LibriVox: Phaedo by Plato

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxBob Neufeld’s reading of the Phaedo, Plato’s account of the final day of Socrates (in 399 BC), is of professional audiobook quality. There’s no way I could overstate how impressed I am with this audiobook. Neufeld’s pronunciation and character discrimination are spot-on and the sound quality of the recording is absolutely stellar. If you haven’t read any Plato I think you’ll be amazed at how clear and compelling the dialogue is. Its an accessible introduction to the thought of Socrates (and Plato) in that it discusses a very down to earth subject: death.

LIBRIVOX - Phaedo by PlatoPhaedo
By Plato; Translated by Benjamin Jowett; Read by Bob Neufeld
8 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 3 Hours 4 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: May 2, 2011
Socrates has been imprisoned and sentenced to death by an Athenian jury for not believing in the gods of the state and for corrupting the youth of the city. The dialogue is told from the perspective of one of Socrates’ students, Phaedo of Elis. Having been present at Socrates’ death bed, Phaedo relates the dialogue from that day to Echecrates, a fellow philosopher. By engaging in dialectic with a group of Socrates’ friends, including the Thebans Cebes and Simmias, Socrates explores various arguments for the soul’s immortality in order to show that there is an afterlife in which the soul will dwell following death. Phaedo tells the story that following the discussion, he and the others were there to witness the death of Socrates.

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/rss/4421

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

[Thanks also to Barry Eads]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Dust by Joan Frances Turner

SFFaudio Review

PENGUIN AUDIO - Dust by Joan Frances TurnerDust
By Joan Frances Turner; Read by Eva Amurri
8 CDs – Approx. 9 Hours 57 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: September 02, 2010
ISBN: 9780142428535
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / Zombies / Disease / Death / Resentment / Indiana /

Nine years ago, Jessie had a family. Now, she has a gang. Nine years ago, Jessie was a vegetarian. Now, she eats very fresh meat. Nine years ago, Jessie was in a car crash and died. Nine years ago, Jessie was human. Now, she’s not. After she was buried, Jessie awoke and tore through the earth to arise, reborn, as a zombie. Jessie’s gang is the Fly-by-Nights. She loves the ancient, skeletal Florian and his memories of time gone by. She’s in love with Joe, a maggot-infested corpse. They fight, hunt, dance together as one—something humans can never understand. There are dark places humans have learned to avoid, lest they run into the zombie gangs. But now, Jessie and the Fly-by-Nights have seen new creatures in the woods—things not human and not zombie. A strange new illness has flamed up out of nowhere, causing the undeads to become more alive and the living to exist on the brink of death. As bits and pieces of the truth fall around Jessie, like the flesh off her bones, she’ll have to choose between looking away or staring down the madness—and hanging onto everything she has come to know as life…

Here’s my take on Dust: Jessie is full of resentment, having died young in a car accident. Besides dying Jessie lost an arm and Jessie turned zombie. When Jessie was alive Jessie was a vegan – but now in Jessie’s undead form – Jessie works with a gang of bitter former humans (don’t call them zombies) that eat free range and organic animals like squirrels, possum and deer. Jessie and her associates communicate telepathically (because their mouths don’t make speech very well anymore). The undead very frequently address Jessie by her first name, which is Jessie. Jessie has many indignant conversations with her fellow embittered undead. They often punctuate their sentences with kicks, shoves and punches that break each other’s bones and dislodge sloughing off flesh. This is to be expected for Jessie. Despite these seemingly acrimonious interactions Jessie seems to love and respect her spiteful companions. They all share Jessie’s disdain for the un-undead (living people). Jessie and her surly companions have a hard life, having to deal with maggots, bloating and living out of doors all-year round. Then, after we understand Jessie well enough, Jessie’s living brother turns up, he’s interested in making peace with Jessie. But, Jessie isn’t having any of it. Jessie thinks he’s just a stupid “hoo” (that’s what Jessie and her friends call living humans). Jessie’s brother has a story to tell, but Jessie isn’t really willing to hear it. Next, a disease starts plaguing some of Jessie’s companions. Jessie thinks this is bad, but typical. Jessie also discovers something bad is happening to the stupid hoos. Jessie thinks that is what they get for being stupid hoos. But then the bad thing that hurts Jessie’s friends is something that turns the undead into less-rotty versions of themselves Jessie is angry. Jessie resents that her severed arm regrows. Jessie doesn’t want to look like a stupid hoo. The disease makes Jessie and everyone, even the stupid hoos, very hungry. That is bad, for Jessie, but deserving for the stupid hoos. The end (for Jesse).

You may be able to tell that I intensely disliked this novel. It was well written, with clear exposition, and it has clearly delineated story. Unfortunately Dust taught me nothing except that a clear exposition of the disagreeable does not improve it much. If you’re not teaching me anything, at least make the book fun. My dislike of Dust also stems from the fact that it posits multiple gimmes (a singular central conceit which may remain unexamined). Dust lets the reader assume nothing, the ground-rules aren’t fixed, and new rules are seemingly arbitrarily added on every tenth page. This means I, as a reader, cannot participate in the world of the book as much as sit back and observe what the author does with it. That is not fun. Based on the clarity of Dust I expect that Joan Frances Turner is capable of writing a fine novel, one that explores something more fruitful than resentment (which I will admit is a way to go with a zombie story told from the perspective of a zombie). But the zombie novel, as a phenomenon, may also be the problem. It may be time for people to stop writing stories from the perspective of a zombie. From my perspective Dust puts the final nail in the coffin of zombie stories told from the zombie’s perspective.

The audiobook of Dust does not contain the handy map that’s in the paperbook’s endpapers. Turner herself writes on her blog saying “the geography of the book is so vital to the story.” As to the narrator, typically when a narrator isn’t doing it for me I start looking for notable defects – asking myself “what is it that specifically bugs me about the narration?” Often this delivers some sort of gripe, like bad word pronunciation, an unconvincing accent or improper emphasis in important passages. I thought I spotted one badly pronounced word (“onerous”), but as it turns out, at least according to the Dictionary.com pronunciation guide, it is I who had been pronouncing “onerous” wrong! That said, Eva Amurri’s narration still doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure why. Other reviewers have praised her performance.

Here is the paperbook’s map (as illustrated by Claudia Carlson and designed by Tiffany Estreicher):

DUST by Joan Frances Turner MAP

Posted by Jesse Willis

Story Speiler: Accidental Death and All The World A Grave

SFFaudio Online Audio

Here are another two excellent unabridged audiobook short story offerings from Roy Turnbull…

The first, Accidental Death by Peter Baily, is definitely Science Fiction. It’s about an ill-fated expedition to an alien planet with some friendly, though dangerous, tennis-playing aliens. It speculates on the nature of luck in a first person present tense narrative – which is fun.

The second story, All The World A Grave by C.C. MacApp, is either Fantasy or Science Fiction, depending on your view of human nature. I take it as very apt satirical SF, in the same vein as The Space Merchants – as such, and despite its vintage, it has some very promising economic stimulus ideas for the new Barack Obama administration. Go economy, go!

Accidental Death by Peter BailyAccidental Death
By Peter Baily; Read by Roy Turnbull
1 |MP3| – Approx. 20 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Story Spieler Podcast
Published: 2009?
Provider: Internet Archive
From Astounding Science Fiction February 1959. The most dangerous of weapons is the one you don’t know is loaded.

And All The Earth A Grave by C.C. MacAppAnd All The Earth A Grave
By C.C. MacApp; Read by Roy Turnbull
1 |MP3| – Approx. 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Story Spieler Podcast
Published: 2009?
Provider: Internet Archive
From Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1963. There’s nothing wrong with dying—it just hasn’t ever had the proper sales pitch!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

SFFaudio Review

The Halloween Tree (audio drama) by Ray BradburyThe Halloween Tree
By Ray Bradbury; Performed by a full cast
2 CDs – 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781433232145
Themes: / Fantasy / Halloween / Death / Religion / Time Travel / Witchcraft / Paganism /
What is Halloween? How did it start? Where, why, what for? Witches, cats, mummy dust, haunts… it’s all there in the country from which no one returns. Would you dive into the dark ocean, boys? Would you fly in the dark sky?

This review may be a little out of season, but it was with relatively recent memories of carving jack-o’lanterns and taking my costumed children out to trick-or-treat that I listened to The Colonial Radio Players dramatized adaptation of The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. This neat little tale is ostensibly for children and young adults, but it contains an illuminating look into the origins of Halloween as well as an honest exploration of our own cultural view of death, that greatest of all mysteries.

The Halloween Tree opens with eight young boys gathered together on Halloween night to go trick-or-treating. A ninth boy, Pipkin, is notably absent from the group, and when he finally emerges from his house it’s apparent something is terribly wrong: He’s pale, moving gingerly, and clutching at a lancing pain his side. But the call of Halloween is too strong and he joins his friends. Later we learn that Pipkin is suffering from an acute bout of appendicitis.

