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

Review of Reflex by Steven Gould

Science Fiction Audiobook - Reflex by Stephen GouldReflex
By Steven Gould; Read by Christine Marshall and William Dufris
1 MP3-CD – 14 Hours 12 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Paperback Digital
Published: 2004
ISBN: 1584390042
Themes: / Science Fiction / Operant Conditioning /
Teleporation / Espionage / Marriage /

Davy thinks he’s alone…but what if he isn’t? When Davy was a young teen, he discovered that he was capable of teleportation. At first, it was only when he was terrified and in horrible danger. Later, he learned to control his ability and went to work for a secret government agency. Now, a mysterious group of people has taken Davy captive. They don’t want to hire him, and they don’t have any hope of appealing to him to help them. What they want is to own him. They want to use his abilities for their own purposes, whether Davy agrees to it or not. And so they set about brainwashing him and conditioning him, and they have found a way to keep a teleport captive. But there’s one thing that they don’t know. No one knows it, not even Davy. The secret is that experiencing teleportation, over and over again, can teach a person how to do it. Davy’s wife Millie is the only person on Earth who has teleported nearly as often as he has. She discovered her new talent the same way Davy did — in mortal danger, facing imminent death, she suddenly found herself in her own apartment. Now, if she can learn to control this ability, and fast, she may be able to rescue Davy.

Standalone novels are almost becoming a thing of the past in science fiction these days. So I wasn’t too surprised to learn that Reflex was the second novel in a series. But what did surprise me was that there was twelve year gap between them! I haven’t read the first novel, Jumper, but based on this solid adventure science fiction novel, I’m betting I’d love it too. Apparently it is classified as a YA (a Young Adult novel), which is interesting as Reflex has some fairly gritty adult situations.

As I started listening to Reflex I wasn’t at all sure this was a science fiction novel. The method of teleportation used seemed to involve no science, it was some sort of innate ability – one that would logically have to defy the laws of physics – so I was thinking this would have to be a fantasy novel. Except this was the only “magic” in the story and as I would come to realize there was another more interesting scientific fiction that was very plausible and amazingly original! The plot as mentioned in the teaser above involves the capture of a teleporter. What was so original here is the way that capture is maintained. Now I don’t want to give too much away but I’ll give you a hint, think of The Manchurian Candidate but instead of brainwashing, think B.F. Skinner.

This is a really good novel. Not only is the writing clear and clean, but also the characters are genuinely compelling and the situation original. Husband and wife Davy and Millie are thoughtful sympathetic characters who could be quite jaded given their knowledge of what’s going on, but they choose not to be. I found myself genuinely rooting for them. There’s actually a nice theme about the bonds of marriage in here too, it isn’t often in science fiction we meet married characters who both play a major role in the plot and it was refreshing to hear that perspective.

The villains in Reflex are suitably villainous, and have realistic motivations for their villainy. The novel is set in our contemporary time, with many references to current events, but because most of the characters are the equivalent of the jet-set of our era their access to the high-tech toys is a little better than ours. The action never flags and the cat and mouse games are intense and engaging. The more I think about it the more I am impressed with Reflex.

Christine Marshall plays all the female characters, and reads the chapters from Millie’s perspective. William Dufris plays all the male characters and reads all the chapters from Davy’s perspective. Together they interweave the story synergistically giving a vital energy to the text. This is another bang-up job by this energetic narrating tag team. I hope Paperback Digital keeps sending them stuff to read.

Sound quality as usual from Paperback Digital’s line of MP3-CDs is wonderful. These are high bit-rate tracks, spaced approx ten minutes apart. And PD uses a light introductory music at the beginning of the audiobook. It’s great! I’ve mentioned it in a previous review but I’ve just got to do it again, Paperback Digital has really got some cool original cover art. Jason B. Parker has done six covers so far – if he does another six my personal Paperback Digital collection will have to grow by six too. You can also take a peek at the original sketches done for the PD covers on Jason’s website.

Reflex is also available via download from both Fictionwise.com and the Paperback Digital website.

The hardcopy, the MP3-CD, comes in DVD style cases with insert paper cover and the CD-Rom comes with disc art. Downloads are slightly less expensive but nearly as easy to load onto an MP3 player.

If you’re feeling spontaneous check out Reflex. And if you like it as much as I did let me know.

Posted by Jesse Willis