Review of Where’s My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson

 SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Where's My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson, PhDWhere’s My Jetpack?: A Guide To The Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived
By Daniel H. Wilson, PhD; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
1 MP3-CD – 3.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Sample: Click here
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 078617160X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Non-fiction / Technology / Teleportation /

The future is now. And we are not impressed. The future was supposed to be a fully automated, atomic-powered, germ-free Utopia, a place where a grown man could wear a velvet spandex unitard and not be laughed at. Our beloved scientist may be building the future, but some key pieces are missing. Where are the ray guns, the flying cars, and the hoverboards that we expected? We can’t wait another minute for the future to arrive. The time has come to hold the Golden Age of science fiction accountable for its fantastic promises.

Finally, someone has come to take the Golden Age of science fiction to task for all that crap they told us would happen. Who is the hero that’s going to demand our cool stuff? None other than Daniel H. Wilson, PhD, that’s who. That’s right. The guy who saved us from all those robots in his previous book – How to Survive a Robot Uprising. (SFFaudio Review here – we’re on the ball with all this surviving stuff.)

Just like in How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Wilson takes real science facts and gives them to us in a way that will make you laugh out loud. For example, what about those jetpacks we were promised? (Wilson calls the jetpack the “Holy Grail of classic science fiction technology.”) In this book, we find out that Wendell Moore finished the Bell Rocket Belt in 1961. It was basically a rocket mounted to a backpack. He tested it himself. Yes, he strapped a rocket to his belt, and turned it on. We learn exactly how it worked, hydrogen peroxide fuel and all. It produced 300 lbs of thrust – just enough to get a grown man off the ground. The downside? It could only hold 30 seconds worth of fuel. Shockingly, none of the rocket pack pilots died. Wilson then laments the lack of serious innovation in the rocket pack industry since then. “If Wendell Moore could see the state of jetpacks today,” says Wilson, “he would be doing barrel rolls in his grave.”

Jetpacks are just the tip of the rocket. Orbital hotels, robot servants, space elevators, teleportation – it’s all in there.

Stefan Rudnicki delivers another quality narration. One of Wilson’s goals with both of his books was to take the material so seriously that absurdity shows through. Rudnicki understood this, and provided narration to match. Funny stuff.

To hear from the author himself about Where’s My Jetpack?, How to Survive a Robot Uprising, robotics in general, and future projects, check out his interview on the Talking Robots podcast, July 5, 2007 edition. Here’s the direct link to the MP3.

Review of Rings, Swords, And Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature by Michael D.C. Drout

SFFaudio Review

Modern Scholar - Rings, Sword, Monsters Rings, Swords, And Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature
Lectures by Professor Michael D.C. Drout
7 CDs & Book – 7 Hours 51 Minutes [LECTURES]
Publisher: Recorded Books LLC / The Modern Scholar
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1419386956
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Lectures / Fantasy / J.R.R. Tolkien / Middle Earth / Beowulf / Children’s Fantasy / Arthurian Legend / Magic Realism / World Building /

“It used to be that fantasy was a boy’s genre and that was clear even back through the 80s and 90s, that 90% of your audience for fantasy literature, 90% of your audience for Tolkien was male. That is no longer the case. When I give lecturings [sic] at gatherings of Tolkien enthusiasts the crowd is easily 50-50 male female and often times more female than male – though I will have to say that many of the women in the crowd are wearing elf-princess costumes – I’m not really sure what that means.”
-Lecture 13: Arthurian Fantasy (on the ‘Marion Zimmer Bradley effect’)

Most of this lecture series is concerned with Tolkien. Drout explains what influenced Tolkien’s fiction, how his work impacted Fantasy and how later writers reacted to and imitated him. A full five of the 14 lectures are on Tolkien’s books proper, with another four on what influenced him, and who he influenced. The scholarship here is absolutely engrossing, hearing Drout tease out details from names, the structure and the philosophy of Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion will delight any Tolkien fan. At one point in Lecture 4 Drout explains the sources for the names of both the 13 dwarves of The Hobbit and Gandalf too. According to Drout, Gandalf was originally named “Bladderthin.” But this isn’t just scholarship here, Drout is very much a critic, a fan of the works he studies. He gives a critical examination of plots, themes and the worlds of each of the Fantasy novels he talks about. Drout dissects Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, calling them possibly the best Fantasy since Tolkien, on the one hand and also shows what doesn’t quite work in them. Drout, like Tolkien is an scholar of Anglo-Saxon so there is also plenty of talk about Beowulf and the impact it had on Tolkien. In fact, central to many of his arguments is the linguistic background each work of Fantasy makes use of. Tolkien works so well, argues Drout, in part, because it all hangs linguistically together. Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, which Drout thinks immensely prominent in post-Tolkien Fantasy, doesn’t have a cohesive linguistic bedrock, and that hurts the series – which he thinks is otherwise one of the best realized “secondary worlds” created. Whatever it is Drout talks about, he backs up his critical opinion. Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he’s read them, and has dissected the plots to show how as time has gone by and Brooks has written more, he’s come to have something of his own voice, and not just stayed the pale Tolkien imitator he started as.

The lectures on Tolkien inevitably lead to the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. Drout gives them their due, and shows why some of it works and some of it doesn’t. Arthurian Fantasy, which predates Tolkien, seems to have run a parallel course to “secondary world” fantasy literature. After hearing Lecture 13 you’ll come away with a desire to find a copy of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and Mary Stewart’s Merlin series. My own opinion is that Drout gives too much credit to J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter novels, he talks about her writing for about 8 minutes. In fairness it would probably not be possible to talk about Children’s Fantasy literature without mentioning her popular series. But on the other hand there are many different kinds of Fantasy that Drout doesn’t talk about at all. I wonder why Neil Gaiman isn’t mentioned. What of Robert E. Howard? And why almost no talk about short stories? James Powell’s A Dirge For Clowntown needs some attention! The only solution is for Recorded Books to go back and ask for more from this professor. Call it Gods, Barbarians, and Clowns: Further Explorations Of Fantasy Literature or something. Until then I’ll be working on my Cimmerian-clown costume.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of From Here To Infinity: An Exploration of SF

Science Fiction Audibook Review

Clipper Audiobook - From Here to Infinity From Here To Infinity: An Exploration of Science Fiction
Lectures by Professor Michael D.C. Drout
7 CDs or 7 Cassettes – Approx. 7 hours [LECTURES]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Series: The Modern Scholar
Published: 2006
ISBN: (cassettes) 1419388754; (CDs) 1419388762
Themes: / Non-Fiction / History of Science Fiction / Lectures /

Esteemed professor Michael D.C. Drout traces the history of science fiction in this series of stimulating lectures. From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to today’s cutting- edge authors, Drout offers a compelling analysis of the genre, including a look at hard-boiled science fiction, the golden age of science fiction, New Wave writers, and contemporary trends in the field.

I remember my Science Fiction English course in High School. Perhaps it was because I was at the peak of my teenage-angst snobbery, but I felt the teacher was teaching the course against her will. I left with a dislike of the “scholarly pursuit” of SF in the classroom.

After listening to Professor Drout, all those dislikes were washed away. He has a real knowledge of the history of Science Fiction and its roots. Although I’m not an expert, I pride myself on my knowledge of the genre’s history. Much of the material was not new to me, but Drout’s enthusiasm and pacing made the listening a pleasure.

Starting with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, he recounts the major progressions of SF up to Neal Stephenson and beyond. He offers some original thinking on how he categorizes many of the authors. I never considered Ray Bradbury a surrealist until Drout compared his work with J.G. Ballard. And anybody who devotes a large amount of a lecture to Cordwainer Smith is easily going to win me over.

