Whittier, CA, United States | Member Since 2010
I have been to Viriconium once before – and appropriately – I find that the landscape of the city seems to have shifted since the last time I was here. Sometimes, it’s a bit difficult to find your way around, because as author M. John Harrison once stated, Viriconium is a place that cannot be mapped. It is its own mythology.
Viriconium is three novels and a collection of short stories. The first book – The Pastel City was my favorite last time, and might still be. It’s a tale of technological wastelands millennia in the future, filled with heroes, villains, princesses, and magic. It had lightsabers – baans, or energy swords, years before Star Wars came out. It has teagus-Cromis, the finest swordsman in the land, who was an even better poet. It’s a straightforward epic fantasy that isn’t a doorstop, and it’s the epitome of cool.
A Storm of Wings is the second novel, and Harrison makes some incredibly interesting choices, working very hard to do something radically different than he did the last time he brought us here. It’s a difficult listen at times because instead of fighting monsters, the heroes of the story are fighting something that ends up being much more abstract. It’s the longest of the stories, and it feels the longest. That said, it might also be the one I’m most eager to revisit.
The third novel is In Viriconium. Again, very different from the two that went before it, but this time the experiment is a glorious one – like watching the Coen Brothers make an urban fantasy farce riffing on epic fantasy tropes. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious at one moment, then deeply disturbing in the next.
Then we get to Viriconium Nights, the short story collection, which is really interesting. Occasionally, characters from the previous books appear, but not always, and almost never quite how we remember them. Here is where Viriconium truly becomes an unmapped city – where all the contradictions of what’s come before in its history and characters are put on display.
Simon Vance is our tour guide through all this, showing off the different existences of a world, and tying them all together. He does a fantastic job reading Harrison’s stories.
It’s challenging, yes. It might even be frustrating. But I’ll be damned if I’m not already fantasizing about a return trip.
At Last! Because You Demanded It! An Unabridged Recording!
It's been several weeks since I finished listening to Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," and I'm starting to think it's one of the best books I've ever read/heard. I read it when it first came out, and enjoyed it. But when the unabridged recording came out I knew I had to grab it, and give it a listen. I am so glad I did. And it was one of those listening experiences when you realize that a book is even better than you already thought it was.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay's an incredible story about two Jewish kids prior to the U.S.'s involvement in WW II - one an immigrant, the other an American - who create a comic book hero that's a perfect and pure meditation on escapism: The Escapist! The novel itself is an epic story full of love, loss, friendship, creativity, and most of all: the human need for escapism.
Chabon's prose is spectacular, painting the setting and the characters better than a splash page. David Colacci's reading is no less spectacular, he was able to expertly give voice to all the characters - Sammy, Joe, Rosa, George Deasey, Tracy Bacon, and Thomas - they all sound exactly the way they should.
According to Chabon's story, Escapism is just as necessary for humans as love. It can be thrilling, sexy, healing, comforting, and transformative. It can make us better people.
Toward the end of the story, Sammy stares at another character's art work and says, “It makes me want to make something again. Something I can be just a little bit proud of.”
That about sums it all up for me. Listening to this book made me laugh, got me all choked up, and left me wanting to create art for as long as possible.
This is not an easy or light novel. However, it is a very thought provoking one, and I suspect it's one that's going to stay with me for a long time.
What if Osama bin Laden never existed? What if his acts of terror were confined solely to pulp novels, the kind that are published alongside pornography? That's the Philip K. Dickian world the novel takes place in.
Joe is a private detective hired to find the author of the Osama bin Laden: Vigilante books. As he travels across the world attempting to track down the writer, the distance between Joe's fictional world and the real world begins to dissipate. The normal detective stuff happens - attempts are made on his life, he's told to drop the case, etc. But it gets really interesting when Joe comes into contact with "refugees" - people who seem fuzzy around the edges and appear to be trapped - and he begins to question the nature of the world he inhabits, and even of himself.
The novel asks a lot of questions about how we cope with horrible acts of violence through escapism fiction, the war on terror, about choices that we make, and classic Dickian themes like what is reality, and who we are.
The most difficult passages are those from the pulp novels - which turn out to be acts of terror that have occurred recently in our history. They're gut-wrenching on so many different levels, and it's difficult material to discuss and interact with it. Thankfully Tidhar's writing doesn't sensationalize it, and he handles it all with a certain amount of grace.
Jeff Harding gives a solid narration, but for some reason, it got off to a slow start and took a while for me to get completely invested in. That said, it's worth sticking with. This is a book that's lingered with me since I finished listening, and I'll almost certainly reread at some point.
That cover looks RAD, doesn't it? Weird, retro-pulpy SF goodness. And there's plenty of that in Empire State - a novel that's seemingly influenced by Philip K. Dick, Jonathan Lethem, and maybe even China Mieville. It's got superheroes, airships, giant robots, an alternate-alternate Prohibition NYC, and is filled with all kinds of cool ideas and twists.
There's a lack of confidence in the execution, though - the characters go to pains to make sure the reader/listener understands the Really Cool Thing that just happened, dulling the edges of said Really Cool Things. The set-up for the story drags to get the plot established. And the characters can't rise above their functions/archetype. Protagonist Rad Radley, P.I., is no Philip Marlowe (or even Conrad Metcalf), and his dialogue and actions make him feel more like a stock character than anything else - like he's going through the motions.
Not that it's a bad book. Once it gets going, there's lots of fun stuff and interesting ideas happening (it's wartime, you know?) - themes of duality and comic book action set-pieces, but I wanted it to soar, and instead it just glides. Still, I'll be curious to see where Adam Christopher goes next.
Phil Gigante's reading is like a classic, full-cast serial performed by one man, which is incredibly impressive, and his style really lent itself well to this book.
I put off Moby Dick for a long time due to an experience in high school with Billy Budd. I didn't think I wanted to read this one, but was eventually swayed by some friends. Thankfully! Moby Dick's a thrilling adventure story full of depth and gravity and horror. It certainly earns its reputation as an American Classic. What surprised me, though, was how funny Melville is. I didn't realize he had such a sense of humor.
Muller's reading is, of course, a benchmark of excellence. He made this story come alive for me in ways I didn't think it could. I'm so glad I finally decided to give this one a chance.
From the arrival of Captain Cook, to the missionaries, to the businessmen and politicians who orchestrate the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, Vowell's book is a fascinating and upsetting in-depth look at the Americanization (and eventual annexation) of Hawaii. This is not your typical tourist fare.
I knew what to expect from Vowell's reading, and don't have any issues with her voice (if you're not familiar with Vowell, definitely check out the sample to see if it'll be too much for you).
The supporting cast is generally fine, but Keanu Reeves is shocking great as David Malo. I think I could listen to him read Malo's Hawaiian Antiquities and be content.
Definitely worth checking out if you're at all interested in the history of Hawaii.
There's a tense scene early on in Tim Powers' "The Stress of Her Regard" where Michael Crawford, a 19th century surgeon, is trapped inside an abandoned coach, and he likens the frayed fabric pressing against him to a growling dog's bristling hackles. That sense of impending dread - that disturbing discomfort is woven through every chapter of the novel, and it doesn't relent until the story comes to an end.
This is without a doubt one of the most terrifying and disturbing book I've read or listened to, and the vampires are only part of what makes it so scary. Yes, I said this book has vampires, and if you're one of those people who's wondered over the last few years why vampires aren't scary anymore, look no further. There is no sparkling here. They are more alien and monstrous as any vampires I've read or seen cinematically, and yet, through the characters eyes, we see the gravity of their allure, their intoxicating yet violent, jealous, sexuality.
More than vampires, this is a novel about vampirism and writing, and Powers features 19th century writers and poets like Percy Byshe Shelley, Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley, John Keats, and Lord Byron are just a few of the historical figures who play pivotal roles in this book. Byron is especially fun to see here, but Powers' portrayal of Percy Shelley is particularly gut-wrenching. I was shocked by how much empathy I felt for him.
Simon Vance is the gold standard of narrators, and his reading here is proof why. It would be easy to make the famous characters that populate this book feel either over-the-top or out of reach, but reading Powers prose, Vance caused the characters continue to feel larger than life, while being grounded and human.
The Stress of Her Regard is a terrifying and sensual novel about vampirism, muses, desire, regret, loss, and love. It's my new benchmark for scary vampire stories, and maybe just scary stories in general.
If you like your fantasy incredibly dark and challenging, don't miss out on it.
(I was thrilled to learn that Powers has "Hide Me Among the Graves" another book set in this world coming out early this year. I hope it comes to audio.)
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