Review of The Great Secret by L. Ron Hubbard

SFFaudio Review

The Great Secret by L. Ron HubbardThe Great Secret
By L. Ron Hubbard; Read by various
2 CDs – Approx. 2 Hours 20 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Galaxy Press
Published: 2008
ISBN: 1592122493
Themes: / Science Fiction / Pulp / Spaceship / Navy / Venus / Slavery /
Fanner Marston was raised as a slave as a child, became a petty street thief as a teen, and now masters his own craft and crew as a grown man. He’s also gone completely mad. Driven by privation, with a vicious greed and slavering lust for power, Marston alone of forty men has survived the perilous trek through a blistering desert to the magical city of Parva, where legend says a secret awaits which will give him absolute control over the Universe. However, Marston finds the key to all power is not at all what he expected…”

Galaxy Press has given a deluxe treatment to these very pulpy pulp tales. The handsome cover art dates from 1949. Inside the package there is a 37 page, fully illustrated, booklet that includes a 6 page essay by Kevin J. Anderson and a 15 page biography of Hubbard. There are four stories included in this collection:

The Great Secret (Approx. 17 Minutes) – Narrated by Bruce Boxleitner, this is a fairly compelling, and quite strong story. The tale of an utterly driven man, searching for the alien tech rosetta stone that will make him the master of the universe. It could be interpreted as a Buddhist, Confucian or even Nietzschean parable. It also reminded me of the old “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” episode from the original Twilight Zone TV series. Boxleitner does good work.

Space Can (Approx. 35 Minutes) – A tale written in a bombastic puff that is so pulpy as to feel like it’s a pure pastiche. It’s the tale of a space navy ship “Menace” on patrol against superior aliens from Saturn. The action feels like a WWI-era naval battle, or earlier, complete with iron plated battleships, brstling with cannons, all pounding away at each other. There’s a lot in this short story, a breif setup, a few fights, a steely-eyed captain and crew, not to mention the fun sword-wielding ship boarding scenes. Space Can has multiple readers, though they only show up when the sparse dialogue appears.

3. The Beast (Approx. 43 Minutes) – On swampy Venus a mysterious Beast must be killed. Ginger Cranston, a “great white hunter” from Earth. Despite all the action this may be the most thoughtful tale in this collection, I quite liked where it went, though the getting there could have been a lot clearer. It’s almost like the movie Predator, except with an inversion of the alien and the man. Running water, grunts, and punching sounds all make the nifty action the narrator is giving out, hard to hear. It’s like a white noise, interfering with story.

4. The Slaver (Approx. 42 Minutes) – The weakest tale in this set, hardly memorable. Captured by slave traders, our hero, Kree Lorin the young hawk of Falcon’s Nest, outwits his captors, frees Dana, the “peasant girl of Palmerton” girl, and regains his spaceship. It’s got some very hokey dialogue and even hokier descriptions. I ended up not caring about it, and had to go back and listen again to recall any of the details.

Overall, the entire audiobook all feels over-produced. These Hubbard tales don’t really require multiple readers as they are very dialogue sparse. Also, the spartan use of sound effects and atmospheric sound doesn’t add anything substantial – in fact, in poor listening conditions, like while listening on the road, makes the varied voice types harder to hear. I can recommend The Beast and The Great Secret, these are solid pulp stories.

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC 7: Of Withered Apples by Philip K. Dick & Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Radio 7 - BBC7This weekend’s offerings on BBC Radio 7 include a Philip K. Dick short story that was first broadcast on BBC7 in September 2003. It was first printed in the July 1954 issue of Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine. And, in the middle of next week the 7th Dimension begins broadcasting the second novel in C.S. Lewis’ “Cosmic Trilogy.” Perelandra was first published in 1943. It makes an allegorical argument in the form of interplanetary adventure. Listeners familiar with the Narnia books will find a familiar morality play at work in Perelandra.

BBC Radio 7 - Of Withered Apples by Philip K. DickOf Withered Apples
By Philip K. Dick; Read by William Hootkins
1 Part – Approx. 30 Minutes [ABRIDGED?]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 7 / The 7th Dimension
Broadcast: Sunday at 6.30pm and 12.30am
More horror than science-fiction – A young woman picks the last withered apple from an ancient tree. Although this ensures the tree’s survival, the cost is horrifically high.

BBC 7 Perelandra by C.S. LewisPerelandra
By C.S. Lewis; Read by Alex Jennings
18 Parts – Approx. 9 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 7 / The 7th Dimension
Broadcast: Wednesday to Friday at 6.30pm and 12.30pm (continuing)
Perelandra continues the sometimes thrilling, sometimes mystical, but always sublimely evocative adventures of Dr.Ransom first explored in Out of the Silent Planet. In this second volume of C.S.Lewis’ acclaimed Cosmic Trilogy, Ransom is called to the beautiful paradise planet of Perelandra, or Venus, which is in grave peril from his old adversary Dr.Weston. Ransom encounters floating islands and bubble trees as well as an all-powerful female ruler, an Eve figure who undergoes temptation at the hands of a Satan figure in the form of Weston. Ransom must engage with Weston in a desperate struggle to save the purity of Perelandra.”

