Review of The Icarus Hunt By Timothy Zahn

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Icarus Hunt by Timothy ZahnThe Icarus Hunt
By Timothy Zahn; Read by Jonathan Marosz
9 Cassettes – Approx. 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books On Tape Inc.
Published: 1999
ISBN: 0736649573
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Mystery / Galactic Civilization / Aliens /

From Timothy Zahn, Hugo Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of two landmark Star Wars® series, comes an original new tale featuring a renegade space pilot, his unusual alien partner, and an unknown cargo that can change the course of galactic history.

Captain Jordan McKell, and his alien partner, Ixil, incautiously agree to fly The Icarus and its special cargo to Earth. The Icarus turns out to be an unusual ship containing a ragtag crew and a secret cargo that everybody in the Spiral seems to want to get their hands on. Things look tough but get worse, when they discover one of the crew’s been murdered and that there’s a saboteur aboard.

The Icarus Hunt is more science fantasy than science fiction. Set in a universe very similar to that of Star Wars, it’s also a novel firmly planted in that tradition of smugglers and space jockeys eluding powerful governments, with plenty of aliens, gunfights and seedy spaceports. If you’re in the mood for old-fashioned escapist SF, this one’s definitely for you. Myself, I enjoyed the simplicity of the tale, which is told entirely from one character’s perspective, but with enough curves to keep it interesting. Timothy Zahn wrote a few Star Wars novels, so he’s got the chops for this, but unlike with those novels, Zahn is able to build his own universe instead of just riding on the coattails of the first three movies. Zahn himself has described The Icarus Hunt as “Star Wars meets Alastair McLean”, and he’s telling the truth. The protagonist is a human that’ll remind you of the Han Solo/Lando Calrissian type, the good hearted rogue, and the plot has enough double-crossing to make you think you’re watching Where Eagles Dare or Ice Station Zebra. This isn’t deep material but it’s engaging. The worst sin it commits is in its length, its just a tad long for the plot material.

Jonathon Marosz uses more than a dozen voices and his reading is spot on. The viewpoint character is, as I stated before, a Han Solo type, and Marosz could definitely pinch hit for Harrision Ford in a minute. The cover art for this one is taken from the Bantam books paperback, and looks great. Production values are excellent, sound quality is perfect, though it has no extras at all. A solid reading of a solid space adventure.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Sci-Fi Private Eye edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Sci-Fi Private Eye edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. GreenbergSci-Fi Private Eye
Edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin Greenberg; Read by Bill Fantini and Nelson Runger
4 cassettes – 6 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dercum Audio
Published: August 1997
ISBN: 155656273X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mystery / Utopia / Dystpoia / Sherlock Holmes / Mars / Berzerker / Time Travel / Artificial Intelligence / Covert Warfare /

Decades ago, SF grandmaster Isaac Asimov noted the similarity between detective “whodunit” stories and science fiction “puzzle” stories. Avoiding some of the obvious pitfalls, he began to write stories that contain elements of both of these popular genres. Later as an anthologist, Asimov teamed up with Martin H. Greenberg to collect the best of this subgenre. Sci-Fi Private Eye was the happy result. Though obviously not recorded under perfect conditions, you can literally hear the pages turning, I was flabbergasted by the love and care that went into the recording of this audiobook. It starts off with a haunting original musical score, then, instead of simply reading the first story, as is typical with nearly every audiobook, it introduces the anthology with a brief but well composed essay on the subject of mystery science fiction! The packaging is not as good, while in a sturdy enough case, the original cover art falls into a category I call “computer designed abstract boring”. Even worse, they spelled Asimov’s name wrong. The cassettes themselves also lack important details (what story starts where and ends where). The stories though are so good that I’ve got to summarize and review them individually:

Stories Included:
Introduction written and read by Isaac Asimov
“Getting Across” by Robert Silverberg
“The Martian Crown Jewels” by Poul Anderson
“Of The Metal Murderer” by Fred Saberhagen
“Mouthpiece” by Edward Wellen
“War Game” by Philip K. Dick

Robert Silverberg’s “Getting Across” is a terrific SF short story told in the first person. It was originally published in the anthology entitled Future City (1973). A future society is in danger. To house the engorged human race, the Earth is entirely covered by one large metropolis. But it isn’t one big city so much as it is a million city-states abutting one another. Each district has its own government, its own customs and industries, and it’s own way of life. Contact between districts is restricted and often dangerous to those who attempt it. All districts rely on a master computer program for the smooth operation of these automated communities. So when Ganfield’s master computer program is stolen, things start to deteriorate quickly. Garbage starts piling up uncollected, food stops being delivered, the climate control system stops working, and the deactivated robotic police force cannot prevent the cannibalism that is only weeks away. The man whose “month-wife” stole the program is sent to find her and bring it back. His task is nearly impossible because even if he can get out of his district getting across will only be the first hurdle. Typical of Silverberg’s great work in the 1970s.

Poul Anderson’s “The Martian Crown Jewels” was first published in A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Vol. 1 (1959). The Martian Crown Jewels have been stolen! The theft threatens to destroy diplomatic relations between Mars and Earth. Inspector Gregg, of the Earth police force stationed on Mars, is stumped. Who can solve the baffling locked spaceship mystery and avert a galactic catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions? None other than Mars’ greatest consulting detective, Syaloch, a seven-foot feathered Martian who lives at 221B “Street of Those who Prepare Nourishment in Ovens.” Most entertaining.

Edward Wellen’s “Mouthpiece” first saw print in the pages of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine’s February 1974’s issue. Most of the stories I’ve read by Edward Wellen tend to be focused on the workings of the human mind, and this one is no exception. This one fictionalizes a fascinating historical curiosity regarding the final hours of “Dutch” Schultz and takes it just that bit farther – into artificial intelligence – leaving us pondering the nature of personality, memory and thought. It’s also a great little mystery to boot!

Fred Saberhagen’s “The Adventure Of The Metal Murderer” was first published in Omni Magazine’s January 1980 issue, and is another in Saberhagen’s long running series of Berzerker short stories. It’s a time travel story that starts in the distant future and then goes back to 19th century London, England. A clever tale that will remind you of Michael Moorcock’s “Behold The Man”.

Philip K. Dick’s “War Game” was first published in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine’s December 1959 issue. Earth’s traditional enemy, Ganymede, is at it again. They are trying to subvert and soften up the good people of Earth by selling potentially dangerous toys and games as a prelude to invasion. One toy appears to assemble itself over time into a nuclear weapon, another convinces the user that the virtual reality he or she is in is actual reality, and a third is a harmless variation on the board game Monopoly. But the market demand for the inventive Ganymedian games is pressuring the Earth customs to clear the toys for stocking in time for Christmas. If they follow the rules only one will get through to the store shelves. Typically Dickian and thus very entertaining.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Twilight Zone No. 2 – Walking Distance by Rod Serling

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Twilight Zone No 2The Twilight Zone No. 2 – Walking Distance
By Rod Serling; Read by Cliff Robertson
1 Cassette – 75 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 1992 – (OUT OF PRINT)
ISBN: 1559946601
Themes: / Fantasy / Time-travel / Small Town / 1930’s / Depression Era / Human Condition /

The signpost up ahead. You’ve just crossed into… The Twilight Zone.

“Walking Distance” is the second in the series of stories based on actual episodes from the original The Twilight Zone television series. Martin Sloan is a 36-year-old businessman who longs for the carefree days of his youth. Martin wants to return to his hometown, but when his car breaks down, just walking distance from his destination, he decides to walk the rest of the way. Upon entering Homewood, Martin is taken aback by the sameness of the place, chocolate sodas still only cost a dime and people drive obsolete automobiles. Gradually, Martin begins to realize that the town has not changed at all in the twenty years since he’s left: In fact, his parents are still alive, and there’s a young boy running around who is the living image of 10-year-old Martin Sloan.

Cliff Robertson’s range isn’t all it could be, but he reads the story with enough vigor and emotion to instill a nostalgia for the 1930’s in me! “Walking Distance” doesn’t have many of the typical conceits of a science fiction time travel story, but its definitely a Twilight Zone story. And it has the requisite and almost comforting Twilight Zone Twist at the end. Presented just like an actual episode of the television series, there’s the haunting Twilight Zone music at the beginning and the end and an introduction just like Serling used to make. A good second installment in this six part series.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Callahan Chronicals by Spider Robinson

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Callahan Chronicals by Spider RobinsonThe Callahan Chronicals
By Spider Robinson; read by Barrett Whitener
12 cassettes – 18 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2003
ISBN: 0786124601
Themes: / Science Fiction / Telepathy / Empathy / Callahan’s Place / Extraterrestrials / Time Travel

There is nothing which has been contrived by man by which so much happiness has been produced as by a good tavern or inn. — Samuel Johnson

With that quote begins Spider Robinson’s omnibus collection of short stories entitled The Callahan Chronicals. Included in this audiobook are the collections Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Time Travelers Strictly Cash, and Callahan’s Secret. Time Travelers is not included complete – in the original paperback, some non-Callahan stories appeared that are not collected here.

The stories center around a bunch of very good folks that spend quite a bit of time at Callahan’s Place, a bar owned and tended by Mike Callahan. In the author’s words, Callahan’s is “an environment in which shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased, and the puns really suck.” It’s a place that a person can bring his or her troubles, and find people that are willing to listen – and believe. A typical story finds the patrons enjoying each other’s company (often tossing horrible puns at each other) when someone enters and tells his or her story. This person is changed by the experience of sharing his or her troubles.

Some of the stories are marginally science fiction, but most involve some kind of science fiction idea engendered in one of the characters. Telepaths, time travellers, extra-terrestrials, and even Spider Robinson himself are among the bar’s visitors. Robinson is able to reach an emotional depth not often seen in science fiction. Each story is touching in its own way, and they often reach peaks of joy and depths of pain, all within minutes of audio. In short, these stories pack an emotional punch. I found them difficult to listen to one after the other, as a person can only feel so much. They would be better heard individually, with a bit of time to digest and reflect in-between. I plan to revisit them in this way – they are worth listening to again, and are worth the pause.

Barrett Whitener is exceptional here. He understands the material and adds just the right touch in nearly every story. No easy task with these touching stories. A job very well done.

At the beginning of the audio, there are three introductions. The first is titled “Backward”, written by Spider Robinson for the entire volume. Next is “Spider Robinson: The SF Writer as Empath” by Ben Bova, which provides a look into the life of an editor as he describes Spider’s first sale to Analog. Then comes a forward written by Robinson for the original version of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. All of them were interesting, and I’m glad Blackstone left them in there.

I was disappointed only by the fact that there are no breaks between these stories. The final sentence of a story is read, immediately followed by the title of the next, and straight on till morning. I would have appreciated some kind of break there.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Twilight Zone No. 1 – The Mighty Casey by Rod Serling

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Twilight Zone No 1The Twilight Zone No. 1 – The Mighty Casey
By Rod Serling; Read by Fritz Weaver
1 cassette – 75 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 1992 – Out Of Print
ISBN: 1559946598
Themes: / Fantasy / Baseball / Robots / Humor /

Submitted for your approval…

Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is revived for audio in the form of unabridged short stories by Rod Serling. All the stories in this series were previously adapted for the original Twilight Zone television series. This is the first in a series of six single cassette adaptations read by stars of the original series. In this case, Fritz Weaver spins the tale of “The Mighty Casey”, an almost mythical player for that near-mythical sport of baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers were down in the dumps until tryouts turned up a talented left hander with a pitch like nobody’s business. Casey, the pitcher “with an exceptional left hand”, inspires the tired old players to new glory. They become the team to beat. Everything was swell until Casey gets beaned by a ball. A doctor is summoned and pronounces that Casey is alright, but then the doctor has trouble finding a pulse. It’s soon discovered that Casey is actually a robot and as such does not have a heart!

When thinking of baseball, most people probably associate the name Casey with the Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s 1888 poem “Casey At The Bat”. It’s clear to me that Rod Serling tapped into it for inspiration. “The Mighty Casey” is a very funny story. The dialogue is humorous and the situation is funny too, but it also has a lot of pathos. The story is entertaining but also has that most important of Twilight Zone elements, a twist with a satisfying ending. Fritz Weaver has great fun playing the characters, especially Mouth McGarry, the comic manager of the Dodgers, a character full of deep anxiety and deeper ignorance. This is pretty light material for The Twilight Zone, which often deals with the darker elements of the Human condition. Presented like an actual episode of the television series, there’s the haunting Twilight Zone music and an introduction just like Serling used to make. I actually listened to the tale twice, and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. Overall its a very good start to the series.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of No Truce with Kings by Poul Anderson

Science Fiction Audiobook - No Truce With Kings by Poul AndersonNo Truce With Kings
By Poul Anderson; Read by Tom Teti
4 Cassettes – 4 Hours 40 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dercum Press Audio [ActiveBooks #ABS02]
Published: September 1987 – OUT OF PRINT
ISBN: 1556562675
Themes: / Science Fiction / Exploration / Sea Voyage / Civil War / Military / Galactic Civilization / Telepathy /

DERCUM ACTIVE BOOKS
Dercum’s Active Books are a contemporary approach to classic literature. This collection, when complete, will number over sixteen volumes and will be one of the most comprehensive anthologies of science fiction and fantasy stories ever produced. Book Notes are and exclusive feature of all Dercum Fantasy Listening Cassettes. At key points in our stories, musical accents are added for your listening pleasure.

Though it doesn’t state it in the title, this audiobook actually contains two tales by Poul Anderson, the 1961 Hugo winning novelette “The Longest Voyage” and the 1964 Hugo winning novella “No Truce With Kings”. “The Longest Voyage” follows a junior officer on board the ship of a latter day Magellan. But this global circumnavigation is on a faraway planet, populated by humans who have lost their ancient technologies. As their society has rebuilt itself it builds new caravels that can take them farther and farther afield. But the new civilizations they discover on a distant shore hold a secret to both their past and their future.

“No Truce with Kings” is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, a feudal future made up of small nations constantly at war with each other. As the battles and intrigues unfold, hidden societies and shadowy organizations begin to show that their wars do not go unnoticed.

“The Longest Voyage” was enjoyable, it reminded me of Robert J. Sawyer’s Farseer, minus the talking dinosaurs. “No Truce With Kings” was well conceived, a cross between Mad Max and Jeremiah, but the execution was less than I had hoped for. Still and all, I enjoyed both stories and it was a very good listen.

This audiobook is a curious mix of excellence and shoddiness. The stories are certainly very worthy of adaptation, the reader Tom Teti is decent if not spectacular, providing only a minimal performance. But the packaging is just plain bad, missing digits in the ISBN, the reader’s name would be unknown except that the packaging has come unglued and revealed it beneath one of the two cassette holders (a place where no one would ever possibly see it!). They also ignored a title, no mention of the inclusion of “The Longest Voyage” appears except on the cassettes themselves and in small font on the back of the package. The jacket design is almost non-existent giving us only some generic clipart. In addition, the genre is labeled fantasy when both stories are actually science fiction. On the other hand the recording and the sound production is truly excellent! Including as always with Dercum Active Book titles the haunting Dercum Audio music, which starts to play before the story and which re-appears when a story ends or when a tape flip is coming up. It is a truly excellent theme music for science fiction or fantasy audio production and one which I am always pleased to hear. But the best part, the very best part of this audiobook is the added introduction which is so very appropriate and so well written, introducing the stories and the author, really enhancing the experience. Overall I’m very glad to have finally found a copy of this out of print and obscure audiobook, but I can’t say its perfect, I have to wonder if some of the reasons for the fall of Dercum Audio have anything to do with their lack of follow through? To get such a great property, to execute the recording so well, to produce it with such forethought and then to package it in an unattractive and poorly designed package… its a real tale of what might have been.

Posted by Jesse Willis