BBC Radio 4: In Our Time – a new podcast for every subject with shows from the past 14 years

SFFaudio Online Audio

Our friend Anne has added a wonderful new post to his Anne Is A Man blog about podcasts. Says Anne:

“I used to write that one should always download the In Our Time podcasts and keep for ever. The BBC used to keep only the last episode in the feed. In case one had not kept the episode, the only option to listen was to go to the on-line archive and listen while streaming. While that has become less and less of a bother with WiFi all around and capable smartphones, it still was a pity you had no option. All of this now belongs to the past; the archive is also available for download and one can lay ones hands on any chapter ever.”

The archive has been categorized into five separate feeds, sorted by subject:

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time - CultureIn Our Time Archive – Culture
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas. Topics in the Culture feed include: architecture, the Renaissance, writing forms (like the novel, the sonnett and biography), as well as a multitude of specific persons.

Podcast feed:

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time - HistoryIn Our Time Archive – History

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas. Topics in the History feed include: The Wars of the Roses, specific battles, a multitude of historical personages, as well as the history of tea.

Podcast feed:

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time - PhilosophyIn Our Time Archive – Philosophy

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas. Topics in the Philosophy feed include: just war, rhetoric, great thinkers (Confucius, Popper, Socrates) as well as specific works of philosophy.

Podcast feed:

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time - ReligionIn Our Time Archive – Religion

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas. Topics in the Religion feed include: fundamentalism, prayer, the Devil, paganism, the Holy Grail, and the Spanish Inquisition.

Podcast feed:

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time - ScienceIn Our Time Archive – Science

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas. Topics in the Religion feed include: genetic engineering, artificial intelligence (and regular intelligence), quantum gravity, oceanography, aliens and cryptography.

Podcast feed:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Transition by Iain M. Banks

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Transition by Iain M. BanksTransition
By Iain M. Banks; Read by Peter Kenny
13.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: 2009
Themes: / Science Fiction / Alternate Realities / Consciousness / Culture /

It was my understanding that Iain Banks published his non-science fiction under this name and his science fiction as Iain M. Banks. I haven’t read any of his other books, despite having Consider Phlebas on my book shelf for the last twenty one years. After reading Transition that book has suddenly jumped a lot closer to actually getting read. Sadly it isn’t available in audio or it would be a done deal.

Transition tells the disjointed, non-linear story of Tumudjin Oh. Oh is one of the many agents for The Concern, an organisation that spans the multi-verse, also known in some realities as l’Expédience. His job involves traveling to different realities and performing a wide range of tasks. From leaving a leaflet so that someone will see it and change their life, or stopping someone from entering a building moments before is collapses and even outright assassination. Banks employs the Many-Worlds variant of alternate realities and the implications of what realities they do, and more importantly do not
encounter, are central to the core conflict. Travel between realities is not by means of a portal or vehicle, but by the use of a drug, septus. This allows individuals to send their personalities to different realities, where they take over the body of someone already there. Usually, the invaded body is of a similar age and body type, but that isn’t set in stone. Once in the host body, they have access to the skills, knowledge and languages of their host. Travel is not a there and back, but a never-ending series of forward jumps that periodically may return to previously visited realities, but not necessarily into the same host as before.

Oh is very much the pawn between the rival Madame d’Ortolan and Mrs Mulverhill. d’Ortolan is the unofficial head of l’Expédience, and is grooming Oh. Much as the rebel Mrs Mulverhill does. He has a small case of OCD that follows him from body to body, sometimes stronger than others. We follow Oh in the present as he is sent on a mission by Madam d’Ortolan and also flashbacks telling how he has come to this point. Mrs Mulverhill, always wearing a veil in whatever reality and
body she has, attempts to seduce Oh both physically and politically.

There are other view points that we cycled throughout the book. Some are told in the first-person, others in third. Patient 8262 is a Transitioner who has hidden himself in a clinic in a reality where he hopes to escape his mysterious pursuers. Madame d’Ortolan has plans concerning the governing Council of the Concern, which Mrs Mulverhill objects to. Oh, who’s points-of-view sections are titled The Transitionary, meets d’Ortolan and received his orders. There are also
points of views from other characters, including Adrian Cubbish, a drug dealer turned financier, who we comes from our own reality.

Banks’ explore a range of topics, particularly in their first person narrations, from Christian Terrorists, torture, limited liability companies and drugs. Adrian goes into detail about his love affair with Cocaine, comparing it to the variety of alternatives.

The several points of view, particularly the multiple first person narrators confused me at first. I had to replay the first chapter or so once I figured out what was happening. Listen out for those POV changes, they could have been made clearer with a slightly longer pause perhaps.

The narrator, Peter Kenny, is outstanding. You can hear the thought behind the intonation of every phrase. A very detailed and thought out narration. The high point for me was Bisquitine’s insane ramblings. Jumping accent and voice sentence by sentence to bring her madness to life. Yet he uses the technique to make a certain sense of the stream
of apparently random phrases. I’ll be looking out for more from this narrator, even out with the SF genre.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve not read any of Bank’s work before. If Transition has taught me nothing, it’s that I’ve been sorely remiss in this. Transition is a very dense, detailed story. The scenes come to life in only a few words, Banks’ prose is a delight to read. I’m certain that I’ll appreciate it even more on a second, and probably a
third listen. I’m sure I’ll understand more of the depth of the plot and the character’s machinations. Banks doesn’t dwell on what makes each reality distinct. Experienced transitioners can sense the make up of a reality, and their almost check-list breakdown as they assimilate into their new host body covers it. The realities themselves aren’t the centre stage, the only exception is Calbefraques, the base reality of l’Expédience. Instead the story focuses on the character’s.

After my single listen, I’m not sure about some aspects of the story, such as why so much time was spent with some characters. Adrian in particular, but also Patient 8262. Not that these sections weren’t entertaining, but I struggle to see what their character’s were contributing. Patient 8262 at least provided exposition on Transitioning and the setting as a whole, and so served as an overall narrator of sorts.

An engrossing listen that appeals to my love of complexity and traveling amongst alternate realities. Highly recommended.

Posted by Paul [W] Campbell

Review of Dune by Frank Herbert (Macmillan Audio)

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Dune by Frank HerbertSFFaudio EssentialDune
By Frank Herbert, Performed by Simon Vance
18 CDs – 22 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9781427201430
Themes: / Science Fiction / Politics / Space travel / Culture / Ecology /

Dune. Arrakis. Desert Planet.

I first read Dune when I was in college (late 1980’s), after a few false starts. I desperately wanted to read it, so I made it the only thing I took with me on a 30 hour bus ride from Tucson, Arizona to Idaho Falls, Idaho. It was a long trip. I smelled like cigarettes. But I got that book read, and loved it.

Years later, I reviewed an unabridged recording of Dune for SFFaudio that was read by George Guidall. Loved that one, too. Revisiting the book was a treat and Guidall is the Yoda of audiobook narration, so win-win.

Now, years after that, I’ve heard yet another unabridged version of Dune, this time a multi-voice presentation from Macmillan Audio. And again, I loved it. Frank Herbert’s novel remains one of the finest examples of world-building the genre has to offer. The political intrigue is delicious, the implied history deep and satisfying, and the characters smart.

Simon Vance is the main narrator. Each character’s dialogue is performed by actors, and skilled actors at that. I can’t find a list of the entire cast, but it includes Scott Brick, Katherine Kellgren, Orlagh Cassidy, and Euan Morton. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The actors were allowed to perform, and most of the time the attributives were dropped. Vance’s narration bridges the conversations, and the book is immersive and engaging.

I’m not certain why, but there are long passages that Simon Vance narrates himself. Vance is right up there with Guidall, so it’s an excellent reading. I’m just not certain why the audiobook wasn’t done with a full cast all they way through. I point this out as a curiosity rather than a flaw.

A few short years ago, if a person had asked me if I prefer a single narrator to a full cast recording, there wouldn’t have been any hesitation. Single narrator, definitely. But now, I’d have a difficult time choosing between a full cast narration and a single narrator, assuming the single narrator is good, the actors in the full cast narration are good, and – this is very important – the attributives in the full cast narration are dropped so I don’t have to hear the maddening “he said angrily” after an actor has made it quite clear that a character is angry. The problem is that most full cast narrations lean too far toward audio drama, adding too much sound and music. I love audio drama, but audio drama and audiobooks are very different experiences. Most productions that aim somewhere between the two fail in my opinion. Because of this leaning, there aren’t many full cast narrations I’ve enjoyed, but this production from Macmillan Audio and anything from Full Cast Audio are top-notch.

