Review of The Reel Stuff edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg

The Reel Stuff
Edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg
Read by Various
6 Cassettes – 9 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
ISBN: 0886465745
Publisher: dhAudio
Published: 2000 [OUT OF PRINT]
Themes: / Science Fiction / Horror / Computers / Memory / Aliens / Urban Legend / Space Travel / Time Travel /

The Reel Stuff is a collection of stories that have been adapted into films. They are all great stories, and this collection has the added attraction of comparing these stories to the films. dhAudio really did a fabulous job with this one. The stories:

Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson, read by Christopher Graybill
FILM: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Johnny Mnemonic was published in 1981, a few years before Gibson’s Hugo and Nebula-award winning Neuromancer hit the scene, illuminating the whole Cyberpunk sub-genre. This story is a clear view of that sub-genre as it has all the elements; human/computer interfaces, plenty of violence, and quick-witted characters. In this story, the title character holds a piece of data in his brain that is wanted by some powerful folks who are willing to do plenty to get it. Christopher Graybill does a great job with it.

Amanda and the Alien by Robert Silverberg, read by Colleen Delany
FILM: Amanda and the Alien (1995 – TV)
This tale, by the great Robert Silverberg, is humourous and sexy. The main character is a ditzy teenage girl named Amanda who takes an alien who can morph into anyone it eats under her wing. Definitely a B-movie kind of story, but purposefully so. Colleen Delany performs well, capturing the Amanda character perfectly.

Mimic by Donald A. Wollheim, read by Terence Aselford
FILM: Mimic (1997)
Mimic is a very short tale that reads almost like a documentary about the peculiar ways in which animals hide from other animals. This is then extrapolated in a very spooky way to humans. Terence Aselford didn’t have a heck of a lot to work with here, but he kept it interesting.

The Forbidden by Clive Barker, read by Vanessa Maroney
FILM: Candyman (1992)
Clive Barker drums up some modern mythology here as a female professor explores urban legend among the lower class in London. The story is effective and chilling in the hands of Vanessa Maroney, who navigates Barker’s weirdness as if it were really happening.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick, read by Terence Aselford
FILM: Total Recall (1990)
Terence Aselford gets another chance in this collection, reading this reality-bender by Philip K. Dick. The main character wants to go to Mars in the worst way, but can’t afford it. The solution? Take a virtual vacation! Have memories implanted so you can “have gone” to Mars. But here, things get complicated when the implantee’s supressed memories surface during the procedure. Dick again manages to leave me wondering what the heck is really real – where exactly is the immovable bedrock? Nothing is sacred in Philip K. Dick’s hands.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin, read by Christopher Graybill
FILM: Nightflyers (1987)
Martin here spins a science fiction horror story. Think Psycho meets Lost in Space and maybe you’ll have a feel… a group of people ride on a ship that is controlled by a mystery man who never leaves the cockpit. Christopher Graybill again is impressive in his reading.

Air Raid John Varley, read by Nannette Savard
FILM: Millenium (1989)
Nannette Savard reads a very strange, very affecting story about Earth’s future. In it, humans have evolved just a bit, but the Earth’s biosphere has been destroyed, its people diseased. Varley’s descriptions are vivid and graphic – these people are in a bad way. To keep the species going, they go back in time to retrieve healthy airline passengers, mid-flight, since history shows they are on the verge of fiery death. These passengers become humanity’s hope. Varley is a very affecting writer, and through the main character we experience much. Savard does a great job conveying this to the listener.

Sandkings by George R.R. Martin, read by Richard Rohan
FILM: The Outer Limits: Sandkings (1995)
Simon Kress wants a pet, but something interesting… something out of the ordinary. He finds what he’s looking for when he purchases a group or creatures called sandkings which live in a large terrarium with plenty of sand lining the bottom. They build castles and fight battles. They even worship. And they are endlessly fascinating. Well, they were. Perhaps a little prodding from Kress will end the monotony… This one is my favorite of this excellent collection. Sandkings is original and fascinating, both as a character study of a man with too much comfort and as an exploration of an alien animal species.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Allen Kaster over at Infinivox reports that their …

SFFaudio News

Allan Kaster over at Infinivox reports that their company is alive and well. You can find them at their new URL:

http://www.audiotexttapes.net.

Not only that, but they are currently running a 50% off sale, so go take advantage of these excellent audiobooks at excellent prices. (I personally recommend “A Walk in the Sun” by Geoffrey Landis – fabulous hard SF tale, very well read.)

Thanks for reading SFFAudio!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Cibola by Connie Willis

Cibola by Connie WillisCibola
By Connie Willis; Read by Amy Bruce
1 Cassette – 50 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
ISBN: 1884612156
Publisher: Infinivox
Published: 1996
Themes: Fantasy / History / Time Travel

Carla Johnson from the Denver Record was used to covering nuttos such as a time machine inventor who sent people to the future with his washing machine and a psychic dentist who extracted teeth in another plane of reality. Her new assignment was to cover Rosa Turcorillio, the great-granddaughter of Coronado. Rosa claimed to know where the Seven Cities Of Gold were. Coronado trekked through the Southwest looking for the Seven Cities of Cibola in the 1540s, which poked a big hole in Rosa’s story, since any great-granddaughter of his would have to be at least three hundred years old. But before long, Carla sets out to find the Seven Cities of Gold for herself.

This novella is set in Connie Willis’ home turf of Colorado. My first thought on finishing this story was that it was that Infinivox had erred; they placed this tale in their “Great Science Fiction Stories” series and it isn’t science fiction. It’d fit far better into the fantasy category. Overall, I was disappointed, but don’t get me wrong – Connie Willis is a good writer. Her text is clear and her subjects are original. But like her Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel Doomsday Book, Cibola is way too long for the plot. Scenes are drawn out and character’s thoughts and words are often repeated over and over. The good news is that she is an amusing writer. Cibola offers no out-and-out belly laughs, but it did induce a smile or two. Personally I’m very surprised at Connie Willis’ immense and enduring popularity. Even Cibola, one of her less honored stories, was nominated for a Hugo! Willis is a decent yarn-spinner but her work is not that of an exceptional author.

Amy Bruce has a great voice. Her range isn’t tested by this particular tale, but that doesn’t stop her from having some fun with it. Her voicing of the Rosa Turcorillo character deserves special praise. Infinivox has looped in a drum beat in-between several scenes of the story – and this helps keep the pace up and show progression – something this story really needed. This drum addition could have come off sounding cheesy but it works well and helps the story’s repetition not seem so… repetitive. Also nice is the original cover art and the introductory Infinivox music. I really wish this company was still producing new titles – it’s a crying shame they don’t get the attention they deserve.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Man Who Traveled in Elephants

The Man Who Traveled In Elephants
Adapted by Brad Linaweaver from the short story by Robert A. Heinlein; Full Cast Production
1 CD – UNABRIDGED
Publisher: Atlanta Radio Theater Company
Published: 2001
ISBN: 0929483316
Themes: / Fantasy / Pastoral / Ghosts /

Once there was a traveling salesman, a Man Who Traveled in Elephants. For years he traveled with his beloved wife. Now he travels alone and all the Carnivals and Festivals and State Fairs are blending together. Of all the human sorrows, loss and loneliness are perhaps the greatest. But there is the faint sound of a distant calliope in the air and the sugary scent of cotton candy and popcorn. And something wonderful is about to happen to the Man Who Traveled in Elephants.

This is supposed to be the most Ray Bradbury-like story of Robert A. Heinlein’s career. And it has a lot of those Bradburyesque elements to be sure; the nostalgia for the America between the wars, a peaceful pastoral setting spiced up with unusual inhabitants… but there is no mistaking the Heinleinian dual signature on The Man Who Traveled In Elephants – for one, it has those most Heinleinian of Heinleinian characters. You know the ones I mean – characters who in one scene speak with more self-assurance than anyone else in the entire universe and who just mere minutes later are unbelievably skeptical about there own ability to even tie their shoelaces! Heinlein wants to have it both ways, and this trait along with his other bad habit – that of setting up the most pathetic straw-men for a protagonist to knock down – are to put it bluntly completely infuriating. Thankfully, that’s really about all you can complain about Heinlein’s writing here – otherwise it’s simply brilliant, he’s bursting with fresh ideas, and uses a strong narrative voice. Heinlein is authorial legend who really lives up to his reputation! The Man Who Traveled In Elephants doesn’t travel the usual Heinleinian paths. It feels far more like an Ayn Rand style explanation on what is important in life. It’s also a love story. Surprisingly, it’d fit in quite comfortably as an episode of the original Twilight Zone television series. For those who’ve read a bit about Heinlein himself it may even seem like a very personal story, as if Heinlein was writing a coda for his own relationship with his wife Virginia.

The performers, including Harlan Ellison as the ringmaster, do a uniformly excellent job – sound quality is great – the only production gaff it seems to me was the barking dog, which sounded a little artificial, but then they usually are so I can’t slight them for below average on that. The audiobook comes packaged in a DVD style amaray case with liner notes on the inside – a very cool idea. Cover art is great fun, featuring a carnival and in the background and two vaguely familiar people on the cover. The CD itself has a neat introduction from Ray Bradbury at the world premier of this play. Also added is a short dramatized ghost story by Brad Linaweaver entitled A Real Babe. This is an excellent bonus story and works well on its own. My only caveat for this audiobook is that it should be heard with no ambient background noise – use good headphones, a quiet room or a solid pair of high fidelity speakers, the stereo effects and foley background sounds shouldn’t be missed – any ambient noise will seriously impair the complete experience.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Koko By Peter Straub

Fantasy Audiobooks - Koko by Peter StraubKoko
By Peter Straub; Read by James Woods
2 Cassettes – Approx. 3 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: November 1988 – Out Of Print
ISBN: 0671652397
Themes: Fantasy / Horror / Mystery / Vietnam / Serial Killer /

“Koko…” Only four men knew what it meant… Vietnam vets. One was a doctor. One was a lawyer. One was a working stiff. One was a writer. All were as different as men could be – yet all were bound eternally together by a single shattering secret.

A group of Vietnam vets flies back to Asia in search of a former member of their old unit, someone who they think may have become a serial killer, someone calling himself “Koko”. Koko’s motivation and identity are inextricably linked to their tour in ‘Nam, and specifically to one experience they all shared in a Vietnamese village. But in order to discover Koko’s true nature, a few of them may have to die.

Simon & Schuster Audio have used the same cool cover art from the paperback for this audiobook, which is great, but they’ve heavily abridged the novel, which isn’t. Thankfully, the story still works despite the abridgement, and the reader, James Woods, has the chops to become a full time narrator if that Hollywood thing doesn’t work out. Also added to the production is suitably accented music, which works well despite happening at seemingly random intervals. Peter Straub is really able to carve the words into your mind in such a way as to freak you right out of your skin. But it’s not just the words themselves; it’s the characters and the thoughts they have, and the motivations that drive them. It’s certainly a horror novel, but more in the tradition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness than Stephen King’s It. What’s really weird though is that Koko won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. Despite lacking any fantastic elements, Koko is more mystery than fantasy and more horror than fantasy. But don’t get me wrong, Koko deserved the award. It’s just that it is so far outside the boundaries of typical fantasy fiction that only a phrase like “speculative fiction” can capture it at all. Were the work not so impressive nobody would bother debating whether it was fantasy or not. It’s definitely worth the debate.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman

Fantasy Audiobooks - Mystic Warrior by Tracy Hickman and Laura HickmanMystic Warrior
By Tracy and Laura Hickman; Read by Lloyd James
12 CDs – Approx 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786186860
Themes: / Epic fantasy / Dreams / Magic / Dragons /

Thrice upon a time there was a world that was three worlds; one place that was three places; one history that was told in three sagas all at the same time. Thrice upon a time the gods foresaw a time when three worlds would become one; when the children of their creation would face the binding of the worlds.

Thus begins Book One of The Bronze Canticles: Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Fans of Hickman’s work should be extremely pleased with this audiobook. Lloyd James does a fantastic job performing, really embracing the epic fantasy and giving it an energy and depth on par with the finest narrators in the business.

This book is the first volume of a fantasy series in which the Human world, the Goblin world, and the Faery world are being slowly drawn together. The main human character is Galen Arvad, who experiences the drawing together of the worlds through dreams, as do couterparts in the other two worlds. Unfortunately, Galen’s world views these dreams as lunacy, and they seek to put such people to death. Galen does his best to avoid this while discovering the reasons behind all the trouble.

There are scenes from all three worlds in the book, each one interesting in its own right. There are swords, dragons, dwarves, and magic wrapped in an interesting story peopled with good characters. Matched with Lloyd James’ first-rate narration, this is a winner for fans of epic fantasy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson