An Audio-Book Review: Stoke Me a Clipper, I’ll be Back for Christmas!

Backwards

By Rob Grant

Published by Ulverscroft

Read by Rob Grant

 

The Book:

Some sites tell me this is the fourth “Red Dwarf” adventure and others inform me it is the third, Yet another site says it is the “alternative third adventure” whatever that means. All I know for certain is that I have not been listening to them in chronological order, if there is a chronological order. Apparently the last one I listened to is listed on one site as #3.5 and also follows the action that takes place in the second… So, okay, maybe the two authors disagreed on how the written version of the story should proceed or maybe they just both felt like going solo. According to Wikipedia “creative differences” were cited as a reason for Grant leaving the show, although Grant himself said “that he ‘wished to have more on his ‘tombstone’ than Red Dwarf.’”  Frankly, I wish my own writing was as commercially successful. Would I want to be remembered for more than one series, sure, but first let me make a living at my writing! Oh, never mind, I always say things like that when a writer is not content to actually make a living doing what he or she loves.

I will admit to never having been perfectly happy with any of the Red Dwarf books, although I enjoyed most of the television series they were based on. I don’t really mind that the stories in the books do not exactly follow the way they went on TV. That would have been boring and I had no trouble with the fact that Douglass Adams’ Hitchhikers’’ Guide series stories were each quite different from the radio series, from the TV show and from the posthumous movie. That was part of what I liked about it. I might have known the jokes when they hit me, but I never knew exactly how the story was going to turn out.

Something is always missing from the Red Dwarf books and I am not really sure what it is. Maybe it’s because the writers have tried to stretch two or three half hour episodes into a single book or maybe as novels the stories are just too verbose. In any case I found the jokes less funny because so much of Red Dwarf was physical humor and that just does not translate to words, but also I kept getting the feeling that the writer(s) were trying to explain the punchlines when the punchlines should have been self-evident.

This time, Rob Grant attempted to weave several episodes into a single story which in turn, was apparently an alternative reality from the main series. This comes off one of the earlier books I which Dave Lister (the all-time best slacker/slob in the universe) has died and been buried on a planet Earth in a universe in which time ran backwards. That was done so that through the passage of time he would come back to life and gradually get younger. The crew did visit such a world in the TV series, but Dave had not died. It was just an episode with a few amusing sight gags. In the book the gags had to be described and stuff that was implied became uncomfortably gross. This was combined with the tale of Ace Rimmer, the amazingly cool version (what a guy!) of Arnold J. Rimmer, the universal champion smeghead, travels from his own universe to that of Red Dwarf and eventually rescues our boys from death. That part was pretty good; I have always liked Ace (known for his trademark line “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!”), but there were no surprises in his story and it was fairly obvious by the way the story was told where the difference between Ace and Arnold began, although it was stretched out the length of the book.

It’s an okay book for long-time fans of the series who just want to be reminded about some of their favorite scenes, but the story itself doesn’t hang together well and the backwards physics are inconsistent as presented sop I was very dissatisfied.

 

The Audiobook:

Rob Grant read his own book this time around. I am not usually a big fan of authors reading their own, but, actually, he does a pretty good job of it.  He imitates the voices of the regular cast well. It might only be that he got their accents right, but I was able to imagine the actual actors were reading their own lines. And he did not go over the top with other non-human characters, some of which never appeared in the show (unless I have forgotten them). All in all, it was a pretty good performance.

So, we have a mediocre book that might only have been written to further cash in on Red Dwarf’s success, but Rob Grant reads it much better than he wrote it.

Posted in Adventure, Audio Books, Books, Humor, Red Dwarf, Reviews, Satire, Science Fiction, SF | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why do Squirrels Always Seem to Wait to Cross a Road Until a Car Comes By?

Squirrels: Counterphiles (lovers of fearful situations) or Just Plain Nuts?

It’s a common sight when driving. You’re puttering along, minding your own business when, suddenly,  a squirrel decides that NOW is the best time to cross the road; right in front of you. Why do they do that? Are they out to get us? Is this a Blackadder-style “clever plan” to make a one-by-one attempt to rid the world of its surplus human population? Or maybe this is the squirrel equivalent of “Goodbye, cruel world!”
I was thinking about this question just this morning as one of those furry terrorists jumped out in front of my car. For one brief moment, I wondered if perhaps the little devil had a bet on as to how far I would fly beyond my windshield.  It seems like odd behavior especially because they appear to sit on the side of the road waiting for a vehicle to come by. Are they thrill junkies and just like being able to flirt with on-coming death? That did not seem likely, but what benefit could a squirrel get by such behavior?
Then it occurred to me that the squirrel (and various other small woodland critters) are used to using their terrain to avoid detection by predators. That road they are crossing is a sudden break in the cover of the trees and while crossing they are exposed to foxes and hawks, to name just two. But guess where those predators are not going to be when a car comes whizzing down the road? Right in one! They are not going to be right in front of that car.
When the car comes down the road any self-respecting hawk, owl, fox and so forth is going to do their best not to be there. So, my hypothesis (Look! I know the difference between a theory – which has proof, and a hypothesis – just a nifty idea that might explain something but has not been proven) is that this is learned behavior. I’ve seen some writers try to argue it is a case of evolution in action and maybe it is that too since the squirrels who do not time their crossing correctly are obeying the “Great Lifeguard” when ordered out of the genepool, so they are naturally selecting for faster squirrels with better judgement and maybe some depth perception? But the whole point of crossing at that time is that the car is potentially giving them shelter as they tranverse what is otherwise an entirely open area.
Now some articles I have read point out that while squirrels have been around for a very long time, we have only had cars a bit over a century and not enough time for squirrels to evolve, but that argues that this behavior is hard-coded into their tiny brains. Yes, it is true that cars are relatively recent, but how did humans travel before they had cars? Well, we had horses and donkeys etc., both for riding and for pulling carriages and wagons. And you know what? Squirrels can dodge them a lot easier than they can an automobile and yet your average hawk is still going to stay out of the way then too, so this possibly learned behavior might well go back  much, much further.
Did squirrels play “chicken” with horse or donkey-drawn carts back in Ancient Rome or Mesopotamia? I can’t say. Sadly, Tacitus did not write a chapter in his Annals about how Caligula complained about silly or arrogant squirrels who would run in front of his horse (or chariot?). I do not recall Herodotus’ description about the squirrels he saw in his travels. Gilgamesh did not fight a fierce and days-long battle with a wild squirrel!
Still. That’s my hypothesis: Squirrels run in front of on-coming cars for the temporary shelter from predators they afford. Of course I still do not have an excuse for why some deer seem to walk in front of cars, and don’t get me started on possums. But why did the squirrel cross the road? Well, obviously to get to the other side and he used a car to get him there.
So, what do you think?
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An Audio-Book Review: A Memoire of a Beautiful, but Temperamental Woman

 

Polgara the Sorceress

By David and Leigh Eddings

Published by Recorded Books for the Blind

Read by Roy Avers

The Book:

Is it greed or laziness that leads an author or film-maker to produce prequels? They almost always fall short of the original and had the story been told correctly there really is no need to go back and tell the reader everything that happened leading up to the first story. What’s worse is that they frequently open up plot holes or become monuments to retcon (retroactive continuity) in the first place.

Sadly, Polgara the Sorceress and its immediate predecessor, Belgarath the Sorcerer, both fall into these traps. They are both written in the first person, which I will admit that, as a writer, can make story-telling an easier, faster flowing process, but when writing in the first person I think the author should be careful to establish a distinctive voice for their first person character. They should have distinctive speech mannerisms, – ways of saying things that are natural to them. They might not be entirely unlike anyone else, but the constant question when writing any dialogue ought to be, “Is this how this person would say this?” and a story told in the first person is, by definition, all dialogue.

Unfortunately, most of the Eddings’ character act and sound alike and no two are more closely alike than Belgarath and his daughter, Polgara, but that does not matter since all the characters have the same way of speaking in these two books, no matter who they are and where they come from, save for the formal and archaic Arends and also the god, Torak – he is pretty distinctive too. I will admit that there are further differences in the original series “The Belgariad,” and I think the books of that series are better written. Somehow as the stories progressed the writing sort of flat-lined and got a bit too informal at times.

Another problem with all the characters talking alike is that it kind of nullifies the authors’ claim that men and women think in entirely different ways. I am not sure I completely agree with them, but then I try to write a character as a person and worry about gender (and also gender alignments) later as I start to flesh the character out through their speech and actions. In the case of this book, Polgara goes on several times about the differences between how all men and all women think, but then goes on to be a near carbon-copy of her father. Sure, her magical abilities differ a bit, but when speaking or explaining how she feels, I just don’t see the difference.

And nothing is worse style, in my opinion, than having the character break the fourth wall and just suddenly turn and talk to the reader, which Polgara does frequently. She often claims to have done something and then turns to the audience and asks something like, “How gullible are you? Do you really think I am that sort of monster?” Well yes, at times I was forced to conclude she was, but not necessarily on those occasions. What bothered me even more in both books was when Belgarath and Polgara would snipe at each other and then say, “Got you that time, didn’t I?” It completely ruined the mood.

There were also several plot holes this book dug for itself, such as when Polgara reveal to Belgarath that the Crown of Sendaria is holding a vast amount of wealth in her name as the Duchess of Erat and yet in the first Book of the Malloreon, which takes place a century or three later, when he learns that it is obviously news to him. There are also a fair number of inconsistencies between this book and the main series as though the authors did not accurately remember what they had written.

All these issues are minor in and of themselves. It is only when taken as a whole that they made this a less than perfectly enjoyable experience. On the other hand, it was not completely terrible. I did enjoy the few bits and piece that were parts of the story that had not appeared previously and fans of the whole series will want to read this to fill in what they do not know, but be warned; there’s a lot of stuff that will be all too familiar.

 

The Audiobook:

I might not have found the story without flaws, but once again Roy Avers puts in a good performance. Last time I said his reading was best taken in small doses and while I felt that way as the beginning of the book as Mister Avers read in a rather stiff style, he loosened up quite a bit as he went on and the performance was actually better than in Belgarath the Sorcerer. In fact, he caused me more than a few “driveway moments,” in which I would sit in the car just to listen to a bit more. I don’t you can truly expect better than that. Are there better readers? Well, sure, but they weren’t reading this one and I don’t feel the need to listen to another’s recitation.

So, I have to grade the story as mediocre, but with a few interesting new details that, if reading, are worth skimming for unless you are an ardent fan. However, if you skim, you are likely to miss some of those interesting details, so, sure, go ahead and read or listen to the whole thing.

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An Audio-Book Review: Just Out for an Afternoon Swim

How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm

By Cressida Cowell

Published by Hachette Children’s Books

Read by David Tenant

 

The Book:

So… I am still listening to the How to Train Your Dragon series of which this is book #7. Why? Because while these are obviously children’s books and a bit simplistic at times, they are fun. It is important to keep in mind that the series books have very little in common with anything that happens in the movies of the same name save that the main characters are Vikings and some of the names are used in both, but if you take the books on their own merits, I think you’ll find them as much fun as I do.

This time around the Vikings of the Barbarian Archipelago are holding an intertribal friendly swimming race. The difference between most races and a Viking swimming race, however, is that the winner is the one who comes back last. More of an endurance contest, really.

By itself, that might have made an amusing story, but nothing is ever that simple for Hiccup and his friends Fishlegs and Camicazi. First they are sabotaged by the village bully, Snotlout and then are captured by Madguts and Gumboil of the Murderous tribe who turn them over to Norbert the Nutjob who is on his way to the legendary and far-off “America” where Norbert plans to found a new empire, the Land of the Nutjobs – there are times I think he succeeded. Meanwhile back in the archipelago, Madguts has been declared winner of the friendly race and as his prize he demands that Hiccup’s Dad, Stoick the Vast and Camicazi’s mom Big Boobied Bertha be fed to the dragons and that the lands of their tribes go to Madguts… some friendly race, huh?

The adventures and misadventures of Hiccup and his friends will keep you reading with interest whether reading for yourself or to your children. Face it. Don’t you want to know how Hiccup gets out of Norbert’s hands and back home in time to hopefully save his and Camicazi’s parents? Get a copy or else listen to an audio edition as I did.

 

The Audiobook:

David Tenant! Really, what else is there to say? His natural Scottish accent (years of playing the Doctor on Doctor Who notwithstanding) will have you believing the Viking’s Barbarian Archipelago is somewhere amid the Orkney Islands. He reads the story with practiced fun in his voice and rather than recite the words of the songs sung by Cowell’s Vikings, he sings them with lusty vigor. Few, if any, actors could do as good a job and I doubt any could do better.

So buy a copy of the book or the audiobook. It’s a longship-load of fun!

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An Audio-Book Review: By Order of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth Tudor

That Sweet Little Old Lady

By Randall Garrett (AKA Mark Phillips)

Published by Librivox

Read by Phil Chenovert

 

The Book:

I honestly did not know what to expect from this title and the first line didn’t help; “What are we going to call that sweet little old lady, now that mother is a dirty word?” – Dave Foley Well, I’m not sure that quote really had much to do with the story other than being the inspiration for the title… maybe. It is possible Garrett found the quote after he came up with the title.

Regardless of which came first the quote or the title, neither really prepare the reader for what is an entertaining story about telepathy about some of the implications and complexities regarding law enforcement. The story centers about FBI agent Kenneth Malone who is assigned to find a telepathic spy that is stealing information from the United State Laboratories in Yucca Flats, Nevada.

There are more than a few problems, the first of which is that while a top secret device has been invented that can detect when someone’s mind is being “read,” it cannot actually detect the one doing the “mind-reading.” Instead Garrett runs a variation of the old “It takes a thief to catch a thief” motif and we soon learn that is takes a telepath to catch another. This has been proven except that the only known telepath, a young man with an extremely low IQ, called by the now insensitive and politically incorrect label of “imbecile,” died six months previously. So Malone is tasked with finding another telepath.

He and his colleagues do manage to find not only one, but seven others, but there seems to be one major proviso; all telepaths are insane to one degree or another and the most reasonable one he finds is an elderly woman who thinks she is both immortal and Queen Elizabeth I. Ordered to humor her and “treat her like a queen,” Malone and everyone else involved must dress in Elizabethan costumes and address her as “Your Majesty,” but in return she knights the lot of them and promises them dukedoms in time.

Still, in spite of her delusion, she is rational enough to help Malone, although she has some plans of her own. The whole story is an amusing adventure that if you can get past the way mental illness was portrayed in 1959 is a fun ride and well worth the read.

 

The Audiobook:

Once again, Phil Chenovert delivers an excellent reading. I think Chenovert’s sardonic/sarcastic style fits Garrett’s humor perfectly although I think the reader toned that down a bit this time and it was only on listening a second time was I really aware of it after the first track. Chenovert keeps the tone light, to match the humor and odd situations. Sometimes that does not work, but this time it is a perfect match.

So, we have a quick and lots-of-fun story presented in a light-hearted manner by a reader who does that perfectly.

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Finally! A New e-Book Available

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was holding off the release of my latest e-book due to the fact that it was not yet ready. It certainly was not!  Due to an assortment of errors, I kept losing my edits of the text. It is very depressing to keep finding the same typos over and over again when you think you have already cleaned them up. Yeesh!

Anyway, I am happy to announce that Book Eight of The Wayfarers, An Island without a Shore is now available in zipped-up HTML format and in .prc (readable on Mobi and Kindle devices and software) along with my other stories from my website at http://www.sc2.com/e-books/. Enjoy!

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An Audio-Book Review: An Early Work

Starman’s Quest

By Robert Silverberg

Published by Librivox

Read by Dawn Larsen

 

The Book:

One of the things I like about digging through the Librivox.org catalog is that I frequently find the early and more obscure works of favorite authors. There’s a bunch of stuff that either were allowed to pass into the Public Domain or else got there on their own by virtue of having been written while the older copyright laws were in effect.

As far as I know this was Silverberg’s second novel, published in 1958 while he was still in college. I wish I was writing this well when I was in college! Yes, okay it’s far from his best work and rather predictable but it is a good solid story and well worth the read.

The story takes place several centuries from now in an age when Mankind has extraterrestrial colonies, but the ships that travel to them can only approach the speed of light, not transcend it so the crews are subject to time dilation. A journey that takes a few weeks of subjective time for the crew and passengers lasts years for those left behind on Earth. However, time keeps moving on and the community of space travelers is out of sync with planet-bound people and the two rarely mix.

Some starmen make the mistake of jumping ship and soon learn that there is no legitimate place for them in the highly stratified and restricted guild-based Earth society and can survive, at best, as professional gamblers, an occupation that very few do well at, so when Alan’s twin brother jumps ship, Alan returns nine Earth years (six weeks for him) later to find his brother on a world hostile to anyone who does not fit in and especially to spacemen.

I enjoyed the story and thought I saw some heavy influence from the early Heinlein juveniles. A few situations resolve a bit too easily and coincidence seems to always go in Alan’s way, but as a second attempt, this story is still fairly solid and a clear indicator that Robert Silverberg was destined to be named one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction.

 

The Audiobook:

This was the first time I have listened to a story read by Dawn Larsen and I hope it will not be the last. She reads the story in a clear no-nonsense manner. She does not attempt to speak in an overly dramatic manner. Some readers can get away with emoting, but Ms Larsen simply reads the story rather than make an attempt at a performance.

She could probably stand to make some minor vocal variations to delineate characters, but the story does not really need it since Silverberg’s writing even in this early work makes it abundantly clear who is talking and at least she doesn’t resort to funny voices and accents so her reading is enjoyably consistent.

So we have an interesting early piece by a well-respected author and the reader will keep you listening throughout. Good job!

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