The SFFaudio Podcast #370 – READALONG: The Crack In Space by Philip K. Dick


The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #370 – Jesse, Paul, and Marissa talk about The Crack In Space by Philip K. Dick.

Talked about on today’s show:
a terrible funny book, contemporary American politics, Jim Briskin, a bunch of stoners going out to dinner, political sophisticates, the ending, PKD is sick of his own story, precedents, Cantata 140, Johann Sebastian Bach’s When Sleepers Awake, H.G. Wells, seeing it from the wrong end, time travel, putting people into suspended animation, poor political intrigue, House Of Cards, what America is really about, racism and class, the cols and the jerries and the bib, why are they called bibs?, most bibs are cols, cols = coloureds (non-whites), jerries = geriatrics, Robert A. Heinlein, other themes, Dr. Futurity, two books smooshed together, that was a funny two books, other books on this theme, Living Space by Isaac Asimov, you can own an entire empty Earth, aliens come to visit, the sleepers, Lockstep by Karl Schroeder, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, a sense of deep time, the beginning of this book, so racist, not as racist as it sounds, Herb Lackmore, get an abortion, a “wheel” is a car, more of a U.S. thing, the United States stands in for the entire Earth, an economics issue, other countries have had this problem in the past, England (the enclosures), they sent them to Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, we don’t have that frontier, Dick nailed the economic problems of the early 21st century, a clunky 1960s novel, fun-house mirror prescience, seeing through a Scanner Darkly, white vs. black election, Trump supporters, C.L.E.A.N., the Tea Party, the KKK, super racist organization, interesting payoffs, the pekes (Peking man), sloping foreheads, racism vs. speciesism, and the moral of this story is…, Bill Smith walks into the room, even more hilarious, this whole incident will fade out of reality, whatever political scandal is happening this week…, nothing comes of it, how you gonna terraform Uranus?, a gigantic problem, what happens?, frustrating, but we love it, that mutant peke, even the space brothel comes back online, everybody hit the reset button, like a Star Trek episode, the Prominent Author by Philip K. Dick is entirely explained within The Crack In Space, a jiffy scuttler, Terran Development, Mary (again), “I’m thinking of writing a sequel”, a very funny joke, God is the most prominent author, an almost Jim Briskin, he was a “newsclown”, Stand-by, What Will We Do With Ragland Park?, interesting SFF audios, precognitive songs, weird, The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, a flaming red wig, the Philip K. Dick fan page notes, Ace Books changed the title, the title is a double-entrendre, “The Golden Door”, very American, they hate sex and they love it, where’s our flying taxi to take us to our brothel in space, a giant boob in space, bootleg organs, nothing came of that, Doctor Who, Revelation of the Daleks, consumer resistance, are you sure want to do this?, Vanilla Sky, Abres Los Ojos, the two political parties, the Liberal Republicans and the Conservative Socialists, possibly the worst book by Dick, not the book to start with, full of lots of ideas and humour, George Walt (the wind god), he’s a libertarian, see what you get, one long rambling set-up, you can’t live in this novel, Dr. Futurity, a valuable and valueless skill, bonkers, more repairmen, fewer presidents, The Simulacra, they’re all blending together, The Man Who Japed, Vulcan’s Hammer, The Cosmic Puppets, Solar Lottery, Eye In The Sky, these are the golden books, somehow they all got published, Now Wait For Last Year, a floppy fruit salad, he was attempting a trick, it didn’t work, wub fur pajamas, advertising on the doors, like Minority Report‘s ads (the movie), Mr American Buisness, my “golden door”, the Statue of Liberty’s poem:

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

that’s why, the abortion therapist wife, we’re supposed to empathize with the cols, if he had had another pass at this…, flying to the coast of the new world, a new Normandy invasion, how many D-Days, Neanderthal strivings are modest, The Long Earth by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (a sequel of sorts), Stephen Baxter doesn’t write comedy, if this is his worst it does not turn us off at all, clunky and malformed like the brow ridges on a peking man, a slight vacation from our own broken crazy world, the audiobook, the narrator made one character sound like Ronald Regan, Eric Dawe, a few jiggling boobs, almost no women, this novel doesn’t pass any tests.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1964 - Cantata 140 by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Ed Emshwiller

The Crack In Space by Philip K. Dick - Ace Books F-377

The Crack In Space by Philip K. Dick - illustration by Chris Moore

Ace Books 12126 The Crack In Space by Philip K. Dick

MAGNUM - The Crack In Space by Philip K. Dick

Cantata 140 by Philip K. Dick illustration by Emsh "Briskin For President"

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

SFFaudio Review

The Magician's LandThe Magician’s Land (The Magicians #3)
By Lev Grossman; Read by Mark Bramhall
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 5 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 hours, 27 minutes

Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizard School / Meta Fiction / Alternate Worlds /

Publisher summary:

Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of grey magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Netherlands, and buried secrets, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory – but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

This series gets better book by book. I liked the story of the first but didn’t like any of the characters. I liked the story of the second and the characters grew on me quite a bit. This third book to the trilogy is definitely my favorite of the three. The story is interesting and has some throwbacks to the previous installments, Grossman’s dry humor is completely on point, and the characters are the best of this trilogy yet. My favorite part is Grossman’s use of humor throughout the book and his breadth of imagination with the use of magic throughout the book. Grossman brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion that you should definitely experience if you’ve already read the first two books of the series.

If you’re even considering reading this book, I’m sure you’ve already read the first two (if not, I’ll wait here while you go take care of that). Quentin is left shut out from Fillory so what is he to do with himself? Surprisingly enough, he does NOT turn into the miserable wreck of a creature he became after graduating in the first book – thank goodness for that. Quentin seems to have grown quite a bit from his past adventures and finds more purpose in his life. It’s really cool to see him develop that way across the books.

Grossman adds a few other point of view characters in this novel and all were nice additions to Quentin’s typical somber tone. You get to find out what other members of the old gang are getting up to as Grossman approaches the climactic conclusion of the trilogy. I particularly like Plum, a brilliant student at Brakebills that also gets involved in the adventure. Those who read Dangerous Women will recognize part of her story from Grossman’s submission to the anthology.

Grossman’s writing comes off smooth and natural. His dry tone and humor stand out as in the first two books and the book was completely enjoyable. He makes references to other works of fiction and modern influences like Harry Potter without feeling forced or making the book feel like it will be dated. There are some points in the plot where things come together far too well by happenstance, but that doesn’t hurt the story too much if you don’t focus on it.

As for the audio side of things, Mark Bramhall continues to perform his role as narrator superbly in this book. He handles the tone of the book so well – executing the voices of characters with all the sarcasm or droll tone you’d expect from these characters. Such simple ways of saying the lines Grossman has written actually made me laugh out loud in some places (“Wands out Harry”). I will definitely be looking for other books narrated by Bramhall.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

SFFaudio Review

Between Two ThornsBetween Two Thorns (Split Worlds #1)
By Emma Newman; Performed by Emma Newman
Publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours; 59 minutes

Themes: / alternate worlds / England / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city. The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him – with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer. There is a witness, but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs. But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

Between Two Thorns is the first book in Emma Newman’s Split Worlds trilogy. The universe was debuted by the author in a series of weekly free short stories released over a year-long period leading up to this book’s release. The short stories are independent of the trilogy in the sense that it is not necessary to read them prior to the starting the trilogy, but can be read later to enhance the characters and the universe. The stories are available both as text and as audio and can be found on the Split Worlds website.

In regards to the audio, Emma Newman also happens to be a professional audiobook narrator with credits including science fiction and romance titles as well as recordings for Dark Fiction Magazine. I always find it interesting to hear an author narrate their own work, as there is arguably a certain degree of credibility gained which could be lost with another narrator. In the case of the Split Worlds series, I find it interesting to hear the author’s own take on the wide variety of characters in the universe ranging from angels, sorcerers, and gargoyles to wish-granting faeries. On a couple occasions, however, the characters seem to blend together and I had a little difficulty keeping track of who was who which is surprising given the diversity.

The Split Worlds universe provides an immersive and addictive environment for the reader. Part real-world Bath and part netherworld Aquae Sulis, the author has even conducted role-playing games set in the book’s world and invited reader participation. Between Two Thorns sets the tone pulling the reader in and it’s cliffhanger ending leaves one anxious to dive right into the sequel Any Other Name. (And I’m sure from that installment onto the conclusion.) I certainly plan myself to continue on with the next installment soon.

Posted by Dan VK.

Review of The Crack in Space by Philip K. Dick

SFFaudio Review

The Crack in Space by PKDThe Crack in Space
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Benjamin L. Darcie
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours

Themes: / racism / politics / alternate worlds / parallel universes /

Publisher summary:

When a repairman accidentally discovers a parallel universe, everyone sees it as an opportunity, whether as a way to ease Earth’s overcrowding, set up a personal kingdom, or hide an inconvenient mistress. But when a civilization is found already living there, the people on this side of the crack are sent scrambling to discover their motives. Will these parallel humans come in peace, or are they just as corrupt and ill-intentioned as the people of this world?

Philip K. Dick’s The Crack in Space was published in 1966, however the novel has its genesis in the short story Prominent Author which debuted in the May 1954 issue of IF: Worlds Of Science Fiction. This story has been featured previously on the SFFaudio website and is available as a PDF.

The focus of this story is a futuristic teleportation device known as a Jiffi-scuttler which is a product of the Terran Development company. In the short story, a prototype of the device is defective, which while works as a teleportation device, also serves as a sort of gateway into  alternate times and/or realities. I recommend reading the short story first before tackling the novel as some of the key concepts are introduced which took some time to get used to in the full length novel.

The Crack in Space take places in the year 2080 and is interesting to read today as the focal character Jim Briskin is in the midst of a political campaign to become  the first black president of the United States. This campaign takes place at a time that the country is still very much racially divided, with the population divided between “Cols” and “Caucs,” terms which are abbreviated forms of the words “Coloreds” and “Caucasians.” Due to the overpopulation, a large number of people (mostly “Cols,”) are kept in a state of cryogenic sleep while waiting for a time when the economy turns around and a solution to the overpopulation problem is found. These people are referred to as “bibs.”

The narration is handled by Benjamin L. Darcie who does a great job with the material. Benjamin also handles narration for Philip K. Dick’s A Maze of Death as well as has narrated a variety of other crime, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror titles. In addition to acting and film, Ben Darcie is also the beer editor for West Michigan’s REVUE magazine and known for the Beer Tasting Classes he hosts at breweries around Grand Rapids. I recommend the audiobook of The Crack in Space as a very interesting read with a contrasting mid-60’s view of the future given the current state of politics in the United States.

Posted by Dan VK

Review of The Magician King by Lev Grossman

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Magician King by Lev GrossmanThe Magician King
By Lev Grossman; Read by Mark Bramhall
13 CDs – Approx. 16 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2011
ISBN: 1611760259
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizard School / Alternate Worlds / Gods /

What does it mean to be the Hero on a Quest? What does it cost? Perhaps this is something you might want to find out before you go looking everywhere for one.

It is two years since the final scene in The Magicians (Read the Review). Quentin Coldwater is now one of the Kings of Fillory, that Narnia-esque fantasy land from the series of books he read as a child. Fellow King and Queens are fellow Brakebills Academy graduates Elliot, the self-obsessed fop, and Janet with whom Quentin had a very brief dalliance, with tragic consequences. There are to be two Kings and two Queens of Fillory with Quentin’s pre-Brakebills friend Julia taking the fourth crown.

Quentin is still emotionally scarred from the tragedies of the first book and is struggling to find a reason in his life. Again this leads him towards a search for a Quest. Despite being a King in a magical realm where you would have to go far out of your way to prevent the land from producing a bountiful harvest. It still isn’t enough, Quentin feels the need to be doing something important. One thing the Fillory was good for in the books about it that he read while growing up, was that the Chatwin children always had a quest to complete when they visited.

After a false start on a quest involving a madly thrashing over-sized clock-tree, Quentin embarks on a trip to the most remote island of the realm of Fillory. To collect on unpaid taxes. He was getting desperate to find his quest and this come up at the wrong time. Never mind that the cost of outfitting the ship and getting there would out strip the value of the unpaid taxed several times over.

Accompanying Quentin on his fools quest is Queen Julia. In The Magicians Julia was the school friend that also sat the Brakebills entrance exam, but didn’t make the cut. Half of The Magician King is told from Julia’s perspective, as we follow what brought her from failing that exam to where we found her floating in the air beside Elliot and Janet at the end of The Magicians. This half of the book is the more compelling of the two as we learn about the world of Magic that isn’t controlled by the establishment as exemplified by the Brakebills Academy.

The main quest that Quentin and Julia follow, The Search for the Seven Golden Keys of Fillory, inadvertantly takes them out beyond the furthest isle of Fillory and lands them in the one place neither of them ever wanted to be. Back home of Earth. Although Earth isn’t as magical as Fillory, there are still wonders here to be found, such as Dragons.

Julia is the real treasure in this novel. A minor character in the first book, she rivals and surpasses Quentin for the position of protaginist. Although half the book is written from Quentin’s perspective, you should pay close attention to Julia. The two halfs tell of the terrible path that this poor tortured woman drove herself along after glimpsing the secret world of Brakebills. She is a broken and empty shell as Queen Julia, slowly finding parts of herself as she and Quentin struggle to find the Keys that will prevent Magic from dissappearing from all of the different realities. Especially important to Fillory as it can’t even exist without Magic. For the Old Gods have returned. No, not Cthulu. The Gods who created the Neitherlands, and accidentily left open the loophole that allows humans to do magic at all.  Something got there attention and now they know that there is a loophole, and they are working to close it.

Quentin and Julia are both compelling characters. Quentin is still a bit of the Emo kid he was in the first book and his desire to be the Hero teaches him the cost real Heros must be prepared to pay. Julia through the two storylines has a woderful depth to her. She isn’t necessarily likeable, she is even more obsessive then Quentin in the flashback story. An obsession that costs her dearly.

Grossman’s world of Magic, although having some of the trappings of a Narial-like fairytale, it has much more in common with the original dark fairytales before they were sweetened for Victorian children. Magic is powerfull and the consequences, when they come, are swift, severe and utterly pittyless. We do get to see the awesome potential of the Magic that Quentin wields as he finds in himself the real Magician King. What he and his friends had been doing before was just playing with kid-gloves.

Mark Branhall again narrates, bringing out each character well and maintains consistent voices for characters from The Magicians.

This is a more developed narrative than the first book, which stood well on it’s own and didn’t leave you feeling there was a need for a sequel. The Magician King‘s story is also self-contained, but you should have read book one to appreciate it properly.

Posted by Paul [W] Campbell

Review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Magicians by Lev GrossmanThe Magicians
By Lev Grossman; Read by Mark Bramhall
17 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2009
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizard School / Meta Fiction / Alternate Worlds / Fictional fictional characters /

It would be too easy to simply compare this book to the Harry Potter series. There are obvious elements that are present in both, specifically the magic school. But Lev tells a story that only uses that as a means to bring the characters together and move onto the main story, which really kicks off once they graduate.

The main character, Quentin Coldwater, is a very bright high school kid who is busy applying to Universities. Despite his academic excellence, Quentin struggles to connect with the real world. He has a fascination with a series of fantasy books about a land called Fillory. In those books he can see a purpose to existence that he can’t find in his own life.

One university, Brakebills Academy, takes an interest in him and gives him an exam. It is during this exam that Quentin discovers that he is one of those few who have a talent for magic. He is enrolled in the school and goes from the smartest kid in his school to about average in his year. He pushes himself to excel and eventually finds that he is being skipped ahead a year. He makes friends and finds love. But his time there is not without upset. Eventually he and his friends graduate and we are not even half-way through the book.

Struggling to decide what to do with their lives, Quentin and his college friends drift through life for a short time. The world of the wizards isn’t challenging to them. This secret culture looks after their own, keeping a low profile and pretty much doing whatever interests them. Lacking direction and guidance Quentin and his friends have too much money and no responsibilities. They party. Drink, drugs and sex. But then they discover something that even their tutors didn’t know about. Fillory, the land from Quentin’s books, is real and they have a way to get there. They gear up and mount a small expedition to find adventure and fill the hole in their lives. They go into this with a tactics and planning of a group of fantasy role-players. They see everything in terms of the stories of Fillory. They expect quests will turn up to tell them what they need to do, and indeed one does.

The parallels between Fillory and Narnia are much stronger than those with the Harry Potter series, and pervades through much more of the novel. In the Fillory novels, a family of children, the Chatwins, from rural England in the early 1900’s keep finding secret paths into Fillory where they have adventures, defeat enemies to the land and return home as if no time has passed. While there isn’t a Lion god, there is Ember and Umber the twin Ram gods, who clean up any remaining mess and sends the Chatwin children back home. The events and characters in these books are real and have a serious impact on Quentin and his friends as they try to figure out what really happened in Fillory. There are hints and clues throughout that a second reading would put into a clearer context after knowing the ending.

The narrator, Mark Bramhall, gives an excellent performance, keeping most of the voices distinct.

Although this is described as a coming of age novel, I would hesitate to recommend it to younger teen readers. There are several strong uses of offensive language, all fitting with the characters and their situation. Definitely not aimed at the same primary market Harry Potter was.

Posted by Paul [W] Campbell