LibriVox: The Sky Is Falling by Lester del Rey

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxNarrator Karen Savage comes from the plainspoken school of audiobook narration. Her reading is crisp and clean, and, barring accidents will be listened to for at least several centuries. The Sky Is Falling is a weird and fascinating tale that blends a hard Science Fiction attitude with a grotesque Fantasy world. The brushing and melding of two incommensurable fiction paradigms, like this, was also done in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno |READ OUR REVIEW|.

LIBRIVOX - The Sky Is Falling by Lester del ReyThe Sky Is Falling
By Lester del Rey; Read by Karen Savage
10 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 3 Hours 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: March 28, 2010
After dying in a terrible accident at a building site, Dave Hanson finds himself being brought back to life in a world where magic is real, and where the sky is breaking apart and falling. And he is expected to put it back together again. Will he be able to save this strange world, and his own new life?

Podcast feed:

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

Also of note, this production completes the entire audiobooking of ACE DOUBLE #76960 (the other half being Lester del Rey’s Badge Of Infamy:

LIBRIVOX - Badge Of Infamy by Lester del ReyBadge Of Infamy
By Lester del Rey; Read by Steven H. Wilson
15 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 3 Hours 19 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: January 17, 2007
Daniel Feldman was a doctor once. He made the mistake of saving a friend’s life in violation of Medical Lobby rules. Now, he’s a pariah, shunned by all, forbidden to touch another patient. But things are more loose on Mars. There, Doc Feldman is welcomed by the colonists, even as he’s hunted by the authorities. But, when he discovers a Martian plague may soon wipe out humanity on two planets, Feldman finds himself a pivotal figure. War erupts. Earth is poised to wipe out the Mars colony utterly. A cure to the plague is the price of peace, and only Feldman can find it

Podcast feed:

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

Here’s the first appearance of these two novels together:

Galaxy Magabook - The Sky Is Falling / Badge Of Infamy by Lester del Rey

And here’s the 1973 ACE Double appearance of these two novels together:

Ace Double- Badge Of Infamy / The Sky Is Falling by Lester del Rey

[thanks also to mim@can]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Anathem by Neal Stephenson

SFFaudio Review

By Neal Stephenson; Read by Oliver Wyman, Tavia Gilbert, William Dufris, and Neal Stephenson
Audible Download –  32 hours 30 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2008
Themes: / alien invasion / philosophy / religion / alternate universe

After nearly two weeks of listening to this 2009 Hugo-nominated book during nearly every moment of my free time–getting ready for work in the mornings, sitting on the bus, tossing and turning in bed–I’ve finally finished Neal Stephenson’s latest tale of metaphysical adventure. Does the book measure up to Stephenson’s earlier work? More importantly, is it fun to read?

First, some background: Anathem is set on the planet of Arbre, a world much like, and yet unlike, our own. The tale opens in the year 3690 AR (After the Reconstitution), in the Mathic Consent of Saunt Edhar. Consents are much like the medieval monasteries of our own world, except that instead of contemplating religious matters the Mathic avout research and debate matters of math, science, and philosophy. The tale is told from the perspective of Fraa Erasmas, a young avout who has now lived at the Consent for ten years. A mysterious craft appears in the skies above Arbre, which is the driving force behind the plot, since it excites consequences and conflicts first in the Mathic world and then in the Saecular, or outside, world as well. The craft, it turns out, belongs to an alien race unknown to Arbre, and packs a significant military punch. The inhabitants of Arbre, Mathic and Saecular alike, must decide how to face this threat.

I can’t fully answer the first question, since the only other Stephenson novel I’ve read in full was his cyberpunk effort Snow Crash, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Stylistically speaking, comparing these two novels, though, is like comparing apples and oranges. The prose ofSnow Crash is taut, earthy, and vernacular, while that of Anathem is expansive, meandering, and somewhat more formal. Yet the two books share a tendency to veer into philosophical discourse that usually, but not always, has some relevance to the plot.

As to the second question, I wouldn’t quite characterize Anathem as “fun”. It certainly has many moments of intense action, wry humor, and emotional drama. These moments, however, are interspersed between long stretches of the aforementioned philosophical discourse. So one’s response to the novel largely depends on one’s tolerance for and appreciation of Stephenson’s vast store of scientific and theoretical knowledge. In this respect, as well as in its setting, Anathem resembles Umberto Eco’s equally challenging The Name of the Rose.

Those interested in such things will find here a treasure trove of insights (or “upsights” as they’re called in the world of Arbre) into the nature of reality, consciousness, and the universe. Without giving too much away, I’ll simply hint that the quantum physics principles that play such a large role in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy rear their hydra-heads here as well.

The book isn’t all dialogues and theorums and proofs. Much of Anathem‘s beauty stems from its likable characters. Fraa Erasmas is a young lad possessed of loyalty, imagination, and more heart than seems to be usual in the Mathic community. His best friend Fraa Lio, upon whom he bestows the epithet of “thistlehead”, takes a keen interest in the martial arts techniques, or vlor, of the Consent of the Ringing Veil. The cast of brothers is rounded out by the ambitious yet likable Fraa Jesry and the good-natured portly Fraa Arsibalt. Unlike medieval monastaries, Mathic consents are not segregated, so Erasmas and company are joined in their adventures by the capable but hot-tempered Suur Ala and the mild-mannered Suur Tulia. The real standout characters, though, are the enigmatic Fraa Orolo and Fraa Jad. The former has a fascination with cosmology and also with saecular speelies (read: movies), while the latter is first seen puzzling over a disposable razor from the outside world. Both these old men are reminiscent of Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series in that they combine immense knowledge with eccentricity and childlike curiosity.

For a word nerd like myself, much of the pleasure from reading Anathem is derived from marveling at Stephenson’s ability to construct a linguistically coherent alternate reality that still has resonances in our own world. Take the word saunt, for instance, which denotes a Mathic avout who has made some sort of significant theoretical advance. As the book’s glossary explains, the word is actually a contracted form of the word savant, but also immediately brings to the reader’s mind the real-world word saint. I’m fairly certain that all these subtle layers of meaning were intentionally embedded, and this is just one example of many.

While there are endless avenues of literary, cultural, and philosophical allusions to explore and deep philosophical questions to unravel, I found myself a bit weary as I got to the end of the novel. Though certainly a more-than-capable storyteller, Stephenson seems more interested in advancing his scientific explorations, and overlays the story atop them. This is similar to sme of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, in which the story is made subservient to linguistic aims. I’m not quite sure where I fall on this “story-versus-substance” spectrum, but if I had to choose I think I’d lean towards the “story” direction.

Given its complexity of its language, Anathem poses a real challenge to audiobook producers. Fortunately, the narrators are up to the task. William Dufris performs the bulk of the novel, and he shifts easily from the erudite jargon of the book’s dialogues to its memorable emotional climaxes. Read by a less capable narrator, Anathem might be marketed as a surefire cure for insomnia, but Dufris brings every character to life as if they were in a speely, the Arbre equivalent of film.

Even with the few caveats listed earlier, it’s hard to underplay Neal Stephenson’s immense achievement with Anathem.

Posted by Seth Wilson

WNYC’s Radio Lab talks the MULTIVERSE

SFFaudio Online Audio

You want to hear about the multiverse? No? Well, in some universe you do and in it you’ll be checking out WNYC’s Radio Lab‘s podcast/radio show talk about the multiverse! Have a listen |MP3|!

Here’s the description:

Have you wondered if there is another you out there? Somewhere? Sitting in the same chair, reading the same blog post, wearing the same clothes and thinking the same thoughts? Well, Brian Greene says there must be one. Or two. Or lots and lots and lots and lots and… Why? You ask, well listen to Greene’s argument in this week’s podcast.

We are still furiously working on Season 5, so while you wait we bring you today’s podcast of a conversation between Robert Krulwich and Brian Greene, physics and mathematics professor and director of the Institute of Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics at Columbia University. The interview is part of a series called “Giants of Science” hosted by venerable New York institution, the 92nd St Y.

Robert and Brian discuss what’s beyond the horizon of our universe, what you might wear in infinite universes with finite pairs of designer shoes, and why the Universe and swiss cheese have more in common than you think.


Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman

SFFaudio Review

The Hemingway Hoax by Joe HaldemanThe Hemingway Hoax
By Joe Haldeman; Read by Eric Michael Summerer
Audible Download – 4 Hours 31 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Earnest Hemingway / Time Travel / Alternate Universe / Parallel Worlds /
The hoax proposed to John Baird by a two-bit con man in a seedy Key West bar was shady but potentially profitable. With little left to lose, the struggling, middle-aged Hemingway scholar agreed to forge a manuscript and pass it off as Papa’s lost masterpiece. But Baird never realized his actions would shatter the history of his own Earth – and others. And now the unsuspecting academic is trapped out of time – propelled through a series of grim parallel worlds and pursued by an interdimensional hitman with a literary license to kill.

This here is our first review of an Audible Frontiers title, Audible Frontiers is a new imprint of, bringing hard to find and never before recorded SF audiobooks to their website and iTunes exclusively. The Hemingway Hoax is a strong beginning too, this is a Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella/short novel that interweaves historical fact and SF elements into an exotic elixir not unlike absinthe. In very real literary history, 1921 Paris to be precise, Earnest Hemingway’s wife lost a bag containing all the manuscripts and carbon copies for Hemingway’s first novel and several short stories. Seventy-five years later, in a 1996 Key West storyland, a Hemingway scholar named John Baird meets a conman named Castle who wants Baird to forge copies of Hemingway’s “lost” manuscripts. With his younger wife all for it, and with some major interest in the logistics of the project himself, Baird sets out to commit the fraud only to find himself face to face with an ethereal version of Hemingway himself! This being, who turns out to be from outside of time – or wherever, tells Baird that he ‘must not perpetrate the hoax, upon pain of death.’ But even the threat of death, and death itself won’t stop Baird, as the Hemingway Hoax is on!

I can see why this tale won a Hugo, this has all the Haldeman touches, intelligent and literate fiction, easy humor and good storytelling. Time travel and parallel worlds are about the oldest tropes of SF, but Haldeman staked out some ground in both domains, and they pay-off. I’ve read a few Hemingway stories, and the pastiche that appears here and there in the novella sound just like Hemingway to me. This, coupled with the candid BONUS AUDIO of Joe Haldeman talking about the inspiration for the novel that precedes the audiobook proper makes The Hemingway Hoax definitely worth checking out. Baird is a stand-in for Haldeman, both are professors of literature at New England universities, both served in Vietnam, both are intrigued by Hemingway and his lost papers. This makes for the most Philip K. Dickian Haldeman tale I’ve ever read. In terms of the production itself, this is a straight reading, with some light music added over the opening sentences and the final paragraphs. Other than a couple of very minor pronunciation errors Eric Michael Summerer (a new voice in audiobooks) narrated beautifully. He voiced five major characters, three male and two female, and they all sounded naturalistic and different. Audible Frontiers should use Eric Michael Summerer again.

Update (here are the illustrations from the publication is Asimov’s):
Asimov's 1990-04 - Cover illustration by Wayne Barlowe
Asimov's 1990-04 - interior illustration by Terry Lee
Asimov's 1990-04 - interior illustration by Terry Lee
Asimov's 1990-04 - interior illustration by Terry Lee

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Mainspring by Jay Lake

SFFaudio Review

Mainspring by Jay LakeMainspring
By Jay Lake; Read by William Dufris
Audible Download – Approx. 13.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: macmillan audio /
Published: December 2007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Alternate Universe / Steampunk / Religion / Angels / Science /

The mainspring of the Earth is running down, and disaster to the planet will ensue if it’s not rewound. To do the job the Archangel Gabriel approaches a young clockmaker’s apprentice and explains the problem. He can’t be that surprised, in a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun – how could he be? This is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself.

Clockmaker’s apprentice Hethor Jacques is graced by a visit from the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel tells him that he’s been chosen to re-wind the running down mainspring of the earth. If it isn’t re-wound, the world will end – and as such he must find something called “the Key Perilous” (the Mainspring equivalent of our “Holy Grail”). A series of short introductions and good-byes later (with the help of a friendly librarian), Hethor is pressed into the service of a Royal Navy airship (the Bassett) and soon is heading south towards the equatorial wall, atop which the brass gear-works of the Earth and its orbital track meet. Beyond that barrier lies the mysterious ‘Southern Earth.’ Hethor’s quest will take him there and farther south – to the ends of the earth – one way or another.

In a clockwork world who could doubt the existence of God? None, but some still doubt the existence of angels. And that’s just what happens to Hethor. His master and betters think him at best a liar, at worst a thief, and poor young Hethor seems ill-equipped to save the universe. Luckily, a quick trip to the library and he’s on the right track…

Talk about hard to categorize! Jay Lake’s Mainspring offers an utterly unique vision of a world in which the Medieval ideas about how the universe works are literally manifest. Great premise, but it is an undercooked universe that I didn’t wholly buy. The alternate universe changes are interesting, but are not often well grounded. For instance, in the Mainspring world Jesus wasn’t crucified (nailed to a cross), he was ‘horofixed,’ (strapped to a wheel) – kind of makes sense right? Okay, that’s cool – but why, other than for style, did the United States never revolt from the English crown? Why the 19th century airships? Don’t get me wrong, I love airships, but there doesn’t appear to be a logic to their addition. We don’t find out much about the logic for the changes that aren’t obvious either. And that’s basically its problem. Mainspring has many elegant epicycles around its central action, but that action all lacks a core motivation. How can you suspend disbelief if the force of gravity is both an absent actor in the grand scheme (cosmically) but appears to act locally (people aren’t strapped down to the earth)? There are many flourishes, but there are also so many sidesteps to what should be natural consequences. This makes Mainspring have a mechanical, almost “rail-shooter”-novel feel to it. For instance, the novel insists that gravity isn’t what keeps the earth in orbit around the sun (it’s a massive brass clockwork instead), but what keeps the objects on the Earth on the ground? What keeps the airships up (or down)? None of this is answered – or even addressed. I kept hoping that some revelation, something central to the novel, would be revealed, right up to the final pages. Maybe this universe has an intensified magnetic force in it or something? Instead, no, nothing.

Also underdeveloped, and tragically so, is the religious thread. The consequences of seeing the mechanism of what is clearly “creation” in this world are not explored to any significant degree. Indeed, the ramifications from a created world, a world that ‘can run down’, are so lightly touched upon as to be non-existent. The focus is on the adventure of the naive Hethor, his meager beginnings and his sexual awakening. Mostly though, Mainspring is a series of encounters, and visual incredibilities. Like I was saying earlier, it is all undercooked. Jay Lake has vision and talent but this feels far more like his “Count Zero” novel than his “Neuromancer.”

Mainspring is one of the new batch of “exclusive to audible” titles. Veteran narrator William Dufris brings a calm assurance to the many characters who live in a world that seems normal to them, and crazy to us. Sound quality isn’t quite as good as from CD (but this title isn’t available on CD). Once installed, the download software and the audible checkout system integrate well. It isn’t quite “one click” ordering, but once you’ve made your choice you can have an audiobook on your portable media player and ready to play in less than 30 minutes. I use an iPod Nano, which displays the cover art and bookmarks the files perfectly. I could switch between a regular playlist, a podcast, and multiple audiobooks (from Audible) without losing my place. The experience of listening to and downloading an audiobook from Audible to your iPod is virtually identical to what iPod podcast users get.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Master Of Space And Time by Rudy Rucker

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Master of Space and Time by Rudy RuckerMaster of Space and Time
By Rudy V. B. Rucker; Read by Scott Grunden
5 CDs – Approx. 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9781433207709
Themes: / Science Fiction / Humor / Physics / Quantum Mechanics / Alternate Universe / Time Travel / Robots /

“Madcap inventor Harry Gerber is hopeless when it comes to surviving in the real world. So he uses his genius to twist the laws of science and create his own tailor-made universe.”

Joe Fletcher has a 9-to-precisely-5 job at Softtech, a crappy software company in New Jersey. He hates his job, so much so he’s programmed a piece of software to alert him to the precise nano-second of the completion of his requisite 40 hours a week. On one particular Friday in the futuristic 1990s Joe hoofs it out to the company parking lot for the commute home only to find his former partner, Harry Gerber, an “out-of-it” genius inventor waiting for him. Joe hadn’t seen Gerber, his former partner in their bankrupt engineering firm, in more than a year so he’s rather surprised to see a two-inch tall Harry sitting on the steering wheel of his 1956 Buick. In fact, after closer inspection there are a whole swarm of tiny Harrys in the Buick. Some are standing on the gearshift, others are running around on the dashboard, each is smaller than the next. The Harrys tell Joe about the machine that they will assemble on Saturday that will make them both masters of space and time by Sunday afternoon. Most important for Joe, Harry and his girlfriend, the improbably named Sondra Tupperware, they’ll need to get some red gluons – a kind of subatomic particle found only below the “Planck threshold.” The “blunzer” – the device in question, will grant them the ability to do absolutely anything by just mentally manipulating the very nature of reality – and they know it will work since it already has!

Rudy Rucker is playing with old Heinleinian tropes to good comic effect in Master Of Space And Time. On offer is an homage to The Puppet Masters and I Will Fear No Evil, the former being an alien invasion by brain slugs, the latter being about a man who gets the ultimate in transgendered wishes. There’s lots of original material here too, the writing is Hard SF-lite with lots of physics for undergraduates. It comes off as a comic version of the ultimate power fantasy, or as an SF take on the old “three wishes” tales. One other bit of fun, the chapter names are all either self-referential or jokey. On the net there seems to be quite a bit of controversy about the religious and sexual aspects of the book. I found it hard to understand why that would be – the accusations of ‘homophobia’ and a ‘high-handed, anti-christian’ attitude seem pretty insubstantial, at least based on the content of the novel I was listening to. The whole caper is fun, unpredictable and fast moving. It makes for a breezy listen – it won’t blow your mind, but it will entertain.

In Master Of Space And Time narrator Scott Grunden has some of the funniest lines ever read in an audiobook. At one point early in the novel he’s performing the sounds of a ginormous iguana-cum-Godzilla, (WHEEEENK-WHEEEENK- WHEEEENK! GUH-ROOOOOOO OOOOOOOOOOOOO!) the scene goes on an on. Another treat, at the point at which Joe is switched bodily into his idea of the most sexy woman in the world Grunden changes his voice even when his cadence doesn’t. It pleases the heck out of me that Blackstone is venturing a little farther back in time for many of its new Science Fiction additions. Master Of Space And Time was first published in the 1984, I had no clue it even existed until this audiobook edition came out. Look for a film version of Master Of Space And Time sometime in 2009 with a screenplay by Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame.

Posted by Jesse Willis