Review of Empire State by Adam Christopher

SFFaudio Review

Empire State by Adam ChristopherEmpire State (Empire State #1)
By Adam Christopher; Performed by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours

Themes: / parallel universe / urban fantasy / superheroes / detectives / noir /

Publisher summary:

The empire state is another New York,. It’s a parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is the twisted magic mirror to our bustling Big Apple. It’s a city where sinister characters lurk around every corner while the great superheroes who once kept the streets safe have fallen into deadly rivalries and feuds. Not that its colourful residents know anything about the real New York… until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants. Playing on the classic Gotham conventions of the Batman comics and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, debut author Adam Christopher has spun a smart and fast-paced superhero-noir adventure that will excite genre fans and general readers alike.

Empire State is a novel that sounds really great in concept but comes off a bit confusing in execution. This novel has it all – superheroes, detective noir, gangsters, prohibition, robots, alternate dimensions, you name it. If any or all of that sounds cool to you, this may be a book for you.

The story generally takes the form of a detective noir once you get into it except that the story’s perspective does not only stick with the detective all the time. As with detective noir stories, you don’t know who is on which side all the time and things are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. Unfortunately, the story became confusing as things developed and the loyalties and motivations of characters seemed constantly in flux. The characters didn’t have a whole lot of depth past being exactly what you’d expect from their role in the story (detective, gangster, old-timey adventurer, reporter, etc). Despite the confusion, I really liked the ideas and world that Christopher created in this novel. The world of the Empire State is a dark, foggy equivalent of New York that had me picturing scenes from Dick Tracy. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Christopher does in this world.

Phil Gigante did a great job narrating Empire State. Voices for different characters were distinct and gave a great vocal aspect to the nature of the character being done. That said, I don’t know if I would actually recommend this as an audio book. There were quite a few times I wanted to rewind a bit because I had no idea what just happened (I actually did rewind a few times which is rare for me). I think the ability to easily look back a page or two in a book would probably have helped with the confusion.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams

SFFaudio Review

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World DominationThe Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Performed by Stefan Rudnicki, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Justine Eyre
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
16 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / mad scientists / science / superheroes / villains /

Publisher summary:

Mad scientists have never had it so tough. In super-hero comics, graphic novels, films, TV series, video games, and even works of what may be fiction, they are besieged by those who stand against them, devoid of sympathy for their irrational, megalomaniacal impulses to rule, destroy, or otherwise dominate the world as we know it. Dr. Frankenstein was the first truly mad scientist of the modern era. And what did it get him? Destroyed by his own creation. And Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, a man ahead of his time as well as out of his head — what did he do to deserve persecution? Even Lex Luthor, by all accounts a genius, has been hindered not once, not twice, but so many times that it has taken hundreds of comic books, a few films, and no fewer than ten full seasons of a television series to keep him properly thwarted. It’s just not fair. So those of us who are so twisted and sick that we love mad scientists have created this guide. Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty, but you’ll recognize them. It doesn’t matter, though. This guide is not for you. It’s for them: the underhanded, over-brained paranoiacs who so desperately need our help. What lies behind those unfocused, restless eyes and drooling, wicked grins? Why — and how — do they concoct their nefarious plots? Why are they so set on taking over the world? If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, you’re in luck, because we are exposing their secrets, aiding and abetting their evil. It all awaits, within. Watch out, world!

Full table of contents on editor’s site.

I really enjoyed the first half of the stories in the collection but thought things got less interesting/slower in the second half. It may have been that some stories shared some similarities and the repetition got tiresome, but I don’t think so. I think it was actually that the second half of the stories had more of a serious tone to them that just didn’t go as well with me as the more humorous first half.

I really liked Chris Claremont’s introduction to the book. I thought it brought some interesting insights into why the bad guy is so important for the hero. I thought John Joseph Adams’ introductions to each story were helpful although a bit confusing in the audiobook format (it took a few stories before I understood what the heck was going on with the scientific categorization). I thought they helped me get into the story faster since I kind of knew what to expect and I do think I enjoyed the short stories more as a result. Some would say they spoil the stories but I didn’t think they revealed any more than the back of a novel would about its story.

There are 22 stories in this collection. Many are humorous and have interesting spins on the common tropes you’d expect from mad scientist or superhero stories. I generally liked all the stories but I’d say my favorites were Professor Incognito Apologizes, The Angel of Death Has a Business Plan, Captain Justice Saves the Day, and Rocks Fall.

