Review of Vitals By Greg Bear

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Vitals by Greg BearVitals
By Greg Bear; Read by Jeff Woodman
3 Cassettes – 5 hours 16 minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: January 2002
ISBN: 0553714953
THEMES: / Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering / Immortality /

The edge of immortality is the deadliest place of all…Hal Cousins is one of a handful of scientists nearing the most sought after discovery in human history: the key to short-circuiting the aging process. Fueled by a wealth of research, an overdose of self-confidence, and the money of influential patrons to whom he makes outrageous promises, Hal experiments with organisms living in the hot thermal plumes in the ocean depths. But as he journeys beneath the sea, his other world is falling apart.

I like Greg Bear’s work, I really do. Or at least I did before listening to Vitals. I truly savored previous Greg Bear audiobooks, the novels Blood Music and Queen Of Angels and the collection of his short work entitled The Wind From A Burning Woman are all really great listens even though somewhat difficult to follow. Unfortunately Vitals sounds more intriguing in theory than it is in execution. I really cannot think of a single good thing to say about the novel’s construction. It takes the interesting ideas from Blood Music and then ineffectually recycles them into an aimless plodding story. The central conceit, that bacteria are taking over the world in an unpredictable way, is blatantly stolen from Blood Music, Bear’s best work. But Bear doesn’t refine his ideas, instead he adds in a completely bizarre character viewpoint switch in the middle of the story, and later another non-sequitor changes the time period for even more exposition, backing and filling to detrimental effect.

What’s worse, Bear decides to eliminate what few interesting characters there are and finally puts us out of our misery with an unresolved ending. Vitals is like a bad action movie jumping from one scene to another without rhyme or reason. It’s one big train wreck of a novel. Bear has truly fallen and he can’t get up!

This is an abridgement and surely we could argue that a bad abridgement can really hurt an audiobook, but somehow I doubt adding more words to this mess could have helped. Jeff Woodman did his best with what he was given; his narration was very good and clear, with distinct characterization of voices. The cover art falls into the category of “bland non-specific” which so pervades novels these days.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Bernardo’s House by James Patrick Kelly

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Bernardo's House by James Patrick KellyBernardo’s House
By James Patrick Kelly; Read By James Patrick Kelly
FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD (link to – 1 Hour (26.97 MB) [UNABRIDGED]
Published: April 2004
Themes: Science Fiction / Post Apocalypse / Robots / Artificial Intelligence / Sexuality / Fairy Tales /

“Once on time,” said the girl, “Louise lives in that castle. Louise’s Mom dies, don’t say where her Dad goes. So Louise stuck with spang bitch taking care of her. That Louise castle got no door, only windows high and high. Now Louise got most hair.” Fly spread her arms wide. “Hair big as trees. When spang bitch want in, she call Louise. ‘Louise, Louise, let down buzzy hair.’ Then spang bitch climb it up.”

In the future women will come in all shapes and sizes but men will still be pigs. This is especially true about a philandering homewrecker named Bernardo. Bernardo left 3 years ago, leaving poor Louise alone with no one to talk to… until a young girl named “Fly” arrived. James Patrick Kelly’s hilarious stories never fail to bring a smile to my face and “Bernardo’s House” is no exception. Kelly tends to write very funny personal stories, charged with human and sometimes alien emotions – his recurring themes include biological problems and ethical dilemmas. Kelly also has a great fondness for inventing new words; he is in fact a raving neologist. But all these traits are completely in service to his stories, and in the case of “Bernardo’s House”, the comedic situation and the main character’s apprehension of it is truly tempered by our own baggage that we bring to the experience, turning a story that starts out as fluff into a bittersweet morality tale. “Bernardo’s House” was first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2003 issue, and at this writing is a finalist for the Hugo Award.

Sound quality and production values are excellent. Kelly is a real performer! He infuses his reading with a bouncy upbeat tone that makes the funny scenes even funnier. But the very best part about “Bernardo’s House” is that its available for FREE! Kelly only asks that if you enjoyed hearing this tale you consider making a donation to his PayPal account, donations encourage future recordings so it’s a real positive feedback loop!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A Taste Of Damsel By Tom Gerencer

A Taste Of Damsel
By Tom Gerencer; Read by Tom Gerencer
MP3 DOWNLOAD – 14 minutes, 56 seconds [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Telltale Weekly
Published: 2004
Themes: Fantasy / Humor / Dragons /

Anyone can slay a dragon. Well, provided they are dragonslayers, which Colson isn’t. But even clerks from copy shops can have heroic qualities and even the very, very old can learn new tricks.

First published in the August 2002 issue of Realms of Fantasy magazine, “A Taste Of Damsel” is mirthful look into the epicurian philosophy of dragons. It is read by the author, Tom Gerencer, who narrates at too fast a clip. The range in voices is minimal and unfortunately a slight background hiss marrs the recording. Despite all that, this audio download is a good value and at $0.75 USD. “A Taste Of Damsel” is fine, if lightweight, fantasy fare. Available online at Telltale Weekly.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Adventures of Red Cloud

Science Fiction Audio Drama - The Adventures of Red Cloud starring Traci Elizabeth LordsThe Adventures of Red Cloud
By Larry Weiner; performed by a full cast
2 CDs – 2 hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Radio Repertory Company of America
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0966039297
Themes: / Science Fiction / Audio Drama / Espionage / Piracy / Prostitution / Humor /

The Adventures of Red Cloud is an audio drama starring Traci Elizabeth Lords, Brinke Stevens, and James C. Leary, along with a full cast and crew. Traci Elizabeth Lords is mesmerizing as the sexy Wendy McCloud, who trades professions – from hooker to spy – in order to find her father’s killer. Lords is both funny and sultry as her character fights anger management problems and uses her feminine wiles to infiltrate the inner circle of a group of pirates and achieve her vengeful goals.

The script is witty, and all of the actors turn in nice performances. The score works well, and the effects professionally done. What’s not to like? I found this audio drama very entertaining and am looking forward to more from the Radio Repertory Company of America.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Protector By Larry Niven

Science Fiction Audiobook - Protector by Larry NivenProtector
By Larry Niven; read by Mark Sherman
5 cassettes – 7.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2003
ISBN: 0786123907
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Interplanetary Travel / Solar-System Civilization / Asteroid Belt / Mars / Evolution / Genetics / Biology / Ballistic Physics /

Phssthpok the Pak had been traveling for most of his thirty-two thousand years. His mission was to save, develop, and protect the group of Pak breeders sent out into space some two and a half million years before. Brennan was a Belter, the product of a fiercely independent, somewhat anarchic society living in, on, and around an outer asteroid belt. The Belters were rebels, one and all, and Brennan was a smuggler. The Belt worlds had been tracking the Pak ship for days, and Brennan figured to meet that ship first. He was never seen again, at least not by those alive at the time.

Humanity has become an interplanetary species; Luna, Mars, Mercury, the Asteroid Belt and the gas giants of Sol are the playground of mankind. But it wasn’t meant to be that way… an alien race from near the galactic core has set its sights on Earth and the cargo it brings will bear some really strange fruit.

Protector is absolutely bursting with awesome SF ideas, and the twists on them, everything from a precursor to Richard Dawkin’s “Selfish Gene Theory”, to realistic spaceship ballistics and sexual politics. Niven himself has been a giant in the SF field since the early 1970s, of the many living authors who still haven’t been bestowed with the honorific “Grand Master,” Niven is the most deserving. Protector was first published in 1973, and is a part of Niven’s ongoing “Known Space” series, one of the foremost continuing visions of the future by an SF author. Like Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History series, the Known Space novels and stories follow the expansion of humans into the galaxy. And Protector is perhaps the best of the Known Space novels, it offers some of the hardest of the Hard SF ever written, something Larry Niven has a particular talent for, and it’s a great story, both unpredictable and fun! But I can’t stress enough just how good this novel is, the plot is unpredictable but relentlessly logical and enthralling at the same time, even better this novel like Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend, has a deep psychological and philosophical impact on the reader, and it also has a similar twist ending. It’s simply fantastic!

Reader Mark Sherman appears to have prepared well for what really could have been a very difficult reading. Larry Niven gave the alien names a real alien sound – I had no idea how to pronounce names like “Phssthpok”, but Mark Sherman does a great job in putting voice to it and numerous other unpronounceable words. Blackstone Audiobooks’s production is super smooth, sound quality is terrific, the cassettes come packaged in the awesome library style clamshell case and the original cover art is simply amazing to behold. For those who prefer other formats, Blackstone has also released Protector in two other media types, a 6 CD set or a single MP3-CD. Whatever format you choose you must choose one as this production of Larry Niven’s Protector is nigh unto perfect.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Apocalypse of Bill Lizard by Roger Gregg

Science Fiction Audio Drama - The Apocalypse of Bill Lizard by Roger GreggThe Apocalypse of Bill Lizard
By Roger Gregg; Performed by a full cast
Two CD’s – 2 hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Crazy Dog Audio Theatre
Published: 2002
Themes: / Science Fiction / Audio Drama / Detective / Humor /

Bill Lizard, the maladjusted detective in the two-tone shoes and his partner Cyril the Pooka are hired by the Unspeakable to search the Unknowable to find the Unthinkable. Does the world end? What is after the After Life? Will we need shoes in heaven?

The Crazy Dog Audio Theatre brings you The Apocalypse of Bill Lizard, an audio drama in four half-hour episodes. Roger Gregg wrote, directed, and produced.

If you’re a fan of Firesign Theatre, then this is right up your alley. The script is wacky, full of sound effects, humorous dialogue, odd characters, and a mind-bending plot. The main characters are Bill Lizard, played by Roger Gregg, and Cyril the Pooka (a rabbit-shaped spirit reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey, only we hear him speak ourselves). Bill and Cyril are from the get-go sent on a quest for a mysterious scroll by a mysterious woman whose mysterious name Bill can’t pronounce.

In the liner notes, Gregg credits Thomas Merton’s Cables to the Ace, Chuang Tzu, Dante’s Inferno, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, Basho, Cicero’s The Dream of Scipio, and the Tibetan Bardo Thodal as inspirations for the comedic script. I can no more describe Bill Lizard as I can summarize all those works!

I can say that I enjoyed the energetic performances of the actors. The sound effects and overall production quality is excellent. Like I said earlier, this reminded me of some of Firesign Theatre’s recordings, which often leave me thinking, “What the heck was THAT all about?” Bill Lizard gave me the same feeling. It’s entertaining and funny in parts and pieces, smart, and chaotic.

The Crazy Dog Audio Theatre site offers free download of Episode 1 of Bill Lizard. Find it, along with the hilarious Zombies of Dr. Krell, here.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson