Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman

Source: Starship Sofa (mp3)
Length: 54 min (starts at 12 min in of a 1.5 hr episode)
Reader: Richie Smith

The story: I was a bit disappointed by this story.  Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. His works, from the Sandman comics, to American Gods, to The Graveyard Book, are filled with mind-blowing ideas and a personality that is both grotesquely horrific and charmingly idealistic. When I heard that he had a story on StarShip Sofa AND the story had won the Locus Poll Award for Best Novellette, I had high expectations.

Those expectations were not met, but this is still a good story. It starts out simply: A man, small in stature, has lost a daughter. He seeks a guide to take him to the Misty Isle where there is legendary treasure in a cave. Along the way, secrets about both the man and his guide come to the surface, leading to a much more dangerous journey than it would first appear to be. The journey format seems to drag the story out longer than it should to an ending which is predicable, but satisfying. This is one of Gaiman's less memorable stories, but is a Gaiman  story and that's quality enough.

Rating: 7 /10

The reader: Richie Smith is a superb reader for this story. He has a clear voice that's easily understood. There's not much emotion in his voice, but that may be because this story is rather understated. The recording is well produced. Besides the main story, the podcast contains some additional commentary on science fiction and a old radio play. Tony, the host of Starship Sofa, has put together an excellent podcast. If it's not on your weekly listening list already, it should be.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

Source: Podiobooks
Length: Approx. 9 hrs
Reader: Nathan Lowell

The book: Literature that is innovative can be challenging and mind-changing. With the long days of  summer approaching, though, a good story with familiar elements is just as welcome. The Crown Conspiracy liberally borrows from its predecessors in the medieval fantasy genre, but lack of originality can be forgiven when the tale is told well.

The main characters here are a pair of hear-of-gold thieves distinctly reminiscent of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  The heroes get themselves into trouble through a obvious set-up and set about trying to escape from captivity and avoid their pursuers. There are some plot twists that aren't terribly surprising for anyone familiar with the genre, but the story is told with such humor and a sense of adventure that these tropes feel natural. The writing alternates between exciting set-pieces and long exposition conversations as the author fleshes out his fantasy world. This short novel is the first in a series of six, so there are some loose ends, but the book itself winds up to a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: As I stated in a previous review of his own book, Lowell is a gifted reader. The recording is professionally produced with appropriate music for the beginning and end of each segment, along with shorter bits of music for scene changes. If I have any complaints, it's in Lowell's voices for his characters. I found it hard to distinguish between the voices, and the uneven distributions of British accents added to the confusion. Overall, though, this was an excellent recording.