Hysterical in many parts . . . great of course to hear Sedaris reading it himself.
I can’t believe I just discovered this in 2014. Produced by Audible in 2008, it’s an anthology based on a future world built by five of today’s best scifi authors. When I realized one of the world-builders was Karl Schroeder I knew I had to get this immediately. This anthology did not disappoint, and the audio version features several well-known scifi television actors whose voices, if not their names, will be immediately recognizable to any scifi fans.
The audio begins with John Scalzi giving a general overview of the project, and Scalzi also introduces each story. The first story is by Jay Lake and read by Michael Hogan. I must admit that I didn’t recognize the name, but as soon as the voice started coming out of my phone, I knew it was Colonel Tigh from the Battlestar Galactica reboot. He has a really recognizable, earthy cadence that suited this story perfectly. I would love to hear him read more audio books. Oh, and the story was fantastic, too. It did a great job of setting the scene for all the stories that follow (particularly all the stories in the follow-up volume, METAtropolis: Cascadia). Both the setting—the rainforests of the American/Canadian Northwest—and the characters—a group of ecology fanatics living in secrecy—were completely different from anything I have ever read before. I definitely want more of this!!
The second story is by Tobias Buckell and narrated by the always fabulous Scott Brick. This story is set in a future Detroit that is a model for the reclamation of all the other cities in North America, all of which have been decimated by a “slow apocalypse.” This is another term I have never heard before, but as the concept is rolled out in each story, it becomes clearer. The basic idea is that capitalism went into a slow decline, and now in the latter half of the 21st century, civilization has broken down into autonomous city-states, each one with a different mechanism for survival. Detroit is being reclaimed through re-use, such as urban farming inside skyscrapers, that allows the residents to produce more food than they need. The story also introduced me to the concept of “turking,” which was like crowdsourcing combined with Craig’s List and extrapolated. Many functions that were formerly taken care of by government, including mail delivery, are randomly distributed to regular citizens, who pick up small jobs to earn small change, and thus the city continues to function. Detroit is a shining beacon of hope for humanity, a sentiment which I found refreshingly positive.
The third story is by Elizabeth Bear and is read by Kandyse McClure is also set in Detroit. Like the previous story, most people get around on bicycles, and people share resources, equipment and living space. Collective living, including child rearing and food production, is now the norm, enabling local communities to produce what they need now that the global marketplace and distribution system has failed.
The fourth story, by John Scalzi, was funny and inventive, describing in more detail how localized food production works in this brave new world. Alessandro Juliani, who played Lt. Gaeta on the new Battlestar Galactica, gave it a great reading. Wil Wheaton, who has performed most if not all of Scalzi’s audiobooks, may have lost his gig.
The last story, by Karl Schroeder, was the best of all. The reader, Stefan Rudnicki, sounds just like Michael Ansara, his deep bass perfectly portraying the Russian protagonist’s phlegmatic reaction to the James Bond-like situations in which he finds himself in this thriller of a tale. In between the harrowing escapes and dangerous dilemnas, Schroeder introduces more new future city concepts than all the previous authors combined. Much of the action takes place in a virtual world, where people use avatars to produce real wealth. This was somewhat reminiscent of the plot of Reamde, but with much more detail about the virtual world and how it works. The concepts put forth by Schroeder are so new and interesting, I think I have to listen to this story again to fully grasp what he is describing.
This collection was so great that I immediately downloaded the next two books in the series: METAtropolis: Cacadia and METAtropolis: Green Space.
This is the second anthology in a series that began with METAtropolis: the Dawn of Uncivilization. This collection riffs off the first story in that anthology, taking place in a transnational entity that includes the geographical areas formerly known as British Columbia, Washington and Orgeon states. The stories are set around the year 2070 in post-industrial, post-capitalist, post-national world and are all read by actors from various incarnations of Star Trek.
The first story, written by Jay Lake and read by Rene Auberjonois (immediately recognizable as Odo from Deep Space Nine) details a very old, very rich man’s final days as he searches for the answers to an event that occurred forty years earlier. I really enjoyed this story and the chance to revisit some of the characters from the original METAtropolis.
The second story was written by Mary Robinette Kowal and narrated by Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway of Voyager). This was probably my least favorite of all the stories so far. It was mostly a love letter to the art of wine making that could have been set in any era and lacked a clear connection to the rest of the stories in these anthologies. For instance, as soon as I realized it was going to be about wine, I anticipated an explanation of a concept that has come up in a few of the other stories, where instead of money, some people have currency called ”winos.” But the term never even gets mentioned in this story . . . did Ms. Kowal miss the world-building sessions??
