The SFFaudio Podcast #427 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Hansel And Gretel by Bros. Grimm

June 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #427 – Hansel And Gretel by Bros. Grimm; read by Julie Davis. This is an unabridged reading of the folk tale (16 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Julie Davis, and Maissa Bessada

Talked about on today’s show:
a folktale, a fairy tale, a lot of magic, a lot of animals, a lot of birds, strange phrases, a cat, the bird episode, Grimm’s Fairy Tales translated by Lucy Crane with illustrations by her brother Walter Crane, the gingerbread house, candy canes, the family’s house, too nice for a starving family, how can you not love this story?, spawned a whole industry, Jesse’s the worst son, no respect for his mother, indirect approach, a Philip K. Dick story, Jesse’s inside, The Cookie Lady, a suburban fantasy, a Hansel and Gretel story without Gretel, Bubber, the woman he visits after school, oh Philip K. Dick!, all the street names, Pine Street and Elm Street, why are the two stories so different, she’s not a regular witch, absorbing the life energy, a fat little boy who loves cookies, she’s young and beautiful, the wind is blowing, just a tumbleweed there, a horrible version of Hansel and Gretel, recognizing that you have to have help, both the children are contributing to the welfare, taking turns, wiser vs. cleverer, a Deep Space Nine episode, Jake Sisko‘s muse sucks the life energy out of him, the Star Trek universe is suffering from population decline, a little girl in Star Trek: Voyager, as soon as possible, bad writing, Wil Wheaton, o father I’m looking at my little white kitten, you young fool, sunshine on the chimney pot, a pigeon, why aren’t they eating the cat and the pigeon?, we ate your cat last night!, a strange story for modern kids, going without food, a famine in Germany, cannibalism, who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, is the dad horrible or just weak?, he’s convinced, step-mother, his wife and his two children, I pity the poor children, different translations, slippy, how she went away, she “died”, is she’s the witch?, and then the witch says almost the exact same thing, the same pattern, the wife being gone…, we can read it the way kids read it, no subtext, how we’re supposed to read it, if you’re reading it to Jesse…, strength against adults, ganging up on the kids, if the mother is a witch…, it takes a little while, sexist!, once a man gives in he has to always give in, close reading, power relationships, giving into authority, keep the faith, math class, the wife would listen to nothing, “he who says A must say B too”, is that the logic?, if a man yields once he’s done for, more concrete in your face, like a cigarette, I already spanked my kid I might as well kill him, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, the nice monster, how do children see their parents?, as we discover…, the part we all understand, I want it now!, what are these stories for? what is their purpose?, at the end of the day kids need to go to sleep, something to chew over while they sleep, how do you choose what story and who to tell it to?, the circumstances for the telling of Hansel and Gretel, the story gets past your defenses, you’re a team against us, how do we steal from mom?, together rather than apart, how to forebear against…, a different message for a different person, where the story resonates, poor little Bubber had no brother or sister to save him from the excesses of his desires, Julie’s first thought, stories adults told, little girls now big girls, too lively?, a dinosaur, interactive storytelling, revelations, The Robber-Bride, for grown ups only?, knock knock the Grimm Bros. are at the door, here are the stories we tell, nothing else going on, the whole purpose, learning to stand up for yourself, imprisoned, she comes into herself, we’re going to ride separately, we each of us stand up for each other, do it yourself, a lot of the parents would be children, as we learn these mythological stories, an oral tradition, an illiterate population, children as the protagonists, a super-interesting story, On Golden Pond, they’ve already gained the wisdom, for children or for everybody?, Cinderella is of marriageable age, a young person, YA, Rapunzel, that prince was not as noble as you may have thought, dark, levels of development, children’s tales, suitable for children?, when you have no other entertainment, really believing in witches, talking animals, if I ask her she will help us, on your nice white back, questioning things, the theory, the house that they find is not the house they started at, crossing of water, a long way around, a symbolic crossing, Gretel as a silly goose, the theme of the birds, Eric S. Rabkin pointed out that the birds are fed by Hansel, making a sacrifice, rewarded, you can eat all the animals, you can feed the animals, eggs, glinting flints, reminding the duck, do the kids know how to swim?, the pearls and precious stones, the food that the witch ate from previous visitors, where do dragons get their treasures?, he that can catch her, a very large fur cap out of the skin of a mouse, a distraction on purpose, the relationship between humans and animals, the iconic image, it’s just the wind, doing what kids do, they eat us out of house and home, we’re starving to death, getting rid of the kids, the next wave of the famine comes, sleeping by a fire, sleeping under a tree, the third sleep is under the roof of the witch’s house, want some candy, endless candy, I don’t care about money I want some candy, witch’s pancakes, eating the roof, nibble nibble like a mouse, ok duh!, the boy gets all the best food, repaid, repetition, get up lazybones, becoming thin, eating the shells of crabs, thinking too much, eating children for their energy and their youth, the stepmother is the witch thesis, not just to keep the man, meals for her, come eat me, a sign of her wealth, a disinterest in making babies, eating children makes you immortal, the cautionary tale to the parent, do the right thing, parents don’t get any names, her name is a description of what she looks like, rampion, who the audience is, wish fulfillment, money can be converted into food, the kids as the heroes, horse and cow stories, mulling over the story, talking about the candy house, the lesson gets past your defenses, everythings safe and wonderful and you’re powerful, you come back ahead, a lot bad relationships, I’m mad at mom right now, the only chracters in the story do a job, the stories are so washed by the river, a pretty well-polished stone with some duck feet paddling above.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

February 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Brilliance Audio - A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness; Narrated by Jason Isaacs
4 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 23 September 2011

Tags: / YA / fantasy / monsters / nightmares / illness /

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…. This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final story idea of Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself.
Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

This book is inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd (4 February 1960 – 21 August 2007). Patrick Ness was granted the opportunity to explore these ideas, and soon ideas gave way to other ideas, which yielded this book. There’s a terrific interview that follows the audiobook reading wherein Ness discusses the writing process and challenges he faced in such an undertaking. Ness successfully sidesteps weighty sentiment and delivers emotional authenticity while allowing room for empathy, and it is for these reasons that this book resonates long after reading.

The writing is clean and the story is as deep and layered as you wish it to be. Don’t let the young protagonist fool you. This isn’t your generic YA plastic-wrap fantasy story packed with breathless bubblegum adventure and paint-by-number characters. There are monsters and there is loss. The emotion is real, and Ness allows enough room for empathy to turn, to circle like an unquiet animal that knows the end isn’t far. Couple this with genuine wisdom, and we have a story that demands attention, that successfully spans that artificial genre-based boundary to shake reader out their slumber.

Jason Isaacs narrates the audiobook, and conducts the follow-up interview with Patrick Ness at the book’s conclusion. Isaacs nails the reading. In my opinion the audiobook is flawless, and Isaacs never makes himself known to the listener, rather he is a conduit, something only the very best readers manage to pull off. Too many contemporary audiobook narrators perform the text when all they need to do is get out of the way and read. Thank you, Jason Isaacs.

Posted by Casey Hampton

Review of Alive by Scott Sigler

July 21, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Alive by Scott SiglerAlive (Generations Trilogy *1)
By Scott Sigler; Narrated by Emma Galvin
Publisher: Empty Set Entertainment
Publication Date: 14 July 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 44 minutes

Themes: / young adult / survival / horror /
Publisher summary:

A teenage girl awakens to find herself trapped in a coffin. She has no idea who she is, where she is, or how she got there. Fighting her way free brings little relief – she discovers only a room lined with caskets and a handful of equally mystified survivors. Beyond their room lies a corridor filled with bones and dust but no people and no answers.

She knows only one thing about herself – her name, M. Savage, which was engraved on the foot of her coffin. She finds herself in charge. She is not the biggest among them or the boldest, but for some reason the others trust her. Now, if they’re to have any chance, she must get them to trust one another.

Whatever the truth is, she is determined to find it and confront it. If she has to lead, she will make sure they survive. Maybe there’s a way out, a rational explanation, and a fighting chance against the dangers to come. Or maybe a reality they cannot comprehend lies just beyond the next turn.

“A stabbing pain jolts me awake.” So begins the story of a girl on what is an exciting day in her young life; her twelfth birthday. Maybe the pain was just from a dream, she thinks. But when she realizes she is surrounded by “total darkness” and is unable to move thanks to metal bars, she is forced to make a decision. It will be the first of many choices to be made.

Scott Sigler’s Alive is all about momentum and what I like to call structured discovery. With that in mind, I am going to do my best to keep things as spoiler free as possible. Our main protagonist has virtually a blank slate and nothing to help her as she begins her journey. She is thrust into an unfamiliar situation and doesn’t even know her name. Answers will not come easy for her or anyone else she meets on her quest. The unknown is everywhere. The only way is forward. We (as listeners) are inside her head and learn things as she learns them. For the impatient, this could be frustrating, a tad jarring, and bewildering since the story is told not only in first person but in the present tense as well . If you stick with M. (as she comes to be called), you will be rewarded in time. Be prepared for a slow burn which calls to mind British films as far as the pacing is concerned. This isn’t a bad thing since we are normally conditioned to have everything presented all in a rush with no time to process. It is refreshing to have things unfold naturally. You will feel like you are thrown into the deep end but that is okay because so is M. You are not alone.

