Review of Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams

SFFaudio Review

Sea of Silver LightSea of Silver Light (Otherland Book #4)
By Tad Williams; Read by George Newbern
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 17 March 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 37 hrs, 32 mins

Themes: / science fiction / cyberpunk / virtual reality / virtual worlds / serial killer / Otherland /

Publisher summary:

A group of adventurers searching for a cure for comatose children find themselves trapped in a sequence of virtual worlds, the only opponents of a conspiracy of the rich to live forever in a dream. Now, they are forced to make an uneasy alliance with their only surviving former enemy against his treacherous sidekick Johnny Wulgaru, a serial killer with a chance to play God forever.  Few science fiction sagas have achieved the level of critical acclaim-and best-selling popularity-as Tad Williams’s Otherland novels. A brilliant blend of science fiction, fantasy, and techno thriller, it is a rich, multilayered epic of future possibilities.

The finale to the Otherland series, Sea of Silver Light wraps up the multitude of story lines that began in City of Golden Shadow. While the book dragged in places, and some may find that the book (and the series, especially in the middle books) wanders a bit too much, it is hard not to appreciate Tad Williams’ amazingly prescient series, especially if you’re a fan of a) the internet and b) classic literature. It’s probably safe to say that the wandering will not be for everybody, but for those that enjoy the mystery and the references to other works, the series could be a lot of fun.

A series written in the mid-late 90’s, the books cover amazing breadth of topics with a wide cast of characters in this world and in a parallel online world. What started as a cyberpunk story quickly unfolded into a much larger world with many players with significantly different motivations–on all sides of the story. With unlikely/atypical heroes (a South African woman, an African “bushman”, a blind woman, two teenagers, a mom, and a guy who doesn’t know his own past, not to mention a 5 or 6-year old girl, an ancient man…the cast is huge!) and a sprawling world, it’s easy to see why some people are overwhelmed. The more intriguing part, though, is trying to piece together the entire story, trying to figure out who’s involved in the world and for what purpose…and what the online world really is. I will admit that when the world was pieced together, it seemed pretty out there…but I was so engrossed that I didn’t really mind. The only part I really did mind was the end; the book felt maybe a little too neat, and a little too drawn out at the end. That said, it does leave an opening for Williams to return to the world (and looking on Goodreads, it seems as if he may have done just that with a short story in Legends II.

It’s hard to describe the book and what happened in the series without venturing into spoiler territory. Basically, Renie, a young South African woman who is a sort of professor or teacher of computer engineering-type classes at a local university, finds one day that her brother is in a coma of sorts, a result of playing an online game. Games in the future world that Williams created are played online in a virtual reality simulation type schema, where users have different levels of gear that immerse them (fully or to varying degrees) into a virtual world. Some users go so far as to get neural cannulas, so that they can “jack in” and have the VR system provide a direct link to their brain, become fully immersed. Renie, wanting to try to find out more about how her brother came to be in the coma, went online to try to learn what she could of what he got into. Unsurprisingly, she found herself sucked into and literally stuck in a virtual world, unable to disconnect (sort of like Sword Art Online). While there, she meets others who have family members with the same affliction as her brother, and still others who have been recruited by an unknown agent to help Renie and those who are trying to help their children/family members. In parallel, there is the story of the Grail Brotherhood, a private group of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest elite, who wish to achieve immortality, and invest heavily in a system to do so. In a third story line, there is additional intrigue about a psychopath who calls himself “Dread” and seems to seek out ways to torture and kill others, online and in reality. His story ends up weaving and in some ways connecting the Grail Brotherhood and those of the people trying to help the children. Throughout, there are a multitude of worlds created by various users of the online system, many with literary references (such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The War of the Worlds) or other evolving schema (such as a virtual rainforest that actually begins to evolve in the simulation world, similar to how it might have on earth). Williams uses cyberpunk, the idea of virtual/simulation worlds, and some more fantastical elements (some characters have special abilities, particularly abnormal/special mental powers) to weave a tale that leaves the reader picking up puzzle pieces and slowly piecing things together, just as the heroes do in the story.

