The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

DickTheManInTheHighCastleNarrator: Jeff Cummings

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2015)

Length: 9 hours 58 minutes

Author’s Page

In this alternate history, the US and it’s allies lost WWII in the 1940s. The US in 1962 is divided up between Germany and Japan, with an unoccupied strip in the middle following the Rocky Mountain Range. A banned novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is read by many of the main characters, influencing their choices, but perhaps not as much as the popular I Ching.

It was very interesting visiting this SF classic after having watched the first season of the TV series. Juliana is one of the few ladies to have a full name and a role in the plot. She’s Frank Frink’s ex-wife and lives in Canon City in the neutral Mountain States teaching martial arts. Meanwhile, Frank is still in San Francisco working at a metalsmith’s shop. He’s one of a shrinking number of Jewish Americans living in the Japanese occupied states. For me, it was these two characters that I initially gravitated towards the most.

A Mountain States author wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy some years ago and it was initially banned in all Axis occupied lands. However, Japan lifted it’s ban and this has allowed the book to spread a bit. This book depicts a world in which the Allies won; the book’s WWII outcome doesn’t reflect our historical reality but provides yet another possible scenario which I found interesting. Most of the main characters have an interaction with this book and each character’s reaction is a bit different. Juliana becomes a bit obsessed with the book after she meets a truck driver, Joe Cinnadella, who let her borrow his copy.

I didn’t particularly like Juliana after she hooked up with Joe. Her character really had this shift that I didn’t find fully believable. I also noticed the same thing happen with Robert Childan, the man who runs a San Francisco antiques store. Both characters change direction and are then used by the plot. It felt like PKD wrote a quarter of this novel, set it aside, and when he came back to it he decided he wanted to take a different path but was too lazy to rewrite these characters to fit what came next. Instead, he just has this rather swift shift in character for each of them that feels unnatural the rest of the book.

While there is not much more than a peek into Nazi-occupied US, we do hear quite a bit about the Germans. They have a huge advantage in technology, so much so that they are sending Germans to Mars and Venus to colonize them. Japan is increasingly falling behind in their tech and tensions continue to mount between these two world powers. I did get a giggle out of the apparent jump in tech and science (colonizing Mars) and yet the Germans and Japanese continue to use tape recorders. I just had to keep in mind that this book was originally published in 1962 and many authors, even the SF greats, rarely saw any tech beyond physical recordings on some sort of plastic strip.

The story winds up the reader, tightening the tension with each chapter. Some characters are just trying to get by. Others are actively assisting the German government in maintaining their current world dominance. Some few are interested in finding a way out of this Germany/Japanese controlled world for everyone. Yet even as the story reaches what I was expecting to be the final crescendo, nothing truly big happens at the end. Most of our characters are still, for the most part, stuck in their various situations trying to find a way out. Nothing is truly resolved. Since I wasn’t fully invested in the characters, I was OK with that. This novel was pretty mediocre for me.

I received a free copy of this book from eStories in exchange for a review of their audiobook services. Their service is set up much the same as other audiobook platforms. When you sign up, you get 1 audiobook for free and you have this free audiobooks trial period as well. There’s also the free audiobooks download app for iPhone or Android. Keep in mind, my experience is for this single book. Nowhere on their website does it say that you can download to a PC or laptop, so I had to clarify that with a representative before I agreed to give their services a try since 90% of my audiobook listening happens on a laptop. Once I signed up, I picked out my book, I went to my eStories library, and there is a DOWNLOAD button, which I clicked. I was expecting options to pop up – various formats, perhaps a eStories specific player for computers (or links to Windows Media Player or iTunes), etc. However, instead it just started downloading a zip file full of the MP3s for my book. Now, for me, this was fine. Once fully downloaded in my Download Folder, I wanted to move my audiobook to another folder but the move failed completely and I had to redownload. (I don’t know if the failed download was due to corrupted files or not, but considering the small difficulty with the Android player, that might well be the case.) Later on, since we were headed out on a road trip, we downloaded the same book from eStories to my man’s Android cellphone. The download went swiftly, however there was some minor corruption of each MP3 file. Each file ended with a random sentence fragment taken from that file. At first, we thought the eStories player was cutting off the last word or two of the chapter but a spot check of my laptop audiobook revealed what was happening (though not the why of it). I informed my contact of this and the info was passed on to the tech team, so hopefully that is already fixed if you go to use the Android player. Browsing their selection is pretty good – genre, length, abridged or unabridged, etc. They don’t have as big a selection as Audible.com but they do have some small publishers and indie authors/narrators as well as the big publishing houses. You can create a Wish List as well. One cool thing is that you can upload any audiobook from your computer to your eStories library and from there listen to it on your Android or iPhone. I haven’t tried this yet but I like the idea for Librivox audiobooks for my husband’s Android. Each book has a detailed description – author, narrator, publisher, length, series, etc. However, unlike other platforms, I can’t click on the series and have all the books in the series pop up. Overall, eStories has potential.

The Narration:  Jeff Cummings was OK. He did fine with regional American accents but his foreign accents were pretty rough, especially his Italian accent. He did do a good job imbuing the characters with emotions at the right times. 

What I Liked: It was an interesting look into a world where WWII had a different outcome; Frank Frink is an interesting character; Having the US divided up into 3 sections gives a view into 3 different sets of human standards; use of the I Ching; the alternate WWII ending in the fictitious book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

What I Disliked: Juliana is one of the few female characters; a few characters have sudden shifts in their outlooks and then their motives feel forced the rest of the book; no real look into German-occupied US; the story winds us up and then just leaves us; narration was a little rough with foreign accents.

VintageScifiBadgeVintage SciFi Month! This book was originally published in 1962, and being of the alternate history SF genre, it easily qualifies for my Vintage SF challenge. Hooray! Anyone is welcome to join the yearly Vintage SF Month!

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Vintage SciFi Month 2017

WoodruffeTheSecondEarthClementineOnce again, my yearly foray into vintage science fiction will be lean. I do so love this yearly reading activity but I’m rather scattered this month with our planned trip to California for my big surgery.

Once again, I will be giving this beautiful book, The Second Earth, by Patrick Woodroffe a try. It is magnificently illustrated. My mom found it at a thrift store or perhaps a garage sale in Taos a little over a year ago. I actually started reading it last year for Vintage SF 2016 but a hospital stay waylaid my reading schedule. One of the things I really like about this book is that the author is also the illustrator.

Heldig getting a tongue bath from Tofu
Heldig getting a tongue bath from Tofu

Then I also plan to reread The Book of Frank Herbert, a little DAW edition. I read this oh so many years ago and really enjoyed this collection of his short stories. While I was stuck in doctor’s waiting room last week, I started this book and even got the first story read.

Vintage SF Month is going on all January and anyone is welcome to join. The rules are simple – it has to be in the science fiction or fantasy genres and must be originally published 1979 or earlier. Check out The Little Red Reviewer who came up with the brilliant idea and has been hosting the event for years.

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Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

VonnegutCatsCradleTofuNarrator: Tony Roberts

Publisher: HarperAudio (2007)

Length: 7 hours 11 minutes

Author’s Page

John, who starts off researching what family members of the makers of the atomic bomb were doing on the day when Hiroshima was bombed, but soon gets caught up in a minor mystery that involves the children of physicist Felix Hoenikker. Add in a calypso singer’s personal theology, the odd substance called Ice-Nine, and a large helping of satirical humor and you have quite the book!

This was my first Vonnegut book (yep, I know, where have I been?) and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Sometimes I don’t care for satire because so often it is tied to certain political events or a political climate, and if you aren’t versed in those happenings, lots of it flies over your head. Not so with this book! Sure, there is some satire that refers to people and events that I’m not familiar with, but much of it was easy to pin down. Plus there’s plenty of other humor and the whole plot going on to keep me entertained. I was especially interested in the Ice-Nine. I figured it was tied into the dystopian theme the book’s description mentions, but it took forever to get around to it. Indeed, Ice-Nine and the ending of the world don’t play a part until the very end of the novel. So if you’re going into this novel hoping for a dystopian story, you will be a bit disappointed.

The calypso singer, Bokonon, has this theology (called Bokononism by the practitioners) that kicks off the book as John relates his story to us as if it’s all over, said, and done. John, in his own tale, doesn’t come upon Bokononism until he travels to the island of San Lorenzo, where he meets two of the Hoenikker children. The theology is filled with little truths that gave me a chuckle here and there. One of the little rituals Bokononists partake in is touching the soles of their feet to one another, making them feel closer to each other. Oddly enough, Bokononism has been banned on San Lorenzo even as everyone is secretly a Bokononist.

Each of the three Hoenikker children are rather different, but it was Newton Hoenikker, the youngest child, who caught my attention. He’s a dwarf and also a medical student. I liked his recollections of his dad and older siblings, his sister being the care-taker of the family once their mother passed away. Indeed, his descriptions of his father, the physicist, reminds me of so many scientists I knew when I worked in Los Alamos.

It took me a while to figure out why this book is called Cat’s Cradle and if you’re wondering the same thing, the answer does eventually come. It seems much of the book is that way: there’s this set up at the front end but it takes time to eventually arrive at those same things once again so that we fully understand them. For instance, the book starts off with some Bokononism stuff but it’s only later that we learn the origins of Bokononism. John hints that the world has ended, but we only find out how and why towards the very end of the novel. In this regard, I think this is one of those novels that is best read all in one sitting rather than broken up over a week.

In the end, I liked it. Yes, I did spend the entire book eagerly awaiting the dystopian bit the book’s description promises, but when it comes it is indeed a bleak world and I’m not sure how humanity will survive it. I didn’t get all the Bokononism stuff but it did provide quite a bit of entertainment. Hoenikker and his kids are the backbone that made this book interesting to me. I really enjoyed hearing what the now-grown kids had to say about their now-dead dad and growing up in the shadow of the atomic bomb project.

The Narration: Tony Roberts was a good pick for narrating this book. He had distinct voices for all the characters and carried off the humor quite well. I liked his Indiana accent for Ma Hoosier and his Caribbean accent for the native San Lorenzoans. Also, this edition of the audiobook contained an older interview with Kurt Vonnegut that I found informative and amusing. In the interview, it’s rather informal as the interviewer is one of his good friends and it sounds like they are simply having a chat about his book and other things, like Vonnegut’s military experience. 