This being the audio version of the 368 page novel, the narrator is very important; this can’t be over stated. He or she has to convey all the emotions of not only M. but anyone else, help pull us into Sigler’s world, and adapt to the fluidity of the story. Luckily, Emma Galvin is more than capable of handling the various subtleties. Words change meaning, (the names of certain objects for example), as does the physical and emotional landscape. This is Scott Sigler at his best. The perilous puzzle is well constructed, contains a myriad of vivid descriptions, and keeps you guessing throughout. If this were done as a film, first person point of view would be highly appropriate for the presentation.

If William Golding’s Lord of the Flies comes to mind while you are listening as it did for me, the comparison aptly fits. Questions are explored in depth. What is a leader? What makes a good one verses a bad one? Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of those that who have gone before or can we as a society break the cycle? How and where does a religious/belief system fit into the equation? Do we follow something because of blind faith or because we connect the dots? How do we handle fear? What is the right way to address conflict? Should we hold ourselves accountable because of the choices we have made or should we chalk things up to mere accidental outcomes? When does the life of an individual outweigh the lives of the entire group?

This story doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. Long-time Scott Sigler fans may be asking themselves, “Is there gore?” The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.” However, this isn’t bloodshed and carnage purely for the sake of it. Everything serves a purpose even if we don’t understand it’s function when we come into contact with it at first. In the same token, things are presented with a deft sensativity to the target YA audience. There are many, many lessons to be learned. There’s a lot for teachers to work with if this book were to be used in a school environment.

As far as the science in this book, I can’t say much without revealing plot points. I will say, however, that technology of all sorts is represented nicely. Scott Sigler’s attention to detail, (another one of his trademarks), is present but skillfully subdued because of the limited knowledge of the main character. Observations are kept simplistic unless finer details are absolutely necessary.

If you are looking for a complex story that has mysteries within mysteries to be solved and a well-rounded cast of characters including a strong (yet vulnerable) female protagonist, this book is definitely for you. While the slow burn approach and the first person, present tense narrative may irk some listeners, the payoffs and the overall journey getting to those rewards make it all worthwhile. This being the first book in a trilogy, there is a true sense of discovery as the scope of things expands and the stakes are raised. Loose ends are tied up to a degree by the novel’s conclusion but the dust is far from settled. It is a claustrophobic roller coaster ride with many jolts, bumps, and twists along the way. Alive by Scott Sigler gets five out of five coffins.

Posted by Allen Sale.

Review of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

May 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Firefight by Brandon SandersonFirefight (The Reckoners #2)
By Brandon Sanderson; Performed by MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 17 February 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / YA / fantasy / magic / superpowers /
Publisher summary:

Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Words of Radiance, coauthor of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and creator of the internationally bestselling Mistborn Trilogy, presents the second book in the Reckoners series: Firefight, the sequel to the #1 bestseller Steelheart.Newcago is free. They told David it was impossible, that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart—invincible, immortal, unconquerable—is dead. And he died by David’s hand. Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers. Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic—Firefight. And now he will go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

I really liked Steelheart and this book was a good continuation of the story even though I didn’t like it quite as much. A new location, different situations, new epics, and even worse similes come together for a new adventure for David and The Reckoners. If you enjoyed the first book you will almost certainly like this one too…unless you throw the book through a window due to one of David’s many terrible similes.

The story is kind of similar as Steelheart except that it takes place in the remnants of Manhattan where many strange things are happening. I had more trouble following the details of the world this time around because the descriptions of the world are a bit harder to imagine. The world as described is really interesting in concept but it’s hard to follow sometimes with how things actually play out.

Sanderson is known for magic systems and he is no slouch here. The new powers and weaknesses of epics coupled with the the heck is going on with Calamity (the light in the sky that coincided with people attaining super powers) makes for interesting developments in the overall plot. I do like how Sanderson always has a plan for developing the magic system with each book and we definitely learn more in this book. I still really love the concept of a world with super heroes that are all corrupted – it’s such an interesting spin on the normal super hero story.

