Review of Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross

SFFaudio Review

RECORDED BOOKS - Saturn's Children by Charles StrossSaturn’s Children
By Charles Stross; Read by Bianca Amato
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781440750113, 9781440750106
Themes: / Science Fiction / Androids / Robots / Sex / Slavery / Identity / Venus / Mars / Mercury / Eris /

The Hugo Award-winning author of numerous best-sellers, Charles Stross crafts tales that push the limits of the genre. In Saturn’s Children, Freya is an obsolete android concubine in a society where humans haven’t existed for hundreds of years. A rigid caste system keeps the Aristos, a vindictive group of humanoids, well in control of the lower, slave-chipped classes. So when Freya offends one particularly nasty Aristo, she’s forced to take a dangerous courier job off-planet.

This novel’s title comes from the myth that Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture and harvest), ate his children at birth for fear of them usurping him. Its an apt starting point for a tale about robots More interesting is that Saturn’s Children opens with a reading of Asimov’s three laws of robotics

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

…and then informs us that there are no humans left alive. There is, however, a whole solar system full of robots, all willing and able to obey all three laws. So what happened to all those humans? The novel is the answer to that question.

Saturn’s Children is told from the point of view of Freya Nakamichi-47 a gynoid (that’s a female android). She was activated (born) long after the last human had died. Freya, despite never having met one, still longs for her lost love (any human). Indeed, even the mere thought a human being makes her sexually excited. This is because, as a self described grande horizontale, Freya’s destiny was to be a sexual companion to any human that owned her. Now, without a master, she finds work where and when she can. But after a nasty run-in with an Aristo, a wealthy robot that owns other robots (called Arbiters), Freya will take any work that gets her off planet. Soon she’s employed by Jeeves, a masculine android who is more like her in shape and purpose than most robots. Freya’s first assignment is to transport a bio-engineered package across the solar system. But the pink police (a kind of anti biological proliferation organization), and another, more shadowy, organization are determined to stop her. Along the way Freya visits Cinnabar (a city on rails) that’s perpetually in Mercury’s shadow, drawing power from the temperature difference between Mercury’s light and dark sides), has sex with a rocket ship and grows some new hair.

Freya does a whole lot more than that too. She has a lot more sex for one. But beyond the sex there is some more fully cerebral stimulation going on in Saturn’s Children. The idea of a post-human solar system is an interesting one, and Stross plays with it quite effectively. This is a theme that I think hasn’t been done often enough in SF. The closest novel, in scope, if not in tone, is perhaps Clifford D. Simak’s City (in which intelligent dogs and robots have inherited a humanless Earth). This humanless solar system is, as I mentioned, quite vividly explored, with floating cities (like Bespin’s Cloud City) on Venus, waste heated bio-labs on the frozen dwarf planet of Eris, and a truly frightening description of what’s happened to poor old Earth. Stross has quite a lot of fun playing with the world he’s created here, naming a city Heinleingrad, naming a robot butler character after P.G. Wodehouse’s famous “gentleman’s personal gentleman.” It all mostly works with Saturn’s Children seeming to take most of its inspiration though from Heinlein’s novel Friday. Both novels feature artificial female persons as secret couriers, both tell their own stories, both secrete their smuggled cargos in their abdomens. Later on in Saturn’s Children there is some playing with the ideas promulgated in Heinlein’s 1970 novel I Will Fear No Evil. And, identity, in a world where brain data, and brain states, are easily and quickly copyable, isn’t as simple as it is with us meatbags. On the whole I enjoyed Saturn’s Children and found it full of interestingness. It was as most novels are these days, too long, and in need of a critical editor. The worst sin here is that the ending is rather weak, and features an afterword that leaves open the possibility of a sequel or seven.

Narrator Bianca Amato, a South African accented “ALIEN OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY” (according to her resume), mispronounces a couple of the more obscure words but the general gist of her reading is highly competent. It helps a whole lot that Freya’s story is told in first person. I’m not sure what the present tense adds to the narrative other than being a little noticeable and not particularly harmful. Also, as I mentioned in a recent podcast, the Recorded Books cover art is boring, whereas the Ace Books paperbook edition is fabulous!

Check out the dust jacket from the paperbook edition:

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross - The PAPERBOOK's Dustjacket

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Sunrise Alley by Catherine Asaro

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction audiobook - Sunrise Alley by Catherine AsaroSunrise Alley
By Catherine Asaro; Read by Hillary Huber
10 CDs – Approx. 11.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Published: December 2007
ISBN: 1433213007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Romance / Androids / Artificial Intelligence / California / Cyborgs /

When a shipwrecked stranger washed up on the beach near research scientist Samantha Bryton’s home, she was unaware that he was something more than human. He said his name was Turner Pascal—but Pascal was dead, killed in a car wreck. This man only held the remainder of Pascal’s consciousness in a technologically-enhanced humanoid body. He was, in fact, an experiment by the notorious criminal Charon, a practitioner of illegal robotics and android research. Charon has been secretly copying human minds into android brains, with plans to make his own army of slaves. On the run from this most ruthless criminal, Samatha and Turner seek help from Sunrise Alley, an underground organization of AIs and androids that have gone rogue. But these cybernetic outlaws are rumored to have their own hidden agenda.

It may not be so much that women and men are from different planets as women and men care about different things. Or it may be just that Catherine Asaro and I care about different things. Very different things. I have this hypothesis: people, even when they are lying to you, or writing fiction, can tell you a lot about themselves by what they focus on over and over. The word that kept coming up over and over again in Sunrise Alley was “trust.” Catherine Asaro, or at least her viewpoint character, Samantha Bryton, cares a whole helluvalot about trust. Me, I don’t care about trust, at least not in the way Asaro seems to wants me to. Based on the scenes in Sunrise Alley Asaro seems to think that being chased is also of great interest to a reader. Maybe it is to some readers. It isn’t to me. Turner Pascal, the mobile MacGuffin, is being chased prior to the novel’s start. Then Turner, the bellboy turned android, and Samantha, the scientist turned beachcomber, are chased all over the globe. They are chased in cars, by helicopter, by jet, on foot, in cars again.

The meme of an artificial person, android or evolving intelligence as Asaro dubs it, is often an interesting idea to work with in fiction. Philip K. Dick did some amazing things with it Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? as did Alfred Bester in Fondly Fahrenheit. Even later career Robert A. Heinlein managed to tell a compelling story with an artificial person in Friday. William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a globe trotting adventure with an artificial intelligence as the MacGuffin. But Catherine Asaro’s take on AI and androids leaves me empty and depressed.

When Samantha and Turner aren’t being chased by unseen foes they are usually making love in one of Samantha’s many beds (in one of her many houses), or in a tastefully decorated secure facility bedrooms (where they are being held prisoner). But those looking for scene after scene of socially redeeming hot piston on human action will also be sadly disappointed. The order of the day in Sunrise Alley is for the scientist and the bellboy to show each other their emotions, their vulnerable sides and speak essentially the same dialogue over and over.
The android, Turner, has an inferiority complex and his savior/companion/scientist girlfriend is needed to shore up his insecurities. The central problem in the novel, other than their being chased, comes when Turner starts to modify his body in order to solve their problems and escape their captors (because apparently Samantha has no skills herself). In doing this Turner is increasingly loosing the handsome human looks he was given by his evil maker (the bad guy who we don’t get to meet for more than half the novel). This makes Samantha have to deal with the increasing repulsion she feels towards Turner’s increasingly mechanical-looking body. And that is basically encapsulates my big problem with this story. Writing sentences about a character’s emotional life and his/her feelings towards another character’s body parts makes me really, really annoyed.

I like idea fiction, stories that tell me something on an intellecutal level. Asaro’s Sunrise Alley seems to be merely operating on the level of wish-fulfillment. Samantha Bryton is beautiful, wealthy, and unemployed by choice. When the novel begins a handsome, insecure man has just washed up on her beach. She rescues him and drags him to the safety of her inviting home. Did I mention that Samantha also has two homes in the woods? One is near the beach in a forest, another is in some other forest, just a convienient chapter’s distance away. Both homes are filled with top-notch security, lovely decor and garages full of vehicles to make James Bond greatly envious. The explanation of why a quietly retired scientist needs to own two woodsy homes within a few hours driving distance of each other isn’t at all satisfactory. And neither is the explanation as to why she has a spy cars with built-in cloaking devices, bulletproof glass, oil slick droppers and mortars.

The worst sin that Asaro commits, in my opinion, is the final revelation which comes in the form of a pathetic pseudoscience, namely repressed memory.Sunrise Alley is not just a bad novel, but badly conceived, badly written and generally bad. This is the worst novel I have ever read. This is the worst I have ever reviewed. This is the worst I have ever finished.

Narrator Hillary Huber is tasked with making Samantha Bryton’s neurotic thoughts come alive. She pitches her voice a little deeper when voicing Turner Pascal. Huber is a fine narrator, this material is beneath her skill.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Dimension X and X-Minus One of William Tenn

SFFaudio Online Audio

Here is a complete listing of all the William Tenn stories from both Dimension X and X-Minus One. Child’s Play doesn’t have any actual children in it, instead it is much more like a Philip K. Dick plot played for humor. Venus Is A Man’s World, on the other hand, features children protagonists. It’s a curious remnant of its era, a satire on gender equality. It also has a fun bit about naming your kids after Canadian provinces. The Discovery Of Mornial Matheway is a humorous time travel story with a clever wrinkle, mining the same material as Michael Moorcock’s Behold The Man and Robert A. Heinlein’s By His Bootstraps.

Dimension X was an NBC radio program broadcast from 1950 to 1951 in the USA. One episode was based on a story by William Tenn. The same script would be re-recorded four years later for X-Minus One.

Dimension XDimension X – Child’s Play
Based on the story by William Tenn; Adapted by George Lefferts; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 24 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: NBC Radio
Broadcast: June 21, 1951
Provider: Archive.org
Sam Weber used to be a meek little man. But then one day he received a “Build-A-Man” kit from 100 years in the future – that changed a whole lot. First published in Astounding Science Fiction, March 1947.

X-Minus One was a half-hour science fiction radio series broadcast from 1955 to 1958 on NBC Radio stations in the USA. William Tenn had three of his stories picked out and turned into radio dramatizations.

X Minus 1X-Minus One – Child’s Play
Based on the story by William Tenn; Adapted by George Lefferts; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 23 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: NBC Radio
Broadcast: October 20, 1955
Provider: Archive.org
Sam Weber used to be a meek little man. But then one day he received a “Build-A-Man” kit from 100 years in the future – that changed a whole lot. First published in Astounding Science Fiction, March 1947.

X Minus 1X-Minus One – Venus Is A Man’s World
Based on the story by William Tenn; Adapted by Arthur Small; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 22 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: NBC Radio
Broadcast: February 6, 1957
Provider: Archive.org
War has severely decimated the Earth’s male population. Females now make all the rules men are subservient to women. First published in Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1951.

X Minus 1X-Minus One – The Discovery Of Mornial Matheway
Based on the story by William Tenn; Adapted by Ernest Kinoy; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: NBC Radio
Broadcast: April 17, 1957
Provider: Archive.org
A time traveler from the future returns to the era of Morniel Mathaway, the greatest artist in history only to discovere that Mathaway is completely talentless. First published in Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1955.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #046

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #046 – Jesse and Scott talk audiobooks, hard SF, current theatrical movies, Kenneth Oppel‘s Skybreaker and the new Gene Wolfe audiobooks at Audible.com! We also debut a new feature (boldly stolen from the late lamented Sofanauts Podcast). RIP.

Talked about on today’s show:
bananas, Smoke by Donald E. Westlake, invisibility, humor, the Richard Stark novels are only funny to psychopaths, crime, Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You by Donald Westlake (Westlake’s open letter to Science Fiction on why he’s not writing SF anymore), Philip K. Dick’s interview on Hour 25, Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books: A Blog About Vintage Soft Core Paperbacks, Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, paperbackswap.com, The Ax and The Hook by Donald E. Westlake, The Engines Of God by Jack McDevitt, Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, aliens, xenoarcheology, terraforming, Tom Weiner, hard SF, 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke, exoplanets, social science fiction, soft SF, The Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi, androids, first contact, Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer |READ OUR REVIEW|, how to win any argument about modern SF: bring up Ted Chiang, The Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, Starship: Flagship by Mike Resnick, hero characters doing villainous things, Island Of The Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Summer Of The Monkeys by Wilson Rawls, Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke, hovercraft, Australia, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, marine biology, District 9, the MacGuffin in District 9 is stupid, Avatar, Sharlto Copley, Star Trek, Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel, Full Cast Audio, audio drama, Science Fiction, alternate history, Fantasy, airships, pirates, lifting gasses, phrenology, Howard Hughes, Thomas Edison, Graphic Audio, Brandon Sanderson‘s Warbreaker, Elizabeth Moon‘s Serrano Legacy series, audio drama is for truckers!, Jesse’s pick of the week: William Friedkin‘s Sorcerer (1977), laserdiscs, the great thing about laserdiscs!, VHSrips!, The Wages Of Fear (1953), Scott’s Pick of the week: Gene Wolfe’s The Book Of The New Sun (a novel in four parts), narrated by Jonathan Davis, the SFFaudio Yahoo! Group, Audible.com, Blake’s 7 The Early Years – Jenna: The Trial / The Dust Run (Vol. 1.5), Carrie Dobro, Babylon 5: Crusade, the Blake’s 7 television series, Blake’s 7 is the best audio drama space opera series ever!, Brian AldissHelleconia series, Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss, Best SF Stories of Brian W. Aldiss, the fix-up novel, Dreamsongs by George R.R. Martin |READ OUR REVIEW|, Maps In A Mirror by Orson Scott Card, short stories turned into novels, Karen Makes Out (a short story), Out Of Sight (a novel) by Elmore Leonard, Out Of Sight (the film), Karen Sisco, Meatball Fulton‘s Ruby The Galactic Gumshoe, NPR, Recorded Books, The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, what Jesse wants for his birthday: the complete fiction of Ted Chiang in audio, The Bishop’s Heir by Katherine Kurtz, the Deryni series, David Weber, series should end!

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #008

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #008 – here there be podcasts – we’ve adorned ourselves in too much gold, now we can’t move! So join us on our 8th show, where we’re always etymologically correct.

Scott: Oh ya right. I just forgot something man. Uh, before we dock, I think we ought to discuss the bonus situation.

Jesse: Right.

Scott: We think… we think we deserve full shares.

Jesse: Right.

Scott: Pass the cornbread.

Topics discussed include:
42Blips.com, METAtropolis, Jay Lake, John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Karl Schroeder, Mr. Spaceship, Philip K. Dick, Stefan Rudnicki, Wonder Audio, Anne McCaffrey, The Ship Who Sang, Michael Hogan, Battlestar Galactica, 18th Century Spain, Cascadia (Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and sometimes Idaho), Detroit, “Turking”, The Turk (the chess playing automaton), alternative economy, Kandyse McClure, infodump, shared world, Brandon Sanderson, hard fantasy, Elantris, Larry Niven, The Magic Goes Away, manna, unicorns, dragons, Dungeons & Dragons, Mistborn, Robert Jordan, The Wheel Of Time, Writing Excuses Podcast, Howard Tayler, SchlockMercenary.com, Dan Wells, The Dark Knight, Aural Noir, The New Adventures Of Mike Hammer, Stacy Keach, Mike Hammer, Full Cast Audio, Red Planet, Robert A. Heinlein, Bruce Coville, Mars, Heinlein’s Future History sequence, the Red Planet TV miniseries, Princess Academy, Shannon Hale, Blackstone Audio, The Collected Stories Of Philip K. Dick Volume 1, and Volume 2, Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, David Farland, Runelords, Collected Public Domain Works Of H.P. Lovecraft, LibriVox.org, October, Ray Bradbury, “Autumn ennui”, AUTHOR PAGES, LEIGH BRACKETT, FREDERIC BROWN, JAMES PATRICK KELLY, BBC7, RadioArchive.cc, Beam Me Up Podcast, MACK REYNOLDS, Robert Sheckley, Religulous, Constantine’s Sword, The Ultimate Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction: The Definitive illustrated Guide edited by David Pringle, space opera, planetary romance, Julie D., Forgotten Classics podcast, The Wonder Stick, time travel, alien intrusions, metal powers, Slan, The Demolished Man, comedic SF, aliens, artificial intelligence, “cosmic collisions”, Deep Impact, cyborgs, dinosaurs, the dying Earth, Gene Wolfe, elixir of life, immortality, Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, genetic engineering, nuclear war, overpopulation, parallel worlds, robots, androids, Joanna Russ, Ben Bova, space travel, suspended animation, teleportation, transcendence = the Singularity ?, Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke, religion, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Monica Hughes, Crisis On Conshelf Ten, Hard SF, cyberpunk, psychology, New Wave, lost races, military SF, science fantasy, shared worlds, steampunk.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Strawberry Automatic by T. Ray Gordon

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Strawberry Automatic by T. Ray GordonStrawberry Automatic
By T. Ray Gordon, Full Cast Production by Richard Sellers
1 CD – 78 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Apex Audio Theatre
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / Androids / Terraforming Mars /

The Automatics are androids, and trained fighting machines. When they fought for their own rights, they were, of course, declared non-personal non grata and the ones that could left Earth for other parts of the Solar System colonies. Strawberry Automatic is tall with flaming red hair, beautiful and deadly as they come. On Mars there is a company running the terraforming operation. Naturally someone wants to speed up the process using illegal nukes, and someone else wants to stop them.

I say “of course” and “naturally” because as I listened to this CD I had no trouble keeping slightly ahead of the story line. I kept thinking “This is a 1950s sci-fi story.” On his CD sales website, producer and narrator Richard Sellers says that T. Ray Gordon wrote 72 original manuscripts during the 1950s, which have never been published until now. So I was right. And as seems to be the cliché with pulp and radio writers, he was alcoholic and killed himself in 1961.

As a story Strawberry Automatic is a fairly good sci-fi adventure. As a script it relies too much on narration, some of which could have been written into dialogue or eliminated to keep the story moving faster. This might have made the script longer, though, and it appears they had decided to keep it to one CD. The production values are high, as the producer works as a voiceover artist and knows his trade. He also narrates the story. The acting is quite good, and it shows that Sellers knows his community of good performers. They just need someone to help them develop the script a bit before moving on.

The production values and the fact that it was not a story that had ever been produced before garnered it an Honorable Mention for the 10th Annual Mark Time Awards for Science Fiction Audio this year. Click here for more info.

The first of Gordon’s stories made for audio by Apex Audio Theatre, Inhumanity Quest, was also produced by Richard Sellers, and it shares many of the qualities mentioned here regarding the story, the production quality, and the performances.

I liked the production a little better the second time I heard it, as I could listen a bit more critically. It is well done. But I don’t know if I could listen to 72 of this kind of tale.