Review of Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

SFFaudio Review

cavesCaves of Steel (Robots #1)
By Isaac Asimov, read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 43 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / science fiction / robots / detectives / over-population / colonization /

Publisher summary:

A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.

“Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the ” R” stood for robot.”

I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.

Many years later, listening to William Dufris’ splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey’s personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov’s imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.

I’m not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn’t deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.

I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person’s consciousness.

All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.

Highly recommended.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE
Wikipedia notes:

It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov’s Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.

All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

SFFaudio Review

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent Earthseed (The Seed Trilogy, #1)
Written by Pamela Sargent; Read by Amy Rubinate
8 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: December 2011
ISBN: 9781455118335
Themes: / space colonies / adventure / science fiction / space /
Awards: AudioFile Earphones Award; ALA Best Books for Young Adults Selection, 1983

Publisher Summary:

Ship hurtles through space. Deep within its core it carries the seed of humankind. Launched by the people of a dying Earth over a century ago, its mission is to find a habitable world for the children—fifteen-year-old Zoheret and her shipmates—whom it has created from its genetic banks.

To Zoheret and her shipmates, Ship has been mother, father, and loving teacher, preparing them for their biggest challenge: to survive on their own, on an uninhabited planet, without Ship’s protection. Now that day is almost upon them, but are they ready? Ship devises a test, and suddenly instincts that have been latent for over a hundred years take over. Zoheret watches as friends become strangers—and enemies. Can Zoheret and her companions overcome the biggest obstacle to the survival of the human race—themselves?

It is understandable why this book is getting attention again, almost 30 years since it was written: it’s another YA book that is similar to The Hunger Games.

In Earthseed, the reader is introduced to Zoheret, one of many teenagers aboard a ship traveling through space. Zoheret, and her ship mates, were all “born” on the ship, created by the ship (known as “Ship”) from DNA samples of Ship’s creator. Ship was sent from Earth with samples (and programming) from “the last of humanity on Earth,” set with a mission to find another world where no intelligent life exists and “seed” the world with humans. Ship raised these kids (about 50ish in total) from birth, teaching them, fulfilling a parental role. We enter the story as the kids, now teens, are getting ready to spend time in the “holo” (I presume it’s “holo” and not “hollow,” either way, it’s a wilderness environment on-board the ship) to train for what it will be like on the surface of the planet.

At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking that some Lord of the Flies type story is going to happen (I know that’s what I thought), and in fact there are some parallels between Lord of the Flies and Earthseed. However, Sargent does a wonderful job of making the story engaging with some surprising twists and turns along the way. While listening, I felt myself making excuses to listen to more of the story, not wanting to stop. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that at the end, Ship’s residents find themselves making a life on the surface of the new planet and Ship goes off to seed another world.

I thought Amy Rubinate’s narration was superb. I normally don’t care for female narrators; usually they sound too dramatic for my taste. But Rubinate did a great job. I could always distinguish the voices of the characters, whether it was two females, two males, or a male and a female talking, and at no point did I feel like it was overdramatized. Also, the voice she used for Ship was a perfect matronly but somewhat robotic voice.

All three books in The Seed Trilogy are available in audio from Blackstone – Farseed (Book #2) and Seed Seeker (Book #3).

Review by terpkristin.

LibriVox: Rastignac The Devil by Philip José Farmer

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxI get the sense that Rastignac The Devil is a satire, using the furniture of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. But I feel really embarrassed about not knowing what is going on, sub-textually, in this interesting, but baffling, novella by Philip José Farmer. Is it all an allegorical satire of some event in 17th century France?

A couple of other notes. Mike Resnick’s Starship series has a character named “Slick.” Slick is an alien with a sentient symbiotic skin (called a “gorib”). Rastignac The Devil has aliens and humans with just such a similar concept – very cool! Gregg Margarite, the narrator, does a very good job with the abundance of French words.

Anyway, like I said, I liked the story, thought it was weirdly cool, but don’t feel like I’ve understood it at all. Could someone fill me in?

LIBRIVOX - Rastignac The Devil by Philip Jose FarmerRastignac The Devil
By Philip José Farmer; Read by Gregg Margarite
2 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 1 Hour 59 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: March 19, 2010
Here is high fidelity fiction at Philip José Farmer’s story-telling best. It’s a vibrant, distractingly different tale of three centuries into the future. And as you read you’ll have a vague, uneasy feeling that it’s all taking place somewhere in the unexplored parts of the universe, even today. From Fantastic Universe May 1954.

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/rss/4158

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

[Thanks also to Barry Eads (aka KiltedDragon)]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

SFFaudio Review

Blackstone Audio - The Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburySFFaudio EssentialThe Martian Chronicles
By Ray Bradbury; Read by Stephen Hoye
8 CDs – 9.3 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781433293498
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mars / Mythology / Colonization / Aliens /

All right, then, what is Chronicles? Is it King Tut out of the tomb when I was three? Norse Eddas when I was six? And Roman/Greek gods that romanced me when I was ten? Pure myth. If it had been practical, technologically efficient science fiction, it would have long since fallen to rust by the road.

-Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

I’ve never been a big reader of science fiction, largely because, rightly or wrongly, my perception is that SF worships at the altar of technology, and is fixated upon cold, clinical subject matter for which I have little interest. But if the SF genre contained more books like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, I might view it a lot differently.

The Martian Chronicles tells the story of mankind’s colonization of the red planet. Driven by curiosity and the impending destruction of a worldwide atomic war, men send rocket expeditions to Mars in hopes of settling the planet and finding a place to carry on their civilization. It’s not a traditional novel, but a collection of short stories originally published in Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and a handful of other defunct SF magazines, which Bradbury ties together with a series of vignettes.

The Martian Chronicles was first published in 1950 and Bradbury set the first story, “Rocket Summer,” in a fictional (and then-distant) 1999; this latter printing advances the timeline to 2030. The Martian Chronicles certainly has some SF surface trappings, and the tale “There Will Come Soft Rains” (a haunting story about the aftermath of an atomic war) probably fits that category. But it’s certainly not hard SF. Bradbury doesn’t dwell on the Martian technology nor describe how it works. What little there is described in Bradbury’s inimitable short strokes of brilliant, poetic color: Houses with tables of silver lava for cooking bits of meat, pillars of rain that can be summoned for washing, metal books that sing their stories, like a fine instrument under the stroke of a hand.

In the introduction to the 2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc., production of the book, Bradbury says that the larger themes and deeper meanings of his work were buried in his subconscious as he wrote. It wasn’t until he saw an onstage production of The Martian Chronicles, juxtaposed with a viewing of a traveling Tutankhamun exhibit at the Las Angeles Art Museum, that he made the leap—he had written a myth, not a science fiction story:

“Moving back and forth from Tut to theatre, theatre to Tut, my jaw dropped. ‘My God,’ I said, gazing at Tutankhamun’s golden mask. ‘That’s Mars. My God,’ I said, watching my Martians on stage, ‘That’s Egypt, with Tutankhamun’s ghosts.’ So before my eyes and mixed in my mind, old myths were renewed, new myths were bandaged in papyrus and lidded with bright masks. Without knowing, I had been Tut’s child all the while, writing the red world’s hieroglyphics, thinking I thrived futures even in dust-rinsed pasts… Science and machines can kill each other off or be replaced. Myth, seen in mirrors, incapable of being touched, stays on. If it is not immortal, it almost seems such.”

Rather than explaining the hows and whys of rocket travel, or the describe the atmospheric conditions of the red planet, Bradbury uses The Martian Chronicles to explore the age-old problems of colonization/colonialism, our fears of the unknown, our longing for simpler times, and the limitations of science and technology. It’s intensely elegiac, an ode to the quiet towns and neighborhoods of the 1920s and 30s, before the sprawl of cities and suburbs and the opening of the Pandora’s Box of atomic power.

