Review of Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Battlestar GalacticaBattlestar Galactica
By Jeffrey A. Carver, based on the teleplay written by Ronald D. Moore and Christopher Eric James, based on a teleplay by Glen A. Larson
Read by Jonathan Davis
4 CD’s – 4 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / War / Robots / Military / Government / Space Travel / Mythology / Religion /

Has anyone else noticed how good television has become during the past ten years? Well, 13 years. In 1993 Babylon 5 first aired, ushering in a new wave of science fiction and fantasy television that is both smart and damned entertaining. Following B5 was Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Many would put Farscape and Stargate in the same category. I haven’t seen enough of either to make that judgment. We could quibble about the list of this new wave all we want, but currently at the crest of that wave is the Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, which is, without doubt, the best science fiction show currently in production.

This audiobook is an abridgement of the novelization of the first Battlestar Galactica show, which was a 4-hour mini-series that originally ran in 2002. I admit that even typing that makes me wince. An abridgement of the novelization of a television show. How much farther from Shakespeare can a person get? Not exactly high falutin culture here.

But this story is edgy, tense, and complex. It opens with a complacent human race that has gotten used to life without their enemy, the Cylons. The Cylons were human-built machines that rebelled, then accepted an armistice agreement around 40 years before the beginning of this audiobook, which is primarily about the sudden unexpected attack on humanity by the Cylons. The attack leaves the Battlestar Galactica as one of the very few ships that survives, and the immediate aftermath sets up several storylines that are followed in the television series.

Jonathan Davis, who keeps pretty busy with the many Star Wars audio titles, narrates, and does his typical and excellent job with it.

I’m a fan of this series, and was happy to receive this audiobook. Though the audio offers nothing new over the miniseries itself, it was an enjoyable way to experience the story while driving. I’m not sure if Audio Renaissance plans to continue releasing Battlestar Galactica titles, but because of the nature of the series, they would have to release every episode since each one is dependant on what takes place before.

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

Review of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Star Wars: Revenge of the SithStar Wars: Revenge of the Sith
By Matthew Stover; Read by Jonathan Davis
11 CD’s – 14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / Star Wars / Republic / War /

Well, here it is. Thirty years after the original Star Wars film, we have the conclusion. George Lucas said in an interview that he seems to have two sets of fans, one loyal to the first trilogy, and one younger set that prefers the recent trilogy. I admit up front that I’m of the first set, and that I found Episode I very disappointing, and Episode II a bit less disappointing. But like so many others, I went right out to see Episode III immediately upon its release. This audiobook is written by Matthew Stover, based on George Lucas’ screenplay for the film.

Now, I know that this is an audiobook review, but it’s very difficult not to bring the film into it. The audiobook is filled with sound effects and music from the movie, and because I’d seen that movie, Lucas’ brilliant and beautiful images were front and center in my mind while listening. Jonathan Davis’ superior narration also took from the film as he often imitated the actors while speaking. Palpatine sounds like Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine, Obi-Wan sounds like Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, and all to great effect. Jonathan Davis is fabulously talented. At times, his voice was altered by sound engineers (when speaking as General Grievous, for example), also to great effect. This audiobook sounded wonderful.

The movie was longish, clocking in at 140 minutes, every minute of which moved at breakneck speed. This audiobook runs 14 hours, and tells the same story as the movie, but Matthew Stover was given a lot more room to tell it. I don’t know how closely he consulted with Lucas on this, but the story runs at a much slower pace with lots of backstory and deep penetration into the characters’ thoughts. The first time a character is met in a story, Stover writes until he hits a natural break point in the action, then delves deep into that character’s past or his current state of mind, then returns to the action. The result is a satisfying companion to the film. Knowing what I know now about the characters would make watching the film a better experience, because Lucas spends no time at all on depth of character.

I would heartily recommend this audiobook to Star Wars fans who’d like to know more about these characters. Skywalker’s turn to the dark side makes a bit more sense here than it did in the movie, since his inner thoughts are revealed for us to see. Though I am still partial to the original three films, I found that this story adds depth to those stories too. Bravo to Random House Audio for producing this fine piece of work.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Fantasy Audiobooks - Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster BujoldPaladin of Souls
By Lois McMaster Bujold; Read by Kate Reading
13 CDs – Approx. 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0786181397
Themes: / Fantasy / Religion / Magic / Demons /

Paladin of Souls is the second book in Bujold’s series involving the country of Chalion. A minor, troubled character in the first book, The Curse of Chalion, is the heroine, or the champion of souls, in this remarkable tale. Lady Ista is an intriguing forty-something lead character and is best described by her own words: “I have always been a drab sort of thing; the only thing that has improved is my wits.” She is intelligent and witty and uses these talents to deal with devastating events from her past.

The setting for this story is a medieval-style world with a polytheistic religion in which men and women choose one of five Gods, each with unique callings and characteristics, to worship. In addition to this, there are demons and demon magic creating opposition for the plot. The story centers around Ista and her relationship with the Gods. She is disillusioned with them as a result of her past involvement that had deadly and heartbreaking consequences, but is dragged kicking and screaming back into their service. She is given the tasks of rescuing souls being destroyed by demons and sorting out a deadly triangle of demon magic and deception.

As the story unfolds Ista not only finds a calling that gives her life meaning, she finds devoted friends, forgiveness, and love. Within the story are several very moving interactions between her and the Gods wherein she comes to have a deeper understanding of their plans and their love for the men and women who serve them. Bujold has composed a beautiful novel that is at once compelling, humorous, and touching. Her characters are not only heroic, but fantastically multidimensional. They are by turns noble, compassionate, selfish, stubborn… human.

The audio version of Paladin of Souls is a wonderful example of the perfect pairing of story and voice. Kate Reading sounds like royalty in every book she narrates. Some may recognize her performances with Michael Kramer in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. She also has been the primary voice of Dr. Kay Scarpetta in Patricia Cornwell’s murder mysteries. Ms. Reading’s ability to enunciate without sounding like she is working at it lends itself beautifully to Lady Ista, whom we can assume would behave and sound like a person of the ruling class. With all this said, Paladin of Souls is a step above the ordinary in fantasy literature and audiobooks. It is a delight to experience.

Review of ENGLISH 3020 Studies In Narrative: Science Fiction & Fantasy

SFFaudio Review

Science FictionIndependent and Distance Learning – ENGLISH 3020 Studies In Narrative: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Lectures by P.C. Hodgell and Michael Levy
20 MP3 Lectures
LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/Engl3020.htm
Approx 19 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: University Of Minnesota
Published: 2002 (But recorded over several years)
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror / Time Travel / Gothic Horror / Utopias / Dystopias / Religion / Vampires / Urban Fantasy / High Fantasy / Sword and Sorcery / Cyberpunk / Messiah / Apocalypse / Future War / Supermen / Robots / Feminism / Computers / Robots / Androids / Cyborgs / Dungeons & Dragons / Aliens /

Pat Hodgell and Mike Levy discuss the details of SF&F’s history in under 20 hours – no mean feat. Though in amongst the broad academic strokes there are many nice discussions listeners should note. These are academic university lectures, and not an entertainment talk show so the evidentiary schema is the primary focus.

The lectures are vaguely sequential to the history of science fiction and fantasy. The first lectures by Levy discusses the origins of Science Fiction, tackling the progenitive triumverate of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, H.G.Wells, and Jules Verne. The second lecture explores the early and mid twentieth century figures in the field: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Hugo Gernsback, John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein. For the third and fourth lectures Fantasy author Pat Hodgell and the course’s instructor presents the origins of modern Fantasy from its roots in gothic novels and romanticism and then the various 19th century fantastic writings.

Levy’s turn on the fifth lecture covers the early Utopian and Dystopian stories with particular attention to the novels We, 1984 and Brave New World. His insightful commentary continues into the sixth lecture and covers post World War II SF with Astounding Vs. Galaxy Science Fiction Magazines, and the novels Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants, Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano and John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider. For lectures seven and eight Hodgell investigates English Fantasy authors Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Handing off to Levy again for lectures nine and ten covering the general theme of Religion and the specific themes of Messiah and Apocalypse with the novel examples of James Blish’s A Case Of Conscience, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle For Leibowitz, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land.

Lecture eleven covers the theme of evolutionary Supermen – homo superior in his early fictional incarnations and where the strange motivation to write about them comes from. Lecture twelve is similar to eleven except its focus is on the manufactured heirs to humanity in the form of Computers, Robots, Androids and Cyborgs. This is also the first lecture to include a guest, SF author William F. Wu! Lectures thirteen and fourteen cover the ever popular Time Travel theme, including Connie Willis’ Firewatch, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, Michael Moorcock’s Behold The Man and two of Heinlein’s excellent SF short stories All You Zombies and By His Bootstraps.

Lectures fifteen and sixteen investigate fantasy fiction after Tolkien’s influence covering the various themes of Horror, Vampires, Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery and the influence of the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Among the stories specifically discussed are Fritz Leiber’s Smoke Ghost, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” novels, Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” novels and Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” stories. Lectures seventeen and eighteen examine women’s role in science fiction, with the themes of Utopias and Feminism, discussion of the novels Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon and The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as discussion of it’s authors, the likes of Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Triptree Jr. and Octavia Butler.

Lecture nineteen breaks from the lecturing professor mold with Pat Hodgell doing an interview in the home of Minnesota SF author Gordon R. Dickson. He talks about how he writes, where he gets his ideas (from history dontcha know) and about the writing process – and this is a very valuable interview as Dickson is now deceased. Dickson novels discussed include among others Dorsai! and Soldier Ask Not. Pat Hodgell concludes the lecture series with a roundtable discussion with herself, Levy and SF author Elanor Arnason. Together they talk about Cyberpunk, William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the film Blade Runner, the use of Aliens in SF and some final thoughts about where they thing SF and F is going.

The sound quality of these lectures isn’t great. There are many background noises, people whispering, lecturers too close and too far from the mic, Gordon R. Dickson coughs a bit and various other aural annoyances are legion. But, it was recorded at a good level and I don’t think I missed one word that was above a whisper – these are lectures and they are free so don’t complain! The funny thing is after hearing these lectures I feel a very strange urge… to learn more about Minnesota. I’ve never had that urge before but Pat Hodgell and Mike Levy manage to include so many Minnesota references and connections into their lectures they sold me on the whole ‘10,000 Lakes to Explore’ deal! Hmmm, maybe these lectures are being given away for free because their underwritten by the Minnesota Tourism Bureau? In any case I heartily recommend you give one or some of these lectures a try they are good listening and good edjamacation.

Here’s a breakdown of the lectures::

Lecture 1 – 29 Minutes 6 Seconds – SF FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_1A.MP3)

Lecture 2 – 27 Minutes 8 Seconds – SF FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_1B.MP3)

Lecture 3 – 26 Minutes 46 Seconds – FANTASY
FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_2A.MP3)

Lecture 4 – 27 Minutes 10 Seconds – FANTASY
FOUNDATIONS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_2B.MP3)

Lecture 5 – 26 Minutes 7 Seconds – THE FUTURE
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_3A.MP3)

Lecture 6 – 26 Minutes 3 Seconds- THE FUTURE
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_3B.MP3)

Lecture 7 – 28 Minutes 2 Seconds- HOBBITS AND INKLINGS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_4A.MP3)

Lecture 8 – 27 Minutes 9 Seconds- HOBBITS AND INKLINGS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_4B.MP3)

Lecture 9 – 27 Minutes 18 Seconds- SCIENCE FICTION AND
RELIGION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_5A.MP3)

Lecture 10 – 26 Minutes 57Seconds – SCIENCE FICTION
AND RELIGION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_5B.MP3)

Lecture 11 – 27 Minutes 18 Seconds – SUPERMEN
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_6A.MP3)

Lecture 12 – 28 Minutes 11Seconds – ROBOTS, ANDROIDS
AND CYBORGS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_6B.MP3)

Lecture 13 – 26 Minutes 7 Seconds- TIME TRAVEL
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_7A.MP3)

Lecture 14 – 27 Minutes 11 Seconds – TIME TRAVEL
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_7B.MP3)

Lecture 15 – 28 Minutes 2 Seconds – MODERN FANTASY AND
HORROR
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_8A.MP3)

Lecture 16 – 43 Minutes 47 Seconds – MODERN FANTASY
AFTER TOLKIEN
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_8B.MP3)

Lecture 17 – 27 Minutes 30 Seconds -WOMEN IN SCIENCE
FICTION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_9A.MP3)

Lecture 18 – 27 Minutes 57 Seconds -WOMEN IN SCIENCE
FICTION
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_9B.MP3)

Lecture 19 – 44 Minutes 16 Seconds – AN INTERVIEW WITH
GORDON R. DICKSON
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_10A.MP3)

Lecture 20 – 43 Minutes 46 Seconds – CYBERPUNK AND
ALIENS
(LINK: http://lrc.lib.umn.edu/dai/P131_10B.MP3)