The boys decide to go trick-or-treating at a haunted house, and there they encounter the ghostly, skeletal, white-haired Mr. Moundshroud. Moundshroud takes the boys to see The Halloween Tree. En route they have to cross a deep ravine, which proves to be a metaphor for the Valley of Death, and Pipkin fails to reach the other side. When the boys call to him, his pumpkin light goes out and he vanishes from sight.

Moundshroud offers to take the boys on a dreamlike trip back through time in order to save Pipkin. Along the way he reveals the origins of Halloween and its association with death. The boys travel back to ancient Egypt and view that culture’s reverence of the dead, including its great pyramid-tombs, mummies, and the worship of the sun god Osiris, murdered each night by his jealous brother only to rise again the next morning. They are whisked away to pre-Christian Europe and encounter the cowled, scythe-wielding Samhain, the druidic god of death from which Halloween derives its origins.

The boys witness the extinction of the druids and their religion at the hands of the murdering Romans, whose polytheistic approach to religion is itself eradicated by the coming of Christ. “Now the Christians come and cut the Romans down—new altars, boys, new incense, new names,” Moundshroud says. Here I’ll mention that The Halloween Tree includes a subversive view of Christianity, as the boys witness the persecution of innocent witches in the dark ages in the name of Christ.

The boys’ journey continues to 16th century Paris and Notre Dame Cathedral and finally to Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebration. Their strange, dreamlike trip not only reveals the origins of Halloween, but also illuminates our own view of death here in the United States—cemeteries are lonely, cold places, and when someone dies we turn our attention to moving on and forgetting, rather than remembering and honoring our deceased loved ones. When contrasted with Bradbury’s bright description of The Day of the Dead, our cultural reaction to death seems stunted and sad in comparison:

By every grave was a woman kneeling to place gardenias, or azaleas, or marigolds, in a frame upon the stone. By every grave knelt a daughter, who was lighting a new candle, or lighting a candle that had just blown out. By every grave was a quiet boy, with bright brown eyes, and in one hand a small papier-mâché funeral parade, glued to a shingle, and in the other hand a papier-mâché skeleton head, which rattled with rice or nuts inside.

Halloween, this odd, out-of-place holiday that has persisted through the ages, and remains with us now as a night to beg for candy in a costume, is revealed as an ancient ritual denoting the end of the harvest season and the onset of cold winter, of night, and of death. Its origins trace back thousands of years and span multiple cultures. “Four thousand years ago, one hundred years ago, this year, one place or time, but the celebration’s all the same—the Feast of Samhain, the Time of the Dead Ones, All Souls, All Saints, the Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, All Hallows, Halloween,” Bradbury writes.

In the end the boys are presented with a difficult choice to bring Pipkin back from the dead, one that involves a paganistic sacrifice to the dark gods. I won’t spoil the ending. But there’s a great line where one of the boys asks Moundshroud, “Will we ever stop being afraid of the night and death?” Moundshroud (who may be death himself, or the spirit of Halloween) replies reassuringly, “When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and death himself will die.”

I had a few minor quibbles with the presentation of the story. The Colonial Radio Theatre presentation at times relies too heavily on unnecessary sound effects and crashing music that threatened to overwhelm the story, although the voice of Moundshroud, Jerry Robbins, was excellent, as were the production values. The tale also contained a bit more whimsy (a giant kite that whisks the boys back through time, etc.) than I typically like, but Bradbury is such a gifted, poetic writer that it mostly works.

Death may be our greatest mystery, but Bradbury is not afraid to look into its cold, impenetrable depths in search for meaning. The Halloween Tree illuminates the subject with a ghostly pumpkin candle whose light remained with me long after the tale was over, which is one sure mark of a good book.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of Jeffrey Combs Reads H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West Re-Animator

SFFaudio Review

Horror Audiobook - Jeffrey Combs Read H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West Re-AnimatorJeffrey Combs Reads H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West Re-Animator
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by Jeffrey Combs
1 CD – 72 Minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Beyond-Books.com
Published: 1999
UPC: 619981033428
Themes: / Science Fiction / Horror / Death / Immortality / Zombies / WWI / 1900s / 1910s / 1920s /

“Human it could not have been — it is not in man to make such sounds.”

The “Herbert West, Reanimator” serial is a cycle of six ghoulish tales inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. This audiobook is an abridged reading of that serial. We first meet the titular Herbert West as a third-year medical student attending New England’s Miskatonic University in 1904. We are introduced to West by an unnamed companion, a fellow student at M.U., who like a Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, narrates the adventures of his fascinating fiend friend. West is the inventor of an extraordinary reagent, one that when injected into the body of a recently deceased person, cause rudimentary living functions to return. West seeks to perfect his reagent, but in order to do this he must find freshly deceased bodies. The six seperate episodes recount the various grusome attempts by West and his bizzarely-loyal companion to do just this. One minor wrinkle, most of the subjects that undergo the “re-animation” process become violent, incommunicative and don’t typically and retain their ‘higher’ mental faculties.

