Review of Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Market Forces by Richard K. MorganMarket Forces
By Richard K. Morgan; Read by Simon Vance
13 CDs – 16 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1400101395 (Retail CD), 1400131395 (Library CD), 1400151392 (MP3-CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Economics / Satire /

“Human beings have been fighting wars as long as history recalls. It is in our nature, … last century the peacemakers, the governments of this world, did not end war. They simply managed it, and they managed it badly. They poured money without thought of return into conflicts and guerrilla armies abroad, and then into tortuous peace processes that more often than not left the situation no better. They were partisan, dogmatic, and inefficient. Billions wasted in poorly assessed wars that no sane investor would have looked at twice. Huge, unwieldy national armies and clumsy international alliances in short a huge public sector drain on our economic systems. Hundreds of thousands of young people killed in parts of the world they could not even pronounce properly. Decisions based on political dogma and doctrine alone. Well, this model is no more.”

In an interview with Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column Richard K. Morgan describes the motivaton behind Market Forces – ‘there’s a scene’ he said, ‘in the movie Lethal Weapon‘ a scene in which the suicidal cop Martin Riggs (played by Mel Gibson) is atop a roof, ironically, trying to talk down an suicidal citizen who claims he’s going to jump. Frustrated at the indecision that grips them both Riggs snaps – he handcuffs the citizen to his own wrist and then asks him “Do you really wan’t to jump? Do you wanna?” – then dragging the citizen with him Riggs jumps off the roof. It’s a scene designed to show the inner demons that haunt Riggs, who is, after all, the “Lethal Weapon” of the film’s title. So what does that have to do with Market Forces? This novel is Richard Morgan’s response to the right-wing think tanks which have for years been constantly murmuring in the media soundbites of “let the market decide,” “government is in the way of business,” “the invisible hand can regulate better.” Morgan’s frustration with these ideologues is answered by dystopian satire, a kind of Wall Street meets Mad Max. This is an England in which the gap between the rich and poor has widened. At the top are an elite, an upper-class of executives, driving armoured cars and carrying firearms in their briefcases. At the bottom are the unemployed, disenfranchized and living in deserted slums without access to public transportation, their only escape is to join the police or Special Air Service, both privatized and in mercenary service of the executive class. The commodited investment houses have morphed into “Conflict Investment” houses. It’s a powerful setting, a critical look at where we are now, as 1984 and Farenheit 451 were critical looks at where we used to be – a place we must still fight from going. In essence Morgan says ‘This is what happens when you look at what we’re doing now and then project ahead. This is what happens if you listen to the right-wing think tanks. This is what happens when you jump.’

As a primer let me explain how “conflict investment” works. You find a country, one torn by civil war or revolution. You decide who, amongst the many factions within that country could win, given the right resources and then you back them. In return for providing the arms, equipment and intelligence to win a “small war” the faction must commit to give you a cut of their country’s gross domesitc product for a quarter century or so. Our viewpoint character, Chris Faulkner, has recently been hired on as a junior associate by one of the top conflict investment firms, Shorn Associates – this happened in large part because of Chris’ reputation for savage road duelling. Meanwhile, Chris’ wife, a mechanic from Sweden, (a country with one of the last socialist governments around) is encouraging him to seek more peaceful pastures by defecting to a struggling international peace movement. With rebels in Guatemala to support and a growing record of auto-duel kills Chris is a hot number, but it increasingly seems like someone is setting him up for a fall. It’s up to Chris to decide whether he’s going to be the person his wife wants him to be or if he’s going to continue on his road to corporate partnership.

I ended up really liking Market Forces. There was a time there when I wasn’t sure, the first third of the novel is quite depressing, Morgan’s world has gone to shit and the people in it smell, and smell bad. Part of my problem was with how the world got to be this way. A corporate world full of scum? I can understand that, but a corprate world full of armed scum? It seemed a bit proposterous. Then it came to me, between discs 4 and 5 I realized, “this is a satire”. Like American Pyshco or that corporate raiders sequence in Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life. Eventually Morgan does give an explanation of how we got from where we are now to the fifty or so years from now setting of Market Forces and that explanation works in a ‘give me an inch and I’ll give you a novel’ sort of way. The real explanation however is that to be the story it needed to be actual market forces really had to play into every human transaction. The brutal reality of competitive of an unregulated capitalism working at full force would likely still be insulated by an old boys network, an oligarchy that said it wanted unrestricted competition, but really just wanted power. In arming and glorifying the auto duels Morgan has made Chris Faulkner confront the reality of the world he is making. Ultimately the decision he faces is as terrible as those made by Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451. It remains to be seen whether Market Forces will be as enduring as those dystopian novels, but it stands among them, bare face in the portrayal of a brutal tommorow based on the unchecked trends of today.

This is a gloomy book marked by several scenes of jagged action and carnal sex, it is a good thing Tantor Media chose a versatile reader. Narrator Simon Vance used his precise English accents to portray the undertones of resentment many of the characters didn’t even realize they had – it carried me through the gloomy bits to the dramatic conclusion. Tantor issued us another of the library retail bound CD editions, though it had identical packaging to Altered Carbon (recently reviewed) two of the indivudal pages came loose in this one while I was pawing through. UPDATE: The good folks at Tantor have informed me that they actually sent the retail edition to us. The library edition is higher priced and comes in a white box with a metal ring binder (as well as a free lifetime CD replacement guarantee).

In researching for the review I found out that Market Forces is based on an unpublished seedling of a short story, entitled Some Serious Driving. Apparently it was originally submitted to Interzone magazine, they rejected it as full of ‘unlikable characters’ – something the novel has too. In an ideal world I’d have liked to see Some Serious Driving bundled in as an extra, perhaps Tantor Media can gather together all of the Richard K. Morgan unpublished shorts to tide us over until the 5th RKM novel comes out?

One last thing, given my description of the plot you might think Market Forces a standalone novel and indeed it does stand nicely on its own- the thing is I found strong evidence that Market Forces is set in the same universe as that of the Takeshi Kovach novels, the books Richard Morgan is best known for. There’s a number of references to conflict investment in general and the Shorn corporation in particular in Broken Angels, the second Takeshi Kovach novel. Cool huh?

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Last Harbinger by Roger Gregg

Fantasy Audio Drama - The Last Harbinger by Roger GreggThe Last Harbinger
By Roger Gregg; Performed by a Full Cast
2 CDs – 130 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Crazy Dog Audio Theatre
Published: 2005
Themes: / Fantasy / Satire / Government / The Press / Environment /

First of all, Crazy Dog Audio Theatre’s productions are not to be missed. They produced the hilarious Big, Big Space, a farce in the mold of Star Trek and other science fiction television shows. If you haven’t heard it, it’ll make you laugh out loud. And previous to The Last Harbinger was the amazing Diabolic Playhouse, a collection of dramas both funny and satirical. And now, The Last Harbinger, which is the finest production to date from Crazy Dog, and that is saying quite a bit.

The Last Harbinger is a story told in five episodes, all of which are included here. Roger Gregg, who wrote, produced, and directed, shines a bright light on our own world as he tells this story of the doomed people of Moloch. There are leaders that can’t speak without a teleprompter, newspeople more concerned about their own appearance than news, and citizens that should be angry but aren’t. Into this world, a messenger is sent to tell all of Moloch that they are doomed unless they change, and, since change is not an easy route, the harbinger is met with resistance. The story is dark, but not without humor.

I can’t say enough about this production. The satire is biting. The dialogue is crisp and extremely well acted. The sound couldn’t be better – I was immersed in Gregg’s world from the moment I gave it my full attention, and it wouldn’t let go. Roger Gregg and Crazy Dog Audio Theatre are the setting the highest of standards for fantastic audio drama.

The Last Harbinger is available for download at Audioville, or you can purchase the gorgeously packaged double CD at ZBS.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Not from Space

Science Fiction Audio Drama - Not From SpaceNot From Space
Produced by Borgus
2 CDs – 108 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Borgus
Published: 2002
ISBN: None
Themes: / Science Fiction / Satire / Radio / Greed /

We join Earth during the year 2000. The economic boom, advanced technology is prospering, and everyone is focused on… themselves.
Not From Space Introduction

Not from Space is not your typical fare. Uniqueness in audio is something I haven’t come across in a long while, and here it is. With that said, I’ve got the task here of telling you what Not From Space is, and I can’t think of a way to describe it without making it sound like so many other radio shows. But here goes: Not From Space tells the story of alien invasion entirely through newscasts. Sounds pretty common, eh? Told you.

But again, Not From Space is not your typical fare. At the very beginning, for example, is a brilliant piece of satire as talk show hosts announce that Bill Gates is going to give away computers to “foreigners”, then take calls from people that are really upset about it. I’ve heard enough talk radio to be able say that this bit really hit home, from the encouragement of the hosts to the logic of the callers. And that’s what makes Not From Space so atypical – it is full of pieces that hit home.

The entire story is told through the news radio station. There is no traditional dialogue between characters, just news told to listeners. Jeffrey Bays, in a talk about the show which is included at the end of the production, says that the show is meant to be listened to in the background, much like a real radio station would be. There are so many interesting moments that popped out as I listened, and the more I listen, the more things I notice.

The show was produced in a unique manner as well. It was entirely created on the internet using a world-wide cast of 15 voice actors trading MP3 files. It sounds wonderful – a very accurate simulation of a radio station, right down to the commercials, which in this case are a pleasure to hear.

Borgus has captured the feel of an American talk radio station to tell a story with a point. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am looking forward to listening again.

Not From Space will be heard on XM Satellite Radio’s Sonic Theater, Channel 163 this Halloween weekend:
-Saturday October 29 at 9am/9pm (US-Eastern)
-Monday October 31 at 5am, 1pm, and 9pm (US-Eastern)

You can also get a copy on audio CD from Borgus.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of To Market, To Market: The Branding of Billy Bailey

Science Fiction Audiobooks - To Market, To Market: The Branding of Billy Bailey by Cory DoctorowTo Market, To Market: The Branding of Billy Bailey©
By Cory Doctorow; Read by Cory Doctorow
FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD – 23 Minutes 37 Seconds [UNABRIDGED]
Published: 2001
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Humor / Satire /

Billy Bailey was the finest heel the sixth grade had ever seen — a true artisan who kept his brand pure and unsullied, picking and managing his strategic alliances with the utmost care and acumen. He’d dumped BanginBumpin Fireworks (a division of The Shanghai Novelty Company, Ltd.) in the _fourth_ grade, fer chrissakes. Their ladyfingers were too small to bother with; their M-80s were so big that you’d have to be a lunatic to go near them.

First published in Interzone, To Market, To Market: The Branding of Billy Bailey© is set in a world in which advertising has taken over every institution. This dystopic tale is a fun little story. Billy Bailey® is a 6th grader, who’s something like a smarter Dennis The Menace®, but that’s probably selling Billy short. Dennis The Menace® is just a fictional character. In this REAL world, REAL people are by far the more profitable brands. If you’re a 6th grade boy in elementary school, you want to wear Billy’s© shoes, drink what Billy© drinks and say what Billy© says. Billy Bailey® is at the top of the brand list. Everything Billy Bailey© does is predicated on what he thinks will most benefit his brand. The Billy© brand is all about playing the rake, the prankster who always beats the authority figure, which in this case is Billy’s school principal. But when Billy® gets tarred with a pathetic M-80 down the toilet prank in his Pepsi Elementary© girls bathroom, Billy® must fire his agent and come up with a whole new corporate strategy – he better re-brand his image if he wants to keep his sponsors.

Doctorow does this as a plain reading. I don’t expect all authors to be gifted readers – that’s why they pay the professional narrators – but that isn’t the problem. The problem here is with the recording. It isn’t terrific. It sounds as if was cobbled together from more than one recording. Apparently it was recorded using the built-in microphone on his iBook©, but in the multiple sessions it took to record it must have been at different distances from the mic, because the sound is inconsistent. You can also hear the pages as they turn, and what sounds like a squeaking computer chair with other occasional background noises. Despite this, it’s more than worth the money – it is after all completely FREE!

Doctorow’s story is interesting and original. It tackles the invasion of capitalism into children’s lives, and does it with a biting satire. See, even in our world, a corporation has only corporate legal responsibilities and no moral ones. Seeing as corporations have all the legal status of persons in our capitalist society it is no small wonder that people might come to think of themselves as corporations. Heck, our celebrities really are corporations! This is a very sad world. Everyone uses catchphrases to define their personal “brand”, and everyone is jockeying for sponsors. Morality has been completely subverted by marketing. Those who are successfully marketed are good and those that aren’t…. well, they aren’t even worth thinking about – just has-beens or never-will-bes.

On Cory Doctorow’s website he says he’s planning to read all of his stories and release them as free downloadable MP3s. This is a wonderful idea, and I’ll be sure to listen in however he does it, but maybe he should take a page from James Patrick Kelly’s FREE READS website and consider recording in a professional studio. Apparently it costs about $200 per session, but the sound quality and consistency in one makes the recording archive quality. Kelly’s stuff is free too, but he does ask for PayPal donations.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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].
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