The SFFaudio Podcast #463 – READALONG: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #463 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, Marissa van Uden, Bryan Alexander, Luke Burrage, and Maissa Bessada discuss Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Talked about on today’s show:
2002, a pretty good book, cyberpunk continuing, classic film noir detective stuff, sleeving, an old book, the Netflix TV adaptation, 10 years of the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast, too heavy, too violent, sex scenes, long and graphic, too much tumescence?, a major part of the book, having partial control of your body, Ortega connection, his dick understands, your biology and your mind, Luke is his penis and his brain, the disconnect, what a lot of this book is, hard to listen to a narrator narrate, not Morgan’s forte, the action, the love of the guns, the sheen of the blades, a really interesting idea book, the second and the third book, the narrator’s pronunciation of Kovach (in book 2 and 3), Todd McClaren’s narration, a causal vs a casual link, Bancroft has Mr Burns (from The Simpsons) voice, thinking about the sex and the violence, a book about the first year of the war on terror?, Battlestar Galactica, part of his identity, a ghost in the book, The Maltese Falcon, Bay City, a setup for the traditional private eye novel, hardboiled novels, the femme fatale, the noir detective, a murder mystery, a locked room murder mystery, a false ending, we are with the detective, proper timing, missing the whole lightness of being, it feels like a first novel, merging a hardboiled detective novel with a real science fiction idea, alien technology, the perennial spoilers are uninteresting conversation, consciousness uploading and downloading, a whole economy that works inside of the technological system, real death, “organic damage”, Prof. Eric S. Rabkin’s “transformed language”, capitalism can go a step further, repossessing you body, mortgaging your body, what the riches of the ultra-capitalist winners look like, Market Forces, Morgan understands global capitalism in a way few science fiction writers rarely do, Neuromancer by William Gibson, when Case disparaging the meat-sack, so much smoking, sleeve-sickness, cross-sleeving, a fourth book?, skip to the third book, Broken Angels, military SF, Woken Furies, Quellist struggles, the ideal series, like Doctor Who or James Bond, what would normally trigger a lot of people, a big backlash?, racism-proof, accidentally funny, whitewashing, not enough of the Asian identity, two different faces in the mirror, Ghost In The Shell (2017), Maissa was witness to the Falcon Heavy launch and recovery, making note of Miriam Bancroft, Jesse tells a story that turns out to be importantly incorrect, loving James M. Cain at age 14 or 15?, a terrible crash of destiny, stories about femme fatales, which Takeshi Kovacs, childhood memories set the program, telling Jesse’s sad stories, feeling betrayed, face punch exchanges, you’re not supposed to hit women, legitimate hitting, resonating for a reason, personality formation, not enough or the right kind of trauma, all kinds of experiences, resleeving and doing the podcast again, weird connections, identical twin problems, growing up and not being a single human unit, Luke and Nathan go to see the head teacher, tedious and annoying and boring, that’s not the fun game, everybody got Luke and his brother mixed up, what it’s like to be your own identical twin, one particular trauma to magnify, how long will it take to be two different people, rock-paper-scissors, virtual, taking the randomness out of it, taking out all the whims, how can they even be throwing differently, quantum improbabilities, slight differences, it isn’t chance, trying to lose, fun sex party, second guessing to win and lose, how attached they were to that life, proud to have been able to have killed himself, a will, the institution of you continuing on after your death, codicils, the A.I. hotel, Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze, the reason for the change, the Hendrix estate, Hendrix was a big fan of SF, the language of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, the sidekick, a second trope, the possessive girlfriend nature of the hotel, a lot more personality, meeting the Hendrix, social graces and hotel service, subsumed inside his job, everybody in the police station has a mohawk, why does Ortega cut her own hair?, an undeveloped plot thread?, she’s Catholic, is it possible she doesn’t have a cortical stack implant?, everybody would have the scar, savoring that idea, when you can live forever and nothing can kill you, less meaning to existence, savouring the moments, never do a show twice, we’re never going to do one again, poignancy, the upcoming Dune show, the holiday lasted forever, permanent memoirs, people re-act, the physicality of the sonic booms, startling emotions, why am I crying?, death is more meaningful, seeing in the background, the first bit of violence, death isn’t final, “we saved the stack”, sixteen real deaths, more meaningful, not just movie violence, Ryker didn’t like mohawks, the default in computer gaming is multiple games, iron man mode, flushing your cache, stuck with the consequences, get to the next screen, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds vs. Battlefield 4, completely different vibes, paranoia sneaks up on you, constant electrical shocks, one life to live mode, all the more meaningful, an accomplishment, the highest highs and the lowest lows, as a game mechanic, thirty minutes in, becoming very meaningful, seeming to rely on neurochem as superhero juice, neurochemicals, if you can control your neurochemicals you can control a lot of your world, dials you can up or down, pouring my coffee is doing the neurochem, anticipating the hit, fight