Review of Earthbound by Richard Matheson

SFFaudio Review

Blackstone Audio - Earthbound by Richard MathesonEarthbound
By Richard Matheson; Read by Bronson Pinchot
6 CDs – Approx. 6.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: September 2010
ISBN: 1441756886
Themes: / Fantasy / Horror / Gothic Horror / Haunted House / Ghosts / Succubi / Marriage / Sex /

David and Ellen Cooper came to the lonely beach-side cottage in hopes of rekindling their troubled marriage. Yet they are not alone on their second honeymoon. Marianna, a beautiful and enigmatic stranger, comes to visit David whenever Ellen is away. Who is Marianna, and where has she come from? Even as he succumbs to her seductive charms, David realizes that Marianna is far more than a threat to his marriage, for her secrets lie deep in the past and beyond the grave. And her unholy desires endanger the life and soul of everyone she touches.

TV writer David Cooper is trying to revitalize his shaky marriage by returning with his wife to their original honeymoon location. While the Coopers do end up in the same sea-side resort, they find their original digs are unavailable and have to stay in a disused beach cottage. There, every time Ellen steps out, or goes to sleep, a sexy woman named Marianna appears and quickly seduces David. She fucks him harder than he’s ever been fucked and that’s the entirety of Earthbound‘s simple setup. The plot from there is but a dance between David’s realization of it and his doing something.

There are essentially four characters in Earthbound. Approximately ninety-five percent of the novel is set within the confines of the haunted cottage. It’s all told in a tight third person, over the shoulder perspective. We get the thoughts of David’s mind in elaborate detail and hear the other two characters exclusively from his POV. It becomes immediately clear to the reader that Marianna is not only a ghost but also a quasi-succubus. Matheson never actually names the marriage-ruining ghost as a sexual vampire, instead the characters only describe Marianna as simply the ghost of a depraved woman. It takes nearly a half-dozen sex sessions with the vitality draining Marianna, and several visits from a helpful neighbor (who lives just up the beach) to point this out to David. It then takes several more for him to actually believe what he’s being told and experiencing. David wants to believe he’s just been cheating on his wife with a mysterious stranger – but the evidence he’s been presented with is fairly convincing. In the meantime David gets into several, what I would call, disappointment swaps with Ellen, they go out to dinner once and have some unsatisfying sex. About half way through the book I began expecting that Ellen’s many convenient absences would be explained by her being haunted by an incubus – I was wrong on that score.

I don’t think this book is really all that horrible. The storytelling flows quite smoothly and likely achieves the purpose intended. Unfortunately it carries no lasting impression. Being a confirmed bachelor, I guess I just don’t want to read about people fixing their marriages at haunted seaside cottages. And, as for it being one of the gothic novels of psychology, I far prefer the depths of ambiguity in Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw to the shallows of Earthbound. This is the fourth Matheson novel I’ve read, the first being I Am Legend |READ OUR REVIEW| and the second being The Incredible Shrinking Man |READ OUR REVIEW|. Like the former, Earthbound lacks the one thing I really cared about: a haunting message to go with its competent psychological character study. Like the second, The Incredible Shrinking Man, I came away from Earthbound thinking it was absolutely the kind of book I never need read again, a story premise with a character who was too wrapped up in his own psychology for me to care what was happening to him. I guess I just want some ideas to go with my characters and not to simply see them interacting or responding to a set of unusual circumstances. Earthbound, therefore, is most similar to the third Matheson novel I read, A Stir Of Echoes |READ OUR REVIEW|. If you liked A Stir Of Echoes I suspect you will enjoy Earthbound. Myself, I can only recommend the earth-shatteringly good I Am Legend and Matheson’s truly amazing short story Born Of Man And Woman.

Speaking of short stories, when Earthbound was first published (by Playboy Paperbacks in 1982) Richard Matheson used a pseudonym, “Logan Swanson.” Reading around the internet, I got the impression that he’d balked at some editorial changes in the Playboy Paperbacks edition – and so declined to have his real name put on the cover. But, the story is probably a little more complicated than that. After doing some more digging I noted that one Amazon reviewer had this to say: “…not a lot of people realize this, but this book started out as a short story written very early in Matheson’s career.” Noting that the succubi in fiction article on Wikipedia includes one Matheson story, called The Likeness Of Julie. I dug up my copy of Shock II (it’s also collected in Hot Blood: Tales Of Erotic Horror) and read it. The Likeness Of Julie, which is just 9 or 10 pages, has a bit more of a punch than Earthbound, and is clearly the predecessor to a novelized re-working. Interestingly, it too was first published “as written by Logan Swanson” in a 1962 anthology called Alone By Night. And the pseudonym there was not likely due to a protest, but rather the fact that there was another story by Matheson in the collection. In any case, this Blackstone Audio edition uses the author’s full text version of Earthbound.

Bronson Pinchot, has been recording up a storm for Blackstone Audio of late (there are currently 44 titles with him as a narrator). For Earthbound he does little extraordinary other than voicing three females, two carnal women and one ethereal succubus. Surprisingly, he doesn’t have to stretch very much for in this small scale novel; he pretty much makes himself invisible in the text. I’d like to see him tackle some more meaty material.

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne

Aural Noir: Online Audio

LibriVoxRobert Louis Stevenson wrote The Wrong Box with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne. This is the same kid whose drawing had inspired Treasure Island seven years earlier. Interestingly, it was published while Stephenson (age 39), and Osbourne (age 21), were traveling in Polynesia. Here is an 1888 photograph of Lloyd Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson in Tahiti (Osbourne is standing, Stevenson is seated):

Lloyd Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson in Tahiti, 1888

Of The Wrong Box, Rudyard Kipling wrote:

“I have got R.L. Stevenson’s [The Wrong Box] and laughed over it dementedly when I read it. That man has only one lung but he makes you laugh with all your whole inside.”

Indeed, as the RLS website describes The Wrong Box as “a humorous tale of misunderstandings, drunkenness, attempted fraud, false identities and other mishaps.” After having watched a scratchy old VHS copy of the movie I discovered this audiobook on LibriVox! I am enjoying it immensely. This enjoyment is assisted by its wonderful narrator. Andy Minter has a very appropriate accent for both the text and the telling.

LIBRIVOX - The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd OsbourneThe Wrong Box
By Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne; Read by Andy Minter
1 |M4B|, 16 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 6 Hours 20 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: September 14, 2008
The Wrong Box is a comedy about the ending of a tontine (a tontine is an arrangement whereby a number of young people subscribe to a fund which is then closed and invested until all but one of the subscribers have died. That last subscriber then receives the whole of the proceeds). The story involves the last two such survivors and their relations, a train crash, missing uncles, surplus dead bodies and innocent bystanders. A farce really.

Podcast feed: http://librivox.org/bookfeeds/the-wrong-box-by-robert-louis-stevenson-and-lloyd-osbourne.xml

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

There is also a 1966 film adaptation starring Michael Caine, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Peter Sellers:

[via Robert-Louis-Stevenson.org and Edinburgh City Libraries and Information Services]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Pulp Cover by Gene Wolfe

SFFaudio Review

7th Anniversary Storypalooza continues!

Science Fiction Audiobook - Pulp Fiction by Gene WolfePulp Cover
By Gene Wolfe; Read by Mike Boris
24 Min – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: StarShipSofa (Aural Delights No 120)
Published: 2010
Themes: / Science Fiction /

This brilliantly narrated (by Mike Boris) story was part of the Aural Delights no 120 – Gene Wolfe podcast from StarShipSofa. Thanks Tony and crew for all the great stories and commentary week after week!

“Pulp Cover” is the story of a man who wants to marry his boss’s daughter, but loses out to a perfect man from Yale. At least, that’s what the story is about on the surface, but Gene Wolfe’s stories are much more than the top layer. Subtle and satisfying.

Listening to Gene Wolfe is something I haven’t been able to do often, but his stories are finally starting to show up on audio. Audible Frontiers recently published The Book of the New Sun. “Hunter Lake” appeared in The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine in 2003, and before that, the only audiobook I know of was a cassette from Audio Prose Library with “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories” and “The Solar Labyrinth” on it, read by Wolfe himself. “The Tree is My Hat” was made into an audio drama at the World Horror Convention in 2002, and was included in StarShipSofa’s Aural Delights No 49. That’s all the Gene Wolfe audio I know of – any more out there?

Looks like an author page, Jesse!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Red Panda Adventures – Season 4

SFFaudio Review

Superhero Audio Drama - The Red Panda Adventures - Season FourThe Red Panda Adventures – Season 4
By Gregg Taylor; Performed by a full cast
12 MP3 Files via podcast – Approx. 6 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Podcaster: Decoder Ring Theatre
Podcast: September 2008 – May 2009
Themes: / Fantasy / Superheroes / Mystery / Crime / Adventure / Marriage / Toronto / Magic / South America / Dinosaurs /

“I’m not implying mystic threats, foreign powers and shadowy organizations aren’t important. But sometimes they do disconnect us from the street.”

After four years and 48 episodes Gregg Taylor’s writing is still amazingly fresh. It’s super-quotable too. As I listen I find myself writing down, here and there on scraps of paper, lines of dialogue. That’s terrific writing folks. Is it kind of sick that I even enjoy the commercials?

“I like all of those words.”

Speaking of words, in the opening lines of the new season Kit Baxter is no longer just the red panda’s “driver” now she’s his “fiance”! Another change is the introduction of a new sponsor (fast and easy weight loss dot com). Still around are the charming birthday wishes and other greetings from family members around the world who spend their dollars on keeping the Red Panda show going.

I’ve got a detailed episode by episode review below (minus any serious spoilers)…

Episode 1 – “The Third Wave
The season 3 finale of The Red Panda Adventures set up a Nazi scientist called Professor Von Schlitz to be the major villian for Season 4. So it wasn’t too shocking to have him take the first scene of episode one The Third Wave, of Season 4. As the show begins Schlitz and his new pilot are headed toward a secret lair in the jungles of South America. All is proceeding normally. Then SLAM! A twist I didn’t see coming. This opening shocked me! First there was the introduction of a new superhero, a man named “Captain Tom Sunlight” (played by Christopher Mott) – apparently an ally of The Red Panda’s. Second, I realized just how much Von Schlitz is a pastiche of two Raiders Of The Lost Ark villains (Belloq and Toht). An auspicious beginning. With this episode The Red Panda has now done something previously “unthinkable.” The rest of the episode deals with a frightening 1930s phenomena – with the title of the band of villains taken from a 1967 high school history class experiment.

Episode 2 – “The Mask of Death
This episode feels like the Red Panda Version of The Taking Of Pelham 123 but with zombies! A train station full of passengers is held for ransom. The arch-villain involved is another tenured teacher, Professor Zombie! playing junior panda member Harry is rather obviously female (and not male) – this is a problem I can’t see around. Finding child actors of talent are difficult, adults playing children ditto.

Episode 3 – “Murder In The Castle
The scenic Casa Loma is the setting for this season’s locked room mystery. A locked castle mystery actually as an unexpected murder that interrupts Kit’s romantic evening with her groom-to-be. This episode feels like a Nero Wolfe plot (minus the many confusing characters). Does old RP have a rooftop orchid garden?

Episode 4 – “The Gathering Storm
A full-scale dimensional breach imperils 1930s Toronto and only Red Panda and his trusty side-kick are up to the task of patching it back up. This episode clearly demonstrates the way magic is handled in the Red Panda universe. Scientists, especially ones named Chronopolis, can wrap their heads around the mystical arts and mystical objects – sometimes they just can’t control them.

Episode 5 – “Trial By Terror
Barton Meyer, an orderly at the Queen Street Lunatic Sanitarium, meets an old resident who claims to have been “born here.” The Electric Eel (performed by Scott Moyle) is home at last! With his incredible powers, and made up entirely of energy, he’ll team up with a few imprisoned residents/patients at the mad house (The Genie and The Jackrabbit). But this dastardly team-up doesn’t want to kill the Red Panda, they want to put him on trial in order to determine his sanity. The results? An electrifying episode.

Episode 6 – “The Boy In Blue
Constable Andy Parker, voiced by Brian Vaughan, best known from previous episodes of RPA for his crush on Flying Squirrel (like pretty much everyone else who listens to the show) takes center stage in this tale of police corruption. Is Parker working for The Syndicate or is there a more innocent explanation for him palling around with dirty cops? Which reminds me, all this Parker/Syndicate has got to be a nice little shout out to Richard Stark. I tell you that Greg Taylor packs a whole lot of goodness into each episode. Another thing to take note of in this episode is the new “Pappy” moniker Kit Baxter is floating for her husband-to-be.

Episode 7 – “The Golden Idol
A new superhero is prowling the streets of Toronto. He’s got super-strength, can fly and seems more than capable of replacing the Red Panda – the only question is: Why? Christopher Mott playing the ever excitable Mad Monkey makes an appearance – meaning he steals the show – in this case almost literally. Fun stuff!

Episode 8 – “I Dream Of Genies” Modern technology allows banks to secure their vaults better than ever. 17 stories into the sky they’re safe aren’t they? But can they stop a heat ray wielding villain on a flying carpet? Probably not. There’s a very cool audio montage in this ep. That’s something I don’t ever remember ever hearing before! Actor Brian Vaughan returns, reprising his super-villain role as The Genie from Seasons 2 and 3 (and 4).

Episode 9 – “Jungle Of Terror
Paying back a favour to their superhero buddy, Captain Tom Sunlight, Red Panda and Flying Squirrel fly into a South American jungle. There they discover a strange gateway, an old enemy, and some very large and very hungry fauna. This episode feels inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. This is a cool away adventure. I hope RP and FS can do more of these next season.

