Review of Time Bride by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann

SFFaudio Review

Time Bride
by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann; Read by Barbara Rosenblat
One cassette – 67 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Durkin Hayes Publishing Ltd.
Date Published: October 1992 – Out of Print
ISBN: 0886466202
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Children /

The man who wasn’t there first spoke to Marcie when she was eight years old. Sitting in a mud puddle outside her house a disembodied voice spoke to Marcie. It said “My name is Arnold Waxman and someday I’m going to marry you”. The voice knew all about Marcie, and was constantly trying to control her behavior, it would scold her for being naughty and tell her what she should think and do. “With my guidance,” It said. “You’ll grow up to be a perfect young lady, the perfect bride.” Marcie didn’t like the voice and she was determined that she would not marry Arnold Waxman when she grew up. She will get her revenge… in time.

Gardner Dozois a Nebula Award winning author, as well as a Hugo Award winning editor has teamed up with Jack Dann himself an honoured editor to construct this neat little SF fable. Originally published in “Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine” December 1983 issue, Time Bride is read by Barbara Rosenblat who has been named a “Golden Voice” by Audiofile magazine and as such she’d been recognized as one of the audiobooks industry’s top narrators. While this tale won’t blow your mind with its originality it will surely entertain you. Barbara Rosenblat reads Dann and Dozois’ dialogue with obvious relish and the dénouement when it comes is very well done indeed. Unfortunately due to Durkin Hayes being out of business you may have great difficulty finding a copy of this audiobook. A search of eBay may turn up a copy.

Review of A Sound Of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

SFFaudio Review

A Sound Of Thunder
By Ray Bradbury; Performed by a full cast
1 Cassette – Approx. 70 minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Durkin Hayes Audio
Published: 1992
ISBN: 0886466687
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Dinosaurs / Mars /

Ray Bradbury is another author who is dear to me in both print and in audio. There is an old Caedmon production of his story “Usher II” (read by Leonard Nimoy) which I just love. And I’m currently listening through a collection of old-time radio shows called The 60 All-Time Greatest Science Fiction Radio Shows, selected by Ray Bradbury.

And the books – The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes… Bradbury is unique in my experience, and I really enjoy his stories.

There are two audio dramas on this single cassette program. The first is an excellent production called “A Sound of Thunder”, in which a man pays big bucks to be taken back in time to hunt the biggest of prey – a Tyrannosaurus Rex. But when you go back in time, there are rules… In the second story, “Night Call, Collect”, the last man in the universe receives… a phone call. A short interview of the author is also included.

The production quality – sound effects, music, the acting – is excellent, the scripts are wonderful. Highly recommended.

Both of the stories here (“A Sound of Thunder” and “Night Call, Collect“) are part of a radio series called The Bradbury 13. Twelve of the thirteen shows were released through Durkin Hayes/DHAudio. Jesse has some of these shows in stock – contact him here about getting a copy. A summary of all thirteen of the Bradbury 13 can be found here.

posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer

SFFaudio Review

The Terminal Experiment
by Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Paul Hecht
7 Cassettes – 9.25 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 2003
Themes: Science Fiction / Near Future / Artificial Intelligence / Canada / Mystery /

It started as an experiment in life after death. It ended in death. Dr. Peter Hobson has created a monster. Three of them, in fact. In order to test his theories of immortality and life after death, he has created three electronic simulations of his own personality. The first Hobson has all memory of physical existence edited out. It will simulate life after death. The second Hobson is without knowledge of aging or death. It will simulate immortality. The third Hobson is unmodified. A control. But now all three of them have escaped from Hobson’s computer into the worldwide electronic matrix. And one of them
is a killer . . .

— from the back cover of the paperback

Prior to this production, no Robert J. Sawyer audiobook had ever been produced, so it was with much anticipation that I discovered Recorded Books was set to release the winner of the Nebula and Aurora awards for Best SF Novel of 1995, The Terminal Experiment. And what a fantastic choice it was! It was originally serialized in Analog Science Fiction magazine’s Mid-December 1994 through March 1995 issues as Hobson’s Choice. Sawyer’s story is absolutely original, thoroughly engaging and certainly the best audiobook I’ve listened to this year.

