Thursday, December 29, 2011

"She Stoops to Conquer: or Mistakes of the Night" by Oliver Goldsmith

"She Stoops to Conquer: or Mistakes of the Night"
by Oliver Goldsmith
a full cast audio performance starring James Marsters, Joanne Whalley and Ian Ogilvy
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works (2010)
Approx 2 hours

Once again I'm going back for a visit to the classics, and this time a classic theatre performance from L.A. Theatre Works.   I originally sought out this audio performance because of James Marsters, I have recently become a fan of his, after listening to his narration of the Dresden Files series of books by Jim Butcher.  Marsters then started showing up in some of the TV programs I watch and well I've become somewhat of a fan.  I had listened to a couple of previous productions from L.A. Theatre Works and a couple of them featured Marsters, so I looked to find out what else he'd done with them. 

I remember reading this play back in college and just looking at it as just another play we have to read.  When reading and analyzing it I did find some of it humorous, but very little.  Now that I've heard this performance, I find it quite a bit more humorous.  The acting in this production really focuses on the fun parts of the play and with the freedom of not having to get graded on my analysis, I was able to enjoy it more. 

I think the acting is what made this even more fun the cast consists of: Rosalind Ayres as Mrs. Hardcastle, Adam Godley as Tony Lumpkin, Julian Holloway as Elder Marlow and Stingo, James Marsters as Charles Marlow, Christopher Neame as Roger, Paula Jane Newman as Bet Bouncer and Pimple, Ian Ogilvy as Mr. Hardcastle, Moira Quirk as Constance Neville, Darren Richardson as Diggory and Jeremy, Joanne Whalley as Kate Hardcastle, and Matthew Wolf as George Hastings.  While I was in this for the James Marsters performance, I can honestly say that all the actors performed so well that no one single person stood out and the production as a whole was a complete success.  So far all of the productions I've heard from LATW are perfect.  They put you right smack dab in the middle of the audience and you can't help but enjoy these performances.

This play is pretty much a comedy of manners, basically a play about the difference in classes, with the mistaken identities and the expected behaviors, the comedy comes from those acting out of their class.

A man of wealth, Mr. Hardcastle arranges for his daughter Kate to meet Charles Marlow, the son of a wealthy Londoner, hoping the pair will marry. Marlow has a problem with women, it seems that when he's speaking to those of the upper-class he is nervous and stammers and cannot look them in the eye, however the lower class women he has no problem talking with. 

When arriving in town Kate's cousin Tony Lumpkin intercepts Marlow and sends him to Kate's home, only Lumpkin tells Marlow it is an Inn and not their home.  Expecting the people of the house to be Innkeepers and servants Marlow treats them as such.  Mr. Hardcastle, unaware of the misunderstanding, takes offense, but Kate sees this as the opportunity to actually be able to talk with Marlow and avoid his nervousness, by pretending to be the barmaid.  During the night the whole mistaken identity and class wars create some good humor until finally someone arrives to straighten out the whole mess and those that are actually in love with each other can be open about their relationships.

Bravo, LATW, on yet another fine production. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Trouble on His Wings" by L. Ron Hubbard

"Trouble on His Wings"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multi-cast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio
Approx 2 hours


I'm really enjoying all theses stories from the Golden Age, that are being released from Galaxy Audio and Galaxy Press, especially the short audiobooks they are releasing.  Galaxy Audio has been releasing all the short stories by L. Ron Hubbard from his Pulp-Fiction writing days of the mid-20th century since 2008 and each month there's a new release.  In the paperback versions they are giving them the look and feel of the old pulp magazines, but even better Galaxy Audio has created what I call Audio Pulps in their audio versions.

The Audiobooks all run about 2 hours in length some with 1 story and some with 2 or 3 short stories.  Each one is produced with a full cast, sound effects and incidental music that fits each story perfectly.  In fact, these audiobooks sound a lot like the old radio dramas from that same era.  The voice actors bring to life each character perfectly.

The new year is rolling in and that means another year of monthly releases from Galaxy Audio and Galaxy Press.  The first release of the year is "Trouble on His Wings," which was originally published in the January, 1939 issue of "Five Novels Monthly."

This adventure takes us to the air with a "picture-chaser" for the newsreels, yes, it is a bit dated on that aspect but the adventure is still enough to keep you on the edge.  Johnny Brice is always out to get the best pictures from the mouth of danger, from flying over a shipwreck and then diving in to get the film from the tourists onboard, to flying over a forest-fire and risking life and plane to get the best film for the newsreels.   

The risks in this story run high and when Johnny and his sidekick, "Irish" fly over a shipwreck they end up rescuing a beautiful woman who manages to tag along on each adventure.  Each time around tragedy strikes and Johnny loses his film and crashes a plane or two.  He figures it's all because of the dame and gives her the nickname "Jinx." 

Finally when Johnny is sent over to cover the war between Japan and China and is captured by the Japanese, the trio have to escape, and hopefully gather some info so Johnny and Irish can keep their jobs at world news.

Lots of fun high-flying, death-defying, adventure in this one.  Using the same old pulp-fiction formula of a Hero, a sidekick and a dame, Hubbard keeps you on listening until the very end.  With all sorts of twists and turns in the story that you never know what will happen until the surprising end.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Red Mist" by Patricia Cornwell

"Red Mist"
by Patricia Cornwell
Read by Kate Burton
Produced by Penguin Audio

Dr. Kay Scarpetta has been a staple in Patricia Cornwell's novels since 1990 and this latest novel brings Kay to Georgia.  Dr. Scarpetta is a Forensic Examiner/Expert and in this 19th novel featuring her as the protagonist, she has agreed to meet with an inmate at the Georgia Prison for women.  The inmate is a convicted sex offender and mother of a vicious killer.  The woman is convicted of molesting then 12 year old Jack Fielding Scarpetta's former deputy chief.  The daughter is the result of that relationship and is also the murderer of Jack Fielding.  Scarpetta's quest is personal, but soon she finds herself roped into an investigation that could clear a woman, now on death row at the same prison, of murder.

The author, Patricia Cornwell is a founder of the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, a founding member of the National Forensic Academy, a member of the Advisory Board for the Forensic Science Training Program at the office of Chief Medical Examiner, New York City, and a member of the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital's National Council where she is an advocate for psychiatric research.   With these credentials you know you are getting an author that knows what she is writing about.  The science and techniques used in this book not only have that real feel, but Patricia Cornwell has not forgotten the general public and writes so that any person will understand even what could be the most technical jargon.  She keeps the science real but easily understood.  Not only that but Cornwell's writing involves some unique techniques that capture the surroundings so all clues can be observed in this mystery. 

And example of this is when the people investigating the facts of a case over a dinner all are talking about the case throughout, but at times the listener/reader only hears thoughts in Kay Scarpetta's head, while at the same time, we hear parts of the conversation and at other times we hear off-hand comments from her friend and detective Marino.  Marino comments on how he hates artificial sweeteners, which have nothing to do with the case but puts you in a very realistic scene. Very well done to make the story real.

The reader of this audiobook, Kate Burton, does a superb job of vocalizing all the different voices and attitudes of each character, from Boston accents, Southern, New York and even an Australian, all performed clearly and effectively.

"Red Mist" will engross you in a full investigation that may clear the woman on death row, but the possibilities of what may have actually happened may solve a spree of murders across the country, alert Homeland Security to possible terrorist activities and solve some burning questions from tragedies in Kay Scarpetta's past.  I don't usually start a series late but this time around I was curious and jumped right in.  Patricia Cornwell did an excellent job explaining the past histories of all the personnel involved and this novel serves well as a stand-alone piece in the Kay Scarpetta series.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Them or Us" (book 3 of the Hater Trilogy) by David Moody

"Them or Us" (book 3 of the Hater Trilogy)
by David Moody
published by Thomas Dunne Books
354 pages

David Moody has a way of creating books about zombies without having zombies.  In his series "Autumn" the "Z" word is never mentioned but there are reanimated corpses.  In the Hater Trilogy he has created a bunch of mindless fighters who never eat the flesh of their victims but go into uncontrollable rages until the victim is dead.  So while they may not be be zombie books, they still create the same horror of a zombie book, but without the gore. 

In the Hater trilogy, it turns out that some switch is thrown in the human brain where about half of the poulation become Haters.  The Haters see an Unchanged and that flipped switch causes the Hater to attack fight and not stop until the Unchanged is destroyed.  Even when a Hater has all his limbs incapacitated they will still fight until one of them is dead.  With this aspect Moody is able to explore the darker side of a zombie apocalypse.  The darker side being how do you survive when all is gone, every aspect of civilization breaks down and no longer is there a means for food to be obtained by just going to the corner market.

In the first book, "Hater" the switch was flipped and all the population began a war that would leave the world scarred forever.  In this book we were introduced to Danny McCoyne who became a Hater but first watched the world collapse, losing is family.  In the Second book, "Dog Blood," the world was at war Haters vs. the Unchanged.  Danny sought to find his daughter who he knew was like himself, a Hater.  The problem was, though, his wife and two sons were Unchanged.  Danny had to fight the Hate inside to sneak into Unchanged refugee camps to find his daughter without being discovered.  All this while a major world war was going on between the Haters and Unchanged.  When he found his daughter one side, whether it was Hater or Unchanged or both is never really known, launched nuclear weapons destroying all of the major cities.  Danny lost his daughter as they were trying to escape one of the blasts, when she went running back into the explosion.

Now we come to the third book, "Them or Us."  The world is torn apart and there are very few Unchanged left, what few there are are hunted down and slaughtered.  A small community of Haters is gathered that is ruled by a man who gained his position by killing the man in charge and putting up all the toughest fighters up in a higher social class.  So the haters now rule by might.  Danny is discovered to be able to hold in the hate and Hinchcliffe, the leader of the community, uses him to inifiltrate nests of the Unchanged so the Haters can slaughter them.  Danny becomes a sort of confidant for Hinchcliffe and learns all his secrets.  The big problem is that once all the Unchanged are gone who is left to fight, each other?  That answer seems to be yes when another community is discovered and Danny is sent to infiltrate and find out any logistical info so Hinchcliffe can attack. 

With the last of humanity struggling for survival Danny begins to question whether mankind should continue or just kill itself off.  The question of all time, do we really deserve to exist?  If so How? And what does war prove?

This book is full of philosophic wonderings and some interesting action thrown in to keep the brain pumped.  I'll warn you once you start reading this book or any book in the trilogy you can't stop until the last page, even then you'll want more.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens Read by Jim Dale

"A Christmas Carol"
by Charles Dickens
Read by Jim Dale
Produced by Random House Audio (2003)
Approx 3 hours

Yep, I had to get into the holiday spirit, and with the crass commercialization I was not feeling very Christmas-y.  I was very close to saying, "Bah, Humbug!"  My small hometown put their OVERLY DONE Christmas decorations up the day after Halloween, and all the department stores had begun putting out Christmas items back in September.  "Bah, Humbug!" Indeed.   So what better story to get me back into the Christmas spirit than this Dickens classic. 

There are many versions out there to choose from and I'm not sure why I loaded this one onto my iPod, but I did, and no matter what the reason, It turned out a great choice.  First of all the talent of the reader Jim Dale, was enough to get me into the Christmas Spirit.  His vocalized perfectly all the parts, from the charity collectors, to the two talking Spirits of Christmas Past and Present, and Marley's ghost and of course, Scrooge himself.  Jim Dale's acting was more than just acting out the voices and characters, he also was able to put just enough change in his vocalization of Scrooge to show the moments he changes and then the contrast between old Scrooge and reformed Scrooge were perfect without losing the character himself.  Glad I discovered this version.

The story itself is a great one that tells that a man can change his destiny, and one man's life affects many.  Scrooge, the stingy, business only, owner of Scrooge & Marley's money changing, thinks Christmas is just another day and doesn't think anyone should raise a fuss.  When approached to make a donation to help the poor, his response of asking, aren't there prisons? shows what kind of man he is.  He doesn't even allow family to share in this cheer.  On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by his former partner who died years past, Jacob Marley.  Marley warns Scrooge he could end up like himself with heavy chains to bear, unless he changes his way.  Scrooge only sees this as a nightmare caused by indigestion.  Marley then warns Scrooge about the 3 coming spirits that will show him the true spirit of Christmas.

The first is the Ghost of Christmas Past who reminds Scrooge of how he used to be and how he gave up cheer for business, making his love interest a thing of the past.  Scrooge begins to see what is meant by the Spirit of Christmas.  The second, the Ghost of Christmas Present, is the one that shows how what he does affects those today.  Scrooge begins to see even more when he is shown the home of his employer, Bob Cratchit, and their disabled son, Tiny Tim.  When the spirit uses Scrooge's own words about the health of Tiny Tim, Scrooge is determined to change.

The real Change comes when Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-come.  This ghost is a haunting spirit that never talks.  Scrooge is shown his dismal future and all at once the man knows what he must do.  Upon waking on Christmas day Scrooge is a changed man and begins a new life by helping his fellow man and spreading Christmas Cheer.

A classic you can't miss and especially with Jim Dale Narrating.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Orders is Orders" by L. Ron Hubbard

"Orders is Orders"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multi-cast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio (2008)
approx 2.5 hours

Galaxy Audio is getting ready to release some new collections of audiobooks from L. Ron Hubbard's Pulp Fiction writings of the mid-20th Century and before I get to them I realized there was one release I've missed.  You see, since 2008 Galaxy Press and Galaxy Audio have been gathering all of the stories Hubbard wrote during the hey day of pulp fiction and have been releasing the New York Times bestselling author's writings in their own new pulp magazine forms.  The paperbacks have the feel of the old pulps (but are a little more sturdy), and the audio book forms, well let's just say, Galaxy Audio has created the new format of Audio Pulps.  The audiobook releases are all around 2 hours in length and while some may contain one story there are some that have 2 or 3 short stories.  This one is only one story but, as are all of them, it is a fun and exciting adventure story. 

The way Galaxy Audio has created this Audio Pulp format is by casting multiple talented people to play the parts in the story and then incorporating excellent sound effects and perfect music between chapters.  The final products sound like old time radio with over the top acting for the over the top characters created by Hubbard.  The voice work alone makes these recordings fun to hear. 

As for the stories, well I will have to say there is a bit of a pulp fiction formula to them, but Hubbard uses that formula perfectly.  I had originally thought this was just a Hubbard gimmick, but following the success of Galaxy Audio/Galaxy Press re-releasing the old pulp-fiction stories other publishers have begun releasing other stories from the pulp-fiction days, and it seems that the formula is a pulp-fiction formula and Hubbard just seemed to master it.  That formula? Well, you gotta have a hero, a sidekick (preferably with some strange quirk) a dame and an impossible mission or crime to solve, then throw in some pretty enemies that are impossible to overcome and have the good guys win.  It works and let me tell you, it is extremely fun.

This story, "Orders Is Orders" was originally published in the December, 1937 issue of "Argosy weekly" and tells the story of just such formulaic characters. Two marines, Gunnery Sergeant James Mitchell and Private First Class "Tuffy" Spivits,   and a girl, a fan dancer trying to escape the war-torn area,  dodge bullets on a 200-mile trek through embattled China to bring serum and gold to the American consulate, an isolated island of safety in a sea of dead and dying.

Japan and China are battling it out and caught in the middle, in the Chinese city of Shunkien, is the American Consulate.  The American refugees cannot escape due to the war being waged and the Asiatic form of cholera is threatening unless they can get the serum on time.   Sgt, Mitchell is just the man to do it, but he has one weakness, liquor, if he can stay away from it he can stay clear headed enough to get the job done.  One of the many things that make Mitchell the perfect candidate is that he was raised in the area.  Mitchell's father is a missionary and he was raised there until a falling out caused him to leave abruptly, he's been on his own ever-since. 

Mitchell and Spivets come to the aid of a fan dancer who is trying to escape, but they end up taking her the wrong way when they commandeer her car in order to make the mission succeed.  Along the way they come to where Mitchell's father has set up is mission and find it nearly in ruins due to the war.  Since their last car broke down they have to commandeer one and reluctantly Mitchell's father joins in.  With constant battles going on they strange landing party fight all odds to get to Shunkien on time without getting the U.S. involved in this war.

It may be the old Pulp-Fiction formula, but L. Ron Hubbard could write the action that keeps you hooked until the very end.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock

"Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles"
by Michael Moorcock
read by Clive Mantle
produced by AudioGO/BBC Audiobooks (2010)
Approx 11 hours

While anxiously awaiting the Christmas return of Dr. Who on television, I have to get my fix.  This time around I dive into a Dr. Who audiobook that is unlike any other. 

First of all the length.  This one is just about 11 hours where most Dr. Who audiobooks tend to be from one to three hours in length.  So I was strapped in and ready for a good long run.  This story would have easily taken an entire season to run.

The next feature that makes it unique is the writing.  Michael Moorcock is a well know award winning author of science-fiction and fantasy, and I have heard his name bandied around in sci-fi circles, but I've never picked up one of his stories until now.  This story takes the Dr. Who universe and seems to pop it into a more surreal almost absurd series of events that seem to blend the writing styles of Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse.  At times the story is a humorous romp through the multiverse and at others a bit of a humorous whodunit.   Needless to say this is a fun book featuring the 11th Doctor and his companion Amy Pond.

The reader Clive Mantle does a great job of delivering the story through this audiobook.  In some cases the characters are over the top and Mantle voices them just that way.  From his vocalizations you can nearly picture the faces of the characters.  Superb delivery.

At times this story reminded me of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," with Amy pod as Alice and the Doctor as the White Rabbit, and there are a couple of hatters that do seem mad. 

In the beginning it at first seems as though the Doctor is out for a bit of sport as he and Amy join the Terraphiles, a group of humans in the far future obsessed with recreating Earth's distant past and reenacting medieval Earth sports.  By the far future I mean about 50,000 years into the future, so you have to forgive if they get some of the sports wrong.  There's a version of, I'm thinking Rugby, where the ball is an arrow and the bowmen/archers shoot the arrow and catch it.  I did say they didn't quite get it right. 

As it turns out, though, the Doctor is trying avoid the collapse of the Multiverse from the mysterious "dark tides" that have begun to appear.  The Doctor and his new friends compete in a Grand Tournament in the Miggea star system, which lies on the border of parallel realities. The prize of the contest is an ancient artifact called the Arrow of Law, sought also by the Doctor's old foe Captain Cornelius and his crew of space pirates.

With the multiverse on the verge of collapse the Doctor, Amy and the Terraphiles have to team up with the space pirates to try to save all of existence.  With some fun moments, the theft of a gaudy hat, and some strange sports, this is one adventure with the Doctor that you won't soon forget.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Death Benefit" by Robin Cook

"Death Benefit"
by Robin Cook
Read by George Guidall
Produced by Penguin Audio
Approx 11.5 hours.

Back in the '70s Robin Cook had a huge best seller with his book, "Coma."  I remember everyone just had to read this book (I was still into just monster books at the time).  Then the movie came out and again folks were excited.  Dr. Cook then went on to write many best sellers but "Coma" was the first one that came to mind.  I got the opportunity to listen to this book, "Death Benefit," his latest creation, and had to ask myself, "Why haven't I read anything by this guy before?"

So here I plunge into a medical thriller, written by the man who pretty much perfected the genre, and I'll tell you first hand, Dr. Robin Cook can keep you in suspense, while spinning a tale that involves science that could be happening now, and a story that could almost come out of today's headlines.  I think I may have been intimidated before, knowing that he is an actual physician, I had assumed his writing would get real technical.  Well, I was right it does get pretty technical, but Dr. Cook has a way of telling the story and the science behind the story that becomes educational as well as entertaining.  The science behind this book involves  stem cells and the growing of human organs, and, well, let's just say, I followed along pretty well.  I don't consider myself a biology know-it-all, but I'm also not uneducated.  When it comes to biology I sit right about in the middle of that knowledge scale.  But, and here's the good part, listening to the story told by Dr. Cook the science came easy and he wrote in such a way that anyone could grasp the ideas.

Before I go into the story, I would like to talk about the reader, George Guidall.  Mr. Guidall did a nice enough job reading the book and even did some nice vocal changes to match the characteristics of each character.  However, I think if I were the one casting a reader for this book I would have gone with someone with a 20 something female voice.  He did a nice enough job to keep the book interesting, but i just think it might have been better with a younger and female voice since the book centered around Pia Grazdani a fourth year medical student.  And many of the characters were younger.  Guidall matched perfectly with some of the older professors and the mobsters, but some voices just would have worked better otherwise.

The story comes at you from two fronts to start out with.  First with the story of two financial investors that have come up with the latest scam since the bubble burst on sub-prime mortgages.  That scam being the buying up of life insurance policies of folks who may have a short time to live.  The person gets 15 percent of the policy value and the investors collect on the policy when the person dies.  These two investors go out an purchase policies of those with fatal illnesses, especially those with diabetes.  Knowing they won't live long the investors make money off the dying. 

The second aspect of the story is that of Pia Grazdani, who through a troubled past has worked her way through college and is now on her 4th year of Med School at Columbia University.  Pia is taken under the wing of Dr. Tobias Rothman who sees Pia as he was and convinces her, that she is cut out exactly for research.  He gives her the chance to work with him and Dr. Yamamota on something that will revolutionize the medical industry, using stem sells to grow human organs that because the come from the tissue of the person needing the organ will not be rejected.  Thus creating a pancreas, for example, from a diabetic's own cells and transplanting it and extending the life of the patient.

When the investors get word of this research, they realize that 75% of their policies are on diabetics and that this could financially ruin them.  Soon Dr.s Rothman and Yamamota contract a rare strain of salmonella and die.  While it is written off as carelessness, since they were both working on research involving the salmonella strain.  Pia, however does not buy into this and she begins investigating on her own.  Her investigation leads to death threats on her self and a path that leads to a part of her past she has tried to put behind her.

This non-stop thrillride will take you from the campus of a prestige medical school, to the offices of shady investment bankers to a new crime syndicate without taking a breath until the very end.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"Ringworld" by Larry Niven

"Ringworld"
by Larry Niven
Read by Tom Parker
Produced by Blackstone Audio
Approx 11.5 hours

If you were to look at a list of the top 100 books in sci-fi, I'm sure you would find this book at least in the top 25, maybe the top 10.  Larry Niven's "Ringworld" has all the makings of a great sci-fi and Niven even turned this book into a series with sequels and prequels.  Niven combines a group of aliens & humans and sends them out to find a way to save the entire population of "Known Space."  The possible safe zone is a place that is called Ringworld that was constructed by unknown beings around a star, to get an idea of the scope of Ringworld, picture a solid band of Earths orbiting the sun.  One solid planet all the way around, that alone would solve the population problem, but with the chance of the center of the universe exploding the Ringworld has a few other secrets to save the population.

An interesting side note the popular video game series "Halo" is based on the ideas created by Larry Niven in "Ringworld."  With a ring like planet but at a much smaller scale.

What makes this a classic sci-fi is not one single thing but the conglomeration of ideas ranging from politics, alien races and their politics/culture and the exploration of a new world.  This book primarily deals with 4 maybe 5 different species, to start out you have the Puppeteers that are a strange two-headed alien culture that is based on the ingrained cowardice, but signs throughout the book show that the Puppeteers may not be all they seem.  The Kzinn are a race of cat like creatures who are a warring species who have lost the wars to the humans on several occasions.  Then the final two species are the Engineers of Ringworld and the barbarian race that now inhabits the Ringworld since the Engineers left.  Each race (including the humans) has something to contribute to the saving of the universe but the adventure of exploring the Ringworld is the only thing that reveals that.

The story stars out with Nessus, a Puppeteer, recruiting a team to travel to the ringworld which is a secret among the Puppeteers to see if it can save the universe from the the center of Known Space exploding out and destroying all planets in the path of the explosion.  The entire race of the Puppeteers have already left known space to avoid the catastrophe.  They didn't leave without ensuring a chance for survival, and that chance lies in Nessus' ability to explore the Ringworld.  Nessus recruits first Louis Wu, a human that thanks to the benefits of booster spice is just celebrating his 200th birthday.  Louis is an adventurer and has just become bored in his life.  Nessus promises Louis the chance to try out and return to the humans a new technology in space travel and immediately Louis is on for the adventure.  The next recruit is a Kzinn whose name is "Speaker-to-animals."  Speaker has yet established his status in his society and this adventure is his chance to make a name for himself.  The third party that is needed to be recruited is Teela Brown.  Due to the population control laws, Earth has had to establish a lottery in order to control births.  With generations of people winning the lottery in order to reproduce, the humans have bred a race of lucky people.  Teela is one of those lucky ones, with a journey like this luck is needed, but it seems her luck is sporadic. 

Once arriving at Ringworld the crew explores the outer sections of the ring and then determine they will have to land, however the Ringworld's automatic asteroid defense systems shoots down the ship and they crash onto the planet.  With only air-cycles to carry them across the ring the crew begins their exploration of this strange world which seems to have been abandoned and the life has gone back to barbarians.  They must work together through several perils (hostile locals, automated defense systems, strange storms created by punctures in the ringworld floor) in order to find a way off the Ringworld and back to civilization. 

Great adventures, lots of thrills and with narrator Tom Parker, the audiobook will keep you on the edge of your seat at times and laughing with some of the fun thrown in.  Parker is able to deliver the story and able to create the different voices for each of the characters and keep you in the story till the very end. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Marvel Zombies" Writer - Robert Kirkman Artist - Sean Phillips

"Marvel Zombies"
Writer - Robert Kirkman
Artist - Sean Phillips
Hardcover collection published by Marvel (2006)
136 pages

About 9 years ago I stopped buying comic monthly.  Not any fault of the comic book publishers, but I just had other priorities and I moved to an area where there were no comic book stores (have you noticed it is nearly impossible to find a comic book in any store other than a comic book store, anymore?).   I kept my ear to the ground though so I could keep up with what was going on in my favorite heroes life and some of the other things going on. 

I had heard about the comic book "The Walking Dead" by Robert Kirkman and even read a couple of issues, and loved the story and artwork.  Then when the TV series was announced I immediately commandeered the couch every Sunday night to watch this awesome series.  After all it had zombies, and I LOVE zombies.  The series continues to be great, although this second season had a couple of episodes without seeing a single zombie, so they have me worried.

Anyway this got me intrigued about Robert Kirkman and I looked into what else he had done.  To my surprise he was asked by Ralph Macchio to write a series based on Marvel heroes being zombies, how cool is that?  Well let me tell you pretty darn cool, oh and gory and brutal.   This series was 5 issues long and was hugely popular among the comics crowd.  I of course purchased the hardcover collection which not only features the entire story run, but also includes artwork for all the covers, which are based on classic Marvel comics covers.

The story begins with the heroes in a different dimension having turned to zombies and seeking out flesh to eat for survival.  The problem is, no one is left on earth that has not turned.  Magneto is left behind to fix the situation and he (not a zombie) soon falls prey to the heroes.  With this being their only meal for awhile the heroes fight amongst themselves to get a slice of Magneto meat for sustenance.  The comic then takes a bit of a crossover turn and the Silver Surfer comes to earth as the Herald of Galactus.  With a world of zombies the Surfer decides the world is good for Galactus to devour.  The zombie heroes have other plans, after all eating Galactus would make a great meal. 

The great battle with Galactus and the zombie heroes and even a few zombie villains ensues and well let's just say it gets pretty gory.  Iron Man is only an upper torso, Colonel America (not Captain in this dimension) gets half his head sliced off, but still functions, and the Hulk eats so much that when he shrinks back down to Bruce Banner he bursts his abdomen. 

Fun book and a some good gore for you Marvel and Zombie fans.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Night of the Living Trekkies" by Kevin D. Anderson and Sam Stall

"Night of the Living Trekkies"
by Kevin D. Anderson and Sam Stall
Published by Quirkbooks(2010)
253 pages

Okay folks it's time to put your "Geek" pants on and get ready to "Go where no man has gone before." We are talking about combining the worlds of Star Trek with a Zombie Apocalypse, Okay actually just a bunch of fans of Star Trek and a Zombie Apocalypse at a Star Trek convention.  Being a huge fan of the Zombie horror genre and a sci-fi nut, this book just screamed at me.  I picked up the book and from page one I was hooked.  The Star Trek references were excellent and the authors even strategically through in some Star Wars references that make this survival from the flesh eaters fun and exciting.    On top of the intelligently placed references the authors even have thrown their own spin into the creation and world of zombies.  In this book there are 3 ways to kill them, but let me tell you the Klingon bat'leth is the coolest in this book.

Another aspect of this book is the mult-genre appeal, the authors have combined Sci-Fi, Zombies, Comedy and adventure to create a quest for survival novel.  This book takes the best of all these worlds and creates a mashup that seems like it wouldn't work but does and with a lot of fun.  To quote one of the characters from this book, Jim Pike (former soldier fresh from Afghanistan), "
Star Trek is all about applying the Federation's high-minded ideals to difficult situations.  No matter how bad things get, you're supposed to play by the don't-shoot-first, don't-mess-with-pre-warp cultures, don't-alter-the-timeline rules. But in the zombie univers it's all about jettisoning everything- morality, sentimentality, weaklings - that might keep you from seeing the next sunrise. Because no matter how impeccably you behave, you'll never bring the other side around to your way of thinking.  They don't think.  They just kill."  But by using the rules of the Federation a rag-tag group of Trekkies in costume, a hotel security Guard, an exo-biologist, a videogame creator, and even a woman in a Princess Leia slave costume that spouts out Star Wars references, all battle zombies hoping to make it to the next day before Houston is nuked.

Jim Pike is a bellhop for the Botany Bay Hotel in Houston, the Botany Bay is the home of GulfCon, now in its 5th year, which is billed as the largest Starfleet convention in the Western Gulf Coast Region.  He used to be a big Star Trek fan but after two tours of duty in Afghanistan the what-is-it-all-about question has set in and Jim just wants to get by in life not responsible for anything.  Jim's sister is a Trekkie and she's bringing her new boyfriend, a videogame creator, to GulfCon to enjoy the festivities and see her brother.

Meanwhile an accident at a military underground bunker near Houston has released a strange virus that animates the dead.  Many people are calling in sick and the convention is just beginning to go full force with all sorts of activities.  Jim is now being forced to act as security for the Botany Bay and with his un-erring intuition Jim begins to suspect that the world is coming to an end.  When the nightfall comes the zombies begin taking on their prey with more fervor and Jim is forced to lockdown the hotel and gather the few survivors and fight to escape the brain-eating zombies.

With tons of sci-fi/Star Trek and comic book references this book is full of hilarious moments and with tons of zombies it is also full of some thrills that will keep you anxious to read the whole book in one night.  Some  of the fun in this book, if you are a fellow Trekkie are the names used and who they are used for, for example Jim Pike, the lead character, get's his name from Captain Pike, the first captain of the Enterprise (in the original series) and Captain James T. Kirk. And yes there's an awesome "Dammit Jim,.." quote or two.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read by Allen Davis Drake
Produced by Cloud Mountain Studios (2009)
1 Hour 9 Minutes.

Every so often I find myself going back and revisiting a classic, this time around it was a strange set of circumstances to getting this audiobook.  I have always tried to get my son interested in audiobooks and having to compete with the videogames and television the lack of pictures make it hard for me compete.  This time around I lucked out.  We had an upcoming 2 hour drive and I knew I'd have to find the perfect audiobook.  I know what you're thinking,  if I have a hard time competing with TV and Videogames how is this classic story by F. Scott Fitzgerald going to get his attention.  Well, here's where it gets funny.  We never saw the movie based on this story starring Brad Pitt, and probably never will but my son and I are fans of a TV show based on Mad Magazine.  "Mad" airs on the Cartoon network and just like the magazine features parodies everything including movies.  There was one skit in which he and I found pretty funny titled "The Curious Case of Benjamin Batman," in which Batman was aging backwards. 

So we had that as a start then a friend sent me an email with a link in which I could download several classic stories in audiobook form.  The choices ranged from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" to "Treasure Island" to "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" and including this story.  So loving the classics I downloaded all I could.  (After all they were all free, and were professionally produced, not the lower quality found on Librivox and others.) 

So with him now curious about the story and the long car trip planned we listened, and we were entertained.   

First of all the gist of the story is that Benjamin Button is born a 70 year old man.  His father is embarrassed and flabbergasted and at first does not know how to accept this medical curiosity.  The hospital wants Mr. Button to immediately remove the abomination and after buying a suit for his new born son takes him home and life begins at the end for Benjamin Button, having to go to school at the proper age (based on birth) Benjamin is a site in schoolboy shorts at the age of 65.  His life progresses backwards as we follow him to college and then marriage where he falls in love with a 20 year old woman as he appears to be 50.  He then goes off to fight in the French and Indian War and comes back a younger man.

The story is based on a quote from Mark Twain, "Youth is wasted on the Young." and a conversation between Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The reader delivered the story with skill, keeping my 10 year old son and myself interested in the story and delivering the comedic scenes with just as much ease as the scenes when trying to be able to live as a married man who is growing apart from his wife due to the reverse aging and the turning over the family business to his son because he is getting too young.

The story is fun and at times and poignant at others and sometimes both.  A great view of the life of man.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"The Dragon Factory" by Jonathan Maberry

"The Dragon Factory"
by Jonathan Maberry
Read by Ray Porter
Produced by Blackstone Audio
16 hours and 11 minutes

I love it when an author creates a character that is so strong that it constitutes a revisit or even a series based on the character.  But only when it is a Strong Character.  Jonathan Maberry has created a Strong Character in Joe Ledger.  In the first book, "Patient Zero," Ledger is a Detective wanting to get into the FBI, what happens is Ledger is recruited to join a new branch of law enforcement called the DMS (Department of Military Science) in which he leads a team to fight off terrorists who have devised a disease that creates zombies.  The DMS is the branch that keeps the country and the world safe from evil that is beyond the scope of reality.  

The second novel in Maberry's Joe Ledger series starts very soon after "Patient Zero" left off, with Joe visiting the gravesite of one of his oldest and dearest friends. The problem is, the DMS has suddenly been targeted by all the other alphabet soup agencies with the search and seizure order issued by the Vice President of the United States. All the DMS offices and teams soon find themselves under attack from their own government.  Forced to fend off NSA and CIA agents alone, ledger escapes and eventually regroups with the DMS to find that while the President is getting open heart surgery the Vice President is officially in charge and has taken this time to shut down the DMS.  The V.P. as it turns is really a puppet and a mysterious group pulling the strings wants 2 things, 1.) The DMS shut down long enough to institute their plan to destroy the world, and 2.) Mindreader, the DMS computer system that can find anything anywhere. 

The DMS soon learns that the evil afoot is 2 groups of genetic scientists that have genetically created mythical creatures, Dragons, unicorns, centaurs and more.  One of the 2 groups creations are a fighting force which are called Berserkers due to their complete loss of control and destructive chaos the creatures go into when a battle begins.  The Berserkers are super strong, and have a very unique body armor that just cannot be real.  The real threat runs throughout the book in the form of a countdown clock known as the Extinction clock which counts down to when a group of genetic diseases which are prevailent in certain races have been turned into viruses which when released will destroy 6/7ths of the world population leaving most of the Earth's inhabitants to be whites only.

From the first word spoken in this book the action begins and never lets up creating a super action story mixed with some horror and some psychological horror.  For the most part the book is told in First person and Ray Porter owns the role of Joe Ledger.  He also creates the voices of the other characters that not only keeps it clear who is talking but he is able to create through superb voice acting a complete persona for each person capturing perfectly their personality and history.  Porter rocks this book, as he did in the first book, "Patient Zero."  I don't think I could listen to these books read by anyone else.

Maberry writes the perfect action/horror novel.  Really! with Nazi clones, genetically created mythical beasts, the perfect evil mad scientist and his 2 mad scientist children (albino twins) (who are pretty creepy in their own right), ethnic cleansing and a race against time this novel will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout every second of the book.  On the good side a team of soldiers that are too cool for words and a young boy hero that shows what pure goodness is all about.

Now let's see if I can find the next book in the series "The King of Plagues."

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Superman on Trial" Written and directed by Dirk Maggs

"Superman on Trial" 
Written and directed by Dirk Maggs
Multicast performance from BBC Radio
Published by AudioGo
1 hour


First broadcast in 1988 to celebrate 50 years of Superman, This BBC production features the "Man of Steel" standing trial for his crimes against humanity.  With Lex Luthor as the prosecuting attorney and with Lois Lane as Superman's defense attorney, of sorts.  In the continuity of the Superman Saga this is based partly on "Superman: Last Son of Krypton" and some early issues of "Adventures of Superman." 

AudioGo has remastered this broadcast and even added in some never-before-heard scenes.  With superb vocal acting, great sound effects and incidental music that pushes the story, this short audio comic book is the perfect way to bring a comic book to audio life.   There are even some fun special guests that make this more than just a story about Superman, but also brings to light how comic books are needed for all ages. 

The trial begins with Superman chained down and unable to move or speak, Lex Luthor insists the trial goes on and Lois Lane is forced to defen Superman.  Luthor brings charges that range from destruction of property to assaulting humans, and with Superman not of this Earth he should be banished to the "Phantom Zone" (negative space created by Superman's real father Jor-El).  Lois brings witnesses to talk about how Superman has done nothing but stand for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

The unique aspect of this audio comic book is that the trial then turns to being a message about how comic books in general are important.  This is done with some very cool special guests, Adam West, Jenette Kahn (President of DC Comics) and Dave Gibbons (Co-creator of Watchmen).  These three real life witnesses talk about how comic books, especially Superman comics promote literacy, always teach the reader the difference between right and wrong, and how all ages can and do enjoy comics.  I found it really cool when Adam West was leaving and Batman was entering the courtroom and Batman was delayed getting to the stand.  Very fun subtle context. 

Very nice production bringing an interesting comic book story to life.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Batman: The Lazarus Syndrome" BBC Radio Drama Written by Simon Bullivant and Dirk Maggs

"Batman: The Lazarus Syndrome"
BBC Radio Drama Written by Simon Bullivant and Dirk Maggs
Multi-cast performance
Produced by AudioGo
45 minutes

One of the many things I love about comic books is that they are a quick read.  I love carrying them with me and when I have a few minutes relax and read an exciting story.  This audiobook gave me the feel of a real comic book, not only was it a full story in 45 minutes but the voice acting music and sound effects brought a comic book story to audio life.  Every aspect of this audio drama gives the full color graphics of a comic into sound.

The story was a 1989 BBC Radio 4 broadcast, produced to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the popular comic book character Batman.  If you are wondering where in the Batman continuity the story falls, it contains references to such Batman stories as Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: A Death in the Family, Batman: Year Three, and Batman: Son of the Demon.  AudioGo has released the performance as this audiobook. 

On the anniversary of his parents murder Batman is attacked by an old enemy. Then there is an explosion and it seems Batman is no more. With the disappearance of the Batman Commissioner Gordon begins searching for any lead, even going as far as arranging a meeting with The Joker and Catwoman. The commissioner then gets an audiotape which seems to be from Batman, telling the commissioner of Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne, and that receipt of the tape verifies the death of Batman.  But when Gordon goes to Wayne Manor finding Bruce Wayne liquidating assets, Gordon realizes something is wrong.  Barbara Gordon the commissioner's daughter and former Batgirl (before The Joker shot her and put her permanently in a wheelchair) begins her computer expertise to hack into the Bat-computer and find out where the real Batman is.

While in Wayne Manor Bruce Wayne informs Alfred and Nightwing (Dick Grayson, formerly Robin) that he is hanging up the cape and cowl forever.  He begins selling off all of Wayne Enterprises and plans to relocate the Bat-computer.

At the same time in some unknown location the true Batman awakens in the same room as Talia (the daughter of Ras' al Ghul) and realizes he needs to regain his strength and awareness before this impostor uses Wayne Enterprises to bring ruin to the world. 

In an exciting audio-comic book, you will feel every punch and smell the dankness of the bat-cave thanks to the expert production fro BBC Radio and AudioGo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Old Jews Telling Jokes - The Joke-Off" Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman, Editors

"Old Jews Telling Jokes - The Joke-Off"
Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman, Editors
Multiple performers
Produced by HighBridge Audio.
TRT: 1 hour

Looking for an hour of just pure laughs (and a few groans)?  Check this out: HighBridge Audio has compiled a bunch of jokes from Old Jews Telling Jokes (http://www.oldjewstellingjokes.com) into a one hour audio collection.  The audio is set up like a wrestling/match between the comedians with bells between rounds and an announcer introducing the contenders with some interesting nicknames all telling jokes trying to top each other or in some cases where a joke will remind another comedian of another joke and they snowball from there.

