNESIA and TOTAL RECALL as themes in Science Fiction.

Prisoners Of GravityPrisoners Of Gravity – “Amnesia / Total Recall”
1 |MP3| – Approx. 27 Minutes [AUDIO FROM VIDEO]
Broadcaster: TV Ontario
Broadcast: Wednesday December 15, 1993

“This week Commander Rick continues to explore the theme of memory, taking an in-depth look at amnesia in discussions with guests: film director and screenwriter David Cronenberg – who was the original choice to write and direct the movie Total Recall; and speculative fiction authors Walter Jon Williams (Voice Of The Whirlwind), C.J. Cherryh (Heavy Time), Harry Harrison (The Turing Option), Pat Cadigan (Fools), Nancy Kress (Brain Rose), Kim Antieau (“Another Country”) and Samuel R. Delany (Dhalgren). Commander Rick also looks at the idea of eidetic or photographic memory in discussions with guests: Ray Bradbury (The Illustrated Man), Megan Lindholm (Alien Earth) and Terry Pratchett (Small Gods).”


Part 1 of 3:

Part 2 of 3:

Part 3 of 3:

Posted by Jesse Willis