Review of Ur by Stephen King

SFFaudio Review

Here’s the latest in our 7th Anniversary Festival of Short Stories!

Science Fiction Audiobook - Ur by Stephen KingUR
By Stephen King; Read by Holter Graham
2 Hours, 20 Minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Multiple Universes / Books / Kindle /

When this story first came out, it was available exclusively for the Kindle, and King made the Kindle itself one of the main characters. A special, one-of-a-kind Kindle, of course, that lets the user flip through universes picking books that brilliant writers wrote in parts of their lives that didn’t exist in this universe. Ernest Hemingway, for example, lived a few years longer in one universe (in one UR, as they are called in the story), and wrote a novel or two more. This description feels a bit like Joe Haldeman’s “The Hemingway Hoax”, and the main character is tempted to take the story in that very direction, but doesn’t. Instead, he reads and reads for his own pleasure. Things don’t get really complicated until he uses his Kindle to take a look at our UR.

I love me some Stephen King, and this is a pretty good science fiction story. It doesn’t offer anything new to the pervasive (and tiresome) “multiple universe” sub-genre, except this is Stephen King writing it, and I like the people he writes about. It’s extremely well-narrated, too, by Holter Graham.

|HERE| is a very cool promo page from Simon and Schuster that contains an excerpt of the audiobook and an interview with Holter Graham.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Transition by Iain M. Banks

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Transition by Iain M. BanksTransition
By Iain M. Banks; Read by Peter Kenny
13.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: 2009
Themes: / Science Fiction / Alternate Realities / Consciousness / Culture /

It was my understanding that Iain Banks published his non-science fiction under this name and his science fiction as Iain M. Banks. I haven’t read any of his other books, despite having Consider Phlebas on my book shelf for the last twenty one years. After reading Transition that book has suddenly jumped a lot closer to actually getting read. Sadly it isn’t available in audio or it would be a done deal.

Transition tells the disjointed, non-linear story of Tumudjin Oh. Oh is one of the many agents for The Concern, an organisation that spans the multi-verse, also known in some realities as l’Expédience. His job involves traveling to different realities and performing a wide range of tasks. From leaving a leaflet so that someone will see it and change their life, or stopping someone from entering a building moments before is collapses and even outright assassination. Banks employs the Many-Worlds variant of alternate realities and the implications of what realities they do, and more importantly do not
encounter, are central to the core conflict. Travel between realities is not by means of a portal or vehicle, but by the use of a drug, septus. This allows individuals to send their personalities to different realities, where they take over the body of someone already there. Usually, the invaded body is of a similar age and body type, but that isn’t set in stone. Once in the host body, they have access to the skills, knowledge and languages of their host. Travel is not a there and back, but a never-ending series of forward jumps that periodically may return to previously visited realities, but not necessarily into the same host as before.

Oh is very much the pawn between the rival Madame d’Ortolan and Mrs Mulverhill. d’Ortolan is the unofficial head of l’Expédience, and is grooming Oh. Much as the rebel Mrs Mulverhill does. He has a small case of OCD that follows him from body to body, sometimes stronger than others. We follow Oh in the present as he is sent on a mission by Madam d’Ortolan and also flashbacks telling how he has come to this point. Mrs Mulverhill, always wearing a veil in whatever reality and
body she has, attempts to seduce Oh both physically and politically.

There are other view points that we cycled throughout the book. Some are told in the first-person, others in third. Patient 8262 is a Transitioner who has hidden himself in a clinic in a reality where he hopes to escape his mysterious pursuers. Madame d’Ortolan has plans concerning the governing Council of the Concern, which Mrs Mulverhill objects to. Oh, who’s points-of-view sections are titled The Transitionary, meets d’Ortolan and received his orders. There are also
points of views from other characters, including Adrian Cubbish, a drug dealer turned financier, who we comes from our own reality.

Banks’ explore a range of topics, particularly in their first person narrations, from Christian Terrorists, torture, limited liability companies and drugs. Adrian goes into detail about his love affair with Cocaine, comparing it to the variety of alternatives.

The several points of view, particularly the multiple first person narrators confused me at first. I had to replay the first chapter or so once I figured out what was happening. Listen out for those POV changes, they could have been made clearer with a slightly longer pause perhaps.

The narrator, Peter Kenny, is outstanding. You can hear the thought behind the intonation of every phrase. A very detailed and thought out narration. The high point for me was Bisquitine’s insane ramblings. Jumping accent and voice sentence by sentence to bring her madness to life. Yet he uses the technique to make a certain sense of the stream
of apparently random phrases. I’ll be looking out for more from this narrator, even out with the SF genre.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve not read any of Bank’s work before. If Transition has taught me nothing, it’s that I’ve been sorely remiss in this. Transition is a very dense, detailed story. The scenes come to life in only a few words, Banks’ prose is a delight to read. I’m certain that I’ll appreciate it even more on a second, and probably a
third listen. I’m sure I’ll understand more of the depth of the plot and the character’s machinations. Banks doesn’t dwell on what makes each reality distinct. Experienced transitioners can sense the make up of a reality, and their almost check-list breakdown as they assimilate into their new host body covers it. The realities themselves aren’t the centre stage, the only exception is Calbefraques, the base reality of l’Expédience. Instead the story focuses on the character’s.

After my single listen, I’m not sure about some aspects of the story, such as why so much time was spent with some characters. Adrian in particular, but also Patient 8262. Not that these sections weren’t entertaining, but I struggle to see what their character’s were contributing. Patient 8262 at least provided exposition on Transitioning and the setting as a whole, and so served as an overall narrator of sorts.

An engrossing listen that appeals to my love of complexity and traveling amongst alternate realities. Highly recommended.

Posted by Paul [W] Campbell

Review of Star Trek TNG: Q-Squared by Peter David

SFFaudio Review

Star Trek: Q-SquaredStar Trek: The Next Generation: Q-Squared
By Peter David; Read by John de Lancie
2 Cassettes – 3 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Published: 1994
ISBN: 0671891804
Themes: / Science Fiction / Star Trek / Q / Gods / Time / Multiple Universes /

You have no idea how screwed up this is.
— Q to Picard, Q-Squared

All the Star Trek talk floating around the internet has stirred my interest, so I dug out one of the first (and best) Star Trek audiobooks from my permanent stash. I sit here with hopes that the Paramount powers-that-be stop considering prequels. Does anyone want to see someone other than Nimoy play Mr. Spock? The future is wide open – pick a place out there and tell some great stories.

Before a cane stretches out from stage left to drag me off, I’ll get back to the review at hand. Q-Squared has everything I love in a Star Trek audiobook. First, it’s a big story. One that would be difficult to film for various reasons. Second, there are lots of pieces of Star Trek mythos throughout. You know, the kind of thing that makes a Trekker think “I remember that!” and sends him/her to watch the episode it occurred in. Third, the sound effects create the Star Trek feel without being overpowering. This is a luxury that these audiobooks have – the sound of a turbolift door, a few beeps, and the listener is on the bridge of the Enterprise without a sentence of prose. And fourth, an excellent reader. John de Lancie not only voices Q, the character he played on the screen, but he also skillfully portrays all the other characters.

In the book, Q has been given the difficult task of keeping an eye on Trelane who is a character from the Original Series episode entitled “The Squire of Gothos”. Peter David makes quick work of connecting Trelane to the Q Continuum. Unfortunately for Picard and crew, Trelane is even farther off plumb than he was in Kirk’s heyday – a fact demonstrated by the fact that he considers ripping apart the universe to be a valuable use of his spare time. To the Star Trek: The Next Generation characters, this results in the intersection of at least three well-conceived alternate universes. As the story moves forward, the universes flip like cards being shuffled in a deck.

Luckily, the audiobook is brilliantly abridged and edited. Though the universes shifted quickly, I had no problem keeping one Picard from another. This audiobook, if it was a Star Trek episode, would consistently be considered one of the finest the show had to offer. There are lots of copies of this one around – I urge you to find one.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell by Pat Murphy

Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell by Pat MurphyAdventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell
By Pat Murphy; Read by Johanna Ward
7 Cassettes – Approx. 9.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
ISBN: 0783128577
Date Published: 2004
Themes: / Science Fiction / Quantum Physics / Pseudonyms / Multiple Universes / The Nature of Fiction /

In this novel by Pat Murphy, the main character (Susan) and her friend Pat (er… Pat Murphy) take a cruise from New York to Europe. On this cruise is a fiction writer named Max Merriwell who offers a writing class that an uncertain Susan is eager to take. Max Merriwell writes not only under his own name, but also under the pseudonyms Mary Maxwell and Welton Merrimax. Rather quickly, Welton Merrimax starts to appear at various places on the cruise ship, and so does Mary Maxwell, which confuses everyone because, well, they’re supposed to be just pseudonyms. Thus begins an entertaining, wild ride of a novel in which alternate realities intersect and events from Max’s novels start to become real.

I went to Pat Murphy’s website and was pleased to find out that the novel is the third book in a wild experiment. Pat Murphy says, “Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell is an adventure story about the nature of fiction.” This nugget opened up so much more of the novel for me – enough so that I’m eager to listen again. It turns out that Murphy published three novels: There and Back Again by Max Merriwell (which is described as the story of The Hobbit retold as space opera), Wild Angel (which “borrows its premise from Tarzan of the Apes“) by Mary Maxwell (a pseudonym for Max Merriwell), and this novel, Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell by Pat Murphy. All the novels were published as written by Pat Murphy because her publisher felt the confusion would be too great to overcome here in the real world. Click here for some notes on Pat Murphy’s (who apparently is real) website to unravel the full story.

With all that said, this delightfully quirky novel works stand-alone. I enjoyed it enough to desire the added depth that finding and reading these other two books and re-listening to this one will undoubtedly provide. Listening again will be a pleasure because Johanna Ward performs well, deftly handling the mayhem that must have had her scratching her head a time or two during production. Her voice is pleasant and a very nice match to this material.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson