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.
This is one of those biographies that, once you hear about it, you can’t believe it took this long for someone to write. Who knew Alexandre Dumas was of black African ancestry? Not me! Who knew his father was the definition of a swashbuckler IRL? Who knew that France emancipated blacks decades before Great Britain and the US? I learned something new practically on every page of this outstanding account. I learned about slavery in the French-held islands of the Caribbean, about the French Revolution, about why all those people were getting guillotined, about the Napoleonic Wars . . . so many things that my high school and college history classes never covered. And all of it told in a fast-paced, fascinating narrative that entertained as much as it informed. A top-notch read, highly recommended.
[I listened to this as an audio book read impeccably well by Paul Michael]
I think a lot of people will pick up this novella thinking it is science fiction, and be disappointed. It does take a bit of current science (lots of people nowadays have trouble sleeping, need to take sleep aid drugs) and extrapolates (what if all the sleep aid drugs stopped working and people started dying due to lack of sleep?) but that extrapolation goes in a completely unexpected direction.
Most scifi authors, given this premise, would spend a lot more time delving into the changes that such a “sleeplessness epidemic” would cause, such as changes to the economy or society. One book that did a pretty good job with the same concept is “Sleepless” by Charlie Huston.
But it turns out that “Sleep Donation” is more about the “donation” part of the title than it is about “sleep.” Anyone who is a professional fundraiser (my chosen profession for the past 30 years) will immediately recognize that this novella is, in fact, an insightful examination of the culture of philanthropy in this country.
The main character, Trish, works for a nonprofit where she recruits people to donate their healthy sleep in order to keep those affected with sleeplessness alive (Trish = fundraiser/major gifts officer). She tells the tragic, true story of the death of her sister over and over to convince others to donate (think of the campaigns used by those charities that want you to sponsor kids in third world countries which feature photos of starving, sick or deformed children). She discovers her bosses are not using the donations for their intended purpose (a violation of Fundraising Ethics 101). Trish is faced with two decisions: Should she continue to exploit the memory of her sister’s death to produce new donations for her nonprofit? Should she expose the fraudulent use of the donations, which could make people to stop donating, thereby indirectly causing some of the sleepless to die? (A clear parallel to recent criticisms of agencies accused of misusing donations they received for Hurricane Sandy or the earthquake in Haiti).
I have never read a novel that dealt with these issues before, and I was fascinated. Nonprofit and fundraising professionals, already familiar with such professional ethical dilemnas, will appreciate thinking about them in a new context. The general public, or at least anyone who has ever made a donation to a nonprofit, will gain a greater understanding of the complex issues that lie behind the business of philanthropy and donations.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Greta Gerwig, who did a very good job. Unfortunately, as others have noted, the editing of her performance should have allowed a beat or two of silence at the end of each chapter, but this is something I easily ignored.]
This novella was chock-full of nerd references, reminding me a lot of Ready Player One (which I loved). There are lots of IT insider jokes that I didn’t get, but plenty of other references for fanboys and fangirls of every persuasion. For instance, early in the novella two characters are described as playing “six degrees of Stanley Tucci because Kevin Bacon was too easy.” Later, when a female character breaks out a Battlestar Galactica quote, her geeky male companions try “to conceal our intense nerd arousal.”
The pop culture references never stop coming, and, as illustrated by the second example above, neither do the references to sex and porn. And while I do not use the internet to pursue either of those topics, apparently many people do. The internet apocalypse has cut off the supply of porn, and the book dedicates many pages to describing the new ways people go about satisfying their urges in its absence. If you have a problem with reading about those subjects, this might not be the book for you.
I expected the nerd references, and pretty much knew there’d be some off-color sexual content. What I did not expect was that there would be some damned good writing in between along with actual character development. The main character, who is quite likeable and serves as the reader’s guide to the internet apocalypse, slowly reveals himself to be a complex, damaged and deluded individual. Along the way, he analyzes the influence of the internet on our way of thinking in passages such as this:
“I miss the tiny dose of fame that comes from being online, where comments are tethered to content people are already reading and statuses appear instantly on your friends’ screens. There’s a comfort that comes from knowing people are already staring at the pond when you cast your pebble.”
I listened to this as an audio book performed by Paul Michael Garcia, who gave it just the right ironic tone, very reminiscent of Wil Wheaton.
The audio version of this book has an interesting forward by the author in which he explains that his book is about humanity – “Sci fi writers may write about other races, other times, and other worlds, but all these other races, times and worlds are simply metaphors to help readers achieve a better understanding of the human condition, which is what all fiction is about.” This is as good an explanation of scifi as any I have heard, and worth remembering the next time an acquaintance gives me that sideways look when I happen to mention that I like scifi.
The novella itself was interesting to me for two reasons: First, because it was set in Africa and featured mainly African characters. This is not a continent that novelists—particularly scifi novelists--use as a backdrop very often. In the interest of diversity alone, it made for an interesting setting, but it also made perfect sense to set a novel about humanity in the very spot where our species first emerged.
The second reason I found the story interesting was because, unlike much scifi, it does not raise up humans as special in the universe because of some supposedly unique, positive qualities like our ability to love or our ability to sympathize. Rather, it posits that humans will make a mark for themselves because of their uniquely ruthless and violent nature. I wouldn’t want to exclusively read books that take this negative view of humanity, but I did find Resnick’s take refreshing.
We of the Western democracies (I am a white woman from the US) tend to think that the history of mankind is one long series of achievements, wherein man has conquered obstacle after obstacle through sheer Force of Will and Manifest Destiny. What was refreshing about this book was that it examines the possiblity that many, if not all, of our so-called achievements were built on the shaky foundations of violence, exploitation and downright racism. It is a truth that people from third world countries and the “99 percent” know from bitter personal experience. I applaud Resnick for tackling this unpopular subject matter and for doing it in such a unique and understandable way.
[I listened to this as an audio book performed by Jonathan Davis, who did a very good job].
The previous book in the series, White Trash Zombie Apocalypse, was good, but in this fourth installment, the author kicked it up a notch, making this my favorite book in the series since the first one. Plenty of suspense, plus great development of some of the secondary characters, made this a really enjoyable listen. Although sex is treated a bit cavalierly, I still think this is a great series for a teenager to read. The female protagonist is a very realistically portrayed young woman, struggling to overcome several challenges and make her own way in the world. I am looking forward to the next installment.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Allison McLemore, who is fantastic]
It pains me greatly to be giving this book only 2 stars, because I think Herman Koch is a brilliant writer. In the first several chapters alone, I found dozens of passages that were flat-out genius, such as the section where he lampoons the myriad abuses to which Shakespeare’s plays are subjected by small theater companies. But I have decided to give up reading this novel after Chapter 13 for a highly personal reason: too many nitty gritty, nasty details about the human body and medical conditions. As in his previous novel, “The Dinner,” the author treats the reader to a stream-of-consciousness from within the head of the protagonist. In “Summer House,” the main character is a doctor, and when his mind goes off-topic, he nearly always reflects on the gross things a doctor has to see and do during the course of a day seeing patients. Because Koch is such a good writer, the descriptions are quite realistic and cringe-inducing, which I surmise is exactly the reaction Koch is looking for, but it is too creepy for me. If you can get beyond this “ick” factor, you may enjoy the book, but if you, like me, can barely watch an episode of “CSI” without getting grossed out, you may want to skip this book.
I remember reading this for the first time when I was in junior high. I was on a kick that involved checking out all the fattest books I could find in the school library. During this period, I know I read “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” which I liked less than the movie by the same name. I tried “War and Peace” but didn’t finish. I did read all of “Inside the Third Reich,” by Albert Speer which, now that I look back on it, I am surprised the librarian let me check out. And I read “The Count of Monte Cristo” but really didn’t remember much about it.
Now, about 40 years later, I took up this 1,000+ page narrative, only this time I was smart and got it as an audio book. I decided I wanted to read it again because my book club chose to read “The Black Count,” which is about Alexandre Dumas’ father. According to reviews of that book, General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was an inspiration for the person of the Count of Monte Cristo, so having a fresh memory of that novel seemed like it would add to my appreciation of the biography.
The Count of Monte Cristo was fantastic. It was everything an adventure story should be: sword fights, betrayals, horses galloping through the night with carriages careening behind, mistaken identities, damsels in distress, disguises, very rich characters who lose everything and very poor characters who are avenged. Though very long, I was completely engrossed for nearly the entire narrative. The writing was evocative, the descriptions vivid, and the plot intricate—every word, every scene, every character slowly building to the final chapters in which All Was Revealed. In a truly masterful manner, all the disparate plot lines were resolved and when the final words were pronounced, I was genuinely sorry the book was ended.
The audio version I listened to was unabridged (47 hours!) and read by John Lee. He did an admirable job giving the myriad characters different voices. The only distraction was the fact that his version of an Italian accent made all the Italian characters sound like Dracula. Still, I would recommend this audio version to anyone who is thinking about renewing their acquaintance with this classic text.
Eschewing his usual galaxy-spanning world building, this novel is set mainly in two eras of recent Earth history: 1989 and 1962. While Wilson is extremely talented at creating strange, alien worlds, he does not use those talents here. I didn’t feel like the eras were depicted in a very compelling way. Another difference is that rather than tell a tale of cosmic proportions, this novel is very personal and meditative. There are a few action sequences, but Wilson seems much more interested in examining the effects that time travel has on the life philosophies of the various characters. The end result is a slow moving novel that did not spark my imagination the way many of this author’s other books have.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Jonathan Davis. He was an adequate reader, but I found his pace too slow. I ended up listening at 1.5 speed and that felt perfect.]
The first third of this book was nothing but fighting, all of which felt like filler to me. I almost stopped reading . . . but then it finally got into some of the pseudo-science that I liked in the first book. I am a language nerd and enjoyed the extended explanations of the proto-Indo-Europeans and how all our languages are descended from the same roots. But I honestly don’t know if I’ll listen to the third installment in this trilogy . . . maybe if it comes out on the Audible sale rack.
By chance, I read this right before reading H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and although the two books are separated by more than a century, they clearly share the same basic genetic code. Immense objects appear from out of nowhere, gouging tracks of devastation into the landscape. The objects are beyond human technology and quickly begin to wreak havoc on the Current World Order. The protagonist, our Everyman (who is a white male in both books), accidentally finds himself caught up in the Thick of Things and is there for every Significant Plot Development.
I realize I am sounding cynical and I don’t mean to. In fact, I quite enjoyed The Chronoliths. It is only due to a happy circumstance of timing that I am able to make this comparison between it and that masterpiece of Victorian speculative literature . . . revealing that perhaps not that much has changed in the intervening century. As far as science fiction goes, that may not be such a bad thing. But, unlike other Wilson novels, I thought this one had less interesting ideas in it, and ended with a bit of a whimper.
[I listened to this as an audio book. The narrator, Oliver Wyman, did a fantastic job. As he did on the Z.A. Recht Morningstar Virus books, here he changes voices for every character, helping the listener keep everyone straight. I particularly liked the way he voiced the women, especially Sulasmith Chopra, the scientist who is obsessed with discovering the time-warping secret behind the man responsible for sending the Chronoliths into the past.]
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