Sawyer is a fantastic structural writer, a craftsman capable of laying out the ideas in just the right order. We get meaty philosophical thought experiments and thus pure HARD SF, and as a bonus, as with most of Sawyer’s novels, a baffling mystery that needs solving. Reader Paul Hecht does a good job narrating, characters come across well and you always know who is speaking. Aside from a very few pronunciation problems it is a perfect reading. I had previously read the paperback version of this novel so upon listening this time I was really able to sit back and enjoy the details much more. And there is a lot of detail to enjoy: in one chapter we get a humorous episode of computer hacking. The computers of Shopper’s Drug Mart (a Canadian drug store chain) are un-hackable, yet a “Food Food” fast food delivery service (a thinly veiled Pizza Pizza) and the Canadian federal government medical database computers are both hacked by a murderous Artificial Intelligence. Social commentary or simply a joke? Either way it’s a funny chapter in what is often a tense and deadly serious murder mystery. We also get a fascinating explication of why funny is funny, it’s all about making new mental connections.

One major/minor quibble I noticed the second time through though; Dr. Peter Hobson our protagonist in collaboration with another scientist, invents a machine capable of mapping all electrical activity in the brain. When a patient dies a the device tracks a mysterious “soulwave” leaving the brain we later learn that it heads off towards Alpha Centauri. All absolutely fascinating, and rather important to all the philosophical explorations and plot developments that follow. But I can’t help but wonder why such a “soulwave” must logically be proof of a soul. Yes it is evidence for a soul, but surely not proof. Hobson has this same doubt, but it eventually passes and he accepts the majority opinion that it does indeed constitute proof of the soul. I guess the problem here comes down to a “who wants to read six chapters on epistemology when it’s the idea that is important” question. And that is why I say it is a major/minor quibble. Ultimately I don’t like such a major conclusion like that just getting away unexamined. But on the other hand any science fiction story worth its salt is allowed one ‘gimme’, a conceit, be it faster than light travel, telekinesis or anything else impossible by what we know of science. Perhaps this is just a case where the conceit isn’t of the usual form, being more of an identification/epistemological problem than an “absolute impossibility” problem.

The packaging for this audiobook is interesting in itself. Recorded Books has decided to market in two formats. Both editions share original commisioned cover art that while visually interesting may be somewhat misleading (see picture above). The library binding, available for additional cost, is of the durable vinyl clamshell type, which makes for attractive and secure storage of tapes. “The Collectors Edition”, the one I got, is less expensive and is essentially just a cardboard box with a printed insert. That may sound rather disappointing, but it isn’t. Audiobook packaging typically comes in two varieties, SUPERB & EXPENSIVE (designed for durable extended usage, typically the type needed for public libraries) and CRAPPY & CHEAP (designed solely to get the product to market cheaply). This “Collector’s Edition” packaging is in-between the two; it is a step above the typical thin cardboard and millimeter-thick plastic of the CRAPPY & CHEAP designs, a compromise between durability, space efficiency and cost. The cardboard is thick, a clear plastic sheet protects the printed insert, and the customizable interior is held rigid by styrofoam inserts. I still prefer the library style bindings, standard with Blackstone Audiobooks and Books On Tape audiobooks but my wallet can’t always afford it.

Quibbles aside, it’s a great audiobook, and my sincere hope is that Recorded Books, Blackstone Audiobooks or Books On Tape see fit to produce another unabridged Robert J. Sawyer novel soon. If they don’t Scott and I might have to do it ourselves, they’re just that good.

Review of The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick

SFFaudio Review

The Man In The High Castle
By Philip K. Dick; Read by George Guidall
7 Cassettes – 9.75 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 1997
Themes: Science Fiction / Alternate History / World War II / Holocaust / Japan / Nazi Germany

World War II is over and to the victors go the spoils; Germany and Japan divide the world and the United States into East and West occupied zones. Alternate reality? Alternate history? Those are sheer fantasy, what if the Allies had won the war? Who would have been able to stop Stalin? Idle daydreaming, and Frank Frink can’t afford that, as one of the few surving Jews in North America and the world he’s got to concentrate to stay alive…

Set in an alternate history (and taking place in 1962 when Dick wrote the book), The Man in the High Castle is multiple viewpoint. There is: Mr. Tagomi, a collector of all things antique and American. Juliana Frink, seperated from her husband. She’s in Colorado on the border between the Nazis in the East and the Japanese in the West. Her husband Frank Frink, a shop owner and dealer in antiques, lives apart from his wife in occupied San Francisco serving the ruling Japanese. And all three of them have their fate intertwined with an officially banned underground novel entitled “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” which paints a picture of a world where the Allies won WWII.

The Man in the High Castle won the Science Fiction Hugo Award for best novel in 1962. It is one of the few great Philip K. Dick novels still unfilmed and so it will come as a great introduction to a new reader. Throughout the novel the I, Ching and its cryptic “wisdom” is used to push the plot along. This ingenious device is of further interest because Dick claimed that he himself used the I, Ching whenever it was used in the novel and let it take the novel wherever the results led it, in essence plotting the book as a result of the I, Ching’s advice. Superstar narrator George Guidall with his broad range and depth of voice is the perfect choice for this deeply complex novel. Oh and of course I can’t forget to mention the fantastic twist ending which will definitely… shall I say…change your persective? A profound SF experience that will blow your mind.

