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Tantor Halloween Sale

Tantor Media, is having a sale and there are two ghoulishly good audio drama sets included (both of which we’ve reviewed)…

Nightmares On Congress Street Part 5Nightmares V
By Various; FULL CAST
2 CDs or 1 MP3 CD – 2 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
|LINK TO PURCHASE|
They’re baaaaaaaaaaaaacckkkkk!!! Rocky Coast Radio Theatre returns with yet another copious cornucopia of classic concoctions, crafted and compiled for the captive congregation (gotta love that thesaurus!). Nightmares on Congress Street, Part V offers dramatized adaptations (complete with music and sound effects) of chilling stories penned by Edgar Allan Poe, Hugh B. Cave, and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as a few additional treats. So douse the lights, snuggle up with your favorite corpse…(oops) “life-challenged” person, and prepare to be thoroughly goosebumped.

Nightmares On Congress Street Part 4Nightmares IV
By Various; FULL CAST
2 CDs or 1 MP3 CD- 2 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
|LINK TO PURCHASE|

Year four of the Rocky Coast Radio Theatre’s spooky radio performances includes theatrical interpretations of works by W.W. Jacobs, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert W. Service—sure to send shivers down your spine!

Review of Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook – Pattern Recognition by William GibsonPattern Recognition
By William Gibson; Read by Shelley Frasier
9 CDs – 10.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2004
ISBN: 140010095X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Internet / 9-11 / Crime /

“Cool Hunter.” How about that for a dream job? Companies pay you (and ply you with the latest technological goodies) to identify trends and fashions that spring up at street level so that they can commodify them and turn a buck. As far as I know, William Gibson (the man responsible for the term “cyberspace”) didn’t coin “cool hunting,” but he makes good use of the idea in “Pattern Recognition.” Cayce Pollard is Gibson’s heroine and the consummate cool hunter. Cayce can spend an afternoon walking through the teenagers clogging the streets of London when school lets out and identify at least three of tomorrow’s money-making fashion trends. She can look at two potential logos for a company and immediately know which of them will connect better with the targeted demographic. Like any other talent, though, being able to tell what works and what doesn’t has its downside. Cayce has an almost allergic reaction to most brand names; she’s got to have the labels removed from and the words filed off of the rivets on her black 501’s, her Casio G-Shock has got to be logo-free, and don’t even think about coming near her with a picture of the Michelin Man. Cayce is also deeply obsessed with a captivating film that has been mysteriously released, bit-by-bit, over the Internet, an obsession that opens the door for Gibson’s intricate plot.

Pattern Recognition was written soon after 9-11 (the events of which it references regularly), and is set in a very realistic 2002. The book probably doesn’t even technically qualify as science fiction, but Gibson keeps his ear so close to the tech-development ground that the story gives the impression of being futuristic. In fact, the book can be used as a sort of barometer to gauge your level of tech-geekiness. Are image-based search engines and vintage calculator fetishes old-hat to you? Congratulations, you’re ready to tackle Doctorow and Stross. Is the idea of a “render farm” unknown to you, and do you still double-take when you hear “google” used as a verb? Better stick to Card and Haldeman.

Having said that, this is probably the most accessible of all of Gibson’s books. His embrace of a post-cash economy era heroine and his tangential explorations of Internet forum social hierarchies and information-age Russian Mafia thugs will satisfy sci-fi vets (and provides solid evidence of Gibson’s place as a powerful influence on the new wave of cyber-post-punk writers), but the realness of Cayce’s femininity, the lack of one-dimensional characters, and, particularly, the overall attractive melancholy mood of the book make it one that you can safely recommend to your sci-fi avoidant spouse and friends.

I read the text version of Pattern Recognition soon after it came out, and was pleasantly surprised at how much enjoyment the audio book added to my experience. Shelley Frasier’s pleasantly dry narration, able handling of accents, and especially the sexy innocence she gives Cayce’s voice had me popping discs in one after another. I have a very pleasant memory of taking a break from a late-night Fawlty Towers marathon to get some Burger King, and staying in my garage five extra minutes just to finish listening to Shelley describe a British noodle bar called “Charlie Don’t Surf”.

The text version of the book includes a drawing of an object that is vital to the plot, and I was worried that the audio book might get awkward at that point, but truth be told, I didn’t even notice the absence of the drawing.

So, hats off to Gibson, Frasier, and the folks at Tantor Media for putting together an excellent reading of a great science fiction novel (that isn’t even really science fiction). As wonderful as Gibson’s more speculative work is, if Pattern Recognition is what it looks like when both of his feet touch ground, then I wouldn’t mind if he came down to earth more often.

