Review of On Venus, Have We Got A Rabbi! by William Tenn

On Venus, Have We Got A Rabbi!
By William Tenn; read by William Tenn
56 minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: WNYC Radio [“Spinning On Air” with host David Garland].
Published: Nov. 22nd 2002 [LISTEN TO THE ARCHIVED SHOW IN REALAUDIO at WNYC]
Themes: / Science Fiction / Satire / Humor / Jews / Religion / Venus /

“Milchik, the TV repairman, speaks for all Jews on Venus and in the Universe.”

William Tenn (aka Philip Klass), gets the royal treatment he so well deserves on David Garland’s WNYC radio show. Remarkably well prepared, Garland teases out some delightful and informative anecdotes and stories from Tenn, it makes for a riveting interview. Garland has also seen fit to gift us with a delectable reading of one of Tenn’s stories read by the author himself!

William Tenn’s stories always have the same effect on me, as the story progresses a smile grows wider and wider across my face. On Venus, We Have A Rabbi! is laugh out loud funny. Perhaps knowledge of Jewish history would be helpful, I don’t know, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. And thankfully unlike another WNYC reading, this novelette is free of music, Tenn’s hilarious reading of his own story is almost perfect. He stumbles only once over one word, but otherwise he reads his tale like a professional narrator.

I sure hope Garland keeps up the great programming. Radio like this makes me wish I lived in New York.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Pyramid of Amirah By James Patrick Kelly

The Pyramid of Amirah
By James Patrick Kelly; Read By James Patrick Kelly
FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD (link to jimkelly.net) – 18 Minutes Hour (8.21 MB) [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: www.jimkelly.net
Published: April 2004
Themes: / Fantasy / Religion / Magic Realism /

Sometimes Amirah thinks she can sense the weight of the pyramid that entombs her house. The huge limestone blocks seem to crush the air and squeeze light. Time passes.

Surrounded by boxes of goody-goody bars, her only food, Amirah lives alone in what was once her parent’s house. Its her home now, and she’s honoured to become a pyramid girl. During the day she vacuums up the limestone dust that drifts down onto every flat surface, at night she leaves the lights on all the time, even when she sleeps. As the years pass the light bulbs start to burn out one-by-one and Amirah wonders if the meaning of her living entombment will ever come.

First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 2002 issue, James Patrick Kelly’s strange tale highlights the meaninglessness of any specific ritual in religion, and then concentrates its focus on how such sacrifices are necessary for religious epiphanies. “The Pyramid of Amirah” is by no means Kelly’s best work, but its quite an original concept and he does a good job given the short length and the subject matter. Some listeners may find themselves wondering what the story is about, and I sympathize with them, but don’t think it’s a problem with the story. If you’re in the mood to think about a tale after you’ve experienced it, this ones for you.

Sound quality and production values as usual are great. Kelly’s reading is pretty upbeat given the lonely isolation of the main character, but it doesn’t detract from the listening. As with the other audio stories available for download on Kelly’s website, “The Pyramid of Amirah” is available for FREE! Kelly only asks that if you enjoyed hearing his stories you consider making a donation to his PayPal account. Donations mean he’ll have reason to continue recording these unique tales!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Doomsday Book by Connie WillisDoomsday Book
By Connie Willis; Read by Jenny Sterlin
18 cassettes – 26.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0788744151
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time-travel / England / Middle Ages / 14th Century / Near Future / Religion /

For Oxford student Kivrin, traveling back to the 14th century is more than the culmination of her studies—it’s the chance for a wonderful adventure. For Dunworthy, her mentor, it is cause for intense worry about the thousands of things that could go wrong. When an accident leaves Kivrin trapped in one of the deadliest eras in human history, the two find themselves in equally gripping—and oddly connected—struggles to survive.

Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book is a believable time-travel story, which is ridiculous. Time-travel isn’t possible except as fiction, but the time travel in this story immerses the listener enough so that you don’t mind how you got there. Though soft science fiction, this novel relies on solid storytelling without inconsistencies, it also avoids violence and gadgets in favor of verisimilitude and thorough research. The novel follows two threads, one extremely compelling the other far less so. The first and more interesting thread follows our heroine, Kivrin, a historian sent back into the 14th century to get a first hand account of life in a village close to “Oxenford”. What she discovers there is extremely interesting. Willis dispels the ‘back in the good old days’ mentality with a gritty look at a deeply religious society and thoroughly stratified society with freezing peasants. The characterization here is superb; I actually cared what happened to these fictional medieval characters!

The shorter, secondary thread follows the characters in our near future. Unfortunately this part of the story, like the Harry Potter novels, describes a world where most adults are ignorant and need a youngster to save the day. Also here, apparently, time-travel is no big deal. It generally goes on unsupervised in the universities and without government supervision. It seems any time travel that would cause a paradox cannot occur, thus carefully avoiding the bread and butter of typical time-travel adventures. This is not a story so much about the process, the physics or paradoxes inherent in time-travel as much as it is about something else entirely: Disease and the devastating effects it has when it’s rampant and 90% lethal. Sterile modern hospitals are contrasted with the complete ignorance of infections to good effect, demonstrating just how lucky we are! It’s striking to hear how death was an everyday commonplace occurrence, unlike today when a single death is considered a tragedy. Here’s to tragedy.

The narration, by Jenny Sterlin, was very effective; she made the thoughts and words of Kivrin just like being there. Jenny effectively makes good use of the numerous British expressions in the dialogue. The title is a play on the historical ‘Domesday Book,’ which was an attempt to survey England’s land, people and wealth in the Middle Ages. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll tell you this much, it is an apt title.

Without time-travel this would not be a Science Fiction story, but rather a historical piece. Even though there are no spaceships, robots or groundbreaking or new scientific ideas I would recommend this audiobook for its suspense, mystery, and realism. That said, I still wouldn’t classify this Hugo and Nebula award winner in the same class Neuromancer or Dune, but then that’s a hell of a lot to live up to.

The cover art captures the subject matter perfectly, the compact cassette box is of high quality, but the tapes themselves had a continuous hiss. The introduction should have been an afterword since it didn’t have any impact until I re-listened to it after the novel finished. In the introduction Brother John Clinn, an actual historical figure, invites someone to continue his chronicles before his death in his manuscript. The fictional historian Kivrin, in a sense, fulfills his wishes.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardEnder’s Game
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney and others
10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535145 (Cassette) – 1574535366 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Youth / Politics / Aliens /

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardSpeaker for the Dead
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney, Scott Brick, and others
14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535153 (Cassette) – 1574535609 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Politics / Alien races / Religion /

Orson Scott Card wrote a pair of novels in the 1980’s that swept both the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards two years in a row (1986 and 1987 Hugo, 1985 and 1986 Nebula). These two novels are Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead.

These books were released previously in abridged editions, which can still be found out there, but these Fantastic Audio unabridged editions completely eclipse those in both quality and content. They are multi-voice recordings, but not of the type where several actors take parts and speak for certain characters. Instead, the narrator changes with point-of-view changes in the novel, which occur chapter to chapter. I found this extremely effective with these novels. These unabridged editions also contain material read by Orson Scott Card, explaining the origins of the novels.

Ender’s Game takes place after a war between Earth and a race of aliens called “The Buggers” by most of humanity. Earth was saved during that war by the decisions of a brilliant military man named Mazer Rackham. The powers that be on Earth decide that the Buggers are definitely going to return, and immediately start searching for the next military genius. Ender Wiggin, 6 years old, is a boy they think might be the one.

Speaker for the Dead is a completely different kind of novel, both in subject matter and tone. Ender Wiggin is now a bit older, but still reeling from events in the previous novel. He visits a planet named Lusitania, where mysteries abound among the indigenous alien race on the planet and one particular family that studies them.

Both of these audiobooks are first-rate. The narrators do an excellent job telling the stories, which translate very well into unabridged audio. Though tastes certainly vary, Ender’s Game is consistently mentioned as one of the finest works of science fiction, and this audio version is an excellent way to experience it, or re-experience it.

Both of these audiobooks are available on audio cassette, audio CD, or for download at Audible.com.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg Bear

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg BearThe Wind from a Burning Woman
By Greg Bear; Read by George Guidall and Christina Moore
7 Cassettes – 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 1992
ISBN: 1556907672
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Terrorism / Asteroids / Metaphysics / Religion / Utopia / Dystopia / Future City / Cloning / Aliens

This superior anthology collects several early Greg Bear stories. The narrators, George Guidall and Christina Moore, guide us skillfully through Bear’s dense prose and do so with obvious relish. This collection features only top-notch stories — any single tale alone would be sufficient evidence that Bear is a future Grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy. Bear’s later novels occasionally suffer from a density that makes reading difficult. Very little of this is evident in this collection. The stories are generally clear in the telling, and where they are not, the confusion is brief. The wholly original and infinitely interesting ideas contained within each story make worthwhile any brief confusion of style.

The Wind from a Burning Woman, the title story, was later to serve as a prequel to Bear’s novel Eon, and describes the possible consequences of the ultimate act of terrorism.

The White Horse Child is an great allegory about a curious young boy who will grow up to become a writer. Written in a style that owes a debt to Clifford D. Simak, this pastoral fantasy story is an instant classic. Petra is a very unusual fantasy tale, its religious theme tackles the hard boiled consequences of taking certain biblical prophecies events as actual future events. So brilliantly does it achieve originality it reminds us why Greg Bear is so exceedingly interesting to read.

Scattershot is my personal favorite in this collection. Its sheer inventiveness and exploration of the consequences of metaphysical physics makes it a fascinating listen.

Mandala is an almost satiric examination of the far end of the curve of utopian ideals. It could almost be thought of as Greg Bear’s take on Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars.

Hardfought is a Hugo-winning novella that follows the viewpoints of both the aliens and the humans in their interstellar war. It could be considered Greg Bear’s take on Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. In order to fight their battle, humans have adapted in strange ways. It’s an absolutely fascinating read.

Stories included:
The Wind from a Burning Woman
The entire crew of Psyche, an asteroid turned into a spaceship, is murdered. Giani, the granddaughter of the project’s administrator commandeers the spaceship in an attempt to uncover the truth.

The White Horse Child
An odd allegory about a boy becoming a writer. God fearing, book burning, censoring Auntie Dancer tries to stop a child from becoming a storyteller.

Petra
“God is Dead”, when stone comes alive after reality rearranges itself. Petra is a half-caste, a lowly figure in the world of the cathedral. His father was a living statue, his mother a human nun.

Scattershot
Francis Geneva finds herself allied with a robotic Russian teddy bear after her starship has an accident. She and her new companion are forced to explores the consequences of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In a reality where every possibility exists coping can be quite stressful. Sometimes the aliens are from Earth.

Mandala
In order to become perfect the sentient cities of Earth cast off their final flaw, the problem causing people. Mandala explores a future where mankind has reverted to a stone age existence after losing access to their technology.

Hardfought
Insular aliens known as the Sylexy are at war with humanity, in an attempt to understand their strange enemy they capture and clone a human soldier.

Review of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Snow Crash by Neal StephensonSnow Crash
by Neal Stephenson; Read by Jonathan Davis
12 Cassettes, 18 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Time Warner Audio
Date Published: August 2001
ISBN: 158211137
Themes: / Science Fiction / Computers / Virtual Reality / Religion / Mythology / Cyberpunk /

Snow Crash is one of those rare novels; one of those that stand out, tall and unique, amongst all the novels I’ve read in my life. I know of nothing with which to compare it, but I can say that it ranks amongst my favourite novels. Neal Stephenson impressed me both with his fearless, irreverent tone and with the astonishing range of subjects touched by his characters.

Snow Crash reveals a picture of the not-too-distant future, where the only things the USA is good at are “music, movies, microcode (software), and high-speed pizza delivery.” It’s a world where people spend part of their lives in the Metaverse, a highly developed yet realistic virtual world where they use avatars of their own design to interact with each other. It’s a world divided into burbclaves, or city-states, each with its own identity, laws, and law-enforcement. In stark contrast to this future society, the main character finds himself entangled in a mystery that requires him to explore ancient Sumerian mythology and the roots of biblical religion.

All of this in an extremely fast-paced adventure story. Remarkable. This is an exciting, impressive novel.

For the audio version, Time-Warner selected a first rate reader in Jonathan Davis. I never tired of his effortless inflection changes as different characters spoke — very important in a quick moving story like this one. The production quality was excellent; I found the sounds used to mark breaks in the text to be particularly effective.

And with that, my current list of all-time favorites is complete! See the whole list here!