Review of The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: A Romance

Fantasy Audio Drama - Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKeanThe Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: A Romance
By Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean; Performed by a Full Cast
STREAMING AUDIO LINK BELOW
1 Hour [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: BBC Radio 3
Published: March 3rd 2005
Themes: / Fantasy / Mythology / Puppetry / England / Memory /

“That’s the way to do it!”

Audio drama is a hit or miss affair, but the BBC knows its stuff, so it is really terrific that they produced this adaptation of a Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s graphic novel. The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: A Romance is somber reminiscence of a young English boy’s familial experiences and the resonance it had with the seaside Punch and Judy shows. North American audiences probably aren’t familiar with the Punch and Judy so I’ll lay out the basics… Punch and Judy is a popular British puppet show for children, featuring Mr. Punch and his “bit of stuff” Judy. The performances consist of short scenes, each of which depict an interaction between the chaotic trickster Mr. Punch and one other character. The Punch and Judy show is always performed by a single puppeteer, (known in the trade as a Professor), which is why only two characters can be on stage at the same time. Mr. Punch is a hunchback who sports a hideous grin, beady piercing eyes, a giant chin, hooked nose and the dress of a court jester. Mr. Punch usually carries a stick, with which he happily beats the other character on stage. The other character could be Judy, her baby, a crocodile, the devil or even a string of naughty sausages. The plot of this particular audio drama shows us how the particular staging of a Punch and Judy show doesn’t vary the particular impact on the audience except when one has been cast in the play. McKean’s original piano score haunts the production and the actors all play their roles to perfection. While not as engaging as some of Gaiman’s later work this tale is nonetheless very neatly woven. This radio drama will be archived for one month on the BBC Radio 3 website. So listen while you may you naughty little sausages!

STREAMING AUDIO LINK:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio3_aod.shtml?radio3/thewire

Narrator …… Richard Dillane
Swatchell …… Alexander Morton
Grandfather …… Hugh Dickson
Morton …… Karl Johnson
Boy …… Jonathan Bee
Mermaid …… Rachel Atkins
Grandmother …… Susan Jameson
Father …… Stuart McLoughlin
Mr Punch …… Geoff Felix
Sister …… Frankie Dean
Music by Dave McKean and Ashley Slater
Directed by Lu Kemp

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Night Of The Triffids By Simon Clark

The Night of the Triffids by Simon ClarkThe Night Of The Triffids
By Simon Clark; Read by Stephen Pacey
10 Cassettes – 12 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Chivers Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0754007669
Themes: / Science Fiction / Disaster / Society /

I was twelve years old when I discovered John Wyndham’s awe-inspiring The Day of the Triffids. For me, standing between the world of childhood and the mysterious new world of adulthood, it was a revelation [it] wasn’t merely a good story; it was such a powerful transforming experience that the hero’s struggle for survival has stayed with me ever since.”
-Author Simon Clark

Chock full of adventure, action, politics, revolution, and romance, The Night Of The Triffids is horror author Simon Clark’s sequel to the venerable 1951 John Wyndham novel The Day Of The Triffids. Wyndam’s story was about a confluence of two natural disasters – the appearance of some strange green lights in the sky that blinded anyone who looked at them and the subsequent rampage of a carnivorous walking plant called a Triffid – which was previously only a curiosity. The narrator of that tale was Bill Masen, a man who by pure chance managed to avoid becoming blinded like 99% of humanity. At the end of The Day Of The Triffids, the hero, Bill Masen and his wife and four-year-old son David leave the British mainland to join a new colony on the Isle of Wight. In a way that story was a kind of retelling of The War Of The Worlds, excepting that the aliens weren’t from Mars. That novel was a powerful disaster tale heavily influenced by the cold war era in which it was set. Simon Clark’s sequel takes place twenty-five years. It is told by David Masen, Bill Masen’s now grown-up son, who is an aviator in the fledgling Isle of Wight Airforce. The Masen family, along with a handful of other British survivors, have started rebuilding society on that Island off the south of Britain. But when a new disaster strikes humanity in its weakened state may not survive.

There are very few genuine science fiction elements in this book, the closest being the soft science fiction idea of adopting new values for new situations. As an example, the few remaining people have decided to take a crash effort to increase the population – and in so doing have created something called “Mother Houses”. These are convent-like homes where fertile women give birth and infertile women raise babies – all in an effort to maximize the birth rate. I’m not sure if Clark knew it or not but frighteningly, the Nazis’, had something similar – the “Lebensborn,” which were mother houses, set up by Heinrich Himmler to care for unmarried pregnant women whose “racial” characteristics (blond hair, blue eyes) fit the Nazis’ Aryan ideal. “Racially pure” SS members were encouraged to visit often and sire many young children for the Fuhrer. Horrific as such a baby factory sounds in The Night Of The Triffids this is but one of the ‘necessary evils’ that society is experimenting with. The good news is that it all manages to replicate
much of the feel of The Day Of The Triffids, but where Clark really stumbles is with the plotting. The opening scene and the ensuing couple of chapters are very interesting, and made me wonder where it all was going. But that mystery was dropped until a throw away explanation in the final chapter. And as the Brits say that ‘just isn’t cricket’. The whole book has a stumbling along bumbling along plot that doesn’t allow you to guess where it might be going – perhaps this was in part due to what I would assume was to be its target audience – preteens and young teens – heck it may have even been a stylistic choice. I don’t know.

What I do know is that what success Night Of The Triffids does have is due in no small part to the first person perspective. English narrator Stephen Pacey does good work with the compassionate everyman David Masen, his other voices including variously accented Americans are good too, though they were fairly easy to tell that it was a ‘put-on’ accents. If you’re not expecting it to surpass much less equal the original The Night Of The Triffids will be acceptable entertainment.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Doomsday Book by Connie WillisDoomsday Book
By Connie Willis; Read by Jenny Sterlin
18 cassettes – 26.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0788744151
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time-travel / England / Middle Ages / 14th Century / Near Future / Religion /

For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies—it’s the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong. When an accident leaves Kivrin trapped in one of the deadliest eras in human history, the two find themselves in equally gripping—and oddly connected—struggles to survive.

Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book is a believable time-travel story, which is ridiculous. Time-travel isn’t possible except as fiction, but the time travel in this story immerses the listener enough so that you don’t mind how you got there. Though soft science fiction, this novel relies on solid storytelling without inconsistencies, it also avoids violence and gadgets in favor of verisimilitude and thorough research. The novel follows two threads, one extremely compelling the other far less so. The first and more interesting thread follows our heroine, Kivrin, a historian sent back into the 14th century to get a first hand account of life in a village close to “Oxenford”. What she discovers there is extremely interesting. Willis dispels the ‘back in the good old days’ mentality with a gritty look at a deeply religious society and thoroughly stratified society with freezing peasants. The characterization here is superb; I actually cared what happened to these fictional medieval characters!

The shorter, secondary thread follows the characters in our near future. Unfortunately this part of the story, like the Harry Potter novels, describes a world where most adults are ignorant and need a youngster to save the day. Also here, apparently, time-travel is no big deal. It generally goes on unsupervised in the universities and without government supervision. It seems any time travel that would cause a paradox cannot occur, thus carefully avoiding the bread and butter of typical time-travel adventures. This is not a story so much about the process, the physics or paradoxes inherent in time-travel as much as it is about something else entirely: Disease and the devastating effects it has when it’s rampant and 90% lethal. Sterile modern hospitals are contrasted with the complete ignorance of infections to good effect, demonstrating just how lucky we are! It’s striking to hear how death was an everyday commonplace occurrence, unlike today when a single death is considered a tragedy. Here’s to tragedy.

The narration, by Jenny Sterlin, was very effective; she made the thoughts and words of Kivrin just like being there. Jenny effectively makes good use of the numerous British expressions in the dialogue. The title is a play on the historical ‘Domesday Book,’ which was an attempt to survey England’s land, people and wealth in the Middle Ages. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll tell you this much, it is an apt title.

Without time-travel this would not be a Science Fiction story, but rather a historical piece. Even though there are no spaceships, robots or groundbreaking or new scientific ideas I would recommend this audiobook for its suspense, mystery, and realism. That said, I still wouldn’t classify this Hugo and Nebula award winner in the same class Neuromancer or Dune, but then that’s a hell of a lot to live up to.

The cover art captures the subject matter perfectly, the compact cassette box is of high quality, but the tapes themselves had a continuous hiss. The introduction should have been an afterword since it didn’t have any impact until I re-listened to it after the novel finished. In the introduction Brother John Clinn, an actual historical figure, invites someone to continue his chronicles before his death in his manuscript. The fictional historian Kivrin, in a sense, fulfills his wishes.

Posted by Jesse Willis