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 Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Altered Carbon by Richard K. MorganAltered Carbon
By Richard K. Morgan; Read by Todd McLaren
14 CDs or 2 MP3-CDs – 14 Hours 54 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1400101379 (Retail CDs), 1400131375 (Library CDs), 1400151376 MP3-CDs
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mystery / Cyberpunk / Immortality / Artificial Intelligence / Galactic Civilization / Conciousness Uploading / Hardboiled Fiction / Noir Fiction /

“Fuelled by every crime noir novel I’d ever read, plus swabs of French and Japanese cinema, the work of William Gibson and M. John Harrison, early Poul Anderson and Bob Shaw, and last but not least the colossal impact of Bladerunner, this was my take on future noir. Fast forward to middle of the new millenium, and down where it counts, nothing has changed, because neither have we. Enter Takeshi Kovacs.”
–Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon is a stunning debut novel. A near classic, it boils over with solid SF ideas all encased in violent and vivid prose as told in a hardboiled first person narration. Set a few hundred years in the future, humanity has started colonizing the galaxy under the supervision of the United Nations. From one such world comes Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-U.N. Envoy (interplanetary special forces) who’s been brought to Earth in order to work as a private detective for a murdered “Meth”. Meths are the ultra rich, able to afford new cloned bodies so that they can live forever. This is achieved by means of the “cortical stack” technology, a backup harddrive for one’s mind, implanted in the skull shortly after birth. Most people can’t afford to be “re-sleeved” after they die, and so languish in storage for centuries. Convicted criminals have their bodies sold out from under them.

Interplanetary travel is done by way of “needlecast”, a form of faster than light transmission of data. No bodies are transported – visitors from distant planets are re-sleeved in a local body. With these technologies many of society’s values have changed. “Real death” is rare, “organic damage” is far more common. And even real death, the destruction of a cortical stack, isn’t necessarily the end since the ultra rich keep backups. Needlecast transmission of stack’s data on a regular basis makes one virtually immortal. Like working with any fallible system though you just have to remember to backup, and frequently.

Laurens Bancroft, a centuries old tycoon brought Kovacs to Earth in order to investigate his apparent suicide, something the Meth thinks was really a murder – though he can’t say for sure as he was backed up 48 hours before his death. The investigation leads Kovacs into a tangled web of politics, prostitution and power games with stakes as high as an immortal lifespan can offer. Thrown into the mix is a dirty cop, his driven parter, an artifically intelligent hotel, and a whole lot of bloodshed.

Though at first blush this appears to be a straight out neo-cyberpunk novel, it has more depth. The mystery and hardboiled elements are a direct homage to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep with Kovacs in the Philip Marlowe role. Like The Big Sleep, Altered Carbon is complicated and hard to follow, with many characters double and triple-crossing each other. SF elements, like the conciousness uploading, are not particularily new, but Morgan’s take is, and it is well integrated into the plot. One scene which has Kovacs “cross-sleeved” into a female body for investigative purposes illustrates just how wild the concept of this kind of mind swapping can be.

There are several lengthy sex scenes and even more combat scenes. I liked the way they were handled (some of the descriptions were positively Gibsonian) but I grew fatigued at their numerousness and frequency. Another problem was the over-use of “neuro chem” as a cure all for crisis situations. UN Envoy training allows envoys to battle harder and smarter than anyone without such training, so whenever things get rough for Takeshi, and they get rough frequently, he falls back on his “neuro chem.” The problem there is it ends up working like an inexaustible turbo boost – he’s too powerful, too skilled for sustained anxiety on the part of the reader. Like Neo in the second and third Matrix movies, we stop caring. On the other hand, the plot twists delightfully defy expectation and are cleverly rendered. The way the story is told is reminiscent of the best kinds of noir fiction. It is as solid a modern science fiction novel that reads better than any first novel has any right to be.

Tantor sent us the Library bound CD edition, which came in a clamshell stlye plastic case. Durable and easily accessed. Sound quality is near flawless with high recording levels. Narrator Todd McLaren is Takeshi Kovacs, and his reading is cool and smooth like the confident interstellar hard-case he’s portraying. There are at least a half dozen female roles he’s equally adroit with, some of which required breathy libidinousness, some irate rage. I look forward to an encore performances in the sequel, Broken Angels.

Incidentally, Tantor Media snapped up all four of the Richard K. Morgan novels released so far, you can check them out HERE along with more than a dozen other Science Fiction and Fantasy titles available so far. Tantor is becoming a solid source for SF&F audio goodness.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars
By Edgar Rice Burroughs; Read by John Bolen
6 CD’s – 6 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2001
ISBN: 1400100186
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mars / Aliens / Swordplay / Classic /

There are few classic novels with as much influence as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. First published in 1912 (serialized in All-Story magazine with the title Under the Moons of Mars), Burroughs sparked the imagination of many of science fiction’s golden age writers, including Ray Bradbury and his Martian Chronicles. The audiobook cover is a detail from the 1919 Grosset & Dunlap cover.

