An Audio-Book Review: Books? Vikings Don’t Write Books!

A Hero’s Guide to Dragons

Book 6 of “How to Train Your Dragon”

By Cressida Cowell

Published by Hachette Audio

Read by David Tennant

 

The Book:

It is Hiccup’s third birthday… yes, he is 12 years old, but he was born on February 29. I’m not sure if that was ever mentioned before, but if his career as a Viking fails to pan out it means he has a position available among the Pirates of Penzance. Naturally he is not having a good birthday. Toothless, his diminutive dragon has not only eaten his father’s throne, but shredded the only copy of “How to Train Your Dragon,” stolen from the Hairy Scary Librarian of the Meathead Tribe. So now he and his loyal friends, Fishlegs and Kamikaze, must infiltrate the library and steal another copy.

The Meathead Vikings, it seems set great store in their library and keep it guarded lest anyone break the rule of the Thing (the meeting of the tribes) that no books be read save “How to Train Your Dragon.” which, by the way, only says, “Yell at it… very loudly.”

So first they must sneak past the hundreds of Meathead guards and then battle with the Hairy Scary Librarian himself, all the while avoiding some of the other terrors allowed to fester within the library to discourage literate invaders.

All told, it is a lot of fun whether you are an adult or a younger person for whom the author obviously intended the story for. As I have said before, these books bear only the most passing resemblance to the two movies, but in many ways I think they are better, having a delicious mix of adventure and humor. Admittedly, they contain a few lame puns, genuine groaners, but what the heck, they are kids’ books and considering how few of that sort have genuine humor I can forgive the puns. Also excepting he fact that you know the heroes are going to not only survive, but win out in the end, there are a lot of surprises along the way.

Some of the books between the first and this one fell a little flat, but this one definitely brings the series back on track.

 

The Audiobook:

What can I say? David Tennant! As in the previous five books, this one is read by Doctor Who, or rather the actor who played the Tenth Doctor. He does it in his native Scots accent which is fine. In fact, I find it delightfully refreshing since so many readers seem to either want to read in Londonish English or American Midwest. There is definitely room for regional accents so long as they are not so thick as to be a distraction, which Mister Tennant’s is not. That may be why I enjoy listening to the wide variety of readers who record for Librivox. It is just nice to hear a different accent from time to time.

David Tennant, however is not just a reader. He is an actor and unlike some, he seems to know instinctively when to act out the book and when to just read the words. His pacing is excellent and in spite of a series of funny voices they almost always seem to be just right for the characters.

So… fun book, great reader. You cannot go wrong!

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An Audio-Book Review: And Now the Mostly Predictable Conclusion!

The Hidden City

By David Eddings

Published by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress

Read by Erik Sandvold

 

The Book:

I think this is a case of a story going along just fine but someone (the author? The publisher? I don’t know) needed it to stretch out into a third rather thick volume. The result is somewhat disappointing. Instead of a nice, direct and action-packed story (the sort of thing one expects in Adventure Fantasy) this story just sort of drags on and on.

It is bad enough the plot of this series, “The Tamuli” follows the same pattern set in Mister Eddings’ earlier series, “The Elenium.” That was to be expected although it might have been nice to see what Sir Sparhawk and his mates might have done without yet another evil god to battle. There was a perfectly good mad mortal antagonist in the story the series really did not need to be a study in Deus ex machina ad extremis. Worse, the story at times hints at a sort of prophecy, such as in one scene when the Goddess Aphrael states a certain combination of characters must be involved or their ploy will not work. However, neither the character nor the readers are ever told why Aphrael says this nor is an actual prophecy ever mentioned, and yet why else would the goddess say such a thing? Well she is a willful little thing, so maybe she only thought they were needed.

Actually, there are a lot of inconsistencies that do not resolve even when, later, one of the characters ask about them, and I could not help but think that they were all being far too clever by half and that a direct approach toward 1) saving the kidnapped Queen Ehlana and her maid and 2) their upcoming conflict with the god, Cyrgon would have been far more effective.