Each broadcast will be available via the “listen again” feature for a week after airing.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Sky People by S.M. Stirling

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Sky People by S.M. StirlingThe Sky People
By S.M. Stirling; Read by Todd McLaren
1 MP3-CD or 9 CDs – Approx. 10.5 Hrs [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 140015345X (MP3-CD), 9781400103454 (CDs)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Alternate History / Adventure / Venus / Dinosaurs / Neanderthals / Airships / Cold War / Pulp /


He swayed back against the recoil and worked the bolt with a quick flick of his first three fingers. A body exploded out of the patch of tall grass he’d aimed at. It was a biped, about his own size and covered in yellow-green feathers except for a crest of crimson plumes that snapped out in reflex as the lizard body writhed in death. The jump put it a good twelve feet into the air; a good deal of its length was the powerful digitigrade legs, both with a great sickle-shaped claw held up against the hock. That flashed out in equally automatic reflex as the vicious predator struck out in one last attempt to disembowel whatever had hurt it. A steam-engine hiss escaped the long fanged mouth, scarlet-purple within, and a spray of blood came with it from the lungs shredded by the powerful expanding bullet.

“Raptor pack!” Marc shouted to the herdsman.

The Sky People fits into that alternate history sub-genre of SF but not in the usual way. Generally, alternate history tales follow the events of the real world with one event changed in the past that creates a different outcome and changes history from that point forward. This may be the South winning the Civil War or Mary, Queen of Scots, becoming the Queen of England. The departing point for this novel took place approximately 200 million years ago. But it didn’t occur so much on our own planet but on Venus and Mars. This means this alternate Earth’s history doesn’t change until the U.S. and Soviet Union start exploring interplanetary space.

The prologue features the landing of an American rocket ship on Venus in 1962. The planet’s surface appears as a lush jungle – then running into view of the film camera is an exotic and beautiful scantily fur-clad female with her clan’s people.

The novel proper then begins 22 years later in 1988. The Cold War has changed from an arms race into a competitive interplanetary space race to explore and stake their claims on Venus and Mars. Marc Vitrac, a citizen of Jamestown, the U.S.-Commonwealth scientific colony, welcomes the newly arrived rocket passengers. Their mode of transportation from the landing site to Jamestown is on the back of dinosaurs through the jungle lushness of Venus.

Meanwhile, on the nearby Venusian continent, the Soviet bloc has set up their own scientific outpost. When one of their shuttle crash lands in the relative vicinity of Jamestown, a rescue party is put together to search for survivors. They travel via airship, and it does not fair well against the natural hostile environment. What’s more, there is a saboteur among the blimp’s crew.

The story grows more intriguing as Marc Vitrac and the stranded party of the airship meet with a clan of primitive humans. The two parties join forces to face off against a tribe of armed Neanderthals!

As you might imagine, this novel reads as a love letter to the early pulp master, Edgar Rice Burroughs. But it’s no mere pastiche of the creator of Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, and most pertinently, Carson of Venus. Stirling uses hard science justifications for his world building. And there’s also more of an emphasis on cultural diversity that you’d expect from a novel written in the 21st century. Sterling is a capable writer, whether it is a turning of a phrase or a description of lush imagery, he’s able to handle it all without getting too far from the gloriously pulpy action. Burroughs is often mentioned in the book as being a major influence on the many of the denizens of the scientific colony.

What exactly happened those 200 million years ago isn’t exactly clear. Why is the planet’s evolution so closely tied to that of Earth’s? The reigning hypothesis in The Sky People is that aliens seeded the planets nearest Earth. There are mysteries here that are to be answered over the length of the trilogy.

Todd McLaren handles the dialects deftly without overemphasizing the accents. Some novels are well-suited to be adapted to audiobook, as if they were written for that treatment. The Sky People is one of these, it makes an ideal audiobook. The large ranch of characters with multi-cultural backgrounds enables Todd McLaren to apply his talent for dialect and keeping the listening experience fresh and varied. Sterling also writes with sounds effects—meaning, he literally writes “Unnnngg-OOOK!” for a bellowing dinosaur, so it’s like the story has the sound effects built in, which McLaren gets to vocalize.

The Sky People is a rare pleasure—well-written, thrill-ride excitement, fun characters, lush settings, and all wrapped-up in a wonderful vocal performance. This is the first novel in a projected trilogy. I sincerely hope that Tantor Audio, with the talents of Todd McLaren, publishes the complete series.

Review of Venus by Ben Bova

Venus by Ben BovaVenus
By Ben Bova; Read by Arte Johnson
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574534750
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Travel / Venus / Asteroids /

Venus is one of Ben Bova’s Grand Tour novels, written after both Mars and Return to Mars. The story begins on the Moon as a man named Van Humphries hustles to a meeting with his dad. There, he finds out that his rich estranged father has offered $10 billion to the first person who can journey to Venus and retrieve the remains of Van’s older brother, who was lost in a landing attempt on the inhospitable planet. Van himself takes up the challenge, building a ship and collecting a crew. They compete in a Great Race of sorts with another ship.

The book is filled with interesting details of space travel, or what space travel might someday be like if mankind starts devoting it’s energy to greater things. Bova portrays an active solar system with colonies on the Moon and miners swarming throughout the asteroid belt. There is also much of interest when the crews reach Venus and enter the planet’s atmosphere. The ships navigate the thick cloud layers with much difficulty, encountering much that they didn’t expect.

So far, the novel I’ve described sounds like it could have been written by Arthur C. Clarke, but the greatest difference between the two writers is that Bova tells a very personal human story against the backdrop of the hectic trip to Venus. Van Humphries discovers things about his brother, about his father and mother, and ultimately about himself. He confronts the fact that things are not what they seemed to be his whole life, and he finds this out while battling for survival in the planet’s extreme environment. The humanity and the science provide a stark contrast that worked for me, and increased my interest in the next volume of The Grand Tour.

Arte Johnson narrates and does a terrific job. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another title that he narrates. I enjoyed his pace and tone, and, of course, his timing is out of this world.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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