Review of The Pocket and the Pendant by Mark Jeffrey

Fantasy Audiobooks - The Pocket and the Pendant by Mark JeffreyThe Pocket And The Pendant
By Mark Jeffrey; Read by Mark Jeffrey
13 MP3 Files – 10 Hours 25 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: markjeffrey.typepad.com / Podiobooks.com
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / Young Adult / Physcics / Immortality / Time Travel / Aliens / Time / Ancient Astronauts /

“On April 8th at exactly 3:38 in the afternoon the world STOPPED.”

It is one of the fundamental constants of the universe – every second thrift store one enters will contain a lonely shelf somewhere in the back with a battered paperback copy of Chariots Of The Gods? by Eric von Däniken on it. That is a terrible, terrible book. I encourage you – only partially in jest – to burn down any store that has one. Chariots Of The Gods is a massive failure in every way but one, it’ll help me tell you about a certain 1970s pop culture concept – the “ancient astronauts” theory. This is a speculative/delusional hypothesis that posits that extraterrestrial aliens are responsible for the ancient civilizations of Earth. Basically it argues that ancient people with their distinctive lack of heavy diesel powered machinery, could not possibly have constructed things like the Pyramid of The Sun at Teotihuacán and so the relics of archeological wonders throughout the world must have been constructed by aliens with a ‘higher’ technology. It is of course a ridiculous notion, wholly unsubstantiated by any evidence that wasn’t manufactured by fraudsters. That said, it can occasionally makes for a cool basis for fiction.

Mark Jeffrey’s The Pocket And The Pendant uses the concept of ancient astronauts to very good effect. This is the story of Max Quick a very odd little boy and his companions, other children who’ve found themselves trapped living in a frozen instant of time. Has this time “pocket” has been caused by the strange aircraft in the skies above the USA? What about the almost magical books that everyone who isn’t frozen seem to be after? Only the aptly named “Mr. E.” knows the answer. Weaving together a carefully researched history with an intriguing and well executed scenario Mark Jeffrey has put together an engaging and satisfying adventure that while aimed at a younger audience never talks down to it. Basically Jeffrey does for science fiction what Harry Potter does for fantasy – I’d say he does it better by layering in facts and mythology from many sources. He takes the whacked out theories of Zecharia Sitchin and asks “what if they were true?”, mixes it up with action like The Matrix, the premise of the Doctor Who “Key To Time” arc and with a couple dutiful nod to the 1959 and 1985 The Twilight Zones.

Jeffrey is very inventive with solving the problems he’s created. But there was one thing that bothered me about the story, if Max and his companions are trapped in time how can they see? Let me explain, this is basically the same nitpick I had with H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, without light hitting a retina you can’t see. If time is stopped then the light has stopped (in The Invisible Man the title character’s retinas are transparent!). I’m nitpicky.

Jeffrey reads the novel himself, doing accents, adults children boys girls and aliens. The sound quality is very good and well leveled, but there is one caveat, a constant musical score underlies the reading (almost always keyed to characters and events in the tale). In this case it is fairly benign, and certainly allows an atmosphere of emotion to build in the story – but not having heard the tale without music I’m not sure if it wouldn’t have been better just as a clean reading.

SFFaudio COMMENT: This is the second “Podiobook” we’ve reviewed on SFFaudio, and the quality is WAY, WAY UP THERE, not just in terms of podcast novels, but in terms of novels on audio. Combine this fact with the price, which is just a request for a donation if you enjoyed the experience, and you’re literally crazy by not listening to them. The worst that can happen is you listen, enjoy the heck out of it and then feel guilty for a few years because you were to cheap to throw a few $$$ towards the producers. Go ahead now, give yourself a gift, subscribe to Morevi: The Chronicles Of Rafe And Askana and The Pocket And the Pendant you’ll marvel at your own generosity.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Ringworld’s Children by Larry Niven

SFFaudio Review

Ringworld's Children by Larry NivenRingworld’s Children
By Larry Niven; Read by Barrett Whitener
8 CDs – Approx. 9.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786185384
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Physics / Genetics / Aliens / Nanotechnology / Evolution /

The Ringworld is a landmark engineering achievement, a flat band three million times the surface of the Earth, encircling a distant star. Home to trillions of inhabitants, not all of whom are human, and host to amazing technological wonders, the Ringworld is unique in all of the universe.

The blurb above is a bit of a lie, no longer is Ringworld unique. There is Rama, Arthur C. Clarke’s giant tube shaped alien habitat, Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville, a huge Dyson’s Sphere built by mysterious aliens and the hungry alien construct called Gaea of John Varley’s Titan. Indeed, there have also been three other books in the Ringworld series – admittedly all of them are set on the same Ringworld. But the first Ringworld novel, published in 1970, was the first of this new kind of SF novel; the novel of the big big thoughts, or as David Gerrold calls it, “the enormous big thing”. An idea, a ‘what if’ so massive and so imaginative, so rife with unforeseen consequences that the characters must investigate it just as we do. Kind of like science fiction for science fiction characters! Ringworld was such a big idea in fact, that the three sequel novels were published in an effort to examine the impossible gigantitude of the consequences of its existence. In this the fourth, and perhaps final installment of the Ringworld series, we see more of the problems of existence of such a structure fixed, visit with old characters (Louis Wu, Acolyte, The Hindmost and Tunesmith being major players) and meet some new ones too. There are some genuine surprises here, and some edge of your seat excitement, but as with the previous two sequels the biggest surprise is still the same one from the first novel – and that of course is, just how massively huge the Ringworld is! Its size still staggers the imagination… a narrow ring, only 0.997×106 miles wide, with two perimeter walls climbing 1000 miles high, to hold in the air, the ring itself is 93 million miles in radius, a single spinning world shaped like a ribbon around a star – with a habitable area of over 3 million Earths. What couldn’t happen in a place that big?

Author Larry Niven cemented himself as the standard barer of Hard Science Fiction, with the publication of Ringworld. If he had done nothing else, he’d still be thought of as a prodigious figure in the field. But he’s not rested upon his laurels; he’s expanded, refined and continued the Ringworld adventure. In a way, that was a mistake. You can’t top an idea this big by telling more adventures about the same world. On the other hand, I personally wouldn’t have had it any other way. I enjoyed nearly every minute of the nine and a half hours of listening in Ringworld’s Children. In fact, I would have been happy with another nine hours! There were a few parts that were dry, sure, but they didn’t last very long and they moved the plot along. I do wish Niven had spent some more time exploring the inhabitants of his creation; we meet only a few new hominid species, and unlike in previous installments, we don’t get a full sense of their ecological niches. But given that much of the action takes place in space around the Ringworld perhaps it couldn’t be helped. Much of this action is necessary though as many threads from the previous two sequels needed tying up, especially if this is indeed the final chapter in the Ringworld series.

Barrett Whitener, who seems to be recording nearly every Blackstone science fiction title coming out these days, was actually not a great choice as reader for Ringworld’s Children. It’s not that his reading is poor – it wasn’t. In fact, I like the way Whitener read it, I just think that his tone was all wrong for this particular novel. His various alien voices didn’t sound at all alien. Mark Sherman, who did such a terrific job with the alien voices in Larry Niven’s Protector (also recorded for Blackstone Audio) would have been a much better choice to give voice to Ringworld’s Children and its many alien characters. That said, I still enjoyed the heck out of the audiobook, and I can’t fault Whitener’s performance in the least. When the numbers and the physics are coming fast and furious it’s nice to be given the words by a good reader who can handle the text. Ringworld’s Children, all in all, is truly a worthy addition to the Ringworld novels. Long live Larry Niven!

Posted by Jesse Willis