The third story was written by Tobias S. Buckell and read by Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher of The Next Generation). The setting for this story presented another cool idea that was new to me. The main character is part of a crew whose job it is to de-construct expressways and empty suburban housing tracts. Having grown up in one of these anonymous suburbs (and escaped as soon as I could to a densely populated downtown neighborhood) I have to admit that I loved the scenes where the bulldozers crashed through the paperboard houses. If that’s not a big enough hint, other parts of the narrative extoll the virtues of cities, such as that more patents are produced by city-dwellers and city dwellers use less energy, particularly if you can figure out a way to grow food nearby. Like the stories in the first METAtropolis, this one has an extremely positive view of the future of cities, which is not all that common in post-apocalyptic literature.
The next story was by Elizabeth Bear and read by Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher in The Next Generation). This is a bit of a more conventional scifi story involving genetic engineering, combined with a murder mystery plot. The twist at the end is foreshadowed pretty heavily and so was really no shock.
Karl Schroeder once again takes the prize for most cool ideas in one story with his entry here, read by Jonathan Frakes (Comander Riker of The Next Generation). It begins with the protagonist wearing something like Google Glasses. Since he is a visitor to Cascadia without proper paperwork, he is mandated to wear them whenever he is out in public, and the glasses are programmed by the authorities to restrict what he sees. It’s a frightening vision of how state censorship could be implemented on a person-by-person basis in the future, just by using technology. And that’s just a side thought. The overall plot asks how will we recognize when computers and machines become self-aware, and mixes in questions about the rights of corporations . . . and others . . . to be treated as individuals in certain situations. It’s a complex plot that only a master like Schroeder can pull off.
The final story in this collection was by Ken Scholes and narrated by LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge of The Next Generation). This one takes on home-grown terrorism, religious fanatics, and questions of faith in a post-apocalyptic era. A mediocre story that was significantly uplifted by Burton’s fantastic reading.
Seldom have I been so moved by a book that I have yelled at it out loud, but that is precisely what I found myself doing—on more than one occasion—as I read The 19th Wife. This novel reads much more like nonfiction than fiction, and tells the story of the beginnings of the Mormon church and how polygamy figures prominently in that history. The author does a good job of bringing that history into the present day by juxtaposing the true story of Brigham Young’s 19th wife with the fictional account of a current-day offshoot of Mormonism. This Warren Jeffs-like cult still practices polygamy, brainwashing its adherents into thinking that only through plural marriage can they be assured of a place in heaven.
I knew before I picked it up that this book would not be a flattering portrayal of Mormonism, but I was still unprepared for the completely misogynistic nature of the origins of this belief system. It was fascinating to read the real-life story of Ann Eliza Young and realize everything she had to go through, until she finally spoke to members of Congress and President Grant, resulting in anti-polygamy laws being passed. There were passages in the book, both in the historical section and in the present-day section, that convinced me these women are literally slaves who are completely subjugated to the will of their “prophet/husband.” Those were the sections that made me actually shout out loud, I simply could not hold back my disgust. That the US government still allows polygamous cults to exist today in the name of freedom of religion is unconscionable.
I listened to this as an audio book read by several different actors. I thought they were all quite good, except the man who read the part of the present-day protagonist, Jordan. His voice was simply not very expressive, and when he was reading dialog between two people it was hard tell which person was talking. Still, I would recommend this audio book to anyone, particularly to those interested in the place of women in society.
This book was described to me as telling the story of a young African girl’s immigration to the United States and her struggles to become an American. So I was a bit surprised when about one-half of the book was spent describing her childhood in Africa. As it turned out, this was by far the best part of the book. Perhaps because I myself was born and bred in the United States, I found her descriptions of everyday life in Africa much more interesting than those of life in America.
What I did find utterly convincing was the way Bulawayo inhabited her child protagonist, and then later in the book, the teenager. The author has a very unique way of showing the thought processes going on in the heads of her characters, such as the child’s delight in playing simple games, her obsession with food, and her occasional defiance of adult authority. Each scene unfolds from the child’s point-of-view, more often than not revealing her incomplete understanding of what is going on in the larger world around her. This is incredibly effective in several scenes in the first part of the book when the protagonist and her friends either witness or (nearly) perpetrate incredible cruelty without actually understanding or being affected by it.