This collection reminded me of some of my old family get-togethers where all the men were sitting around telling jokes and just having a fun time.  Each time the jokes would be funny or you would groan and all would laugh and share good times.  That's pretty much how this comes off, just a bunch of old men having fun telling jokes.  I will warn you some of the material is explicit but not enough to make you stop listening, just be careful as to who else may be listening in, it may not be appropriate for a younger audience, although some of these jokes were ones we told on the 5th grade playground and we would giggle madly then but may groan now in our older wiser years.

The collection also includes jokes that have been phoned in from various sources that seem to be fans of the website oldjewstellingjokes.com.  A couple of these left me wondering where the punchline was, but they were fun nonetheless.

The topics of the jokes range from the old traveling salesmen jokes, plastic surgery jokes, marriage jokes, blonde jokes and lots of golf jokes.  The whole audio collection kicks off with each comedian telling the first joke they can remember and from there the "Joke-Off" is off and running.  This collection could be fun in one straight sitting or spread out when you need a quick chuckle.  Definitely one to have around just for the fun of it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Between Planets" by Robert A. Heinlein

"Between Planets"
by Robert A. Heinlein
Multicast performance
Produced by Full Cast Audio
TRT: 7 hours

It's time for some classic science-fiction and you can't get much "classicer" than Robert A. Heinlein.  Yeah, I know I made up a word but when it comes to Heinlein you know you are in store for some sci-fi that is rich in all things that make good sci-fi.  From the author of "Starship Troopers" and "Stranger in a Strange Land" this book is no exception to the excellence that goes into and comes out of a Heinlein story.  He writes the full story.  He doesn't just write a space adventure, he also creates a political and social culture around and throughout the story that keeps the story on pace. 

"Between the Planets" was originally published as a series in "Blue Book" magazine in 1951 under the title, "Planets in Combat" and was serialized in "Boys' Life" magazine in 1978 as a monthly cartoon series.   Scribner published the hardcover version in 1951.  Knowing it appeared as a cartoon series in "Boys' Life" is a hint that, yes, this is a young adult readers book.  With that in mind, I can think of no one other than one of the champions of YA books than Bruce Coville to take command of turning this fun piece of sci-fi into an audio book.  Coville is an author of young adult and children's stories and novels, especially some really fun scary stories.  He is also the founder of Full Cast Audio.  

Full Cast Audio takes a nice approach to creating an audiobook, using a full cast of performers and keeping the productions family-friendly and with age appropriate casting.  Full Cast Audio also throws in some original music for the chapter separations that make this a fine listening experience.  I will admit that some of the younger voices weren't as honed in the acting craft as some of the others, but that was easily forgiven due to the fact that the voice matched the character.  All in all I'd say, a job very well done in bring this Heinlein story to life. 

Don Harvey is about to graduate from his Dude Ranch type High School on Earth when his parents, who are living on Mars send for him to come to Mars before graduation.  They also leave him with the mysterious message to be sure and see a family friend, Dr. Dudley Jefferson, and to bring the package that Dr. Jefferson gives him to Mars.  At this time in Earth's future, there is an uprising from the Colony on Venus who want to end Taxation without representation.   Not being born on Earth, Don has yet to declare whether he is a citizen of Earth, Venus or Mars and all the powers that be treat him with suspicion. 

Dr. Jefferson dies mysteriously after giving Don a ring to take to Don's father.  Don then blasts off for the orbiting space station which is the launching point to all the planetary colonies.  The problem, Venusian rebels have taken over the station and are directing residents of Venus to Venus and those of Earth back to Earth.  Don can't get to Mars so He goes to Venus, knowing that there is something he needs to do with that ring.

A coming of age story in which Don Harvey learns to make life-changing decisions and those trying to keep secrets learn that Don is not the "kid" they think he is.   With Venusian Dragons, and military coups this book will keep you on the edge throughout and with the very nice production from Full Cast Audio, the story will come to life putting you "Between Planets."

Field Report: Olympus DM-620

Field Report: Olympus DM-620

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Z E O: A Zombie's Guide to Getting A(Head) in Business" by Scott Kenemore

"Z E O: A Zombie's Guide to Getting A(Head) in Business"
by Scott Kenemore
Published bySkyhorse Publishing Inc. (2009)
254 pages

I have for some reason been on a zombie kick with most of my reading,  I love the movies and now the books are becoming quite fun to read.  The books I've found conatain anything from horror to comedy to a mix of both.  When it comes to the humorous side of zombies, Scott Kenemore has become my favorite writer, so far.  Scott knows his zombie encyclopedia inside and out and in every book he makes reference to nearly every zombie movie made, including some of the ones I thought I was the only one who saw them.

This time around I read one of Scott's earlier writings (earlier by only a couple of years but he has been busy in his short career.  He is the author of the horror novel Zombie, Ohio (2011) and several zombie-themed satires, including: "The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead" (2007), "The Art of Zombie Warfare" (2010), "The Code of the Zombie Pirate" and "Zombies vs. Nazis" (2011).  In this book "Z.E.O..." Scott tells how you can take the path of a zombie and become successful in business.  Let me tell you you may be surprised this book actually has some good ideas, except for the eating brains part, but Scott writes how brains can be loosely translated to destroying the competition, rewards for a job well done and more.

It's funny, Scott Kenemore mentions that everyone from sports stars to military commanders have written books about how to become successful in the business world and professionals actually heed their advice, so why not zombies?  So a military commander can wipe out bases with missles how does this make him able to run a business?  So Tiger Woods and C.E.O.s make a lot of money, but the similarities stop there. Tiger Woods can be stopped by knee surgery, lightning on the course and, occasionally, Vijay Singh.  But a zombie is stopped only by a gunshot straight to the head or decapitation.  Makes sense.

But seriously,  this book is full of fun comparisons to the ways of the zombie and how business should work, but it also offers up some pretty sound advice, such as:  Do it your way.  A zombie's pace is slow and steady but every time it gets the job done.  Slow and steady and done right the first time every time.  Zombie time management, don't get distracted by gossip at the water cooler, or knick-knacks in your cubicle, when someone tries to distract you just moan and shamble on to your task.  There are a lot more of these great ideas all intermingled with very funny anecdotes as to how they are all traits of zombies.

The book is divided into two parts with the first part of how to become a zombie power in the work force and the second part a one year plan to become a C...er um I mean... Z.E.O.  Humor and common sense all rolled into one with this very interesting and entertaining book by Scott Kenemore.



Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death" by Deborah Blum

"Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death"
by Deborah Blum
read by George K. Wilson
Produced by Sound Library (2006)
approx 13 hours


It seems to be a recent trend to go out and try to find proof of the existence of ghosts, spirits and all things paranormal. We have "reality" TV shows showing ghost hunters and search amazon.com for ghost hunting and you can find all sorts of equipment that theoretically aids the hunt for ghosts. But this trend has been with humankind ever since we began burying our dead and trying to find out what happens next. Pulitzer prize winning writer, Deborah Blum takes a look at some 19th Century ghost hunting int the book, "Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death." During this time period Harvard professor William James, remembered more for his contributions to psychology and philosophy than psychical research, was one of the early leaders in scientific research aimed ultimately at determining whether consciousness survives bodily death.

From the mediums speaking to the spirit of a dead girl to find her body to tricksters using various contraptions to fool the audience, several members of society's Intelligencia (both British and American) were looking to prove or disprove psychical arts. William James sought out to apply objective scientific methods to the study of paranormal phenomena. Many times a fraud was found but sometimes during this book you just have to wonder.

Deborah Blum tells this story of intellectuals, philosophers, pyschologists, Nobelists from the 19th Century into the early part of the 20th Century trying to bridge the gap between science and religion when religion was being questioned by the theory of evolution and the the new sciences. I found it quite interesting as to how many folks were out to fool the public in the name of talking to the dead. I had listened to the Mary Roach book "Spook" and she also talked of the the same fakes trying to earn a buck by holding seances. In fact, this book would make a great companion to that book or vice versa.

The narrator George K. Wilson (no relation) does a superb job of narrating the book and even throws in some voice changes and accents when representing quotes from various people in this documentary. I have also heard some other books read by Wilson and I have decided that any documentary or non-fiction audio book I look at I will immediately get the book if he is the reader. He has a way that presents the story or information with no opinion yet keeps the information very interesting to hear.

So, if the study of the paranormal or you're thinking about becoming a ghost hunter like on TV, check out the history of debunking and proof in this book.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

smarterer

Being a bzz agent (http://www.bzzagent.com) I get to try out new products and review them. This time around I got to try out the website smarterer. This site is so addictive. You can go on the site and take tests about numerous subjects from html code writing, your knowledge of social network sites like twitter and facebook and see how smart you are about the subject. The test results can be displayed as badges on your website, your blog or even in your resume. This site, therefore can show what you know, but be warned you will constantly want to raise your score and soon you may become addicted to the quiz taking (It almost feels like playing a Quiz Show like game rather than taking a test).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Ashes, Ashes" by Jo Treggiari

"Ashes, Ashes"
by Jo Treggiari
read by Cassandra Campbell
Produced by Oasis Audio
9 hours and 48 minutes


Time once again to dive into the fiction from the young adult category, this time I listened to a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel "Ashes, Ashes" by Jo Treggiari.    As with most young adult titles this one involves a little romance but lots of action and some despair.  The world has ended but, Treggiari never fully explains why but 99% of the human population is wiped out from a smallpox like plague.  The rest of the world is getting wiped out by floods and drought and the cities are decaying.  What's left of the human population is being hunted down by hazmat suited people called sweepers, armed with tazers they invade encamped populations taking people (especially children) away in white vans to an island hospital never to be seen again.

Lucy Holloway is an anomaly.  When the book opens we find her struggling for her own survival eating only that which she catches and kills.  Relying on acorn mush is not enough and through the help of a survival book rescued from the decaying library as the book opens she is learning to clean and cook a turtle.

While out checking her snares she sees a boy of around her same age (16) who helps her to escape from the sweepers.  The boy, Aiden, stays on her mind and she often thinks of joining his encampent of refugees.  When a tsunami threatens her campsite she litereally runs for the hills and in running away decides to find the encampent.  Lucy decides that she would be better with a group rather than alone, and joins up with the group of survivors.  But the danger follows her and the sweepers raid the camp taking people away.  This time one escapes and leads a rescue party to bring back the other children.  On this rescue mission Lucy discovers the sweepers are looking specifically for her because her blood holds the mystery to surviving the plague.

Through the dangers of a dying world and a mad scientist on the hunt this book is full of adventure that will sweep you away to a world of survival.  The reader Cassandra Campbell does a nice job of presenting the story and with the constant teetering on the edge feel of the story the few mispronunciations are easily forgiven. 

The book does present an interesting end, in that it ends the story nicely but does leave it open for a sequel, which I'm hoping Jo Treggiari has planned.  If you liked the "Hunger Games" series this book will be right up your alley.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

protect your iPhone

Let me tell you, electronics break! But you can protect your iPhone from accidents with a SquareTrade warranty. They're rated 5-stars on iTunes. Get a $5 discount with my link - and just for buying you get a chance to win an iPad 2!

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Enron" by Lucy Prebble

"Enron"
by Lucy Prebble
a full cast audio performance
starring Greg Germann, Gregory Itzin, Amy Pietz and Steven Weber
Directed by Rosalind Ayres.
Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles in October, 2010
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works
1 Hour 51 Minutes

One of my latest treasures I've found are the classic theatrical productions in audiobook form produced by L.A. Theatre works.  I've been listening to plays by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Chekov, Oscar Wilde and others.  Listening to the classics is fun but this time around I was curious to see what LATW had to offer in the more modern theatre genre.  I was intrigued by this play, "Enron," due to the fact that as the Enron scandal unraveled I was was working on a Business format radio station and at the time and this was all big news, and I heard most of it unfold live on the air with our in depth coverage on "Business Radio 1190 KPHN."  What I didn't know then was how this would affect our economy today. 

This play not only points out the greed and political underhandedness of the time and of the company but also gives great insight as to how the world economy today has fallen into the state it is in.  The interesting aspect of this play is that it, at times, takes an absurdist look at the situation and company.  For example, when the company develops a way to make losses seem like profits they illustrate the feature by feeding dollar bills to Raptors, yes in the performance you hear actual dinosaurs eating money.  The raptors soon become too much to handle and must be released or killed.  Another fun feature of the play is that it has song and dance numbers.  A musical about greed...too much.

When Enron slumped into bankruptcy in December 2001, Lucy Prebble was a 20-year-old English literature student at the University of Sheffield in northern England.  She tossed around the idea for a few years and eventually got to do her show making it into this musical adventure that actually puts into plain language the cryptic language of finances and Mark to Market financing that gave Enron the edge.  So with a little British humor the average listener is able to understand the disaster that came crashing down on Enron and the U.S.   Informative, entertaining and frustrating, you'll find yourself laughing with disgust at big business.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"The Chee-Chalker" by L. Ron Hubbard

"The Chee-Chalker"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multi-cast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio (2008)
Approx 2 hours.

It's time once again to go on an adventure with the master story teller, L. Ron Hubbard.  Once again we turn to the stories from the Golden Age, and this time explore the wilderness and outlaws of the Alaskan territory.  Hubbard wrote many stories in many genres that were published in many of the pulp fiction magazines in the mid-20th Century and Galaxy Press has been releasing these stories in their own "pulp" form and have created audio pulps from these releases.  What I call audio pulps are short books (usually around 2 hours in length) that are produced with an excellent multi-cast of performers, special effects that place the listener in the middle of the story and original music that matches the story perfectly.  Each production is reminiscent of old time radio broadcasts with over the top characters and voices to match.

This time I go back to 2008 (the year when Galaxy Audio first began releasing these stories) and listen to the audio pulp of "The Chee-Chalker" which was originally released in "Five Novels" monthly during the months of July and August of 1947.  This story takes you to the Alaskan Territory where FBI agent, Bill Norton and his assistant Chick have been sent to investigate the smuggling of Heroin into the United States via Alaska and Canada and the missing agent that preceded him in the territory. 

Norton is considered at first a "Chee-Chalker," local slang for a newcomer by the locals, but that's their first mistake.  Norton finds not only the smugglers but a string of corpses which are dismissed as "accidental drownings."  Norton doesn't buy it and when a dame gets in the picture the twists and turns in clues abound.  This time the dame is a heart-stopping heiress to the halibut trade, and seems to be behind the murders and smuggling, at first.  But through the typewriter of L. Ron Hubbard things are never what they seem. 

With hard hitting punches and excellent detective work, Norton will get to the bottom of it all,but at the expense of whose lives?  Yet another fun adventure that will keep you guessing until the very end.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

"The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus" by Clive Barker


"The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus"
by Clive Barker
read by Bruce Donnelly
Published by Crossroad Press
Approx 2 hours

The first thing that grabbed me about this audiobook was that it was written by Clive Barker, I have always loved horror novels and Barker's horror novels are some of the best.   I knew this was a fantasy book, and was prepared for this because I have read a few of his fantasy books including the young adult fantasy series "Abarat."   What I wasn't prepared for, once I started listening was the depth of the language and the way the story completely engulfed me.   What is more amazing is that these stories were written in 1974 when Clive Barker was only 17 years old.  At first listen it is an amazing book by a young author, but more to it, it is an amazing book that will take you on a magical fantastical journey in and of itself, regardless of the age of the author.

On a side note regarding this audio book version, I think the non-emotional, straight forward read actually works.  I have recently become a fan of audiobooks where the author actually acts out the book and even provides different voices for the characters, or even better yet a full dramatization with a full blown cast of actors.  These types make the audiobook more of an exciting experience, but for this book, where the language used by Clive Barker is the star, the nearly monotone emotionless reading by Bruce Donnelly works.  This approach took some getting used to but once the book was rolling I found myself completely lost in the language.  The words used by Barker in this book flow like poetry.

Maximillian Bacchus is the ringmaster and owner of what he considers the greatest show in the world. Traveling with a Crocodile named Malachi, a trapeze girl named Ophelia, a strong man named Hero, and a clown named Domingo de Ybarrondo.  All travel in a wagon pulled by a giant "Ibis bird," the troupe wanders from adventure to adventure.

The book consists of four interwoven stories beginning when Indigo Murphy, the best bird handler in the world, leaves the show to be married to the Duke Lorenzo de Medici.  During the feast where this announcement is made Maximillian Bacchus announces the circus will travel to the fabled Xanadu built by the Khan named Kubla.  From there, the magic never stops. On the road they meet a young apple thief named Angelo with glowing eyes who tries to redeem himself by helping to find a lost girl.  The troupe next rescues an orangutan named Bathsheba from what seems like the evil and opposite form of the travelling circus.  The Circus then arrives at the end of the world where the people living in a town on the edge of the world are terrorized by a band of trolls. Finally arriving in Xanadu the troupe sets to perform for Kubla Khan.  After the troupe performs the daughter of the brother of Kubla Khan is abducted and the sun is stolen from the sky, the Khan gives in to the sadness of the event but Maximillian Bacchus and his travelling circus volunteer to rescue the girl and bring back the light of the sun by venturing into the crystal caves beneath Xanadu.

With magical prose and fun short stories, this is one book that is great for all ages.  This would be the perfect bedtime story book, and in audiobook form would be the great travelling companion.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

"Macbeth" by William Shakespeare

"Macbeth"
by William Shakespeare
Multi-cast performance starring James Marsters
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works
Approx 2 hours

While getting my degree in Theatre from Southern Illinois University, I learned to appreciate the works of Shakespeare.   The first thing I learned is that the plays are meant to be performed not just read.  Once I started performing scenes from Shakespeare's collection I saw how much fun and in depth the stories were.  Yes, even the tragedies were fun, from a performance perspective.  So now when I hear of students having to read Shakespeare I cringe a little knowing they may never learn to appreciate Shakespeare.  In comes  L.A. Theatre Works and their releasing in audiobook format theatrical performances.    I've had the chance to listen to several of these and, to be honest, I was leery at first.  I was thinking, how can you turn such a visually dependent medium into an adequate audio book? 

L.A. Theatre Works goes well beyond the adequate, and are able to produce superb audio versions of some great performances.  Most of this lies in the excellent production using sound effects that make sense in the right places and with even more excellent casting.  The many plays always feature accomplished actors, not just famous ones but ones that are capable of filling the role to perfection.  In the case of this release, James Marsters is cast in the lead as Macbeth, and just knocks it out of the park.  There is one scene where the ghost of Banquo sits in Macbeths chair at a dinner party and the issue is that Macbeth begins yelling at the spirit and the other members of the party don't see the ghost.  In his vocal gymnastics alone on this recording, Marsters is able to explain to the listener that only he sees the ghost.  Great performance throughout by all the actors. 

As for the story of "Macbeth,"  this is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays and carries with it some baggage.  "Macbeth" is considered a cursed play, so much so that theatre tradition does not allow one to mention the name of the play within a theatre,  many refer to it as "The Scottish Play" and when referring to the main characters, just call them "Mr. and Mrs. M."  The reason behind this superstition goes back many years, the origin is that Shakespeare used some actual witches' spells when writing it, and as revenge for giving out the secrets of the craft some real witches cursed every mention of the play.

The play is about a General in the Scottish army who becomes king, but not in a traditional happy sort of way.  Two generals, Macbeth and Banquo are returning from a battle and stumble across three witches in the forest where the tell the two of their fortunes.  Macbeth will be king and Banquo will have his children for many ages become King. 

Putting the thought of becoming King into Macbeth's head leads to the murder of King Duncan and the fall into madness that surrounds Macbeth.  Soon he must go to the witches again to find out more of his future.  This time around the witches tell him that no man born of a woman can kill him, leaving Macbeth with the false belief that he is invincible.  Tragedy ensues and another classic has been engulfed.  Enjoy this classic performed by wonderful cast.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"Doctor Who: Hunter's Moon" by Paul Finch

"Doctor Who: Hunter's Moon"
by Paul Finch   
read by Arthur Darvill   
Published by BBC Audiobooks
Approx 6.5 hours

Okay before we talk about this particular audio book I've gotta point out something I just found out and it has me stoked; there are like a bazillion Doctor who audiobooks.  I was looking around for something to shove into my iPod and remembered having listened to a couple of Doctor who books and thought that would be cool let's see what else is out there.  'Lo and behold there are several for the latest 3 Doctors and many more for the older series.  BBC Audiobooks has been busy. 

This time around I've picked up another audiobook featureing the 11th Doctor (portrayed by Matt Smith) and in the continuity it takes place just before the 5th season episode of "The Impossible Astronaut."  The Doctor's companions are still Amy and Rory and their adventures takes them to a region that is pretty much like a gambler's heaven, Leisure Platform 9.  Before he can join Rory and Amy, the Doctor has to go and visit an old friend, Kobal Zalu, who is head of the police force in this sector.  Zalu mentions that the last time he saw the Doctor, the Doctor had white hair, so this is digging out an old friend from way back, the first or second Doctor.   It seems Zalu doesn't as much act as a police officer but more of a peacekeeper between gamblers and vilians and as long as the locals aren't harmed all else is ignored.

This book is ready by Arthur Darvill, the actor portraying Rory in the series, and not only is this a good choice because the bulk of the story is told from Rory's point of view, but because Darvill has a great delivery.  His voice is flexible enought to change between different characters talking in the story, but he does a pretty good impression of Matt Smith (the Doctor). 

While on the platform Rory notices a game of chance that he's pretty good at, well least the Earth version (craps).  While observing a player at the game Rory remarks that the game of chance is chancing more to the players benefit.  When he remarks outloud about this the player then challenges Rory.   Rory plays ends up winning but on the final throw loses, and loses big, in fact he loses the TARDIS to the player (it doesn't matter that Rory isn't the owner.)  So as payment the player, Xorg Krauzzen, kidnaps Rory and takes him to the planet Gorgoror, where Rory and other kidnapped earthlings are part of a hunt, not as hunters but as hunted. 

The Doctor and Amy go undercover to save Rory and end up uncovering a fiendish hunt that has been going on illegally for years, so now the Doctor must stop this evil, rescue his friends and get the TARDIS back.  In a non-stop thrillride this story will keep you on the edge of your seat, have you chew down all your fingernails and keep your adrenaline up until the very end.

Friday, September 30, 2011

"Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs" by Hunter S. Thompson

"Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs"
by Hunter S. Thompson
Published by Modern Library (1999)
originally published by Random House (1966)
265 pages.

I have been a fan of Hunter S. Thompson ever since I saw the movie "Where the Buffalo Roam" starring Bill Murray, which was loosely based on the book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."  After seeing that movie I read the book and realized why it was LOOSELY based, because of the craziness that is Gonzo reporting that Thompson did best. 

I decided to go back again recently and tackle another Thompson book and this Hell's Angels documentary seemed a good way to go.  In this book you don't get as much craziness that makes the gonzo, Gonzo.  Instead with this book you get the early forms of gonzo reporting where Thompson placed himself at the heart of danger.  It is still told in first person as Thompson did best and with some great descriptive narrative that puts the reader pretty much on the back of a Harley and making some runs with the most dangerous group of the 60s.

During this period of American history, The Hells Angels were a violent bunch, at least according to all the major newspapers.  Hunter S. Thompson, thought they may be getting a bad rap and decided to put himself in the middle of it all.  He approached Sonny Barger, the head of the Hells Angels at the time and told him of his plans to follow them as a reporter, a dangerous move in and of itself due to the Angels not trusting reporters because of the bad press.  But soon Thompson was mildly accepted into the fray and follows them for about a year.  Thompson's relationship was ended with the Angels after they nearly beat him to death for making a remark to a fellow Angel that the club didn't appreciate.  The remark was made when Thompson saw an Angel beating his wife, to which Thompson said, "Only a PUNK beats his wife." 

The whole nature of the Hells Angels motorcycle club at the time always teetered on the edge of violence, whether it was  running out of beer or locals wanting to chase the club out of town.   This documentary not only shows the constant chance of violence, but Thompson also sheds some light on the idea that the Angels just wanted to be left alone.  Left to themselves they just wanted to have a good time on weekends and in many cases work their jobs during the week.  As with any large group there are individuals that would do something that would get the negative attention and that is what everyone focused on.  Thompson presented all the stories during his time with them good and bad. 

Some of the fun stuff in the book is when Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters invite the Angels over for a party and the two cultures converge and the police are the ones that create the clash.  Many exciting adventures in this book and at times you feel you are reading a thriller with an exciting ending rather than  a documentary.  Great writing and interesting cultures make this book a good read.