Review of Local Custom by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Local Custom by Sharon Lee & Steve MillerLocal Custom
By Sharon Lee and Steve Miller; Read by Michael Shanks
1 MP3-CD or 8 CDs – Approx. 10.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0979074916 (MP3-CD); 096572557X (CDs)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Romance / Space Opera / Galactic Civilization / Love /

“Each person shall provide his Clan of origin with a child of his blood, who will be raised by the Clan and belong to the Clan, despite whatever may later occur to place the parent beyond the Clan’s authority. And this shall be Law for every person of every Clan.”

So far there are seven novels set in the Liaden Universe, though this one isn’t the first published it is chronologically the first to happen. Local Custom is a simple story, a Romeo And Juliet, tale, except with a happy ending and a few more spaceships. Master trader Er Thom yos’Galan is from the planet Liaden, an honour based society of humans. His family, and especially his mother are demanding an heir from Er Thom, as is only right and proper. But Er Thom cannot think of the traditional contract-marriage to some Liaden clan daughter when his true love is back on Terra. Anne Davis, a professor of Liaden studies on Terra had a brief affair with Er Thom years ago. When Er Thom shows up on her doorstep her secret and his duty will embroil them in a galaxy spanning scandal which threatens the honour of clan Korval.

Much of the interest here is in the worldbuilding, Liaden culture is richly imagined and the idea of “melant’i” is fodder for lots of drama. Melant’i, is a conveyed honour, not dissimilar from that created by Jack Vance for The Moon Moth. While the resolution of complex culture clashes makes for good drama, the effect here also makes many long dialogue scenes.This was coupled with a general lack of description – I didn’t know what anybody or anything looked like. The plot, centering around Er Thom’s marital fate, is spread thinly – while the novel never actually bores I kept wondering when something meaty was going to happen – very little did, this is a personal family drama set in a science fiction setting. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have obviously built themselves an interesting universe here, and I think it’d be one worth visiting again, especially if there is a story in it with a wider-ranging plot. Fans of the series are vehement in their ardor for it.

Some of the exposition is placed at chapter or scene beginnings, mostly notes on Liaden history and cultural norms. This helped the general flow of the telling. Also helpful was Buzzy Multimedia’s engagement of screen actor Michael Shanks for the narration. Shanks appears as Dr. Daniel Jackson on Stargate SG1, but he’s a capable narrator, giving distinction to male and female character alike. There were a few times where I thought I heard Shanks stumble over a word, but generally these were in dialogue, and they may have been deliberate – they certainly didn’t detract from the production. The first three chapters are available for FREE MP3 download on the Buzzy website.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Forever War by Joe HaldemanThe Forever War
By Joe Haldeman; Read by George Wilson
8 CDs – 9.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 1999
ISBN: 0788739832
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Military SF / War / Time Travel / Aliens / Love /

“Tonight we are going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.”

The guy who said this was a sergeant who didn’t look five years older than me. So if he’d ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant.

This is Vietnam all over again but now it’s in space. In a world where dreams come true and Science Fiction has become part of the School’s National Curriculum, then Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War becomes compulsory reading material. It’s little wonder it sits at No.1 on Gollancz list of “Science Fiction Masterworks.” And rightly so. Here is a story still fit and ready for duty thirty-three years after winning the Hugo award for “Best Science Fiction Novel.”

William Mandela is a gifted and brilliant college student and so is ideal fodder for the army’s war against an unknown alien race called the Taurans. Mandela is drafted into a harsh training program that kills more recruits than it can mould into soldiers. He is educated and trained to the highest of army standards, becoming one of Earth’s elite foot soldiers in a war against the alien Taurans. He is also a reluctant soldier caught up in this futile war, a war Earth’s economy can not do without. Add to this collapsars, light speed travel, time dilation, ever changing societies and you have Science Fiction at it’s flawless.

Read by George Wilson with the skill of a seasoned veteran. His voice never invades your senses or pulls you away from the gripping tale Haldeman has delivered, and that’s crucial for an audiobook. Wilson got his start in broadcasting as a news director with American Forces Radio and Television in Thailand. He was also instrumental in forming an improvisational comedy group that performed in New York theaters and nightclubs.

The Forever War was first serialized by the science fiction magazine, Analog. Its then editor, Ben Bova, thought the middle section was just too harsh in its descriptions of war and war life, so Haldeman drafted a more mellow alternative and it’s this edition that was used in the book’s first full publication.

There are any number of occurences Haldeman has used in The Forever War from first hand knowledge. He severed in Vietnam as a combat engineer and both Haldeman and his protagonist, Mandela returned fron war to very different attitudes than the ones they left behind. Haldeman knows war, knows it up close and bloody (3 men in his 4 man unit were blown to bits in an ordinance explosion). Haldeman can also identify the boredom that inevitably comes between the battles. In combat situations his descriptions are raw. And like Mandela, every word of The Forever War had to fight to survive under Haldeman’s brutal editorship.

Everyone… here are your instructions. You are to listen to The Forever War ASAP – and that’s an ORDER!

Review of Lobsters by Charles Stross

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Infinivox Audiobook - Lobsters by Charles StrossLobsters
By Charles Stross; Read by Shodra Marie and Jared Doreck
1 CD – Approx. 70 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Infinivox
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1884612466
Themes: / Science Fiction / Technology / Love / Politics /

Manfred’s on the road again, making strangers rich. It’s a hot summer Tuesday and he’s standing in the plaza in front of the Centraal Station with his eyeballs powered up and the sunlight jangling off the canal, motor scooters and kamikaze cyclists whizzing past and tourists chattering on every side. The square smells of water and dirt and hot metal and the fart-laden exhaust fumes of cold catalytic converters; the bells of trams ding in the background and birds flock overhead.

Let’s just say it’s a crying shame and leave it until later to explain why.

Manfred Macx is a patent junkie, spending his days dreaming up ideas that will make him rich, very rich indeed; patents them and offers them up to whomever for free. In doing so has shunned the want for cash, preferring to live off the generosity from his benefactors. Enter into this story, uploaded lobsters wanting to defect, investigations from the IRS and a dominatrix ex- girlfriend who works for said IRS and you’ve got yourself a hip post-cyberpunk tale.

With Lobsters, Charles “Charlie” Stross has set his stopwatch to just 70 minutes. In that time he’s allowed to blast your senses with an array of images and visualizations and does so with perfect storytelling, skill and timing. Image after image explode onto your brain with the speed of a flashing strobe light. He throws away metaphors and similes as if he’d robbed the World Vocabulary bank. One after the other they hit you with delight and clarity until the end, and like all addictive tales, Lobsters leaves you a word junkie, aching for more.

There are two themes filtering through Stross’ Lobsters. On one hand you have Manfred, a high octane, finger on the pulse, grab it before its gone guy, focused on the moment, on the idea and on the deal. Live for the moment. Then you have Stross’ craftily ability to weave Manfred’s ex-girlfriend into the story, bringing her subtle but very practical approach to the future. Is Manfred up for this latest and most challenging proposal of his life? It’s a question we might all ask ourselves at one point through our lives.

The audio zips into your ears with ease. Both Jared Doreck and Shondra Marie deliver a fine production and tackle Stross’ rapid image bursts with gusto. The folks at Infinivox can hold their heads high with this production and at $7.99 it’s a pop!

Charlie Stross dips his toes in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Lovecraftian Horror and is part of the new generation of British Science Fictions writers that are taking the genre by the throat until it squeals. Living in Edinburgh his first short story The Boys appeared in the Science Fiction magazine, Interzone in 1987. Since then he has gone on to be nominated for a Hugo three times for recent novels.

So, is it a crying shame that he has still has not won a Hugo for one of his novels? No, it won’t be long, I promise you that. He has already won one for his novella, The Concrete Jungle.

No… it’s a crying shame that I have not yet heard more of his work.

Review of The Voice from the Edge Vol. 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

SFFaudio Author of the Month Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Voice from the Edge: I Have No Mouth and I Must ScreamThe Voice from the Edge Vol. 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
By Harlan Ellison, read by Harlan Ellison
5 CD’s – 6 hours [UNABRIDGED stories]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535374
Themes: / Science fiction / Collection / Series / Post-Apocalypse / Artificial intelligence / Utopia / Dystopia / Magic Realism / Love / Hell /

ed. – This is one of two Harlan Ellison collections that were released by Fantastic Audio. The second is called The Voice from the Edge: Midnight at the Sunken Cathedral.

There are two basic reasons to invest in a short story collection by a single author. The first is to experience first hand the stylistic, thematic, and technical contributions the author has made to his genre and to literature in general; the second is to sample the dynamic range the author covers, to gauge the extent of his palette.

This audio book delivers the first in spades. With Harlan Ellison’s friendly, yet curmudgeonly introduction, we are thrust immediately into the gritty rawness he helped bring to science fiction. Such stories as the harrowing, lurid, complex title story, the gleefully offensive misogyny and sociopathy of “A Boy and His Dog”, the pop-cultural, pejorative ranting of “Laugh Track”, and the sophomoric sexual preoccupation of “The Very Last Day of a Good Woman” clearly delineate the dark, adult-oriented themes he introduced, as well as his predilection for unlikable anti-heroes who often leave us feeling a bit less comfortable about ourselves. And on such material, his distinctive narrative style shines. He curses with conviction, and his voice handles guilt, revenge, and damnation with seeming familiarity.

In the overall story choice, we also have a remarkable demonstration of the range of Ellison’s writing. Compare the patient, redemptive power of “Paladin of the Lost Hour” to any of the stories mentioned above, and you’ll see what I mean. Throw in the sly, haunted twist of “The Time of the Eye”, the overwrought post-modernism and tedious beatnik vamping in “’Repent Harlequin!’ said the Tick-Tock Man”, the sublime, hellish search for love in “Grail”, and the puzzling juxtaposition of the truly horrific and the trivial in “The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke”, and you cover quite a swath of not only the science-fiction spectrum, but the fiction spectrum in general.

Unfortunately, the use of a single narrator for all these stories blurs their uniqueness, especially since that narrator is Harlan Ellison. His delivery style can be enjoyable, but it is so raw, so exaggerated, and so pervasive that it tends to flatten the relief of the work itself. I can’t say that I question the wisdom of having Ellison narrate, for on any single story his voice adds the confident insight that only an author can bring to his own work. But this is a collection, and the diverse stories deserve a wider range of vocal performance to truly showcase their differences. My advice is to make the best of this paradox by taking the collection slowly. The quality of the material, the exceptionally crisp sound and the fine, user-friendly packaging make this an audio book you should not miss. Just make sure to pace yourself.

Review of Posing As People: Three Stories, Three Plays by Orson Scott Card

Science Fiction Audio - Posing as People by Orson Scott CardPosing As People: Three Stories, Three Plays
By Orson Scott Card, Scott Brick, Emily Janice Card, and Aaron Johnson
Performed by 3 FULL CASTS and Various Readers
Limited Edition Hardcover with 4 CDs – 4.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1596060158
Themes: / Science Fiction / Love / Time Travel / Psychology / Aliens / Artificial Intelligence /

“Clap Hands and Sing” shows us a lonely — but rich and powerful — old man who has only one wish before he dies: To go back in time and take an opportunity for love that he once let slip by. But what will it do to the young girl who used to love him?

“Lifeloop” pretends to be reality TV twenty-four hours a day. In fact, they’re really actors. But when your character is you, without any break, how exactly do you have a “real” life? And how can a fellow actor tell you that he loves you, when that’s what the script also calls for him to say?

“Sepulchre of Songs” is about a heartbreakingly lovely girl who lost her arms and legs many years ago, and now yearns to be free, not just of the rest home where she lives, but of her body. So is the alien being who wants to trade places with her real or the product of her own imagination? And can her therapist’s growing love for her keep her from fleeing — either into space or the dark recesses of her own mind?

Three Orson Scott Card short science fiction stories and three one-act adaptations of the same comprise the bulk of this limited edition (only 750 were published) hardcover book and audio CD set. Posing As People: Three Stories, Three Plays was released in the wake of the 2004 premiere of the stage play of the same name. Everything found on the four Compact Discs can be found in the paper book – minus the actual aural performances. The paper book also includes a foreword by Card, an introduction to the play “Clap Hands And Sing” by author Scott Brick, an afterword to play “Life Loop” by author Aaron Johnston, an afterword to the play “A Sephulcre of Songs” by author Emily Janice Card, and three afterwords, one for each of the original short stories, by Orson Scott Card.

The CDs of course are the heart of our real interest here at SFFAUDIO. On the CDs, first come the three plays, all multi-actor performances with sound effects – basically exactly what you would have experienced were you sitting in the theater in Los Angeles with your eyes closed. Following the three plays are the original three short stories as read by one individual reader each.

I think the plays all fail to deliver as audio drama. This is not due to any adaptational problems of the play’s adaptors, rather I think it was a mistake not to make the plays video DVDs. Each play was specifically adapted for the stage – and not constructed to work on their own as audio dramas. For instance – there is very little sense of place in the audio of the plays – but there is a great sense of place in the audiobooks that the plays are based on. By simply recording the audio they’ve cut off that sense of space. Thus I think they don’t work on their own as audio dramas. On the other hand, if you saw the original plays in Los Angeles these might adequately allow you to revisit the performances.

All three adaptations, or what I experienced of them, are very well performed and the sound effects are used to good effect but the true power of the stories doesn’t materialize without the visual component. Contrarywise, the readings of the original short stories all work perfectly. The original text is very evocative visually, and provide a emotional richness lacking in the soundtrack to the three plays. That said, some work better than others. “Lifeloop” is the best of the three plays as it the most talky of the dramatizations. Of the unabridge short story readings “A Sephulcre Of Songs” works best, narrator Robert Forster reads with a poignant sadness that is truly heart-rending. The only drawback is there is a slight hiss in this particular recording.

The Plays:
“Clap Hands And Sing”
By Scott Brick, based on the Short story by Orson Scott Card; Directed by Orson Scott Card
Lawyer 1 — Eric Artell
Lawyer 2 — Sara Ellis
Sportscaster — Lara Schwartzberg
Lucy Host — Sara Ellis
Ronco Pitchperson — Victoria Von Roth
News Anchor — Kelly Lohman
Charlie — Stefan Rudnicki
Jock — Scott Brick
Rachel Carpenter — Emily Janice Card
Mrs. Carpenter — Victoria Von Roth

“Lifeloop”
By Aaron Johnston, based on the Short story by Orson Scott Card; Directed by Orson Scott Card
Aaron Handully — Lara Schwartzberg
Felice — Kelly Lohman
Hamilton — Eric Artell
Truiff — Victoria Von Roth
Technician — Scott Brick

“A Sepulchre Of Songs”
By Emily Janice Card, based on the Short story by Orson Scott Card; Directed by Orson Scott Card
Therapist — Kirby Heyborne
April — Kelly Lohman
Elaine — Emily Janice Card
Doug — Eric Artell
Wallace — Stefan Rudnicki
Becky — Lara Schwartzberg

The Stories:
“Clap Hands And Sing”
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Scott Brick

“Lifeloop”
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Emily Janice Card

“A Sepulchre Of Songs”
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Robert Forster

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Death Match By Lincoln Child

SFF Audio Review

Death Match by Lincoln ChildDeath Match
By Lincoln Child; Read by Barrett Whitener
10 Cassettes – Approx 15 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786128119
Themes: / Science Fiction / Technothriller / Mystery / Computers / Artificial Intelligence / Love /

What was it, exactly, she found so intimidating about the Thorpes? The fact they didn’t seem to need her friendship? They were well educated, but Maureen had her own cum laude degree in English. They had lots of money, but so did half the neighborhood. Maybe it was how perfect they seemed together, how ideally suited to each other. It was almost uncanny. That one time they’d come over, Maureen had noticed how they unconsciously held hands; how they frequently completed each other’s sentences; how they’d shared countless glances that, though brief, seemed pregnant with meaning. “Disgustingly happy” was how Maureen’s husband termed them, but Maureen didn’t think it disgusting at all. In fact, she’d found herself feeling envious.

From the title you might guess that Death Match is a novel set in the world of first person shooter computer games, and while that isn’t a bad idea in itself, this one has a premise even more unusual. Frankly, I’m amazed that no one else came up with this tale before now. It is so fundamental a science fiction idea – and so obviously possible in the near future, if not now – that it should have been explored in science fiction long before this. The premise goes something like… “What if you could use advanced computer technology and deep psychological testing to create a computer avatar of your own psyche – and then, using high speed data matching, run millions of pair bonding scenarios with other people’s avatars?” The purpose is to find the perfect match for a REAL life together. Once the two avatars are matched, each person associated with that avatar is given each other’s real life phone number and the knowledge that they are already perfectly matched! But this core idea isn’t on center stage, instead this is a mystery novel that reads like a technothriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton’s recent novels.

Christopher Lash, an ex-FBI forensic psychologist is hired by Eden Incorporated, the worlds premier couple matching service, to solve a mysterious double suicide of one of the company’s customers, the first “supercouple” created by avatar matching. To do the job properly Lash is familiarized with Eden’s patented software, going through the process of avatar creation himself, and then begins his “psychological autopsy” of the couple, which involves investigating what could have caused the world’s happiest couple to kill themselves. Just as his investigation gets into full swing – another couple dies! This can only mean that either something is wrong with Eden’s process or someone is murdering the world’s happiest people!

A few years ago I realized that eventually computer technology will solve a big pile of interesting problems. For instance, isn’t it a shame that Sean Connery couldn’t have done all of the James Bond films? Well, with computer technology it will be possible…. current celebrities and dead ones too will someday be reanimated, and recast in new movies. Imagine Humphrey Bogart paired with Harrison Ford for The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre: The Next Generation(hey it might be good). We’re practically ready to do it with their physical images now, the big hurdle is voice mimicry – computer software is still very primitive when it comes to recreating someone’s voice. But mark my words it’ll happen… But I’d never thought of Lincoln Child’s use for computer technology, though it’s an obvious one, and certainly one that is starting to be developed. Websites like www.hotornot.com are using both physical images and keywords to match couples. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the traditional matchmakers of old – and willy-nilly dating (like we have now) are going to be subsumed by computer matches that will find the best possible spouse given our personalities?

The idea of finding that special someone you were always destined to marry is alluring. Myself, Normally I’m someone who believes that the idea of finding your “one and only” is pure fantasy. Just given the sheer numbers of people we’ll never meet during our lifetimes it clearly can’t be that there is only one special someone in the world for everyone. But on the other hand Lincoln Child’s idea here might make that dream a reality. Because, not only does it allow you to select from every person alive, it also runs a lifetime’s worth of lives with each and every possible match in order to find the best match among all good matches. It truly would be heaven, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately we are not given the metaphysical run down on the consequences to this proposition, Lincoln Child’s novel isn’t deep, instead it is merely summer beach reading and ultimately unthoughtful. Myself I’d have much preferred a few fewer plot turns, I figured out whodunit quite early. An idea this good really deserves a truckload of metaphysical explorations: Whatever happened to the idea that marriage is about making an imperfect fit, fit anyway? Now that you mention it what makes people attracted to each other? What is love anyway? And hey, if we can brain map an avatar and run complete life scenarios using artificial intelligence in a computer do we have the right to delete that avatar? If computer programs can run our lives better than we can, what do we do with our time? Yikes! That last one has some truly scary implications.

Now perhaps I’m being to hard on this novel, its has some reasonably interesting discussions about artificial intelligence in it, it all makes sense, there are no leaps of logic and the characters, while a little flat, aren’t altogether unlikable. Child has obviously done some research and the including of such nuggets of detail are good, but I guess I just needed more fire and more thinking. The narrator, Barrett Whitener, does a nice job with the voices, but the essentially humorless nature of the novel doesn’t play to his strengths. Blackstone has used a slight variation on the original hardcover’s cover art, and as plain as it seems, that’s it there pictured above, it is an improvement over the bland layout used in the paper version. This is only Lincoln Child’s second novel written without his writing partner Douglas Preston. Together they wrote the novel The Relic, which was adapted into a decent horror movie of the same name. I can easily see Death Match being made into a TV movie, but honestly I don’t think it’d be one I’d set the VCR to record. Hopefully Child’s third solo novel will concentrate its focus on the science fiction elements rather than the technothriller/mainstream that he went for with this one.

Posted by Jesse Willis