And then there is Klael… I would like to say, “Please don’t get me started!” but it is too late. Now for five books we have been under the impression that the Bhelliom (outwardly, a sapphire carved into a rose, but actually a being of cosmic power that got stranded on the world because it contained too much iron (really) was pretty much the be-all-end-all of power, trumping even the thousands of gods in this world. Now, all of a sudden it turns out it has a nemesis called Klael with whom the Bheliom battles over the worlds that are created. A few books ago we briefly learned that Bhelliom was one of a number of such beings, but there was no indication that any of them were in the general vicinity (somewhere in the same super-galactic region). Now, all of a sudden it turns out Bhelliom is a comic book hero with an arch-nemesis. Yeah, okay, but a vague mention two or three books ago might have been better. As it is, it feels like David Eddings was making it all up as he went along.

Then again the flow of the story feels like that. Like I implied above, it seems as though he would get to a certain point and realize the book was not long enough yet, so just moved the action somewhere else and all the characters had to meander along. Of course part of the problem is, also as I said, the characters are all too clever by half and keep out-witting themselves. Either way, I found myself growing less enchanted as the story progressed. Fortunately, in spite of its flaws, the story does have a fairly satisfying ending, plot-wise, even if it was incredibly saccharine and led into an advertisement for Mister Eddings’ book, Belgarath the Sorcerer.

 

The Audiobook:

What I have said about Erik Sandvold’s reading in the previous books of this series stands. He is a fairly Talented reader and can bend his voice into a wide variety of sounds, but I was still not impressed by his vocal choices. Vanion, for example, sounds like a frail old man about to die in bed even though he is frequently shown to still be in excellent physical shape despite his age and Khalad, a young man serving as Sparhawk’s squire, sounds like someone ripped out his voice box at the age of two and replaced it with two sheets of sandpaper. Some of Sparhawk’s knightly companions sound rather dull even when they are being clever and so forth.

Part of the reason for this is that nearly all of Mister Edding’s character have the same vocal mannerisms and exhibit the same dry sense of humor so I suppose it was all Mister Sandvold could do to differentiate them. Even characters speaking in what I call “Forsoothly” with the these and thous, gradually picked up the same bad jokes as the rest.

So all told, the book and the series it concludes has to rate as wishy-washy, fit only for rabid fans of David Eddings and I am sure Erik Sandvold could have done better had he the material to work with.

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An Audio-Book Review: What I Listened To On My Summer Vacation

Gaenor’s Quest Book I: The Red Light of Dawn

By Jonathan Edward Feinstein

Published by The Megafilk Press and Lulu.com

Read by Amazon Kindle “Amy,” “Salli” and Microsoft Mike and Mary

 

The Book:

I am not so narcissistic as to review the merits of a book I have written myself. If you really want to know what other readers have said check this out: https://www.amazon.com/Light-Dawn-Jonathan-Edward-Feinstein/dp/143572934X Btw, I don’t know who is offering this book in hard cover for over $70. Checking my account page at Lulu.com, I know for certain only one copy has ever been printed in hardcover and I own it. I have to admit that hardcover editions make any book seem more respectable for some reason, but it is what you find between the covers that makes the book a story. However, on the off chance you only read books in hard cover, you can purchase one directly from Lulu.com for only $39.95 although I have to admit even I find that more than a bit pricey. The trade paperback is more reasonable and the electronic formats (available in a plethora of types) even more so.

So why am I featuring one of my own stories? Well, I recently acquired a new Kindle Fire with Text-to-speech and thought it might be fun to review a book read by my Kindle Fire. I thought long and hard as to which book to listen to, seriously considering one of my latest, but eventually decided on the first book of the series I can Gaenor’s Quest. More on that below.

When I set this story in a world analogous to the late Nineteenth Century, subgenres like Steampunk and Gaslamp Fantasy were unknown. Consequently, while I got some positive feedback from agents and publishers (including the extremely rare personal rejection from Del Rey Books), the one thing they all agreed on was that “Cigars and coffee are not medieval.” Well, yeah, I know that. I knew it then too, that is why I used them. However, I fear the publishing world was not yet ready for stories set in this sort of world, although they became quite common just a few years later.

I do not really blame the publishers for not wanting to instantly buy a book in an unfamiliar setting by an unknown author. Let’s face it. Publishing is a business like any other. There are a heck of a lot of wannabe authors out here and only so much money available to publish with, so it is always a safer bet to go with what you know is going to sell (familiar topics and well-known authors) than to take a chance on something new.

