StarShipSofa: The Truth Is A Cave In The Back Mountains by Neil Gaiman

SFFaudio Online Audio

StarShipSofaSFFaudio EssentialThe latest StarShipSofa podcast, episode #232, features Neil Gaiman‘s 2010 novelette The Truth Is A Cave In The Back Mountains as its “main fiction.” The narrator is Richie Smith and the story begins at about 12 minutes in.


Podcast feed:

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There are few words that can get me as excited about a story as “Neil Gaiman” – he’s one of only a handful of living writers that’ll make me read anything he writes.

And when a story gets podcast I tend to go a little crazy, extracting the narration from any framing bits within the podcast, running that extracted audio through Levelator, and making my own art for the resulting MP3. Like this:

iPhone Screenshot of THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS by Neil Gaiman

I took the original cover art by the wondrous Tom Gauld from the collection (Stories) where the novelette first appeared, photoshopped it (actually Paint.neted it), used’s “What The Font” feature to find the font (Didot LTStd-Roman), and put it all together.

Looking at it from the outside, it probably sounds completely bonkers to you. And perhaps it is.

But what can I do?

The medication that I’ve been taking for it (two carefully measured cups of coffee every morning) aren’t reducing the behavior in the slightest. Do you think I should up my dosage?

Update: Having now finished listening, I find The Truth Is A Cave In The Back Mountains to be yet more proof that Neil Gaiman is one of the best authors of any century. What Ted Chiang is to Science Fiction Neil Gaiman is to Fantasy.

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBCR4 + Gulliver’s Travels – a magnificent new RADIO DRAMA adaptation

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Radio 4RadioArchives.ccSFFaudio EssentialI’ve just finished listening to the new BBC Radio 4 Classic Serial adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels. And now I must tell you that this version, written by Matthew Broughton and directed by Sam Hoyle for BBC Cymru/Wales, is one the finest radio drama adaptations of any book that I’ve ever heard!

It’s stupendous! Of course the acting is wonderful, it’s BBC, and the sound design is unimpeachable, it’s BBC, but it’s the writing, the choices made in what to keep and how to play it, the particular attention to the audio medium that makes this version of Gulliver’s Tavels so magnificent. The three hour production allows for a much richer experience. I found myself curious, surprised, and delighted in each of the three episodes.

Here’s a snippet of Laura Pledger’s review from the Radio Times:

“this is a rollicking adventure awash with humour, taking potshots at everything from the Brits abroad to politics — shots that hit their targets as accurately as Lilliputian arrows skewer a man-mountain.”

I think she’s totally underselling it. I was fully submerged into the world of the play, variously laughing and frightened. The interweaving of the audio and the visuals they conjured up in me made this the best audio experience of my year so far.

Part of my amazement comes from my recent close familiarity with the the novel. Over the years I’d read plenty of the adaptations, seen the parodies, collected the comics, watched the movies, even heard radio dramas. They were alright, but I really didn’t know what I was missing until I compared them with the original text. Which I did just over a year ago when we talked about the book itself, in The SFFaudio Podcast #094.

The problem with all the adaptations, abridgements, and movies is actually addressed in this production in a terrific framing story.

To fully appreciate the magnificence of this adaptation I recommend you too first experience the unexpurgated original text.

And if you do I am confident that you will be then very well placed to see just how marvelous an adaptation this three part, 170 minute, production is.

The entire three part serial is available via |TORRENT| at

Episode 1 – Broadcast February 5, 2012
Gulliver is shipwrecked on the Island of Lilliput where the natives are tiny people living in a miniature society. With his unique overview of this realm, Gulliver discovers a world of petty politics and small minds. Coerced into a war between two nations who disagree on the best way to eat boiled eggs, Gulliver finds himself betrayed by friends and battered by enemies – escape is his only option if he wants to survive! Gulliver’s adventures in Lilliput are hilarious, disturbing and profound. This is a story of dishonest politicians, mindless ceremony and wars based on unconvincing arguments. A satire as potent now as it ever was! Gulliver’s Travels quickly became a classic. The book has become not only the defining work of its author but also of its genre – a landmark in English Literature to which all satirists today can trace a heritage.

Episode 2 – Broadcast February 12, 2012
Gulliver’s adventures continue when he finds himself in Brobdingnag – a land where the inhabitants are enormous! Here, as a miniature man, Gulliver must fight for survival against rats the size of dogs, a dwarf who is 40 foot high, and the ridicule and humiliation of a scornful court. With his uniquely close-up view, Gulliver sees the people (even the great beauties) as if under a microscope – and they are dirty, stinking and disgusting. He becomes increasingly horrified by humankind, stranded in a frightening land where his only ally is an innocent child. Once again, escape is imperative – if he doesn’t, he won’t survive… As an exploration of of man’s vanity and complacency, Gulliver’s second voyage is an acute satire – as relevant today as ever. Beyond that, it is also a rattling good adventure story – a man lost, swashbuckling his way through manifold giant-sized dangers, desperate to find a way back home.

Episode 3 – Broadcast February 19, 2012
The last voyages of Jonathan Swift’s story are the lesser told. Gulliver finds himself on the floating Island of Laputa, where he encounters mad scientists and the terrifying ghosts of the great and the good. He flees from these intellectual and spiritual horrors, only to finally find a kind of Eden with the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent and gentle horses. However, in this land, humans – or as they are called, the ‘Yahoos’ – are considered vermin. The dark and traumatizing experiences Gulliver has in this land change his life (and his wife and family’s lives) forever. With the satire here focused on crazy scientific experimentation, superstition, and finally spiritual desolation – Gulliver’s Travels is as modern and potent now as it has ever been.

Arthur Darvill as Gulliver
Matthew Gravelle
Sam Dale
Bethan Walker
Judith Faultless
Richard Nicol
Chris Pavlo
Claire Cage
Lynne Seymour
Gareth Pierce
Ewan Bailey
Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Blake’s 7 The Early Years – Jenna: The Trial / The Dust Run (Vol. 1.5)

SFFaudio Review

Blake's 7 The Early Years - Jenna: The Trial / The Dust Run (Vol. 1.5)SFFaudio EssentialBlake’s 7 The Early Years – Jenna: The Trial / The Dust Run (Vol. 1.5)
By Simon Guerrier; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – Approx. 70 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: B7 Productions
Published: November 30, 2009
ISBN: 9781906577087
Themes: / Science Fiction / Galactic Empire / Dystopia /

The Dust Run – Jenna Stannis has grown up as a spacer, where the normal rules don’t apply. No school, no police, no public imperatives – that’s still all to come. But the situation on Earth is changing and the effects are slowly being felt throughout the Vega system. It’s going to mean trouble for a brash boy called Townsend – who Jenna doesn’t fancy at all. Soon Jenna and Townsend are competing in the Dust Run – racing shuttles through an asteroid field without using computers, making the complex calculations in their heads. It’s dangerous, fool-hardy and really good fun. But they’re playing for the highest of stakes…

The Trial – The election is going to change everything. A man called Roj Blake promises the voters new hope, an end to years of corruption. There are those who can’t let him be heard. But Jenna Stannis is determined to get his message out to the colonies. It’s been years since the Dust Run, and Jenna’s a changed woman. She’s left the Vega system far behind, using her exceptional piloting skills to carve out a life as a smuggler. Blake’s message could earn her a fortune – or cost her, her life.

This is the final two stories in the first Blake’s 7 The Early Years series. First up is The Dust Run. It starts with a framing story in which we see the cruelty of the Earth Federation up close. Under torture Jenna, a young woman, reveals everything about her truant past. Then, in the story proper, we meet her as a charming teen. She comes from an underemployed spacer family, has just a few friends but none of them are particularly trustworthy. For fun Jenna likes piloting shuttles at high speed through a region of space filled with a heavy concentration of particulates. It’s precisely her lightheartedness that sets Jenna up for a fall.

The Trial also uses the framing device but skips ahead in time to the events which lead to Jenna’s incarceration. The problem is that her interrogator also claims to be acting as her advocate! If Jenna is to have any chance of avoiding imprisonment on Cygnus Alpha she’ll have to shade the truth. This episode reminded me of the other great Orwellian episodes of serial SF (like Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Chain of Command” – in which Picard is tortured and Babylon 5‘s “Intersections In Real Time” – in which Sheridan is tortured). The darkness of Jenna Stannis’ Federation universe is equally Orwellian, but, as I’ve mentioned in other reviews of this series it has more than a touch of Brave New World in it too. This new Blake’s 7 series, like it’s TV predecessor, is an intelligent Science Fiction series that masquerades as consumable pop-culture “sci-fi”.

