Review of The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin

Science Fiction Audiobook - Legends 4The Hedge Knight
Contained in: Legends: Stories by the Masters of Fantasy, Volume 4
by George R.R. Martin; Read by Frank Muller
4 Cassettes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Date Published: 1996
ISBN: 0694521132
Themes: / Fantasy / Knights / Jousting / Court Intrigue /

I’m not a big epic fantasy fan. I have nothing at all against them – it’s just that I enjoy good science fiction more than I enjoy good epic fantasy. I’ve read and enjoyed Tolkien, then the first three books in Terry Brook’s Shannara series… with that my appetite for epic fantasy novels was sated.

But then came George R.R. Martin. Several people told me to read the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones. I finally picked up the thousand-pager, and am now hooked, impatiently waiting for Martin to finish the fourth book (of six!) in the series.

The Hedge Knight is a short novel set in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but well before the events in the first novel. We follow the travels of Dunc, a squire to an aged hedge knight. When this hedge knight dies in the middle of nowhere, Dunc takes on the role of knight himself and gets into trouble when he crosses a prince at a tournament.

Like the the larger series, The Hedge Knight is filled with interesting, realistic characters, none of which are all good or all bad. There is plenty of intrigue and political maneuvering along with the medieval action.

The story is ably performed by Frank Muller, who’s considerable skill along with Martin’s excellent prose makes this recording one I return to again and again.

The Legends 4 audiobook also contains a Pern story by Anne McCaffrey and a Riftwar story by Raymond Feist.

CBC Radio: Faster Than Light

SFFaudio News

Just found on the CBC’s website:

http://www.cbc.ca/radiodrama/sundayshowcase.html

Merchandise – Radio Drama on CD
Faster Than Light: Tales of Time and Imagination CD
Hosted by Robert Sawyer
Produced by Barbara Worthy and Joe Mahoney

Faster Than Light is a new science fiction magazine show and included in this evening’s lineup are two short plays by Joe Mahoney. The Cold Equations is a dramatization by Mahoney of a Tom Godwin story in which a space shuttle pilot discovers a young stowaway on board his ship. Her presence may doom his mission and he is forced to choose between its success and the young girl.

Captain’s Away is an original drama and, in this first episode, we meet Karin Kudelka – who is either an alien captain on an interstellar starship – or one of the best darn waitresses around.

Faster Than Light also includes an interview with author Nalo Hopkinson, as well as some original commentary by the evening’s host, Robert Sawyer, a well-known science fiction author.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Falling Free by Lois McMaster BujoldFalling Free
By Lois McMaster Bujold; Read by Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan
7 Cassettes – 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: The Reader’s Chair
Published: 1996
ISBN: 0962401099
Themes: Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering / Slavery / Space Travel /

Wikipedia defines Space Opera as “a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic adventure, faster-than-light travel and space battles where the main storyline is interstellar conflict.” A fair definition, I think. I also think that this definition of Space Opera is what most folks outside of science fiction fandom would accept as a definition of the whole genre of science fiction. The perception is both well-earned and difficult to fight since nearly every successful science fiction film and television series fits that definition of Space Opera. I’ve expressed several times how I wish that perception wasn’t true, because I enjoy only so much of this kind of SF. I like my science fiction to have meat on the bones, and there is plenty of that around in written SF. Enough, in fact, that the average Space Opera doesn’t even have to be on the menu.

Of course, there are the exceptions and Lois McMaster Bujold is one of them. She’s the author of the Vorkosigan series of novels – an extremely well-written series which proves that Space Opera can be done well. Falling Free is a Nebula-award winning novel in a series that has also picked three Hugos. The story, which takes place 200 years before the other books, involves a company that genetically engineers a new race of humans (Quaddies) that is uniquely adapted for work in zero-gravity. Enter Leo Graf, an engineer hired to teach zero-g welding techniques to this new race of slave labor. Think you know where this is heading? Bujold pulls it off brilliantly.

The audio version of this book is another exception. It’s performed by two narrators – Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan. They swap narrating duties with changes in the story’s point of view – a technique I first heard in this audiobook and that I find very effective. The two narrators also perform some conversations together during the story, somewhat like an audio drama. This is something I have found to be extremely INeffective in other audiobooks I’ve heard since this one, but here I enjoyed their interplay and didn’t experience the jarring effect that I’ve felt in other books that have attempted the same technique.

Review of The Giver by Lois Lowry

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Giver by Lois LowryThe Giver
by Lois Lowry; Read by Ron Rifkin
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell
Published: April 1995
ISBN: 055347359X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Children / Dystopia / Utopia /

In the future, society has eliminated pain and there is peace on earth, at least as far as we can tell. For Jonas, his twelfth birthday marks new responsibilities and new challenges. He hopes to be assigned to training as a “Nurturer,” like his father, with duties of caring for newborn babies until they are assigned to mothers and fathers. His mother works in the “Department of Justice”; but he doubts that will be chosen to be his life’s work. He has little natural aptitude for either function. But he is unexpectedly assigned to the position of “Receiver,” an important job with the unique function of learning and holding the community’s memories. The present position is held by a community elder, who is called “The Giver”. Together they must make the transition easy for the community because strong memories of hate, anger, and love aren’t acceptable except for guiding political decisions.

This is a well written children’s novel that adults can enjoy. But it is a children’s novel and one way to tell is by the controversy surrounding it was so strong. Though it is set in a science fiction setting, it is more of a parable than most modern children’s science fiction. The story of a young boy confronting a hidden truth about his society isn’t entirely original (though it does predate Harry Potter by a few years). It is also of course a story of a utopia/dystopia and the transformation of society that happened to make it. Again something not unfamiliar, but what is original though is the method used to transform the society. Think of it as a children’s version of Brave New World, This Perfect Day or G-rated Equilibrium and you’ll get the idea.

Ron Rifkin’s narration is effective, and it is an enjoyable novel to listen to. The controversy surrounding “The Giver” is entirely a product of it being deemed a children’s book, and having a child rebelling against his parents and society. It won’t turn your pre-teen into Che Guevera.

Review of Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

Fantasy Audiobooks - Eaters of the Dead by Michael CrichtonEaters of The Dead
By Michael Crichton; Read by Victor Garber and Michael Crichton
2 cassettes – 3 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audiobooks
Published: 1998
ISBN: 0679460330
Themes: / Fantasy / Historical Fiction / Alternate History / Vikings / Arabs / Mythology / Neanderthals / Epic /

In the year A.D. 922, Ibn Fadlan, a devout Muslim nobleman, left his home in Baghdad on a mission to the King of the Bulgars. During his journey, he met various groups of “barbarians” who he reported as having varying degrees of bad hygiene and alcoholism. It was a classic clash of cultures story that revealed more about both societies than any other type of narrative could. Whilst encamped in a Norseman trading village word came of a request for warriors to return to Scandinavia to battle an unnamed foe. Because the Norsemen were so superstitious, Fadlan was shanghaied as the “13th warrior”, a necessary foreigner, and forced to accompany the war party. Under the leadership of Buliwyf, Fadlan and eleven other Norsemen journeyed far to the North, to a land where the nights last only a few minutes, where sea monsters abound in the oceans and where shimmering lights in the sky are a nightly occurrence. Once there he and his companions must fight a battle against the Eaters Of The Dead.

If the premise is familiar it may be because you’ve seen the movie “The 13th Warrior,” which is based upon this novel. Supposedly this is a true story taken from the journals of an Arab courtier named Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. In reality it is only partially based on those writings. Crichton wrote Eaters Of The Dead based on a bet. He argued that Beowulf, the oldest surviving epic in British literature, could be successfully turned into a satisfying adventure story. In the real life writings of Ibn Fadlan Crichton found a viewpoint chracater who’d be able to witness the adventure of Beowulf and his fight against Grendel first hand. Starting with actual journal entries from Ibn Fadlan, Eaters Of The Dead begins as non-fiction. About a third of the way into the reading, Crichton stops using Fadlan’s journals, starts writing in the style of Fadlan, and begins telling his version of Beowulf. Sounds simple, but because Crichton doesn’t tell us any of this in his introduction, it isnt.

Confusing things further, Victor Garber’s reading of the story is interupted every so often by commentary by Michael Crichton! Crichton doing commentary on Crichton confuses things to a high degree, and yet somehow it works! This is a compelling story, likely because it draws so heavily from the deeply rooted mythology including snippets of ideas from everything from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to modern anthropological theories regarding the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Victor Garber does a good job reading, his only flaw is that his Arbaic accent sounds a bit to much like a Punjabi accent. Crichton too reads his commentaries well. As with many abridgments this one leaves the listener wanting more of the story, though thankfully it doesn’t suffer from the equally common failing of being incomprehensible.

As with all Michael Crichton novels, this turns into a Frankestienian morality tale in the vein of “there are some things men wernt meant to know”. For the most part it works, but what bothers me most about Eaters Of The Dead is its fence sitting nature. Not strictly fiction nor strictly non-fiction, Crichton has chosen to deliberately blend the reality and the fantasy without any disclaimer of even the most generous “based on a true story” or even the weaker “inspired by true events”. Instead he deliberately tricks us into thinking this is a true story by interspersing his own commentaries about the translation! True stories are inherently more interesting than fiction, no doubt Crichton chose to capitalize on this by deliberately obscuring the fact that he basically made up the whole last 2/3rds of the book! Had there been a disclaimer about this at the beginning of the book I’d have been much happier with it. That said, the story is fun, an interesting ride, and certainly one of Crichton’s best novels, but it isn’t even in the same class as say Robert Silverberg’s terrific A Hero Of The Empire, which also deals with historical figures in ancient Arabia.. If you absolutely insist on reading Michael Crichton novels I’d recommend you actually NOT read his Science Fiction! Read his fantasy, read Eaters of The Dead and then if you want a non-SFF treat try Crichton’s admirable The Great Train Robbery (also based on a true story), which is far better than his constant rehashing of Frankensteinian plots about cloning, time travel, etc.