Review of Neuromancer by William Gibson

SFFaudio Review

TIME WARNER AUDIO - Neuromancer by William GibsonNeuromancer
By William Gibson; Read by William Gibson
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Time Warner AudioBooks
Published: August 1994
ISBN: 1570420599
Themes: / Science Fiction / Cyberpunk / Dystopia / Artificial Intelligence /

Neuromancer sent massive shockwaves though science fiction and popular culture upon its release in 1984. Those shockwaves can still be felt after 20 years. Neuromancer is the tale of Case, a console cowboy, otherwise known as a computer hacker who goes on a futuristic Odyssey spanning a nihilistic near-future Earth and slightly beyond. A rich background, experimentalist prose, cuttingly future-modern dialogue and a prophetic dystopian vision combine with a heist plot reminiscent of Elmore Leonard to make a novel that will undoubtedly win William Gibson an eventual title of GRANDMASTER.

Created for the 10th anniversary of the publication of William Gibson’s first and best novel, this audiobook is a SFFaudio listener’s delight! A careful abridgment and a masterfully executed production, this is perhaps the best version of Neuromancer in any form. While Gibson is by no means a trained actor or even a professional narrator, his voice is uniquely suited to this novel and his characters. Supplementing the terrific reading is a unique soundtrack made up of two U2 remixes, which really does amazing things. Now normally I’d say that the combination of accenting music, a non-professional narrator and an abridgment of the novel all would be a recipe for disaster. But this version of Neuromancer defies all my expectations, and makes this my candidate for perhaps THE BEST ABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK EVER PRODUCED!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Doomsday Book by Connie WillisDoomsday Book
By Connie Willis; Read by Jenny Sterlin
18 cassettes – 26.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0788744151
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time-travel / England / Middle Ages / 14th Century / Near Future / Religion /

For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies—it’s the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong. When an accident leaves Kivrin trapped in one of the deadliest eras in human history, the two find themselves in equally gripping—and oddly connected—struggles to survive.

Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book is a believable time-travel story, which is ridiculous. Time-travel isn’t possible except as fiction, but the time travel in this story immerses the listener enough so that you don’t mind how you got there. Though soft science fiction, this novel relies on solid storytelling without inconsistencies, it also avoids violence and gadgets in favor of verisimilitude and thorough research. The novel follows two threads, one extremely compelling the other far less so. The first and more interesting thread follows our heroine, Kivrin, a historian sent back into the 14th century to get a first hand account of life in a village close to “Oxenford”. What she discovers there is extremely interesting. Willis dispels the ‘back in the good old days’ mentality with a gritty look at a deeply religious society and thoroughly stratified society with freezing peasants. The characterization here is superb; I actually cared what happened to these fictional medieval characters!

The shorter, secondary thread follows the characters in our near future. Unfortunately this part of the story, like the Harry Potter novels, describes a world where most adults are ignorant and need a youngster to save the day. Also here, apparently, time-travel is no big deal. It generally goes on unsupervised in the universities and without government supervision. It seems any time travel that would cause a paradox cannot occur, thus carefully avoiding the bread and butter of typical time-travel adventures. This is not a story so much about the process, the physics or paradoxes inherent in time-travel as much as it is about something else entirely: Disease and the devastating effects it has when it’s rampant and 90% lethal. Sterile modern hospitals are contrasted with the complete ignorance of infections to good effect, demonstrating just how lucky we are! It’s striking to hear how death was an everyday commonplace occurrence, unlike today when a single death is considered a tragedy. Here’s to tragedy.

The narration, by Jenny Sterlin, was very effective; she made the thoughts and words of Kivrin just like being there. Jenny effectively makes good use of the numerous British expressions in the dialogue. The title is a play on the historical ‘Domesday Book,’ which was an attempt to survey England’s land, people and wealth in the Middle Ages. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll tell you this much, it is an apt title.

Without time-travel this would not be a Science Fiction story, but rather a historical piece. Even though there are no spaceships, robots or groundbreaking or new scientific ideas I would recommend this audiobook for its suspense, mystery, and realism. That said, I still wouldn’t classify this Hugo and Nebula award winner in the same class Neuromancer or Dune, but then that’s a hell of a lot to live up to.

The cover art captures the subject matter perfectly, the compact cassette box is of high quality, but the tapes themselves had a continuous hiss. The introduction should have been an afterword since it didn’t have any impact until I re-listened to it after the novel finished. In the introduction Brother John Clinn, an actual historical figure, invites someone to continue his chronicles before his death in his manuscript. The fictional historian Kivrin, in a sense, fulfills his wishes.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardEnder’s Game
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney and others
10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535145 (Cassette) – 1574535366 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Youth / Politics / Aliens /

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardSpeaker for the Dead
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney, Scott Brick, and others
14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535153 (Cassette) – 1574535609 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Politics / Alien races / Religion /

Orson Scott Card wrote a pair of novels in the 1980’s that swept both the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards two years in a row (1986 and 1987 Hugo, 1985 and 1986 Nebula). These two novels are Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead.

These books were released previously in abridged editions, which can still be found out there, but these Fantastic Audio unabridged editions completely eclipse those in both quality and content. They are multi-voice recordings, but not of the type where several actors take parts and speak for certain characters. Instead, the narrator changes with point-of-view changes in the novel, which occur chapter to chapter. I found this extremely effective with these novels. These unabridged editions also contain material read by Orson Scott Card, explaining the origins of the novels.

