Monday, June 22, 2009

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley
Read by Michael York
Produced by BBC Audiobooks America
approx 9 hours


Every so often I go back and read one of those books that you HAD to read in school. Whether high school or college, if they were on the reading/study list they had to be boring. Many of these books I found interesting but with the added feature of having to analyze and dissect these books it seemed to take away the enjoyment of just reading a good book. I went back to the shelves a couple of years ago and re-read "Moby Dick" and actually enjoyed that book.

This time around I decided on going back and re-reading "A Brave New World." At the time I decided to do that I found an audiobook version read by Michael York, and decided to give that a try. After all, It's the guy from "Logan's Run" reading it...I know some of you say the guy from the Austin Powers movies, but I enjoyed "Logan's Run" more and I like to show my age.

So after years of intense study & dissecting of this book in High School and in Freshman English @ SIU, I won't be overanalyzing this book. Been there, done that, even got a t-shirt. Instead let's talk about this book in generalities and for enjoyment purposes.

"A Brave New World" is one of those dystopian society books that warns us as humans what we may be headed for. (Oops starting to analyze here.) In this future society people are not born but are decanted from bottles in large factories. In these factories they separate the different castes of humans by slight chemical additions or deletions from the bottles on the assembly line. Through years of study scientists discovered that not everyone can be the super-smart Alpha plus plus, who would do the grunt work? So Epsilons are developed to do said grunt work. The other castes are Betas, Gammas and Deltas with varying degrees in each, signified by a plus or minus in their cast.

Also in this future history is ignored, for it is the past and the past is gone. The center of worship is not God but Ford (as in Henry, the man that perfected the assembly line) and Freud. At times the two are referred to as the same.

The society is kept at bay by doses of a drug called Soma. Soma the effects of Alcohol & Christianity without all the guilt.

The story centers around Bernard Marx who, rumor has it, accidentally had alcohol added to his bottle which stunted his growth and as an Alpha plus he's not as beautiful as the other Alphas. Bernard is a psychologist (specializing in hypnop├Ždia). Hypnop├Ždia is the sleep therapy that conditions infants and children to develop into loving society. Bernard decides to take his annual holiday to the savage (non-modernized) lands in New Mexico, USA.

Short and sweet he brings back a savage that is the son of a member of modern society that got lost in the savage lands and spent a number of years raising her son in the savage lands. In this future the concept of a Mother is similar to pornography and highly detested.

The savage in short revolts against the non-self-thinking society after the death of his mother. As a result Bernard and a colleague of his are exiled to islands of self-thinkers. The savage tries to isolate himself but the "natives" of London bring their Soma and celebrate the visual image of the savage with Soma induced orgies.

Interesting science-fiction and social commentary all rolled into one in this book. Michael York delivers this book with ease and grace. Being that London is the center of society in this book Mr. York's accent adds believability and his voicework keeps the characters separated and unique. So do yourself a favor and just read this book for fun. I found that reading it just for fun I actually was able to absorb the social commentary a little easier and could actually analyze the book with more ease.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark
from the "Sookie Stackhouse - Southern Vampire Series"
Written by Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Approx 10.5 hours



Once again a long about way to start reading a series led to this one, and yes I'm going to tell you about it before we talk about the book. Most of the time when picking out a book I have a list of favorite authors and go from there, usually in the science-fiction or horror realm. After all when reading I usually want to escape reality a bit so those are my chosen genres. Sometimes a friend will recommend a book or author and I'll check it out to see if something catches my interest. Another way is that I'll get books that are compilations of short stories from different authors, one of which will be on my list. That's how this one started.

I picked up the book "My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding," edited by P.N. Elrod because there was a Jim Butcher - Harry Dresden story in it. I immediately consumed that story and then went on to the others since they dealt with the supernatural and some had vampires. One such story in that book was one written by Charlaine Harris which took place in the world of Sookie Stackhouse but did not feature Sookie in the story. It was well written and had an intriguing view of vampires and the supernatural. So that stuck in my head, and when I wrote the review of that book I mentioned I would probably pick up a Sookie Stackhouse book and read it. I received a lot of emails telling me that Sookie is a must read. Hmmm...maybe I will.