The heart of the book is the short story, “And the Moon be Still as Bright,” which concerns a fourth rocket expedition to the red planet. The first three missions have failed. Mars is empty, its cities ghostly and vacant. The Martians have been hit hard by chicken pox, infected by the crew of one of the previous expeditions. When several crewmembers of the latest expedition get drunk and vandalize a beautiful Martian city of glass spires, one of the crewmen, Jeff Spender, turns on them in a murderous rampage.

Later, atop a hill, Captain Wilder approaches Spender in an effort to get him to surrender. Spender, who initially seems crazy, is revealed as the man with the clearest vision. He knows what modern man is like, a professional cynic who wants to tear down and rebuild in his own image, citing Cortez’s mission to Mexico (which wiped out nearly all traces of the Aztec Empire). Spender has read the Martians’ books and seen the relics of their culture, and discovers that it is a perfect balance of science and religion, nature and man (Martian) in harmony, with neither side dominant. Says Spender:

“[The Martians] quit trying too hard to destroy everything, to humble everything. They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful. It’s all simply a matter of degree. An Earth Man thinks: ‘In that picture, color does not exist, really. A scientist can prove that color is only the way the cells are placed in a certain material to reflect light. Therefore, color is not really an actual part of things I happen to see.’ A Martian, far cleverer, would say: ‘This is a fine picture. It came from the hand and the mind of a man inspired. Its idea and its color are from life. This thing is good.’”

It’s interesting to note that the Martians are not perfect, and in striving for balance they may have lost something. In “Ylla,” the second story/chapter of the book, a Martian woman upsets her husband to the point of murder. As the Martians are telepathic, Ylla is able to “speak” to the astronauts as they draw near in their silver rocket. She learns their burning desires and their strange songs. Despite the harmonious, tranquil, idyllic environment all around her, the brown-skinned, golden-eyed Ylla wants to be swept away to earth, crushed in the embrace of the white-skinned, dark-haired, blue-eyed Nathaniel York. For all its piggishness and destructiveness, the race of men is passionate, burning with the desire to live and explore.

As with all of Bradbury’s tales, The Martian Chronicles contains its share of humor, terror, heartbreak, and hope, and is written in Bradbury’s beautiful, one-of-a-kind style. It holds a deserved place as science fiction classic, even as it transcends the genre and defies our attempts to categorize it.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of Ender In Exile by Orson Scott Card

SFFaudio Review

Ender in Exile by Orson Scott CardEnder in Exile
By Orson Scott Card; Read by David Birney, Cassandra Campbell, Emily Janice Card, Orson Scott Card, Gabrielle de Cuir, Kirby Heyborne, Don Leslie, Stefan Rudnicki, and Mirron Willis
12 CDs – Approx. 14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781427205124
Themes: / Science Fiction / Colonization / Starships / Religion / Politics / War / Aliens /

Over the last six years or so, Orson Scott Card has had nearly everything he’s written published as an audiobook. His writing is particularly suited to audio; his style is dramatic, clear, and driven by conversations, both internal and external. Card’s storytelling ability is also first rate.

The other half of an audiobook is its presentation, and here Card’s audiobooks also excel. In the Ender and Ender’s Shadow series of audiobooks, Stefan Rudnicki has led a talented crew of narrators in expert productions. Ender in Exile is the ninth novel written in the universe started by Ender’s Game, and all of them have been produced in a similar manner – with multiple narrators that change with shifts in the point of view of the story.

The entire novel takes place between the last two chapters of Ender’s Game. I’ll try not to spoil Ender’s Game for those who haven’t read it, but the main events of that book have finished, and the teenaged Ender Wiggin can not stay on Earth for various and interesting reasons. He is put on a colony ship, and much of the book takes place there. The conflict for him is not over. He’s distrusted by powerful adults, and because of his fame he distrusts the motives of everyone else. He’s still very much alone.

You’d think after four novels about Ender Wiggin that there wouldn’t be anything else to say about him. But Ender in Exile is one of the best novels in the series, mostly because of the insight it provides into the most interesting aspect of Ender Wiggin’s life: his transformation from Battle School student to Speaker for the Dead.

An atypical aspect of this novel is that it is really a sequel to two books: Ender’s Game and Shadow of the Giant. Because of the relativistic effects of space travel, three of the four Shadow novels take place while Ender is en route to his colony. Some of the things that happen in those books affect events in this one.

Despite all that, this book can be read standalone, though a good experience is made even better by knowing the whole story.

And, a bonus mini-review from DanielsonKid: It was very good, but I wouldn’t call it one of his best.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Ghost Brigades by John ScalziThe Ghost Brigades
By John Scalzi; Read by William Dufris
Audible Download – 10 Hours 28 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio / Audible.com
Published: March 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military SF / War / Telepathy / Space Travel / Galactic Civilization / Consciousness Uploading / Colonization /

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms. For the universe is a dangerous place for humanity – and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF most find out why Boutin did what he did.

The Colonial Defense Forces brass have stumbled upon a device containing a copy of the consciousness of one of their foremost research scientists. In order to find out what he knows they’ll embody him in a genetically modified clone body – and name that being Jared Dirac. But when the transfer happens Dirac doesn’t seem to have the memories he’s supposed to – and so Dirac is enlisted in the Special Forces (AKA the “Ghost Brigades”) only to eventually become involved in a search for his missing progenitor.

The Ghost Brigades is a thoughtful extension of the ideas created in Old Man’s War. I’m of two minds on series books, I understand the appeal – you get more of what you liked – but the drawbacks are usually the exact same thing – you get more of the same and thus fewer new ideas! But, on the other hand you do get more of the same feeling. Scalzi’s writing style is streamlined, efficient and good humored. I really zipped through The Ghost Brigades too, it took the space of three days or so. One thing that lessened my enthusiasm was the perspectival change. In Old Man’s War we follow one character’s first person POV from beginning to end. Whereas in The Ghost Brigades the closest we get to a central character is Jared Dirac, who occupies about three fifths of the POV. The rest is either Jean Sagan (a memorable character from OMW) or various minor characters. Still, there are plenty of interesting curly-cues coming off of the ideas established in OMW. The Gameron’s (a group of purpose built space-faring soldiers) and the various aliens and villains all have interesting things to say. Also welcome are the speculations on the nature of consciousness and memory as well as more on everybody’s favorite piece of future tech – the “BrainPal”! The BrainPal, I am certain, is something Scalzi will be forever remembered for. Beyond the central plot, which involves two BrainPal researchers, one human, one not, there is the classic ‘galactic human empire at constant war’ motif. It’s cool.

During the listening I was reminded of a pen and paper RPG in the space adventures game I made after reading Starship Troopers and The Forever War in the 1980s. The missions the CDF-SF soldiers undertook in The Ghost Brigades could have come from one of the “modules” I made (I was pretty proud of that stuff so think of it as a serious compliment). As the novel progressed I came to like the ideas of The Ghost Brigades more and more, especially those espoused by a traitor to humanity – giving a very noir spin to the common thread connecting the universes of Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Old Man’s War. If you loved Old Man’s War you’ll definitely like The Ghost Brigades.

One of the coolest parts of the book came in a speech about one of the alien species – Scalzi takes the David Brin “uplift” idea and mixes in a little Daniel Dennett – namely Dennet’s brilliant reply to John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument (a thought experiment on artificial intelligence) – to terrificly thoughtful effect. Scalzi’s philosophy degree pays off yet again!

Narrator William Dufris reprises his SFFaudio Essential reading duties with this, the second Scalzi novel to be audiobook’d. Dufris has a secret weapon, he’ll sneak up on you – delivering simple lines in ways you might not have if you picked up in the paperbook and read it aloud for a friend. He’s reading all the words, but he’s performing the characters. His experience in the reading OMW contributes to the continuity of pronunciation and line delivery. I hope Macmillan Audio will consider Dufris when audiobooking some of Scalzi’s non-series novels too.

*And remember folks, after listening to The Ghost Brigades you can pick up the FREE AUDIOBOOK of The Sagan Diary HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis