The Sky People by S. M. Stirling

Narrator: Todd McLaren

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2007)

Length: 10 hours 38 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Lords of Creation

Author’s Page

In the 1960s, probes to Venus discovered something completely unexpected – life on Venus. Subsequent probes revealed plenty of animal life including dinosaur-like creatures and human-like people complete with civilizations. Now in the 1980s, the US and it’s allies have set up a small scientific outpost on Venus. The Soviet East Block has done the same thing. Venus comes with plenty of dangers but now it seems there might be a saboteur among the American & Allies crew.

Marc Vitrac, born in Louisiana and complete with Cajun accent, is the hero of this tale. He’s got the smarts and the muscles and the skills while also being friendly to Venusian canines and respectful of women. It’s rare to find such a man in science fiction (and even rarer to find one in real life). I really enjoyed this character partially because of all that stated above but because he’s also put in extraordinary circumstances in which he manages to keep his wits about him.

The setting was gripping. First, we know today that we are very unlikely to find Earth-like people and animals on Venus, but imagine if we had? Wouldn’t that raise all sorts of questions? That’s partially what these scientists are here to investigate. They also simply need to explore Venus, learning about it’s peoples and resources. I loved all the geeky science stuff about archaeology and paleontology.

There’s dinos! Yes! I loved seeing Terrans and Venusians interact with these beasties in all their variety. There’s also some intimidating predator mammals, like this large canine. In fact, Marc gets himself a puppy, Tyo, who becomes quite the novelty and Marc’s best wingman.

Meanwhile, the Venusians have several different cultures going on. There’s the ‘civilized’ Venusians of Kartahown city which is nearby the US outpost Jamestown. There are other cities as well. Then there’s the semi-nomadic and mostly peaceful human-like groups, such as the Cloud Mountain People lead by Teesa, a princess and shaman all rolled into one. Lastly, there’s the mostly nomadic and violent Beastmen, which are Neanderthal-like. Toss in tensions with the Soviet outpost, Cosmograd, then you’ve got some politicking as well (most of which happens behind the scenes).

The cast has a fair amount of diversity. Cynthia Whitlock is an African American geologist, and resistant to Marc’s charms. Christopher Blair is our British bloke with the RAF. Much later in the story we get a Russian woman who is doing her best to retrieve a downed Russian outpost exploration vehicle that had her husband, Captain Binkis, on it. Teesa has her moments, sometimes leading her people and sometimes playing the helpless princess.

Despite the well traveled tropes in this story, I got much enjoyment out of it. For me, the weakness is in the women. Sometimes these ladies are well drawn out with skills, brains, and opinions. Yet sometimes they fall into helpless damsels in distress that need rescuing (and I felt that was too easily done and just for drama). Still, I really enjoyed the story.

The Narration: Todd McLaren makes a really good Cajun Marc Vitrac. He kept all the characters distinct and had feminine voices for the ladies. There were some emotional moments in this book and McLaren was great at expressing those emotions through the characters. I liked his various accents (Cajun, standard American, British, Venusian, Russian, etc.).

What I Liked: Dinos and people!; Venus has much that needs exploring and much that is deadly; the variety of peoples on Venus; the political tensions between America & Allies and the Soviets; the deadly mammal predators; Tyo doggy; the very botched rescue mission; left me wanting more; great cover art.

What I Disliked: The ladies sometimes fall into helpless damsel mode.

What Others Think:

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The Green Hills of Earth by Robert A. Heinlein

HeinleinGreenHillsEarthWhy I Read It: Folks tell me Heinlein is awesome. I wanted to find out if they were right.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Good mix of Heinlein works for those who haven’t tried him.

Narrator: Tom Weiner

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2009)

Length: 6 CDs

This audiobook contained several short stories by Robert Heinlein and the collection was named for the most famous of those short stories, The Green Hills of Earth. Overall, I found the collection an interesting walk down Classic SF Lane. Most were entertaining, some a bit sexist, other taking on some Big Picture items such as slavery. While this collection was a bit entertaining, I won’t be rushing out to borrow more Heinlein. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is still my favorite Heinlein work, and superior to what is found in this collection.

Delilah and the Space-Rigger (1949)

Gloria McNye landed a radio tech job on a space station that is still under construction. The boss is severely unhappy about this as it was an all-male crew until she arrived. At first, he tries keeping her locked up in her room, preventing as much contact with the crew as possible. To her credit, she goes about her job as she would even on Earth. In the end, the boss and the crew agree that having more female construction workers wouldn’t be a bad thing. On one hand, I applaud Heinlein for being progressive for his time; on the other hand, I am saddened that this is still a prevalent issue in the work force (and I was 1 of 3 ladies working with 26 guys in a unisex change room no more than 7 years ago).

Space-Jockey (1947)

The day in the life of an on-call rocket pilot for commercial spacecraft is not easy. Especially when his wife is always henpecking him. Said wife doesn’t appear to have a job or life of her own, so she gets tangled up in his. He expects her to wait on him when he is home and not mind a bit when he has to break engagements to pilot a ship. Dysfunctional marriage. Do you think divorce was easy in Heinlein’s futuristic worlds? Anyway, our fearless pilot manages to save the day and is offered a permanent position based out of Luna City, where of course, his wife will be happy to move.