I’m most amazed at how prescient Williams was. The book was written in the mid-90’s, yet there are references to things in the world today, innovations that were barest ideas of science fiction in the 90’s. The first and most obvious observation is that the VR world, while more immersive than anything we really have today, is very much akin to the internet of today, with people spending entire lives and making entire livelihoods on the internet. People use tablet-like devices to connect to the networks, to make calls, to shop, to go into their simulation worlds–much like an iPad or other tablet of today. People watch movies on the internet, so-called “Net Flicks” (I really wonder if that’s how Netflix’s name came to be), and an automated robotic floor-sweeping robot (Roomba, anyone) makes an appearance or two. Kids have “storybook sunglasses” which sound a bit like more immersive (and frankly more fun) versions of Google Glass. Just today, I read an article on Slashdot about body hacking through the vagal nerve, a topic that’s actually brought up in the book (as a therapy that is abused, oddly enough). There are other examples, which reading in 2015, are fun nuggets to pick up along the way. It’s crazy how forward-thinking this book was, how much it got “right” even for 2015 (I think the book is supposed to take place closer to 2050).

I liked this book and really enjoyed the series. I think that listening was a fantastic way to experience the book, to be able to lay back and shut my eyes and become immersed in the book as the characters are immersed in their world. The narration was (as I’ve said in my other reviews) great, if a little slow. But that meant that I could speed the book up slightly in the playback, cutting down some of the listening time.

The book (and series) may not be for everyone. I think it’s fair to criticize this book for going on a little “too long” or for being a little “too neat,” and it’s equally fair to think that Book 1 started slow or that books 2 and 3 wandered a bit (they absolutely were “middle books” in a series, which not everybody enjoys). But I still really liked the series. I look forward to reading it again in the future, maybe in a few years, to see how much I can pick up in advance, knowing as I do now, how the book ends.

Posted by terpkristin.

The SFFaudio Podcast #324 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #324 – This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch; read by Gregg Margarite. This is an unabridged reading of the novel (3 hours 30 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and John Feaster.