Despite my enjoyment of Dune, I have never read past it. I can’t explain why. I’ve owned a copies of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune for years, but have never read them. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson published a book called The Road to Dune (SFFaudio Review), which presented the history of the creation of the Dune books. In there it said that Frank Herbert intended Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune to be one story. It’s long past time I try more of these novels. Lucky for me, all six of Frank Herbert’s original books have been completed and released by Macmillan Audio, all as full cast productions.

On to Dune Messiah!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Tales of Kirinyaga #1 by Mike Resnick

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Kirinyaga by Mike ResnickTales of Kirinyaga #1
By Mike Resnick; Read by Pat Bottino
1 Cassette – 83 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Infinivox
Published: 1997
ISBN: 1884612237
Themes: / Science Fiction / Orbital Platform / Culture /

This title from Infinivox contains two short stories by Mike Resnick. The first story, “One Perfect Morning, With Jackals”, tells of a Kenyan named Koriba who has decided to leave the Earth for Kirinyaga, an orbiting piece of real estate where he believes that he and others can live in the ancient ways of his own culture, free of the influence of European culture.

“Kirinyaga” is the second story, which takes place on Kirinyaga itself. Again, Koriba is the main character, and is living the culture he wants to live. He witnesses a baby born feet first. Since this is a sure sign of demon possession, he kills the child. “Maintenance” then pays a visit in order to tell him that he can’t be doing such things, and thus the culture clash begins anew. This Hugo Award winning story is very well-written and affecting, leaving you with much to think about.

Pat Bottino is the reader, and I found him a bit wooden, a bit emotionless, but the material is strong enough to shine through. Infinivox has a knack of selecting excellent stories to record – I haven’t heard an Infinivox title yet that I didn’t enjoy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Dune By Frank Herbert

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Dune by Frank HerbertDune
By Frank Herbert; Read by George Guidall
16 Cassettes – 24 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
ISBN: 0788763334
Date Published: 1998
Themes: / Science Fiction / Politics / Space travel / Culture / Ecology /

George Guidall is a tremendous narrator. His nuanced performances continually make his audiobooks easy on the ear yet insistent – his performances demand attention. Matched with the Frank Herbert’s Dune… well, this is as good as it gets, folks. A detailed, meaningful, and entertaining piece of science fiction performed by a narrator with fine voice, excellent timing, and utmost attention to those very details… magnificent.

Dune is a masterpiece of world-building. In the novel, Frank
Herbert creates Arrakis, the desert planet that is also called Dune.
The natives of this planet are people called Fremen, a mysterious desert-dwelling people that the characters in this novel don’t fully understand, at least at the beginning. They are proud people, and though a family from the galactic empire rules them, they project an aura of power and resiliency. Arrakis is important to the galactic empire because it is the world where Spice is mined. Spice is of supreme importance in Herbert’s universe for a host of reasons I won’t list here.

The fully realized culture of Arrakis is merely backdrop at the beginning of the novel, which immediately takes up the story of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Atreides. The Atreides family takes over as the ruling family of Arrakis from a rival family called the Harkonnens. From the moment they arrive on Arrakis, the Fremen treat Paul in a special way, since Paul fits the description of someone for which the Fremen have been waiting a long time. The story follows Paul from his departure from his home planet to his arrival on Arrakis and his eventual survival in the desert, during which much about the fascinating culture of the Fremen is revealed.

Frank Herbert wrote a novel here that works on so many levels that it can be read several times. From one angle, you’ve got a novel about the effects of a Messiah on a culture. From another, you’ve got an ecological novel about survival in a desert and the ethical questions about whether to disturb that harsh but natural environment to make it more habitable for humans. Still another gives you a novel of brutal political intrigue as Harkonnen plots against Atreides (and vice versa) in the pursuit of the power that is ownership of the Spice. Each of these subplots is fully developed an intertwined with the others in this novel, which succeeds in every way in print and now succeeds again as an audiobook thanks to the wonderful performance of George Guidall.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson