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  • Wild Seed

  • By: Octavia E. Butler
  • Narrated by: Dion Graham
  • Length: 11 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,862
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,565
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,564

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflexor design. He fears no one...until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Fairy Tale... even if it's not

  • By Annette on 12-23-09

A Fraught, Fantastic Love Story

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-08-18

Octavia Butler's Wild Seed (1980) is a compelling love story between seemingly the only two immortal beings in the world, one essentially but not exclusively male called Doro and one essentially but not exclusively female called Anyanwu. While Doro kills people to wear their bodies and sees them only as stock to breed, Anyanwu heals people and sees them as potential family members. She is also able to change her shape and to completely become different animals or people, down to the cellular level. All this enables Butler to powerfully explore gender and race, slavery and eugenics, community and control, power and independence, love and loss, humanity and identity.

As with her other novels like Kindred, Dawn, and Parable of the Sower, in this one Butler imagines believable, human characters and convincing and thematically relevant fantastic elements, puts different kinds of people together to see how they succeed (or fail) at making communities, and writes straightforward and potent prose. For those reasons, she makes us care about her characters so much that what happens to them is a matter of great interest and suspense.

Can Doro and Anyanwu ever build a relationship based on mutual understanding, respect, and love? They are different in every way but being immortal, and Doro's 3,700 years of life working on his project to create other 'gifted' immortals by putting his descendents with special abilities like telepathy or telekinesis in scattered settlements and breeding them with each other and with randomly found 'wild seed' like Anyanwu has been steadily rendering him less capable of human feelings like empathy. Anyanwu's 300 years of life in Africa free from other people's control has made it difficult for her to accept being Doro's breeding animal. This all makes their fraught relationship fascinating (often morbidly) to watch.

Butler sets the novel at first in Africa in the 17th century and then moves it to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. This displacement of her story from the present into the historical past enriches the saga of Doro and Anyanwu with the American experience of slavery, as well as making it easier to conceive of pocket communities of super ability people living outside the notice of normal societies.

The ending feels somewhat abrupt, as though Butler was preparing for sequels, or rather, because she wrote this 'prequel' after writing the other novels in her Patterner series, as though she was fitting the book into already written sequels. Anyway, her unadorned, imaginative, and vivid writing becomes luminous in its power during scenes like when Anyanwu becomes a dolphin for the first time, or when one of her daughters has a particularly horrifying transition into her super ability, or when Doro remembers his own transition when he was 13 nearly 4,000 years ago.

Dion Grahame gives a perfect reading of the novel, convincingly speaking for whites and blacks, men and women, boys and girls, Americans and Africans, etc. He enhances the emotional power of Butler's novel.

People who like well-written and thematically serious stories about people with special abilities living among us should like this novel.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Neverwhere

  • By: Neil Gaiman
  • Narrated by: Neil Gaiman
  • Length: 13 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 26,925
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 22,175
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 22,165

Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Vivid, imaginative.

  • By Joseph on 10-29-09

A dangerous, magical world underfoot, out of sight

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-13-18

Richard Mayhew is a gentle, rumpled, passive securities trader living in London and getting engaged to his domineering (career- and man-shaping) girlfriend Jessica, when, on the way to a Very Important dinner engagement with her, he sees what appears to be a homeless girl lying wounded on the sidewalk and carries her back to his flat. Richard thereby fantastically upsets his normal life. It develops that the girl, named Door, is being hunted by foxy Mr. Croup and wolfish Mr. Vandemar, a pair of immortal assassins, that she originally hails from London Below, and that the side effect of helping her renders Richard an un-person in London Above. Finding himself unable to live in the 'real' London (where he no longer exists), Richard embarks on a dangerous quest in the 'magical' London Below (where he doesn't belong).

In addition to Door and the assassins, Richard will meet many colorful and eccentric characters beneath the streets of London, including the marquis de Carabas (a sardonic and suspicious thief who likes trading favors), Anaesthesia (a young Rat Speaker who acts as hands etc. for the rats Below), Hunter (a beautiful, burnt caramel-skinned Amazon who hunts challenging prey in the cities Below the cities of the world), Islington (a beautiful angel of indeterminate gender who recalls Atlantis with mixed feelings), and Old Bailey (a roof and bird man who fancies starling stew).

Gaiman writes a fair amount of London Above history and atmosphere, sewers, trains, origins, wall, streets, neighborhoods, museums, department stores, bridges, squares, and so on, as well as creating a lot of London Below equivalents. His fertile imagination is in fine fettle here, as he imagines an entire magical and repurposed underground world full of things and people that have fallen through the cracks of London Above: homeless, misfits, detritus, vermin, etc. usually invisible to or immediately forgotten by Abovegrounders. The world Below is oriented around Tube Stations whose Above names become fantastic concretized metaphors (like Earl's Court), around the Floating Market held each time in a different spot (like Harrods Department Store), and around fealty to various clans (like the Sewer Folk). Door's family house is a fine (unfortunately underused) conceit, being 'An associative house, every room of which is located somewhere else.' Gaiman never really explains just how all this works, other than saying things like, 'Time and space in London Below had their own agreement' (a lost Roman Legion is rumored to be wandering around down there somewhere), but it feels right.

Door (red hair, opal eyes, elfin face, layers of anachronistic clothes under a big leather jacket) and her family (father Portico, sister Ingress, etc.) are interesting: they can unlock any lock and make a door appear in any wall because everything is always wanting to be opened. So who killed them and why? Could it have something to do with Portico's goal to unify the fragmented people of London Below?

The marquis de Carabas is a splendid character, charismatic and dodgy and cocky: 'The world above or below was a place that wished to be deceived, so he had named himself from a lie in a fairytale, and created his self, his clothes, his manners, his carriage, as a grand joke.' And what does he keep in that fancy silver box he asks Old Bailey to keep for him?

Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are an entertaining pair of psychopathic supernatural killers, a comedy team liable to cut out your liver and feed it to you when they stop parsing language. So just who did hire them to pursue Door?

The story is exciting and funny. There are some surprising surprises. The climax is fitting and the resolution satisfying. Gaiman writes many of his imaginative extended similes, and if some of them misfire or seem a touch precious, most of them are fine, wittily constructing his fantasy world from sublime or absurd parts. For example, 'it [an assassin's laugh] sounded like a piece of blackboard being dragged over the nails of a wall of severed fingers.' And he also writes plenty of vivid descriptions, like this: 'The yellow-green fog became thicker: it tasted of ash, and soot, and the time of a thousand urban years. It clung to their lamps, muffling the light.'

The audiobook production uses some special features to gussy things up, like an echo effect when Gaiman reads italicized memories and some stylish and catchy music when (I think) a CD side is ending. Gaiman reads his novel with his usual panache and charm, pausing and emphasizing and dramatizing everything just right. His voices for the loquacious Mr. Croup and the laconic Mr. Vandemar are super. He does a neat shopping cart wheel 'squea.' My only criticism is that I wished he'd have sung 'Cheek to Cheek' instead of just reading some of the words.

The audiobook version ends with an entertaining and well-constructed short story Gaimain wrote in 2013 called 'How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,' featuring the posh coat of many pockets, the Mushroom, the Elephant, a love letter, a magnifying glass, Raven's Court, Shepherd's Bush, and a too perfect big brother.

Fans of Gaiman would enjoy this audiobook a great deal, while people who like well-written and well-read, imaginative, funny, and scary urban fantasy (especially featuring lore of London) should like it, too.

  • The Changeling

  • A Novel
  • By: Victor LaValle
  • Narrated by: Victor LaValle
  • Length: 14 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,012
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 938
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 934

When Apollo Kagwa's father disappeared, all he left his son were strange recurring dreams and a box of books stamped with the word improbabilia. Now Apollo is a father himself - and as he and his wife, Emma, are settling into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo's old dreams return and Emma begins acting odd.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Fractured Fairytale

  • By Diane on 08-07-17

“when fairytales were meant for adults”

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-30-18

“This fairytale begins in 1968 during a garbage strike.” The first sentence of Victor Lavelle’s The Changeling (2017) introduces his approach to the urban fantastic: mix the everyday minutiae of city life with the (cracked) magical. He writes many details of every day life in NYC, including subway trains, street names, parks, the arches of the Manhattan Bridge and Washington Square, the Buddhist temple in Chinatown, and the Fort Washington branch of the public library, as well as many other vivid details about things like making a Crockpot chicken dish, preparing a pot of tea, digging up a grave in a modern cemetery, selecting books at an estate sale, assembling a home computer system, watching TV shows like Home Improvement, posting baby photos on Facebook, and so on.

Behind that detailed surface of real NYC life, Lavelle writes a magical world of wishes, witches, trolls, and changelings. His fusion of the mundane and the magical extends to metaphors and similes, many of which either make the everyday fantastic, as when a tea kettle screams like a tiny dragon or a lighted bus at dawn “might as well be a chariot pulling the sun across the sky,” or make the fantastic everyday, as when a coughing troll sounds like a car engine that won’t turn over.

The novel depicts the painful growth of Apollo Kagwa (named for Rocky’s foe-friend) towards understanding the “glamour” that hides inconvenient parts of real life like the suffering of the weak and towards learning the truth behind his father’s apparent abandonment of his mother and him when he was an infant and behind changelings and parenting. His discovery of the magical reality lying beneath the everyday world gives Apollo “an overdose of the improbable” best dealt with by acceptance (to believe only the practical, rational, and the realistic is itself a kind of glamour) and love (between parent and child, sibling and sibling, friend and friend, husband and wife, etc.).

In that context, Lavelle interestingly explores the nature, meaning, and value of fairy tales, referring as a touchstone to Maurice Sendak’s Oustide Over There, doing plenty with the fact that fairy tales were originally for adults, explaining an interesting message of Rapunzel (it’s difficult to protect children from the outside world), and exposing the dishonesty of “they lived happily ever after” endings. (I wish Lavelle had done more or less with Outside Over There than he does, for he has Apollo find and re-read or remember multiple copies of it, but only deals with Sendak’s story up to Ida’s discovery that an ice changeling has replaced her baby sister.)

Lavelle’s book is also very much about race, including the trepidation with which black people (especially men) view white policemen and the suspicion with which they are viewed by shop owners and anonymous concerned citizens. There are some scenes of Walking, Doing Business, Catching a Taxi, and Talking in a Park While Black, all handled with pain, restraint, and humor (as when Apollo’s best friend Patrice is antsy about being out with him at night in a white neighborhood, not wanting to have survived a tour of duty in Iraq only to end up shot at home by a nervous policeman). Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird plays a key role in Lavelle’s novel, but Apollo knows that the sequel, in which “Atticus Finch is all racist and crabby,” reveals that “Ms. Lee knew the deal,” such that the later novel is “too honest” to be popular.

His book does a lot with gender, too, appropriately gendering its monsters and victims. At one point Apollo’s mother Lillian explains things from a female point of view: “I tried to be nice about saying no to Charles, but some men, you can’t be polite to them. If you’re polite they think it means you’re undecided. They hear your tone and ignore your words.” Like the race themes, Lavelle also handles the gender themes with humor, as in his riffs on “New Dads,” contemporary men who earnestly participate in bringing up their kids: “New Dads didn’t know how to do serious home repair, but they could pay for it.”

Even as it is a painful, horrifying, and moving novel, then, it is also a funny one. Lavelle has a winning dry humor, as when Apollo’s friend Patrice makes a big show of covering up his password entering device on his fancy computer system, and his wife Dana says that she knows all his passwords, because she checks his phone where he keeps them. Throughout, Lavelle writes witty lines, like “Maybe having a child was like being drunk. You couldn’t gauge when you went from being charming to being an asshole.”

He also writes a lot of life wisdom, like “Posting online is like leaving your front door open and telling any creature of the night it can enter,” and vivid descriptions, like “The sudden feeling of terror felt hot as sunlight against the back of his head.” He also capably reads his own novel. He doesn’t change his voice to become female or young or old characters, etc., but obviously knows exactly where to pause and when to intensify and reads clearly, and his voice and manner are appealing.

I do think Lavelle unconvincingly leaves a few key questions and motivations unanswered and unexplained in the end, writes some almost too brutal and graphic violence, and divides his story into too many short chapters (a common feature of contemporary fiction). And the second half of his novel, when we’re sure that the fantastic is operating, is less compelling (to me) than the first half, when we’re among disturbing ambiguities.

In its fusion of the everyday and the magical in a NYC setting, Lavelle’s novel reminds me of John Crowley’s Little, Big (1982), but with more horror and more consciousness about race and gender, and readers who like well-written urban fantasy with humor and horror and social relevance should like The Changeling.

  • In the Garden of Beasts

  • Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
  • By: Erik Larson
  • Narrated by: Stephen Hoye
  • Length: 12 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 5,707
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 4,735
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 4,735

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history. A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Frightening, Powerful, Deeply Thought-provoking.

  • By Chris on 06-04-11

Innocents Abroad in Hitler’s Berlin

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-30-18

Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (2011) recounts the experiences of William E. Dodd, America’s new ambassador to Germany, and his 24-year-old daughter Martha living in Berlin near the Tiergarten (the huge park whose name means the Garden of Beasts), especially during their first year beginning in June 1933. In his prologue, Larson explains that he tried writing a “more intimate” book than “another grand history of that age” like, I suppose, William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960). Larson wanted “to reveal that past world through the experience and perceptions of my two primary subjects, father and daughter, who upon arrival in Berlin embarked on a journey of discovery, transformation, and, ultimately, deepest heartbreak.”

Larson, then, depicts how the scholar, Jeffersonian democratic farmer, and “accidental diplomat” Dodd and his free-spirited and free-loving daughter were “two innocents. . . complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature.” It’s fascinating to read Dodd’s initial attempts to remain objective and neutral, hoping to influence the German regime in a more civilized direction by steadfastly representing American values to them, as well as Martha’s initial infatuation with the Nazi revolution and the seemingly handsome, healthy, and happy Germans she saw everywhere. The major movement of Larson’s book then demonstrates how their first year in Berlin dramatically changed the optimistic views of father and daughter as the beasts in the garden (the Tiergarten park near their rented home serving as a metaphor for Berlin and Germany) began revealing their irrational, ruthless, arrogant, and malevolent natures.

People familiar with that period of German and world history will be familiar with historical highlights like the Reichstag arson trial, the referendum on withdrawing from the League of Nations, the Night of the Long Knives, and the series of laws curtailing Jewish civil and human rights.

I had not known about the many attacks on American citizens who made the mistake of not performing the Nazi salute when storm troopers paraded by. But the most interesting things I learned from Larson’s book concern the personality and role in events of Dodd and his daughter Martha. She was a passionate, independent, naïve, poetic, and romantic woman (engaging in affairs with American writers, French diplomats, Russian spies, Gestapo chiefs, and the like). It was fascinating to read about things like the Dodd family’s increasing and well-founded paranoia that their home phones were bugged, that their servants couldn’t be trusted, and that they were living in an insane country, so that even though they didn’t fear for their physical safety (not even the Nazis would dare to harm the American ambassador or his family), they lived in an intense state of tension making it difficult to converse or sleep. For Dodd this was exacerbated by his realization that members of his own staff were spying on him for his American State Department enemies, members of the “Pretty Good Club” of elite Ivy League millionaires for whom the foreign service and state department was a private boys’ club critical of Dodd’s attempts to rein in expenses and luxuries and of his failures to be sufficiently pro-German and anti-Jewish.

The best part of this book, then, are the intimate details narrated through the letters and diaries and memoirs and so on of the Dodds that tell a true, appalling, and moving story.

Larson writes plenty of witty and neat lines of his own, like, “That tincture of guilt only parents know how to add.” But perhaps he tries too hard to make his book as page-turningly suspenseful as a novel via a bit too much dramatic foreshadowing, the payoffs of which are often not so potent, as when he says, “In light of what was to happen a few years hence, Dodd’s crowing about his own driving prowess can only raise a chill,” or “Up until now she had only seen her father with tears in his eyes once, upon the death of Woodrow Wilson, whom he counted as a good friend. There would be one other occasion, but that was to come in a few more years time.”

And there is an odd moment when Larson sympathizes with Dodd’s attempt to escape the insanity and stress of Berlin by working on his never-finished life work, a definitive and comprehensive multi-volume history of the American south: “Late that afternoon he devoted to quiet hours to his Old South, losing himself in another, more chivalrous age.” I wonder if the slaves would’ve found it a more chivalrous age...

The audiobook reader Stephen Hoye is professional and capable.

People interested in WWII history focusing on Nazi Germany written from an unusual and personal point of view, that of the innocents abroad William and Martha Dodd, should like this book.

  • Harrison Squared

  • By: Daryl Gregory
  • Narrated by: Luke Daniels
  • Length: 8 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 415
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 384
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 387

Harrison Harrison - H2 to his mom - is a lonely teenager who's been terrified of the water ever since he was a toddler in California, when a huge sea creature capsized their boat, and his father vanished. One of the "sensitives" who are attuned to the supernatural world, Harrison, along with his mother, has just moved to the worst possible place for a boy like him.

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • The premise sounded so interesting...

  • By shirley on 03-26-15

What I remember are tentacles. Tentacles and teeth

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-01-18

When Harrison Harrison (H2 for short) was three, his father was lost at sea while saving the boy from a giant tentacled arm from the deep. Harrison’s leg had to be amputated and he nearly lost his life anyway, and ever since he’s had a phantom leg on steroids and a violent temper to match. Now he’s sixteen and his “rather Ahabish” Brazilian marine biologist mother Rosa has brought him with her to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, ostensibly to investigate whether the colossal squid makes it that far north.

After their sunny San Diego home, Dunnsmouth is a Lovecraftian “heart of bleakness,” hermetic, inbred, and occult. Everyone looks related (black-haired, pale, fish-eyed, and creepy). People go missing all the time, perhaps victims of the legendary boogeyman called the Scrimshander. The bay resembles an alligator’s mouth. There is no cell-phone or Internet access (Harrison fears being “involuntarily Amished”). And his new school, Dunnsmouth Secondary (“Home of the Threshers”) consists of creepy teachers (who teach the making of fish net knots in Practical Skills, the galvanizing of dead frogs in Cryptobiology, the solving of nonsensical problems in Non-Euclidean Geometry, the reading of Catastrophes of New England 1650-1875 in English, and The Subjugation and Domination of Various People and Lands in World History), zombie-like students (who are as “quiet as pallbearers” and communicate to each other in “fingercant” invisible piano key tapping gestures), daily rituals called Voluntary in the assembly hall where everyone chants in an unknown language, and a permanently closed library where the librarian says things like, "The lure of the stacks can't be resisted."

As if all that weren’t enough, after his first day at school, Harrison’s favorite book, his father’s 20th Anniversary Treasury Edition of the newspaper comic strip Newton and Leeb (about the adventures of a five-year-old boy genius and his robot dog) is stolen from the Harrisons’ rental house by a “Fish Boy,” a humanoid with webbed appendages, sharp teeth, and gills. And after Harrison’s second day at school, his mother goes missing while she’s out on a chartered lobster boat placing her radio buoys on the sea. The police say the boat, its pilot, and Rosa all disappeared without a trace, and that the Coast Guard has been called in to search for them.

In addition to the compelling first-person narrator Harrison (with his expensive prosthetic leg and his sensitive phantom leg, his rational intelligence and his volcanic rage, his wit and his stubbornness), there are plenty of neat characters: Harrison’s aunt Selena (like a 2D model from a fashion magazine but clever, ironic, and caring), Lydia from school (as grim and difficult to cozy up to as Batman), Lubb (a male Little Mermaid type into comics and other landlubber popular culture), Salim (an ABD astrophysicist taxi driver), Professor Freytag (an eccentric ectoplasmic researcher), and Ruth and Isabelle (a mild girl and her bloodthirsty and apparently independently talking china doll).

The reader Luke Daniels does a fine job reading the audiobook, crowding the camp line mostly without transgressing it (though his Lubb sounds a wee too much like Gollum).

There’s lots of humor here, with the quirky characters and witty lines like “Cults. They always thought the glass was half-doomed.” There are some scares. Toad Mother is a 10’ tall and 10’ wide woman wearing a muumuu and smelling like an abattoir. The Scrimshander is a scary monster artist. Despite them and his mother’s awful plight, you’re never TOO worried about Harrison or his friends, perhaps because of the consistently funny tone. The concept of clever and rebellious youths opposed to wicked and none-too-bright adults must be appealing to the YA audience. Indeed, Harrison Squared (2015) reads like a cross between H. P. Lovecraft and Percy Jackson: The Lightening Thief, but it’s funnier and less disturbing than the former, and better written and less obnoxious than the latter. Although I found it less impressive than Daryl Gregory’s earlier novels Raising Stony Mayhall (excellent) and Afterparty (fun), I will probably read the next two entries in the trilogy when they are published.

  • The X-Files: Cold Cases

  • By: Joe Harris, Chris Carter, Dirk Maggs - adaptation
  • Narrated by: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, and others
  • Length: 4 hrs and 4 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 14,779
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 13,712
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 13,643

Based upon the graphic novels by Joe Harris - with creative direction from series creator Chris Carter - and adapted specifically for the audio format by aural auteur Dirk Maggs ( The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alien: Out of the Shadows), Cold Cases marks yet another thrilling addition to the pantheon of X-Files stories. Featuring a mind-blowing and otherworldly soundscape of liquefying aliens, hissing creatures, and humming spacecraft, listeners get to experience the duo's investigations like never before.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • New Fan

  • By tatiana on 12-24-17

A Well-Made but Backwards Looking Production

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-29-18

X-Files Cold Cases consists of five episodes taking place about ten years after the TV show. Scully and Mulder have left the FBI and are living under aliases (Mr. and Mrs. Blake), trying to keep a low profile, when good old Skinner (their immediate FBI boss in the old TV show days) drops by to tell them that someone has hacked into the FBI database to peruse the old X-Files, possibly compromising the pair’s identities. This sets in motion their return to the FBI to go through some of their old cold cases, which sets in motion their involvement in schemes featuring black oil, the purity virus, super aliens or alien-human hybrids (who shapeshift, mind control, heal mortal wounds, take over people’s bodies, fly around in near instant travel UFOs, and so on), and Scully’s child (now eleven-years-old, fostered off to another family, and currently of unknown location).

That concept is good and bad. The good is that it’s familiar and nostalgic and pretty much captures what made the TV show absorbing and appealing. The bad is that it looks backwards so much to the old TV show, reviving multiple dead characters multiple times, reopening old cases, resuming the old alien or alien-human hybrid schemes, etc. I just wish the producers had tried to make new cases unrelated to the old ones rather than revisit the old ones (often with substantial flashbacks from characters). One whole episode (4) consists of Spender’s flashbacks to the 1950s, 60s, and 70s and to various points of his early career. They could have made up new Cold Cases instead of revisiting old ones from the TV show.

I did enjoy the quirky participation in events of the Lone Gunman, the mismatched and motley trio of hackers from the TV show (one of them has a crush on Scully, calling her “Red” and saying things like, “I’d walk through fire and wrestle bees for that woman.”)

There are some good lines, like “Officer—the flashlight is dazzling me and this is not what it looks like,” “Extraordinary men are always the most tempted by ordinary things,” and:

“Agent Mulder, do women speak so freely to men in your country?”
“Yes, it’s a thing called gender equality, very potent when mixed with free speech. We like it.”

Listening to the audiobook is like listening to the TV show. There are sound effects (cigarette lighting and puffing, cars crashing, guns firing, flame throwers and geysers spewing, etc.). The famous theme music sounds great. The dramatic “DUN!” sounds for the ends of cliffhanger scenes (almost as if we’re about to break for a commercial) are effective. And the voice actors are mostly top notch--though the Saudia Arabian English accents in a late episode sound suspiciously like the Russian English ones in an earlier one.

Without being able to watch the handsome and lovely Mulder and Scully interact and do their things and play off each other, a key part of the attraction of the old TV show is unavoidably missing in this audiobook, nostalgic though it is to hear Duchovny and Anderson’s voices and fine though they are at voice-acting (though sometimes sounding bored by it). Perhaps that’s why it’s easy to think that the alien shapeshifting and body puppetry etc. are a bit too convenient and absurd, and that the “not the government but the GOVERNMENT” concept (especially when you factor in scheming aliens) absolves the US government and its agencies of much agency in pernicious plans.

Finally, the set of five episodes end with MANY loose ends, so although I am not sorry to have listened to them, and did have fun with them while cleaning the apartment etc., I’m not going to listen to succeeding X-Files Cold Cases, because the project is too backwards looking for me and too prone to the old When You Have Aliens with Superpowers the Writers Can Do Anything They Want Any Time They Want flaw. Recommended for fans of the old series.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Member of the Wedding

  • By: Carson McCullers
  • Narrated by: Susan Sarandon
  • Length: 6 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 788
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 715
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 713

The best way to experience this classic of the American South is by joining five-time Academy Award nominee and Best Actress winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, Thelma & Louise) as she guides the listener on a journey through the anguish of adolescence and isolation.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • It's a Classic People

  • By FanB14 on 05-14-12

“We all of us somehow are caught”

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-26-18

The twelfth summer of nearly thirteen-year-old Frankie Addams has been a "long season of trouble," and now she's caught in its never-ending August dog days. The imaginative tomboy has suddenly grown to 5’ 5" and is now too tall to stand under the bower she and some other kids have used as a stage for their dramas (of which she has written many, though never any featuring romance). Not that Frankie has any friends her own age anymore: she’s been kicked out of her girl’s club, and her best friend has moved away. She feels the world cracking and turning too fast. World War II drags on: the allies are in Paris and soldiers are passing through Frankie's hometown. Her cat Charles has disappeared. She has turned into a secret criminal, having pilfered a knife (she excels at throwing knives) and having sneaked her father's pistol out of the house and fired it. She wants to live somewhere else and wants to be someone else. Her summer has consisted mostly of hanging out with Berenice Sadie Brown, her family's ever 35-year-old African American cook with a blue glass eye, and John Henry West, her bespectacled, six-year-old cousin.

But as Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding (1946) begins, something has just happened to wrack Frankie with undefinable, strange, and disturbing new questions and feelings: Her big brother Jaris and his fiance Janice visited, shocking Frankie with their intimacy and beauty. They'll be married this coming Sunday a hundred miles away in Winter Hill, and Frankie and her father are going, and she's decided that she's not coming back home after the wedding, because she’ll go live Jaris and Janice wherever they go. “You are the we of me.” Berenice has seen all kinds of crazy love, from men who fall in love with ugly women to women who fall in love with cloven-footed devils, but "I never heard of anyone falling in love with a wedding." When Berenice warningly asks Frankie, "What if they don't want you?" she replies, "I'll kill myself. But they will."

The novel centers on the most crucial day in Frankie’s life, the day before the wedding, the last one (she passionately hopes) that she’ll spend in her southern hometown. The novel also relates Frankie’s memories of the ways in which she and Berenice and John Henry have spent the summer: playing bridge with a sticky deck, listening to the radio turned up loud, desultorily arguing with each other, listening to Berenice’s stories about her four husbands (each new one worse than the last), recalling the freaks at the county fair, and eating southern food (like Jumping Henry—peas and rice—ham knuckles, sweet potatoes, cornbread, and buttermilk). The novel also depicts Frankie’s wanderings around her home town, passing by the miserable prison, entering the shabby Blue Moon bar/hotel, shopping for an orange satin dress to wear to the wedding (tomorrow!), following the Monkey Man and his monkey (both of whom wear the expression of someone afraid of having done something wrong), getting her fortune told, and encountering a drunk soldier who thinks Frankie is older than she is. The novel does all that in three parts, each one featuring a different girl: Part One features Frankie (her nickname), Part Two F. Jasmine (her name to join Jaris and Janice), and Part Three Frances (her birth name).

The interactions between Frankie and Berenice and John Henry are funny, charming, and touching, the three people of different ages, races, and genders treating each other with honesty (as when Berenice tells Frankie about her wedding dress, “I’m not accustomed to human Christmas trees in August") and circumspection (as when Berenice stops short of telling the kids about something appalling her fourth husband did to her). Sometimes they hurt each other; sometimes they hold each other. Younger and more innocent than Frankie, John Henry steals the show, often plaintively asking, “Why?”

McCullers writes great descriptions, like "The sun drunk blue jays screamed and murdered among themselves," and “The sound was enough to shiver the gizzards of musicians and make listeners feel queer,” not to mention "The cars drove slowly in a browsing way."

She writes potent lines about life, like “We all of us somehow are caught. We born this way or that way and we don’t know why. But we caught anyhow. I born Berenice. You born Frankie. John Henry born John Henry. And maybe we wants to widen and bust free. But no matter what we do we still caught. Me is me and you is you and he is he. We each one of us somehow caught all by ourself. Is that what you was trying to say?”