I didn’t overly dislike any stories except for The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon. The story is by far the longest and I had trouble following the different character’s stories and understanding the point of the story. It appears that story is from a series by her so it may be that I didn’t like it because I haven’t read her other works.

I thought all three readers did a fantastic job with their voice acting in this collection. I would definitely listen to books performed by these readers again. I particularly liked Mary Robinette Kowal’s performances. She does a great job doing voices of people trying to be patient with the mad scientists – whether it be their therapist, assistant, or fellow evil genius.

Various sites have posted some of the stories online to read for free, compiled on the editor’s site, and those would be a good litmus test if this is the book for you. Professor Incognito Apologizes: an Itemized List by Austin Grossman is a great example of the more humorous offerings and The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is a good example of the more serious stories.

Posted by Tom Schreck

The SFFaudio Podcast #202 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard

Podcast

The Shadow Kingdom
The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #202 –The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard, narrated by Todd McLaren (from Tantor Media’s Kull: Exile Of Atlantis). This is a complete and unabridged reading of the novelette (1 hour 25 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Tamahome, Jim Moon.

Talked about on today’s show:
Hypnogoria and Hypnobobs, King Kull, Kaa Nama Ka Lajerma, the magic phrase, snake men, shibboleth, the Book Of Judges, the letter after “G” in the alphabet, Z, Jay-Zed, Isaac Asimov’s test unionized, a gloomier and more brooding hero, a more philosophical CONAN, a more fantastical Howard story, wolf-men, a talking cat, animal people, Picts, Atlanteans, the Thurian Age, Mu, Lemuria, Atlantis, the final cataclysm, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Plato, Man from Atlantis, sea-barbarians, Brule the Spear-Slayer, “What, you would have me come alone?”, the Tower of Splendor, kingdom vs. empire, the Empire of The Seven Kingdoms, “squatting and living in the remnants of an older civilization”, secret passages and secret chambers, it’s like a mall, “I am Kull!”, in light of later events, King Kull’s identity crisis, I’m King, stop trying to depose me, Mel Brooks, Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, barbarians vs. traditional societies, constant talking, “a more purple depth of language”, the Shakespearean soliloquy, manly men, Hulk will smash, Weird Tales, By This Axe I Rule, King Conan vs. regular CONAN, Kull as a practice run for CONAN, Exile Of Atlantis, a sort of Science Fiction idea, Philip K. Dick, Robert Sheckley, The Thing (aka Who Goes There?), Eight O’clock In The Morning by Ray Nelson, They Live, waking to the full reality of the world, “the owners of the Earth”, a human mask over an alien face, “are you a snake man?”, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, alien replicants, The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick, identity, Howard isn’t only a purple prose action man, Kull’s philosophical bent, the speaking of the hooves, ruling an alien land, deep time, geologic time, reptoid conspiracy phenomenon, Congress as aliens, V, David Icke, Howard as a message man, there’s something metaphorical happening, a paranoia of trust, the old regime vs. the new regime, a Yes, Minister situation, new broom vs. old guard, a superhero story, the nameless serpent god, Set, Yig, Worms Of The Earth by Robert E. Howard, Thulsa Doom, Conan The Barbarian (1982), the Kull movie (Kull the Conqueror) with Kevin Sorbo, there’s no Brule, big hair and heavy metal guitar, a good farce, Valka’s face, it’s not god-awful.

The Shadow Kingdom illustrated by Hugh Rankin

TANTOR MEDIA - Kull: Exile Of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard

Conan's Brethren - Shadow Kingdom - illustrated by Les Edwards

Marvel Comics adaptation of The Shadow Kingdom

The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard - illustration by Roy Krenkel

The Shadow Kingdom - illustration by John and Marie Severin

The Shadow Kingdom illustrated by Severin

Posted by Jesse Willis

All three RED PANDA novels are available as audiobooks on Audible.com

New Releases

I do not hide my love for the Red Panda.

But, SPOILER ALERT, I’m actually in love with the Flying Squirrel.

Both of my loves show up in the three Red Panda novels that are now available on Audible.com.

Written by a certified genius, Gregg Taylor, and read by a certifiable genius, Gregg Taylor, these are the long-form superhero adventures that we’ve been waiting for. They are:

Tales Of The Red Panda - The Android Assassins by Gregg Taylor

Tales Of The Red Panda - The Mind Master by Gregg Taylor


Tales Of The Red Panda - The Crime Cabal by Gregg Taylor

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Superman Lives! AUDIO DRAMA

SFFaudio Review

Superman Lives! from TimeWarner AudioBooks

Superman Lives!
Written and directed by Dirk Maggs
Cast: William Hootkins, Lorelei King, Vincent Marzello, Garrick Hagon, Kerry Shale, Eric Myers, Denica Fairman, Liz Ross, Stuart Milligan, Bert Kwouk, Leon Herbert
Publisher: Time Warner AudioBooks
Released: 1994 BBC Enterprises Ltd/2005 Time Warner AudioBooks
ISBN: 1594830738

Synopsis: Daily Planet loves birds Clark Kent and Lois Lane finally get engaged. Lex Luthor dies in a plane crash, and Metropolis is thriving with prosperity and happiness under the infinite protection of Superman.

Or so it seems…

Follow the story of Lex Luthor’s true fate, and the fate of the new woman in his life…Supergirl. Listen to the heart-pounding fight to the death between Superman and a monster called Doomsday. Discover the truth about four new mysterious Superman.

And take a journey into the heart, minds, and unpredictable future of the Man of SteelTM everybody can count on…

…until one day, when he’s gone.

As with Star Wars, this is another of my “gold standard” shows against which other audio dramas are weighed. I mentioned it before in the standards post.

Helmed by the incomparable Dirk Maggs, Superman Lives! (known across The Pond as Superman: Doomsday and Beyond) features a stellar cast who give stunning life to some of the classic characters in the DC pantheon.Link

This is what Kingdom Come should’ve aspired to be.

From the opening funeral procession to the stirring fight to save Coast City at the end, we are treating to a veritible feast for the ears. Within just a few seconds of beginning, you know instantly that you’re in the hands of a master audio drama craftsman. When I first heard this back in the mid-90s, I was hooked right from the start.

I guarantee you will be, too.

The cast is simply fabulous and the acting is top-notch. As Clark Kent and Superman, Stuart Milligan initially evokes Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character (slightly bumbling Everyman Kent vs. commanding and authoritative Supes) through vocal quality then immediately makes it his own. Lorelei King gives Lois Lane a kind of quiet strength–part Margot Kidder from the original film, part Katherine Hepburn from The African Queen. William Hootkins as Lex Luthor is simply delicious in the role. I got an Alan Rickman-Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves vibe from his performance.

Superman’s titanic fight with Doomsday is the highlight of this production. In my view, at least. Music, sound design, and acting all come together in a breathtaking sequence that still, even after multiple listenings, make me wince, cringe, shudder, and leave me with a lump in my throat. I have to applaud Stuart and Lorelei for their performances in this section.

Bravo.

Overall, fantastic. Simply fantastic.

If you don’t own this yet, I highly suggest you get it now from Amazon or Audible.

Posted by Abner Senires

Review of Wild Cards edited by George R. R. Martin

SFFaudio Review

Wild Cards edited by George R. R. MartinWild Cards (Wild Cards #1)
Edited by George R. R. Martin; Read by Luke Daniels
19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: November 2011
ISBN: 9781455833009
Themes: / alternate history / superpowers / alien virus / superhero / urban fantasy / science fiction / horror /

Publisher Summary:

In the aftermath of WWII, an alien virus struck the Earth, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Originally published in 1987, the newly expanded saga contains additional original stories by eminent writers.

The stories contained in the audiobook are:
“Prologue” by George R. R. Martin
“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” by Howard Waldrop
“The Sleeper” by Roger Zelazny
“Witness” by Walter Jon Williams
“Degradation Rites” by Melinda Snodgrass
“Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace” by Michael Cassutt
“Powers” by David D. Levine
“Shell Games” by George R. R. Martin
“The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner
“Transfigurations” by Victor Milán
“Down Deep” by Edward Bryant and Leanne C. Harper
“Strings” by Stephen Leigh
“Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan” by Carrie Vaughn
“Comes a Hunter” by John J. Miller

There are also a variety of “Interludes” in between the stories, which are short bits mostly written in the form of newspaper or magazine articles or first-hand witness accounts. These interludes are often used to bridge the narrative with real events from US history, to provide the reader with insight as to the feelings in this “alternate history” type world.

Generally, this is a story of the effects of an alien virus on humanity between the time shortly following World War II through the late 70’s/early 80’s. The virus was brought to earth by aliens from a planet called Takis. It was developed as a device to give Takisians superpowers to be used as a part of large-scale family wars on Takis. The aliens wanted to test it, so sought to release it on Earth, as humans are genetically very similar to Takisians. “Prologue” introduces us to an alien who is called (by the humans, as his name is not well-suited to human speech) Dr. Tachyon and the “Wild Cards” virus. Dr. Tachyon is also a Takisian, but tried to prevent the release of the virus on Earth. “Prologue” sets the scene and tone for the world of the book. It also provides an insight into Dr. Tachyon’s values: he doesn’t ask first for the President of the US, he instead asks for the top scientists and thinkers. This is an obvious nod by George R. R. Martin to those who have true powers in the US.

“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” tells the story of Jet Boy, an American superhero, and the release of the Wild Cards virus over Manhattan in September, 1946. Jet Boy is a true hero, an all-American kid who came back from fighting in World War II with a superhero story of his ace flying abilities. He is the only superhero in the book who wasn’t a superhero because of the virus, but because of his innate abilities and selflessness. In a theme that becomes common through the book, the reader is reminded that a hero is a hero because of what they do, not because of their skills. Jet Boy tries—and fails—to stop the virus from being released.

The virus is brutal. It only impacts humans, with no effects on other species. It kills most of its victims, but those who survive (only about a tenth of those exposed to the virus) are not left unscathed. Through the rest of the book, the reader is introduced to various people impacted by the virus. The first stories tell mainly of “Aces,” those who get super powers from the virus (usually in the form of telekinesis and/or greatly enhanced physical abilities. Later, the reader is introduced to the concept of “Jokers,” who become horribly deformed due to the virus. The first interlude presents the concept of “Deuces,” those who get an “ace-like” ability that is not particularly useful, like “Mr. Rainbow,” whose ability is to change the color of his skin.

The narrative takes the reader through time: each story is a snapshot of a period in US history and provides a sort of “alternate history” of how that time may have been different if there had been these Aces and Jokers were around. Some of the early stories, taking place during the era of HUAC and McCarthyism, show how the aces became subjects of witch hunts and were forced into service in the US military or intelligence agencies. Jokers are looked upon as second-class beings, a theme that plays a large role during the stories set in the 60’s and 70’s, mirroring the US Civil Rights Movement. Some of the stories are sad, such as “The Sleeper” and “Witness.” Some are a bit more uplifting and triumphant, such as “Shell Games.” A lot of the stories, especially the later ones, become a bit creepy, with people using their powers for selfish reasons, as in “Strings.”

All in all, Wild Cards serves as an interesting statement on humanity through the guise of a “what if” scenario. All of the stories are eminently believable—at no time did anything that happened seem overwhelmingly unlikely. To some extent, that’s a bit of a sad statement on humanity—as the book goes on, aces and jokers alike seem to be only interested in helping themselves, looking out for their own (often misguided) interests.

The narration, done by Luke Daniels, was pretty good in the audiobook. He had a good speed and good intonation for most of the characters, and it was easy to tell each character apart. As often happens with male narrators trying to do female voices, some of the females sounded whiny, but it wasn’t so over the top so as to be unlistenable. After listening to this narration, I’ll be keeping Luke Daniels on my radar when looking at audiobooks.

Personally, I preferred the stories in the first half of the book to those in the second half. In the second half, the stories got quite a bit darker, more creepy and violent. After the strong lead-in with the Prologue and “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway,” I quite enjoyed the origin stories and the weaving-in of events in US history. As the book progressed, the stories didn’t seem quite as engaging—for one, I actually repeatedly fell asleep while listening, and ended up having rewind and re-listen to some of the others. There was also one story that was too graphic both in terms of sex and violence for me, “The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato” by Lewis Shiner. By the end, I wasn’t interested in more stories of people serving their own interests. There are other books in the series, which I have heard are more like the stories at the end of the book—I’m not sure that they’ll be for me. But I enjoyed this anthology well enough and would recommend it to others interested in a cross of science fiction, general fiction, and horror genres.

Review by terpkristin