Then I found out that HBO did a series, called "True Blood" which was based on these novels. I started watching and was hooked. What a great series with some cool views of vampires. Also the series featured something I love to read about and was happy to see in the book; sarcasm and humor. So I said "here goes," and picked up the first book in audio book form and was not let down in any way.

Sookie Stackhouse is a normal waitress in a bar in Bon Temps, Lousiana. (Already got me there, I love Louisiana.) Okay, Sookie may not be normal in all senses of the word, she does have a "disability," she can read minds. She considers this a disability because she can't help it all the time and no one really wants to know what everyone is thinking ALL the time. In Sookie's world there is a bit of a racial/social problem; recently vampires have "Come out of the Coffin" and revealed themselves to the world and want to live side by side with humans. Of course the vampires are not accepted by everyone easily and the fight for vampire rights is on. The thing that gets the vampires more accepted is that synthetic blood has been created in Japan and is sold in bottles so vampires do not have to hunt humans. Some still do.

During the excitement of vampires blending in society a sort of groupie following develops in which humans want to be bitten and/or have sex with vampires. These groupies are called "fang-bangers." And just like any groupie sub-culture they are looked down upon.

One night Sookie is waiting tables when Bill Compton, vampire, walks in. Sookie soon becomes attracted to Bill the vampire because his mind is closed to her. She enjoys the mental silence and they fall for each other. At this same time in Bon Temps, LA, a series of murders is occuring. Women who are known to have "cavorted" with vampires and work in the service industry are being killed. One of Sookie's co-workers is murdered, and since Sookie is well known to be "with" Bill she may be the next target. But not before more girls turn up dead, including Sookie's grandmother.

The police begin looking at Sookie's brother Jason ( well known for his bed-hopping), since he has slept with some of the victims. Sookie goes on her own investigation using her "disability" to find the culprit. She asks Bill to take her to a Vampire bar since all the women are known for their associations with vampires. The bar, Fangtasia, is owned by a powerful vampire named Eric. Eric is also somewhat of a political leader of sorts among the vampires. Eric learns of Sookie's disability which he refers to as a gift, when Sookie alerts him of a raid on the bar.

Eric then recruits Sookie to find out who's embezzling from the bar and Sookie promises to help at that time and again in the future only if the culprit is turned over to proper authorities. The embezzler turns out to be another vampire and before he can kill Sookie, Eric stakes him.

As you can tell there is lots of fun and excitement in this first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series and the narrator of this book Johanna Parker captures the southern accents and Sookie's voice perfectly. I should point out the book is told in first person from Sookie's own mouth.

Now on to the next book.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Fantastic Four Radio Series

The Fantastic Four Radio Series
Originally broadcast in 1975
13 Episodes.


Okay I have been listening to the Graphic Audio productions of DC comics' Justice League novels. I was never really a fan of DC comics but these audio book productions are out of this world and I fell in love with the unique story telling combined with the production work. Being a fan of Marvel comics I wanted to look and see if there were any Marvel audio book productions that could equal these DC stories done by Graphic Audio. My first place to look the internets (sic ... inside joke).
I have come to find that the Internet contains the sum total of human knowledge, organized like the bottom of a teenager's closet, and with that knowledge I ran into some information that I couldn't believe; in 1975 Marvel comics had a weekly radio show featuring the Fantastic 4.

Now in discovering this I had to find the audio and one of the places that had mp3 files of the the actual radio broadcasts was the Internet Archive site http://www.archive.org/details/FantasticFour-10Episodes the problem with this was that this site only had 10 episodes and there were 13. I finally tracked all 13 episodes downloaded them on my iPod and had myself a Retro-Blast.

I've said before that Americans need more radio theatre and in doing my research it seems as though the 80s was the last radio theatre we had here in the U.S. of A. But maybe I can find ways to get that going again. Any investors out there? I think the comics world would be the perfect place to start.

Okay let's talk about this radio series. In listening to the series there are two great treats/surprises. These surprises are 2 of the voices in the series. First is none other than Smilin' Stan Lee as the host / narrator of the program. It is so great to hear Stan telling these stories, his voice really pushes the excitement along with the sound effects and dialogue. The other surprise is a very young Bill Murray as the Human Torch, Johnny Storm. Yes the same Bill Murray from Saturday Night Live (the talented years), Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Rushmore. Before SNL Murray was performing with the National Lampoon Radio so the voice talent was already known. There is one scene in which the the Fantastic 4 are returning from an adventure on the moon and what seems like some ad-libbing by Human Torch and The Thing, some very funny things are said, but you have to listen close because it is in the background.

