Review of Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo HopkinsonBrown Girl In The Ring
By Nalo Hopkinson; Read by Peter Jay Fernandez
6 Cassettes – 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2001
ISBN: 0788752286
Themes: / Fantasy / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Organ harvesting / Canada / Caribbean / Voodoo /

To uncover the future voices of science fiction, Time Warner Publishing sponsored a contest that attracted hundreds of submissions. Brown Girl In The Ring was the winning entry, announcing author Nalo Hopkinson to the world as a tremendous new talent. Brown Girl In The Ring is set in a future Toronto. An economic breakdown and a rising crime rate means the middle and upper classes have left and only the underclass remains there – a significant portion of which is of Carribean descent. Toronto’s citizens have been walled away from the rest of Canada, but now the upper classes need something from the untouchables within Toronto city limits – they need their orphans. If you think of the New York in the movie “Escape From New York”, move it a few miles North and East, you’ll get an idea of the general setting. This is a “what would the world be like if…” story, which makes it sort of SF, but there is also magic or more properly magics (both good and bad) that influence the character’s lives, and deaths too, and this is certainly not plausible in my buttoned down scientist’s hat worldview (scientists do wear hats right?). Which tends to make me think it must be fantasy, kind of like Star Wars with its “force” must be fantasy.

I think I’ve thought of a term to describe it too, you’ve heard of Cyberpunk and Steampunk right? Well maybe Brown Girl In The Ring is Voodoopunk? I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this audiobook, it has a vocabulary and an outlook I’d never experienced in a novel before. But on the other hand it did have some things that I recognized. It has a story – a very strong story – that was told as if the author had told dozens like it before and she guided me through it with a sure hand. What’s even better is it has a strong finish. I was worried I wasn’t going to be satisfied with where the story was going, I was happily surprised. Nalo Hopkinson knew what she was doing. I didnt anticipate the dénouement, but it makes sense and is very satisfying even though it is subtle. Maybe it makes it even more satisfying because it is subtle.

As for the production, it’s a Recorded Books audiobook so of course every word of the novel’s text is present. A very good thing too! It would have been a mistake to abridge a story as complex as this one. The cover art is perfect, I think it even surpasses the original paperback artwork!

Not being from the Caribbean myself I thought Peter Jay Fernandez did a great job with the accents and voices. I have been informed however that Fernadez is definitely mis-reading some of the phrases, so badly in some cases that he accidently changes their meaning. It didn’t detract from the experience for me, but if you are at all familiar with Carribean pronounciation and accents it may make it somewhat distracting.

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 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

Review of The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg Bear

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg BearThe Wind from a Burning Woman
By Greg Bear; Read by George Guidall and Christina Moore
7 Cassettes – 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 1992
ISBN: 1556907672
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Terrorism / Asteroids / Metaphysics / Religion / Utopia / Dystopia / Future City / Cloning / Aliens

This superior anthology collects several early Greg Bear stories. The narrators, George Guidall and Christina Moore, guide us skillfully through Bear’s dense prose and do so with obvious relish. This collection features only top-notch stories — any single tale alone would be sufficient evidence that Bear is a future Grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy. Bear’s later novels occasionally suffer from a density that makes reading difficult. Very little of this is evident in this collection. The stories are generally clear in the telling, and where they are not, the confusion is brief. The wholly original and infinitely interesting ideas contained within each story make worthwhile any brief confusion of style.

The Wind from a Burning Woman, the title story, was later to serve as a prequel to Bear’s novel Eon, and describes the possible consequences of the ultimate act of terrorism.

The White Horse Child is an great allegory about a curious young boy who will grow up to become a writer. Written in a style that owes a debt to Clifford D. Simak, this pastoral fantasy story is an instant classic. Petra is a very unusual fantasy tale, its religious theme tackles the hard boiled consequences of taking certain biblical prophecies events as actual future events. So brilliantly does it achieve originality it reminds us why Greg Bear is so exceedingly interesting to read.

Scattershot is my personal favorite in this collection. Its sheer inventiveness and exploration of the consequences of metaphysical physics makes it a fascinating listen.

Mandala is an almost satiric examination of the far end of the curve of utopian ideals. It could almost be thought of as Greg Bear’s take on Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars.

Hardfought is a Hugo-winning novella that follows the viewpoints of both the aliens and the humans in their interstellar war. It could be considered Greg Bear’s take on Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. In order to fight their battle, humans have adapted in strange ways. It’s an absolutely fascinating read.

Stories included:
The Wind from a Burning Woman
The entire crew of Psyche, an asteroid turned into a spaceship, is murdered. Giani, the granddaughter of the project’s administrator commandeers the spaceship in an attempt to uncover the truth.

The White Horse Child
An odd allegory about a boy becoming a writer. God fearing, book burning, censoring Auntie Dancer tries to stop a child from becoming a storyteller.

Petra
“God is Dead”, when stone comes alive after reality rearranges itself. Petra is a half-caste, a lowly figure in the world of the cathedral. His father was a living statue, his mother a human nun.

Scattershot
Francis Geneva finds herself allied with a robotic Russian teddy bear after her starship has an accident. She and her new companion are forced to explores the consequences of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In a reality where every possibility exists coping can be quite stressful. Sometimes the aliens are from Earth.

Mandala
In order to become perfect the sentient cities of Earth cast off their final flaw, the problem causing people. Mandala explores a future where mankind has reverted to a stone age existence after losing access to their technology.

Hardfought
Insular aliens known as the Sylexy are at war with humanity, in an attempt to understand their strange enemy they capture and clone a human soldier.

Review of The Giver by Lois Lowry

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Giver by Lois LowryThe Giver
by Lois Lowry; Read by Ron Rifkin
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell
Published: April 1995
ISBN: 055347359X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Children / Dystopia / Utopia /

In the future, society has eliminated pain and there is peace on earth, at least as far as we can tell. For Jonas, his twelfth birthday marks new responsibilities and new challenges. He hopes to be assigned to training as a “Nurturer,” like his father, with duties of caring for newborn babies until they are assigned to mothers and fathers. His mother works in the “Department of Justice”; but he doubts that will be chosen to be his life’s work. He has little natural aptitude for either function. But he is unexpectedly assigned to the position of “Receiver,” an important job with the unique function of learning and holding the community’s memories. The present position is held by a community elder, who is called “The Giver”. Together they must make the transition easy for the community because strong memories of hate, anger, and love aren’t acceptable except for guiding political decisions.

This is a well written children’s novel that adults can enjoy. But it is a children’s novel and one way to tell is by the controversy surrounding it was so strong. Though it is set in a science fiction setting, it is more of a parable than most modern children’s science fiction. The story of a young boy confronting a hidden truth about his society isn’t entirely original (though it does predate Harry Potter by a few years). It is also of course a story of a utopia/dystopia and the transformation of society that happened to make it. Again something not unfamiliar, but what is original though is the method used to transform the society. Think of it as a children’s version of Brave New World, This Perfect Day or G-rated Equilibrium and you’ll get the idea.

Ron Rifkin’s narration is effective, and it is an enjoyable novel to listen to. The controversy surrounding “The Giver” is entirely a product of it being deemed a children’s book, and having a child rebelling against his parents and society. It won’t turn your pre-teen into Che Guevera.