Monday, August 30, 2010

"The Great Secret" by L. Ron Hubbard

"The Great Secret"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multicast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio
approx 2 hours

During the mid-twentieth century L. Ron Hubbard earned his living by writing short stories that were published by many of the pulp-fiction magazines of the time. He wrote in many different genres; westerns, air adventure, sea adventures, science-fiction and more. Recently Galaxy Press has reprinted these stories in their own pulps, each one featuring one or more stories from a given genre. Galaxy Audio has taken these pulps and turned them into audio-pulps by turning them into multi-cast performance audio books.

The production of these audio books is simply superb. They each feature excellent vocal talents and acting, subtle and perfect sound effects and original music. These create a theatre of the mind performance much like the old radio programs from the same time as these pulp magazines.

I kept putting off listening to this audio book because it would be the last of the 6 sci-fi releases from Galaxy Audio. I have listened to several books from the other genres but sci-fi is my absolute favorite. But recently I took a 2 hour road trip and had a car load of differing audio tastes. So I decided this would fit in perfect. The reason this fit in was two-fold, first the sci-fi stories all feature great adventures that are fun to follow and second that this particular audio-book featured four different stories. I don't know about the rest of my passengers but this road trip was made shorter thanks to some exciting stories.

# The Great Secret, published in "Science Fiction Stories," April 1943, and tells the story of Fanner Marston, a man out to discover the secret which will make him the ruler of the universe. Marston's ship crash lands near Parva, a city of the original race of the Universe. Being the only survivor that means the secret will be his and his alone. Pushed ahead by his mantra, "Women, Liquor, Power" and under the searing rays of the world's double sun, Fanner Marston, wracked with thirst and exhaustion, pushes on toward his goal. Soon his mantra changes to "Water." When he finally finds the city and the great secret. What he finds though isn't what he expects.

# Space Can, published in "Astounding Science Fiction," July 1942 is an exciting space battle story. This story tells of an Earth destroyer up against the larger Saturnian ships. The destroyer is riddled with holes, on fire, unable to maneuver, and is an obvious hopeless wreck in the midst of a space battle, there's only one way out: take over the heavier enemy ship. This space adventure not only shows off Hubbard's talent at keeping a story exciting but also shows how much Hubbard pulled from his stint in the Navy by using lots of Navy jargon and ideals to describe the battles.

# The Beast, published in "Astounding Science Fiction," October 1942 is basically a story of a hunter in space. In the jungles of Venus, the mysterious Beast has to be killed—not only because it has murdered, but because it has stolen something Ginger Cranston can't live without—an intangible, absolutely necessary thing: Cranston's courage.

# The Slaver, published in "Astounding Science Fiction," June 1942, Is yet another future look into a time when Earth becomes a slave colony for aliens. Captured by space slave traders, befriended by a slave girl, our hero Kree Lorin outwits his captors, frees the girl, and regains his spaceship.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Directive 51" By John Barnes

"Directive 51"
By John Barnes
Read by Susan Ericksen
Produced by Brilliance Audio
approx 21.5 hours

All you cyber junkies, technophiles and just anyone enjoying today's modern comforts, enjoy them while you can, because if John Barnes new novel "Directive 51" is a glimpse into our future we could easily find ourselves flung back to times where technology doesn't exist. "Directive 51" takes a look at an America where terrorists, both foreign and domestic all attack at once and not only are the creature comforts threatened but so is the Constitution of the United States of America.

The year is 2024 and many factions are tired of America's slothfulness and reliance upon technology. This time they all band together in a movement called Daybreak and bring not only America but the world to its knees. Think about this in today's political world, there are many factions of those that want things to change in America. You've got the potentially violent militias, KKK, and other political factions such as; the tea party movement, Greenpeace, PETA, and many more. Now picture that on one day all these groups got together and since the big picture was to bring down the government and big business they all "attack" in their own way, all at the same time. Throw into this mix a Muslim terrorist group that has secretly infiltrated this domestic movement, all at once and our government would be scrambling, not knowing which side the enemy was hitting from. Being slightly set in the future John Barnes has created some nasty domestic weapons that these Daybreakers use. Weapons such as nanoswarm, which are tiny microscopic robots that attack electronics using the parts to reproduce the swarm and get carried along in the wind destroying cars, computers, mp3 players and anything electronic. Next we throw in a bio weapon that destroys plastics and other man made compounds reducing them to a smelly pile of mush. That would definitely put a hurt on today's society.

In "Directive 51" this happens along with the kidnapping of the vice president. As the plane is hunted by the military, the nanoswarm and plastic eating biotes are wreaking havoc on the system. The V.P.'s plane is found flying back in to the U.S. through the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and just as the plane is being tracked Daybreak strikes again taking out the radar systems on the west coast. The plane is loaded with a super powerful nuclear fusion bomb and headed to the final game of the World Series in Anaheim, California. Before the plane reaches it's destination it is shot down over the California desert, killing the V.P. (if he weren't already dead.) This devastates the President who was lifelong best friends with his V.P. and the President loses his mental faculties and resigns. This is where the governmental structure of America begins to deteriorate much like the plastics.

In searching for the next successor the turmoil begins. The actual next successor is not a natural born citizen so, according to the Constitution cannot hold the office, the next in line is a senator that has been around since the 1970s and is a cantankerous liberal Democrat. He immediately begins promising jobs soon and not listening to the reports of food riots, violence and the deteriorating infrastructure in America, instead he rides around in a limousine and makes promises. Thanks to technology getting destroyed by Daybreak, the only form of mass communication is a newspaper set up by a woman that remembers the days of newspapers, but when she begins supporting the Republican candidate in her paper (yes it is also and election year) the acting president sends his newly formed special group of guards to arrest her and cease the operations of the newspaper.

This book goes on with many more turnovers in the government while at the same time Americans are having to struggle and reform without the use of any technology. Just when you think the book is about to come to a peaceful "happy" ending, the author throws another wrench into the works. Such as 5 strategically placed fusion bombs which destroy Washington D.C. and the new government, and Chicago, Jerusalem, Shanghai, China and most of Europe.

This book takes what is best about the U.S. Government and people and puts them to the test, showing that the culture can survive but it is not easy. Even through a possible civil war it is the Constitution that keeps America alive. John Barnes shows this extremely well in what can be called a thinking man's sci-fi novel.

The reader, Susan Ericksen, has a tough job in reading this one, but she pulls it off beautifully. I've listened to other audiobooks read by Ericksen and have always been amazed by her ability to create many different characters with her voice and in this book she carries on with that same talent. Each character is given their own vocal qualities and not only does it make it easy to discern who is talking or thinking but also Ericksen makes the vocal qualities match the personality.

This novel will have you entertained, enlightened and constantly thinking about society and politics. Great combination of social commentary, political debate and sci-fi are worked into "Directive 51."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The Ghost Hunter's Field Guide" by Margie Kay

"The Ghost Hunter's Field Guide"
by Margie Kay
Published 2010 by 7th Planet
204 pages

With the emerging world of digital technology, especially audio and video, it seems that ghost hunting is the thing to do. You see it all over cable television and for years many communities have some sort of paranormal society or ghost hunters. If you think you may want to take up the night vision goggles and camera and find your own phantasm, this may be the book for you.

Margie Kay has put together a handbook for the professional or amateur ghost hunter with a personal touch. Through her years of ghost hunting (33 or so to give you an idea) Margie has had her share of experiences in the paranormal. She is a trained psychic and paranormal investigator and has been instrumental in solving over 30 missing persons cases, numerous homicides and thefts using her unique clairvoyant, clairaudient, clairsentient, and remote viewing abilities, which she has honed over the years with amazing results. She has amazed investigators and law enforcement with her abilities and accuracy, in some cases getting names, addresses, streets, and license plates as well as descriptions of victims and perpetrators. And she still finds time to hunt ghosts.