The Long Watch (1948)

John Dahlquist, a young bomb officer, is part of the Space Patrol is assigned to the lunar base. Colonel Towers plans to overthrow Earth’s government, and he wants Dahlquist’s help. Towers plans to take out an unimportant town or two as an introduction to negotiations. Dahlquist does his best to prevent the attack by locking himself in the hold with the bombs and creating a dead man switch as he goes about disarming each bomb.

Gentlemen Be Seated (1948)

We’re back on Luna with a supervisor giving a reporter a small tour of some tunnels. They also have a tunnel worker with them to provide details and keep them safe. Things go awry when a pressure seal fails and they have to take turns sitting on the hole. Yes, this provoked some giggling on my part.

The Black Pits of Luna (1948)

A rich family decides to take a side tour on the back side of the moon. Small brats…er, kids are not allowed unfortunately. But after much screaming and threatening by the parents, a small space suit is found and the family can go walk about with the guide. The little dude has to decide it would be funner to play hide and seek. Luckily, his big brother refuses to give up the search and the boy is eventually found.

It’s Great to Be Back (1947)

I think out of the collection, this was my favorite. The MacRaes have decided that they truly, deeply miss Earth. The story opens with them handing in the keys to their apartment and saying goodbye to their Lunar friends and colleagues. Of course, they get to Earth and have a harder time than expected adjusting to the gravity. Then they find that there is dirt everywhere, and the temperature is never quite right and always changing. Next the longed-for social life isn’t quite as expected with all the ‘Loonie’ jokes. I liked this story in part because both husband and wife plan equal parts, she wears a size 10 dress, and he defends a mutual friend of theirs to the mother who believes her daughter is doing a man’s job as a radiation tech. If this was the only Heinlein I had ever read, I would think him pretty equal minded when it came to the sexes.

-We Also Walk Dogs (1941)

This was a fun story about a service company that can provide any service you require (except murder). They are asked to assist in setting up an intersolar conference on Earth. The trick is that the conference needs an antigravity device to make some of their guests comfortable. Of course, this is next to impossible. The services company takes on the task and finds a scientist that may have the answer. However, he also has scruples and won’t give over his ideas for money. Instead, he has a porcelain bowl fetish, and desires this one particular, and nearly unattainable, piece.

Ordeal in Space (1948)

This was an interesting piece because it dealt with bone-deep, incapacitating fear. After a near fatal space walk, our hero (whose name I should have written down) can no longer handle working in space. Indeed, he is much more comfortable in a room with 4 walls and no windows. However, while visiting friends, he hears the pitiful cries of a kitten. Unfortunately, it is coming from outside his 35th floor window. No, I don’t know how the kitten got there, let a lone hung around without being blown off for the duration of this story. The short of it, is that the efforts our hero expends to save the kitten cure him of his fear and he is able to return to space duty.

The Green Hills of Earth (1947)

This is probably the most famous story in this collection. It is the tale of the galactic poet Rhysling, who manages to offend one higher up after another. On a voyage between world, he goes blind due to radiation exposure while holding the ship together in a heroic effort. This doesn’t add to his already questionable looks as he takes less care of himself afterwards. And that is where my CD became too scratchy to hear the rest of the tale. I guess it must be required reading for the highschool or something, so this book gets checked out from the library and only this story listened to. (Well, not anymore). So I found this radio dramatization by X Minus One (1955).

Logic of Empire (1941)

Two dudes at a bar are arguing the merits of the indentured workers, or slaves, of Venus. They themselves have never been indentured workers. Indeed, I doubt they have worked at all having been born into wealth and received higher educations. Well, they are drinking, quite a bit. Apparently they drink enough to black out the part where they signed up to be Venus workers. First, they have several months traveling out to Venus on ship where they must work for their passage, bunked in a large hold with no privacy. When they do finally arrive at Venus they are ‘sold’ into different colonies and therefore don’t even have the comfort of close friendship. This tale has few females, and they are described as not much to look at and invariably stupid. Sigh…Classic SF does have it’s downside.

Tome Weiner did a decent job of narrating the individual stories. Typically I avoid short story collections in audio format especially when there is only 1 narrator. With that said, Weiner did a pretty good job of varying the main voice from story to story so that they didn’t all run together in my head. His female voices could use a little more work, but that is true of many male narrators.

readandreviewbuttonWhat I Liked: The collection was a spectrum of Heinlein’s early works; one dealt with bone-deep fear and another with slavery; there was a kitten; occasionally the women were competent and held in esteem; humor was prevalent in some form in all stories.

What I Disliked: None of them really shined as jewels for me; most stories had women as inferior.ScifiExperience2013Badge

This is part of the weekly Read & Review Hop hosted by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings. Stop by over there to catch other great book reviews.

Also, Jan. and Feb. 2013 is The Science Fiction Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings, so stop by there if you would like to join in some SF goodness.