Review of Virtual Light by William Gibson

SFFaudio Review

Virtual Light
By William Gibson
Read by Frank Muller
6 Cassettes – Approx. 9 hours UNABRIDGED
List Price: USD $34.95
RECORDED BOOKS LLC.
ISBN: 0788782533

William Gibson’s novel, Virtual Light (1995), is a bit of a letdown. But this is primarily because Neuromancer (1984), is one of the best novels of the 20th century – so its no wonder lightning hasn’t struck twice. Though comparisons between Neuromancer and Virtual Light are inevitable, and reasonable, we should try to forget that William Gibson wrote such an incredible first novel – Neuromancer won the three most important science fiction awards (The Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Award)… we should try to forget – it ain’t easy – but we should try because Virtual Light is a good SF.

That being said, Virtual Light is a whole different animal, more modest in scope, set closer to the present (in 2005) and more resembles a venture into Elmore Leonard territory than a cyberpunk adventure. It really is a crime novel with a science fiction McGuffin. The McGuffin being, a pair of sunglasses that not only make the wearer look cool, but also make him or her almost superhuman. Here’s the premise – Chevette Washington, a San Francisco bicycle courier has stole some high tech sunglasses. Berry Rydell, private security guard and ex-cop is sent to track her and the sunglasses down. As usual with Gibson novels, the atmosphere created by the prose is spectacular, we see, feel, touch, taste and smell the world Gibson describes and it’s visceral. The characters are compelling, motivated and have cool names like “Rydell” and “Warbaby”. The plot is almost labyrinthine despite the stated simplicity and there are many stops along the way, but we don’t mind too much, the journey is enjoyable, the people are cool and the ideas original.

And of course being an audiobook, the narrator plays an important role in determining the outcome. Thankfully, Virtual Light is read by Frank Muller, which is a good thing. Muller has a good range of voices and a huge vocabulary so there aren’t any pronunciation errors (something that can take a listener right out of the narrative). Virtual Light is an interesting listen, and the unabridged version is definitely superior. The Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio version read by Peter Weller, is well performed but hard to follow, being abridged to a mere 3 hours and two cassettes. But if you are going to listen to this audiobook and you haven’t heard Neuromancer (or read it yet) listen to this one first, it won’t be a let down that way, and it’ll likely whet you’re appetite for more William Gibson.

Review of To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer

SFFaudio Review

To Your Scattered Bodies Go
by Philip Jose Farmer; Read by Richard Clarke
2 cassettes – 2 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Waldentapes (1985)
Suggested Retail: $14.95 USD
ISBN: 0681327731
Status: Out of Print – RARE
Themes: / Science Fiction / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Mystery / The Afterlife / History / Series

My biggest problem with this audiobook is that it is over much too quickly. Like most early science fiction audiobooks, this is an abridgement of a novel, in this case a great novel. Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go is a Hugo Award winner (for 1972), and this alone makes it worth a look. But the story is intiguing enough to make you wish for more, a lot more.

Set on the huge and mysterious Riverworld, a planet whose central river is the new home to every last soul who ever lived on Earth – from prehistoric apemen to moon-dwelling future civilizations (and even an alien visitor to Earth). Our protagonist is the reborn Sir Richard Francis Burton, famed translator of The Arabian Nights, explorer, brawler, scholar, womanizer and adventurer. His quest? To discover the end of the river, the meaning of this world’s strange existence, where death is a mere inconvenience and food is magically delivered. With such nasty foes like a youthful Hermann Göring and some super evolved aliens called “Ethicals” to deal with, you know its going to be fun. Burton himself is fascinating to follow and I’d like to see if there is a good audiobook biography of him out there. The story itself runs two hours, read by some fellow named Richard Clarke, with a familiar but hard to place English accent. Clarke is backed up by a nicely accenting musical score.

The package is unique to Waldentapes (a line I’m sure we’ll be looking at again) a clear soft plastic case that opens in a very convoluted manner designed for quick sales and low cost it nevertheless has an interesting cover depicting actual events of the novel. While it is long out of print it is not impossible to find, copies turn up on a semi-regular basis on eBay, selling for very reasonable amounts. Since I wished this book was longer, I was happy to find an unabridged version from Recorded Books. Hopefully we will be able to post a review of that version here soon. All in all this is a good find and a valuable addition to any science fiction audiobook collector.