Ender’s Game takes place after a war between Earth and a race of aliens called “The Buggers” by most of humanity. Earth was saved during that war by the decisions of a brilliant military man named Mazer Rackham. The powers that be on Earth decide that the Buggers are definitely going to return, and immediately start searching for the next military genius. Ender Wiggin, 6 years old, is a boy they think might be the one.

Speaker for the Dead is a completely different kind of novel, both in subject matter and tone. Ender Wiggin is now a bit older, but still reeling from events in the previous novel. He visits a planet named Lusitania, where mysteries abound among the indigenous alien race on the planet and one particular family that studies them.

Both of these audiobooks are first-rate. The narrators do an excellent job telling the stories, which translate very well into unabridged audio. Though tastes certainly vary, Ender’s Game is consistently mentioned as one of the finest works of science fiction, and this audio version is an excellent way to experience it, or re-experience it.

Both of these audiobooks are available on audio cassette, audio CD, or for download at Audible.com.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination by Eric S. Rabkin

Audio Lectures Review

Non-fiction - Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination by Eric RabkinScience Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination
By Eric S. Rabkin; Read by Eric S. Rabkin
8 cassettes – 4 hours (8 half-hour lectures) [LECTURES]
Publisher: The Teaching Company
Published: 1999
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Science Fiction / Pulp / Hard SF / Cyberpunk / Utopia / Dystopia /

This one is a little different than our usual fiction reviews. Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination is a non-fiction series of lectures about the origins, history, and influence of science fiction. Think of it as Science Fiction 101 and you’ll get the idea. As a course it fulfills the promise of its title, breaking down the origins and the meanings within in science fiction literature. Professor Rabkin is a talented lecturer. Though obviously scripted, his naturalistic lectures are thoroughly engaging. The lectures explore the history of science fiction back to its origins in Plato’s Republic, then steadily marches all the way to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. These lectures offer genuinely interesting insight, I learned something interesting in each and every lecture! Rabkin discusses the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, examines the pulp phenomena of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and gives examples of what makes hard SF “hard”. He looks at the social, technological, and literary forces that influenced the genre’s authors, and in doing so tells an entertaining story – the story of science fiction! In short, it’s a fascinating listen. I just wish that Rabkin would offer Science Fiction 201 next semester! Each half hour lecture could have easily been expanded into 2 hours.

The lectures are titled:

Lecture 1: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Emergence of Science Fiction
Lecture 2: Jules Verne and the Popular Passion for Science
Lecture 3: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction Parables of Social Criticism
Lecture 4: Pulp Culture, World War II, and the Ascendancy of American Science Fiction
Lecture 5: And the Winner Is…Robert A. Heinlein
Lecture 6: Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, and the Expansion of Science Fiction
Lecture 7: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Modern Science Fiction Film
Lecture 8: New Wave, Cyberpunk, and Our Science Fiction World

I just updated the New Releases page… Current…

New Releases

I just updated the New Releases page…

Currently, I’m listening to Deathstalker: Rebellion, Part 1 by Simon Green from Defiance Audio, read by several people. It’s an action-packed story in the Star Wars mold; empire, rebellion, aliens of all types, sword fights…

I’d like to see more companies adopt their style of publication. Deathstalker and Deathstalker: Rebellion are big books – they’d make for a large unabridged audio. Large enough, in fact, that most of their target audience (teens) wouldn’t be able to afford them. Instead of going that route, Defiance has made a series of them, releasing the novel in five three-hour portions at a very comfortable $9.95 a piece (or a mere $6.95 if you download them off the website).

This could serve as a model for the production of some excellent but bulky stuff like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Why not release it in parts? As long as the end result is unabridged, I’d buy them.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

SFFaudio Review

The Dark Tower II: The Drawing Of The Three by Stephen KingThe Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three
By Stephen King; Read by Frank Muller
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks [UNABRIDGED]
Date Published: November 1997
ISBN: 0140867155
Themes: / Fantasy / Parallel worlds /

This is the second book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I read the first volume a few months ago (in print) and found it very different from Stephen King’s other work. To start with, it was not set in our world, where King sets nearly all of his novels. This volume is set both in the wasteland of the first novel and this world. King expertly uses the setting along with his unforgettable characters to explore the notions of Good and Evil in a grand fashion.

The main character in the books is Roland, a gunslinger, possibly the last gunslinger, who travels in a world separate but somehow connected to our own. This second volume starts within hours after the first ends. Roland is required to draw three people from our world into his to help him on his quest to reach the Dark Tower. If none of this makes sense, that’s okay. I’m hesitant to provide too much detail. It is enough to say that what you have here is a contemporary fantasy novel written by one of the finest creators of believable characters in fiction.

And Frank Muller does the narrating. I’ve never been disappointed in a Muller narration, and this certainly is no exception. His voice is perfect for this material – I imagine Roland’s voice to be Muller’s – and the great energy which he provides this novel probably made it more interesting than it actually was. Several times when listening time came to and end, I took an extra lap around the block or listened for an extra ten minutes… and Muller’s reading is as responsible for that as King’s writing.

I am definitely a Stephen King fan. I enjoy nearly all of his stories. My favorites are from his early career, The Stand and Salem’s Lot especially. Neither of those have audio versions, unfortunately. (Well, there is a version of The Stand available from Books on Tape, but it is not the complete version of the novel that King released later in his career.)

For more info on the Dark Tower series, check the Dark Tower Compendium.