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Curse Of Chalion By Lois McMaster Bujold

Fantasy Audiobooks - The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Curse Of Chalion
By Lois McMaster Bujold; Read by Lloyd James
15 CDs – Approx 19.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786185988
Themes: / Fantasy / High Fantasy / Court Intrigue / Politics / Religion / Magic / Romance /

Lord Cazaril has been, in turn, courtier, castle-warder, and captain; now he is but a crippled ex-galley slave seeking nothing more than a menial job in the kitchens of the Dowager Provincara, the noble patroness of his youth. But Cazaril finds himself promoted to the exalted and dangerous position of tutor to Iselle, the beautiful, fiery sister of the heir to Chalion’s throne.

Cazaril was a lord and a soldier of Chalion, but that was before he was sold into slavery. Years later, having been freed by chance of war, it is a broken Cazaril, a traumatized shell of his former proud self, who walks away. He’s learned the lessons of a slave, to expect nothing and hope for little. So when this cowed former lord
begs for a place in minor noble’s household he is surprised to be appointed not to simple kitchen duties but instead as tutor to a young princess of the realm. From the start of The Curse Of Chalion our sympathies are with Lord Cazaril. Not only is he a figure of tremendous suffering, but his situation is made still worse by the fact that he has smarts enough to know just how far he’s fallen. But the rub comes more from the fact that his sudden appointment will doubtless draw the attention of those who betrayed him to the life of a slave and who may seek to more permanently dispose of him. Not only must Cazaril educate the young princess, he must also somehow stave off the powerful forces in league against him while breaking an ancient curse placed upon his charge, the heir to Chalion’s throne. His new responsibilities requires nothing less.

Lois McMaster Bujold is best known for her Miles Vorkosigan science fiction novels, which if you haven’t read them are space opera at their most operatic. What Bujold did there for space opera then, she now does here for fantasy with The Curse Of Chalion, the start of a whole new fantasy series. And what a challenge it is! She’s built an entirely new world with the very best kind of magic – magic with rules and consequences. And this thing has backstory too. Chalion is not just some neo-Tolkien rip off, that uses the tropes you’ve come to expect in order to tell some slight variation on an old and tired tale. Quite the contrary, it is a fully fleshed out fantasy setting with a fascinating and well thought out religion that plays a central role in the unfolding of the story. Also of note is an unexpected mention of one character’s homosexuality – while it plays little role in the plot proper it is a refreshing touch that symbolizes the modern and realistic approach Bujold taken in constructing her world. Chalion is chock full of motivated and interesting characters, classic political machinations, two genuine romances, surprising plot twists and everyone’s favorite theme, betrayal. This is the equivalent of a seven-course meal for any audiobook listener – and it isn’t even too long compared to most fantasy novels published these days.

I truly enjoyed this tale. It is really good stuff and that is mostly due, I think, to Bujold working with some really fascinating ideas, not the least of which is one scene which postulates a way to reconcile the idea of both human free will and the will of the gods – determinacy – that pesky problem of fate. Even better is that it isn’t one that I’d heard of before – heady cool stuff! The few sins Bujold commits are minor and might be virtues in many listener’s ears – there are a just a few places where the pace flagged and the action sequences were few and brief – though they really are more realistic than we have come to expect with fantasy. The Curse Of Chalion is likely to become one of the most beloved of medieval fantasy novels of the early 21st century. This story has genuine surprises, its own internal logic, and intelligent, thoughtful characters who are genuinely fun to hang out with. I really liked it!

Blackstone Audiobooks has made The Curse Of Chalion available in several formats: A 13 cassette, (retail or library packaged) audiobook, a 15 CD (retail or library packaged) audiobook and 2-disc CD-MP3 set. We review here the CD version and this is the first Blackstone Audio CD set I’ve ever tired. I’d always preferred the cassette format in the past but I’m really pleased with the simplicity of Blackstone’s design and track spacing. The library set, pictured above comes in the attractive and durable plastic case, with a full color paper insert cover. The cover art here is inspired by the hardcover’s original art, and though they are similar I think the Blackstone’s version is even more attractive! Reader Lloyd James does a marvelous job with the exposition; he gives many regional accents to the numerous characters and plays the three main female characters with three slightly variant falsettos – no small feat. I can honestly say, fans of both Bujold and original fantasy tales can rejoice, The Curse Of Chalion and this Blackstone Audiobook are everything you’ve been looking for!

Posted by Jesse Willis