sequences, about the meths, meth now means something else, more relevant, economic inequality, more in the consciousness, about the 1%, eat the rich, Black Man aka Thirteen, the Jesus-land idea, a very different resonance, a just reward for hard work, race and gender, the U.S. Democratic party, still fighting the 2016 election, a dystopia in the worst way, everything we have now except it will never end!, Baby Boomers, Nancy Pelosi sacrificed herself by standing for eight hours, Morgan really knows what’s going on, his wife is Spanish, teaching English in non-English countries, a world book, the quintessential American noir detective novel, not Agatha Christie, the femme fatale wife, the ultra rich guy paying the bills, private justice, the cop who is the enemy and the friend, a tangled romantic past, all backstory, his body has a history, he has a history outside his body, well layered, the Patchwork Man story, Frankenstein, Golems, Neuromancer, just delete me, man, Galatea 2.0 by Richard Powers, Charles Stross, Douglas Adams, Raymond Chandler, his politics, economics, deep corruption, strikingly feminist, strikingly anti-religion, these resonate, the triad boss, it feels like fifteen short stories before it, the pacing, what would you cut, the book is about the sex, cut down the fights, the Thunderdome, Head-In-The-Clouds, kung-fu for 15 minutes, and now a gunfight, fade to black, toggling the text in or out, dial it up, you can’t easily skim read an audiobook, super-aware of the narrator, Jonathan Davis on performing sex scenes, the post torture rampage, time working differently in virtual, the rampage feels lifted straight out of Robert E. Howard’s The Vale Of Lost Women, rampage mode, stack killing (RDs), a very dark Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest, the weapon that he is, an important scene, the unicorn backpack is turning into a meme, to film that scene, designed to be a film, it isn’t a Blade Runner rip-off, a different kind of dystopia, we’re going on a run, the visual connections, a cartoon, why can’t all cityscapes, Blade Runner: 2049 as a silent film or a wordless film, plenty of direct links, “freeze and enhance”, Rick Deckard, bounty hunter and mercenary, film noir tropes, the visuals do not come out of the book, let’s play out the same thought experiments, everything is at night in the rain, Dark City (1998), off to the rest of the galaxy, stagnation, why is it so conservative?, the leftovers, Earth?, that shithole, this is not the home planet, quaint and ancient, a lampshading way of saying we’re not going to invent that much more, how hard it is to write near future SF, why isn’t it called San Fransisco, PoCo, IOCO, PoMo, slang terms, more transformed language, Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler, Harlan’s World = Harlan Ellison’s world, UBC Museum of Anthropology, mossy and rocky with beautiful forest, mom and dad and sister, not just a rampage book, smoking, what is it like to come back to the homeworld and think of it as a dump?, The Impossible Planet, Wall-E, Milk Of Paradise by James Triptree, Jr., environmental, on the nose, the underbelly, Head-In-The-Clouds vs. Licktown, seeing what it is, Miriam Bancroft, Chinatown (1974), the proposition, ‘it’s all about the money, man’, the puppetry by the rich of the inconsequential, where are they getting all the human bodies?, disposiblity, working to grow your clown, a mismatch between the scarcity of bodies and the plurality of bodies, increasing the number of crimes, The Jigsaw Man by Larry Niven, exploitation, synth-bodies, The Crack In Space, an orbiting whorehouse, Westworld, loving one and not caring about another, feeling a connection, an anti-hero, rooting for the mission (not the man), Jimmy’s story, Poe, a fairly good job at adapting, Dollhouse, body hopping, virtual reality, an almost sexual urge, the show’s appeals, the grandma, exiting Bryan’s brain, bonding with the main character, Luke thinks about his penis a lot, fun to read, such a sad life, a twisted sense of humour, skewering global capitalism, Car Wars, hedge-fund managers play Mad Max, what’s wrong with us, we’re being manipulated, extending life, what about everybody else?, leave the planet, if we don’t treat it as a metaphor, people act as if, this long view of the world, Bancroft has been alive longer than the history of my planet, would you live in this world?, taking a chance, in a sim?, South America, India, dystopia is already here it’s just not evenly distributed, hanging out with Ortega, super-corrupt, Ryker would go around beating people up, torture program, we did that, there are no good cops, seeing the world from the civilian POV, seeing cyberpunk having an extended life, sub-genres, steampunk, alternate history, Ridley Scott, more of that, not that many good ones, Neuromancer remains the great one, a subterranean vibe, a masterpiece you don’t enjoy watching, such a cultural impact, what comes through, Jack Womack, computer gaming, manga, power and influence, to persist, looking back over the years in science fiction, we’re too close, Gollanz Masterwork series, wait twenty years, 40 years for Moby-Dick, we’re accelerated, what is the good movie?, the Best Picture Oscar winners are a photo-negative of quality, hype machine, more than a twitter, good speech takes a long time, short speech is advertising, Mad Max: Fury Road, come back in a new sleeve in twenty years, all the evil corportations are named S.A., the European version of LLC, Tessier-Ashpool S.A., the orbital battle scenes, the client, Miriam Bancroft gets a punch in the face from me, the fist remembers, Annihilation, a long time since Berlin, hiking the hills, Honeybear lives, organic dog damage, does the dog have a person in it, a tiger sleeve, sleeved in a snake, What It Is Like To Be A Bat, qualia, an attempted-masturbation scene.

Altered Carbon - The Patchwork Man

Altered Carbon street scene

Carbone Modifie

TANTOR - Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of IT by Stephen King

SFFaudio Review

Horror Audiobook - IT by Stephen KingIT
By Stephen King; Read by Steven Weber
45 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Horror / Childhood / Adulthood / Monsters /

You don’t have to look back to see those children; part of your mind will see them forever, live with them forever, love with them forever. They are not necessarily the best part of you, but they were once the repository of all you could become.
—Stephen King, IT

What quality separates an adult from a child? Is it responsibility in the former and unbridled freedom in the latter? Do adults possess a higher order of thinking? Or, to take a cynical view, are adults merely physically larger (perhaps they/we never really do grow up)?

I happen to think there is a difference, though it’s hard to say precisely what. You could describe adulthood as a phase through which we all must pass, else we remain stunted and undeveloped, looking backward instead of forward, unable to transform into the mature beings that the hard world requires. Indefinable and amorphous, you may as well call this period of transition it. Stephen King did, and in 1985 he wrote a massive book by the same name about this very subject.

As is King’s forte, IT is also a horror story, and a terrifying one at that. The villain of IT is a creature that lurks in the sewers of Derry, Maine, one that takes the shape of our worst fears. IT’s favorite shape is a painted clown known as Pennywise, friendly at first glance but whose greasepaint smile reveals a double-row of Gillette razor teeth. Pennywise can also take the form of a werewolf, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, and more. Whatever a particular child finds most terrifying, Pennywise can take its shape.

Pennywise has been preyed on the children of Derry for untold generations, emerging from a deep slumber in the sewers every 27 years to feed. After a year of gruesome killings (written up in the press as mysterious child disappearances, or frequently blamed on other sources), the cycles end with a culminating event, typically an awful orgy of destruction, after which the creature resumes its hibernation.

