Review of Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

SFFaudio Review

Audiobook - Calculating God by Robert J. SawyerCalculating God
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 12 hours – [Unabridged]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2008
ISBN: None
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Paleontology / Religion / Philosophy / Space Travel /

One of the things I enjoy most about reviewing audiobooks is that I get to revisit novels that I’ve read and loved in the past. When these beloved novels are given great readers (not always the case), I can’t wait to get at them. Calculating God is one of those novels, and Jonathan Davis is an excellent narrator, so this audiobook leapt to the top of my TBR list the moment I realized it existed.

Jonathan Davis burst onto the science fiction scene with his stellar narration of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (SFFaudio review here). Since then, in the science fiction genre, he’s been almost exclusively reading Random House’s Star Wars abridgments. He reads them well, but I was thrilled to see him step away from that and narrate another of science fiction’s great novels. He is one of our very best narrators and this is a fine performance. I was rapt the entire time, and even near tears at one moment in the book.

When I read this novel for the first time, I was a bit taken aback. I am a Catholic and I’ve been reading science fiction all of my life. I have never had a problem reconciling science and religion and have been both perplexed and dismayed that Christianity is portrayed so often as being incompatible with science. It’s certainly true that for many Christian churches this conflict is real, but those churches are not Catholic churches, despite the most famous illustration of the conflict being the Catholic treatment of Galileo. I tell everyone who cares that Galileo was an aberration in the history of the Church (not the norm), but still, it was a colossal (though admitted) mistake. But for myself, science and religion are NOT in conflict. I’ve included a link at the bottom of this review to an interview of Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer that aired on CBC Radio as an illustration of a Catholic’s relationship with science. Robert J. Sawyer is mentioned in the interview as well.

Back to the novel at hand: The reason I was taken aback when I first read this book was that it’s the first novel I’ve ever read in which the aliens believe in God. That in itself makes this book interesting enough to pick up. Imagine – an alien lands on your front doorstep and starts to question your doubts about the existence of God. Most science fiction portrays religion as something that is grown through or evolved past. By the time an alien species is mature enough for stellar travel, surely they have jettisoned religion? There’s no place for such a thing in a rational, scientific universe. Right?

Well, not according to this novel. Sawyer presents, in a very entertaining and interesting way, arguments for and against God’s existence. The main character (Tom Jericho) is a paleontologist who is dying of cancer. An alien (named Hollus) lands near the Royal Ontario Museum and strolls right in, asking to see the fossils. And off the novel goes. Jericho and Hollus spend much of the novel together looking at fossils and discussing various topics that range from the wide, including mass extinctions and evolution, to the intimately personal, like the approaching death of Jericho. I can think of no better way to present these topics than this lively novel, and I’ll recommend it to anyone interested in thinking about these things, no matter which side of the fence they are on.

Sawyer uses science fiction to create circumstances that make us readers think about important ideas in different ways and from different perspectives. That’s exactly the kind of science fiction I love to read, and why I’ll keep coming back to Robert J. Sawyer for more. I’m very happy to have had a chance to revisit this novel, and even happier to be able to award it our SFFaudio Essential designation. has published a few more of Robert J. Sawyer’s novels: The Neanderthal Trilogy is there (Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids). They also have his Nebula winning novel The Terminal Experiment, published by Recorded Books. We reviewed it back in 2003.

Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God page: LINK

A link to a CBC interview of Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Astronomer: LINK

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

New Releases – AUDIBLE Piles it on with Robert J. Sawyer, Harry Turtledove, Fritz Leiber, Mike Resnick, John Scalzi AND LOTS MORE!

New Releases

Here are a few of the new Audible Frontiers titles that are rapidly populating the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of First up, Robert J. Sawyer’s much acclaimed ‘Anthropological / Alternate Universe’ trilogy…

Hominids: The Neanderthal Parallax, Book 1 by Robert J. SawyerHominids: The Neanderthal Parallax, Book 1
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 11 Hours and 25 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Neanderthals have developed a radically different civilization on a parallel Earth. A Neanderthal physicist, Ponter Boddit, accidentally passes from his universe into a Canadian underground research facility. Fortunately, a team of human scientists, including expert paleo-anthropologist Mary Vaughan, promptly identifies and warmly receives Ponter. Solving the language problem and much else is a mini-computer, called a Companion, implanted in the brain of every Neanderthal. A computerized guardian spirit, however, doesn’t eliminate cross-cultural confusion; permanent male-female sexuality, rape, and overpopulation are all alien to Ponter. Nor can it help his housemate and fellow scientist back in his world, Adikor Huld, when the authorities charge Adikor with his murder. BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains why Ponter Boddit is his favorite among all the characters he’s created.

Humans: The Neanderthal Parallax, Book 2 by Robert J. SawyerHumans: The Neanderthal Parallax, Book 2
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 11 Hours 38 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Neanderthal physicist Ponder Boddit brings Canadian geneticist Mary Vaughan back to his world to explore the near-utopian civilization of the Neanderthals. Boddit serves as a Candide figure, the naive visitor whose ignorance about our society makes him a perfect tool to analyze human tendencies toward violence, over-population, and environmental degradation. The Neanderthals have developed a highly artistic, ethical, and scientific culture without ever inventing farming – they’re still hunters and gatherers – and this allows the author to make some interesting and generally unrecognized points about the downside of the discovery of agriculture. BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains why one particular chapter of Humans is his very favorite.

Hybrids: The Neanderthal Parallax, Book 3 by Robert J. SawyerHybrids: The Neanderthal Parallax, Book 3
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 11 Hours and 53 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Scientists (and lovers) Mary Vaughan, who is human, and Ponter Boddit, who is Neanderthal, embark on the harrowing adventure of conceiving a child together. To overcome the genetic barbed wire of mismatched chromosomes, they must use banned technology obtainable only from a Neanderthal scientist living in the northern wilderness.
BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer reveals the “secret history” of The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy.

I read this novel in paperbook format, it’s a very interesting exploration of both intelligent design and creationism. It’s like a visit to a natural history museum with Robert J. Sawyer…

Calculating God by Robert J. SawyerCalculating God
By Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 12 Hours and 4 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2008
An alien walks into a museum and asks if he can see a paleontologist. But the arachnid ET hasn’t come aboard a rowboat with the Pope and Stephen Hawking (although His Holiness does request an audience later). Landing at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the spacefarer, Hollus, asks to compare notes on mass extinctions with resident dino-scientist Thomas Jericho. A shocked Jericho finds that not only does life exist on other planets, but that every civilization in the galaxy has experienced extinction events at precisely the same time. Armed with that disconcerting information (and a little help from a grand unifying theory), the alien informs Jericho, almost dismissively, that the primary goal of modern science is to discover why God has behaved as he has and to determine his methods. BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains how the creationism vs. evolution debate informed the writing of Calculating God.

A Hugo Award nominee that I haven’t heard much about…

Forty, Counting Down & Twenty-One, Counting Up by Harry TurtledoveForty, Counting Down & Twenty-One, Counting Up
By Harry Turtledove; Read by Victor Bevine
Audible Download – 4 Hours and 14 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Harry Turtledove, the master of alternate history, turns to time travel in these two related novellas that range from fantastic to oddly familiar to eerily prescient.
Computer genius Justin Kloster travels to the past to stop himself from making a terrible mistake. But all actions have their consequences. Then, in Twenty-One, Counting Up, Kloster’s college life and romantic dreams are rudely interrupted when the 40-year-old Justin arrives from the future to save him from himself.

I distinctly remember reading this story in a paper SF magazine when it was first published. It’s a memorable Mediterranean adventure and a Hugo Award Winner!

Down in the Bottomlands by Harry TurtledoveDown in the Bottomlands
By Harry Turtledove; Read by Victor Bevine
Audible Download – 4 Hours 13 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
In the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, what was once a vast sea basin is now a dried-out, unforgiving desert. When the kingdom’s enemies try to shake down the Barrier Mountains and let the ocean in, Trench Park tour guide Radnal vez Krobir must stop them or be destroyed along with everything he holds dear.

Winner of the Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novella, Mike Resnick, recommendation enough…

Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike ResnickSeven Views of Olduvai Gorge
By Mike Resnick; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 2 Hours 20 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Thousands of years after mankind has become extinct, a party of alien archaeologists try to learn the mysteries of mankind as they excavate in a gorge on Earth. This Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella by Mike Resnick is a gripping exploration of human origins and motivations.

This should be very cool, and Audible Frontiers is adding more from this series…

Starship: Mutiny, Book 1 by Mike ResnickStarship: Mutiny, Book 1
By Mike Resnick; Read by Jonathan Davis
Audible Download – 7 Hours and 35 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
The date is 1966 of the Galactic Era, almost three thousand years from now, and the Republic, created by the human race – but not yet dominated by it – finds itself in an all-out war. They stand against the Teroni Federation, an alliance of races that resent Man’s growing military and economic power. The main battles are taking place in the Spiral Arm and toward the Core. But far out on the Rim, the Theodore Roosevelt is one of three ships charged with protecting the Phoenix Cluster – a group of 73 inhabited worlds. Old, battered, some of its weapon systems outmoded, the Teddy R. is a ship that would have been decommissioned years ago if weren’t for the war. Its crew is composed of retreads, discipline cases, and a few raw recruits. But a new officer has been transferred to the Teddy R. His name is Wilson Cole, and he comes with a reputation for heroics and disobedience. Will the galaxy ever be the same?

Recipe for happiness: Give it a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1958, wait 50 years, make audiobook…

Audible Frontiers - The Big Time by Fritz LeiberThe Big Time
By Fritz Leiber; Read by Suzanne Toren
Audible Download – 4 Hours and 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Have you ever worried about your memory, because it doesn’t seem to recall exactly the same past from one day to the next? Have you ever thought that the whole universe might be a crazy, mixed-up dream? If you have, then you’ve had hints of the Change War.It’s been going on for a billion years, and it will last another billion or so. Up and down the timeline, the two sides, “Spiders” and “Snakes”, battle endlessly to change the future and the past. Our lives and our memories are their battleground. And in the midst of the war is the Place, outside space and time, where Greta Forzane and the other Entertainers provide solace and R&R for tired time warriors.

A single voiced narration (there is a FREE VERSION with multiple serial narrators)….

The Sagan Diary by John ScalziThe Sagan Diary
By John Scalzi; Read by Stephanie Wolfe
Audible Download – 1 Hours and 34 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Jane Sagan: Soldier. Killer. Lover. Dreamer. In John Scalzi’s best-selling Old Man’s War series of science-fiction novels, we see this warrior woman as the other characters see her: silent and strong, from the outside. But now The Sagan Diary shows us Sagan from another point of view – her own. As she prepares to leave military life and join her new husband and adopted daughter on a colony world, Sagan reflects on her life, in her own words – recalling friends, battles, and experiences; illustrating all the violence and wonder of her times; trying to fit “an entire life into this compressed space”. For fans of Scalzi’s works, it’s an intimate and surprising glimpse into one of his most popular characters. As read by Stephanie Wolfe, it’s unlike any other science-fiction story you’ll hear this year.

A new Tanith Lee novella, published in print last fall, now audiboook’d…

Indigara by Tanith LeeIndigara
By Tanith Lee; Read by Amy Palant
Audible Download – 3 hours and 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Group USA and
Published: April 2008
Jet and her robot dog, Otis, have been taken to their planet’s film capital, Ollywood, and are soon catapulted into the unplumbed underworld that lurks below the studios and lots. Here lies the beautiful and sinister otherwhere of Indigara, which has spontaneously generated from the sets, costumes, models, and actual celluloid of rejected pilot fantasy and SF movies that never got made into series. Even while girl and dog try to survive the dangers and terrors below, their Indigaran mirror images have replaced them, and are running amok in the real world above.

Hey rook! Is a Gojirra auriobrook!

Tim, Defender of the Earth by Sam EnthovenTim, Defender of the Earth
By Sam Enthoven; Read by Bryan Kennedy
Audible Download – 8 Hours and 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Group USA and Audible
Published: April 2008
TIM, aka Tyrannosaurus: Improved Model, is the product of a top-secret government military experiment, and he couldn’t be more loveable. Sure, he’s an enormous monster to most, but at heart he’s just a big, awkward, 13-year-old who realizes he could be all that stands between the earth and total destruction. (Take that, Godzilla.) Now TIM must form an unlikely alliance with 15-year-olds Chris and Anna in order to save humanity from the greatest threat it has ever known: Anna’s father, the brilliant and demented Professor Mallahide, and his growing tide of vicious, all-consuming nanobots. Will TIM prevail and save the British Isles and the world from evil? We’ll all have to hold hands, read, and believe – in TIM, Defender of the Earth!

A sequel to Shadowmancer, now all we need is the original (oh HERE it is)…

The Shadowmancer Returns by G.P. TaylorThe Shadowmancer Returns
By G.P. Taylor; Read by Bryan Kennedy
Audible Download – 9 Hours and 47 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Group USA and
Published: April 2008
Kate and Thomas have barely escaped the evil sorcerer Demurral, and are sailing to London to make a fresh start. But someone knows they are coming, and is lying in wait to lure them into the darkest heart of the city. Meanwhile, Raphah, who has had a narrow escape of his own, sets out on a terrifying journey to find his friends, all the time haunted by a shadowy beast. Eventually, the friends’ paths meet on a cursed street, hidden from the world – a place where fates are decided and old enemies seek revenge. They thought it was over…but can evil ever be destroyed?

Spies, humor, and magic and a cool title….

The Man With The Golden Torc by Simon R. GreenThe Man With The Golden Torc
By Simon R. Green; Read by Stuart Blinder
Audible Download – 17 Hours and 15 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: April 2008
Meet Shaman Bond, aka Eddie Drood, scion of the ancient Drood family. He is devoted to protecting humanity from the forces of darkness. Protected by the secret weapon received at birth by all members of the Drood family – a magical gold torc (i.e., a neck ring) that turns into a suit of nearly impervious golden armor – Eddie faces arcane dangers with healthy doses of wry self-confidence and sarcasm. Then the family matriarch sends him on a mission that turns out to be a deadly setup. Declared a rogue, Eddie teams up with short-tempered witch Molly Metcalf to find out why he’s been betrayed.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Mainspring by Jay Lake

SFFaudio Review

Mainspring by Jay LakeMainspring
By Jay Lake; Read by William Dufris
Audible Download – Approx. 13.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: macmillan audio /
Published: December 2007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Alternate Universe / Steampunk / Religion / Angels / Science /

The mainspring of the Earth is running down, and disaster to the planet will ensue if it’s not rewound. To do the job the Archangel Gabriel approaches a young clockmaker’s apprentice and explains the problem. He can’t be that surprised, in a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun – how could he be? This is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself.

Clockmaker’s apprentice Hethor Jacques is graced by a visit from the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel tells him that he’s been chosen to re-wind the running down mainspring of the earth. If it isn’t re-wound, the world will end – and as such he must find something called “the Key Perilous” (the Mainspring equivalent of our “Holy Grail”). A series of short introductions and good-byes later (with the help of a friendly librarian), Hethor is pressed into the service of a Royal Navy airship (the Bassett) and soon is heading south towards the equatorial wall, atop which the brass gear-works of the Earth and its orbital track meet. Beyond that barrier lies the mysterious ‘Southern Earth.’ Hethor’s quest will take him there and farther south – to the ends of the earth – one way or another.

In a clockwork world who could doubt the existence of God? None, but some still doubt the existence of angels. And that’s just what happens to Hethor. His master and betters think him at best a liar, at worst a thief, and poor young Hethor seems ill-equipped to save the universe. Luckily, a quick trip to the library and he’s on the right track…

Talk about hard to categorize! Jay Lake’s Mainspring offers an utterly unique vision of a world in which the Medieval ideas about how the universe works are literally manifest. Great premise, but it is an undercooked universe that I didn’t wholly buy. The alternate universe changes are interesting, but are not often well grounded. For instance, in the Mainspring world Jesus wasn’t crucified (nailed to a cross), he was ‘horofixed,’ (strapped to a wheel) – kind of makes sense right? Okay, that’s cool – but why, other than for style, did the United States never revolt from the English crown? Why the 19th century airships? Don’t get me wrong, I love airships, but there doesn’t appear to be a logic to their addition. We don’t find out much about the logic for the changes that aren’t obvious either. And that’s basically its problem. Mainspring has many elegant epicycles around its central action, but that action all lacks a core motivation. How can you suspend disbelief if the force of gravity is both an absent actor in the grand scheme (cosmically) but appears to act locally (people aren’t strapped down to the earth)? There are many flourishes, but there are also so many sidesteps to what should be natural consequences. This makes Mainspring have a mechanical, almost “rail-shooter”-novel feel to it. For instance, the novel insists that gravity isn’t what keeps the earth in orbit around the sun (it’s a massive brass clockwork instead), but what keeps the objects on the Earth on the ground? What keeps the airships up (or down)? None of this is answered – or even addressed. I kept hoping that some revelation, something central to the novel, would be revealed, right up to the final pages. Maybe this universe has an intensified magnetic force in it or something? Instead, no, nothing.

Also underdeveloped, and tragically so, is the religious thread. The consequences of seeing the mechanism of what is clearly “creation” in this world are not explored to any significant degree. Indeed, the ramifications from a created world, a world that ‘can run down’, are so lightly touched upon as to be non-existent. The focus is on the adventure of the naive Hethor, his meager beginnings and his sexual awakening. Mostly though, Mainspring is a series of encounters, and visual incredibilities. Like I was saying earlier, it is all undercooked. Jay Lake has vision and talent but this feels far more like his “Count Zero” novel than his “Neuromancer.”

Mainspring is one of the new batch of “exclusive to audible” titles. Veteran narrator William Dufris brings a calm assurance to the many characters who live in a world that seems normal to them, and crazy to us. Sound quality isn’t quite as good as from CD (but this title isn’t available on CD). Once installed, the download software and the audible checkout system integrate well. It isn’t quite “one click” ordering, but once you’ve made your choice you can have an audiobook on your portable media player and ready to play in less than 30 minutes. I use an iPod Nano, which displays the cover art and bookmarks the files perfectly. I could switch between a regular playlist, a podcast, and multiple audiobooks (from Audible) without losing my place. The experience of listening to and downloading an audiobook from Audible to your iPod is virtually identical to what iPod podcast users get.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Sci Phi: The Journal of Science Fiction In Philosophy – January 2008 (Volume 1 Issue 1)

SFFaudio Review

Sci Phi: The Journal of Science Fiction In Philosophy - January 2008 (Volume 1 Issue 1)Sci Phi: The Journal of Science Fiction In Philosophy – January 2008 (Volume 1 Issue 1)
Edited by Jason Rennie; Read by various
11 MP3s and PDF – Approx. 3.5 Hours or 33,000 Words [PHILOSOPHICAL JOURNAL]
Publisher: Sci Phi Productions
Published: January 2008
Themes: / Philosophy / Science Fiction / Religion / Fantasy / Cloning / Time /

“Sci Phi is a new popular level journal aimed at readers who like science fiction but want to think about its implications a little more. Each issue of Sci Phi will contain short stories and articles. The short stories will tend to have an interesting idea underlying them and the articles will look at various philosophical ideas through the lens of science fiction. Each issue comes in various ebook formats as well as all of the stories and articles in mp3 format for your listening pleasure. Each issue costs $7, and all of the contributors are paid on a royalty basis, with about 80% of the issue price being paid directly to contributors. Additionally after one year each issue of the journal will be released under a Creative Commons attribution non-commercial license 3.0.”

The Journal of Science Fiction In Philosophy is a spin-off from the Sci-Phi Show podcast. The short introductory editorial, written and read by the journal’s editor Jason Rennie, defines what the journal will be about using examples from film and television – but despite these examples the stated focus is on making the journal more focused on the literary side of Science Fiction.

Next up, “What Is Sci-Phi” (introductory article) by Jason Rennie; read by TD-0013, introduces the philosophical content of modern Science Fiction. The stories are followed by “questions for reflection” which are a series of questions designed to provoke the philosophical spirit in the listener.

“Irwin Goes To Hell” by Jason Pomerantz is the first piece of fiction in the journal; it is a humorous and surrealistic tale of a hapless suitor determined to break all ten of the Ten Commandments. But the joke runs a little long with so many commandments to break and so many trips to hell (and heaven).

Geoffrey Maloney‘s “The Oracle In The Red Limousine,” read by Nathan Lowell, the next short story, offers a small reflection on the idea predestination and a large handful of humor.

“Requiem for a Harlequin: Two Perspectives on Time, and a Celebration of Kairos, in Three Stories by Harlan Ellison” by Michael Spence is a commentary on what he sees as a previously unnoticed theme in Harlan Ellison stories. Warning, pre-reading of the three Ellison tales is definitely required.

“You Pretty Thing” by Lee Battersby (and read by Rick Stringer) is short, unmemorable, fleeting. This, despite having some weighty ideas (life after death, cloning, consciousness-downloading).

“Requiem for a Silent Planet” by Stephen Dedman, read by TD-0013, stands out (with lines like “I’m loaded for pope.”. This one is an intriguing listen right up until its very abrupt end. This story feels terribly unfinished – which is a real shame.

Likewise, the serialized piece “The Big Questions” by Stephan Vladimir Bugaj and Ben Goertzel, read by Jeffrey Kafer, starts with a moon-smashing bang. It is a snappy first person tale of a head in the clouds solipsist asking many of the traditional questions of metaphysics – many questions, few answers – perhaps some will come in future issues of the journal.

“A First Look at Lookism” is an article with an argument at its center. The subject of which is an exploration of the “morally inappropriate discrimination,” phenomenon of visual discrimination. The author, Ryan Nichols is an assistant professor. He examines the moral status of lookism with special reference to a piece of literary science fiction (namely Ted Chiang’s Liking What You See: A Documentary). Nichols surveys the terrain and then mulls over an argument that he thinks may show precisely why lookism is so wrong. He’s thorough and the article runs about 25 minutes.

Next, “The Losting Corridor” by Matt Wallace, read by Drew Beatty, offers a dreamy entrance into a Twilight Zone-like world. A hardboiled detective on the trail of a shooter winds up in a Platonic blind-alley that he may never escape from. The tale is gritty and well written, but ultimately it is a shallow mirror pointed at a past that never was.

Finally, the issue is capped by “The Epilogue” which is, despite its title, actually a fiction piece. It’s an eight minute tale, by The Rev-Up Review‘s Paul S. Jenkins. A cryptic worldwide broadcast by an anonymous grey-bearded sky guy proves once and for all that the atheists were wrong, and will be right. Well written, but more of an exercise in storytelling than a story.

Magazines by their nature are extremely hard to review (their many small components needing to be examined in detail). There is something in the essential character of magazine reading that is always more ephemeral than novels or short stories alone. That said, after reading over what I’ve written above, it appears I have been more damning than praising – had I been merely a casual reader looking for something to listen to I bet I’d have been far less so. So let me clarify, for the first issue of a magazine the Sci Phi: The Journal of Science Fiction In Philosophy – January 2008 is extremely well put together. It doesn’t have any real dead weight, and I eagerly look forward to listening to future issues.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Seeker: Book One of the Noble Warriors by William Nicholson

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Seeker by William NicholsonSeeker: Book One of the Noble Warriors
By William Nicholson; Read by Michael Page
9 CDs – 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9781423318354
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Young Adult / Religion / Magic / Science /

“Three Very Different Heroes, Brought Together By A Shared Dream”

An elite band of fighter monks called the Nomana (AKA the “Noble Warriors”) guard a garden on the island of Anacrea within which dwells “the god who made all things.” Seeker (AKA “Seeker After Truth”) is an extremely intelligent boy of sixteen. He lives on the island, and wishes to follow his brother, the improbably named “Blaze Of Justice”, into the ranks of the Nomana. His father disapproves and he is forced to apply in secret. Morning Star, a girl of sixteen, can read a person’s aura to determine their character and emotions. She has the same goal, namely to become a Noble Warrior. With her father’s blessing and a hired guard, Morning Star sets out on a long journey to Anacrea. The two applicants are joined in the application line by a unschooled but charismatic seventeen year old brigand known only as “Wildman.” Wildman too is determined to become a “hoodie” (his word for the Nomana) after he found himself and his gang defeated by just two of the Noble Warriors. Far away in the imperial city of Radiance, a plot is hatching which will eventually involve all three youths.

When I first started listening to Seeker I couldn’t place just what kind of fantasy novel I’d taken on. It opens in a classroom, with a student named “Seeker After Truth” taking an important exam and deliberately writing down all the wrong answers. Intriguing, huh? Seeker wants to fail – that way, he hopes his father, who is also the class’ teacher, will free him of his planned destiny.

Author William Nicholson is unusually sparse with description. The setting is a school, but what are the desks made of? I don’t know. Do they have electric lighting? No data available. It takes a while for the listener to settle on what sort of technological capacity these people have and it takes even longer to understand what kind of tale this will be. Is this deliberate? After finishing the novel I’m still not sure. This is Nicholson’s second fantasy trilogy, and he’s crafted a recognizably fantasy epic in an unusual form. Is the lack of visual detail deliberate? It may be. Nicholson had a hand in writing plays and film scripts before finding further success with novels. He wrote the film scripts of First Knight (the Arthurian legend starring Richard Gere), Shadowlands (a biographical film about C.S. Lewis), the Ridley Scott-directed film Gladiator, and most recently Elizabeth: The Golden Age!

What I am sure about is this novel, the first of a trilogy, is about the nature of religious experience. Looking at Nicholson’s upbringing and his career, his writing is never far from either fantasy or religion. And perhaps most interestingly, when the novel first came out, he offered a “personal challenge to the reader” – if you could figure out what the nature of the Anacrean god was, before book two or three came out, he’d send you free copies of the books. He said the Anacrean god “is something you can’t possibly imagine.” Intriguing stuff.

The religions of Anacrea (an island fortress) and the city of Radiance, capital of a vast mainland empire, are both monotheistic. Anacrea’s mysterious god is called the “all and only.” It grants its monkish priests special powers which I can liken only to those of Star Wars‘s Jedi Knights. The Radiance god is the sun in their sky, and the citizens there have practiced ritual human sacrifice at twilight for centuries to keep the sun returning. But there are no magical powers for religious practitioners of Radiance. Instead, the upwardly mobile middle class of Radiance concerns itself with commerce or competes for prestige by buying human sacrificial offerings from slavers. And the Radiance elite, who employ something they call “scientists” are developing a weapon to rid themselves of the meddlesome monks on Anacrea.

The novel is good, but it doesn’t stand well enough on its own for an unreserved recommendation. One of the aspects I quite enjoyed was a kind of a con-game played on some willing believers about four-fifths of the way into the novel. The ending, which provides some resolution, wasn’t particularly surprising or revelatory. Nicholson is a successful playwright and an Oscar nominated screenwriter. It remains to be seen whether the mystery at the center of this trilogy will be as big a payoff as Nicholson is claiming – he calls the Noble Warriors trilogy the “most important thing I’ve ever done.” I’m intrigued enough to listen to the second book, entitled Jango (also available from Brilliance).

Reader Michael Page, a ten audiobook veteran for Brilliance Audio, is a British actor who narrates well. His males are distinguishable, his female voices are too, at typically a pitch lower. At one point though, when we meet a roadside oracle, in what proves to be a funny scene, Page presents a character with a Monty Python-style falsetto. His rendition of the “Wildman,” a major figure in the book, is always filled with a fun bluff gusto. The packaging itself features the handsome paperbook art. Each disc does too, and each opens and closes with a musical cue which is handy for people swapping discs. Each disc has 99 files, the idea being it makes for more accurate bookmarking. But if you’re planning on ripping a disc to put on your MP3 player be aware that not all programs make ripping a disc with this many files easy.

Lastly, a quibble. They’ve spelled “Noble” (of an exalted character) as “Nobel” (like the Swedish chemist). This was fixed for the sequel’s cover.

Posted by Jesse Willis

CBC Radio One Ideas podcast talks utopian disasters

SFFaudio Online Audio

Podcast - CBC Radio One - The Best Of IdeasThe Best of Ideas Podcast gets one show uploaded to their server once per week (4 days too few for me), the latest show is called “Utopian Dreams.” It discusses the damage done to the world by utopian idealists.

“The world is strewn with the wreckage of utopian projects. Millions of people have been killed by social engineers who wanted to reshape humanity. The British historian of ideas, John Gray, believes politics is saturated with disguised religious longings. He calls for a new, humane realism.”

Does this Gray guy just sound like a utopian dreamer to you too?

Listen |MP3|, or subscribe to the feed:

Posted by Jesse Willis

P.S. Free The Adventures Of Apocalypse Al