StarShipSofa has MP3 fiction: London Bone by Michael Moorcock

SFFaudio Online Audio

Star Ship SofaIt seems the StarShipSofa boys blagged their way into a goldmine of goodness from none other than Michael Moorcock! There’s already been a “gonzo” podcast about their Paris adventure. Still to come is a video (and audio – we hope) edition of the actual extended interview. And, today saw the release of some fiction – an unabridged reading of a 1997 Moorcock short story called London Bone. This tale comes in as the first of a new regular (or semi-regular) feature of Wednesday podcast releases of short stories on SSS.

London Bone by Michael MoorcockLondon Bone
By Michael Moorcock; Read by MCL
1 |MP3| – Approx. 1 Hour [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: StarShipSofa.com
Podcast: November 28th 2007
My name is Raymond Gold and I’m a well-known dealer. I was born too many years ago in Upper Street, Islington. Everybody reckons me in the London markets and I have a good reputation in Manchester and the provinces. I have bought and sold, been the middleman, an agent, an art representative, a professional mentor, a tour guide, a spiritual bridge-builder. These days I call myself a cultural speculator.

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: The Lair Of The White Worm by Bram Stoker

SFFaudio Online Audio

A new LibriVox title from the author of Dracula! I first encountered this strange tale while watching British television in the early 1990s – it was a very odd movie aired one afternoon – the film both fascinated and repelled. I’ve seen it a few times since then, and have appreciated its curious oddness more and more. Its almost magical in that respect. I haven’t read the book, nor listened to the audiobook (yet) but am pretty much convinced that the film will be absolutely nothing like the book. Many thanks should go to Betsie Bush for narrating the whole novel all on her own. Thanks so much Betsie!

LibriVox audiobook - The Lair Of The White Worm by Bram StokerThe Lair Of The White Worm
By Bram Stoker; Read by Betsie Bush
28 zipped MP3 Files or podcast – 5 Hours 48 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: July 30th 2007
Adam Salton is contacted by his great uncle in England, for the purpose of establishing a relationship between these last two members of the family. Adam travels to Richard Salton’s house in Mercia, and quickly finds himself in the center of some inexplicable occurrences. The new heir to the Caswall estate, Edgar Caswall appears to be making some sort of a mesmeric assault on a local girl. And, a local lady, Arabella March, seems to be running a game of her own, perhaps angling to become Mrs. Caswall. There is something strange about Lady March, something inexplicable and evil.

Get the entire novel in podcast form, via this handy url:

http://librivox.org/bookfeeds/lair_of_the_white_worm_by_bram_stoker.xml

Two illustrations of the Lambton worm:

Lambton Worm - illustrator unknown

Lambton Worm - Illustration from More English Fairy Tales

Review of The Children of Men by P.D. James

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Children Of Men by P.D. JamesThe Children Of Men
By P.D. James; Performed by John Franklyn-Robbins
9 CDs – 10.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 1993
ISBN: 1419323431
Themes: / Science Fiction / Infertility / Dystopia / Sociology / Politics / Terrorism / England /

“O’ merciful God and heavenly Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men, look with pity, we beseech thee, upon the sorrows of thy servant for whom our prayers are desired. In thy wisdom thou hast seen fit to visit him with trouble, and to bring distress upon him. Remember him O Lord in mercy; sanctify thy fatherly correction to him; endue his soul with patience under his affliction, and with resignation to thy blessed will; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; lift up thy countenance upon him, and give him peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

-English Book of Common Prayer

Set in 2021, The Children Of Men posits a future in which not a single human child has been born for more than two decades. In the year Omega, the last year for babies, there began a frantic search for the inexplicable cause of human infertility. Twenty years later they’ve all but given up. The “Omegas,” as the youngest generation are being called, are spoiled, egotistical and violent. The middle-aged who’ve appear to have lost their purpose are all either visiting the state sponsored sex-shops or raising animal proxies as their children (kitten baptisms is all the rage in London these days). The elderly teetering on the edge of a social system increasingly disinterested in them are encouraged to suicide at the slightest hint of infirmity. Leading Britain through this crisis is the long time “Warden” of England, a man named Xan Lyppiatt. Xan is an all-but-dictator who has the confidence of the people. Xan’s cousin is Theo Faron, an Oxford history professor who lives under a cloud of self-recrimination for the death of his son. Into Theo’s life comes a woman named Julian, who on behalf of herself and her underground movement wants Theo to take a message to the Warden. Sadly, the message falls upon deaf ears and Theo expects never to see Julian again. But he does when in an unprecedented revelation Theo is given conclusive proof that the impossible has happened, Julian is pregnant.

The Children Of Men is a ponderous and elegant rumination on topics rarely tackled in Science Fiction. Though P.D. James does nothing to conclusively indicate an overt idea behind the novel’s premise, we can’t help but wonder. Is this fact of the infertility and the fact of a pregnant woman not a contradiction? Are we to conclude this was a freak mammalian parthenogenesis? What else could cause such a pregnancy? James undercuts this line of argument with one plot point and with another she reinforces it. But it wasn’t just the living men who are infertile. Oh no, for what are we to make of the fact that in James’ future even the healthy sperm, frozen well before the “Omega Year,” has been rendered impotent? Clearly the lone pregnancy, as it is laid out, bears some resemblances to the biblical story of the Virgin Mary. But James downplays it. Perhaps we are to conclude both from the books title that the infertility crisis is something akin to a modern day world-wide-flood event. Should we be wondering if the society in The Children Of Men is being punished for something? If we are to take this what-if and run with it, we must then ask what the famous Scottish skeptic-philosopher David Hume demanded, and wonder if uniformity has been violated? Irregardless, the questions themselves are valuable, and the environment in which the are asked is possibly unique and certainly interesting. For some, The Children Of Men‘s ending may make them see it as a hopeful novel, but I believe the ending is more in the tradition of what you see is in it is what you bring to it. For the deliberately childless, what changes? Perhaps nothing, perhaps something.

Narrator John Franklyn-Robbins is asked to shift between first and third-person narration. He does so, with characterization all but non-existent. This is what old-school audiobook aficionados like to call a “straight” reading. His accent is the prime attraction, and casts the entire novel is a completely different direction than the 2006 film version. Listeners should persevere through the slow start as they will be well rewarded later on. Recorded Books does not showcase it’s original art on its website so the arrival of the actual audiobook is always a surprise. This one’s got their older style line art which I’ve always appreciated.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of V For Vendetta by Steve Moore

SFFaudio Review

V For Vendetta by Steve MooreV For Vendetta
Novelization by Steve Moore; Read by Simon Vance
11 Cassettes, 8 CDs or 1 MP3-CD – 9.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 0786144637 (Cassette), 0786170777 (CDs), 078617711X (MP3-CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Terrorism / Anarchy / England /

Click here for an audio sample —

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and plot. I know of no reason why The Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot…”

This audiobook had a long and treacherous road to release. Perhaps even worse, it has a questionable provenance. V For Vendetta, the unabridged audiobook, is several steps removed from the original source material. Worse still, the adapted property has been completely disowned by its original creator, celebrated graphic comics writer Alan Moore. He quite literally had his name removed from the movie credits, the novelization, and consequently this audiobook – in short he wants nothing to do with it.

Alan Moore is a famous figure in comics, and his opinion carries much weight among comic book readers. Because of all this, V For Vendetta, the novelization of the movie of the same name, is in serious jeopardy of being dismissed. But given the original material’s quality and the near classic vintage – the character and setting for “V” was originally birthed in early 1980s – you might be inclined to give this audiobook a try anyway. And for that you will be rewarded.

The road to release began with The Wachowski Brothers, the creators of the film The Matrix, optioned the story. They purchased the rights and scripturally adapted the graphic novel of V For Vendetta for the screen. After the film began production their script was then again adapted, this time as a movie novelization (or as the industry calls it a movie tie-in novel). The novel was written by Steve Moore, who, while no familial relation to Alan Moore, is very much his friend. Then Blackstone Audiobooks stepped in, hiring Simon Vance to voice an unabridged audiobook version of the Steve Moore’s novelization of The Wachowski Brother’s script of their movie which was originally based on Alan Moore’s original comic book series (that was collected into a graphic novel). See what I mean about a treacherous road? At any point along this journey the story could have been ruined. But what happened instead is that it has been IMPROVED! Indeed I think story-wise this is the best version of V For Vendetta

Soon after the opening of the novel a mysterious figure named “V,” who dresses in a Guy Fawkes costume, promises to destroy the British Parliament buildings on November 5th, one year hence. It is a bit unlear at first, is the fascist governing party the target of this threat, or perhaps it is the people of England in general? Only one woman has even a clue. Her name is Evey. With war raging round the world, an English supremacist party called “Norsefire” has fully secured governmental authority in England. Some time ago, Norsefire successfully seized the initiative, and now England’s remaining citizenry are in a stranglehold of their own making. At the start of the novel the government controls media and a petrifying secret police force seemingly made up of little more than street thugs prowls the streets after dark. In the recent past the last of the last of the concentration camps has closed – their grisly work completed. The populace has been lulled into their docility by a combination of mindless television drama, propaganda posing as opinion, and horrifying news stories about how much worse everywhere else is. So when an anarchic revolutionary destroys London’s Saint Paul’s Catherdral in pyrotechnic display, the compliant populace is only slightly stirred. The government explains that it was just a “scheduled demolition” and many Britons even believe it. But when “V,” a seeming superhero/supervillan goes on BTN the sole governmental television network, and announces a violent campaign to be capped in by the destruction of parliament buildings in one year’s time the populace begins to question if “England shall prevail” or whether it even should.

Like George Orwell‘s classic dystopia 1984 the totalitarian regime in V For Vendetta rose to power by exploiting people’s worst fears and firing-up their prejudices. Interestingly the viewpoint character is not V himself. V’s personal history, past a certain point, remains mysterious right to the end. Despite a completely third person perspective we basically follow a young woman named Evey through this tale. V saves Evey early on in the novel from a rape by government agents known as “Fingermen.” Evey’s journey is not unlike that of the population, for which she can serve as an emotional example. One other character, a police Inspector named Finch, as dutiful and honest a detective as one’d want, offers another view of that same populace coming to grips with the type of society in which it lives. Finch is assigned to pursue the mystery of V, and in so doing unravels the history of the party’s origins and V’s vendetta. About two-thirds of the way through Evey’s journey with V and his vendetta Evey is captured and tortured. Her only solace during her ordeal is a scrap of toliet paper with a moving biography of her neighboring victim. The payoff from this is extremely surprising, utterly transendant and I think probably even true. There isn’t enough praise to go round for this one, Alan Moore for originally writing it of course, the Wachowski Brothers for recognizing it and popularizing it and Steve Moore for preserving and enhancing it. They all deserve major public honours here.

On the audiobook end, Simon Vance is my new favorite British narrator. The Shakespearean inspired “V-speech” that he delivers near the beginning of this audiobook is without parallel in my experience. It’s deliciously composed, elegantly constructed and with Vance’s performance, wonderfully delivered. The film version of this same speech is very good too, but I actually found myself better able to follow it via Vance’s excellent enunciated delivery. Steve Moore, the adaptor of the film’s script, has done something special. He’s taken many inspired liberties with the script by filling in as much detail as he could to flesh out the story – nearly every effective new addition to the story was taken from the original source material the comic book version of V For Vendetta. Finally, I can thankfully say that the plot detail involving the destruction of the British parliament buildings (including London’s Big Ben) is preserved from the film version. This is extremely important. To be sure there is a scene of the destruction of the British parliament buildings in the original graphic novel but the timing of it there is far less effective in terms of a story’s arc. Though it might be controversial to say, I think it is true: The Wachowski Brothers, in their adaptation of Alan Moore’s story, clearly understood the power of terrorism better than Alan Moore himself did at the time of the comic’s writing. The goal of terrorists is to show that an authority cannot control the terrorists. When a terrorist threat, like the destruction of a weighty architechtural symbol, is made and then carried out that effect is achieved. Some fear comes from a lurking dread of some muzzy non-specific threat but true political power stems from being able to call every shot, make the predictions on destruction and have them all come true every single time. In rejigging the story to make the destruction of the British parliament buildings happen near the end instead of the start, the already powerful story of V For Vendetta is vastly improved. An SFFaudio Essential.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Hunting For Robin Hood by Seth Feldman

Fantasy Audiobooks - Robin HoodHunting For Robin Hood
By Seth Feldman; with readings by Penelope Reed Doob
and Barry MacGregor
1 CD – Approx 1 Hour [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: CBC AUDIO Published: 2003
ISBN: 0660189143
Themes: / Non-Fiction / History / Mythology / Fantasy / Magic / England /

“Ballads, plays and movies tell of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. But did he really exist? Seth Feldman cavorts with a merry band of scholars searching for the still elusive outlaw.”

Hunting For Robin Hood was first produced for broadcast on CBC Radio’s long running Ideas program. Ideas has been the standard-bearer for the intellectual and scholarly radio programming for decades. One would be hard pressed in Canada, or anywhere else in the English speaking world to find a consistently more enlightening program presenting scholarly lectures and documentaries in the fields of sociology, culture, arts, geopolitics, history, biography, science, technology or the humanities in a more accessible or entertaining way. If Ideas hasn’t covered it at some point, it probably doesn’t matter. With the wide commercial release of this and other CBC Audio CDs and cassettes the ephemeral radio broadcasts are preserved, marking the beginning of some of the very best audio non-fiction programs previously available only through costly direct order from the CBC. I’ve been an avid listener to Ideas since the 1980s. The program runs weeknights between 9PM and 10PM throughout most of Canada.

Hunting For Robin Hood interviews several Robin Hood scholars who trace the origins of the popular English hero. They touch on his roots in the “Green Man” mythology, something which ties Robin Hood to the fantasy realm, why he’s such a popular hero, his outlaw mystique, and even his ties to Morris dancing! Other surprising revelations include Maid Marian’s roots as a fertility goddess and the scattered origins of the rogues’ gallery of Robin Hood villains. Production values and sound quality are of course absolutely top notch, and the CD comes in an attractive DVD style Amaray case. Highly recommended to Robin Hood fans.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis

Science Fiction Audiobooks - To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie WillisTo Say Nothing Of The Dog – Or How We Found The Bishop’s Birdstump At Last
By Connie Willis; Read by Steven Crossley
15 cassettes – 21.25 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2000
ISBN 0788755498
Themes: Science Fiction / Time-travel / Comedy / Romance / Mystery / 19th Century /England / Near Future /

The story involves Coventry Cathedral (old, new and burned down), pen wipers, a breach in the space-time continuum, boating on the Thames, evolution, and bulldogs.
– Connie Willis in a Science Fiction Weekly Interview

For such a stunningly popular Science Fiction author Connie Willis has some very unusual obsessions: Churches, England, a neurotic lead character and cats. But then again if you take away the churches and the England all you’ve got left is Robert A. Heinlein, so don’t complain. Now before I get all reviewing let me first say that the Science Fiction elements in this novel are truly paper thin. The closest we come to real SF meat is the many characters thinking about time travel paradoxes and how to prevent them. The plot resolution, without giving anything away, centers around the reason time travel works the way it does in these Connie Willis time travel books and that revelation felt not just un-science fictiony but also down-right un-scientific. But on the other hand it has a neatly tied up happy ending, and we all need a nice happy ending now and then.

This is the third time travel story set in a near future where an Oxford history don named Dunworthy sends his undergraduates back in time to visit historical English churches. But unlike Fire Watch and Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog is also a romantic comedy and a mystery. Instead of sending his students to WWII London (as in Fire Watch), or Middle Ages England (as in Doomsday Book), Dunworthy sends them to 19th century Oxford for a little R&R, and while they are there would they “mind finding the bishop’s birdstump?” – whatever that is. Now don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed this novel, quite a lot in fact! It’s just that Willis is such a very strange writer…. her characters, for example, they think a lot, no strike that. They think way too much. They are always overthinking every possibility of what could go wrong and then thinking it again just for luck, which is truly infuriating. Thankfully, this characteristic is slightly less apparent in this novel than it was in Doomsday Book and this book benefits from that slight reduction. No doubt this was due in part to the first person perspective. Keep writing first person Connie!

The mystery element is also rather weak. Are we really supposed to care what happened to the bishop’s birdstump? We don’t even find out what the damn thing is until about two thirds of the way through the book! What really saves this novel from becoming utterly unlistenable is the author’s attention to light humor and the characters. These are nice people, and the situations they are in are for the most part quite cute. The romantic angle is also sweet, and the text is rife with evidence that Willis really researches the heck out of the settings she writes about. I don’t recall ever laughing out loud, though many sections were quite amusing, or ever being so caught up in the romance that I couldn’t stop listening if I needed to, though I did like the way that all played out – it snuck up on me. What I liked most about To Say Nothing Of The Dog – Or How We Found The Bishop’s Birdstump At Last was the literary references included. There are characters who act like they’re in a P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster story, the mystery element is obviously quite Dorothy L. Sayers inspired and Willis even named the novel after the biggest influence, Jerome K. Jerome’s Victorian comic novel Three Men In A Boat – To Say Nothing Of The Dog! Narrator Steven Crossley has the prototypical English accent you associate with Masterpiece Theater and costume drama. He’s called upon to stretch only a little with this one, playing mostly upper and middle class English gentlefolk from the 21st and 19th centuries. Nicely done too. Recorded Books has chosen some neat art for the cover, depicting an hourglass and a bulldog. As usual the packaging is absolutely top notch, you won’t find a more durable or attractive case for an audiobook from another publisher.

So with such a mixed review can I recommend this book? Absolutely I can, for of all Connie Willis’ weirdness, she is as gosh darned friendly and smart as you and me, just maybe a little smarter and definitely a little weirder, and I would never ever hesitate to recommend a novel that can trace its origins back to one line in Robert A. Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel. To Say Nothing Of The Dog – Or How We Found The Bishop’s Birdstump At Last is recommended as a tonic for the weary traveler, or just as a lighthearted vacation from Hard SF.

Posted by Jesse Willis