But Pennywise—aka., IT—always comes back. Derry is perennially under its pall and seems to accept the darkness as “just the way things are” and the horrors continue in cyclical fashion. But then comes the summer of 1958. A group of 10 and 11-year-old children called the Loser’s Club, led by a stuttering, charismatic child known as Bill Denbrough, unite to battle Pennywise. All have had close brushes with the monster. Scarred by their experiences but united in purpose (Bill’s six year old brother Georgie is dragged into the sewer and killed in a gruesome scene at the beginning of the novel, and Bill vows revenge), they travel into Derry’s byzantine sewer systems to put an end to the monster. Following an epic confrontation in the creature’s den the children vow to return to Derry should Pennywise/IT ever return.

One of the club, Mike Hanlon, remains behind in the ensuring decades to watch and wait. When Pennywise does re-emerge 27 years later the children of the Loser’s Club are now adults in their late 30s. Some higher power has mercifully allowed them to forget the terrible events of their childhood and move on with their lives. But now they have to fight the terrible evil once more and growing up has diminished them in some way. This time around they find themselves less equipped to fight.

IT is a great story full of memorable events, places, and characters. King imbues Derry with its own personality, and the town feels like a member of the cast. King skillfully weaves in events from Derry’s awful past, including past murder sprees and the culminating bloodbaths that sent IT back into the sewers, including a horrific nightclub fire (The Black Spot) and the explosion of the Kitchener Ironworks.

But in the end, what I like most about IT, and what separates the book from much of the rest of King’s oeuvre, is its thoughtful exploration of that amorphous crossing of the bar from youth to maturity. To get where you want to go in life you have to grow up, King says, but it’s not a simple process. The transition from childhood to adulthood is a complex and bittersweet, its benefits equivocal. Adulthood brings with it at least some measure of financial, parental, and geographic freedom. We can leave those hometowns that are so frequently a source of shame and failure and hidden darkness. But in so doing we lose a lot, too—our dreams, our innocence, our closest friends, and sometimes even our faith in a higher power. And the only way to defeat Pennywise—that monstrous, childhood IT—is through faith.

King has been accused by his critics of being shallow, all style and no substance (he did himself no favors by once calling himself “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries”). But I’ve found that his best material has more depth than meets than eye. IT is not just about battling monsters. Or rather it is about that, but the monsters are also the real, adult fears of loneliness, guilt, and dependency, of growing up, of confronting the monsters of one’s past and trying to move on. We are all incomplete until we face our past and determine who we are, what we stand for, and how we want to live our lives. This personal struggle, as much as visceral, horrific battles with Pennywise, is what brings me back to IT again and again.

I will say that IT is not without its problems, including a sequence that remains controversial among King’s readers. Without spoiling the story, it involves a coming of age ritual in the sewers that is a bit off-putting and jarring, even though I do understand its purposes. Some of the characters feel a bit one-trick and allegorical (representative of concepts rather than three-dimensional human beings). Other readers have complained that IT’s big secret—Pennywise’s final reveal—a bit of a let-down after 1,000 pages of build up. King is unfortunately often guilty of unsatisfying endings to otherwise great novels, and IT arguably suffers from the same problem. I don’t necessarily agree, as I find the epilogue incredibly satisfying, but others have made this criticism.

But despite its flaws, IT is one of my favorite books by King. With a memorable monster, a nice cast of characters, and a compelling, decades-spanning storyline with an epic final showdown, IT is a horrific page turner with deeper literary ambitions that it mostly fulfills.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

SFFaudio Review

The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman; Read by Neil Gaiman
Audible Download – Approx. 8 Hours[UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2008
Themes: / Fantasy / Ghosts / Childhood / Revenge / Parenting / Afterlife / Humor / YA /

In a few words: Not as disturbing as Coraline (which is… a bit) and every ounce as entertaining as I hoped.

Now, details: The Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman’s latest YA novel. The story is about Nobody Owens, a young boy who starts the novel as a toddler that ends up in a graveyard late at night, all by himself. I’ll let Gaiman tell you how that happens, because the journey is all the fun here. Nobody Owens grows up, and Gaiman’s ghosts do all the parenting.

Again, Gaiman manages to be both sinister and funny at the same time, like he’s telling you the worst thing you’ve ever heard, but with a smile and a wink. Here’s the first lines of Chapter 1:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black gold, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you may not even know you had been cut. Not immediately.

You’d think what follows would be a bit grisly, and I suppose it is, but it’s all so fantastic that I smiled through most of that chapter, with the sort of glow I get around Halloween. A pair of ghosts (the Owens’s) raising a live boy, that boy growing up and learning his letters off gravestones and his life’s philosophy from the perspective of dead but well-meaning people; well, it’s just a great idea, and it’s perfectly presented by Gaiman. My kids love it too. This is the kind of book that will be revisited in my house often. In addition, I’d say that if you have a Harry Potter fan on your Christmas list, this book might be just the right fit, and it has the added bonus of introducing him or her to the likes of Neil Gaiman, which in turn could open that fan up to the rest of the world of books as well.

Gaiman also narrates, and like I’ve said elsewhere, he’s one of the few authors I’ve heard that could make a comfortable living as an audiobook narrator. I can’t imagine this audiobook being read by someone else, and I’m very happy that it isn’t.

Edited to add the SFFaudio Essential, which was forgotten by the reviewer. He has been sacked.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Greatest Horror Stories of the 20th Century

Horror Audiobooks - The Greatest Horror StoriesThe Greatest Horror Stories Of The 20th Century
Edited by Martin Greenberg; Read by Various Readers
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dove Audio
Published: 1998
ISBN: 0787117234
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / Science Fiction / Urban Fantasy / Magic / Curses / Telepathy / Childhood / Demons /

“Featuring some of the masters of the genre, past and present, The Greatest Horror Stories Of The 20th Century are as remarkable for their literary value as for their scream factor. Whether you are a passionate horror lover or a devotee in the making, you will find much to entertain. Listen for screams as ancient and unspeakable evil meets the modern psyche.”

Judicious use of musical cues are the only enhancement to these horror stories. Twelve horrific short stories, to be sure, but are they truly the greatest of the 20th century? Read on, MacDuff….

“The Graveyard Rats” by Henry Kuttner
Read by Michael Gross
A creepy Lovecraftian tale that almost could have been written by H.P. Lovecraft himself. It was first published in Weird Tales’ March 1936 issue. A worthy addition to the list of The Greatest Horror Stories Of The 20th Century list and Michael Gross does a good job with it. And by the way, the R.O.U.S.’s probably don’t really exist.

“Calling Card” by Ramsey Campbell
Read by Juliet Mills
First published in 1982, Ramsey Campbell’s entry in this anthology is more confusing than scary. Juliet Mills is fine but she couldn’t help unravel what we’re supposed to be afraid of. Something about a nice old lady and her mailman delivering a 60-year-old Christmas card?

“Something Had To Be Done” by David Drake
Read by John Aprea
First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine’s February 1975 issue, this is an excellent Vietnam War era is a freakshow of the ‘coming home in a bodybag story’. It combines the friendly fire and frag stories of that war with the accelerating fear of the supernatural – the tension builds until the closing moment – very similar in tone and quality to Robert R. McCammon’s Nightcrawlers. Reader John Aprea does good work with good material!

“The Viaduct” by Brian Lumley
Read by Roger Rees
“The Viaduct” is a Stephen King-ish tale without the supernatural element – two boys make an enemy of another and come to a sticky end. This is the longest tale in the collection, overly long in my estimation. I was amazed how little content this story has, especially for its length, none of the characters are sympathetic and by the end I was almost rooting for them all to be killed- just as long as it was done soon. Ineffectual because of its length and exploitative and I don’t mean that as an insult, it plays, if it plays at all, on fear without telling us anything about ourselves or anything else. On the other hand Roger Rees’ reading was just fine. “The Viaduct” is in my opinion not up to the standards of some of the stories in this collection.

“Smoke Ghost” by Fritz Leiber
Read by Beverly Garland
An early Fritz Leiber yarn, “Smoke Ghost” posits what a ghost from an urban industrial society would be like, as opposed rattling chains, old bed sheets and creaky haunted houses of the pre-industrial age. Frighteningly well written and very well read. First published in Unknown Magazine’s October 1941 issue.

“Passengers” by Robert Silverberg
Read by William Atherton
William Atherton did a very nice reading of this Hugo Award nominated and Nebula winning short story (1969). “Passengers” is more SF than horror but it is 100% worthy of inclusion. It is about the uninvited guests who wouldn’t leave. These evil aliens have invaded the Earth telepathically and at unpredictable times, seize control of a human mind and force a person to do… things(!). Society has adjusted, but not every individual person will go along with all the conventions humanity has adopted to deal with the “Passengers”. Silverberg’s story examines a relatively small SF theme, stories involving involuntary control of one’s body… think the character of Molly in Neuromancer or the Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s short story Sitting Around the Pool, Soaking Up Some Rays or Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters – it is a horror story because it speaks to such a violation of one’s body. Also interesting is the counterfactual raised by the premise – illustrating how difficult it is to determine exactly where the boundary line between free-will and determinism lies.

“Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner
Read by Patrick MacNee
Set in 1942, “Sticks” is a World Fantasy Award nominated story (1974) that is decidedly Lovecraftian in content and execution. Think Blair Witch Project meets pulp magazine illustrations and you’ll get the idea. Narrator Patrick MacNee does fine work with it too. With all this inspired by Lovecraft storytelling I only wish they’d included some of H.P.’s original prose, but in lieu of that “Sticks” is a good substitute.

“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” by Robert Bloch
Read by Robert Forster
First published in Weird Tales’ July 1943 issue “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” is actually a better story than it reads now. What seems a mite cliched today was quite fresh in 1943 and this tale was one of the earliest works of fiction to use ‘the ripper redjack’ – something that is relatively common today. Some narrators have a voice that grabs you and won’t let go, Robert Forster is one of them, his range is good, he does a great English accent on this one too – but its his cadence and his gravelly voice that pull me into his orbit every time. Well read and a good yarn.

“The Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury
Read by Alyssa Bresnahan
Alyssa Bresnahan, professional full time narrator and AudioFile Magazine Golden Voice, does a very good reading of Bradbury’s short story. “The Small Assassin” is about a young couple and their first child; everything would be okay if only the newborn would only accept the world outside the womb. Horror as parenthood – who’d of thunk it? Newly minted parents probably. This tale was previously recorded by Ray Bradbury himself by pioneering audiobooks publisher Caedmon.

“The Words Of Guru” by C.M. Kornbluth
Read by Susan Anspach
Originally published under Kornbluth’s “Kenneth Falconer” pseudonym, in Stirring Science Stories’ June 1941 issue. Well regarded despite its pulpy exposition, “The Words Of Guru” is a genre-crosser full of cosmic demonism and full-tilt weirdness that comes to a thundering crash just minutes after it starts.

“Casting The Runes” by M.R. James
Read by David Warner
I was quite lost listening to this one. I couldn’t tell who was speaking much of the time, this has to do with the fact that many of the characters aren’t given names and the fact that the way this tale was written it would flow far easier on the printed page than it does aurally. In the paper version some names are blanked out (as if censored), David Warner does his best to fill in these gaps which are unreproducable in audio, but ultimately his efforts are unsuccessful. Magic and curses. First published in 1911!

“Coin Of The Realm” by Charles L. Grant
Read by Louise Sorel
Reminiscent in theme of Neil Gaiman’s style of urban fantasy, “Coin Of The Realm” is an interesting tale of the employees of a toll booth on a lonely highway who occasionally collect some very odd coins from the drivers on their road. First published in a 1981 Arkham House collection entitled Tales from the Nightside.

Posted by Jesse Willis