Episode 10 – “The Crimson Death
Returning from South America with her fiance, the Flying Squirrel is all aflutter about her upcoming nuptials to her partner in crime-fighting. Luckily, there’s been a series of mysterious murders in Toronto while they’ve been away; solving them will be the perfect distraction from her wedding jitters. Her first stop: A visit to the Queen’s Street Lunatic Asylum. Whoever is responsible has some mean-ventriloquism chops, is invisible and wields fire. What an odd combination! This is the shortest (and probably weakest) episode of the fourth season – but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. There’s plenty of wonderful character development in between all that invisible, fire-throwing, voice-chucking menace.

Episode 11 – “Endgame
Tied up and hanging above a vat of acid Commander Varkin has the Red Panda and Flying Squirrel just where he wants them – now for the speechifyin’. Varkin (voiced by Gregory Z. Cooke) is a Blowfeld type villain – he fills us in on the season spanning conspiracy – and unleashes a lot more than hot air. But that isn’t the dynamic couple’s only problem, it seems that a vat of acid and a world domination speech aren’t enough for Varkin as a dangerous virus and secret partner will keep Squirrel and Panda busy. The perfect penultimate play? Possibly!

Episode 12 – “Operation Cold Feet
Kit Baxter’s even more antsy with her impending wedding just days away. But what’s up with all the false Red Panda sightings? They don’t seem to bother the real Red Panda. But when a fake Flying Squirrel makes a newspaper appearance Big Red nearly chokes on his toast! In this episode we finally learn the true identity of the Red Panda! For the previous 47 episodes Gregg Taylor has managed to side-step revealing our hero’s real name. Even characters who should have known the name of the man “who wears the mask of the Red Panda” have carefully not spoken it up to this point. He’s been called “Pappy” and “Puddin” by Kit Baxter, “my dear boy” by his fellow wealthy peers Toronto, really everything but “hey you.” It’s a name that’ll be remembered with the likes of Lamont Cranston and Bruce Wayne.

Happy Canada Day everybody, go celebrate with some RED PANDA!

Here’s the podcast feed:

http://decoderring.libsyn.com/rss

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction audiobook - The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. HeinleinThe Cat Who Walks Through Walls
By Robert A. Heinlein; Read by Tom Weiner
11 CDs – 13.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Published: December 2007
ISBN: 1433212918
Themes: / Science Fiction / Marriage / Time Travel / Parallel Worlds / The Moon / Space Station /

When a stranger attempting to deliver a cryptic message is shot dead at his dinner table, Ames is thrown headfirst into danger, intrigue, and other dimensions where Lazarus Long still thrives, where Jubal Harshaw lives surrounded by beautiful women, and where a daring plot to rescue the sentient computer called Mike can change the direction of all human history.

There are a lot of things to dislike about The Cat Who Walks Through Walls:

1. Characters: Heinlein’s characters are either ultra-confident know-it-alls or utterly buffoonish straw-men. Heinlein will happily spend a good ten minutes explaining to you the workings of suborbital flight in a vacuum, but won’t explain (and worse yet – will have the other characters agree) to highly improbable societal systems in cast off sentences like – ‘all sexual options are invested in women’ (on the moon). Then he follows it up with jury trials of accused rapists lasting 30 seconds. Personally, I suspect that any system that threw away habeas corpus in favour of whatever one gender said was good – wouldn’t last very long. It’s possible to imagine a society in which women play a dominant role – but I don’t find it plausible to find any society in which one gender can say one word “rape” (true or not) – and have the accused rapist be instantly ripped apart. Heinlein ignores the problems of: No evidence, no witnesses, no trial. It doesn’t fly Mr. Heinlein.

2. Things missing: First, the internet, especially email, everyone is still mailing paper letters from Lagrange space stations to the Moon! Second, DNA testing. Talk of positively identifying someone all runs along the lines of “fingerprints” and “blood types.” Third, GPS. On Heinlein’s moon you can only tell where you are by using inertial trackers or getting a starfix.

3. A glaring omission: There’s one more thing missing, the last half of the book. Seriously, this book is all prologue, with lots of interesting action, but the entire build up is concluded on the last disc.

4. Too much: There are also things this book has too much of. First, all the many male characters are always calling themselves, denying that they are, or accusing each other of being “henpecked.” This, no matter what universe or era they come from! I’ve never heard any of my married friends use that term. Second, no matter which continent, planet or timeline, the many husbands in this novel come from, they all playfully joke about “beating” their wives. I just don’t know what to do with that information. Is this common in your marriage?