Readers I have spoken to, however, had no such reservations. Of course all the reader has to invest is the cost of one book and the time it takes to read it and if they do not like the story, they can always stop reading and move on to something they do enjoy. I think that time has shown there is a market for fantasies set in this sort of milieu, so I’m happy I went ahead and wrote the rest of the series. Oh, I did start converting it to a more standard medievalesque fantasy, but the real world got in the way and I never finished the conversion… just as well.

The Red Light of Dawn was the fourth novel I wrote (over twenty-five years ago) and when I originally plotted it, I actually had planned to follow the model I had set for myself in my third book World of Water. I had a male lead character (although the female supporting role was actually a strong character in her own right) and the story centered on him. I had liked the way the two characters played off each other and decided that since I was unpublished (not even self-published at the time) I figured it would do no harm to use a template of my own devising. It did not work out that way.

To get into the main story I chose to write an introductory section explaining how Gaenor of Narmouth came to work with Artur the Southlander (the mysterious town adept). In doing so I recalled the pilot episode of Kung Fu (anyone else remember that show) and decided that it would be fun to show Gaenor’s persistence in a similar story save that it would be how it might have gone in a Western culture instead of an Eastern one. So, for example, rather than sit out in the rain, while holding vigil for acceptance, she wisely sought shelter.

Directly after the story of how she got the job as Artur’s acceptance I dove right into their first job together. I had meant to use it to both establish the relationship and to transition in the story to Artur. Somehow I stayed centered on Gaenor herself. The name, Gaenor’s Quest, was not coined until I had finished the entire first volume.

Anyway, this is Gaenor’s story throughout although there are some passages in which she does not appear. The main story is not only about how she become adept in her own right and eventually is acknowledged as one of the most accomplished adepts in the World (a world in which that is most definitely a man’s job) but how she, Artur and their companions must save the world from a mysterious danger they do not entirely understand until nearly the end. It has adventure, romance, magic and humor… not necessarily in that order and, all told, I am pretty proud of my accomplishment.

 

The Audiobook

Wow! Text to Speech has really come a long way!

I was going to ask if the Amazon Kindle voice has a name because for a while I could not find any mention of it. In this world of Cortana and Siri it seemed unlikely the voice would go nameless, but finding mention of the name was difficult. On further investigation, it turns out there are a bunch of Kindle voices. I listened to “Amy,” the UK English female voice. But I have also have the US female voice, “Salli” loaded up too. There are also male and female voices for English from Australia and India as well as a large number of other languages. I wonder if Tatiana, the Russian Female voice, would be intelligible when reading an English text. Maybe someday I’ll play with that, but my newest Kindle is a relatively small one and I don’t want to load it up with dozens of voices I do not need.

So anyway, I listened to Amy, mainly because when I set up the Kindle Fire I somehow set that as the default voice rather than the American one. In the past I have also listened to this and other books I have written via the Microsoft .lit Reader program. I’m not sure if that is still available on the Microsoft site. MS has abandoned its support of the .lit format which is sort of a shame. Reader (not to be confused with the Windows 8 & 10 app with the same name) was the best program I found to proofread my books on. Of course, that was back in the day when I relied on a PDA (am I dating myself? For those too young to remember, a PDA was, basically, a smart phone without the phone built in.) I still have one of the several PDAs I progressed through. It sits on my desk next to my computer and displays reminders for appointments and various other calendar events. Of course it is so old that when it automatically switches to Daylight Saving Time and back again it is on the wrong weekends and there is no way to change that, although if I were actively using the device I would probably just adjust the time manually (yes, children, we used to have to reset our clocks by hand, but don’t worry, that was back when pterodactyls flew overhead… Okay, I know, most homes still have a clock or two that has to be reset twice a year).

The old Reader program was a great program and, like Amazon’s Kindle, it could convert text to speech (only in the PC version of Reader. The PDA version did not support TTS, which might be just as well. Most PDAs did not have speakers, although most did have earbud jacks and you could listen to music on them if you were so inclined.) The two voices I used to listen to were Microsoft Mike and Mary, so while I am most reviewing the book as read by Amy, I will compare her performance to that of Mike and Mary. I also listened to a portion of the story as read by Salli so I will include her reading as well.

The old Microsoft Mike and Mary could have been a lot worse. Back in the ancient days of the 1980’s I bought a kit from Radio Shack for a Text to Speech converter. I plugged my Ohio Scientific C4PDF in one end and speakers in the other and it sort of read to me. It might almost have been as human as Arnold Schwarzenegger telling me he’d be back. Actually, it was not that good. It took careful listening and practice to understand, but it did read the words I told it to read so long as I did not get too esoteric in my vocabulary (Don’t ask how it pronounced “esoteric”… or “vocabulary”). It could have been worse. I recall listening to even earlier text-to-speech boxes that sounded like everything was a question because no sentence ended on a descending note.

Time passed and eventually I invested in a Windows-based PDA (actually I went through several over the years) and it had the Reader program with which I could read .lit files. The PDAs were actually very useful as proofreading tools allowing me not only to highlight words and passages but to scribble notes right on the screen. However, it was when I installed the PC version of Reader on a laptop that I discovered its Text-to-speech capabilities and that introduced me to Mike and Mary.

Mike and Mary were a big step forward. Both voices were still a bit mechanical but easily understandable and with far fewer mispronunciations. They got many names wrong, but ordinary words were mostly okay. There was no emotion to the reading, but then I did not expect that. Mike did sound distinctly male, if like a male robot just as Mary was a female robotic voice. I did find it interesting to listen to both read my books (including The Red Light of Dawn) and even as mechanical as it sounded, it did give me another perspective as to how my stories sounded and flowed.

I suppose I ought not to have been surprised by the advances in text-to-speech since Mike and Mary. I had heard Siri on an iPhone and I use Cortana daily on various Windows 10 machines, but having a voice remind me to pick up something at the drug store or tell me how to get to my first appointment each morning is not the same as listening to a novel. In contrast to Mike and Mary, Amy (and Salli too) sounds like a real woman’s voice reading the story.

Amy has a pleasant British accent (to my Yankee ears, my British friends might feel differently depending on their own accents), while Salli speaks standard flat American English which, since I have a distinct New England accent, sounded a bit lacking in character to me, which may be why I preferred Amy to Salli. Amy’s accent also went well with Gaenor’s Quest to me because Gaenor’s homeland, Mishanda, is partially modeled on Victorian England and because the lead character is female too. Had my lead been a man I might have preferred a male voice reading the story.

Amy’s and Salli’s readings were far from flawless, however. There is still no emotion to the generated voices, of course, even if there is an exclamation point in the dialogue. They read the story at an unvarying pace. My worst complaint, however, is that, the voice never pauses. Oh, I think there is a slight quarter-beat of silence at the end of a sentence, but there is no pause at all at the end of a paragraph or even a chapter, so if Amazon wants to improve on their voices, pausing for a full beat at the end of a chapter might be nice, because it can be fairly confusing to listen to when the scene changes suddenly with only a chapter number tossed off casually and without a beat to demark one chapter from the next.

However, I must say that these new voices are very easy to listen to once you get used to the constant and continuous stream of words. As I have said above, I have listened to a lot worse, but don’t take my word for it, listen to a book on your Kindle or Kindle app for yourself.

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An Audio-Book Review: A Dozen Electronic Doughnuts, Please.

Arm of the Law

By Harry Harrison

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Phil Chenovert

 

The Story:

Isaac Asimov was not the only author to write stories about robots even if he did set the template for most modern robot stories. Arm of the Law if the story of a robot police officer who shows up packed up in a crate one day in a small Outpost on Mars. It was a prototype model sent there for testing although why someone would choose to test such an expensive piece of equipment in a backwater town, seems odd to me.

Well, it’s not just a backwater town, but a crooked one as well with the local crime boss in charge and the chief of police on the take. So here comes the robotic cop, who our main character calls “Ned.” Ned, by the way bears no resemblance to “Robocop” or the Terminator, but he does has a blue uniform painted onto his indestructible metal body, so naturally the first job he is given is to sweep the floor and neaten up.

A week later the station is nearly clean enough to double as a hospital when a call for help comes in, reporting a shooting incident at a local business. The chief does not normally send his cops out to stop such things as the local boss, “China Joe,” frowns on police activity, but Ned volunteers to report on the incident and the chief inadvertently sends him to do so. Not too long after, Ned returns with the two culprits, neatly handcuffed and only slightly worse for wear – Ned even bandaged up one of the crook’s wounds. But when China Joe sends one of his boys down to investigate and chastise the cops for intruding on Joe’s territory with unauthorized gun violence, Ned recognizes him from his memory banks of “Wanted Memos” and promptly arrests him, which leads to Joe, himself, arriving with a squad of enforcers to “clean up” the police station.

It’s a fun short story and does not take long to read or listen to. I found it interesting that while Ned did not exactly follow’s Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, he was programmed with The Robotic Restriction Laws, which, while not quite the same thing (I don’t see R. Daneel Olivaw shooting a gun at any human) sounds pretty close. And it might be because it is a short story or more likely because Harry Harrison wrote it as a humorous tale, I found it more to my taste than more modern robotic cop stories like “Robocop” and “Chappie.” It shows you can write about a robotic police officer fighting crime and corruption without getting stuck in the grime and grit.

I’ve always thought Harrison’s stories tended to blow hot and cold, but this one is better than any of the “Bill the Galactic Hero: stories and at least as much fun as “The Technicolor Time Machine.”

The Audiobook:

I have said before that Phil Chenovert’s reading style is better suited to some stories than others, but it is ideal for this story. He captures the main character’s sarcastic cynicism perfectly and makes it so it is hard to imagine this story being read any other manner.

So, it’s only a short story and probably should have been the start of a series, but at least we have a recording of Phil Chenovert reading it.

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An Audio-Book Review: Backwards, Into the Future!

Armageddon 2419 A.D.

By Phillip Francis Nowland

Two recordings published by Librivox

Read by Alan Winterrowd and by Megan Argo, Phil Chenovert, Kevin W. Davidson, Peter Hornacek, Malcolm Cameron, Arnie Horton and Mike Pelton.

 

The Story:

Here’s an interesting one for you. This is an SF novella from the 1920’s that, together with its sequel, The Airlords of Han, was later reworked into “Buck Rogers.” That is interesting by itself (although it is not quite Buck Rogers yet) , but the story-telling is a fascinating form that lies somewhere between the style of Jules Verne and ancient writers of fantastic fiction and the stories that comprise the corpus of modern Science Fiction.

Having read and listened to the early forms of fantastic fiction, I have come to realize that most, if not all, tend to be travelogues. The bulk of the stories (the entirety in many cases) involve people traveling to other lands and other worlds in which they encounter people whose lives and cultures are completely unlike anything they and their readers have ever encountered. The stories spend nearly all of their verbiage describing how life is lived in those exotic locales and sometimes describe how they managed to get there and back too. However, there is very little plot involved. The entire point is to describe a different sort of life, frequently opposite to anything the reader knows.

Verne did manage to slip some plot into his stories, but even so, many involve traveling to exotic places and seeing how life is lived there. Around the World in Eighty Days, for example, Spends most of its time going from place to place even though we also have the story of Phileas Fogg trying to win a bet with Detective Fix chasing him down for suspicion of having robbed the Bank of England. Much of Journey to the Center of the Earth talks about the places Verne’s characters go en route to Iceland (including Iceland) and then talk about the inside of the Earth in the same manner. Plot? Well, yes there is a plot, but far more description. Off on a Comet does not even worry about how they got there. Verne just says a comet crashed into the earth taking bits of the Earth and some inhabitants away with it. The plot is thin and the characters are all racial stereotypes. Some of his other stories have more plot to them, yes, but even then you can see his ancient predecessors’ influence on his Nineteenth Century fiction. This is not a criticism, really. It is just the way fantastic fiction was written back then.

Armageddon 2149 A.D. is about half travelogue and half story. More modern SF and fantasy spends more time developing the characters and plot, but this is definitely a transitionary piece of fiction showing us where the art was at that time.

In this story Anthony Rogers (later named Buck when the story was adapted into a daily comic strip) suddenly finds himself over five hundred years in his own future. How he does it is by getting trapped in a mine and breathing a mysterious radioactive gas which keeps him in some sort of stasis until he wakes up breathing fresh air. Now… what’s wrong with this picture? It’s worse science than the idea of Spiderman gaining his powers when bit by a radioactive spider, but I can forgive Nowland. In the 20’s who knew. It seemed radioactivity could do anything if used correctly. I think he must have been at least slightly acquainted with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity since some of his future people had ways to convert matter directly into energy and vice versa. He obviously had no idea of the amount of energy that might be involved and had no idea that it had to go somewhere, but he had that as an idea.

Still, this was the beginning of Buck Rogers and an early modern future history. Too bad he got almost everything wrong. That is a danger in future histories. A writer wants to create a plausible timeline starting with his own present and extrapolating possible future events until the point in time his story takes place. Well, people are not really all that predictable and future histories almost always go awry as time passes. In a well-crafted future history, a reader won’t really care if you thought the Soviet Union would last a thousand years or if Charles De Gaulle was voted President for Life in post-World War II France. Stranger things have happened and continue to do so.

In this case from his 1920’s perspective, Nowland foresaw a time when Imperial China would rule the world. How would he know that Mao Zedong would change all that? Forget about it and just go with this Chinese (who he sometimes describes as Mongolians) dominated world. He calls this the Han Dynasty of America. The Hans have a civilization with airships and disintegrator rays while what is left of the Americans have rockets they ride as well as a fantastically strong and invisible metal called Ultron. Actually as I listened I kept thinking the Americans (who at the outset are portrayed as somewhat backwards) are actually rather advanced even if only Rogers seems to know how to use any of their weapons effectively.

However, Nowland didn’t get everything wrong. He did accurately predict remote drones, Telecommuting, Paratroopers and night-vision equipment and bazookas. He predicted wireless phones, e-commerce and even red-spot (laser?) aiming on hand-held weapons. Not bad even if he kept talking about the Hans in what must have been a bad pun with Huns (who originally came out of Asia, not Germany.

The story is a bit thin and heavy-handed with American patriotism. I don’t mind patriotism, but this has a sort of racial aspect (white vs yellow… As far as I can tell there were no black or brown characters involved) going on and it had a very strong tone of racial superiority in it as well. (On the other hand, it inspired “Duck Dodgers in the 24 and a Half Century”) All this, however will not keep me from listening to the sequel when I have a chance. Stay tuned.

The Audiobooks:

As I often do when there are two or more recordings of a shorter work, I chose to listen to both of Librivox’s offerings. I think the one by Alan Winterrowd was the better of the two. Mister Winterrowd may not be a superb reader, but he is a very good reader. He put in just enough emotion to keep me interested and only once went into an annoying strange vocal ism and that was the fault of the writer, not the reader (a character was talking between huffs and puffs and Nowland wrote those huffs and puffs into the dialogue… it was annoying in both editions). I could definitely stand to listen to many more books read by him.

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An Audio-Book Review: My Country… Funny or Not!

America: The Audiobook

By Jon Stewart

Published by Time Warner Audiobooks

Performed by Jon Stewart and the Cast of “The Daily Show”

 

The Book:

The Good News: This is a very funny and very entertaining book. Fans of Jon Stewart and of The Daily Show over the years will most definitely enjoy it. The Bad News: It could have been a classic. It could have been America’s answer to England’s 1066 and All That. Sadly, while it is good, funny and eminently entertaining, it will never be a classic parody of American history. Why not? I’ll explain.

First of all, some readers may never heard of 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates. It was written by W.C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and published back in 1930. I first became aware of it when I took a college course on English History and after the first exam, my professor read the answers from the appropriate pages of this book. It is a delightful mixture of half-remembered and mixed up facts blended in with just enough actual history that will ring bells in the minds or anyone who has ever actually studied English History. It’s a lot of fun and I recommend it.

In subject matter, America: The Book: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction (and The Audiobook, although I have not actually read the Book I understand there are some differences since the Audiobook is a performance) is quite similar to 1066 and All That except that is involve American History. Mister Stewart does not so much mix up facts, although he does play with that here and there. His real achievement is that he has written what is, beneath all the jokes, a book on Civics that every high school student should be required to read.

There are even occasional side notes from Samantha Bee, giving us the Canadian versions.

So why won’t this be the American 1066? Unfortunately, Jon Stewart and his fellow cast members just could not leave out the profanity. The book sounds more like a night club performance. I realize the cast was cutting loose without the restraints of their network censors, but it demoted what could have been a true classic to a mere best-selling parody. Too bad, but proof-positive that the fallout from an F-Bomb is at least as long-lasting as from an A-Bomb.

However, for all its lack of classic status, this is a very enjoyable book and one anyone with a knowledge of American history and politics coupled with a sense of humor should appreciate.

 

The Audiobook:

I am a long-time fan of Jon Stewart and I admit that I despair for America now that we are having a Presidential election without his pithy barbs thrown nightly at every bloviating candidate with speeches deserving to be punctured with extreme prejudice. I sore miss the way he examined and exposed the obvious weaknesses of politicians and I really miss the fact that, unlike most professional TV newspeople these days, he rarely let a question go unanswered. If someone attempted to side step or talk about something else, he just kept asking. I liked that. It made him arguably the best interviewer on all Television. Sad that distinction has to go to a comedian, but maybe that’s why he could get away with being tough.

I so miss his version of the show that I have been toying around with writing a socio-political rant blog of my own. Stay tuned, I might just do that… Then again, I may regain my sanity… (if I ever had it)

So even though this particular book is over a decade old, it remains topical in today’s political cycle even if the issues have shifted. What he and the cast covers in their usual entertaining manner are issues that keep recycling anyway. It’s not an issue this year, just wait a bit… it will be back.

To repeat, while I was saddened that the book could have been truly great it is still very, very good and the performance is fun to listen to.

Posted in Audio Books, Books, HIstory, Humor, Jon Stewart, Satire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An Audio-Book Review: They’re Out There!

In the Ocean of Night

By Gregory Benford

Published by The Library of Congress- National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Read by Gary Tipton

 

The Book:

I have only read a few of Benford’s works so I was not really sure what I was expecting from this staple of the Science Fiction genre. What I found in In the Ocean of Night was a typical example of hard science fiction   from the third quarter of the Twentieth Century. Since that’s when it was written, that should not be a surprise to anyone, least of all me.

This is the first book in Benford’s series, “Galactic Center” and according to Amazon.com it is, “A classic novel of man’s future and fate, written by the eminent American physicist and award-winning author of ‘Timescape.’” Yes. That is about right, but it leaves out a lot. It examines one of the most common scenarios in Science Fiction, the possible nature of alien life and how an encounter between it and humanity might go.

Before I go on, allow me to say that Mister Benford writes hard SF as good or better than anyone. Definitely he’s a heck of a lot better at it than I am. I don’t even attempt true hard SF as I try to follow the basic writer’s rule, “Write what you know.” However, I have to think that this particular book is not how he got his reputation.

My first impression was that it was incredibly episodic. When I looked the story up on-line I discovered that it had begun life as a short story and that explains a lot. When a short story, or even anything shorter than a full novel, is expanded into a novel there are a number of ways to do it. You could take the basic story, insert a few extra incidents and perhaps have the character talk about what they do when not doing whatever it is in the story. You can add different characters or bring in ones that are mentioned but get little or no page-time (like screen-time in a movie). You can also tack on a prologue and then continue the story after the actual short story and I think that is what happened here.

The problem when you continue on from where you left off is that most well-written short stories come to a definite and, hopefully, satisfying end. Sometimes just having he characters wake up the next day (or next decade) and go on with their lives can seem forced and, as in this case, can turn into a string or loosely tacked together episodes.

The end result was that the pacing of this story was jerky. It might have been better as an anthology of short stories which, for the most part, it really is. My main complaint is that it kept feeling like the story was just beginning and just as something happened it would all stop and start over again, there was very little attempt to flow from one episode to the next. A reader might be better served to read only one chapter per day.

On the plus side, Benford came up with some very thought-provoking alien intelligences and a manner of exploration by artificial intelligence that had a semblance of possible realism although it lost credibility points with attempts to use Bigfoot as proof of ancient alien contact. The obsession with Bigfoot (especially when a tribe of Bigfoots actually appear) was just too much to add into an otherwise reasonable story. However, as I recall Bigfoot was a fashionable fiction accessory at the time this was written (Well, gee, Ma! Everyone is doing it!) so maybe it just makes the story dated.

The story has a lot of good thought behind it even though the characters themselves were not particularly interesting – they were flat short-story characters; the sort you do not really get to know in only eight thousand words unless you want to dispose of the plot.

However, it was interesting enough to make me want to read the next book which, if my research is correct did not start out life as a short story.

 

The Audiobook:

The readers for the Library of Congress’s Talking Books can be a rather mixed lot. Many if not all of them are volunteer. Even the professional readers are volunteers. Keep in mind this is a program that produces audiobooks for the blind and physically handicapped and being a government-run program, they often have to go with whoever they can get.

In this case, I think Gary Tipton did a fairly good job. His reading is not outstanding; it does not sparkle, but it is a good solid reading without any of the commonly annoying traits I so often complain about. I certainly will not shy away from any other audiobooks he has narrated.

So, the story has a good solid hard SF basis but could have been better developed. However, I think Mister Tipton’s reading is what saved it for me.

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