Ancient Rome Refocused: Interview with Eric Shanower artist/author of the Age Of Bronze comics

SFFaudio Online Audio

Ancient Rome RefocusedI’m a big fan of Roman history, but over the last twenty-five years or so I’ve pretty much exhausted every source and story. I could probably tell you more about the Imperial family tree than my own. And that’s probably why I hadn’t subscribed to any new Roman history podcast recently. But, a recent visit to Age-Of-Bronze.com informed me that Eric Shanower, the artist/author of Age Of Bronze (an amazing comic book series detailing from beginning to end the entire epic story of The Trojan War), was a recent guest interviewee on a podcast called Ancient Rome Refocused.

Here’s the interview: |MP3|

There’s also a transcript of the interview HERE.

Podcast feed: http://rob33.hipcast.com/rss/ancient_rome_refocused.xml

And, if you’re looking for a massively longer interview, check out SFFaudio Podcast #080, which is my own two hour talk with Shanower from last fall.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Discord’s Apple by Carrie Vaughn

SFFaudio Review

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - Discord's Apple by Carrie VaughnDiscord’s Apple
By Carrie Vaughn; Read by Angela Dawe and Luke Daniels
8 CDs – Approx. 9 Hours 12 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: July 6, 2010
ISBN: 9781441876003
Sample |MP3|
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Gods / Family / Romance / Greek Mythology / Colorado / Terrorism / Arthurian Legend / Russia / Los Angeles / Immortality /

When Evie Walker goes home to spend time with her dying father, she discovers that his creaky old house in Hope’s Fort, Colorado, is not the only legacy she will inherit. Hidden behind the basement door is a secret and magical storeroom, a place where wondrous treasures from myth and legend are kept safe until they are needed again. Of course, this legacy is not without its costs: There are those who will give anything to find a way in. With the help of her father, a mysterious stranger named Alex, and some unexpected heroes, Evie must guard the storeroom against ancient and malicious forces, and protect both the past and the future even as the present unravels. Old heroes and notorious villains alike rise to fight on her side or to do their best to bring about her defeat. At stake is the fate of the world and the prevention of nothing less than the apocalypse.

Novels with alternating storylines, like Discord’s Apple, are probably easier to write than regular single plot novels. I’ve never come across one that defeated the main problem of such novels. It’s the problem of comparison. The present (alternate present) storyline in Discord’s Apple is far less compelling than those parts which are set during, and in the immediate years following, the Trojan War. By disc three it had become abundantly clear that the two storylines would meet up – and that the more interesting part of the book would be subsumed by the lesser. But, as the novel progressed MORE storylines were added and none of them were very promising. First there was The Eagle Eye Commandos story, the story of a set of G.I. Joe knock-offs that are, we are told, ‘the most popular comic book series in the USA.’ That storyline is told in a third person ominscient POV, as if were’ reading over Evie’s shoulder while she writes it on her laptop. That’s a big problem. I’ve seen scripts for comic books. They look nothing like what Evie writes for her artist collaborator – she’s writing standard prose, not a comics script, the artist would have to adapt what Evie wrote and dumping most of it. Then, just to confuse things just a little more, we get an out of nowhere historical Walker family storyline. It goes nowhere. Then, another short lived storyline will pop up for a chapter, then disappear, never to be heard from again. By disc five, these trends, along with many other warning signs, had cast a dread pall over my hopes for the novel’s conclusion.

It is never good when an author shows contempt for her story or for her readers. Carrie Vaughn is guilty of both of these authorial sins. As was pointed out in detail on Charlie Stross’ blog even the opening scene of Discord’s Apple is a mess. It is, of course, described (not shown) and features the destruction of “The Kremlin” by an Cessna full of kerosene:

He made a noise like a deflating balloon. “The Kremlin’s been bombed. Obliterated. A Cessna filled with drums of kerosene rammed it. They’re thinking it’s Mongolian rebels.”

She took a moment to register that he was talking about current events and not a plot point in their comic book. “Then our May storyline is out the window.”

The Eagle Eye Commandos couldn’t raid the building complex if it wasn’t there. She should have seen this one coming.

“Yeah. Unless we can put some kind of ‘how things might have been’ spin on it.”

Uh …. no. How could she have seen this coming? That whole passage should stop you in your tracks. Let me lay it out for you:

1. The biggest Cessna ever built carries no more than a dozen passengers and crew, the Cessna brand, moreover, is widely known to be a small aircraft manufacturer, with pretty much every single model ever built measuring far less than the 16 meters of their very largest passenger jet.

2. The Kremlin, meanwhile, is a massive fortress without one central structure. It measures a vast 68 acres and yet this plane full of drums of kerosene “obliterated” it. I would be very much surprised to learn that even the worlds biggest aircraft could completely destroy the Kremlin with any number of drums of Kerosene stuffed into it. Consider this, even with a maximum capacity of 27,276 liters the largest water bomber in the world, the Martin Mars, world only be able to drench four acres in a single pass. At that rate it would require no less than sixteen passes to completely cover the Kremlin with Kerosene – and that would assume that every pass had no overlaps.

3. Worse, why would “Mongolian rebels”, of all rebels, attack the Kremlin? That makes absolutely no sense at all. Russia and Mongolia have essentially been staunch allies for the last five hundred years. Russia never annexed Mongloia, doesn’t claim any part of it as a part of Russia, and didn’t even incorporate it into the Soviet Union. This is an absolutely monumental gaff – as backward as expecting the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City to be attacked by Quebec separatists.

And she should have ‘seen it coming’?

Other signs of contempt for the reader litter the novel. At one point the main character, a comic book writer, notes that the events that have just happened to her seemed unbelievably “overwrought” – after which she makes a point of filing them away for future use as a plot twist in her comic book series. She wants to add an unbelievable and overworked event to her own writing … what is a reader supposed to takeaway from that other than Vaughn is pissing on our shoes? Is she thumbing her nose at comics?

More stumbling blocks – as the “terrorism” in Russia continues we’re told that trainyards and shipyards are the targets. Yeah …. no …. that doesn’t sound like terrorism – it sounds like war. Terrorism is violence intended to foster terror. Blowing up a shipyard, attacking a citadel, derailing a train – that all is far more targeted than than strategic bombing of Europe in WWII. Carrie Vaughn seems blissfully ignorant of the meaning and import of the word “terrorism.”

But it doesn’t stop there! Vaughn has her central character, a rough analogue for herself, say that the Trojan Horse was the “car bomb” of its day. After hearing that I was figuratively shaking my head for about an hour.

That character, Evie Walker, then does some stunt driving while being chased by a herd of coyotes. In so doing she executes something she calls a “Hollywood turn.” … What I assume that Vaughn was actually referring to is, in fact, called either a Rockford or Moonshiner’s or J-Turn (and never a “Hollywood turn”).

Evie Walker also casually mentions that a drive through Los Angeles requires multiple stops and searches – adding hours to a commute. But it doesn’t end there, even the small town in Colorado, as depicted in Discord’s Apple, exist under a draconian police state. A drive through the city center means a warrant-less search of your vehicle and a questioning by police. There’s also food rationing. It isn’t explained, none of it. That’s shocking and interesting stuff and yet it has absolutely no follow up in the book whatsoever. Evie Walker doesn’t seem alarmed by it, finds it mildly annoying (and maybe even comforting), but she doesn’t mention it as being particularly shocking or even attempt to explain why it isn’t. What the fuck?

At first I thought maybe that my problems with Discord’s Apple were the same kinds of problems I had with Catherine Asaro’s Sunrise Alley |READ OUR REVIEW|. I thought that maybe Carrie Vaughn’s focus and interest just wasn’t on the stuff I care about: ideas, attention to detail, and the surprising (but logical) consequences to those ideas and details. But upon further consideration I don’t think that’s true. Vaughn’s writing technique for Discord’s Apple consisted of remixing her Sinon fan-fiction with events in her own life, filtered through a magical grab bag of other mythology and politics that she is only very dimly interested in. A few aspects of this novel could have worked had they been more focused and perhaps less slap-dashed together. Was she writing on a tight deadline? Couldn’t she do some revision? I don’t know.

The return of King Arthur (and Merlin) – ok why not? Sadly, this epic pair seem to be merely active mannequins in Discord’s Apple – their presence may have initially been to offer a possible rival love interest for the protagonist, but that doesn’t even come close to ripening. What about that artist penciler/inker partner on the comic book Evie Walker is writing? Oh him? Apparently he’s there solely to give Walker someone to talk to, setup the novel’s unpaid off premise. He just dries up and blows away.

What about that mysterious new dog, Queen Mab, that Evie’s father has? You know, the one with more emotion, knowledge and expression than all the rest of the characters in the novel? Oh that? It’s just what Vaughn would call her “Wash” techniques – something designed to manipulate the audience’s expectations. Consider me manipulated.

It is terrible.

The best part of the novel, the part that is actually alright – good even – the part that Vaughn wrote with passion and attention: That’s Sinon’s story. The rest, set in Evie’s time (or whenever else Vaughn went with the roving POV) is full of characters that are only minimally purposeful. Their goals are only strong enough to push them onto the stage, not strong enough to explain what they’re doing there or explain why they skulk-offstage when someone else is talking.

Or to put it another way – if this novel was a piece of clothing it would be a sweater. But unfortunately it’d be the kind of sweater that started out as a smart-looking and comfortable scarf and has now has been inexplicably knit-into an unwieldy sweater/dress/hat garment with a dozen fist sized holes in it. This sweater may be somewhat fashionable in some parts of the book store sweater store. Maybe it’ll be popular with the talented readers who don’t have time to think about what they’re reading. But for a Science Fiction reader, like me, who tries on a book sweater thinking it will be a garment with a particular purpose in mind, well he may find that every string of that sweater’s yarn wants to unravel. Or to put it in Carrie Vaughn style terms:

It’d be like the arrival of the president of the radical monarchist league (driving an Austin-Healey Bug Eyed Sprite with 17 liters of re-fried beans in the glove compartment) to an Outer Limits cast reunion party in Ruritania. Yep. It’s going to mess-up President Al Franken’s America in many magically unproductive ways! I should have seen it coming.

The shame of it is that Vaughn’s probably could write a lot better than Discord’s Apple. What works in the novel works well. Over on John Scalzi’s blog Vaughn wrote:

I have more ideas than I will ever be able to write in my lifetime. One of my solutions to this dilemma is to put as many ideas in a book as I can manage. The more disparate the better, because finding connections between seemingly unrelated ideas can make for great stories.

In a grad school Latin course, I translated bits of the Aeneid and fell in love with Sinon. He’s the Greek spy left behind to talk the Trojans into bringing the horse into the city. He’s brash, clever, and really awesome. So I committed a very long piece of fanfic telling what happened to Sinon after the war — he was kidnapped by a very pissed-off Apollo, made a slave, granted immortality so he’d be a slave forever, and. . .well. You’ll just have to read about it, because his story is the second part of Discord’s Apple, in which we learn that the Trojan War never really ended. (It all fits together, honest.)

At first, I didn’t know quite what to do with this very long piece of fanfic. I got to thinking about the nature of epic literature in general, and I decided that Sinon’s story needed to be part of Evie’s story. You see, “Evie returns home to discover an amazing heritage” is just an idea. But Evie and Sinon meeting each other, the chaotic events surrounding that meeting, and the fact that the goddess Hera still wants to get her hands on that apple – that’s a story.

Throw in King Arthur and my deep and irrational fondness for 1980′s GI Joe comics and what I ended up with was a novel about family, storytelling, history, and war and how they get tangled together.

This right here is the whole problem. Ideas are what stories should be about. But what Vaughn doesn’t realize is that not all ideas are gold. Not all ideas should include everything you think to include, not all of them fit together. A book about a comic book writer living in a Alternate Present USA police state? That sounds really cool. A book about King Arthur returning? That could be cool. A book about a woman who returns home to take care of her dying father only to discover that every magical artifact from history is in the basement? COOL! All together it is a mess.

Vaughn’s not short of ideas, not even short of good ideas. She’s short of a filter, an editor. Vaughn needs to have someone really critiquing the shit out of her ideas, really making the novel focused. Vaughn is a huge Sinon of Ithaca fan, and with the parts of this book set during and after the Trojan War she has made me one too. The market may not be clamoring for fiction rooted wholly in Greek Mythology, or for a book about a comic book writer living in an alternate USA, but I am. What I’m not clamoring for is a novel about all of those things in one.

The audio production itself is faultless. Discord’s Apple is a two narrator production with the vast majority of the reading is by Angela Dawe. Dawe performs everything except for the Bronze Age storyline which is delivered by Luke Daniels. Both Dawe’s and Daniels pronunciation and delivery are flawless.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #072 – READALONG: Assam And Darjeeling by T.M. Camp

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #072 – Jesse and Scott talk with Julie Davis, of the Forgotten Classics podcast about Assam And Darjeeling by T.M. Camp |READ OUR REVIEW|.

Talked about on today’s show:
Assam & Darjeeling by T.M. Camp, Podiobooks.com, iTunes, serialized fiction, entertaining copyright notices, where do you do your podcast listening?, I’ve got my hands full of car, the volume on Assam And Darjeeling is way too low!, remastering Assam And Darjeeling for audiobook, listening to podcasts at double speed (only on iTouch and iPhone), the premise of Assam And Darjeeling, Hades, the underworld, Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle |READ OUR REVIEW|, Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle , The Divine Comedy: The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Virgil’s The Aeneid, Ovid, the Brothers Grimm, witches, Greek Mythology, Edgar, no one can be as cruel as a kid, Joss Whedon, in the hands of a skillful author, Matters Of Mortology by T.M. Camp, Kij Johnson‘s The Fox Woman, the Black Gate blog, foxes in mythology, Aesop’s Fable The Fox And The Grapes, Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter, making the switch from comedy to horror and horror to comedy, the Shaggy Man (in the Oz series), Tom Bombadil, he has psychic powers too?, page 18, masterly dialogue put into the mouths of young children, the PDF version of Assam And Darjeeling, What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, life after death, Inception, Edgar Alan Poe should go into the underworld to get his wife Virginia, The Memory Palace episode about Edgar Allan Poe’s death (Episode 20 strong>This Ungainly Fowl), This American Life is really bleak, WNYC’s Radiolab isn’t, general fiction is generally bleak, A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor, Science Fiction vs. general fiction, Social Science Fiction, Science Fiction has a second layer, it’s not all style, The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, Staggerford by Jon Hassler, there are ways to tell powerful stories, A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe, Bangsian Fantasy, Fantasy, re-reading The Lord Of The Rings, the more I think about it the more I think I don’t like Fantasy, SFSite.com, derivative Fantasy, romance novels, Jane Austen, John Thorne, The Long Walk by Stephen King (Richard Bachman), The Stand, It, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Under The Dome, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, long vs. short, The Cell by Stephen King, 28 Days Later, Desperation by Stephen King, The Rapture, if you were a character in this book who would you be?, the rule that makes any book better: talk about food, Lawrence Block, the economy of the afterworld, lampshading, I’m done with sequels, Mike Resnick’s Starship series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden series, The Fall Of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison, Soylent Green, Adventures by Mike Resnick, mammoths vs. mastodons, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Random House Audio: 5 FREE Audiobooks

SFFaudio Online Audio

Random House Audio is offering five FREE audiobooks to promote their “Carshare Program.” One of the titles, Percy Jackson and The Sword Of Hades had been FREEly released previously, the rest should all be newly FREE. Start your HuffDuffing!

LISTENING LIBRARY - The Mercy Watson Collection Volume1 by Kate DiCamilloMercy Watson To The Rescue” from The Mercy Watson Collection Volume I
By Kate DiCamillo; Read by Ron McLarty
1 |MP3| – Approx. 20 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: 2006
To Mr. & Mrs. Watson, Mercy is not just a pig–she’s a porcine wonder. And to the portly and good-natured Mercy, the Watson’s are an excellent source of buttered toast, no to mention that buttery-toast feeling she gets when she snuggles in to bed with them. This is not, however so good for the Watsons’ bed. BOOM! CRACK! Welcome to the wry and endearing world of Mercy Watson.

BOOKS ON TAPE - The Geometry Of Sisters by Luanne RiceThe Geometry Of Sisters
By Luanne Rice; Read by Bernadette Dunne and Jaclyn Gaines
1 |MP3| – Approx. 10 Hours 48 Minutes
Publisher: Books On Tape
Published: 2009
Set amid the opulent mansions on the Rhode Island coast, Newport Academy is a private high school like no other. In the wake of the unthinkable loss of her husband and eldest daughter, Maggie Shaw has come to the school to teach English–and to start a new life with the remnants of her shattered family, her two teenage children. But ghosts from her past await Maggie in Newport, especially the unresolved equations of her breach with her sister years ago. Once again, Luanne Rice exhibits her singular insight into the bonds among friends, lovers and families for which she is so acclaimed

RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO - Percy Jackson And The Olympians: The Demigod Files by Rick RiordanPercy Jackson And The Sword Of Hades” from The Demigod Files
By Rick Riordan; Read by Jesse Bernstein
1 |MP3| – Approx. 1 Hour 17 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2009
Persephone calls Percy, Thalia and Nico, all the children of the Big Three, into the Underworld to retrieve Hades’s new sword from a demigod spy who stole it. The problem is that Hades’ keys, which let anyone out or into the Underworld, are in it. Persephone gives them a flower to track the half-blood. When all of the petals fall off, the sword thief has made it out of the Underworld. Percy, Nico and Thalia must retrieve the sword before time runs out. They catch the thief, Ethan Nakamura, but all the petals fall off because Ethan has raised the Titan Iapetus. Percy flings Iapetus into the river Lethe, a river that makes one forget their identity, during a fight. Although Percy also falls in, he stays dry because of his powers, being the son of Poseidon. Percy tells Iapetus that he is Bob and Iapetus believes him and is now harmless. When they return to Hades and Persephone with the sword, Hades is very unhappy about the sword and leaves in anger, threatening Persephone never to disobey him again. They later find out that Persephone requested the sword against Hades’s orders. Rick Riordan wrote this story for World Book Day 2009 it is set between the events of The Battle Of The Labyrinth and The Last Olympian (books 4 and 5 of the Percy Jackson series).

BANTAM DOUBLEDAY DELL AUDIO - Fraud: Unabridged Selections by David RakoffIncluding One Called Hell” from Fraud
By David Rakoff; Read by David Rakoff
1 |MP3| – Approx. 35 Minutes [UNABRIDGED SELECTION]
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio
Published: 2001
Wherever he is, David Rakoff is a fish out of water. Whether impersonating Sigmund Freud in a department store window during the holidays, climbing an icy mountain in cheap loafers, playing an evil modeling agent on a daytime soap opera, or learning primitive survival skills in the wilds of New Jersey, Rakoff doesn’t belong. Nor does he try to. Still, he continually finds himself off in the far-flung hinterlands of our culture, notebook or microphone in hand, hoping to conjure that dyed-in-the-wool New York condescension. And Rakoff tries to be nasty; heaven knows nothing succeeds like the cheap sneer, but he can’t quite help noticing that these are actual human beings he’s writing about. In his attempts not to pull any punches, the most damaging blows, more often than not, land squarely on his own jaw – hilariously satirizing the writer, not the subject. And therein lies David Rakoff’s genius and his burgeoning appeal. The wry and the heartfelt join in his prose to resurrect that most neglected of literary virtues: wit.

RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO - The Alibi Man by Tami HoagThe Alibi Man
By Tami Hoag; Read by Beth McDonald
1 |MP3| – Approx. 6 Hours 2 Minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2007
The Palm Beach elite go to great lengths to protect their own – and their own no longer includes Elena Estes. Once upon a time a child of wealth and privilege, Elena turned her back on that life and chose the life of an undercover cop, with the hunt for justice her personal passion. Then a tragic, haunting mistake ended her career. Now Elena exists on the fringes of her old life. But a shocking event is about to draw her back into the painful vortex she’s fought so hard to leave behind. First she finds a body – not just a victim, but a friend. As Elena delves into her dead friend’s secret life, she discovers ties to a group of powerful and wealthy Palm Beach bad boys…a group that includes Elena’s former fiancé. Finding her friend’s killer will put Elena at odds with her old life, with her new lover, and with herself. But she is determined to reveal the truth – a truth that will shock Palm Beach society to its core, and could very well get her killed.

[via Audiobook DJ]

Posted by Jesse Willis

CBC R1: Writers & Company talks to international crime writers

Aural Noir: Online Audio

CBC Radio One - Writers And CompanyThis week’s CBC Radio 1 Podcast of Writers & Company focuses on international crime writers. Host Eleanor Wachtel talks to Gianrico Carofiglio (Italy); Asa Larsson (Sweden); Louise Welsh (Scotland); Giles Blunt (Canada). They talk about mystery writing, their books and their inspirations (Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, Greek mythology, the Old and New Testament villains King David, Judas, Cain, O.T.-God) . |MP3|

Podcast feed:

http://www.cbc.ca/podcasting/includes/writersandco.xml

P.S. CBC is still embargoing a J. Michael Straczynski radio drama series that Canadians have already paid for. That’s not polite CBC! Release it!

Posted by Jesse Willis

3 FREE Audiobooks from Random House Audio

SFFaudio News

Random House Audio - 3 Free AudiobooksRandom House Audio is offering three FREE audiobooks to folks who subscribe to their monthly newsletter. HERE is the link to the website where you can sign up. An email confirming your subscription will include a link to where you can download all three audiobooks. All three are in the MP3 format. The audiobooks are:

Merrano Of The Dry Country Approx. 58 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA] Based on the story by Louis L’Amour
The master storyteller once again brings the Old West to life in this action-packed, full cast dramatization. Violence and prejudice are brewing in the drought-stricken land of Mirror Valley, where death turns friends into enemies and enemies into friends. From 1990.

Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House, No. 1) by Mary Pope Osborne – Approx. 39 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Where did the tree house come from? Before Jack and Annie can find out, the mysterious tree house whisks them back to the prehistoric past. Now they have to figure out how to get home. Can they do it before dark, or will they become a dinosaur’s dinner? From 1992.

Percy Jackson And The Sword of Hades by Rick Riordan – Approx. 77 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
First published in a back to back paperbook version for World Book Day in the UK. This short novella takes place between Books 4 and 5 of the Percy Jackson series. As far as I can tell this is its fist audiobook release.

[via Mary Burkey’s Audiobook Blog]

Posted by Jesse Willis