Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Eight Miles" by Sean McMullen

Source: StarShipSofa (mp3)
Length: 1 hr, 3 min (total episode is 1 hr, 47 min)
Reader: Simon Hildebrandt

The story: Like this week's audiobook review, this story harkens back to the 19th century, when balloons and steam engines were the cutting edge of technology. The "Eight Miles" in the title refers not to Eminem's movie, but the unheard-of distance into the air that a client wishes a balloonist to take him. Accompanying the two will be the client's unusual guest, Angelica.

You may have heard of the speculative fiction subgenre of Steampunk, or perhaps seen movies or comic books based on the genre. Steampunk combines science fiction with alternate history set in the Victorian Era, as in the works of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. "Eight Miles" is nominated for a 2011 Hugo Award in the "Best Novellette" category, so it makes for a great introduction to Steampunk.

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: Simon Hildebrant has a marvelous voice for narration. He performs English and French accents with great skill. StarShipSofa's podcast is envisioned as an audio magazine, usually with multiple short articles and fiction leading up to the main fiction for the episode. The whole Hugo-Award winning podcast is hosted by the cheerful Scottish host Tony C. Smith. For this episode, the main fiction, "Eight Mile" starts at 43 minutes, following a few author interviews and an article on romance and speculative fiction author Ella Scrymsour.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Free Audiobooks for Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day Weekend, thousands of Americans take to the roads for a vacation over the long weekend. Since the price of gasoline is so high, vacationers might want to take advantage of these free audiobooks about travel. These books were chosen to be fun, well-produced, and short, so go ahead and download more than one.

  1. Traveling with children: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It may be too warm to travel by sled, but this classic about children traveling to a magical world by way of a wardrobe is sure to keep both you and the kids entertained.
  2. Traveling to a foreign nation: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. When I visit another country, I want to spend time among the people, not just snap pictures as an outsider. The protagonist of Prisoner of Zenda takes this philosophy a little too far when switches places as a lookalike of the king of the fictional European nation of Ruritania. 
  3. Traveling to get away: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. A South African man visits England, but finds London boring. When his chance involvement in a counter-espionage plot goes wrong, he must escape across the British countryside.
  4. Traveling to a family reunion: Thousandth Night by Alastair Reynolds. In the distant future, humankind can travel across the galaxy and clone themselves into a thousand copies. As one group of clones meets up to share their experiences, a plot is underfoot that could either save or harm the galaxy.
  5. Traveling through time: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Going on a long car trip only seems like it takes thousands of years. In H.G. Wells' classic story, a man actually does travel thousands of years into the future and discovers what humanity has become.
(photo "Road Trip!" by Snugg via flickr. Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-Alike)

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

    Source: Tantor Audio
    Length: 4 hours
    Reader: Scott Brick

    The book: In one of the great classics of science fiction, an English gentleman-scientist introduces into science fiction canon a scientific means for traveling through time: by moving freely through the fourth dimension. After telling his friends and performing a test-run with a model, the time traveler proceeds to journey into the future. He expects technological marvels and enlightened humans, but finds something much different.

    H.G. Wells shows himself to have an astute understanding not only of physics, but also of both sociology and biology. In a time when Progress and Eugenics were the watchwords, Wells was able to see the opposite side of these ideas. He knew that technological advance meant better lives for some, but not always for those at the lower end of the class structure. He understood that evolution has great power to change humanity, but that it is not progress to a more perfect being, but a process that reacts to the pressures of the environment. Forgive the pun, but Wells was ahead of his time.

    Rating: 9 /10

    The reader: Scott Brick is a professional reader and one of the best in the business. He reads this story with a cultured English accent, appropriate for the frame story narrator's position. The voice of the Time Traveler is performed with a weary dreaminess, similar to Gene Wilder's performance in the 1971 film Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

    This book is being provided for free for a limited time by Tantor Media. Click the link to Tantor above, and sign up for a free account. You'll need a valid email address, but you will not need a credit card and you will not have to cancel any membership. The offer lasts until May 31, 2010.

    Entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Wednesday. Follow the link for book reviews from other bloggers.

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    "Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
    Length: 1 hr, 13 minutes
    Readers: Brett and Theresa Downey

    The story: In the Italian city of Padua, medical student Giovanni takes up residence overlooking a garden. The garden is owned by the scientist Dr. Rappaccini who has bred the plants to produce the most deadly poisons known to man. Tending this deadly garden is the doctor's beautiful daughter, Beatrice, with whom Giovanni inevitably falls in love.

    The garden in this story has clear allusions to the Garden of Eden. Beatrice, then, is both Eve and tempting fruit. But the Creator of this garden is not a righteous deity, but a cunning scientist. So, in addition to being a romance about forbidden love, this is also a fable about man's desire to embrace dangerous scientific knowledge, and the consequences of that act.

    Rating: 8 / 10

    The readers: Although two separate readers team up for this story, the recording is an unabridged reading, not a radio-style adaptation. Brett reads the narration and most of the voices, while Theresa reads the part of Beatrice. Brett is an expressive amateur reader, but his narration is handicapped by several glaring mispronunciations. His voices for the characters are appropriate and allow for easy identification of the speakers. Unlike many male readers, he knows his limitations and allows Theresa to perform the part of Beatrice, at which she does a fine job.

    (Painting Lady Lilith (1868) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. No copyright restrictions.)

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Snow-Blind by Katherine Newlin Burt

    Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
    Length: 3 hours, 37 minutes
    Reader: Roger Melin

    The book: Having a blog that focuses on free audiobooks can be a challenge - bestsellers and the "hot" books among reviewers are not commonly being offered as free audiobooks. I believe that any challenge is also an opportunity; I've been able to establish a niche where every week I'm writing about books that very few other blogs are reviewing. In this week's case, I'm writing about a book that no one else has even heard of.

    Well, that last statement is an exaggeration, since I did listen to it on a recommendation from a commenter at this blog, but look up this book on Google and you'll not find much beyond multiple re-postings of the Gutenberg and Librivox editions in different formats. Many forgotten books are rightly forgotten since they're no good. This book, however, is a find.

    Hugh is living in hiding in a cabin deep within the wilderness of an unnamed American mountain range. His quick temper dominates the two who live with him: his younger brother Pete and his cousin Bella. When Hugh brings a blinded young lady in from the snow, life in the little cabin is sure to change. The author writes with great familiarity about the mountains and scores some interesting insights into how our perception of ourselves differs from how others see us. I had zero expectations for this book and was pleasantly surprised. 

    Rating: 8 / 10

    The reader: Melin reads expressively and clearly. He has a deep American accent that makes for a pleasant narration. The voices are not drastically different from his normal voice, but he changes them slightly to capture the characters. His acting is a bit stilted, but is as good as could be expected from an amateur reader. The recording is clean and well-produced.

    (photo by Kris Arnold via flickr. Creative Commons attribution, share-alike license)
    Entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Wednesday. Follow the link for book reviews from other bloggers.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe

    Source: Telltale Weekly (mp3)
    Length: 18 minutes
    Reader: Alex Wilson

    The story: Along with "The Most Dangerous Game", which I reviewed last week, this story had a great impact on me as a young reader in school. The story, for those few not familiar with it, is a first-person account of a man who, despite his protestations of being sane, murders an old man. Within a week after first reading it, I had borrowed an anthology of Edgar Allan Poe stories and started reading my way through them.

    One of the things that grabbed my attention about this story was the scraps of detail he throws out in a otherwise vague story. The sharp picture of how carefully he sneaked into the old man's room is sharply contrasted with the sketchy outlines of who the narrator is and what relationship he has to the old man. I think what is most scary to me is that the narrator has no apparent motive. I can usually sleep soundly at night because I know there is no one who rationally would want to kill me, but the thought that I might be awoken in the silence of midnight by someone with no reason is chilling.

    Rating: 9 /10

    The reader: Coming from a site called Telltale Weekly, the reading of "A Tell Tale Heart" must be top-notch. Performing an unreliable narrator, particularly one who is insane, is a difficult task, since it's so easy (and fun for the actor) to go overboard with the lunacy. Alex Wilson gives a chilling performance as the narrator, laying a veneer of sanity over the madness within. The recording is well produced and available for free in several different formats from the Tell-Tale Weekly website linked above.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    A Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft

    Source: Voices in the Dark (Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 )
    Length: 2.6 hours
    Reader: Sean Puckett

    The book: While on a architectural tour of New England, a man visits the isolated port of Innsmouth. Locals from neighboring towns view the place with suspicion and treat the odd-looking Innsmouth natives with disgust. While there, he hears rumors of strange goings-on and investigates further. His investigations turn up more than he expects.

    This is a dark and frightening tale that also causes some unease when it comes to digging beneath the surface as a modern-day reader. Lovecraft is obviously drawing upon pre-War racist attitudes and fears of miscegenation in his portrayal of the Innsmouth people. He shows mistrust of non-Western people and their "demonic" religions. Though thematically distasteful, this novella is probably my favorite H.P. Lovecraft story, though I can't say I've read Lovecraft's entire oeuvre. I've reviewed At the Mountains of Madness and "The Call of Cthulu" as well as having read but not reviewed "The Rats in the Walls" and "Dagon". Any suggestions of what to read next?

    Rating: 8/10

    The reader: Puckett narrates this story in a melancholy tone that fits well with the mood. For characters like Zadoc, he drops into a believable-enough dialect. He has a few repeats of phrases and there is some background noise, but otherwise this is a good recording.

    (image by speedwaystar via flickr. Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No derivative works)

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    A winner is me.

    Yay! I just got word that I won a $15 gift certificate to through Cym Lowell's weekly Blog Book Review Party. If you're a blogger and would like to enter, just visit Cym's site every Wednesday to post a link to your review. It's also a nice way to visit other blogs and see what folks around the internets are reading.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell

    Source: SFFaudio Podcast (mp3)
    Length: 54 minutes
    Reader: William Coon

    The story: On his way to a hunting trip in Brazil, Sanger Rainsford falls off his boat near the mysterious Ship Trap Island. As a hunter, Rainsford is well-trained in survival. Not to give too much of the plot away, but he'll have to use every trick he's learned in hunting when he meets the wealthy General Zaroff at the island's lone residence.

    Alternately titled as "The Hounds of Zaroff", this story appears in hundreds of literature textbooks as an example of Man vs. Man conflict. Besides the obvious appeal of the exciting plot, the story is interesting for the way Connell both contridicts and supports Zardoff's "might makes right" philosophy. The initial reaction and selective application of this philosophy by Rainsford is what separates man from beast, but still allows us to survive in a often dangerous world.

    Rating: 9 / 10

    The reader: From his amateur work at Librivox to his present status as a professional narrator, William Coon has always produced great readings. Here, he applies his feel for narration to bring out the excitement in an already gripping story. Coon's skill with characterization shows in the voices he adopts for the cold, foreign Zaroff and the heroic Rainsford. According to SFFaudio, this recording is the only free unabridged recording of the story, though it has been adapted countless times for radio plays and movies.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

    Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s or M4B audiobook)
    Length: 6 hours
    Reader: Zachary Brewster-Geisz

    The book: In turn-of-the-century Europe, anarchists held the equivalent position in the public mind as al Qaeda of today. In The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, the law-abiding poet Gabriel Syme becomes entwined in a debate with his anarchist friend Gregory. Through a series of mistakes and bluffing, Syme rather than Gregory becomes elected to a secretive seven-man council of anarchists, each code-named to a day of the week. Thus begins a madding series of double-agents, intrigue and chases to uncover the secret behind the anarchist plots.

    Besides being a fiction writer of books like this and the Father Brown mysteries, Chesterton was one of the leading Christian thinkers of his day. The religious allegory in The Man Who Was Thursday is clear from the beginning, but gradually grows more complex. The ending is notoriously confusing; I don't think I fully grasped what was going on in the last act.

    Rating: 7 / 10

    The reader: Brewer-Geisz is an excellent amateur reader with a young-sounding American voice.  He brings out the wry humor in Chesterton's writing and varies his pacing to keep the action interesting. For the characters' voices, he affects a British accent, which sounds fine to my ears, though I am not in a position to judge the accent accurately. The recording is well-done and clear.

    (Entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Wednesday. Visit the link for more reviews and a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card)