Susan Sarandon reads the audiobook luminously, with a clear, compassionate voice and a complete understanding of everything going on above and below the surface, always managing to keep herself in the background while enhancing the text, never over acting, unlike the many professional actors who “perform” audiobooks, drawing attention to their virtuosity and distracting attention from the book itself. It's a pleasure to listen to her read the novel. She does a great Berenice ("dark gold voice" rough and low, earthy and wise, honest and kind), John Henry (high and sweet voice questioning and cute), Frankie (sensitive, self-centered, and imaginative voice between Berenice and John Henry in tone and pitch).

The Member of the Wedding is a southern novel (with the food, climate, pace, race, etc.), but also a universal one (with the painful and clumsy and frank development of an exceedingly sensitive and imaginative girl into an adolescent). People who like that kind of thing, along with lots of humor and lots of pain, all beautifully written, should like it.

  • The Fountains of Paradise

  • By: Arthur C. Clarke
  • Narrated by: Marc Vietor
  • Length: 8 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,038
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 882
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 888

Vannemar Morgan's dream is to link Earth to the stars with the greatest engineering feat of all time: a 24,000-mile-high space elevator. But first he must solve a million technical, political, and economic problems while allaying the wrath of God. For the only possible site on the planet for Morgans Orbital Tower is the monastery atop the Sacred Mountain of Sri Kanda.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A magical poem for geeks

  • By David on 11-16-11

Engineers Monks Aliens & an Elevator to the Stars

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-17-18

"The sort of man who will never be happy unless [he is] shaping the universe," 22nd-century engineer Vannemar Morgan made his name on earth by building a bridge linking Europe and Africa, but his ambitious new project is of another order of magnitude: to make a bridge from the earth to the stars by constructing a 40,000 km tall space elevator, or "Orbital Tower." Morgan believes that the elevator would be a boon to humanity, largely replacing rocket technology by being 100 times more efficient and cheaper and less polluting, reinvigorating the moribund 200-year-old space age, and making the (fictional Ceylon-like) quiet island country of Taprobane the launching center for the solar system and even the universe.

Arthur C. Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise (1979) is a traditional hard sf novel with plenty of scientific and technological details and sublime descriptions of natural and artificial wonders old and new. Clarke imagines a World Government running the future earth, with colonies on the moon and Mars and war an embarrassing thing of humanity's past. Writing in the late 70s, Clarke foresaw things like a global computer network that would enable people to use their Personal Internet Profiles to subscribe to news topics of interest, individual identity numbers, and smart heart monitoring devices. This is an adult novel, for Clarke narrates only from the points of view of middle-aged or older characters and does no nostalgic idealizing of childhood, as for Morgan "The dreams of childhood had been far surpassed by the [engineering] reality of adult life."

Clarke goes to town researching, imagining, and describing the science, technology, and engineering required to accomplish Morgan's project, "an enterprise to fire the imagination and stir the soul." There are, for instance, the crucial hyperfilament cables made of "continuous pseudo-one-dimensional diamond crystals," thinner than spider thread, to be manufactured in zero-gravity factories, up and down which cables the capsules carrying freight and passengers will travel. The other end of the "bridge" will be a satellite about 40,000 km up in synchronized orbit around the earth. The Midway Station over half way up will anchor the tens of thousands of kilometers of hyperfilament cables. Clarke also details the economics of the project, including organizing its funding, and some of the politics behind it, including Morgan trying to hide his project from his conservative and envious boss.

Perhaps the most interesting detail, however, is the religious problem. The earth end of the elevator can only be placed in one spot, the tall Taprobane mountain peak of Sri Kanda, due to its position on the equator, extraordinary height, and freedom from gravitational anomalies. And there atop the sacred peak just happens to be a 2000+ year old Buddhist monastery populated by intractable monks who don't want any noisy, busy, new-fangled projects like Morgan's to interfere with their quiet, contemplative spiritual life. Much of the novel seems to paint humanity's religious inclinations and conflicts (centuries of "pious gibberish") in the galactic context as a childlike step needing to be outgrown. The Star Glider, an AI-driven probe launched by advanced aliens 60,000 years ago to travel throughout the galaxy contacting developed life forms, says things to the human scientists communicating with it things like, "Belief in God is apparently a psychological artifact of mammalian reproduction," and "I am unable to distinguish clearly between your religious ceremonies and apparently identical behaviour at the sporting and cultural functions you have transmitted to me. I refer particularly to the Beatles, 1965, the World Soccer Final, 2046; and the Farewell appearance of the Johann Sebastian Clones, 2056."

And yet Clarke also treats the spiritual leanings of human beings with sympathy, as in the enigmatic face of an old bust of Buddha ("The eyes of the Buddha were completely blank--empty pools in which a man might lose his soul, or discover a universe"), or the ancient legend of butterfly warriors ("There is something very strange about a universe where a few dead butterflies can balance a billion ton tower"). And at one point the eminently practical atheist Morgan says, with only partial irony, "now I know that the gods are on my side, whatever gods may be."

Like other novels by Clarke (e.g., 2001 and Childhood's End), this one is more interested in big ideas about civilization, nature, technology, science, religion, humanity, mortality, immortality, and the like than in well-rounded characters. Morgan is not overly compelling. His reporter friend, Maxine Duvall, muses that his intense drive and ruthless ambition make him "both larger than life and less than human." He has never married, has no children and relatively few friends, has no vices, isn't prey to self-doubt, and is cool in an emergency.

The novel, however, is not just a dry account of a future engineering feat in an almost post-religious context. There is an extended exciting, if somewhat unlikely, scene in which Morgan (sixty-six and heart-compromised) attempts to bring some vital supplies to some astronomers stranded 600 km up the elevator. And Clarke at times exhibits a playful side, whether in cosmic ironies, like the name the space elevator goes by 1500 years after its construction, and in chapter epigraphs quoting works on psychology, religion, and science from real world historical figures like Freud and from fictional ones like a book by R. Gabor published by Miskatonic UP in 2069.

Marc Vietor is a good reader for the auidobook, suitable for Clarke's objective narration and thoughtful approach to his subjects.

People who like traditional, hard sf dealing greatly with the differences (and similarities) between science and religion should like this Hugo and Nebula-winning novel.

  • NOS4A2

  • A Novel
  • By: Joe Hill
  • Narrated by: Kate Mulgrew
  • Length: 19 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 10,432
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9,725
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 9,715

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn't tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Gripping performance by Kate Mulgrew....

  • By Leslie on 05-06-13

The World of Stuff and the World of Thought

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-11-18

In the prologue of Joe Hill's NOS4A2 (2013), Charlie Manx, who looks like a bald, Keith Richards (only older), has apparently been lying comatose for a decade in a prison hospital since being convicted of abducting and killing dozens of kids in his Christmas-themed house of horrors, the Sleigh House, when he briefly wakes up in 2008, grabs the wrist of a nurse, and tells her that he has a place for her son in Christmasland, where all the children are safe in his head, and a place for her in the House of Sleep, courtesy of the Gasmask Man and his gingerbread smoke, and that all he needs is his ride, the Wraith. The novel itself begins in 1986, when eight-year-old Victoria "Vic" McQueen's first rides "between Lost and Found," pedaling her too big and too boyish Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle through a condemned covered bridge called the Shorter Way into a different place several hours away from her hometown in order to find her mother's lost bracelet. The novel then sets the paths of Vic and Manx on a decades-long collision course in suspenseful, painful, humorous, and moving ways.

The premise of the novel (as a few characters explain it) is that everybody lives in two worlds, the "real" world of stuff, facts, work, etc., and the "inscape" world of thought, emotion, and imagination, which are as powerful as gravity and as real as rocks. Furthermore, a small number of "strong creatives" (like Vic and Manx) are able to use special personal vehicles to move back and forth between their personal inscapes and the real world and or to bring elements from one into the other and or to shape reality like dough. Thus from when she was a girl Vic could ride her Tuff Burner through her personal bridge, coming out anywhere in America where she would find whatever she was looking for. Such "gifts" come with a cost. So using her imaginary but real bridge gives Vic terrible migraines centered in her left eye, messes with her mental equilibrium, and leads her right to Manx.

Joe Hill writes vivid and imaginative descriptions, as when Vic first rides her Tuff Burner, and "It was like witchcraft; she could've been riding a broom, slicing effortlessly through Halloween darkness, a thousand feet off the ground"), and then first rides through the wood-slatted Shorter Way, "through stammering rays of white light. When she crossed through one of those wafer thin sheets of brightness, she felt it in her left eye, a kind of distant throb."

He has a mind for how people hurt each other, as when Vic's father says to her mother during an argument, "Jesus. What an ugly fuckin' person you are inside. And I had a kid with you." He also has an ear for the witty line, as when Manx rhetorically asks, "Who do you think I am? Willy Wonka?"

He writes flawed and human characters that make what happens easy to sympathize with. Vic can be unlikeable, denying the reality of her gift and hurting her parents, but she is also brave, strong, creative, and down to earth: a biker picture book maker mother. The supporting characters are neat: Lou Carmody, a "morbidly obese," gentle and innocent biker-mechanic fan of comic-books and Vic; Maggie, an elfin punk librarian whose gift is to find answers to questions by pulling Scrabble letter tiles out of a bag, the cost of which is a painful stammer (Hill under and poorly uses Maggie); and Bing Partridge, a childlike (in all the worst ways) middle-aged loser who murdered his abusive parents as a boy and becomes Manx' Renfield. And Charlie Manx is a fine villain. At once stupid and cunning, creepy and funny, sadistic and protective, he believes he's rescuing kids from abusive parents ("The fires of hell are not hot enough the man or woman who would hurt their children") and giving them endless fun without pain or sadness.

NOS4A2 reminds me of the work of Hill's father Stephen King in novels like Doctor Sleep (the True Knot villains from that book are referred to here as being strong creatives like Vic and Manx). Like his father, Hill works into his novel many references to American popular culture (here from Sam Spade and Sponge Bob to Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and Ironman), as well as some to international high literature (here from Chekov to Borges). Like his father, Hill works into his novel relevant themes (here about parent-child relationships, childhood and adulthood, imagination and reality, and love) and writes suspenseful and brutal action scenes and brief moments of grace.

Hill can do some bad writing, as when he cracks an excrescent joke about a young soldier, "Tom was well dead, not to mention well-done." He's also capable of going too far, as with some FBI machine guns. And there are multiple occasions when he contrives something against what we might expect characters to do given their personalities, situations, or gifts. An author shouldn't give his characters supernatural abilities and show them in action and then without a good explanation make them not work (or introduce new supernatural elements like ghosts) to generate suspense or complicate the plot.

About the audiobook, listeners who prefer less dramatic readings might be put off by it being "PERFORMED by Kate Mulgrew." But I enjoyed her relishing the language and enhancing the story and making it more funny, scary, and moving. She revels in reading Charlie Manx, Bing, Lou ("Dude!"), sweet, stammering Maggie, and a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, "Kingfishers Catch Fire" (alas Hill abandons it).

Hill closes the audiobook by reading an afterword in which he talks about the novel's themes (the loss of innocence and childhood magic and how hard it is to be a parent) and premise (everyone lives in the world of consensus reality and a world of personal fantasy), about how he naturally came to be a writer by growing up observing his father and mother, and about why he likes audiobooks.

Fans of Joe Hill, Stephen King, or urban fantasy horror, as well as people who find Christmas creepy, would like this book.