Jeffrey Combs Reads H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West Re-Animator will make you become, like West, utterly fascinated by the desire to know what will happen in the next experiment. What will the dead have to say? Can death truly be conquered? As the unnamed narrator puts it – “I, myself, still held some curious notions about the traditional ‘soul’ of man, and felt an awe at the secrets that might be told by one returning from the dead.” The prose is rich, fast and pregnant with that special adjectival allure that only Lovecraft knew the formula for. Though it appears that Lovecraft himself was not overly-fond of this serial, it makes for a straightforward introduction to his work and I found it appealingly nefariousness.

The abridgement here is relatively minor, and even, I am surprised to say, forgiveable. It appears to have been done to try to smooth out the connectity of the six seperate stories that make up the entire Re-Animator cycle or possibly to make the entire set of tales fit onto just one CD. The original stories offered a recap of the previous instalment’s events, reading them back to back like this, it makes sense that those sections would be disposable. Either way, it is forgivable. Far more disheartening than the abridgement is the addition of sound effects. The sounds are intermittent, completely redundant and nearly ruin the atmosphere the text naturally generates in a reader. Horror stories, if they are well written, generate a mood by words alone. I’d like to say this is just a case of gilding the lily, but that makes it sounds like it was merely superfluous to add in sound effects, and I don’t want to say that. In fact it is far worse than that – the added effects will sometimes completely break the spell that Lovecraft’s words and Combs’ reading of them are weaving together – the sound effects bring the listener out of the story. This is a major flaw.

On the bright side, the reading itself is excellent. Jeffrey Combs is probably best known for his role as Herbert West in the Re-Animator films. You’d probably also recognize his voice and mannerisms from his supporting work. Were he better known I have no doubt he’d have many a stand-up comedian doing impersonations of his unique vocal cadance. Combs has been all over Science Fiction on TV, he even played two recurring characters on the same episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at one point! His reading is of course dead-on. He knows this material well and revels in the loquacious language of H.P. Lovecraft.

Recommended, but with reservations.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Prisoners Of Gravity, the best damn TV show ever: Have a listen

Online Audio

Online AudioIf you like Science Fiction and you haven’t managed to catch a single episode of Prisoners Of Gravity, I pity you. I really do. The show was awesome. It was produced between 1989 and 1994 for TV Ontario (and syndicated sporadically across North America) – each episode was like an extended blog entry (before there was such a thing). The topics, each episode only had one, focused on a particular theme found in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and comic books.

The bulk of an individual show would be just ‘talking heads’ – it was an interview format show with multiple celebrity guests of the best kind, mostly SF&F authors. Each guest would talk about the subject at hand with the interviews having been done at conventions, bookstores and the like – but I can’t stress enough just how each show was so narrowly focused on a specific theme in Speculative Fiction. Here’s just a few of the episodes subjects:

Alternate Histories, Religion, War, Dreams, Watchmen (yup a whole show on the Alan Moore comic series), Cyberpunk, World-Building, Death, Vampires, Dinosaurs, Metamorphosis, Mars and many more.

What made the show so endearing, besides the absolutely stunningly cool content, was the unrelentingly geek-o-serious production. The show’s host, played by comedian Rick Green, was supposed to be a frustrated über-geek named Commander Rick, who had, prior to the show starting, fled the earth in his homemade rocket (packed ful of books and comics). Unforunately for the Commander, he crashed into a television satellite, from which he now broadcasts his show. His only companion there is Nan-Cy, the sardonic artificial intelligent computer system that keeps Rick alive and relatively sane.

If this shows sounds interesting, or you’re feeling nostalgic, click on over to my good friend Rachelle Shelkey’s fansite, Signal Loss, and have a peek around. No official DVDs are available, but there’s a message board and episode trading might be doable now with the promulgation of cheap DVD-Rs. I myself am sending Rachelle my entire collection of VHS tape, in the hopes I will be getting some episodes I’ve never seen before. If you have some episodes contact Rachelle! If we can get enough people interested maybe we can get a complete series run!

Now for the audio|MP3|. It is the first 5 minutes from an episode of Prisoners Of Gravity on the subject of Science Fiction Fandom. Enjoy!

posted by Jesse Willis