A Princess of Mars is an imaginative adventure novel in which John Carter, a Virginian military man who starts the story running from Indians in the Arizona desert, is magically transported to Mars. Burroughs does not go into detail on the mechanics of the transportation, but does go into great detail about the inhabitants of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its natives.

There are two races on Mars – a four-armed green warrior race, and a red human-like race. The princess of the title is Dejah Thoris of Helium, whose beauty captures John Carter when he sees her taken by him in chains by some four-armed Barsoomians.

The novel is filled with damsel-in-distress/derring-do-male-hero sensibility that is laughable at times, but still the story holds up as a classic of the genre. Burroughs’ description of an alien culture is a forerunner of an entire category of science fiction, and I found it entertaining on that level. I also felt a great deal of nostalgia, because I read this book a few times as a early teen, along with the other ten Mars volumes, and a Tarzan or three.

John Bolen performs the whole book as John Carter, with a southern gentlemanly manner that the character demands. This means not only Carter’s attitude, but his southern accent, which took me a few minutes to settle into.

Check out Tantor’s science fiction and fantasy section for more Edgar Rice Burroughs titles.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

New Releases: A Century of Science Fiction, an unabridged narrat…

New Releases

A Century of Science Fiction, an unabridged narrated history of science fiction film and television, Request Audiobooks
This looks interesting… from the description: “Here are the details of some of the most well known science fiction films and television series ever created: A Trip To The Moon, The Day The Earth Stood Still, The War of The Worlds, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Aliens, Star Wars, Star Trek, and many more. Listen to the recapitulations of sci-fi voyages from the men and women who realized these fantasies. With interviews and sound bites from their films, William Shatner, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephen Spielberg, and Kevin Costner, along with Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington, Raquel Welch, Orson Welles, just to name a few, speak of their excursions into strange, new worlds…”

Eye for Eye by Orson Scott Card, read by Stefan Rudnicki, Unabridged, Request Audiobooks
Here’s an audio version of Orson Scott Card’s Hugo Award-winning novella Eye for Eye.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, read by Christopher Hurt, Unabridged, Blackstone Audio
Ray Bradbury’s classic novel about a fireman whose job it is to burn books. Click here for an audio sample.

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin, read by John Lee, Unabridged, Random House Audio
Book 4 in the A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series by George R.R. Martin. Been waiting for this one… It’s also available at Books on Tape in library binding. Yay! Listen to excerpt oneListen to excerpt two.

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, read by Jonathan Kent, Unabridged, Tantor Media
A classic H.G. Wells novel from Tantor Media, the fine folks who brought us Edgar Rice Burroughs on audio.

King Kong by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper, read by Stefan Rudnicki, Unabridged, Blackstone Audio
This is a novelization of the original King Kong script, and includes commentary by Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Catherine Asaro, Jack Williamson, and Marc Zicree. Click here for an audio sample.

March Upcountry by David Weber and John Ringo, read by Stefan Rudnicki, Unabridged, Blackstone Audio
A novel by two masters of military SF – click here for an audio sample.

Master of Dragons by Margaret Weis, read by Suzanne Toren, Unabridged, Audio Renaissance
This is the third novel in a trilogy written by Margaret Weis, who is half of the Weis-Hickman team that wrote many popular epic fantasy novels in the Dragonlance series. Click here for an audio sample.

Run for the Stars by Harlan Ellison, read by the Author, Unabridged, Request Audiobooks
A new (to audio) story by Harlan Ellison. That alone makes it a must-have!

Star Wars: Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno, read by Jonathan Davis, Abridged, Random House Audio
Star Wars! I continue to be impressed with the richness of the Star Wars line of audio novels. Jonathan Davis is the perfect reader, and the production quality is first rate.

The Unnameable: Four Tales by H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft, Read by David Cade, with music by Paolo Barzini, Unabridged, Tales of Orpheus
Contains: “The Book”, “The Music of Erich Zann”, “The Cats of Ulthar”, and “The Unnameable”

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, read by Maxwell Caulfield, Unabridged, Request Audiobooks
The original War of the Worlds novel.

And from Escape Pod in the past month:
“The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario” by Benjamin Rosenbaum, read by Chris Miller with Stephen Eley
“The Great Old Pumpkin” by John Aegard, read by Stephen Eley
“Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw” by Jeffrey R. DeRego, read by Jonathan Sullivan
“The Ludes” by Lisa M. Bradley, read by Stephen Eley
“Mount Dragon” by Vera Nazarian, read by Stephen Eley

Posted by Scott D. Danielson