What I Liked: This book is odd and fun at the same time; the mystery of Ice-Nine; Felix Hoenikker and his kids; Newton and his stories about his older siblings and dad; Bokononism; how things end; the bonus interview with Vonnegut.

What I Disliked: Nothing – it was an interesting book.

What Others Think:

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The Past Due Book Review

Women Destroy Science Fiction!: Lightspeed Magazine Special Issue edited by Christie Yant

YantWomenDestroyScienceFictionLightspeedMagazineWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrators: Cassandra Campbell, Gabrielle de Cuir, Harlan Ellison, Grover Gardner, Jamye Grant, Susan Hanfield, Jonathan L. Howard, John Allen Nelson, Bahni Turpin, Stefan Rudnicki, Molly Underwood, and Judy Young

Publisher: Skyboat Media Inc. (2015)

Length: 15 hours 11 minutes

Editor’s Page   Lightspeed Magazine’s Page

Over the past few years, there has been a series of ‘XXXXX Destroy Science Fiction’ anthologies, but this is the first one I have read. While the title may smack of too much ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar’, the anthology was quite balanced with characters of all genders, action and contemplation, mystery and exploration, happy endings and not-so happy endings. Most of the stories had some real meat on them, including several of the flash fiction tales, giving me something to chat about over tea. Some were humorous and some required some thoughtful contemplation afterwards. Over all, it’s an excellent science fiction anthology.

Contained in this audiobook are 11 original short stories, 4 short story reprints, 1 novella, and 15 flash fiction tales. If you pick up the text version, you also get 7 non-fiction pieces, 28 personal essays, and 15 author spotlights. Authors for stories in this audiobook include Charlie Jane Anders, Eleanor Arnason, Elizabeth Porter Birdsall, Heather Clitheroe, Tina Connolly, Katherine Crighton, Ellen Denham. Tananarive Due, Rhonda Eikamp, Amal El-Mohtar, Emily Fox, Maria Dahvana Headley, Cathy Humble, N. K. Jemisin, Marina J. Lostetter, Seanan McGuire Maureen F. McHugh, Kris Millering, Maria Romasco Moore, Samantha Murray, K. C. Norton, Anaid Perez, Sarah Pinsker, Rhiannon Rasmussen, Holly Schofield, Effie Seiberg, Gabriella Stalker, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Vanessa Torline, Carrie Vaughn, and Kim Winternheimer.

Below are the 11 original stories.

Each to Each by Seanan McGuire

The Navy has modified whole submarine corps of women into ‘mermaids’ to explore and claim the ocean floor for bubble cities and resources. The main character finds something in the deep that she didn’t expect. The narrator did a great job with the elongated vowels and such (sounding like in between ocean animal and human) and keeping each female character distinct. This was my favorite story of the whole book and a great way to start the anthology off. 6/5

A Word Shaped Like Bones by Kris Millering

Maurine is an angry artist in space. Her only ‘companion’ is a dead man in the corner. Rather eerie but interesting. Good narration – kept the eerie quality to it. 4/5

Cuts Both Ways by Heather Clitheroe

Spencer is a memory recall specialist. He floats through his memories, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. Held in high regard for the work he does but it messes with his personal life. Was OK. Didn’t hold my attention like the first 2. Narration good. 3/5

Walking Awake by N.K. Jemisin

Sadie is a caretaker, helping raise the kids until they are old enough for the Masters to inhabit. Henri, one of her young charges, has been chosen. Abrupt ending. Don’t know if Sadie was successful or just nuts. Narration good tho Sadie sounded a lot younger than 40 years old. 4/5

The Case of the Passionless Bees by Rhonda Eikamp

A Gearlock Holmes & Watson story. There is murder at Gearlock’s mansion and the robotic amalgam Mrs. Hudson is in custody for the murder. Fun piece. Steampunky. Good stiff upper lip narration. 5/5

In the Image of Man by Gabriella Stalker

Set in Houston, TX, Wendell & his parents live in a mall. Big Box stores, and their advertising, dominate Wendell’s life, including church and living quarters. Teen loans are the norm. Very interesting piece on materialism and debt. Narration very good with a light Western twang. 5/5

The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick by Charlie Jane Anders

Roger and Mary broke up. Mary’s friend Stacia convinces her to ask for Roger’s memories of the beginning of their relationship when things were on a high note. Interesting piece. Good  narration. 4/5

Dim Sun by Maria Dahvana Headley

Set in a far future where the Moon is colonized, Bert, a restaurant critic, has told the secret of the dim sun restaurant. Now it’s crowded. Rodney and Bert are having a lunch there when Harriet, Bert’s ex-wife and a powerful politician, joins them. It was a very fun piece – creative dishes. Great narration. 5/5

The Lonely Sea in the Sky by Amal El-Mohtar

Laila is encouraged to talk to the psychologist. She’s an interplanetary geoscientist. She has an ism – addicted to diamonds or the idea of diamonds. This tale explores various stories about diamonds as part of Laila’s fascination. Interesting piece but kind of broken up, not clear in places. Narrated by several people. At least 1 line repeated. The volumes varies, but mostly much quieter than the rest of the book. Main narrator does great with emotions. 3/5