The rest of the cast consists of:
Bob Maxwell....Mr.. Fantastic
Cynthia Adler...The Invisible Woman
Jim Pappas...The Thing
Jerry Terheyden...Doctor Doom

Many of the heroes and villains met in this series are:
Nick Fury, Ant-Man, Namor, The Hulk, The Puppet Master, The Watcher, Skrulls & the Super Skrull, The Moleman, the Hatemonger, The Red Ghost, and the Miracle man.

Here's the link once again for the internet archive site with the episodes:
http://www.archive.org/details/FantasticFour-10Episodes

Do yourself a favor and download these fun stories...most are based on actual Fantastic Four comic issues from the Silver age of comics.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

"Give Me Back My Legions" By Harry Turtledove

"Give Me Back My Legions"
By Harry Turtledove
Read by Scott Vance
Produced by Tantor Media

Do you like books with gladiators in them? How about Legionnaires? This may be the audio book for you. Harry Turtledove explores in this novel one of Ancient Rome's greatest military disasters, what has become known as the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest. This is the battle in Which Arminius defeated Augustus Ceasar's appointed governor of Germany, Publius Quinctilius Varus, and kept Rome out of Germany.

Arminius is a German by birth but serves in the Roman army and gains Roman citizenship and an officer's rank. However Arminius does not wish to see his fatherland, Germany to come under Roman rule or its people to become slaves. While serving as an officer in the Roman / Pannonian front Arminius gets word the woman betrothed to him has been taken away by her father and betrothed to an older German. Arminius is granted leave to defend his honor. Going through Germany to his home Arminius decides that Germany must remain free. Arminius seeks assistance from the newly appointed governer to Germany, Varus. Varus takes an immediate likening to Arminius and treats him as his own son.

During Arminius' absence, Varus is told by the father of the betrothed girl that Arminius is spreading word and gathering forces to defeat the Romans. Varus sees this as merely an old man that is getting back at the loss of his daughter to Arminius. When Varus receives the same reports from some of his own officers he defends Arminius by mentioning that Arminius is a high ranking officer and a Roman citizen.

Arminius does continue to gather forces and finds the place where the Romans can be defeated. Using the Romans own military maneuvers against them, Arminius must get the Legions to march into the mountains on small trails between swamps.

Arminius continues to win the trust of Varus and spends the summers in Varus camp as the XVII, XVIII and XIX Legions cross Germany to conquer the Germans and collect taxes. The tax collecting is to get the Germans used to Roman rule. At the end of each summer the Legions must return south to survive the rough German winters. During these excursions the Roman Legions are bogged down by the swamp lands and the constant rains. Arminius hints to Varus that he knows of a route that could take them back south without the bad weather and improved marching conditions. Varus thinks about the idea but decides not to take Arminius up on the offer, until that fateful third summer, when everyone except Varus sees the treachery being built up by Arminius.

In creating this novel Harry Turtledove took some poetic license in creating some events and characters to help explore the hows and whys of the German's victory over the Romans. This military tale has many lessons for modern military and war-making in that the Romans were so confident of their victory they forgot to watch the people of the land. The summer Varus decides to take Arminius' route he is composing a "Mission Accomplished" type letter that is sent to Augustus Ceasar.

This audio book features the wonderful voice actor Simon Vance. However, I'm not so sure if the casting of Vance in this book was the best decision. While Vance does read each character's speaking part with distinct different voices, his British accent does not quite fit in with the Roman and German characters. Some of the minor characters seem to have a Cockney accent or other British Isles accents, while Augustus Ceasar has a vocal quality that sounds like a impersonation of Sean Connery.

Another aspect of this audio book production that made it a little bit hard to absorb, at first, was the lack of pauses between segments. During each chapter there may be two or three separate scenes, such as one with Arminius, one with a Legion officer collecting taxes and one of Varus being approached by someone. There were no pauses between these scenes and they blended in as though they were one continuous scene. Throw in the similar sounding Roman and German names and the story becomes hard to follow. On a good note after about five chapters this became easier to follow and was more tolerable.

All in all with a great historical story this audio book is worth the time spent. Harry Turtledove even adds a final chapter in which is discussed the differences between fact and fiction and what sources he used and why for the historical accuracy.

Monday, June 01, 2009

“The Demon Awakens - part 2” The Demon Wars Saga By R. A. Salvatore

“The Demon Awakens - part 2”
The Demon Wars Saga
By R. A. Salvatore
Multi-cast production
Produced by Graphic Audio
Approx. 6 hours



The beginning of a new era continues in part two of the high fantasy saga, The Demon Wars, by R. A. Salvatore. The demon Dactyl has awakened and has put together an army to destroy the land of Corona. R.A. Salvatore has created a story that runs through seven books and is the basis of the role-playing game, Demon Wars. Now teamed up with Graphic Audio, these books come to life as an audio adaptation. In order to do justice to the books, Graphic Audio is producing each title of the series in multiple parts. This is the second of three parts which make up the first title, The Demon Awakens.

Once again Graphic Audio delivers, with a punch, another "Movie in your Mind," with great production. Using a well cast multi-cast performance and incidental music the story is told superbly. Another feature of all Graphic Audio productions continues in this production and that is the very realistic sound effects.

In part one of this series the listener was introduced to Elbryan, Jilsesponie (Pony) and Avelyn Desbris. Elbryan and Jilsesponie are the only survivors of the goblin raid on their village of Dundalis. and Avelyn Desbris is a monk that has lost faith, not in God, but in religion.

Elbryan was taken in by the elves and trained to become a ranger and set out to guard the region from dangers. During this training Elbryan learned to fight and how to find his spirit guide. After years of conditioning his body and mind the elves tell him it is time to leave them. He finds himself protecting the region even if the locals don't feel they need protection. Elbryan also finds himself back in his hometown of Dundalis. This is not the Dundalis of Elbryan's youth but one that has been built upon the ruins of Elbryan's Dundalis. Elbryan is befriended by a bag-pipe playing, wise-cracking, Centaur who helps Elbryan find a horse and continues his training.

Pony has had the hard life thrust upon her mainly due to her not remembering who she was or where she came from. She finds herself married to a noble man but on their wedding night she attacks him out of fear and the marriage is annulled. At this time she remembers her name is Jilsesponie and becomes a soldier set to guard the region. Her fellow soldiers continuously shun their duties for drink and the company of women (Pony is the only woman in the fort). Pony soon becomes the only one aware of an attack by vicious dwarves known as Red Caps (they get their nickname because of their ritual of dipping their caps into the blood of their slain enemies). Pony escapes the attack after destroying the Red Cap Ship and her life then intersects with Avelyn Desbris.

Avelyn has lost faith in the Abellican Church after returning from gathering magic stones. Gems and stones hold power in the land of Corona and the abby is the only one able to gather the stones dropped from heaven. When the monks return from the gathering of the stones the abbey orders the destruction of the sailors and the ship that took the monks to the island. Avelyn witnesses this senseless murder, takes the stones gathered and leaves the Abellican Church forever. However, before he leaves he kills one of the monks in charge and is now a fugitive. A bounty hunter , of sorts, is trained to hunt down and kill Avelyn and sent out to find him.

Avelyn, through a vision, discovers the Dactyl has awakened and will soon destroy the land of Corona. He then takes it as his mission to warn all the villages he can by going to village pubs and preaching the end of the world. This turns out to always end in a bar brawl which Avelyn always loses. These brawls are what Avelyn calls "readiness training," because the villagers all learn to fight. After being thrown out of the pub which serviced Pony's fort and soldiers, Pony befriends the wayward monk. Pony meets up with Avelyn being thrown out again after she escapes from sure death in the Red Cap raid.

Avelyn and Pony develop a friendship and Avelyn takes it upon himself to return Pony to her homeland so she can deal with her demons and heal. Upon returning to Dundalis many things happen to the trio as this book winds up in preparation for the final installment in Graphic Audio's production of "The Demon Awakens."

This production has it all danger, excitement, battles and fun.