On the audio side of things MacLeod Andrews does a fine job narrating the story. He does some good voices that fit the characters well and puts sufficient emotion in his delivery. I think the audio version of this book is a great way to experience it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

September 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

ConquestConquest (Chronicles of the Invaders #1)
By John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard; Read by Nicola Barber
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 33 minutes

Themes: / aliens / YA / wormhole / romance /

Publisher summary:

The Earth has been invaded by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien race.  Humanity has been conquered, but still it fights the invaders. The Resistance grows stronger, for it is the young people of Earth who battle the Illyri.

Syl Hellais, conceived among the stars, is the oldest alien child on Earth, the first to reach 16 years of age. Her father is one of the rulers of the planet. Her future is assured. And Syl has hidden gifts, powers that even she does yet fully understand.

But all is not as it seems. Secret experiments are being conducted on humans, the Illyri are at war among themselves, and the sinister Nairene Sisterhood has arrived on Earth, hungry for new blood. When Syl helps a pair of young Resistance fighters to escape execution, she finds herself sentenced to death, pursued by her own kind, and risks breaking the greatest taboo of her race by falling in love with a human.

Now the hunter has become the hunted, and the predators become prey. And as Syl Hellais is about to learn, the real invasion has not yet even begun.

Apparently aliens are the new vampires and I guess I’m a sucker for aliens because this is the second YA book about aliens I’ve read in a year’s time.

In this one, out of nowhere, a wormhole appears at the end of the solar system. This spells the doom of mankind because an alien race has come to dethrone mankind, thus, Conquest.

Except, while these aliens take over the governments of Earth, they have also brought technology which can not only cure diseases such as cancer, but expand the human lifespan. I’ve hit on this topic recently, but here it comes again, are the trade-offs worth it?

What makes this one different?

This one takes a different spin than I was prepared for. Usually, and especially with a name like “Conquest,” it’s a story of survival, of a rogue squad who’s fighting back. While there is a bit of that, this story mostly follows the aliens themselves, in fact, one of them who is the first born alien on earth.

So instead of a fight for the world, you really get a bigger glimpse of the nature of the aliens, the culture, and the political machinations and infighting of the political parties.

This is good and bad.

Why it doesn’t quite work

Well, first, why did it work. I thought this was a great take on the alien story … at first. It’s almost like reading a fantasy book because you’re reading more about the society of this alien species and getting to know them and on the side you get some of the story of the rebel humans fighting against them.

What doesn’t work is that some of the tension is gone or really never intended to be there. I know it’s not really fair, but I expected more of a fight, which is there, but it’s in a very small degree. The culture is interesting but I can’t say I cared all that much about it, but that’s probably for a different reason.

The Characters

The characters are for the most part, quite bland. I did listen to this on audiobook, so that could account for some of this, but by the end of the book I was still having to remember and figure out who some of the main people were. You get to know the main character, Syl, who’s as interesting as a prepubescent teen can be to a non-creepy male of 30 (spoiler, there’s not much we have in common).

But, by the end of the book, I really should have been able to keep track of the insurgent boys who help Syl out in the beginning and play a big part in the story, or Syl’s best friend who also played a consistent part in the story.

Again, it’s not all the novel’s fault, I take some of the blame, but I don’t think it’s all mine.

I enjoyed many parts of this book, but for the most part, it didn’t work for me. The alien societies were interesting, but a tad boring. The characters were mostly flat. I wanted to read this because I have some friends who are huge into John Connolly, but I’ll have to check out some of his other works for an actual understanding.

2.5 out of 5 Stars (Okay to good)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

November 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Girl Who Soared Over FairylandThe Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland #3)
By Catherynne M. Valente; Read by Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Dreamscape
Publication Date: 1 October 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 23 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / YA / children’s / fairy / coming-of-age /

Publisher summary:

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

This was a lovely third book in the Fairyland series, where September has struggled to return to Fairyland and is wondering if you can ever really go back. The characters left behind in Fairyland have struggled too, missing her and loving her. Life apart is not always easy.

September meets a few versions of Saturday and starts to question whether she gets choices in her life, and between that and the nostalgia of childhood and facing being a grownup and what that means for her fairy land and fairy friends, this book is a bit tinged in sadness. It also includes Valente’s amazing imagination that we’ve seen from her poetry to Palimpsest (still my favorite) to the very underdiscussed Prester John books.

This is the first book of Valente’s that I’ve listened to, and Catherynne M. Valente is a marvelous performer of her own work. Her voice has the versatility of an old-Hollywood actress, with moments of great rich depth. I feel like going back and listening to everything she’s ever read. Her performance enriches her worlds, and I highly recommend the audio.

The Fairyland books are highly recommended, starting with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.  Perfect for kids, young adults, and adults who can still dream.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

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