Talked about on today’s show:
the only public domain novel by Robert Bloch, a member of the Lovecraft circle, fans of Lovecraft vs. the public at large, The Shambler From The Stars, a sense of humour, Leffingwell = livingwell, a Nazi-esque character, Paul F. Thompkins, 1958, Make Room, Make Room, 1968, overpopulation, The Population Bomb, the baby boom, the Asiatics, a terrible book, a monster of a book, the yardsticks aren’t a metaphor for racism, “midgets”, The Lonely Crowd, the women in this story…, housewives and pretend nurses, not a pure SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a sociological novel, Jesse isn’t a fan of Psycho, Yours Truly Jack The Ripper, mainstream hack solutions, Bloch is a fan of science fiction, he’s talking about Clifford [D.] Simak here, the solution to overpopulation is to make everybody smaller, you have to lean into that, a weird pacing, Game Of Thrones, an underground secret society, the meta stuff is pretty good, the opening chapter, 70s era Jack [L.] Chalker, caesarian section is the solution?!, an entertaining story, why the heck is little Harry Collins named Harry Collins?, “you’ve dropped your premise”, western wildernesses, why is the President of The United States so excited about 20 pounds of hamburger, really undercooked (hamburger), the 7 hour workday, the 5 hour workday, the 4 hour workday, a 15mph commute, population efficiency, just fix the trains in this world, Soylent Green, not enough room (physical space), telecommuting, personal transport laws, a mash-up of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Project Mayhem portion of Fight Club and The Wizard Of Oz, Collins is constantly searching for the wizard, mistaking Beatniks for a religious order, a high-Daddio, The Planet Of The Apes premise, a dog and cat disease, accepting the premise, playing with science fiction tropes, an impressionistic idea of the world and the path it is on, the naturals or naturalists, its almost hippies, a generational metaphor, drug use, everybody takes yellow jackets, barbiturate, mixing with alcohol, a one child policy is IMPOSSIBLE?, emigration is IMPOSSIBLE, faster maturity faster death, living on Mars would make you barrel chested, island isolated animals change their size (Island gigantism or Insular dwarfism), pilots need to be short, small people and women endure g-forces better, little people on generation starships, food consumption, he follows through with his own joke, a buffet of ridiculous premises, a strange buffet, an entertaining buffet, politics and the super-rich go hand-in-hand, “the little plan”, “small government”, “it’s a small world after all”, Little John, silly, packed with a lot of weirdness, like a season of Star Trek, written over a weekend?, such a little apartment, “he’s living in a closet”, this would have to be a cartoon if it were a film, the world is a Flintstones background, if there had only been a female character who…, Stephen King loves westerns but can’t write them, lean into it, so why is this world not our problem?, LosSisco, William Gibson’s the Sprawl, Chicago and Milwaukee, well crafted characters (for talking heads), Pol Pot, no actual shitbags, the story of a 15 year old, sociologically and emotionally, the Goodreads reviews, Isaac Asimov’s the Hari Seldon plan, Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth, breeding a crazy man, West End Games, Paranoia, the crappy text adventure games (that were fun to play), walking off to the unmapped areas, what about this bugbear?, in a future where cows are caviar, “bring your wife, we’ll have a party”, I’ll bang off something for Planet Stories, Psycho, 1959 and 1960, John defends Psycho, Bloch’s Star Trek script “Wolf In The Fold“, Bloch’s obsession with Jack The Ripper, Richard Matheson’s Night Gallery episode, Time After Time, a future thrill kill story [sounds somewhat like The Roller Coaster by Alfred Bester], before The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal, charismatic serial killers is a trope now, Ed Gein, H.H. Holmes (not H.H. Munro), the Chicago murder castle, a writer re-writing and thinking about an idea over and over again, serial writers must do it again, to “recreate it”, seeing a writer writing outside of his main genre, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, it’s a little 15-year old, simply written to pay a bill, finally Scotty gets his own episode, I canna remember, Star Trek with a serial killer is weird, That Hellbound Train, The Gold Key The Twilight Zone comics, an EC Comics knockoff, I’m being published for crappy reasons, nobody’s going to read this in two weeks so read it now, this story is a bird-house made by a talented mechanic, a giant truck that is the internet, 60s and 70s era Robert Bloch are sealed up outside of the trunk that is the internet, accept it within its boundaries, a character from the 1950s in a crazy 1950s future, how does the story affect you?, a Rorschach test, it doesn’t care about you, this story is a friend of yours off in the corner playing with LEGOs and the only thing you can do is criticize what he’s building.

This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch - illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #283 – READALONG: Watchers by Dean Koontz

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #283 – Jesse, Seth, and Steen discuss Watchers by Dean Koontz