Carrie Dobro, who played a charismatic alien thief in the Babylon 5: A Call To Arms TV-movie and on the prematurely canceled Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade, stars as Jenna Stannis. Dobro has a star-level magnetism in both these productions. She’s sure of herself, a devious and clever power seeker, never fully in control, always seeking it, but at heart a sympathetic survivor. Simon Guerrier and Carrie Dobro have created a worthy back-story for Jenna Stannis. Highly recommended!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Blake’s 7: The Early Years: Zen: Escape Velocity

SFFaudio Review

B7 PRODUCTIONS - Blake's 7: The Early Years: Zen: Escape VelocitySFFaudio EssentialBlake’s 7: The Early Years: Zen: Escape Velocity (Volume 2.1)
By James Swallow; Directed by Andrew Mark Sewell; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – Approx. 1 Hour [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: B7 Productions
Published: April 26, 2010
ISBN: 978190657709
Themes: / Science Fiction / Artificial Intelligence / Cloning / War / Aliens /

Based on Terry Nation’s seminal 70s science fiction TV series, The Early Years is a prequel series of audio stories that explores the origins of key Blake’s 7 characters prior to them meeting rebel leader Roj Blake. This latest entry to the ever-expanding series takes a new twist, concentrating on a character that doesn’t breathe or have any parents, the synthetic intelligence known only as Zen. When Roj Blake first stepped on board the mysterious, derelict alien spaceship Liberator, his every movement was monitored by the ship’s controlling intelligence, Zen Luckily, Blake and his rebel crew managed to gain the ‘confidence’ of this creation from an alien world and so he was able to use the Liberator in their quest for justice against the Federation. But the origins of Zen have remained a mystery, until now. What terrible catastrophe left the Liberator drifting and shattered? What drove the ship’s intelligence to murder its original crew? What dark secrets lie at the heart of this alien machine? And are Blake and his crew really safe on board the Liberator?

Often, you’ll want to know somebody’s back-story, and then later, when you actually get it – in a prequel story – you’ll find that it is far, far, far less interesting than whatever was going on in your imagination. For me, the years between 1980 and 1999 were ones filled with near-reverence for a fascinating character, the ultimate baddie: Darth Vader. But no amount of apologetics can possibly remove the sickly saccharine story of a nine-year-old Darth Vader filled with “a high concentration” of midichlorians. Yuck. And yet “prequel” is not always a dirty word. I don’t feel that way about The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and likewise the Blake’s 7 prequel stories (1.1 |READ OUR REVIEW|, v.1.2 & 1.3 |READ OUR REVIEW|, 1.4 |READ OUR REVIEW|). By far the most mysterious character in the original TV series was Zen, the artificial intelligence. Zen was pretty closed-circuit about its past, not revealing much over the two years it appeared in the series (1978 – 1980). In life Zen “projected a dour, non-committal personality” and would “reply to certain questions with the phrase ‘That information is not available.'” This left left open the possibility that Zen was hiding secrets or “secretly executing its own agenda.” In this magnificent audio drama we are given a genuinely interesting explanation as to why Zen was so very melancholic, why the ship was found crew-less, seemingly abandoned and drifting near Cygnus Alpha.

Zen: Escape Velocity clearly reveals the frightening truth about all of Zen’s character quirks and its cryptic answers from the TV series. But it also shows more. Back in 2008 I reviewed the Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures boxed set |READ OUR REVIEW| – the first three episodes of the new B7 audio drama series. One detail found within that review was that Zen was, unlike the original series, suicidal at the time of its discovery. Listening to Zen: Escape Velocity you will discovery exactly why that was so.

Six actors, Zoë Tapper, Jason Merrells, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Alastair Lock, Sam Woodward and Pamela Banks play different members of the original crew of the Liberator (back when it was still called “Deep Space Vehicle 2” and when Zen was called “SHIP-MIND”). The story, told by a careful cross-cutting backwards and forwards in time, shows the original crew welcoming their new PILOT, Zoë Tapper, aboard DSV2. Strangely, she is having memory problems and needs shepherding by the ship’s doctor. As the crew takes its positions and readies themselves for battle, we learn about their fascinating society. This is wonderful social Science Fiction like nothing exactly I’ve read or seen or heard before!

Zen (SHIP-MIND) only used the first-person, singular personal pronoun (“I”) once on the television series – it is used multiple times in this production. Zoë Tapper (who appeared in another Terry Nation re-imagined series) and Jason Merrells (playing the doctor), are the central sympathetic heroes of Zen: Escape Velocity. Alastair Lock, who also acts as a post-producer, musician and sound effects man for the CD, portrays SHIP-MIND (Zen). Sounds are rich, deep and best experienced in a quiet room. The stereo effect and a good set-of headphones,as I used, will bring an immense visual experience that belies the fifty-six minute running time. A five minute “Bonus Music Track” (original to this episode) rounds out the disc.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Just Another Perfect Day by John Varley

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Just Another Perfect Day by John VarleyJust Another Perfect Day
By John Varley; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
34 Minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Lightspeed Magazine
Published: 2011
Themes: / Science Fiction / Memory / Aliens / Love / New York /

Stefan Rudnicki expertly narrates this story, which is perfectly suited for audio. John Varley wrote the story in the form of a letter (or letters) to the main character from the main character, who can only remember his life up to a certain point. Since a lot of time has passed since that point, and a lot of things have happened, he needs to be told what’s going on every single morning. These letters do the job.

Varley, of course, is amazing. In the space of this short story he explores not only the concept that this character is in essence a new person every single day, but also what it means to those who love him and those who find his difference especially meaningful. Varley originally published this story in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, June 1989. It’s a great one.

I continue to admire what John Joseph Adams and Prime Books are doing with Lightspeed Magazine. From the audio perspective, I greatly appreciate the professional quality of this podcast. This is an excellent story, the narration is wonderful, and the audio is professional. As good as it gets!

Just Another Perfect Day by John Varley
Direct Link to the |MP3|

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Red Panda Adventures – Season 6

SFFaudio Review

Happy Canada Day everybody!

Superhero Audio Drama - The Red Panda Adventures - Season FiveThe Red Panda Adventures – Season 6
By Gregg Taylor; Performed by a full cast
12 MP3 Files via podcast – Approx. 6 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Podcaster: Decoder Ring Theatre
Podcast: August 2010 – May 2011
Themes: / Fantasy / Superheroes / Mystery / Crime / Nazis / WWII / Adventure / Toronto / Vancouver / Amnesia / Telepathy / Airships / Time Travel / Magic / Aliens /

“Let the festival of unsolicited advice begin” -Kit Baxter (All The King’s Men)

Season six of The Red Panda Adventures begins with World War II fully underway. The first six episodes are set prior to December 7th, 1941 and the twelfth episode ends in the high summer of 1942. There’s not a bad episode in the bunch. In fact, this season features some of the finest episodes of the entire series. My personal favourites are: the buoyant adventure of “Girls’ Night Out“, the standalone goodness of “The Wild West“, and the deeply disturbing arc episode “There Will Be Rain Tonight.” September and season seven can’t come soon enough!

Episode 1 – “The Nose For News
A new adversary appears, a shadowy leader of a fifth column inside of Canada! He’s sowing the seeds of discontent and planning acts of sabotage. Can anyone stop Archangel?

Episode 2 – “The Home Team
Having joined the army, Lt. August Fenwick (aka The Red Panda) receives a visit from his new boss Colonel Archibald Fitzroy. But can a superhero really do more good following orders and digging trenches than by defending a city from supervillians?

Episode 3 – “The King Of Crime
There’s a new ruler of the underworld, a royal sort, who demands absolute fealty from his criminally inclined vassals. But is this supercrook merely what he appears to be?

Episode 4 – “Rocket Science
A runaway train packed with high explosive is hurtling toward Montreal, this sounds like a job for the Red Panda. Unfortunately he’s all tied up and Doc Rocket isn’t helping.

Episode 5 – “Girls’ Night Out
Kit Baxter, aka The Flying Squirrel, on a field trip to Vancouver runs afoul of a ring of Japanese spies (who aren’t). But Vancouver’s got its own vigilante superhero, The Grey Fox, who is already on the case. And she’s no fan of aerially inclined rodents meddling on her turf.

Episode 6 – “Barbarian At The Gates
There’s a creature coming and it can’t be stopped. It’s steamrolling its way across the forests of Northern Ontario and heading straight for Toronto! No weapon can stop it, no force can slow it. This sounds like a job for … oh, just guess.

Episode 7 – “Sword Of The Sun King
A 3,000 year old khopesh is the target of an occult Nazi snatch team. But what makes a magic sword a useful tool in this era of Stukas and Panzers?

Episode 8 – “Small Wonders
Molecule Max, a variably sized superhero, joins the Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel in an adventure that may cost them all more than they’ll want to give.

Episode 9 – “Stop The Presses
It’s the story of a lifetime for any reporter, “The Death Of The Red Panda” and Kit is being forced to write it! An army of Nazi thugs have seized her newspaper, taken its staff hostage, and only an old adversary a sinister simian can help!

Episode 10 – “The Wild West
Somebody has been messing with history, and its up to the Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel to clean up. They’ll need to saddle up, partner up, and load their six-shooters up (in case they need to throw down).

Episode 11 – “All The King’s Men
With the Red Panda’s network of agents away in the army it’s up to young Harry Kelly to infiltrate Archangel’s conspiracy. Meanwhile, Kit’s got secret and the only person she’s more afraid to tell than her husband is her mother!

Episode 12 – “There Will Be Rain Tonight
A second front in Europe is still years away but there are those who think a sinister network of black towers is key to Hitler’s defense of the French coast. Red Panda and Doc Rocket are on a secret mission to take them out. Back in Canada the Flying Squirrel is in full retreat as the Nazis have assassinated every Home Team agent in Canada!

Here’s the podcast feed:

Posted by Jesse Willis