A Burglary, Addressed By a Young Lady by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall

Genevieve’s a thief. She makes her debut burglary and runs into another thief, Catherine. They bond over the difficulties of breaking into the Marquis’s place. Some cool tech. Love the proper British accent and social niceties. 4/5

Canth by K.C. Norton

The Canth is an underwater vessel, part animal, powered by a perpetual motion machine. Capt. Pierce has lost the Canth but pursues her in a ship, the Jeronimo, captained by Rios. Portugues flavor to the story. Cod in every meal. Very interesting story. Narration was good, especially with the Portuguese  words. 5/5

Below are the reprinted stories, including the 1 novella. 

Like Daughter by Tananarive Due

Paige looks after Denise (Neecy) as much a s she can. She often reflects on their childhood and how things were different between them. Now Denise needs her to take her 6 year old daughter. Heavy story. Well done. Good narration. 5/5.

The Great Loneliness by Maria Romasco Moore

A slow apocalypse happened. Now clones of one flavor or another live out their lives in the few pockets of habitable space on Earth. Various groups have sent probes and manned space missions over the years into space searching for another habitable planet. I really like the imagery that was every where in this story- the underwater museum, the main character’s plant-like daughter Verdant, the human’s Eyes, Brain, etc. walking around independently. The narration was great, even a little song. 5/5

Love is the Plan the Plan is Death by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)

Mogadit has discovered a little one, Lililu, and his teen hormones all at once. Strange, enthralling. Sometimes felt like I was watching animals mating. Stefan Rudnicki narrates and he does it excellently. 4/5

Knapsack Poems by Eleanor Arnason

Strange story. Main character seems to have more than 1 entity and this is the norm. The main character has a scout and a poet and such. It finds a child of some sorts and carries it along falling in love with it. The entities can be more than one gender, but not necessarily so. I don’t get all of it. Rudnicki narrates, doing a good job. 3/5

The Cost to Be Wise by Maureen F. McHugh (novella)

Scarline is a colony on a little populated world. Not much tech. Dogs as sheep – for food. An outworlder, Veranique, comes to visit along with her Professor Ian. Janna, who is an unwed teen of the colony, is fascinated with plastic. Scaffalos is a great clan that visits Scarline for trade, though sometimes they just take what they want. Travesty befalls the colony. Interesting story. A thoughtful, perhaps harsh, ending. Well narrated. 5/5

Below are the 15 original flash fiction stories. 

Salvage by Carrie Vaughn

A spooky ghost ship story with a happy ending.

A Guide to Grief by Emily Fox

Sad story.

See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES! by Tina Connolly

Narrator sounds drunk, which isn’t necessarily bad for this story.

A Debt Repaid by Marina J. Lostetter

The 2-headed monster has dual addiction – gambling & drink.

The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced by Sarah Pinsker

Those that suffer from accidental time travel can hang out in an asylum. There’s jello.

#TrainFightTuesday by Vanessa Torline

Fun tail told through tweets. Super heroes/villains. Cute noises to denote switching between tweeters.

The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23 by Rhiannon Rasmussen

A beautiful story of interstellar kamikazes come home. This was my favorite on the Flash Fiction.

Emoticon by Anaid Perez

:-$

The Mouths by Ellen Denham

Cracker obsessed aliens with only 1 orifice.

M1A by Kim Winternheimer

M1A is her clone there to give her parts as she needs. They grow up as sisters, but she is always sick while her clone is healthy. Poignant story.

Standard Deviant by Holly Schofield

A punkass homeless lass is given the opportunity to become an intergalactic ambassador. Fun story.

Getting on in Years by Cathy Humble

Immortal 800 year old man tired of hiding it. Interesting. Ending up to interpretation.

Ro-Sham-Bot by Effie Seiberg

Robot wants to play Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Everything That Has Already Been Said by Samantha Murray

An odd duck of a story.

The Lies We Tell Our Children by Katherine Crighton

She tells her daughters about space and what that means. They become sad. Very nice sadly sweet story.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Nearly all of the narration was well done for this anthology. There was one story with more than 1 narrator and it definitely sounded like the narrators were in different studios, not recorded at the same time. However, the  majority of the narration was excellent. I especially like seeing Stefan Rudnicki’s abilities tested in the James Tiptree story.  

What I Liked: Such a variety of SF – horror, steampunk, time travel, romance, exploration, etc.; it was great to have so many narrators for this anthology, which helped keep each story distinct;  beautiful  cover art.

What I Disliked: The title does make me chuckle a little.

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Adventures in SciFi Publishing

The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein

HeinleinTheStarBeastWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Paul Michael Garcia

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2015)

Length: 8 hours 50 minutes

Series: Book 8 Heinlein’s Juveniles

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 8 in the series, it works perfectly fine as a stand alone novel.

John Thomas Stuart has a very large pet, Lummox. He’s a gentle beast with eight legs, a very thick hide, and a taste for roses and steel. Lummox has been in the Stuart family for generations but has recently outgrown their small town. No pen can hold Lummox and while John can reason with him to some extent, there is no physical means by which to make Lummox obey. Town authorities are ready to go to extremes, but no one is ready for the extremes that both John and Lummox will go to in order to remain together.

This was a fun coming of age book. Some parts of it might be considered quaint nowadays while others are still somewhat progressive for mainstream SF literature. I was sucked into the story once Lummox was described – the multiple legs and a sentry eyestalk for while he slept. Plus, Lummox talks! Yep. He sounds much like a little 5 year old girl and he’s not just parroting human speech back at you. Lummox can answer questions and make promises and tell you what he needs or wants. On the other hand, things have definitely changed a bit since the 1950s when this was first published. I was a little surprised at how often someone threatened to beat Lummox. Some of the threats were quite specific and graphic. So don’t look to this book as a good example of how to discipline a family pet. Or livestock.

Early on, John and Lummox end up in court because of the damage to city and personal property Lummox did. John’s friend Betty Sorenson acts as his attorney in a bit of courtroom drama. While I found this bit a little boring, being a bit overdone, I did find it very interesting that Betty was able to act so independently even though she was a minor. Later in the book, the theme of teens divorcing their parents came up. Considering the over all 1950s wholesome nature of this book, I applauded breaking of the mold in this matter as it made things more interesting.

Besides Betty, John’s mom, a female secretary, and perhaps Lummox (whose species really has 6 genders so I should probably ask Lummox what gender pronoun he prefers), there were no other female characters in a decent sized cast of male characters. Still, for a 1950s SF novel, Betty had a pretty important role in the book and she wasn’t your stereotypical teen female love interest. Indeed, John seems to be maturing a little slower and often calls her companionable names like ‘Slugger’ and ‘Smarty’. John’s mom also helps shape the plot, though I would say her role is more stereotypical – she’s a bit overbearing and loud about it.

Lummox is the real star of this story. He, who later in the story is referred to as a she, comes from an advanced race called the Hroshii. They are long lived and consider humans to be barely in their infancy as a species. However, they want their long-lost baby back as there is an arranged marriage among their kind to see to. The Hroshii could easily withstand any weapon the planet Earth could throw at them and just as easily wipe out the entire planet. So in steps our other hero, Mr. Kiku.

Mr. Kiku has a pretty high status in the Earth’s government, but not so high that he has to bow to popular whims. Indeed, he handles things very smoothly, always 3 or 4 moves ahead in his thinking than most of those around him. Also, he’s black. Now SF literature in general has come a ways, but sadly most heroes in SF are still white. So, another round of applause for Heinlein for shaking things up again.

This book started off rather humdrum, cookie cutter SF adventure story and turned into a surprise-riddled coming of age tale that had me chuckling, gasping, chewing on a knuckle, and nodding my head in agreement. The story had a happy ending that took all of Mr. Kiku’s wits to negotiate. I’m very glad that I gave this book a chance and I expect I will be reading more Heinlein in the future.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Paul Michael Garcia did a really good job with this book. He had the perfect voice for young John, who is on the cusp of manhood. I also loved his little girl voice for Lummox. Once I learned Lummox’s true intelligence, it gave me a giggle. I also loved his steady Mr. Kiku, the raging Mrs. Stuart, and the ambitious Betty. All around, a great performance. 

What I Liked: Lummox is full of surprises; Betty doesn’t give up; John has to make some hard decisions; some pointed discussions of when a child is no longer under a parent’s sway; Mr. Kiku and his intellect; great narration.

What I Disliked: Started off a bit slow, a bit hum drum.

What Others Think:

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SFF World

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

DelanyBabel-17Where I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Stefan Rudnicki

Publisher: Skyboat Media Inc. (2015)

Length: 6 hours 44 minutes

Author’s Page

Rydra Wong, an ex-military cryptographer, a poet, and a linguist, has been approached by the military once again to help decipher the Babel-17 code used by the alien invaders in their many attacks. Rydra realizes that Babel-17 is not a code, but a language. After obtaining some of the original recordings, she has an intuitive guess as to where the next attack will occur. With the military’s blessing, she dusts off her captain’s wings and assembles a very colorful crew to head out to meet the threat and hopefully get to the root of the Babel-17 attacks.

I read the paperback version of this book some years ago as part of Little Red Reviewer’s yearly Vintage Science Fiction event. It was great then and I enjoyed it even more the second time through. There is a lot going on in this little book that was first published in the 1960s. First, our main hero is Rydra, a woman. Second, the cast of characters are quite varied – several have body modifications such as tattoos, spurs, enhanced bones, etc. Third, one of the core themes of the book is that language can influence thought patterns and behaviors of the speaker. I once studied a variety of languages, so I really enjoyed this aspect to the story.

Rydra is first introduced as a beautiful poet and, back in my first reading years ago, I thought this would be like so many beautiful damsel in distress SF stories that came out of the 1960s. Pretty quickly, we come to realize that Rydra is so much more that a poetic pretty face. For much of the book, she’s the one calling the shots and keeping her crew safe. I also liked her backstory that we learn mostly through her psychiatrist turned mentor and confidant. Rydra wasn’t always good at expressing herself.

Brass was my second favorite character. I picture him as a big lion that can leap about on all fours or walk on two legs, depending on what he wants to do. He’s a friendly brawler. He recently lost a loved one. It’s takes three to fly a ship and those three have to be in sync with each other and quite often the three are a loving triple. Rydra finds Brass and his partner a third at the morgue. Yep. There are dead flying zombies in this book, though the word ‘zombie’ is never used. In fact, Rydra’s search for a crew was quite amusing. She needs a port authority to approve the psych indices of her crew, so she hauls his reluctant butt around the port bars so he can approve on the spot and they can get in the air. He learns quite a bit that night and goes from looking down on such people to admiring several and continuing to visit the bars and watch the fights.

There’s this whole espionage feel to the quest. Babel-17 is an insidious language and slippery to describe, let alone translate. Rydra intuitively knows some of this but as she pieces more and more of it together, and as ‘accidents’ stat happening with her ship, she becomes more aware of just how important Babel-17 is to the attackers. Later in the story, we meet an escaped convict, the Butcher, and he becomes an important part of the story. Without spoiling anything, I just want to include that little snippet here to point out that the book has this continuing way of making the reader look at the second layer to each character. Rydra is more than a poet. Brass is more than a wrestler. The Butcher is more than a convict. These fascinating characters make for an excellent story.

Towards the end, the story leaves the comfort space of science fiction and gets a little fantasy genre on us. The first time I read this story, I didn’t understand all of what happened here but I understood enough to feel the story had a solid ending. The second time through, I get it a bit more but there’s still a few cloudy areas. I say this is probably the only weak spot to the story, but if you were to ask me after a third reading, I might disagree with myself. At any rate, the story does have a clear and solid ending that makes sense, even if the minute specifics of how we got there are a little muddled. It’s definitely a worthy read.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Stefan Rudnicki did a great job with this book. Some parts of it are a bit tricky to vocalize; for instance, the character Brass can’t shape the letter P, so Rudnicki had to leave any Ps out of Brass’s ‘accent’. He did this smoothly and I can only imagine that he had to practice a bit. He brought each character to life and managed all the accents described in the book, including the foreign (made up?) languages. 

What I Liked: So much going on in such a compact story; Rydra is a complex hero; the underscoring theme that languages can influence human behavior; a diverse cast of characters; several of the side characters have a second layer; great narration.

What I Disliked: The ending still has a few muddy bits for me, even on a second reading. Though this might not be so upon further readings.

What Others Think:

Little Red Reviewer

The Eyrie

Superlinguo

Speculiction

From Couch to Moon

Science Book A Day

Chasing Bawa

The Sound of His Horn by Sarban (aka John William Wall)

Heldig is not perturbed by the Wild Hunt!
Heldig is not perturbed by the Wild Hunt!

Where I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Stefan Rudnicki

Publisher: Skyboat Media Inc. (2014)

Length: 4 hours

Author’s Page

This is one of those classics that I somehow missed until I won a copy. I’m very glad it came to my attention. It’s a very interesting mix of alternate history (what if the Nazis had won their war?), time travel, and a retelling of the Wild Hunt. The story starts off slow, with hints of ‘something not quite right’ as Alan Querdilion reacquaints himself with an old friend years after WWII has come to a close. The two find themselves drinking and smoking by a late night fire when Alan relates his odd tale of a walk on the weird side.

Alan finds himself in a future world 102 years after the Nazis obtained dominance. He stumbled upon it after having escaped a WWII POW camp, lost, dehydrated, and zapped by something he bumbled into. He wakes up in a German hospital-type place. The two nurses and the doctor try to help him, thinking he is suffering from a bad hit to the head. Eventually, he learns something of the baron whose land the hospital resides on. Slavery is common place for both young men and women. Alan won’t let go of his believe that this place and time is not quite real, but he quiets down enough about it for the doctor to start taking him out and about.

What Alan learns is disturbing. The slaves have been bred or perhaps genetically altered at the zygote level to provide a service or entertainment for this baron. Some are physically altered as kids or teens, such as having vocal chords cut. The baron treats many of these specialized slaves as animals, using them to hunt as well as providing them to be hunted. It’s all rather disturbing and very well written. The book doesn’t get caught up in bigger picture morality issues. Instead, it stays focused on Alan’s tale as he tries to survive this encounter and his thoughts on what is wrong or right.

Alan eventually offends the baron by sneaking about and he is tossed into the fenced forest to be hunted at leisure. This starts the heart pounding suspense as Alan must avoid the Hunt again and again. The moonlit Wild Hunt scenes were absolutely riveting. The plot thickens as he meets others who are part of this hunt and he learns a little of the politics off of the baron’s property.

As you might guess, since Alan is telling this story from the beginning years after the even happens, he survives the event, though not unmarked. The reader is left to decide whether or not Alan truly experienced this event, if it was his hallucination, or if Alan made it up to mess with his friend. It’s an excellent suspense-filled tale.

I won a copy of this book from the publisher (via The Audio Book Reviewer) with no strings attached.

Narration: Stefan Rudnicki was excellent. His performance really added to the tension and excitement and the disgust Alan felt from time to time. His female voices were good and his accents were well done. During one of the hunting scenes, these wild cats (sort of) are being used to hunt and Rudnicki was in the middle of the narrative that explains the wild yowling sounds as they go on the chase when my old deaf cat let out a yowl of her own. I almost jumped out of my skin!

What I Liked: Interesting mashup of alternate history and the Wild Hunt; great use of suspense followed by action; the reader is left up to determine their own morals on the issued raised by the book even as Alan makes his own judgments; very satisfying ending; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: The book cover is a little odd because I don’t recall anyone in a gas mask in the story.

What Others Think:

Graeme Shimmin

Counter-Currents Publishing

Existential Ennui

Fright.com

Weird Fiction Review

What 2016 Holds

VintageScifiBadgeIt’s a bright shiny new year and I’m hunting around for my tea.

I’ll be taking part in The Little Red Reviewer’s SciFi Vintage Month. I always find it a worthy challenge and fun also. I have a handful of books picked out. In November I actually made it to a used book store and picked up a few little paperbacks from the 1960s. Then I have been checking out some audiobooks, such as Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Who knows what else I will dig up. Anyone is welcome to partake, so head over there if you want the details.

There’s another read along I will be taking part in. It’s being organized over on GoodReads in the SF/F Read Alongs group. The book is Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire. This is the first book in the October Daye series. Here’s the book blurb:

McGuireRosemaryAndRueThe world of Faerie never disappeared: it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born. Half-human, half-fae, outsiders from birth, these second-class children of Faerie spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely.

After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas. The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby is forced to resume her old position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.

Again, anyone is welcome to join in the fun. I suggest you check out the Group link above for more info. The discussion starts January 9, 2016.

Of course, we have the Kushiel’s Scion read along going on (discussion starts Jan. 3). Feel free to jump into that as well.

Those are my immediate plans. As some of you know, 2015 was a real struggle for me on the health front. For right now, nothing has changed there. I still have my kidney disease (which has been stable and not an issue all this time, hooray!), my fibromyalgia, my asthma (which is totally kicking my ass), and the mystery illness (of which phosphorus deficiency is the biggest symptom). Earlier this year, my awesome kidney doctor thought she had it figured out. All the blood work and urinalysis indicated she was right. We were 90% sure I had a very rare, and mostly benign, tumor. This tiny tumor supposedly was creating far too much of the hormone FGF23 which in turn, in that amount, tells my kidneys to piss away my phosphorus. So, in November I did a full body scan to try to find the little bastard. Yep, here I was going in to the holidays hoping I had a tumor because if I had that tumor, it could be cut out and like 1/3 of my health issues would be resolved. Unfortunately, no tumor was found. My doctor is as frustrated and as stumped as I am. So, I am not sure where to go from here. I have a few more strings to pull and we’ll see where that goes.

So, because I don’t see my health improving drastically in the near future, I will still have a lot of down time. Which means my love affair with audiobooks and book blogging will continue. Hooray for book blogs!

The Island of Doctor Moreau (dramatized) by H. G. Wells & Mondello Publishing

WellsTheIslandOfDoctorMoreauDramatizedWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Nathalie Boltt, Matthew Posner, Andrew McGinn, and see the full cast HERE.

Publisher: Mondello Publishing (2014)

Length: 2 hours 47 minutes

Author’s Page

Dr. Edward Prendick finds himself on a plane that is crashing into the sea. Luckily, he survives and is eventually found on his little raft by a passing ship. Dr. Angela Montgomery nurses him around and eventually the ship drops all passengers and their cargo at a little know island. There, Prendick is pulled into a world of animal experiments that will push the boundaries of his moral compass.

This story is told as a series of flashbacks. Prendick lies in a hospital bed recounting his tale to his insistent daughter. Prendick is a mathematician who did some classified work during WWII. He’s a Brit who is still highly respected in his field by both the British and the Americans. Too bad his plane went down. He was believed lost to the world by all but Dr. Montgomery and Dr. Moreau. I was a little surprised by how much of a delicate flower Prendick was. He was usually freaking out about something or making rash decisions. He was a right nuisance on the island, even if he was the only one with what society would call normal morals. Still, he was a great character for Dr. Montgomery to stand beside and appear very reasonable and I think this made the story more intriguing. As a reader, it forced me to slow down on making a judgement and to truly consider the merits of the work of Moreau and Montgomery.

I was surprised how few lines and appearances Dr. Moreau had in this story (or, at least, this rendition of it). After all, he is the master mind behind all this. So while we see little of him, his large ego leaves a lasting impression. He’s playing God with his experiments and he doesn’t hesitate to say so.

As a biologist, I have long been both repulsed and fascinated by the experiments in this story. When Prendick first meets a few of these talking experiments, he thinks they are merely odd, deformed people. Later, he mistakenly believes that Moreau took living men and experimented on them, bringing out animal characteristics. Once he finds out the truth, that Moreau took animals and gave them human characteristics, he calms down a little, at first. The final step in the experiment is a pretty gruesome, painful one, requiring the chosen animal to remain awake and aware. Not all those who live through the experiment appreciate the gifts they have been given.

As you might guess, things start to spiral out of control shortly after Prendick arrives on the island. Part of the reason is that he goes mucking about in a very excitable manner. But, then, Montgomery and Moreau don’t treat all the living experiments with respect either. Then there is the basic nature of the experiments and what will out in time. It was like the perfect storm.

And then we quickly come to the ending which was rather anticlimactic for Moreau and a bit drawn out for Montgomery and Prendick. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more from Moreau over all for the entire story and I was definitely a little sad to have his part of the story come to a swift end. After all, he is the reason, the driving force, for this tale, right? But then I enjoyed having more time with Montgomery and Prendick. From the flashbacks, we obviously know that Prendick makes it off the island alive somehow. It was fun to see how that came about.

While I have enjoyed other HG Wells stories, this was my first time listening to a version of his book The Island of Doctor Moreau. I was not disappointed. All the drama associated with the moral conundrums of the tale was there. Also, I enjoyed the divided loyalties of Dr. Montgomery, who was saved by Dr. Moreau back during WWII, who loves the science of their work, but also has questions. Prendick was somewhat of a spazzing butterfly much of the time, but this personality trait went well with his sheltered, well mannered, bookish mathematician air. I look forward to future Mondello Publishing performances.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher (via the GoodReads Audiobooks Group) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: The performance all around was pretty worthy. Ms. Boltt had a spot on German accent for Montgomery that I really enjoyed. Posner did a great job as the highly excitable Prendick, sounding disturbed throughout the entire performance. I want to say that Jeff Minnerly had a great disgruntled voice for the ship captain and also a perfect mesh of human and monkey for Monkey Man. Bob De Dea did an awesome Hyena Man. There were plenty of animal sounds (screeches, grunts, cries, hyena laughs, etc.) throughout the performance and my hat’s off to that – well done! There was some exciting music in between scenes that I enjoyed, keeping the scene shifts clear to me as the listener. Most of the sound effects were great. There were a handful that took me an extra second or two to identify, but that is my only little quibble on the performance. 

What I Liked: The moral conundrums of the story; the interesting mixes of human and animal and how they turn out; Montgomery’s torn allegiances; the cover art; excellent performance.

What I Disliked: I wanted a bit more of Dr. Moreau. When his part of the story came to an end, I didn’t have any real emotional reaction because he had such a small part in the tale.

What Others Think:

J. Barron Owens

AudioFile

Around the Blogosphere, November 2014

SandersonLegionSkinDeepHeya folks, plenty of goodness happening around this time of the year, including goodness on the interwebs.

First up, Brandon Sanderson has released his sequel to Legion. Book 2 in the series, Legion: Skin Deep, is FREE on Audible.com for the first month of its release! Hurray! I am very much looking forward to this as I so enjoyed Book 1 in the series! Here’s the little Audible blur about the book:

Brandon Sanderson is one of the most significant fantasists to enter the field in a good many years. His ambitious, multi-volume epics (Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive) and his stellar continuation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series have earned both critical acclaim and a substantial popular following. In Legion, a short, distinctly contemporary novella filled with suspense, humor, and an endless flow of invention, Sanderson revealed a startling new facet of his singular narrative talent. In the stunning sequel, Legion: Skin Deep, that talent is on full display.

Stephen Leeds, AKA ”Legion’,’ is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the new story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are hired by I3 (Innovative Information Incorporated) to recover a corpse stolen from the local morgue. But there’s a catch. The corpse is that of a pioneer in the field of experimental biotechnology, a man whose work concerned the use of the human body as a massive storage device. He may have embedded something in the cells of his now dead body. And that something might be dangerous… What follows is a visionary thriller about the potential uses of technology, the mysteries of the human personality, and the ancient human need to believe that death is not the end. Legion: Skin Deep is speculative fiction at its most highly developed. It reaffirms Sanderson’s place as one of contemporary fiction’s most intelligent – and unpredictable – voices.

And here is an audio clip of the book so you can hear just how great a narrator Oliver Wyman is:

https://soundcloud.com/audible/legion-skin-deep/s-7sgzP

So if your a Sanderson fan, you will be all over this. If you have been wanting to give his work a try, or simply want to give an audiobook or Audible.com a try, this is a great way to do it.

VintageScifiBadgeNext on my list of fantastic is the upcoming (January 2015) Vintage Science Fiction Month hosted by Little Red Reviewer. I have enjoyed this event quite a bit these last few years and I look forward to enjoying once again. Since I am all about the audiobooks lately, I will probably be checking out Librivox’s Science Fiction section. As many of you know, Librivox is the noisy sister to Gutenberg project, bringing public domain books to eyes and ears FREE around the world. Everyone is welcome to join, and you can read/listen as much or as little as you want. You can also toss in old radio programs or SF tv/movies. The only rule (and it’s not like folks enforce these things), is that it is pre-1979. Simple, and a lot of fun!

Finally, I want to put a plug out there for The Pigeonhole, a kind of global book club with weekly installments in the ongoing book. They also have their previously completed books available for download. The monthly subscription gives you behind-the-scenes stuff on the authors and the Stories, which is cool. It’s also another way to support upcoming authors. So check it out and see if it is for you!