In this book she not only gives a great checklist of the items to take on your next paranormal adventure, but she even provides hints on how to acquire some items, even when budgets are tight. Such as some children's toys that could be helpful, or even checking out eBay for some good deals.

Margie uses her experiences to tell the reader how to handle different situations and what to expect in many situations. Through the book are stories of how many of her haunted experiences have gone, from her team being called in to investigate dark shadowy figures haunting a house to what could be recorded impressions from past events while setting up shop in historical downtown Independence, Missouri.

Not only did this book provide nice how to information but also what to do to invite the spirits to "show" themselves. Many of the television shows about ghost hunters approach with a view to try to debunk the hauntings first, kind of like a scientific approach. Margie uses that but also throws in the mix a spiritual/psychic level to the experience so that maybe all that cannot be explained can be observed in a reasonable light. While the information was very nice, I have to admit reading the various experiences she talks about was some fun reading that sometimes, I had to make sure the room from where I was reading was well lit.

Margie closes out the book with an extensive list of haunted sites you can visit and do your own phantasmagorical research. In this list she provides contact info as well as whether or not the sites are open to public or if you have to call in advance to arrange private sessions.

There are also listings of Radio/TV ghost hunting broadcasts that you can tune in and get hints.

So, whether you are a professional Ghost Hunter, hobbyist, or simply curious this book would be the perfect handbook, to keep in your bag of tricks.

Monday, August 09, 2010

"Cattle King for a Day" by L. Ron Hubbard

"Cattle King for a Day"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multicast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio
Approx. 2 hours

I've recently discovered the short stories written by L. Ron Hubbard during the mid-20th century, through Galaxy Audio and Galaxy Press. They have been releasing the stories that were originally published in pulp magazines of that era, creating their own pulp magazines, and even audio pulp. All the audiobooks are about 2 hours in length and most contain 2 or 3 stories. This release, scheduled to be released October, 2010, brings back a couple of stories from the old west.

I originally was intrigued by these books by the science-fiction genre and then I checked out some of the other genres, such as; mystery, air adventures, tales from the orient, and sea adventures, and have never heard a bad story. Hubbard was a master storyteller and could weave a tale that not only kept you on the edge of your seat but as these releases prove pass the test of time. I have never had an interest in western stories but with the enjoyment I've had from the other stories released by Galaxy Audio, I thought I'd give them a try. My old friend that tried to get me interested in Louis L'amour stories is probably saying, "I told you westerns were fun." Well, thanks to L. Ron Hubbard and Galaxy Audio, he's proven right.

Most of the props would have to go out to Galaxy Audio because without the superb production value in these audiobooks, I might not have given the westerns a listen. Galaxy provides a talented cast of voice actors, mix that in with perfect sound effects and original incidental music these stories just flow through you making you feel you are in the middle of the action.

This release contains 2 stories from the golden age both telling tales from the old west dealing with men who have been snookered out of inheritances. One story takes place in Montana the other in Wyoming, which Hubbard used his personal experience of growing up in the area in the turn of the century.

"Cattle King for a Day," originally published in "Western" magazine March, 1937 tells of Chinook Shannon who comes to Montana from Arizona after hearing his grandfather has died unexpectedly and has left him the family's Slash S cattle ranch. Chinook has always wanted to be a cattle king and arrives in Montana ready to run the ranch. The only problem is that the ranch will be foreclosed on in 24 hours. While it may only be one day, as it seems, Chinook is ready to run what he can. As it turns out a mining company using cyanide mining methods has killed off the cattle and not much is left, however, Chinook finds that all things aren't right in the area and that his grandfather's death was caused by a murder. Chinook has 24 hours to find out who murdered his grandfather and save his family's ranch. Be ready for double and triple crosses as Hubbard weaves the tale with the expected twists and turns that are always found in his stories.

"Come and Get It," originally published in "Western" magazine October, 1938, finds another man getting rooked out of his inheritance when he comes from "out East" to inherit his father's Wyoming land. This time however the hero learns nothing is left of the land and takes on a job as a cook to go undercover to find his father's murderer. The real twist in this story which made me smile at the end of the book was the identity of the inheritor.

Two great westerns (I never thought I'd say that) by the master story teller L. Ron Hubbard from the Golden Age of Stories

Friday, August 06, 2010

"Sunstorm", book 2 of the Time Odyssey" By Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter

"Sunstorm", book 2 of the Time Odyssey"
By Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter
Read by John Lee
Produced by Blackstone Audio
Approx 10.5 hours

One of the greatest science fiction collections has to be Arthur C. Clarke's "Space Odyssey" series (2001, 2010, 2065 & concluding w/ 3001). In what would be his final decade here on Earth, Clarke teamed up with Stephen Baxter to write the "Time Odyssey" series. Clarke said that this series was neither a sequel nor prequel but rather an orthoquel (a neologism coined by Clarke for this purpose, combining the word sequel with ortho-, the Greek prefix meaning "straight" or "perpendicular", and alluding to the fact that time is orthogonal to space in relativity theory).

In book one of the series, "Time's Eye," Bisesa Dutt is taken from her time on Earth along with a few from her time and many others from throughout Earth's history such as Alexander the Great, Kubla Khan, by beings who call themselves the firstborn. The firstborn create a patchwork of Earth from various timeframes and Bisesa and her companions call this new planet Mir, a Russian word for peace but can also mean world. A war is fought between Alexander the great and his ragtag army of various armies from various times and on the other side Kubla Khan and the Mongols. After this war the Firstborn return Bisesa to her time, but only after some warning of what she has in store. She is shown a scorched Earth during an eclipse. Also Bisesa and her friends realize that from the collection of various times on Earth her time (2037) is the latest no one from after that year.

"Sunstorm" answers those clues and more so. Before I go any further into the story of what happens during this novel, I would like to point out that while this book is part of a series, it reads as though it is an independent novel, very little knowledge from book one is needed. There are hints but this book could be read as its own story.

When Bisesa returns to Earth, June 9th, 2037, a major solar flare has wiped out most of the planet's electronics. Being the future this is a lot, from smart cars to communication devices. The Earth is plunged into a world-wide disaster, but recovers relatively well. This is not the bad part, sure there are areas that struggle and human life is endangered, but not nearly as bad as what is to come. A scientist studying the sun has discovered that this sun event is a precursor to one that will come April 20, 2047. This event will be a sunstorm that upon its eruption will destroy the planet, burning a living things on the planet and evaporate the Earth's oceans. Unless human kind can do something about it.

It turns out that human kind is more crafty than some may think. Soon the planet's scientists converge and collaborate with the planet's Artificial Intelligence that is recognized by law as a living intelligent creature, a super computer known as Aristotle and create the a Shield that will be large enough to protect the Earth from space. This major task has to be created and functioning with in 5 years.

During the planning and construction of the shield Bisesa contacts some of those in charge and tells her tale of the Firstborn. She is at first thought of as a bit touched, but when it is discovered this upcoming sunstorm is the product of intelligent beings, the Firstborn. The Firstborn plunged a Jupiter sized planet into the sun around the time of the birth of Christ, (bright & morning star) in preparation for the sunstorm event to destroy humanity.

What turns out to be a great sci-fi race for time, "Sunstorm" will have you on the edge of your seat while listening to this fine classic audiobook.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

"Blockade Billy" By Stephen King

"Blockade Billy"
By Stephen King
Published 2010
by Cemetery Dance Publications
144 pages

As many fans know, Stephen King is a baseball fan, especially of the Boston Red Sox, having written the book "Faithful..." chronicling the Red Sox' 2004 season. This time around King has mixed his passion of baseball with his talent for writing chilling stories. "Blockade Billy" takes a fictional baseball team that could have been contenders for the series if not for the dark tale of their strange catcher, William "Blockade Billy" Blakely.

