Review of Monstrous Regiment By Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment by Terry PratchettMonstrous Regiment
By Terry Pratchett; read by Stephen Briggs
8 Cassettes – 12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2003
ISBN: 060569964
Themes: / Fantasy / Series / Humor / War / Soldiers / Feminist /

God is an extremely uneven writer, but when He’s good, nobody can touch Him.
– John William Gardner

Okay, so Terry Pratchett is not God. But he does share the Deity’s gift of inconsistent greatness. He is, at least, a genius of English prose, not content simply to write funny stories, but daring to tweak the nose of our language and showcase its penchant for both the sublime and the silly. If your ears have been trampled lately by elephantine sentences that flatten entire stories beneath them, then you should treat yourself to some Pratchett. His exquisitely chosen details and extended comic riffs will cleanse your literary palette like a chilled Riesling.
Monstrous Regiment, set in Pratchett’s private universe known as the Diskworld, is a harmless novel about war, sort of. Actually, it’s about soldiers, and about soldiers who don’t actually get much war on them, which is fortunate, because Pratchett’s humor is nowhere near dark enough to handle the strikingly unfunny hell of war. There are some touching moments, and some very funny details (like his adroit comparison of war and a large city), but they don’t add up to a great novel.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is cute enough. It concerns a girl named Polly Perks from the war-happy country of Borogravia who manages to sign herself up, against religious edict, in the armed services. Polly is a plucky and likeable heroine; her Sergeant Jackrum is irascible yet equally likeable; and her vampire, troll, Igor, and human fellow soldiers are a somewhat quirky, mysterious, yet unsurprisingly likeable bunch. Add to this a silly Lieutenant and a couple familiar characters like William DeWord and Sgt. Vimes, and you have the makings of a harmless jape that pokes fun at young men, military officers, greedy countries with pretensions to benevolence, ridiculous religious fundamentalism, and people who think with their socks. But this book is too lightweight to be much more than an amusing diversion. The Borogravians are let off too lightly for the savage devastation of their own country, the deaths that occur have little impact on anyone, and the theme of female empowerment seems diluted by excessive application. What’s more, the entire structure of the story seems slightly off-balance: The climax is anemic, and the denouement protracted.

On the audio side, however, this book is a joy. Stephen Briggs is billed on the cover as a disturbingly devoted Pratchett fan, which nearly frightened me off. But have no fear, the man can read well, too. His voice conjures the entire cast of Monty Python as well as some note-perfect monster stereotypes, and he nimbly handles Pratchett’s playful prose, both in the small turns of phrase that pepper the story throughout and in the occasional extended verbal set pieces. He gives these inspired moments the space they deserve, like old Aunt Audrey waving her arms to clear a room before performing her world-famous flying back flip off the china cabinet.

All in all, this is an amusing but sub-par work from a master of humorous fantasy. If you’ve never read Pratchett before, I recommend dropping a brick on your little toe for punishment, and then picking up The Colour of Magic, Guards! Guards!, or The Thief of Time. You can save this one for later, when you still want to laugh and think, but not so hard.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of Night On Mispec Moor By Larry Niven

Night on Mispec Moor by Larry NivenNight On Mispec Moor
By Larry Niven, Read by Warren James
ARCHIVED ONLINE – Click here to visit Hour 25 and listen
27 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hour25Online.com
Published: 2001
Themes: / Horror / Science Fiction / War /

“Now I know that most of you quite rightly associate Larry’s writings with hard SF, not horror. But that doesn’t mean he can’t write a cracking good horror yarn when he sets his mind to it. But being one of the premiere writers of hard SF; when he writes horror it’s with his own unique twist. In Night on Mispec Moor Larry tells a tale about a man trapped in a place where the fog lies thick and close to the ground and where the dead really return to life. And though this story is most certainly horror, it is also hard SF. Way cool and highly memorable.”
-Warren James, Hour 25

For the 2001 Halloween broadcast of Hour 25, Warren James, the show’s host, with the kind permission of author Larry Niven, read the short story “Night On Mispec Moor”. This excellent tale was first published in Vertex Magazine‘s August 1974 issue. Thankfully, internet archiving allows us to still listen to this gem of a story! And though Warren James is not a professional audiobook narrator, his reading is a good! One minor issue though – as with any Hour 25 broadcast the volume has to be turned way up and there is some digitization to the sound. James also includes a short introduction to the story, and its well worth hearing. So if your in the mood for a really spooky hard SF horror story check it out.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of 84.2 Minutes with Algis Budrys

84.2 Minutes with Algis Budrys84.2 Minutes Of Algis Budrys
By Algis Budrys, Read by Algis Budrys
1 Cassette – 84.2 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Unifont Company
Published: 1995
ISBN: 1886211019
Themes: Science Fiction / Interstellar Travel / War / Immortality / Post Apocalypse / Fairy Tales / Alternate History / Parallel Worlds /

The four stories in this rare collection are densely packed with terrific science fiction ideas and all four share a haunted bittersweet quality. Algis Budrys lets the power of his text completely rule over his performance. Budrys barely distinguishes between the characters; he reads it in an almost conspiratorial style saying, “If you don’t like them, there’s very little more I can say. But I secretly think you will like them, in which case there’s nothing much more I need to say”. His philosophy has extended into the production as well, this is a very utilitarian audiobook, pages can be heard turning in the background while he reads, the cover art is completely non-existent and the title is hardly evocative of much at all, but despite it all 84.2 Minutes Of Algis Budrys is a worthy addition to any science fiction audio fan’s library. The only hard part may be getting a hold of one!

Stories Included:

“The Distant Sound Of Engines”
Severely maimed in an automotive accident, a patient recovering in hospital listens as his roommate, a dying man spouts formulas for faster than light travel, the alloy specifications for ultra strong spacecraft hulls and everything else necessary to make humans an interstellar species. First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction’s March 1959 issue.

“Explosions!”
On a distant water-world that was long ago colonized by humans, a pirate king comes up with a plan to unify the many islands of his planet, and do it by force. “Explosions!” was written under the pseudonym William Scarff and first appeared in Tomorrow Speculative Fiction’s April 1993 issue.

“The Price”
The Earth’s civilizations have been destroyed, fewer than 100 people survive, mankind’s last hope is an enigmatic hunchback who’s been imprisoned for more than 150 years. He’d been chained in various dungeons or enslaved in forced labour camps, but when Europe was annihilated in a global war, and every person there was destroyed, he alone walked out. First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction’s February 1960 issue

“Never Meet Again”
England surrendered in 1940, by 1941 German U-boats ruled the Atlantic, by 1942 the Russian’s had surrendered at Stalingrad. Now fifteen years later a respected researcher in the Greater German Reich has finished his life’s work, a machine that can access alternate worlds. “Never Meet Again” was first published in the 1958 anthology The Unexpected Dimension.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne

SFFaudio Review

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Based on the novel by Jules Verne; Performed by a full cast
33 1/3 RPM LP – Approximately 45 minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Wonderland Golden Records
Published: 1974 – Out Of Print
Themes: / Science Fiction / Submarines / War / Mad Scientist /

“…and when I am through I, Captain Nemo, shall rule the earth!”

“He’s mad, Baker! Mad, I tell you!”

Captain Nemo is the genius commander of a strange underwater ship “Nautilus”, which he invented to wage war against civilization. Captain Nemo’s base of operations for his fiendish scheme is the lost continent of Atlantis, which has sunk to the bottom of the sea centuries before.

Performed by something called “The Wonderland Imagination Theater” this is an old time radio style audio dramatization, complete with clichéd lines like “As you well know, my name is…”. What’s worse is that very little of Verne’s plotting is retained, whoever adapted this for audio seems to have decided he or she knew better how to plot a story than the inventor of modern science fiction! Production values are good, with appropriate and well-composed music, sound effects and background noise. Also on the plus side, the LP has a great campy comic book style cover, complete with word balloons. In fact if you think of the whole production as camp, its not all that bad. Unfortunately I don’t think this was what they were going for, admittedly the production is designed primarily for children. Perhaps it was sufficiently interesting for a young child back in 1974. For me it was a disappointment.

Posted by Jesse Willis