Talked about on today’s show:
1987, Amazon and Goodreads reviews, what the fuck’s going on, super-clear = refreshing, mainstream, science fiction elements, a mainstream thriller with sufficently science fiction trappings, the bad guy, action and science fiction, supermarket fiction, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, flirting with the fantastic, Koontz could go deep if he wanted to, excitement and involvement, an intelligent dog, a human serial killer and the good guy is always super good, a lonely lady who needs fixing, no need for a job, Garrison, the vet, money ex machina, wish fulfillment, sniffing the books, writing instinctual, “I like books”, readers are readers, is Koontz wealth (?) an accident, the same book over and over again with different sentences, dogs, odd without a dog, back to dogs, the fictional golden retriever, service dogs, Trixie Koontz, dog POV, Travis and Nora, if I could only communicate…, five stars with more than 1,000 reviews, cat lovers, sappy wish fulfillment, clunky dialogue, Seth’s retired guide dog, emotional scenes, Einstein, emotional beats hitting home, the Outsider, slow pitch Science Fiction, the NSA, research as depth of feeling, why the eyes, the Mickey Mouse telephone, a direct philosophical descendant of Frankenstein, we must treat our creations with justice and mercy, the disfigured (?) monster, extreme violence is a turn-off, dogs as wild animals that we tamed, a glacial Frankensteinian process, dogs as infantilized wolves, a dog’s nature is to be cowardly, breeding for violence (?), no savagery gene, baboons, bonobos, the creepy cable-guy stalker, delusions of immortality (?), money, surreality, The Call Of The Wild reference, survivalists, true love with a threat, preppers, Home Alone, what do Europeans think of gun culture?, fully automatic uzi kits, the baking of the cookies, the Dean Koontz genre, Phantoms, the town of Snowfield is deserted, a sink-full of jewels, creepy with wish fulfillment, and fun, multiple bad guys (monster and otherwise), The Mysteries Of Udolpho, let’s look at the parallel structure…, snake killing, some (more) cookies, pity, the underlying strength of the book, did the Outsider think that it killed Einstein?, Dean Koontz likes: cookies, mercy, and guns, Koontz’s hair transplant, political things, the soliloquy on technology, computer hacking (prior to the web), a preoccupation with Central/South America, Lebanon, Delta Force, quasi-domestic operations, The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft, the crappy 1988 movie of Watchers, the horror/1980s-gore aspect, Koontz and King adaptations, completely forgettable single word titles, Koontz’ preferred title would have been “Guardian”, Philip K. Dick’s first story Roog, offering urn, the education of Einstein (paralleling the education of Frankenstein’s monster), Agatha Christie, it makes you happy, 2 Jesses, “a book you will never forget!”, a candy book, The Giver, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, taking experiences from their own life, Ray Bradbury never had an experience that he didn’t turn into a fix-up novel, turn your brain off, smooth flowing fun, the complainers, the style of dialogue, a straw man of the dialogue, why is the Outsider after Einstein?, a “thing that should not be”, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, page turning machines, stewing in resentment, the Outsider has no bride and hasn’t read Paradise Lost, a shared love of Mickey Mouse, the yin and yang of humanity, the NSA agent’s role is like that of Detective Fix in Around The World In Eighty Days, the level of characterization, Dean Koontz is by himself on his own little island.

Watchers (1988)

An Astronomers Theory illustration by Virgil Finlay

Posted by Jesse Willis

CBSRMT: The Guy de Maupassant Murders by Sam Dann [RADIO DRAMA]

Aural Noir: Online Audio

CBS Radio Mystery Theater ran an astounding 1,399 original episodes. Unlike early radio drama series, in which popular episodes were re-staged, sometimes with the exact same script, not one of the nearly 1,400 episodes of CBSRMT episodes was re-done.

And yet, they came pretty damn close once. Episode #0715, which first aired in 1977, is called The Guy de Maupassant Murders. It takes direct inspiration in plot and structure from a short story by Guy de Maupassant called The Diary Of A Madman.

And yet The Diary Of A Madman was itself adapted as episode three years earlier!

Having heard them both I prefer The Guy de Maupassant Murders. I think that’s because I heard it first. But the performance is more interesting too, perhaps because it stars Fred Gwynne, best known for his role as Herman Munster.

When I first heard Gwynne’s performance I thought he was off – that he had just been unprofessional that day – it sounded as if he was just reading the script for the first time while they were recording – but upon a second listening I noticed that the way he delivers the lines completely fits the character and his psychology.

Judge for yourself.

CBS Radio Mystery TheaterCBSRMT #0715 – The Guy de Maupassant Murders
By Sam Dann; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 45 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBS
Broadcast: September 26, 1977
Provider: CBSRMT.com
The polymathic houskeeper for an aging bachelor judge follows the reports of a serial killer’s flagitious crimes with interest. The only clue is a note left on on each of the victims. It always reads “THOU SHALT KILL.”

Here’s a |PDF| of the story that inspired it.

Cast:
Fred Gwynne … Judge
Marian Seldes … Martha Mullins
Martha Greenhouse
Nat Polen

Episode #0062 from 1974 is available HERE and there’s handy YouTube version too:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Kansas Historical Society: The Bender Knife (a podcast about the Bloody Benders of Kansas)

Aural Noir: Online Audio

KSHS Cool Things PodcastIn research for another story I came across a cool podcast along the lines of BBC Radio 4’s The History Of The World In 100 Objects. Except that instead of it being a history of the planet it’s just the history of Kansas. The first epsiode of the KSHS’ Cool Things podcast to strike me (out of my chair, through the floor, and then into a shallow grave in a nearby field) was an episode on “The Bender Knife”. Here’s the setup:

Two men settled a claim near the town of Cherryvale in southeastern Kansas in 1870. John Bender, Sr., and John Bender, Jr., built a one-room timber cabin with a trap door that led to a stone cellar. Once the lodging was complete, the Bender men sent for the rest of the family, a mother and a daughter, both named Kate. The family outfitted the house with furniture and supplies, and hung a canvas curtain to divide it into two rooms. The Benders turned the front half into an inn and grocery store where travelers on the nearby Osage Trail could find rest, supplies, and a warm meal. Ma and Kate planted a garden and small orchard near the house. By all appearances, the Benders were like most area settlers: a family of German descent who came west for a fresh start.

Business at the Bender inn would have been brisk. The southeast corner of Kansas had recently opened to white settlers, and men regularly arrived with money to purchase land and livestock. This available cash made the area a dangerous place to travel. Settlers were easy prey for robbers, and it was not uncommon for people to go missing. No one took note of people looking for their family members. This changed when locals started disappearing.

You can read the full story HERE.

Bender Knife

|MP3|

And here’s the Wikipedia entry on the Bloody Benders.

Also check out their “Space Age Stove” episode (featuring a very cool Frigidaire Custom Imperial Flair stove).

Posted by Jesse Willis

New Releases: iambik audio

Aural Noir: New Releases

Iambik AudiobooksHere’s the latest crime collection from iambik audio. And while imabik offers excellent DRM free versions of their titles on their easy to use website you may also be interested to know that more than thirty titles are now available through Audible.com too.

The pick of the bunch, just going by the descriptions, appears to be The Vaults by Toby Ball. And based on the reviews of the print edition, which came out last September, it seems this debut novel is rather well regarded!

iambik audio - Hard Cold Whisper by Michael HemmingsonHard Cold Whisper
By Michael Hemmingson; Read by Adam Verner
MP3 Download – Approx. 2 Hours 56 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: iambik audio
Published: July 15, 2011
Sample |MP3|
David Kellgren is a process server, a job where everyone wants to kill the messenger and things can get a little bit dangerous and out of hand. David is attacked when trying to serve legal papers to a gang member and an angel comes to his rescue: nineteen-year-old Gabriella Amaya, trapped in a large dilapidated house, caring for her dying aunt. This elderly aunt has money, diamonds, and real estate, promised to Gabriella when the aunt dies. Is there any way the sultry caregiver can get her crafty hands on that wealth sooner? And share it with her new lover, the unsuspecting process server who starts to wonder if he’s become a patsy in an elaborate murder plot, or if he simply cannot allow himself to truest any woman who says, “I love you.” Set in San Diego, Chula Vista, and Tijuana, Hard Cold Whisper is Michael Hemmingson at his finest, most terse and torqued prose in the crime genre. — Hemmingson wrote Hard Cold Whisper as an experiment during the 2010 3 Day Novel Challenge during Labor Day Weekend, a concerted event where writers all over the world participate. The method here pays homage to hardboiled noir master Gil Brewer, who wrote many of his finest Fawcett Gold Medal titles in a possessed, white hot flash fury of several days or a week. Hard Cold Whisper is Hemmingson’s nod to the feel and atmosphere of the Gold Medal paperback.

iambik audio - Listen To The Dead by Randall PefferListen To The Dead
By Randall Peffer; Read by Art Carlson
MP3 or M4B Download – Approx. 7 Hours 27 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: iambik audio
Published: July 15, 2011
Sample |MP3|
Inspired by one of the largest unsolved cases of serial killings in the United States, the New Bedford Serial Killings of 1988. Harbormaster Corby Church finds the bones of a human body on Bird Island off Cape Cod. As brassy, young police detective Yemanjá Colón struggles with the case, she realizes that Church may know more than he’s letting on, and a trip he took to the Bahamas in the ’80s may prove the key.

iambik audio - Richmond Noir by variousRichmond Noir
Edited by Andrew Blossom, Brian Castleberry and Tom De Haven; Read by Charles Bice
MP3 or M4B – Approx. 7 Hours 51 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher iambik audio
Published: July 15, 2011
Sample |MP3|
Collection edited by Andrew Blossom, Brian Castleberry and Tom De Haven. “In The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, Henry Miller tosses off a hard-bitten assessment of the City on the James: ‘I would rather die in Richmond somehow,’ he writes, ‘though God knows Richmond has little enough to offer.’ As editors, we like the dying part, and might point out that in its long history, Richmond, Virginia has offered up many of the disparate elements crucial to meaty noir. The city was born amid deception, conspiracy, and violence…

imabik audio - The Painted Messiah by Craig SmithThe Painted Messiah
By Craig Smith; Read by Clive Catterall
MP3 or M4B Download – Approx. 9 Hours 54 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: iambik audio
Published: July 15, 2011
Sample |MP3|
The Painted Messiah combines a blistering action thriller set in the streets of Zurich and on the lakes and wooded slopes of Switzerland with a compulsive and convincing account of first century Romano-Judaean politics and the real reason for Pontius Pilate’s condemnation and execution of Christ. A legend persists that, after the ‘scourging’, Pilate commanded that his victim be painted from life. Somewhere, the painting survives, the only true image of Christ, granting the gift of everlasting life to whoever possesses it. Kate Kenyon, the wealthy young widow of an English aristocrat killed on a Swiss mountain, has an addiction to mortal risk. She feeds it by engaging in the armed robbery of priceless artefacts with her accomplice and lover Ethan Brand, a Tennessean who owns a bookshop in Zurich. Their latest target is a priceless ‘Byzantine’ icon hidden in the tower of a chateau by Lake Lucerne. So far they have never had to shoot anyone. This time will be different.

iambik audio - Thought You Were Dead by Terry GriggsThought You Were Dead
By Terry Griggs; Read by Gregg Margarite
MP3 or M4B Download – Approx. 7 Hours 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: iambik audio
Published: July 15, 2011
Sample |MP3|
Meet the Perfect Man… no, no he’s not the hero of Thought You Were Dead. That would be Chellis Beith, literary researcher, slacker, reluctant detective, and a man bedeviled by every woman in his life. There’s his lost love, Elaine Champion, a now happily married inventor who uses him for market research, his best friend’s dotty ex-wife, Moe, his two vanished mothers, and his menacing boss, Athena Havlock, a celebrated writer who herself becomes embroiled in the dark side of fiction. The humour is wild, the language a thrill, the mystery within marvelously deft and daft. And as for the Perfect Man… well, nothing is as it seems. Is it? Thought You Were Dead is the most unconventional of all murder mysteries, turning the genre completely on its head, by bludgeoning flat language and Puritanical sensibilities with evident glee. This is further evidence that Terry Griggs is sui generis: an original and completely inimitable literary voice, with an eye for the cinematic.

iambik audio - The Vaults by Toby BallThe Vaults
By Toby Ball; Read by Michael Agostini
MP3 or M4B Download – Approx. 9 Hours 5 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: iambik audio
Published: July 15, 2011
Sample |MP3|
In a dystopian 1930s America, a chilling series of events leads three men down a path to uncover their city’s darkest secret. At the height of the most corrupt administration in the City’s history, a mysterious duplicate file is discovered deep within the Vaults—a cavernous hall containing all of the municipal criminal justice records of the last seventy years. From here, the story follows: Arthur Puskis, the Vault’s sole, hermit-like archivist with an almost mystical faith in a system to which he has devoted his life; Frank Frings, a high-profile investigative journalist with a self-medicating reefer habit; and Ethan Poole, a socialist private eye with a penchant for blackmail. All three men will undertake their own investigations into the dark past and uncertain future of the City—calling into question whether their most basic beliefs can be maintained in a climate of overwhelming corruption and conspiracy.

Posted by Jesse Willis