The author skips a few years in the protagonist’s life and presents her as a young teenager already living in America. The transition was awkward and left me wondering why there was little to no explanation of how the girl ended up living in Michigan. The descriptions of difficulties with the simplest things-like making oneself understood over the telephone, or answering misguided questions about one’s country—were well done and were undoubtedly drawn from real life. So, too, the short sections in which she deals with the angst of the exile, a fascinating combination of exhilarating triumph (look at me! I have a home of my own, children who are Americans!) and deep sadness (never being able to return home, watching one’s children ignore or belittle traditions from the homeland). There are also some telling critiques of American society, but overall this entire half of the book felt more preachy than enlightened. Long passages about teenaged girls’ obsession with clothes and porn seemed to serve little narrative purpose, and the ending was strangely difficult to understand.
So I am glad I read this but for a more compelling—and nonfiction—take on Africans in exile in America, I would highly recommend Rescuing Regina by Josephe Marie Flynn.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Robin Miles. She did a fantastic job of doing all kinds of different accents, very nuanced, wonderful performance.]
I picked this up after reading “The 19th Wife” to get more information about the modern-day fundamentalist Mormon sects that continue to practice polygamy today. There are a variety of books to choose from, but I picked this one because I was particularly interested in finding out what had become of the fundamentalist compound in Texas that was investigated by the FBI in 2008. About all I could recall from the episode was dozens of women in prairie-style dresses, along with hundreds of children, being taken into state custody because of alleged child abuse at the fundamentalist compound.
This book more than delivered what I was looking for. Brower is a private investigator and a Mormon who was working in Utah when he heard about a family, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), who had been kicked out of their home by their “prophet,” Warren Jeffs. Thus began Brower’s involvement in multiple investigations into the crimes perpetrated by this psychopath in the name of God. Brower had a ringside seat investigating and helping prosecute those responsible for these crimes, which include not only child abuse, rape and underage marriage but also racketeering, defrauding the US Government via entitlement schemes, and much more.
This book is not for the faint of heart. I was shocked at how cavalierly many government officials, including law enforcement, treated the crimes that were occurring under their noses. The ultimate fate of all those children we saw on television? Every single one was returned to the cult, where the girls will be forced to wed men three times their age and the boys will be abandoned (too many boys=too much competition for young brides). At least Warren Jeffs, a pedophile and megalomaniac, is serving a life sentence, but he still has followers, and that is what makes the whole thing so disturbing.
I listened to this as an audio book read by Jonah Cummings. About halfway through, I decided to speed up and turned my player to 1.5 speed. I am glad I did so. The book was gripping, but Cummings’ delivery was just too slow.
For a long time, I have thought of myself as someone who is interested in international human rights, but I have really never given much thought to the situation in North Korea. This book really changed my ideas on the topic. Now that I have finished this slim volume, I find it difficult to understand how the world has allowed the suffering of the North Korean people to continue for so long. From the story of this one escapee, it has become clear to me that the entire country is basically one huge concentration camp. I guess the threat of nuclear weapons explains why the western democracies have allowed this situation to fester for so long, but even so it seems something ought to be done.
This audio book was read by the author. The performance was fairly well done and I would recommend this version of the book.
This fast-paced entry into the detective noir genre had all the elements: Big City, Dark Nights, a Femme Fatale, warring Big Bad Crime Bosses, and the hard-nosed but soft-on-the-inside Truth Seeker. Who happens to be a Vampire. Oh, and there was also a Mad Scientist and some Zombies (not enough zombies, IMHO). The main character, Joe Pitt, is not really a detective but he fills that spot on the playbill. He is nicely drawn, with conflicting loyalties, rich emotions, a—shall we say “interesting” sex life, a very laconic affect and Dark Sense of Humor. Very Dark. I laughed frequently at Joe’s inner dialog, for instance, when he makes himself resist the urge to let a zombie he is escorting kill a nearby jogger. His lack of an external speech filter produces most of the other laugh lines in the book, as when he tells a bartender his badly burned face (the result of being exposed to the sun—he’s a vampire, remember?) is from a tanning bed: “Those things are dangerous.”
Danger is this novel’s raison d’etre. There’s a lot of kidnapping, slugging, shooting, knifing, biting, and general gore that almost made me rate the book with just three stars. Joe’s nemeses are the various vampire clans who battle for Manhattan turf. One is a Big Business sort of outfit, one is a biker gang, another is a bunch of hippy vampires left over from the sixties who are trying to form a vamp collective, and the fourth is . . . well, that’s where things got interesting.
I wouldn’t have given this book four stars were it not for the Enclave. Huston’s creation of this group of vampires who live like ascetic yogis was sheer genius. The group is purposely kept very shadowy and vaguely defined, but the reader is given to understand that their adherents are basically starving themselves to death, but ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . by drinking the absolute minimum amount of blood needed to stay barely “alive.”
Understandably, it’s an experiment not many are willing to be a part of, but apparently there is some payoff or why would anyone do it? Therein lies the most interesting part of the book. Huston lets us in on some of the Enclave’s secrets using some really terrific writing that kept me on the edge of my seat.
I listened to this as an audiobook and I’ve got to give mad props to reader Scott Brick who gave Joe just the right New York accent without going overboard, not to mention great personifications of all the other characters both major and minor.
Belying its name, this collection of short stories is an incredibly valuable find for any scifi fan. I listened to this as an audiobook, apparently the only way it was published. What an inspired decision! Each story is introduced by the author, in his/her own voice, and each is read by a different performer. With a stellar lineup of both authors and performers, this was a treat from start to finish. The unifying concept is that the authors were asked to use the first line of a famous book as the first line in their stories. My one quibble is that nowhere could I find a list of all the stories along with the performers’ names, quite a shame since they were all superb. I have attempted to remedy that oversight here, and apologize in advance to any of the performers whose names I misspell.
1) Fireborn by Robert Charles Wilson, read by Christine Van. Wilson begins his story with the first line from a Carl Sandburg Rootabaga Tale: “Sometimes in January, the sky comes down close if we walk on a country road.” I particularly like the way this story incorporated music, dance and art, which are not common subjects in scifi.
2) The Evening Line by Mike Resnick, read by L.J. Ganser. Unbeknownst to me, Resnick has written a number of short stories featuring “Harry the Book” in homage to Damon Runyon. This, his twelfth story about the character, begins with the opening line from Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Although overlong, I appreciated many of the gags in the story, which was a mashup of scifi, Austen, and Guys & Dolls. I particularly enjoyed the names of the characters, which were lifted directly from Guys & Dolls and twisted (Nathan Detroit becomes Joey Chicago, Benny Southstreet becomes Benny Fifthstreet, Nicely Nicely Johnson becomes Gently Gently Dawkins). Also, at one point a character drinks an “Old Peculiar” – a reference to the Neil Gaiman short story?
3) No Decent Patrimony by Elizabeth Bear and read by the always fantastic Scott Brick begins with a line from Christopher Marlow’s Edward II “My father is deceased.” The story concerns the social strife between generations and classes engendered by life extension. Bear adds some twists to what is a familiar scifi storyline.
4) The Big Whale by Allen M. Steele, read by Christian Rummel. Yes, it’s a reference to Melville, but set in a Raymond Chandler universe. Who knew so many scifi authors were obsessed with detective noir? I loved this story, possibly because I just read Moby Dick a few months ago. What’s not to like about a story that combines “Call me Ishmael” with “I carry a harpoon” ??
5) Begone by Daryl Gregory, read by Jonathan Davis. Were it not for Gregory’s introduction to this story, I’m not sure I would have gotten what was going on right away, but for anyone of a certain age, this story will bring back many memories. Like Gregory, I was disturbed when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York in the role of Darrin Stephens, hapless muggle husband to Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha Stephens, a witch in the television series “Bewitched.” I was actually too young to understand the difference between actors and characters and so the switch mystified me and retains a bit of creepiness for me even today. But I may be over it now, thanks to Daryl Gregory therapy. Beginning with the first line from Dickens’ David Copperfield, “Whether I am to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show,” was a stroke of genius, and the rest of the story is just as brilliant, not to mention meta. It was funny, inventive but also thoughtful, as in lines like this: “Every man tries to forget that we are made from women, by women, for women.” I loved Gregory’s “Raising Stony Mayhall” and this short fiction has made me interested in checking out some of his other work.
6) The Red Menace by Lavie Tidhar, read by Stefan Rudnicki. If the name of the story doesn’t give it away, the fact that the first line “A specter is haunting Europe” is taken from Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto should make it clear the story is not about Mars, but rather is an alternate history of WWII. This was quite different from most scifi I have read, but that didn’t surprise me too much. I have read a couple of other Lavie Tidhar stories (in his excellent anthologies of world scifi, which I highly recommend) and enjoy his non-western take on things. I cannot neglect to mention here also, the excellent narration by Rudnicki, who is channeling Michael Ansara’s incredibly deep, resonant and slightly foreign-sounding accent.
7) Muse of Fire by John Scalzi and read—as are all of Scalzi’s audiobooks—by Wil Wheaton. Scalzi pulled his opening line from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “O for a muse of fire that would ascend.” Scalzi’s prodigious imagination produces a so-so story but plenty of great images related to flames and fire, but also just plain old great writing like this: “They were like two puzzle pieces that were not meant to be jammed together.”
8) Writer’s Block by Nancy Kress and read by David Morantz. Starting a story with the famously bad first line “It was a dark and stormy night” (from the book Paul by Edward Bulwer-Lytton) is pretty bold, but it pays off. I particularly liked the twist at the end.
9) Highland Reel by Jack Campbell, read by Nicola Barber. Not to be outdone in hubris, Campbell begins his story with the first line of MacBeth: “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?” The story was a mashup of Brigadoon with alternate history that would have benefitted from a less conventional ending.
10) Karin Coxswain or “Death as she is Truly Lived” by Paul Di Filippo and read by Dena Perlman. I have never read anything by Di Filippo and now I probably never will. I should have backed away as soon as he started in about how Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was the first American Novel and announced his opening line would be taken from that book: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I just read that book within the past year and hated it, but I forced myself to get through the whole thing because of its place in the canon. But I only got a few minutes into this coarse, tasteless bit of trash before deciding I could move along down the river to the next story.
11) The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal, read by Alison Johnson. This story took its opening line from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz: “Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.” This beautiful, gentle story of growing old, love, loss and yearning was my favorite serious story in the entire collection.
12) Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth by Tad Williams and read by Mark Vitor began with “First God made heaven and earth” from . . . well, you know what that’s from. This story had me laughing so hard my husband came to find out what was going on. Picture the little girl from Ransom of Red Chief getting into the Garden of Eden and arguing with the angels who are creating it and you have some idea of the chaos. The performance by Mark Vitor, whose sonorous, Shakespearean tones become increasingly harried and incredulous as the story goes along, is the icing on the cake that made this my favorite comedic story in the collection.
13) Declaration by James Patrick Kelly, read by Ilyana Kadushik, opens with “When in the course of human events.” This was a mildly interesting near-future tale in which young students take a class assignment a bit too far. The author says he intended the story as a bit of an admonition to the Matrix films, but I think he misses the point and the story misses the mark.
At first, I thought this was going to be a book about the aftermath of civil war. I was quite interested in the story of the young woman doctor who was taking vaccines to an orphanage in a part of a country that until recently had been on the opposite side of the war. But pretty soon the story started accumulating characters, each with a backstory that was so long I started to wonder who was really the main character. The farther in I went, the less the story made sense, until I figured out that it is essentially a really depressing book about death.
The grandfather, the Deathless Man, Derisa, the men digging in the vineyard, and obviously the protagonist, Natalia, are all dealing with death in their own particular ways. The book also considers how difficult it is to predict who will live and who will die (doctors, apothecary, Blind Olo, the Deathless Man). The gruesome story of the deaths of the animals in the capital city’s zoo also seems, on the surface, to be about death, but I think that is meant to be a metaphor for how a civil war is like a country eating itself, or its own children. Yeah, depressing.
But being depressing doesn’t make a book a poor read. What I could not reconcile in my mind was the conceit that the entire book was being written by Natalia (it’s all a first-person narrative). Apparently, in the time she had available when she was not doctoring, she went around the country finding these obscure people from her grandfather’s past (I think they’re from his past? The connections between the people were very hard to follow), listened to them tell the entire story of their depressing lives, and then wrote it all down. And the details in the stories were simply too perfect to have been retrieved in this manner, via second- and third-hand accounts. For instance, at one point she is describing when Luka was a musician, and she specifically says that one of his friends had a space between his front teeth and another friend had been burned while lighting a fire. No one would go to that level of detail in telling a story about their far distant past, and if they did, a sensible storyteller would know to edit out such extraneous information. And what is it with the dancing bears? I recently read another book with a dancing bear that comes out of nowhere . . . if there is some special meaning there I missed it.
I listened to this as an audio book read by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs. I have to say that I loved the way Robin Sachs read the sections narrated by the grandfather. I wish the book had been from the point of view of the grandfather all the way through, it might have made more sense.
I notice that most of the other people who rated this as a one-star read are women. Seems that I am not alone in not being able to see the "humor" in the Mary Magdalene rape scene, masturbation, animal fornication, or the endless descriptions of a 13-year-old boy's innermost thoughts upon seeing [insert here a part of the female anatomy normally covered by clothing]. Don't misunderstand me: I wasn't offended because these despicable/schoolboy acts and thoughts are attributed to Christ. The few and far between parts where Christ actually makes an appearance in the book are really quite benign and non-controversial. No, all of this nonsense is perpetrated by the main character, his best friend Biff. I tried to keep going, hoping it would get better, but by page 150 or so (not sure . . . I was listening to it as an audio book) where Biff is being tended to by eight Chinese concubines for pages upon pages, I just had to quit.
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