Review of Legends II: Volume III

Legend II: Volume IIILegends II: Volume III
Edited by Robert Silverberg
Containing stories by Robert Silverberg, Neil Gaiman, and Orson Scott Card
Read by Jason Culp, Peter Bradbury, and Michael Emerson
4 Cassettes – 7 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0739310860
Themes: / Fantasy / Majipoor / Mythology / Alternate History / Gods /

The cover of this audiobook prominently displays the names “Neil Gaiman” and “Orson Scott Card”, so I was a bit surprised to find a Robert Silverberg story leading off the collection. It probably shouldn’t have been unexpected, because a look at the back of the audiobook includes blurbs from all three stories – it’s just from the front, the audio appears to include two stories, not three.

“The Book of Changes” is set in Silverberg’s Majipoor universe and is a fine story about an epic poet’s discovery and subsequent writing of his masterwork. The story is steeped in the history of Majipoor, but is clear and enjoyable to a person unfamiliar with that history, as I am. Silverberg has created a world that is as much science fiction as it is fantasy. In Majipoor’s past, humans colonized then got into a war with the native inhabitants. These past events are discussed in Silverberg’s story, but the tale is firmly focused on the poet and the act of creation – something Silverberg knows much about. Jason Culp’s performance was near perfect.

The second novella in the collection is “Monarch of the Glen”, written by Neil Gaiman. The story starts in a hotel bar where Shadow (the main character from Gaiman’s American Gods) is talking to a Scotsman. It is immediately notable that the story is in good hands with Peter Bradbury, whose crisp, clear accents place the listener firmly in the setting which in this case is Northern Scotland. The scotsman offers Shadow a job as a bouncer, but Shadow knows that something is afoot beyond the obvious. Neil Gaiman provides a story that is just as mythic and mysterious and unexpected as his previous fiction. This is a Gaiman story through and through, which is as marvelous a thing as a visit from a good friend.

Last up is Orson Scott Card’s “The Yazoo Queen,” which is set in his Alvin Maker universe. It’s read by Michael Emerson, who performs a sort of old-west style voice which works very well with the prose Card writes with throughout the series – conversational with plenty of 19th century slang and pronounciation. THe story is a prologue to The Crystal City, the sixth novel in the series. In the story, Alvin Maker and Arthur Stuart meet Jim Bowie and Abraham Lincoln while travelling on the Mississippi River. Card’s world is early 19th century America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the magic (called “knacks”) that superstitious folks believed in back then really works. Alvin, the focus of all the stories, is a maker – he can see into things and change them, making them better. He’s chasing after the Unmaker and each volume in the series is building toward a confrontation between the two.

Another notable thing about this audio is that each story is preceded by a summary of what the series is all about. I found each one interesting – in the case of Silverberg’s Majipoor, it was all new information and in the case of the other two, it was a recap for me. But in all three cases it was very welcome.

Three very enjoyable stories read by three top-notch narrators – highly recommended!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Gravity By Tess Gerritsen

Gravity by Tess GerritsenGravity
By Tess Gerritsen; Read by Campbell Scott
4 Cassettes – 4.5 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0671046187
Themes: / Science Fiction / Disease / Disaster / Biology / Scientist / Medical /

Emma Watson, a brilliant research physician, has been training for the mission of a lifetime: to study living beings in space. Jack McCallum, Emma’s estranged husband, has shared her dream of space travel, but a medical condition has grounded and embittered him. He must watch from the sidelines as his wife prepares for her first mission to the International Space Station. Once aboard the space station, however, things start to go terribly wrong. A culture of single-celled organisms known as Archaeons, gathered from the deep sea, is to be monitored in the microgravity of space. The true and lethal nature of this experiment has not been revealed to NASA. In space, the cells rapidly multiply and soon begin to infect the crew-with agonizing and deadly results

If I had to write a review of this novel in one sentence it would read: “Gravity is like Blood Music for people who’ve never heard of Greg Bear.” Gravity is described by the publisher as “A Novel Of Medical Suspense”, which to me sounds like a crooked way of saying “science fiction for people who don’t like to get caught reading science fiction.” I used to have contempt for the writers of such deceptive doublespeak, but these days I’m more likely to save my contempt for the people who in actuality demand their literature be named in such disingenuous ways. The publishers really aren’t to blame. If they label it as science fiction it won’t get reviewed in the mainstream media – and it won’t be purchased by the fickle public who’d willfully pass up a book with a “science fiction” label in favor of a “medical thriller” or “techno thriller” label. Can someone please explain to me what is so wrong about being caught reading a novel with the words “science fiction” on the spine? I’ve heard people say they won’t buy books because the cover looked too “science-fictiony”. I suggest to you that to not like science fiction is to shut one’s self off from ideas. And though many people claim not to like science fiction, I think if they’d look critically at what they are reading they’d find themselves reading it – just under another name. Be honest with yourself, admit it, you do like it, that is all I ask.

But I stray from the path. Gravity reads a bit like Robin Cook’s Coma, but the major theme has more in common with Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain than it does with hospital politics. The abridgement here is successful and Tess Gerritsen’s descriptions are clear but a bit dumbed-down. As an M.D. she should be fully capable of ratcheting up the science-speak, but for one reason or another chose not to. Despite this, I have few complaints. This is a good time passer. The story has an interesting setting and overall I was left with a satisfactory feeling. That said, I felt no pressing need to track down more of Gerritsen’s ‘Novels Of Medical Suspense.’

A few other problems: Simon & Schuster Audio has not spaced the tapes properly. Each side is of unequal length requiring much fast-forwarding. They also declined to mention when a side is ending, so the reading of a sentence ends as if it were simply a thoughtful pause and then tape plays on for many minutes. This is bad planning – for such a big company there are no good excuses.

Reader Campbell Scott’s precise intonation and clinical reading matches the medical perspective taken by Gerritsen in Gravity. Scott is no cuddly-dear of a voice, nor is he a cuddly-dear of a film actor and yet I find myself always pleased to spend some time with him now and again – he always manages to somehow draw me in even though his stiff demeanor makes me want to shy away.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Magic Time: Angelfire By Marc Scott Zicree and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Magic Time: Angelfire by Marc Scott Zicree and Maya Kaathryn BohnhoffMagic Time: Angelfire
By Marc Scott Zicree and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Read by Mark Bramhall, Ann Marie Lee, Ned Schmidtke, and Robertson Dean
12 CDs – 14.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786183799
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Science / Post-apocolypse /

Magic Time: Angelfire is the second book in what could become a long series of novels. Marc Scott Zicree personally introduces the book, saying that it was originally pitched as a TV series, and very well might have been a good one.

In book one (called Magic Time), the world changed. Technology is erased and replaced with magic, with people all across America become infused with powers of different sorts, often dark. I have not read the first book, so I don’t know any of the specifics. (Blackstone Audio has the first volume, too.)

Here in this novel, Cal Griffin and a band of people travel the post-apocalyptic, non-technological, magic-filled America in search of the source of it all. The book seems written for TV; the characters are strong, distinct, and quirky. The dialog is full of current colloquialisms. The images are vividly visual. And the action comes fast and constant, with the characters fighting dark creatures while getting closer and closer to their goal.

The novel’s chapters are each told in first person from one of the character’s point of view. A different reader is used for each character, and the actors all do a very good job portraying their character. Ann Marie Lee has a fantastic voice, but had to maintain an intense angry attitude throughout that made me wish her character would calm down, maybe have a decaf latte or something.

The idea behind the novel was good, and, if it ever makes it to TV, would be a series I would check out. I wouldn’t stick with it, though, if the series didn’t go any deeper than a formulaic string of action sequences designed to increase tension. I was interested in the characters and what they were going through, but longed for something a bit more. Of course, leaving a reader wanting more is good thing for a storyteller to do.

The cover is graced with an excellent piece of artwork by Iain McCaig of what I believe is a “flare” – a type of creature that some folks were transformed into when the world went awry.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

XM Satellite Radio: Audiobook Cafe

January 2nd 2005 sees the first broadcast of a new hour-long radio program called Audiobook Cafe. Set to air once a week on XM Satellite Radio, the show is hosted by full time author and part time audiobook narrator Lawrence Block. Block is mostly known for his award winning mystery and crime novels but his lengthy career has also included a few ventures in to the science fiction, fantasy, and horror realms.

Each installment of Audiobook Cafe includes two author interviews and several audiobook reviews with audio exerpts from the audiobooks covered. Authors already recorded include fantasy authors Peter Straub and Neil Gaiman! This is by no means a program focusing on science fiction and fantasy audiobooks – we wish – but it is still very cool.

Of peripheral interest to this story: The Lawrence Block word factory has produced an interesting article for the New York newspaper The Village Voice, entitled “Abridge This!”. Find it here!

Happy Holidays everyone! SFFAudio won’t post till…

SFFaudio News

Happy Holidays everyone! SFFAudio won’t post till the new year, probably on January 3rd. We wish everyone a peaceful holiday season!

Until then…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Chapter 1 – Marley’s Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail… -MORE-

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of A Coyote in the House By Elmore Leonard

A Coyote's in the House by Elmore LeonardA Coyote In The House
By Elmore Leonard; Read by Neil Patrick Harris
3 CDs – 3 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Children’s Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0060728825
Themes: / Fantasy / Anthropomorphic Fiction / Movies / Crime /

This dog was cool for a homeboy, an older male who had peed all over this big yard, marking it to let everybody know this was his turf and nobody else’s. Keep it, homes. Live here and get food handed to you. Believe you’re somebody in your pitiful kept world, no better than a slave.”

Buddy’s the aging movie star, Antwan’s the streetwise hipster and Miss Betty is the showgirl. Buddy also happens to be a German Shepherd, Antwan is a wild and wily Coyote and Miss Betty is a bouffant Poodle. A Coyote In The House is a kid’s book in the tradition of Jack London’s The Call of The Wild. In essence this it is the same story, simply with a sub-urban as opposed to an arctic setting – that and Elmore Leonard’s patented prose. It’s not just Leonard’s dialogue that’s distinctive; it’s his story structure, characters, and cadence that all scream Elmore Leonard. And that’s very disconcerting. Leonard hasn’t written anything but adult crime novels and westerns so to hear this audiobook was truly odd. I think kids and adults who listen with together will both be pleased. It’s a fun story but it’s a strange experience for fans of Elmore Leonard’s other novels.

I couldn’t get over how Leonard completely ignores the impossibility of the situation he’s created. I know it’s a kid’s story, and kids won’t likely see it the way I do, but this story is utterly impossible. It basically ignores everything we do know about animal intelligence and replaces it with hipster lingo and human motivations and then marches on, oblivious to all the impossibilities those things entail. As an example, Buddy, the aging German Shepherd movie star, watches his old movies all day long – every animal in A Coyote In The House is intimately familiar with movies and movie stars – this despite the story logic that these canines, felines and avians can’t understand most of what humans say (and vice versa). Further, the animals can’t manipulate objects with their paws like in a Disney movie say, and yet somehow Buddy is able to – off screen – grab a VHS tape of one of his movies put it in the VCR and watch it, rewind it and put it back before his owners get home and see him. “Oh come on,” you say. “It’s a kids story, it doesn’t have to make sense.” Maybe. It didn’t ruin the experience for me but it didn’t let me fully enjoy it either. I just think that it’d have been a far better story to tackle, realistically, the animal’s perspective head on.

One other curious thing of note. The use of the word “bitch.” In any other Leonard novel it wouldn’t be a novelty – here it refers doubly as a slang term (for adult listeners) and as a female canine for children. Some adults may have a problem letting their kids hear such words, when the usage is not clear cut but I think that’d be the wrong attitude to take – the word is legitimately used here and I’d be far more concerned about kids thinking that animals are just like people – when they aren’t – than learning a “bad” word. Performed by Neil Patrick Harris, A Coyote In The House has a goodly number characters with distinctive voices. Harris is quite impressive as a reader! His audiography seems to consist mostly of children’s novels, perhaps a legacy from his child stardom. In any case he’d be a good reader of adult novels too.

Posted by Jesse Willis