FREE LISTENS Review: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard


Free Listens Blog

King Solomon’s Mines
By H. Rider Haggard

Source: Librivox | Zipped MP3
Length: 9 hr, 52 min
Reader: John Nicholson

The book: Set in British colonial South Africa, King Solomon’s Mines tells of the extraordinary adventures of big game hunter Allan Quatermain. Sir Henry Curtis hires Quatermain as a guide for an expedition to find Curtis’s brother, who disappeared while searching for the biblical King Solomon’s fabled diamond mines. Joining them in the expedition are Curtis’s friend Captain Good and Umbopa, a porter with mysterious purposes.

The action is told in an unadorned style that, along with the descriptions of Africa and its inhabitants, makes this Lost Civilization fantasy seem real. A major part of this realism is the character of Quatermain, who narrates the adventure in the first person with a sense of dry humor and a matter-of-fact tone. Quatermain is not a hero in the traditional sense – he admits to being a coward. Instead of a hero, he is someone that the reader can positively identify with: fair, practical, smart, and opposed to injustice, racism and greed. This enlightened protagonist, the fresh writing style and exciting plot make King Solomon’s Mines a great read.

Rating: 9/10

The reader: Nicholson has a deep plain voice that is a perfect match for Allan Quatermain. The book is filled with difficult-to-pronounce names and words in Afrikaans and Zulu, but Nicholson says them with confidence. Whether or not he’s right, I have no idea. The pace is sometimes too slow for my taste, but he does vary both the pace and volume. The recording has some background whine and a hiss on the esses.

Posted by Seth

LibriVox: The Shadows by George MacDonald

SFFaudio Online Audio

shadowsfin2.jpgThe Shadows
By George MacDonald; Read by Catherine Eastman
2 Zipped MP3s or Podcast – Approx. 1.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Published: November 27, 2007

Though no longer well known, his works (particularly his fairy tales and fantasy novels) have inspired admiration in such notables as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L’Engle. The Shadows is one such fairy tale. The strange Shadows spend their existence casting themselves upon the walls and forming pictures of various sorts: mimicking evil actions of those who have done wrong in the hopes of causing their repentance, playing a comic dumb-show to inspire a playwright and dancing to inspire a musician, nudging a little girl to comfort her grandfather, and playing with a sick little boy as he waits for his mother to return home. For all that their forms are black, their hearts are of the whitest.

This fantasy for younger readers/listeners has a couple of things in its favor for adults other than just the historical interest in its author.  The reader here, Catherine Eastman, does an outstanding job and the story is quite imaginative. Highly recommended for younger listeners and not too bad for adults either.

Complete Audiobook [zip], individual MP3s here.

And here’s the podcast feed:

Posted by Dave Tackett

LibriVox Short Horror Story Collection #2 – out now

sffaudio online audio

With two stories by H. P. Lovecraft and a Solomon Kane story by Robert Howard, there was no way that I could resist this latest LibriVox offering. Tales of horror and stories of the weird by the masters at the bargain price of $0.00.

Horror Story Collection 2
10 MP3 files – 2 hours 39 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: November 15th, 2007

“An occasional collection of 10 horror stories by various readers. We aim to unsettle you a little, to cut through the pink cushion of illusion that shields you from the horrible realities of life. Here are the walking dead, the fetid pools of slime, the howls in the night that you thought you had confined to your more unpleasant dreams.”

1. A Ghoul’s Accountant
By Stephen Crane; Read by Julie Bynum
1 |MP3| Approx. 6 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

2. Ex Oblivione
By Howard Phillips Lovecraft; Read by Maxim Lenyadin
1 |MP3| – Approx. 7 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

3. The Picture In The House
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by: Glen Hallstrom
1 |MP3| – Approx. 20.5 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

4. Rattle of Bones
By Robert E. Howard; Read by Paul Siegel
1 |MP3| – Approx. 14.5 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

5. The Raven
By Edgar Allen Poe; Read by: Zoe Earley
1 |MP3| – Approx. 8 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

6. The Soul of the Great Bell
By Lafcadio Hearn; Read by Paul Sze
1 |MP3| – Approx. 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

7. The Story of Mimi Nashi Hoichi
By Lafcadio Hearne; Read by Mark Nelson
1 |MP3| – Approx. 24 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

8. The Tell-Tale Heart
By Edgar Allen Poe; Read by Sharontzu
1 |MP3| – Approx. 17 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

9. The Spider
By Hans Heinz Ewers; Read by DrWombat
1 |MP3| – Approx. 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

10. The Thing at Ghent
By Honore de Balzac; Read by Julie Bynum
1 |MP3| – Approx 4 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]

Get the complete audiobook in a big zipped file [zip], or use the
podcast feed:

Posted by Dave Tackett.

Review of His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi NovikHis Majesty’s Dragon
By Naomi Novik; Read by David Thorn
5 CDs – 6.5 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9780739354131
Themes: / Fantasy / Hard Fantasy / Alternate History / Dragons / 19th Century / War / Britain / France /

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

Abridged! And here I thought we were beyond abridged audiobooks. I wasn’t even sure I’d ever see another abridged audiobook on a bookstore bookshelf again, let alone find myself listening to one. After all is said and done though, His Majesty’s Dragon wasn’t badly abridged, there were no jarring transitions, even if it felt as if large parts of the story were missing. Narrator David Thorn and his English accent gave Temeraire and the other dragons a kind of menacing innocence, full of a promise of danger and odd loyalty.

The world of His Majesty’s Dragon posits an alternate history where dragons, once the sole province of kings and emperors across Europe and Asia, are now a weapon delivery platform of choice for the military during the Napoleonic Wars. Will Laurence, a promising young sea Captain of the Royal Navy, captures a French ship carrying a precious bounty, an unhatched dragon egg. Unfortunately, what little the ship’s surgeon knows about dragon eggs is that this one will hatch soon. Too soon, in fact, for if the dragon within is to be of any use it must be harnessed immediately upon hatching to a sailor with whom it will have a lifelong bond.

Much of the action of the novel takes place in the training grounds of Britain’s “Aerial Corps.” The writing is professional and amicable, the characters are interesting and I get the sense this story will definitely appeal to the Harry Potter crowd, especially those who like a little romance in their fantasy. One of the standouts, character-wise, is a female dragon captain, who though battle hardened and physically scarred, packs an emotional wallop in the few scenes she graces. As this is the first book in a series it leaves a lot open at its conclusion, and perhaps my disappointment with the lack of integration within the larger pattern off history will be addressed by the subsequent books.

About that disappointment: History fans, like me, will probably be disappointed with the lack of historical detail. There’s good stuff, but not enough of it. Worse though, Novik’s world isn’t fully thought through. The changes she’s made to her historical setting don’t include any wide-ranging hard consequences. For instance, just having another sentient species on Earth would have had tremendous religious, societal and political ramifications to our history. But if individual members of that sentient species are as powerful as a Lancaster bomber you’d expect even more. These necessary changes are absent, or if not entirely omitted they are at least checkmated by dragons on opposing armies. Sure there attitudinal changes, mostly disdain, coming from the aspects of society that don’t interact with dragons on a daily basis, but this feels like the “muggle” solution, a cheat, like was done in the Harry Potter books. And that doesn’t fit the alternate history with one minor change vibe Novik was going for. Dragons, like the armor plated, jool-loving, fire-breathing creatures Novik uses, would have to impact culture from bow to stern. Just think how many cultures have mythical dragons in their history, now make them real! Simply put, there was work to be done and that work wasn’t done in His Majesty’s Dragon. Admittedly, the threads of the significant changes Novik has woven into her image are good. Attitudes toward women have changed within the Aerial Corps, and this is the most fascinating aspect of the book for me. But the dragon aspect of history feels as if they was just plopped atop an already existing rich tapestry of history, the threads attaching it to real history don’t go deep enough, and ultimately, this may be a case where the history and the fantasy are incompatible. But perhaps this is only an issue in the abridged version? If so I’d definitely be up for more in the Temeraire series – in which case I’d really need to get my mitts on the unabridged editions for subsequent books.

Posted by Jesse Willis

ABC RN to air Who Wrote Frankenstein?

Online Audio

ABC Radio NationalABC Radio National’s The Book Show has a timely documentary in their schedule for next Friday! It’s called Who Wrote Frankenstein? and here’s the description:

Was Mary Shelley too young and uneducated to have written Frankenstein? There is a debate raging about the author attribution of this classic and John Lauritsen says it was actually Percy Shelley. But, Germaine Greer says it’s precisely because it’s badly written that there should be no question of Mary Shelley being the author. Who’s right and how do they know?

Tune in to ABC Radio National’s The Book Show on October 26th @ 10:00am in Australia (repeated at midnight). This may also be available through The Book Show‘s podcast the day after it airs.

You can subscribe to the podcast using this feed:

Review of The Prestige by Christopher Priest

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Prestige by Christopher PriestThe Prestige
By Christopher Priest; Read by Simon Vance
10 CDs – 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 0786168412
Themes: / Science Fiction / Magic / Magicians / 19th Century / Electricity / World Fantasy Award /

It’s difficult to say how long it’s been since I’ve been so enthralled with an audiobook as I was with this unabridged version of the World Fantasy Award-winning The Prestige. In very few words, the production was excellent. Simon Vance narrated, and since the story is primarily told through journal entries of the two main characters, he was basically called upon to portray these two dark, intricate magicians. He unreservedly succeeded – his performance was stellar. Because of his subtle care, the surprises of the novel were enhanced by his reading. And there are many surprises.

The main characters are late 19th century stage magicians (or “prestidigitators”, as they call themselves) named Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier. They perform in London, but at the height of each magician’s popularity, they tour America and Europe. But not together. No, these two guys are mortal enemies, out to better the other by whatever means necessary. Each one in turn performs a trick on stage that seems impossible to the other, and their personal quests are rooted in finding out how the other does it, and then to perform it better.

The novel is filled with fascinating detail about these magicians and their tricks. But even more interesting are the journals themselves. It becomes quickly apparent that the journal writers are not reliable. Christopher Priest was masterful in the way he made sure that the journal writers were speaking squarely from their own point of view, which was not always technically true; rather, like journal writers everywhere, they would write something about their own motives that justified events to themselves. The result is an intricate web that is slowly unraveled throughout the book. It’s an audiobook that merits a second listen; knowing what I know now, having finished, a second listen would reveal the breadcrumbs I missed along the way. I suspect I left several on the trail.

Also prominent is Priest’s portrayal of life in the 19th century. The values, the language, and the daily life of the characters all feel accurate, though I am no 19th century historian. The world’s reaction to the advent of electricity is a fascinating example. I couldn’t help but to think of modern parallels with the advent of the internet.

At first glance, this novel is fantasy. It even won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. But is this a fantasy novel? It really isn’t. Yes, there are magicians here, but they are stage magicians. As such, their tricks have perfectly reasonable explanations. Each of the main characters do specific remarkable things, but the reasons given for the way these things work are not magical, but scientific. More, I will not say, because this is a novel to be discovered for yourself, not to be read about. After I finished the book, I watched the recent film version. Be assured that there are enough major differences that a listen to this book will be a different (though similar) and very worthwhile experience – worthwhile enough to be the latest addition to SFFaudio’s Essential List.

Audio Sample: LINK

Posted by Scott D. Danielson