  • The Mabinogion

  • By: Charlotte Guest
  • Narrated by: Richard Mitchley
  • Length: 10 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 29
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 28
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 28

The Mabinogion, the earliest literary jewel of Wales, is a collection of ancient tales and legends compiled around the 12th and 13th century deriving from storytelling and the songs of bards handed down over the ages. It is a remarkable document in many ways. From an historical perspective, it is the earliest prose literature of Britain. But it is in its drama that many surprises await, not least the central role of King Arthur, his wife, Gwenhwyvar, and his court at Caerlleon upon Usk.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Wonder Whose Origin is Unknown

  • By John on 07-28-17

Rich Welsh Fantasy, Story, History, and Language

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-28-18

The first three tales of Charlotte Guest's translation of The Mabinogion, "The Lady of the Fountain," "Peredur the Son of Evrawc," and "Geraint the Son of Erbin," are rather standard Arthurian romances: plenty of superlatives (e.g., "she was the fairest woman he had ever seen"), courtly conversations (e.g., “By my faith, sister . . . thou art a beauteous and lovely maiden; and, were it pleasing to thee, I could love thee above all women"), and knights errant and grasping earls, hoary men and black men, giants and dwarves, maidens and sorceresses, serpents and lions, tournaments and combats, magic chessboards and rings, and more. There is also humor, as when Peredur (more than once) says, "I came not here to woo," or Kai (more than once) insults the wrong person. One thing mostly lacking from the three tales is suspense, because the hero knights of each story, Owain, Peredur, and Geraint are so puissant. I liked Geraint best because he becomes quite human when he loves his wife too much and then suspects her too much and twice even requires a month of healing.

The following older and more purely Welsh stories are stranger and more potent, unpredictable and funny, brutal and beautiful.

In "Kilhwch and Olwen" young Kilhwch asks Arthur's aid in marrying Olwen, the daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden Pencawr. Having done his homework, Kilhwch asks his boon in the names of all of Arthur's many heroes (and their mothers, wives, and daughters) in an exotic, intoxicating, 2,300 word list, a who's who of Welsh legend, spiced by mentions of unique abilities or feats, like ". . . and Morvran the son of Tegid (no one struck him in the battle of Camlan by reason of his ugliness; all thought he was an auxiliary devil. Hair had he upon him like the hair of a stag)." Ysbaddaden Pencawr, who knows that he'll die when his daughter weds, then recites an exotic, stunning 3000-word list of impossible marvels Kilhwch must accomplish to win Olwen. The "hero" calmly remarks after each one, "I'll compass that easily," sits back, and lets Arthur's men get to work.

In "The Dream of Rhonabwy," Rhonabwy, a retainer of Madog, stays the night in a filthy house with flea ridden beds and dreams of King Arthur and his chieftain Olwain playing gwyddbwyll (a chess-like game). Arthur scorns Rhonabwy and the men of his later era as puny, but though Arthur and Olwain may be giants in comparison, they sure don't behave well during the game!

"Pwyll Prince of Dyved" features a year-long identity and role swap between Pwyll (a good-natured simple guy) and Arawn (deep lord of magical Annwn), funny interplay between Pwyll and Rhiannon (who highlights Pwyll's lack of smarts in some snappy lines), appalling ladies in waiting (who frame a mother for cannibalizing her child), and the appearance of a mysterious baby boy.

"Branwen the Daughter of Llyr" relates the history of the Isle of the Mighty (Britain) and their Irish antagonists (who are depicted as duplicitous, pusillanimous, and incestuous), with cool fantastic elements, like a magical cauldron that restores dead warriors to mute life. If Branwen (British princess married to the Irish king) is not as impressive as Rhiannon, her half-brother Evnissyen is a fine anti-hero, thrusting a baby nephew into a fire one moment and sacrificing himself for his family the next.

In "Manawyddan the Son of Llyr" Manawydan marries Rhiannon, the widowed mother of Pryderi, and sets off with them and Pryderi's wife Cigfa to find a town where they may live after their home is cursed empty of all animals and people. Because Manawydan and Pryderi excel too well at whatever trade they take up, wherever they go the local craftsmen (even mild shoemakers!) are soon plotting to kill them. The story climaxes with the attempted hanging of a pregnant mouse thief.

"Math the Son of Mathonwy" is full of magical metamorphoses and illusions, deep loves, betrayals, and revenges, and neat origins. The trickster, storyteller, and mage Gwydion enables his brother to rape King Math's foot holder maiden (the king can only sleep with his feet in the lap of a virgin) by causing a devastating war by cheating Pryderi out of the first pigs in Wales. After three years punished as various animals, Gwydion helps Math get a new foot holder. No virgin, she immediately gives birth to twins she doesn't want. Gwydion spirits one away and later tricks the mother into naming him (Lleu). When she curses Lleu to never wed a human woman, Gwydion and Math fashion Blodeuedd from flowers to marry him, with unexpected results.

"The Dream of Maxen Wledig" interweaves history and fantasy via Macsen the Emperor of Rome's falling in love with Helen, a maiden of Britain, in a dream. The story expresses the beauty and puissance of Britons.

"The Story of Lludd and Llevelys" mixes history and fantasy as the brother of the king of Britain goes to France to marry an available queen, and the British king gets good advice from his brother on how to deal with three plagues in Britain (unstoppable invaders, miscarriage-inducing screeching, and vanishing food).

"Taleisin" begins by recounting how the famous bard was born three times and came by his prodigious foresight and omniscience and climaxes with the confident and wise kid participating in a bard contest for which he causes his rivals to blow raspberries at their king and then sings an impressive list of all he has experienced, from the Biblical to the British.

It's a pity that the Ukemi audiobook version of Guest's translation is missing her introduction and notes, but the reader, Richard Mitchley is excellent. He reads the many exotic Welsh names smoothly, consistently, and accurately (as far as my ignorant ears can tell). He reads "ur" as "ear," as in Arthear (Arthur) and Peredear (Peredur), and "ll" as a slight "th," as in Caertheon (Carelleon) and Theu (Lleu). And he enhances the tales with enthusiasm.

The strange and compelling stories of The Mabinogion are full of interesting historical and fantastic characters, developments, artifacts, and places, and demonstrate the richness of Welsh culture and language and the depths of the human heart. Fans of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain will find here the sources of many of their names, characters, and artifacts.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful