Review of Ida by Tim Callahan

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

ed.’s note: New reviewer Stephen Uitti and his review come to us via his blog, predelusional.

Ida by Tim CallahanIda
By Tim Callahan; Read by Tim Callahan
32 MP3 Files – Approx. 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Podiobooks.com
Published: 2006
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Space Travel / Asteroid Mining / Economics / Politics / Sex /

Each of the 32 mp3 audio files of this podcast novel has an introduction and epilogue. There are few introductions and epilogues that I’ll actually listen to. But Timothy’s is particularly annoying. He apologizes for his Philadelphia accent before you even get to hear him read. Guys – if you’re presenting a show, let the audience decide if they like it themselves. Don’t make us pity you for being too stupid to get someone else to read your book. Don’t go the other way either. Don’t hype it up. It is OK to promote some other work.

After the first chapter, the introductions also have a summary of what has gone on before. Maybe some people couldn’t remember what happened last month in the original serial. But now the entire book is available. I don’t have patience for the repetition so I skipped most of the introductions and epilogues. The guts of the each new chapter starts after a bit of music, and my iPod Shuffle was able to get me there via fast forward most of the time. Skipping epilogues is easy enough, since Callahan says that’s the end. Just skip to the next track. Since I skipped all that material, there was much less than twelve hours of material. There’s a bonus. After the novel is finished, Callahan offers in a short story entitled Balance. Balance takes place well after the events in Ida. Really, Ida is a prequel. It’s the backing story to Balance. Like his introduction to Ida, Timothy apologizes for his short story. Jeez. For the record, I liked Balance more. As a short story it has much faster pacing. Remember that reading a book to yourself is something like three times faster than hearing it aloud. So, short stories with very fast pacing work better in audio format. And yet, Balance is long enough to give you the idea that several events take place. The events in the story are believable. And no laws of physics are broken in the building of the plot.

That reminds me. The worst parts of Ida have to do with laws of physics. They aren’t broken like faster than light travel. It’s more like having a character survive an acceleration of ten or twenty thousand miles per hour in a few seconds time. That’s a minimum of 50 gravities. Ouch. A little more explanation could salvage the suspension of disbelief, and therefore the plot. This means a lot to me. But maybe you don’t care. Ida is real hard Science Fiction. It’d be nice to have someone check the science and do some math here and here. It wouldn’t take much. Really.

The work had sufficient interest to make it worthwhile. Rich characters, character growth, character interaction, believable responses and plot development. You can identify with the characters. Pick favorites and root for them. Suspense. And the end of the story is not simply telegraphed. There are plenty of surprises in the middle. And the flaws – mostly physics gaffs – are not nearly as bad as those in typical Hollywood movies. And they’re all fixable.

Is there sex? Yes. Is there violence? Yes. Is there swearing? Yes. Is the swearing pointless? Yes. This story would have been consumable by my ten year old, but because of pointless swearing, it isn’t. Will you like it? It depends on how much you like the good parts, and how tolerant you are to the flaws. It has lots of both.

Review of The Rock Rats by Ben Bova

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Rock Rats by Ben BovaThe Rock Rats
By Ben Bova; Read by Ira Claffey, Amanda Karr, and Cast
9 CDs – 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1593974922
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Travel / Asteroids / The Moon / Environment /

The asteroid belt is a fascinating area because it does represent the gold mine of the 21st century. Gold, silver, iron, platinum, any material you want is out there, and out there in enormous tonnages. Hundreds of thousands of billions of tons of all the mineral and metal wealth you can imagine… …the struggle in The Asteroid Wars is over who is going to control this wealth.
–Ben Bova in the Introduction to The Rock Rats

This is the second volume of Bova’s Asteroid Wars, a series which in turn is part of the larger group of novels called The Grand Tour. The first book, The Precipice, detailed the initial trip out to the asteroid belt, but this novel stands on it’s own and can be easily read and understood without reading the first.

Two of the people that were on that first ship to the asteroid belt, Lars and Amanda Fuchs, have returned to the belt along with many others. These pioneer miners call themselves “Rock Rats”, and form a loose society reminiscent of America’s Old West. You can’t call the police from the frontier, so justice is handled vigilante-style, and the laws of Earth no longer apply.

The rich and greedy Martin Humphries is still part of the equation, and he’s able, from his comfortable office on the Moon, to direct some of his people to stake claims on asteroids. The fact that they had already been claimed didn’t matter much to him. And thus, the war over control of those resources begins.

Bova covers a lot of territory in this book. There are scenes from the frontier, including a realistic battle between two ships with make-shift weapons that work like weapons would in space. Then there are scenes from the board room back on the Moon, where discussions are takng place about how to profitably get material back to Earth and how the stuff is going to affect the global economy. At opposing sides are those who are cognizant about the environment and those who solely want cash and power.

Scott Brick and cast did a fine job with the book. The narrator switches as point of view switches in the text, and I’m fining that technique more agreeable each time I listen. All the narrators were strong storytellers, and I’m left anxious to hear the third book, which luckily is on my shelf.