Now, having stated off this review with the above it may sound as if I dislike the novel. And that’s not strictly true. I don’t, not really. But, on the other hand, this is the third audiobook release of it and some of the novelty is starting to wear off. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls has a crackerjack opening scene, some amazing hard SF early on, and a goodly amount of redeeming entertainment value. This is a novel for the truly die-hard Heinlein fans. It was written with the intent of rewarding them for their many years of dedicated reading. It does that. It contains dozens and dozens of characters, many of whom are cameoing from previous Heinlein novels. Lazarus Long (Methusela’s Children), and Hazel Stone (The Rolling Stones) both play substantial roles in the novel. Other characters making appearances include Jubal Harshaw (Stranger In A Strange Land) and Manuel Garcia O’Kelly Davis aka Manny (The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress). In fact, as a reward to loyal readers, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls pairs rather nicely with Heinlein’s The Number Of The Beast in that both it and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls are fond examinations of both the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre and Heinlein’s own career. The key that ties both together is Heinlein’s idea of “pantheistic solipsism.” The idea behind which is that many universes exist under an explanation of ‘the world is myth.’ “The World as Myth” means that influential authors, like L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Heinlein himself are actually creating real parallel universes simply by writing vividly about them. In other words, the fictional stories we really enjoy, ARE ACTUALLY REAL. It’s a neat idea, but it’s better explored in The Number Of The Beast. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, other than being a rewarding odyssey for fans, is more about marriage than any particular SF idea. Richard Ames gets married in chapter two, and honeymoons on Luna – all the while being chased by assassins and hounded by officious bureaucrats. And that’s where the schism comes in. Heinlein has a no-nonsense, no compromises attitude towards bureaucracy, every situation is black or white. And that holds true for marriage too. Except when it doesn’t. Robert Heinlein Richard Ames will put his foot down, draw a line in the sand, and say “this far no farther”. He’ll hold fast, when confronted by social or bureaucratic interaction not too his liking. He’ll do the same in marriage… and then redraw the lines of his convictions to preserve the marriage. I find the latter rather realistic, but the former utterly unrealistic.

Narrator Tom Weiner has been given the thankless task of voicing about three dozen characters. Worse, there are few attributions in the text itself. Pages and pages of dialogue go by without any breaks. This being the third audiobook edition of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls I think back to George Wilson’s solid reading for Recorded Books, and Robert Vaughn’s abridged reading for Simon & Schuster. Vaughn’s is still my favourite, despite it being abridged to hell. Vaughn should have become a professional audiobook narrator. Weiner’s version, Blackstone’s release, is a close second.

Posted by Jesse Willis

a LibriVox FIRST (full cast unabridged narration): Wanted 7 Fearless Engineers

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxHere’s what I’m fairly certain is a LibriVox FIRST! A full cast unabridged narration of a story. That is, multiple narrators, reading one work, in concert. Something similar has already been done for plays (check out Macbeth), but this is the first prose fiction I’ve heard done for LibriVox this way.

The first chapter is somewhat reminiscent of the Louis Wu recruitment scene as depicted in the opening chapters of Ringworld – which is cool, because that’s a great scene. First published in Amazing Stories magazine’s February 1939 issue, and later reprinted in the April 1956 issue, this tale was written under a pseudonym of Astounding SF editor F. Orlin Tremaine.

The narrators, Andrew Coleman, Cori Samuel, David Barnes, Lizzie Driver and Philippa, are actually performing this audiobook, not just reading it. Very cool. The recording environment for these readers is dead silent, their volumes are all excellent and uniform. If you’re planning on doing a multiple narrator production, make this audiobook your model!

LibriVox Science Fiction Audiobook - Wanted 7 Fearless Engineers by F. Orlin TremaineWanted 7 Fearless Engineers
By Warner Van Lorne (aka F. Orlin Tremaine); Read by Andrew Coleman, Cori Samuel, David Barnes, Lizzie Driver & Philippa
8 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 2 Hours 3 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: October 23, 2008
A great civilization’s fate lay in Dick Barrow’s hands as he led his courageous fellow engineers into a strange and unknown land. None of them knew what lay ahead–what dangers awaited them–or what rewards. But they did not hesitate because the first question asked them had been: “Are you a brave man?”
Chapter 1 |MP3| Chapter 2 |MP3| Chapter 3 |MP3| Chapter 4 |MP3|
Chapter 5 |MP3| Chapter 6 |MP3| Chapter 7 |MP3| Chapter 8 |MP3|

Podcast feed:

http://librivox.org/bookfeeds/wanted-7-fearless-engineers-by-warner-van-lorne.xml

Posted by Jesse Willis