Review of METAtropolis

SFFaudio Review

By Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Shroeder
Read by Michael Hogan, Scott Brick, Kandyse McClure, Alessandro Juliani, and Stefan Rudnicki
Audible Download – 9 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2008
Themes: / Science Fiction / Future Cities / Internet / Computers / Virtual Worlds / Survival / Economics / Environment /

METAtropolis is a shared-world science fiction collection with stories from five different authors who have been busy making their marks on the history of science fiction literature: Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder. The ties that bind these excellent stories are imagined future cities in the same future world, which is filled with detail and innovation by the authors.

Also excellent are the narrators. Scott Brick and Stefan Rudnicki are well-known and respected by audiobook listeners, and they read one story each with their usual professionalism. The other three stories are read by actors from Battlestar Galactica: Michael Hogan (Col. Tigh), Kandyse McClure (Dee), and Alessandro Juliani (Lt. Gaeta).

Jay Lake starts the collection with “In the Forests of the Night”, with Michael Hogan narrating. The story takes place in Cascadiopolis, a settlement in Oregon that is visited by a man named Tygre Tygre. John Scalzi, the editor of this collection, introduces each story, and here he says that Lake, who is skilled at world-building, did a lot of the heavy introductory lifting in this story. That’s true, and the story is filled with information, but it is never dull. Hogan’s narration keeps us on our toes.

Next up is Tobias Buckell who takes us to The Wilds of suburban Detroit in “Stochasti-city”, with Scott Brick reading. In the future, commuting to work becomes unsustainable, and entire neighborhoods are abandoned, but some still live there, like the protagonist of this story. He makes his living “turking” – finding odd jobs that someone on the net will pay for. I’ve never been to Detroit, but imagining the abandoned suburbs and the city itself was easy with Buckell at the helm of this rich, thought-provoking tale.

Elizabeth Bear, in “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood”, introduces us to Katie, who also lives in Detroit. Kandyse McClure narrates here, and does a wonderful job with the most character-driven story of the five. The story opens with Katie riding her bicycle through a downtown Detroit that is nearly impassable, due to potholes and general infrastructure failure. As it continues, she’s got some hard choices to make.

John Scalzi’s entertaining story is next, read by Alessandro Juliani. There are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments in “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis”, which is about a recent graduate’s first job in the city. Also filled with detail (would you take a shower with grey water?) and entertaining. Juliani reads with perfect timing.

And last is Karl Schroeder’s story, “To Hie from Far Cilenia”, read by Stefan Rudnicki. This is a wonderful story of cities of a different type. Idea-rich, action-packed – it’s got it all. It’s a perfect cap to a great bunch of stories, taking things in a completely different direction. A virtual world superimposed on the “real” one, but ins’t the virtual one just as real? Rudnicki is excellent, like always.

The shared world idea is not a new one, but this completely successful collection of great stories may renew the enthusiasm for this sub-genre. Is this a sub-genre? The actual stories of any shared-world collection can be of any sub-genre. But the point is that this is a thought-provoking, exciting group of stories that deserves high praise. An SFFaudio Essential!

ADD: I forgot to mention – get the first story for free over at Audible! CLICK HERE for details.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook – Pattern Recognition by William GibsonPattern Recognition
By William Gibson; Read by Shelley Frasier
9 CDs – 10.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2004
ISBN: 140010095X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Internet / 9-11 / Crime /

“Cool Hunter.” How about that for a dream job? Companies pay you (and ply you with the latest technological goodies) to identify trends and fashions that spring up at street level so that they can commodify them and turn a buck. As far as I know, William Gibson (the man responsible for the term “cyberspace”) didn’t coin “cool hunting,” but he makes good use of the idea in “Pattern Recognition.” Cayce Pollard is Gibson’s heroine and the consummate cool hunter. Cayce can spend an afternoon walking through the teenagers clogging the streets of London when school lets out and identify at least three of tomorrow’s money-making fashion trends. She can look at two potential logos for a company and immediately know which of them will connect better with the targeted demographic. Like any other talent, though, being able to tell what works and what doesn’t has its downside. Cayce has an almost allergic reaction to most brand names; she’s got to have the labels removed from and the words filed off of the rivets on her black 501’s, her Casio G-Shock has got to be logo-free, and don’t even think about coming near her with a picture of the Michelin Man. Cayce is also deeply obsessed with a captivating film that has been mysteriously released, bit-by-bit, over the Internet, an obsession that opens the door for Gibson’s intricate plot.

Pattern Recognition was written soon after 9-11 (the events of which it references regularly), and is set in a very realistic 2002. The book probably doesn’t even technically qualify as science fiction, but Gibson keeps his ear so close to the tech-development ground that the story gives the impression of being futuristic. In fact, the book can be used as a sort of barometer to gauge your level of tech-geekiness. Are image-based search engines and vintage calculator fetishes old-hat to you? Congratulations, you’re ready to tackle Doctorow and Stross. Is the idea of a “render farm” unknown to you, and do you still double-take when you hear “google” used as a verb? Better stick to Card and Haldeman.

Having said that, this is probably the most accessible of all of Gibson’s books. His embrace of a post-cash economy era heroine and his tangential explorations of Internet forum social hierarchies and information-age Russian Mafia thugs will satisfy sci-fi vets (and provides solid evidence of Gibson’s place as a powerful influence on the new wave of cyber-post-punk writers), but the realness of Cayce’s femininity, the lack of one-dimensional characters, and, particularly, the overall attractive melancholy mood of the book make it one that you can safely recommend to your sci-fi avoidant spouse and friends.

I read the text version of Pattern Recognition soon after it came out, and was pleasantly surprised at how much enjoyment the audio book added to my experience. Shelley Frasier’s pleasantly dry narration, able handling of accents, and especially the sexy innocence she gives Cayce’s voice had me popping discs in one after another. I have a very pleasant memory of taking a break from a late-night Fawlty Towers marathon to get some Burger King, and staying in my garage five extra minutes just to finish listening to Shelley describe a British noodle bar called “Charlie Don’t Surf”.

The text version of the book includes a drawing of an object that is vital to the plot, and I was worried that the audio book might get awkward at that point, but truth be told, I didn’t even notice the absence of the drawing.

So, hats off to Gibson, Frasier, and the folks at Tantor Media for putting together an excellent reading of a great science fiction novel (that isn’t even really science fiction). As wonderful as Gibson’s more speculative work is, if Pattern Recognition is what it looks like when both of his feet touch ground, then I wouldn’t mind if he came down to earth more often.

Review of Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton

Audiobook - Just a Geek by Wil WheatonJust a Geek
By Wil Wheaton; Read by Wil Wheaton
MP3 Download – 373Mb – 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: 10 Quick Steps
Published: 2005
Themes: / Non-fiction / Biography / Star Trek / Acting / Writing / Blogs / Internet /

So, there’s this guy named Wil Wheaton, right? And he wrote this book called Just a Geek, which is filled with his experiences as a Star Trek actor, as an ex-Star Trek actor, as a stepfather, a husband, a son… in short, Just a Geek is filled with life, and it’s compelling listening.

Wheaton started a blog a while back which now resides at It’s not your average celebrity website; Wheaton’s blog entries are personal, honest, and interesting. He is as likely to talk about his family life as he is about his projects. And he is an excellent writer who writes things that resonate with his readers, as evidenced by the many folks who revisit his site to read more (myself included).

Just a Geek contains many blog entries from his site, along with much more material. Included are things from many parts of his life, from the time as a kid he traded a Death Star for a Land Speeder and five bucks to his experiences during and after the filming of Star Trek: Nemesis.

I knew Wil Wheaton was a good narrator before I clicked PLAY on my MP3 player, because I’d heard the audio version of the Hugo-winning science fiction story “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Wil Wheaton read that, and I thought he was excellent. I came away even more impressed here. He reads about his life as if he’s talking to you personally across a table. Again, compelling is the word that comes to mind. I never once lost interest. This audiobook will make you smile, it will touch you, and it will make you want to go to Hooters for some chili cheese fries.

Oh yeah, and Wil wants all of you over for a Guinness later. Bring your own action figure.

Just a Geek is available for MP3 download or on Audio CD at 10 Quick Steps – click here!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Unique Visitors By James Patrick Kelly

Unique Visitors
By James Patrick Kelly; Read by James Patrick Kelly
FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD (link to – 15 Minutes (7.11 MB) [UNABRIDGED]
Published: April 2004
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Immortality / Internet / Personality Uploading /

Submit query. There are currently 842 unique visitors monitoring this session. The average attention quotient is 27 percent. Twenty-seven percent! Don’t you people realize that you’ve got an eyewitness to history here?

Afraid to die? Want to watch reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies for all eternity? All you have to do is give up your body. Even better you can visit the future throught the miracle of forward time travel, just set your alarm clock for a million or so years and turn yourself off.

First published in the hardcover anthology Redshift: Extreme Visions of Speculative Fiction (2001), the short story “Unique Vistors” takes its name from the term for webpage hits and posits a future where you are you can become your own webpage! Full of wry humor, nostalgia, philisophical insight, and internet savvy, this the prototypical James Patrick Kelly tale.

Told in the first person, what would have been an otherwise straightforward performance by Kelly is accented and enhanced with electronica music, echoing voice effects and canned laughter. I’m not sure the canned laughter or the echoing voice work – but I liked the techno music and the sound quality and production values were good. As with the all the other audio stories of Kelly’s we’ve reviewed, “Unique Visitors” is available for download on Kelly’s website for FREE – become a unique visitor, try it yourself! Kelly only asks that if you enjoyed hearing the tale you consider making a donation to his PayPal account. Donate as little or as much as you like, but seriously consider giving him a little something – after all, its in our own interest – because if we do he’ll give us more stories like this!

Posted by Jesse Willis