Lectures included:

1 What Is Science Fiction?
2 The Roots of Science Fiction
3 Mysterious Lore, Marvelous Tech: The 1930s
4 Hard-Boiled Science Fiction: The 1940s
5 The Grand Master: Robert A. Heinlein
6 Onward and Outward: The 1950s, Space Travel, Apocalypticism, and the Beautiful Weirdness of Cordwainer Smith
7 A New Set of Questions: The “New Wave” of the 1960s and 1970s
8 The World Builder: Frank Herbert
9 The Surrealists: Ballard and Bradbury
10 The Computer Revolution: Cyberpunk and the 1980s
11 Post-Punk: Neal Stephenson
12 Women and Gender
13 The Satirists
14 The Shape of Things to Come

Review of On the Road with Ellison: Volume One

SFFaudio Author of the Month

On the Road with Ellison, Vol. 1On The Road With Ellison, Volume 1
Live performance by Harlan Ellison
1 CD – 60 minutes
Publisher: Deep Shag Records
Published: 2001 (reissue from 1983)
UPC: 809879000322
Themes : / Non-fiction / Writing / Politics / Publishing /

On the Road with Ellison, Volume 1 is a collection of live lecture/performances by Harlan Ellison in 1981, 1982, and 1983 in front of three different university corwds. When he talks of mailing a dead gopher to an editor (er… comptroller) he’s hilarious, and when he reads an essay he wrote (“An Edge in My Voice: Installment #54”) he rattles our collective cage, making us look at a man who threatened to blow up the Washington Monument in a whole new way.

From the very first track, where he warns audience members to leave if words offend them, Ellison is abrasive yet totally engaging. Or perhaps he’s totally engaging because he’s so abrasive. Either way, the tracks are thoroughly enjoyable, and the album is worth grabbing.

And yes, there’s a Volume 2, also available from Deep Shag.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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 The Road to Dune by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson

SFFaudio Review

The Road to Dune by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. AndersonThe Road to Dune
By Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson; Read by Scott Brick
12 CD’s – 14 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: JUST RELEASED – September 2005
ISBN: 159397776X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dune / Desert / Religion / Commentary / Journal / Short Fiction /

In a sentence, The Road to Dune is an intriguing collection of Dune “extras” that should please any fan of Frank Herbert. Including myself.

A quick background on me as far as Dune goes – I read the first novel once, then listened to George Guidall’s unabridged narration of the same book. I also heard The Butlerian Jihad, which was written by Brian Herbert (Frank Herbert’s son) and Kevin J. Anderson. I mention all this so that you can know my level of Dune knowledge – I am by no means an expert. With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, as you may know, have continued Frank Herbert’s Dune series by adding two trilogies of prequels to Herbert’s existing books. They’ve consulted notes that Frank Herbert left behind, and the opening of this book explains that to some degree. Bill Ransom, who collaborated with Frank Herbert on a few books, also weighs in, describing his writing life with Frank.

Next up is a short novel called Spice Planet which represents the first version of Dune, or what Dune could have been. The novel is certainly better, but Dune World was also engaging and interesting from the perspective of a person who has read the novel (what’s different, what’s the same) and as a very good story in its own right.

Also included are deleted scenes and alternate endings from Dune and Dune, Messiah, letters and notes from Frank Herbert during the time he was trying to get Dune published. Especially interesting are some letters to and from John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor of Analog Science Fiction Magazine, which serialized the first Dune novel, but declined the second one.

Four short stories by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson are here, too. The first, “Whisper of Caladan Seas” was originally published in Amazing Science Fiction and takes place during the first Dune novel. The other three, “Hunting Harkonnens”, “Whipping Mek”, and “Faces of a Martyr” are set in the prequel times that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson write about in their trilogies. They are very good stories, all.

Scott Brick narrated, and I am reminded why I enjoy him so much. His narration is energetic, dramatic, and powerful, but never over the top. I never tire of his rich voice and the believable, living characters he performs.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book on several levels. For a person writing a thick tome of a science fiction novel, this glimpse into Herbert’s process is very educational. For a fan of Dune, this look into what could have been is very entertaining. For a fan interested in the history science fiction, the correspondence between Campbell and Herbert and the story of the novel’s purchase and publication by Chilton are pure gold. And for a fan of good stories, there’s plenty here to enjoy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson