Review of Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

SFFaudio Review

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Themes: Science Fiction / Politics / War / Military / Spaceships

“The historians can’t seem to settle whether to call this one ‘The Third Space War’ (or the fourth), or whether ‘The First Interstellar War’ fits better. We just call it ‘The Bug War.’ Everything up to then and still later were ‘incidents,’ ‘patrols’ or ‘police actions.’ However, you are just as dead if you buy the farm in an ‘incident’ as you are if you buy it in a declared war…”
-excerpt from Starship Troopers

Written fewer than 15 years after the end of World War II, Starship Troopers (originally titled “Starship Soldier” for its first incarnation in Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine’s Oct & Nov issues of 1959) was to have been another of Heinlein’s beloved juvenile novels. Its content and far-reaching exploration of the society made it instead into the classic of hard science fiction it has become.

Starship Troopers won of the Hugo Award for 1959. It is the story of Juan “Johnny” Rico, recent high school graduate and new recruit to the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic paratrooper force which only takes the best. Just as Juan is ready to wash-out in shame, war is declared, and it’s up to Rico and the Roughnecks to mop up a little bug problem. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings inspired hundreds of novels and revitalized modern fantasy storytelling. Similarly, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers probably influenced more Science Fiction readers than any other novel of the last half of the 20th century. Spawning more imitators than was probably wise and even inspiring a whole sub genre of Science Fiction called “Military SF”. As with The Lord of the Rings the original inspired so many imitators for a good reason. It was a REALLY REALLY GOOD READ! Starship Troopers is spectacular SF. Semper mobilius.

The Recorded Books version.
Read by George Wilson
7 Cassettes – 9.75 hours, UNABRIDGED
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 1998

Its cover features original commisioned art, the library binding, available for additional cost, is of the durable vinyl clamshell type which makes for attractive and secure storage of tapes. Unlike the Blackstone Audiobooks version, there is very little extra material in the introduction and this is a disappointment. But, in its favor, it does include every word of the text and for that I am very pleased. In comparison to the superb Blackstone Audiobooks narration read by the gifted Lloyd James, George Wilson stacks up quite well, reading with obvious gusto. But if you were to twist my arm I’d still have to say in this case the Recorded Books edition is the lesser of the two.

The Blackstone Audiobooks version.
Read by Lloyd James
7 Cassettes – 9.75 hours, UNABRIDGED

Like all of Blackstone’s productions this one comes in a library style clamshell binding, which makes for attractive and secure storage of tapes. Its cover features the handsome art from 1987 ACE paperback release (the signature cover). And this superb production includes every single word in the book, including the teaser back cover, something I regard as akin to a necessary extra.

Lloyd James is terrific as the narrator, able to infuse his voice with the wide-eyed innocence of Rico and gruffness of Sgt. Zim. James’ is a voice you can count on, and this is an absolutely fabulous audiobook, and to my ears, the definitive version. So come on you apes pop a tape in and get listnin’.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Bonus:

Starship Troopers #LEGOized by me

LEGO Starship Troopers

Review of The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick

SFFaudio Review

The Man In The High Castle
By Philip K. Dick; Read by George Guidall
7 Cassettes – 9.75 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 1997
Themes: Science Fiction / Alternate History / World War II / Holocaust / Japan / Nazi Germany

World War II is over and to the victors go the spoils; Germany and Japan divide the world and the United States into East and West occupied zones. Alternate reality? Alternate history? Those are sheer fantasy, what if the Allies had won the war? Who would have been able to stop Stalin? Idle daydreaming, and Frank Frink can’t afford that, as one of the few surving Jews in North America and the world he’s got to concentrate to stay alive…

Set in an alternate history (and taking place in 1962 when Dick wrote the book), The Man in the High Castle is multiple viewpoint. There is: Mr. Tagomi, a collector of all things antique and American. Juliana Frink, seperated from her husband. She’s in Colorado on the border between the Nazis in the East and the Japanese in the West. Her husband Frank Frink, a shop owner and dealer in antiques, lives apart from his wife in occupied San Francisco serving the ruling Japanese. And all three of them have their fate intertwined with an officially banned underground novel entitled “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” which paints a picture of a world where the Allies won WWII.

The Man in the High Castle won the Science Fiction Hugo Award for best novel in 1962. It is one of the few great Philip K. Dick novels still unfilmed and so it will come as a great introduction to a new reader. Throughout the novel the I, Ching and its cryptic “wisdom” is used to push the plot along. This ingenious device is of further interest because Dick claimed that he himself used the I, Ching whenever it was used in the novel and let it take the novel wherever the results led it, in essence plotting the book as a result of the I, Ching’s advice. Superstar narrator George Guidall with his broad range and depth of voice is the perfect choice for this deeply complex novel. Oh and of course I can’t forget to mention the fantastic twist ending which will definitely… shall I say…change your persective? A profound SF experience that will blow your mind.

Review of Legends: Stories from the Masters of Fantasy: Volume 1

SFFaudio Review

Legends: Stories From The Masters of Fantasy: Volume 1 edited by Robert SilverbergLegends: Stories From The Masters of Fantasy: Volume 1
Edited by Robert Silverberg; Read by Frank Muller and Sam Tsoutsouvas
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published:
ISBN:
Themes: / Fantasy /

Robert Silverberg, himself a prolific fantasy author, has gathered with this series a collection of the longer novellas by the most popular living fantasy authors. Each of the authors was asked to write a new story based on one of his or her most famous series.

In Volume One there are two novellas. The first belongs to Stephen King and is set in his popular Gunslinger/Dark Tower universe. Silverberg’s contribution is set in his Majipoor universe. An intriguing premise but did it turn out to be any good?

The Dark Tower: The Little Sisters Of Eluria by Stephen King; Read by Frank Muller
Roland of Gilead, badly needs to find a horse doctor. His horse is ailing and won’t last long, but when he comes across a lonely desert town he quickly ends up needing a doctor for himself. Unfortunately, the only medical attention he’s getting comes from a vampire like sisterhood intent on both healing AND bloodletting.

I’ve never been overly fond of Stephen King, I find his writing like his ideas at best mildly interesting and at worst boring. But, being as I’d not tried anything of his work in some time, I was willing to give him another try. This piece seemed ideal. It was supposed to be fantasy, and not pure horror that he’s so well know for. It was also a prequel to a long series that I’d heard good things about (The Dark Tower series). But alas, I was not impressed in the least. While there are interesting elements, the setting is what appears to be a post-apocalyptic cross between the Zane Grey and The Road Warrior, which while not completely original is at least not a setting that has been done to death. Unfortunately the story is very long winded. I normally don’t care for overly long fantasy tales, The Lord of The Rings being a notable exception, but I am in the minority here. Stephen King fans don’t seem to mind a thicker than thick novel. This production of the Little Sisters of Eluria has the benefit of clarity, at all times I knew what was going on, and Frank Muller’s reading was okay, barring his usual difficulty with women’s voices. There are some writers who while not writing in the clearest manner manage to hold your attention by their very ideas. In the case of the Little Sisters Of Eluria, the clear writing and clear production just made the boredom more obvious for me. If you like the Dark Tower series you may enjoy this novella, but I found it a vulgar, mildly gross, hard to finish and ultimately pointless.

Majipoor: The Seventh Shrine by Robert Silverberg; Read by Sam Tsoutsouvas
Majipoor, a planet settled long ago by human colonists, is ruled by Valentine, once Lord Valentine now Pontifax of the whole planet. Valentine and his court entourage are on an expedition to an ancient city where they intend to investigate the murder of archeological team leader.

First let me say I like a lot of Silverberg’s work, some of his short stories are really good, but I’ve found his work very uneven. Being unfamiliar with the Majipoor stories I thought this novella would be a good introduction to Robert Silverberg’s fantasy series. This story though is a murder mystery, set on an alien world full of traditions and history. Silverberg does a fairly good job of bringing newbies like me up to speed, informing us of Pontifax Valentine’s personal history, and the strained species relations between the native Metamorphs (shapeshifting intelligent aliens) and the Human colonists of Majipoor. That being said, the story isn’t at all enthralling, it has a lot of “your majesty this” and “your majesty that” found in some of the more derivative fantasy fiction. The mystery element is unsolvable by the reader, something that I dislike as a general rule. But on the other hand Sam Tsoutsouvas does a good job, saving his different voices only for important plot characters. As with the other story in this audiobook, perhaps it will be more enjoyable for someone who likes the universe in which it is set. I can imagine never listening to another Majipoor story, and the idea doesn’t worry me in the least.

Review of Virtual Light by William Gibson

SFFaudio Review

Virtual Light
By William Gibson
Read by Frank Muller
6 Cassettes – Approx. 9 hours UNABRIDGED
List Price: USD $34.95
RECORDED BOOKS LLC.
ISBN: 0788782533

William Gibson’s novel, Virtual Light (1995), is a bit of a letdown. But this is primarily because Neuromancer (1984), is one of the best novels of the 20th century – so its no wonder lightning hasn’t struck twice. Though comparisons between Neuromancer and Virtual Light are inevitable, and reasonable, we should try to forget that William Gibson wrote such an incredible first novel – Neuromancer won the three most important science fiction awards (The Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Award)… we should try to forget – it ain’t easy – but we should try because Virtual Light is a good SF.

That being said, Virtual Light is a whole different animal, more modest in scope, set closer to the present (in 2005) and more resembles a venture into Elmore Leonard territory than a cyberpunk adventure. It really is a crime novel with a science fiction McGuffin. The McGuffin being, a pair of sunglasses that not only make the wearer look cool, but also make him or her almost superhuman. Here’s the premise – Chevette Washington, a San Francisco bicycle courier has stole some high tech sunglasses. Berry Rydell, private security guard and ex-cop is sent to track her and the sunglasses down. As usual with Gibson novels, the atmosphere created by the prose is spectacular, we see, feel, touch, taste and smell the world Gibson describes and it’s visceral. The characters are compelling, motivated and have cool names like “Rydell” and “Warbaby”. The plot is almost labyrinthine despite the stated simplicity and there are many stops along the way, but we don’t mind too much, the journey is enjoyable, the people are cool and the ideas original.

And of course being an audiobook, the narrator plays an important role in determining the outcome. Thankfully, Virtual Light is read by Frank Muller, which is a good thing. Muller has a good range of voices and a huge vocabulary so there aren’t any pronunciation errors (something that can take a listener right out of the narrative). Virtual Light is an interesting listen, and the unabridged version is definitely superior. The Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio version read by Peter Weller, is well performed but hard to follow, being abridged to a mere 3 hours and two cassettes. But if you are going to listen to this audiobook and you haven’t heard Neuromancer (or read it yet) listen to this one first, it won’t be a let down that way, and it’ll likely whet you’re appetite for more William Gibson.

Commentary: Renting audiobooks

SFFaudio Commentary

Renting audiobooks is a cost-effective way of getting your hands on some very good stuff. How does it work? With most of the companies listed here, you select a book or two that is sent to you in a self-addressed stamped box. Usually you keep the book for 30 days, after which you put the book back in the box, tape it closed, then drop it in a mailbox. There’s no need to add postage, because it’s already paid.

Some of these companies allow you to set ship dates for the books you select so that you can order several at a time, and have them arrive every two weeks or so.

Blackstone Audio

Blackstone Audio has been doing more and more science fiction and fantasy lately. The narrators are generally good. Some of their latest include Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids and a collection of short stories by Robert Silverberg. They also carry some audio drama, including an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey that I’m eager to hear.

Books on Tape

Books on Tape has an unabridged science fiction collection that’s highlighted by Isaac Asimov’s entire Foundation series and by Frank Herbert’s Dune series (including unabridged versions of the recent prequels written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson). There are a few short story collections here as well.

Recorded Books, Inc.

Recorded Books has the biggest collection of quality science fiction and fantasy, it’s getting even larger. Their narrators are the best, including Frank Muller, George Guidall, Rob Inglis, and Richard Ferrone, among many others. They’ve got some great titles, too. To name a few: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, several Robert A. Heinlein titles, Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the TalentsDoomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis are also here, along with many other good titles.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson