Review of Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

SFFaudio Review

Audible Frontiers - Way Station by Clifford D. SimakSFFaudio EssentialWay Station
By Clifford D. Simak; Read by Eric Michael Summerer
Audible Download – Approx. 7 Hours 5 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2009
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Galactic Civilization / Immortality /

In this Hugo Award-winning classic, Enoch Wallace is an ageless hermit, striding across his untended farm as he has done for over a century, still carrying the gun with which he had served in the Civil War. But what his neighbors must never know is that, inside his unchanging house, he meets with a host of unimaginable friends from the farthest stars.

This story spans more than a century, but most of the ‘action’ takes place in the middle of the 20th century, over a couple of months. See, a friendly alien recruited Enoch Wallace to become something of a galactic station master shortly after the American Civil War. Now, with his neighbors generally accepting his mysterious eternal youth, Enoch has a curious and unseen visitor watching him from the woods. Enoch is lonely, with his only friends being a completely deaf and mute young woman and his kindly mailman. Will the visitor in the trees learn the truth? Will Enoch help guide the Earth to its ultimate destiny? Read on!

I find myself arguing with a lot of my fiction writing friends about what makes a good story. They typically talk about ‘the rules’ or ‘the formula’ that makes a story work. I typically talk about clarity, consistency (story logic) and originality of a story. We usually agree about style.

A couple years back a friend of mine (a filmmaker and used bookstore owner) was telling me about one of the scripts he was working on. He said something to the effect of “every story must have conflict.” That’s probably not a new concept, not original to him, but it was new to me – at least in those words. Now I love such sweeping declarations – they give my dialectical brain something to hack away at. It seems a fairly straightforward a concept – and on the face of it seems likely – but, that always gets me thinking: If it sounds so obvious it is probably at least partially false. So I thought about it for maybe thirty seconds and then pointed out that ‘pornographic films need not have conflict – but they can still have a story.’ Illustrating I said “Pizza delivery guy comes to the door – half naked woman answers – sex follows.” It has a beginning, a middle and a money shot. My friend and I both laughed. But, I’ve been thinking about this meme ever since. Now, with Way Station I think I have a more serious defeater to my friend’s all encompassing rule about storytelling. There is very little conflict in Way Station. That is actually a pretty common thing for author Clifford D. Simak. His stories are highly pastoral, full of backstories being revealed, mysterious farmers and friendly aliens. Conflict may be mentioned, as having happened long ago (or in some distant future) – but shots are rarely fired in anger. I’m thinking back on all of the Simak I’ve read, and in it all I can’t recall much conflict at all. And yet, I love his stories.

Eric Michael Summerer does a terrific job narrating this pastoral masterpiece. He portrays Simak’s characters with all the honesty, decency, and humanity that Clifford D. Simak put into them. Audible Frontiers has very kindly added an excellent and informative introduction written and read by another of Science Fiction’s most humane authors, Mike Resnick! Audible Frontiers has been adding so many new titles it is hard to keep up. This one will slow things down for you and even make life a little simpler. Thanks Simak!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Starship: Rebel by Mike Resnick

SFFaudio Review

Audible Frontiers - Starship: Rebel, Book 4 by Mike ResickSFFaudio EssentialStarship: Rebel
By Mike Resnick; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 8 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: December 16th 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Galactic Civilization / Aliens / Rebellion / War / Military SF / Space Station /

The date is 1968 of the Galactic Era, almost three thousand years from now. The Republic, dominated by the human race, is in the midst of an all-out war with the Teroni Federation. Almost a year has passed since the events of Starship: Mercenary. Captain Wilson Cole now commands a fleet of almost fifty ships, and he has become the single greatest military force on the Inner Frontier. With one exception. The Republic still comes and goes as it pleases, taking what it wants, conscripting men, and extorting taxes, even though the Frontier worlds receive nothing in exchange. And, of course, the government still wants Wilson Cole and the starship Theodore Roosevelt. He has no interest in confronting such an overwhelming force, and constantly steers clear of them. Then an incident occurs that changes everything, and Cole declares war on the Republic. Outnumbered and always outgunned, his fleet is no match for the Republic’s millions of military vessels, even after he forges alliances with the warlords he previously hunted down. It’s a hopeless cause…but that’s just what Wilson Cole and the Teddy R. are best at.

A good audiobook can make a regular day enjoyable. A great audiobook can put a delightful spring in your step for a whole week. Starship: Rebel has made for absolutely terrific listening. As I was listening to it over the course of a week or so I’d wake up in the morning, remember that I’d still got a few hours of listening left, and smile as if I’d won the Nobel Prize for luck. I’ve heaped a lot of praise for this terrific series of audiobooks since Audible Frontiers started releasing it back in Spring 2008. The closest I’ve come to criticism has been a little humming and hawing about how the series is ‘short on ideas and originality.’ That, it feels like a better version of Star Wars. And that’s all still true, nothing in the Starship series feels anything like innovative. The weapons technology has no new ideas, the faster than light space travel relies on the same few tropes, the aliens are all Star Wars-ish. Despite this, there is an amazing feeling of being safely ensconced in the hands of a master storyteller when listening to this series. The team of writer Mike Resnick with narrator Jonathan Davis is absolutely stupendous.

With this book, Book 4, Resnick is raising the stakes by forcing Captain Cole and the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt to take on the Republic itself. And that’s good, but it isn’t everything. Resnick also pulls an unexpected maneuver – a very important character is killed about a third of the way into the novel – and that hit, a real hit, shakes up that feeling of familiarity and safety in a way that just freezing Han Solo into a block of carbonite can never do. Barring accidents I expect to be enjoying another terrific week when Starship: Flagship, the 5th and final book in the Starship series, comes out in December 2009.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Starship: Mutiny by Mike Resnick

SFFaudio Review

Starship: Mutiny, Book 1 by Mike ResnickStarship: Mutiny, Book 1
By Mike Resnick; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 7 Hours 35 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military SF / War / Galactic Civilization / Space Opera / Aliens /

The date is 1966 of the Galactic Era, almost three thousand years from now, and the Republic, created by the human race – but not yet dominated by it – finds itself in an all-out war. They stand against the Teroni Federation, an alliance of races that resent Man’s growing military and economic power. The main battles are taking place in the Spiral Arm and toward the Core. But far out on the Rim, the Theodore Roosevelt is one of three ships charged with protecting the Phoenix Cluster – a group of 73 inhabited worlds. Old, battered, some of its weapon systems outmoded, the Teddy R. is a ship that would have been decommissioned years ago if weren’t for the war. Its crew is composed of retreads, discipline cases, and a few raw recruits. But a new officer has been transferred to the Teddy R. His name is Wilson Cole, and he comes with a reputation for heroics and disobedience. Will the galaxy ever be the same?

There’s a light serialized feel to Starship: Mutiny, and I just don’t mean it’s the first in a series. There are distinct but successive adventures in this novel, rather than one over-arching plot. I like that a lot. I can’t say that Resnick’s broken any new ground, but what he does is bring an immediacy and intelligence to the Military SF sub-genre. Resnick is a master of dialogue and banter, his plots are fleshed out almost entirely by character interaction. Even scenes where Wilson Cole (the lead) is alone play out in an inner-dialogue. It makes for a quick compelling listen. The emotional roller coaster, so often present in Resnick short stories, is absent; but all the gravitas of his intellectual legacy informs the action. It’s as if SF’s own Tolstoy were writing Horatio Hornblower by way of The Odyssey.

Audible Frontiers, when possible, gets authors to introduce their work. Here it means we get insight into the motivation to write Starship: Mutiny from Mike Resnick himself. This is Resnick’s first Military SF book, and about that sub-genre he says: “I found a lot of it very same, filled with endless descriptions of military tactics and blood ‘n gut heroics. And that didn’t interest me at all. I’m much more interested in leadership than tactics. I’ve always prized intelligence more than physical force.” And that’s what is delivered. The narrator, Jonathan Davis, best known for his many Star Wars audibooks, is a familiar voice in this genre. Spaceship battles, alien accents and technojargon flow easily into the microphone. The whole novel took me less than 36 hours to consume, its highly addictive listening and I confess I was downloading the follow-up book before I’d even finished this one. For a novel so light in ideas, the heart of SF, it’s hard to call it “unmissable,” but on the other hand it masterfully achieves precisely what it intends to; it’s intelligent and entertaining Military SF – and that is still no small feat. Starship: Mutiny: Highly recommended!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Fledgling – a Liaden Universe novel, podcast

SFFaudio Online Audio

Only two more chapters are left to go before the latest Liaden Universe novel by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller is entirely available as a podcast novel. I listened and reviewed the first novel in this series, it was released by Buzzy Multimedia. This is about the 12th novel in the series (it’s hard to tell exactly), but as the official website says:

Fledgling is a “side book.” A “side book” is a book that is coincidental to the main action of a series, which is expected to be of little interest, except to stalwart fans — and to the authors.

There are also plans to release the next novel (Saltation) as a podcast too. If you’re a Liaden Universe addict you probably already know about this, if you’re not, have a listen to a few chapters of this podcast – those who love it, REALLY LOVE IT!

Fledgling (a Liaden Universe novel)Fledgling (a Liaden Universe novel)
By Sharon Lee and Steve Miller; Read by Sam Chupp
Podcast – [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Fledgling Podcast
Podcast: January 2007 – ???? 2008
This is the story of Theo Waitley and how she came to have a “kind of complicated” problem to lay before the delm of Korval.

You can subscribe to the podcast via this feed:

[Thanks Esther!]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audio Drama - Blake's 7Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures (Trilogy Box Set)
By Ben Aaronovitch, Marc Platt and James Swallow; Performed by FULL-CAST
3 Audio CDs & 1 CD-ROM – Approx. 225 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: B7 Media
Published: 2007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Galactic Civilization / Politics / War / Terrorism / Spaceships /

In the third century of the second calendar, the galactic Federation, once a beacon of democracy and peace, has become a corrupt tyranny. Roj Blake stood up for the ordinary people. The establishment framed him for crimes he didn’t commit and sentenced him to permanent exile on the notorious prison planet of Cygnus Alpha. The Federation thinks it has seen the last of Roj Blake. The Federation will wish it had.

The producers of this stunning re-imagining Terry Nation’s late 1970s television series have improved upon the original Blake’s 7 in the same way as Battlestar Galactica was improved upon in its new TV series. This set, contains the three re-cut episodes Rebel, Traitor, and Liberator (and 40 minutes of bonus features). It is absolute audio drama perfection. The show is fast, surprising, darkly thrilling and utterly unflinching. Roj Blake is a folk hero, like Robin Hood or Pancho Villa. His struggle to free the deluded citizens of the galactic federation is full of ambiguities not found in the simplistic Star Wars films. If you like audio drama, you’ll love Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures!

Alistair Lock, responsible for sound effects, fills the soundscape with original and re-worked B7 sounds. The music is orchestral, and reminiscent of the original show. The acting in all three stories is absolutely top-shelf, Derek Riddell (Doctor Who) is the hardened, yet compassionate, Roj Blake. The treacherously reliable Kerr Avon is played by Colin Salmon (Tomorrow Never Dies). Michael Praed (of Robin Of Sherwod fame) guest stars, it’s a real who’s who of British Actors! Even Carrie Dobro (last seen in Babylon 5’s Crusade), playing Jenna, gets a meaty role she can really sink her teeth into.
I first listened to the Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures on the Sci Fi channel UK’s website as the five minute episodes were released. They sounded great! But, because they were released three times a week, and because each episode began and ended with lengthy intros and outros (lasting a minute or so) it was nigh impossible to follow the story. NOT SO with this re-cut version!

Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the set…

Disc 1: Rebel by Ben AaronovitchRebel is not only easy to follow, it is impossible not to follow! The show is super-compelling – like a tractor beam sucking you in. The adventure starts on Earth with a government special-ops team trying to capture the elusive Roj Blake. Blake was an opposition leader, now he’s an accused pedophile and terrorist. He’s soon caught, but not cowed. At his sham trial he acquits himself well, but still gets convicted after the fair judge (played by Frances Barber) gets re-programed. Blake is sentenced to exile on a prison planet, but instead of being neutralized he and some fellow prisoners manage to find what may turn out to be a real source for change in the Federation – an alien ship of immense power!

Disc 2: Traitor by Mark Platt
Blake and company, now in possession of a starship with tech beyond that of the Federation, must master the artificially intelligent and suicidal computer. Traitor is action packed, scene transitions take micro-seconds, point of view shifts by sound (you can tell where you are by what the voice of the speaker sounds like). As in Rebel the physics and science are done in a deliberate “hard SF” style. Unbeatable audio action.

Disc 3: Liberator by James Swallow
In part three, the Scottish accented Supreme Commander Servalan (Daniela Nardini) and her lackey Space Commander Travis (Craig Kelly) hatch a plan to eliminate Blake and steal his new ship. Meanwhile, with their ship now in fully working order Blake’s seven argue as to the best course of action. Should they, as Avon suggests,turn pirate? Or should they, as Blake wants, turn “Liberator” into a flagship of resistance? A few light-years away something is waiting…

Special Features [CD-ROM]:

Blake’s 7: A Rebellion Reborn – [VIDEO]
A terrific 17 minute video documentary offering behind the scenes studio footage, on camera interviews and commentary on what made the old television series so great. Watching this will sell any old Blake’s 7 fan on this new series!

Sci Fi 360 – [VIDEO]
A short (4 Minutes 16 Seconds) video about Blake’s 7 – Audio Adventures that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel UK, shot at the Sci-Fi-London 6 Festival.

Sci Files – [VIDEO]
Another short video (2 Minutes 1 Second) promoting the show. It too aired on the Sci-Fi Channel UK.

Blakes 7 Theme – [MUSIC]
An MP3 featuring an extended (2 Minutes 10 Seconds) version of the new B7 theme!

Blooper Reel -[AUDIO BLOOPERS]
An MP3 (5 Minutes 43 Seconds) of outtakes from the recording of the three episodes.

“He’s The One” – [MUSIC]
An MP3 rock ballad about Roj Blake performed by Slashed Seat Affair.

Various sizes of desktop wallpaper featuring B7 art.

The producers tell me we haven’t heard the last of the Blake’s 7 Audio Adventures! So, get on board citizens, the rebels need your strength.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A Galaxy Trilogy: Volume 1 by Poul Anderson, George H. Smith and Stanton A. Coblentz

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - A Galaxy Trilogy by Poul Anderson, George H. Smith and Stanton A. CoblentzA Galaxy Trilogy: Volume 1
By Poul Anderson, George H. Smith and Stanton A. Coblentz; Read by Tom Weiner
12 CDs – 13.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9781433202255
Themes: / Science Fiction / Politics / War / Aliens / Space Travel / Galactic Civilization / Telepathy /

“Long before Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, or Isaac Asimov, there was an earlier generation of dreamers and writers who defined the science-fiction genre, in what today is affectionately known as the pulp era. Heralding back to the early television days of Flash Gordon and the earlier tales of Jules Verne, Bram Stoker, and H. G. Wells, these great science-fiction writers of the 1950s and 1960s included among their ranks such icons as Poul Anderson and the prolific Robert Silverberg, who would write some of the hippest genre literature of its era. Now you can experience this unique moment in genre literature with three exciting, imaginative short novellas from some of the pioneers of pulp science fiction.”

In Star Ways a mysterious plot my be behind the disappearance of a number of ships in the Terran sphere. This is the best of the three short novels in a fun collection. Star Ways posits a familiar ‘nomads in space’ idea and chucks in a plot about some truly totalitarian aliens. This short Science Fiction novel allows us to tag along on an interstellar nomad ship, with fascinating folkways. Also on board thanks to Poul Anderson’s magnetic writing are your regulation intergalactic troubleshooter, a wily space captain, a rustic crew of wanderers, an alien with telepathic powers and even a bit of romance. The tale’s end doesn’t go exactly where you’d expect, and that makes it all the more interesting.

In Druid’s World Adam MacBride is the stiff backbone of a sprawling empire, his Empress is smart but acts dumb, her lover scorns MacBride openly. When the novel begins MacBride has set his mine to retiring home to his fjords and his three wives and only an imminent threat to his beloved fleet and his unwarranted loyalty to his Empire keep him from returning home immediately. This novel is jammed to the rafters with swashbuckling action, ship-to-ship broadsides, many volleys of grapeshot, at least two rebellions and sickle wielding druids. What’s not to love? All these elements swirl about in a swift but realtively simple plot. I love the way this book was written, it’s small but denser than a neutron star. My guess, George H. Smith had just finished reading a stack of history books before sitting down to write this rollicking hodge-podge of science fiction, pre-Roman religion, and 18th century Imperialism. Druid’s World is a scattered but worthy listen – the kind of pulpy material you can crave on dark winter evenings. Druid’s World could happily sit on your audiobook shelf between The Green Odyssey and Star Surgeon. Druid’s World was the first book in Smith’s “Annwn” series and was first published in 1967.

The Day The World Stopped is set in 2020. In it the United States and “Red China” are deep into a new cold war when the testing of some super-weapons that can automate human destruction on an unprecedented scale are nearing the cusp of completion. This tale feels like a combination of The Manchurian Cantidate and The Day The Earth Stood Still. Clearly the worst of the three tales collected in A Galaxy Trilogy I’m sad to say The Day The World Stopped is weighed down by too much hokey dialogue, not enough thought given to pacing or plotting and a “deus ex-machina” ending that makes it feel like a bad Hollywood version of itself. First published in 1968 it was written at the beginning of the tail end of Coblentz’s writing career.

Narrator Tom Weiner lends a gravitas to all three novels, The Day The World Stopped needed it the most, given its weighty dialogue and scene after scene of back-room politics there was dozens of voices to work. The “Omegriconians” especially spoke English with a strange accent, Weiner does his best with it, to little avail. In Druid’s World the admiral MacBride character predominates the thoughts and dialogue of most of the novel. This works out well, Weiner’s got range but his natural growl fits just this kind of character. Star Ways has several strong characters all of which are distinctly rendered. Overall Weiner’s narrative authority elevates what really are three unremarkable pulp adventures into a worthy package.

Posted by Jesse Willis