Audio Renaissance has published several of Ben Bova’s Grand Tour books in unabridged format.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Precipice by Ben Bova

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Precipice by Ben BovaThe Precipice
By Ben Bova; Read by Scott Brick, Amanda Karr, and Cast
10 CD’s – 12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1593974906
Themes: / Science Fiction / Asteroids / Environment / Nanotechnology / Space Travel / Moon / Corporations /

The Precipice is first book in Ben Bova’s Asteroid War series, which itself is part of the larger group of novels called The Grand Tour. All of the Grand Tour novels appear on audio, the earliest ones abridged, and the later ones unabridged. Of all the Bova novels I’ve heard on audio (Mars, Return to Mars, and Venus), this is the best, possibly because it’s the first unabridged one I’ve heard, more likely because the novel was fine, traditional science fiction peopled with complex characters. The plot was interesting, and the details more so. I really enjoyed this book.

The driving force of the novel is the adversarial relationship between Dan Randolph and Martin Humphries, who are both extremely successful corporate CEO’s. The world is in environmental disarray because the “Greenhouse Cliff” has been reached – the point at which environmental change becomes rapid and unstoppable. The reaction to this by Randolph is to find a way to help. Humphries’ reaction is to find profit opportunities. They both look toward the asteroid belt, whose mineral wealth Randolph sees as mankind’s savior, and Humphries sees as a giant dollar sign. They both struggle for the upper hand as they prepare mankind’s first trip to the asteroid belt.

The novel has another character well worth mentioning. Her name is Pancho Lane, and the first time we meet her in the novel, she is on a space station conning five fellow workers out of a month’s salary. She’s a smart-mouthed, independent, strong female astronaut that plays a huge role in the plot, and is one of those characters that you miss when a novel is done.

The cover of the audiobook lists the readers as “Scott Brick, Amanda Karr, and cast”. Brick and Karr are very strong readers, and have the largest parts in the book. Amanda Karr read the portions of the novel from Pancho Lane’s point of view, and gave the character just the right amount of attitude.

The other readers also performed well. I recall in an earlier post on this site, I mentioned that I wasn’t too fond of multiple-reader audiobooks, and that I preferred single narrators. I did mention Ender’s Game as an exception, which was produced by Stefan Rudnicki, as this one was. Since then, I’ve heard enough of these multiple-reader audiobooks (all produced by Rudnicki) to realize that if an audiobook is edited properly and you have capable performers all around, then the multiple-narrator technique employed here is preferable to single-narrator audiobooks for the simple fact that I immediately know whose POV the story is coming from at any time, which makes listening a more immersive experience. The voices drew me in faster as I picked up the book after putting it down between listens, as if the characters themselves were doing the reading.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg Bear

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg BearThe Wind from a Burning Woman
By Greg Bear; Read by George Guidall and Christina Moore
7 Cassettes – 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 1992
ISBN: 1556907672
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Terrorism / Asteroids / Metaphysics / Religion / Utopia / Dystopia / Future City / Cloning / Aliens

This superior anthology collects several early Greg Bear stories. The narrators, George Guidall and Christina Moore, guide us skillfully through Bear’s dense prose and do so with obvious relish. This collection features only top-notch stories — any single tale alone would be sufficient evidence that Bear is a future Grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy. Bear’s later novels occasionally suffer from a density that makes reading difficult. Very little of this is evident in this collection. The stories are generally clear in the telling, and where they are not, the confusion is brief. The wholly original and infinitely interesting ideas contained within each story make worthwhile any brief confusion of style.

The Wind from a Burning Woman, the title story, was later to serve as a prequel to Bear’s novel Eon, and describes the possible consequences of the ultimate act of terrorism.

The White Horse Child is an great allegory about a curious young boy who will grow up to become a writer. Written in a style that owes a debt to Clifford D. Simak, this pastoral fantasy story is an instant classic. Petra is a very unusual fantasy tale, its religious theme tackles the hard boiled consequences of taking certain biblical prophecies events as actual future events. So brilliantly does it achieve originality it reminds us why Greg Bear is so exceedingly interesting to read.

Scattershot is my personal favorite in this collection. Its sheer inventiveness and exploration of the consequences of metaphysical physics makes it a fascinating listen.

Mandala is an almost satiric examination of the far end of the curve of utopian ideals. It could almost be thought of as Greg Bear’s take on Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars.

Hardfought is a Hugo-winning novella that follows the viewpoints of both the aliens and the humans in their interstellar war. It could be considered Greg Bear’s take on Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. In order to fight their battle, humans have adapted in strange ways. It’s an absolutely fascinating read.

Stories included:
The Wind from a Burning Woman
The entire crew of Psyche, an asteroid turned into a spaceship, is murdered. Giani, the granddaughter of the project’s administrator commandeers the spaceship in an attempt to uncover the truth.

The White Horse Child
An odd allegory about a boy becoming a writer. God fearing, book burning, censoring Auntie Dancer tries to stop a child from becoming a storyteller.

Petra
“God is Dead”, when stone comes alive after reality rearranges itself. Petra is a half-caste, a lowly figure in the world of the cathedral. His father was a living statue, his mother a human nun.

Scattershot
Francis Geneva finds herself allied with a robotic Russian teddy bear after her starship has an accident. She and her new companion are forced to explores the consequences of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In a reality where every possibility exists coping can be quite stressful. Sometimes the aliens are from Earth.

Mandala
In order to become perfect the sentient cities of Earth cast off their final flaw, the problem causing people. Mandala explores a future where mankind has reverted to a stone age existence after losing access to their technology.

Hardfought
Insular aliens known as the Sylexy are at war with humanity, in an attempt to understand their strange enemy they capture and clone a human soldier.