This story goes back to the golden age of baseball and tells the struggling tale of the New Jersey Titans. The 1950s was a decade of real baseball heroes and Blockade Billy was on the road to become one of those heroes. The Titans seemed to have problems with their catchers during spring training. The star catcher was arrested for killing a woman due to drunk driving and another was severely injured while taking a collision to put a man out at home. The Titans send out to their farm team to find someone to at least start their season, until a replacement can be found.

Turns out that replacement is sent to them from Iowa. "Blockade Billy" gets his name during his short stint in the big leagues because the road to home was closed due to his blockade style. Billy was also a great hitter so the package deal came in with this young farm boy. During one exciting play at the plate a player gets cut and while nothing can be pinned on Billy the equipment manager has his concerns.

King mixes in some of the notable players at that time to make this story seem true and the constant reference to how the record of the team being erased from the books due the dark history behind Billy makes you want to look up the player roster for the New Jersey Titans. In fact the early publications of the hardcover of this book came with a promotional baseball card depicting "Blockade Billy." The story is told in a way that seems as if King were sitting in a home interviewing the old equipment manager and he is reliving the memories.

This book also comes with a second story, "Morality." This second story is that of a struggling young couple, barely able to pay their bills get an indecent proposal of sorts. The wife is a nurse that has taken on a job of taking care of a pastor after he as suffered a stroke. The husband is trying to bring in money by taking on substitute teaching jobs while trying to write a book.

The pastor is about to die and says to the wife that if she were to help him commit one sin he would pay her over $200,000. This money would allow them to move to a better home and allow the husband to finish the book. Is the 2 hundred grand worth the cost? I won't tell you the sin, but I will tell you it changes the young couple forever.

Two great stories from a master of suspense. Enjoy.

Monday, August 02, 2010

"Sense and Sensibility and Sea-Monsters" By Ben H. Winters & Jane Austen

"Sense and Sensibility and Sea-Monsters"
By Ben H. Winters & Jane Austen
Published 2010 by Quirk Books

Having read a few other "mashup" books; "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies," "Dawn of the Dreadfuls," and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," I thought I'd give this one a try. I'm sorry to say I found this one hard to get through. I'm not sure what it lacked, but at times when the sea-monsters sections were introduced they seemed forced. I admit though it did have its funny moments but I would have done better to avoid this book.

The premise of the story is the Dashwood family from the Jane Austen novel continue on as Austen wrote them but with many dangers lurking in the waters of the world. An event known as “The Alteration” has turned the creatures of the sea against mankind, this unexplained event spawns numerous “sea monsters,” including sea serpents, giant lobsters, and man-eating jellyfish. Those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but you get the idea.

Basically, Henry Dashwood is out to find the cause of the "Alteration" and upon his return is attacked by hammerhead sharks. Before he dies from the wounds inflicted Mr. Dashwood inscribes a message in the sand for his son to take care of his mother and sisters, since they will be females and have no legal recourse to the inheritance. The Dashwood women are not taken care of due to the son's wife's greediness.

They move to Pestilent Island where the two older sisters are soon to find suitors. One suitor, Colonel Brandon, is inflicted with a disease in which his face is sprouting tentacles. Just picture Davy Jones from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. Another suitor is Willoughby which is actually very close to the presentation in the original novel, but in this book he as a sidekick of an orangutan. The people who were kind enough to let the Dashwoods stay in a shack on their island are the Middletons. Lady Middleton was captured in Africa and carried off against her will to become Sir John Middleton's wife and she's always trying to escape.

If you have read the original novel and you pick this up you can tell some of the events are forced however there are some funny moments that will cause you to chuckle. I would say bypass this one and enjoy the other mashup novels with vampires and zombies.