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  • Harrison Squared

  • By: Daryl Gregory
  • Narrated by: Luke Daniels
  • Length: 8 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 409
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 378
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 381

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 12,558
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 11,643
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 11,588

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.

  • 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 782
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 710
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 708

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 1,019
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 866
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 872

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 10,146
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9,449
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 9,440

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 26
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 26
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 26

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories

  • By: Rudyard Kipling
  • Narrated by: Sean Barrett
  • Length: 9 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 21
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 20

In a remote part of 19th-century Afghanistan, two British adventurers pursue their ambition to rule an empire. Using betrayal, threats, and guns, they win the respect of a primitive tribe and become worshipped as gods until one day they draw blood, and the game is up. "The Man Who Would Be King" is an action-packed tale about the pitfalls of colonialism and the temptations and evils of power.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Worth a Second Read

  • By Andre on 05-02-16

Varied Stories about Love, Life & Death in the Raj

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

Reviewed: 08-21-18

The Naxos The Man Who Would Be King collects 12 Kipling short stories originally published between 1885 and 1890. The tales are varied in quality, mood, and genre. A few are classic, a few forgettable, the rest strong. There are two adventure stories (one brutal, one surreal), two ghost stories (one straight, one comedic), three supernatural stories (one straight, two comedic), three romance stories (one comedic, one tragic, one political), and two boy stories (one comedic, one excruciating). They are unified by Kipling's authentic depiction of life in the Raj (British Empire in India); by his criticism of and sympathy for the Anglo rulers and their indigenous subjects; by his ability to write compelling stories, characters, and settings that reveal the human condition; by his first-person narrators and nested narratives; and by his concise, dynamic, and flexible style.

Here follows an annotated list of the stories.

1. The Man Who Would Be King (1888)
Two British con man "loafers" plan to become kings in Kafiristan, a mysterious, mountainous corner of Afghanistan, by smuggling in guns and training the locals in soldiery, agriculture, and infrastructure. How they succeed and fail makes an absorbing and appalling adventure story that satirizes the ignorant attempts of "superior" civs to force enlightenment on "inferior" ones, not unlike the Raj project.

2. The Phantom Rickshaw (1885/1890)
In this morbidly funny and moving psychological study of guilt Jack Pansay comes to see the phantoms of a rickshaw, its coolies, and the woman he wronged as more real than the living people around him. The doctor diagnoses overwork and indigestion, but the narrator figures that "there was a crack in Pansay's head and a little bit of the Dark World came through. . ."

3. My Own True Ghost Story (1888)
The narrator has never experienced any of the many ghosts in India, until he stays the night in a dak-bungalow. Convinced he's heard a spectral billiard game in the next room he's planning to write a ghost story with which to paralyze the British Empire-- until he takes a peek into the room.

4. The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes (1885)
After riding out into the desert to kill a wild dog, feverish engineer Morrowbie Jukes comes to his senses in a sandy crater. He finds himself among dozens of skeletal and smelly Indians dumped there after failing to die from fatal diseases. Rather than give Jukes his due respect as a white Sahib, the living dead laugh at or ignore him, and one ex-Brahmin even tries to master him. There is no escape from the pit. The vivid details and surreal horror--existence pared down to eating roast crow--prefigure Kafka or Kobo Abe.

5. The Mark of the Beast (1890)
"The gods of the heathen are stone and brass, and any attempt to deal with them otherwise is justly condemned." Everything in this story contradicts that sentiment, after a drunken Brit stubs his cigar out on the forehead of a statue of the Hindu god Hanuman and starts behaving bestially. A doctor diagnoses hydrophobia, but the narrator and the policeman Strickland suspect the curse of a leper priest.

6. Without Benefit of Clergy (1890)
John Holden is a British bachelor civil servant in India by day, an unsanctioned husband of a 16-year-old Muslim Indian girl by night. When Ameera bears a son, the couple experiences "absolute happiness," but "The delight of that life was too perfect to endure." There is great beauty, love, and pain in the story: "It was not like this when we counted the stars."

7. The Sending of Dana Da (1888)
Kipling mocks Anglo theosophy and spiritualist religious types via a mysterious (con) man's supernatural "sending" of kittens to an ailurophobic foe of the narrator.

8. Wee Willie Winkie (1888)
The 6-year-old son of the regimental colonel follows the foolish fiancé of Lt. Coppy across a verboten dried riverbed into Afghanistan, the land of the "Bad Men" ("goblins"). His little boy-talk is almost too cute (e.g., "Vis is a bad place, and I've bwoken my awwest"), his awareness that he is the "child of the dominant race" repugnant. And the bandits know that if they harm the captives, the British regiment ("devils") "will fire and rape and plunder for a month till nothing remains."

9. On the City Wall (1889)
A prostitute, her admirer, a political prisoner, a Muslim festival in a Hindu part of Lahore, and the narrator's perceptions of all those. Love, faith, India, changing times, and the difficulty (and hypocrisy) of British Raj rule. This is a great story: funny, ironic, sensual, romantic, political, and moving.

10. The Education of Otis Yeere (1888)
In this comedy of manners, Mrs. Hauksbee feels empty and wants power, so she applies all her formidable strategy and style to make a man. She molds boring Otis Yeere, whose career in the Raj is going nowhere, into a smart Man on the Rise. With its many Wildean lines (e.g., "A man is never so happy as when he is talking about himself"), the story is funny, but Otis' broken heart and Mrs. Hauksbee's ego sting.

11. The Judgment of Dungara (1888)
When a well-meaning but ignorant German missionary husband and wife succeed too well in converting the Buria Kol, a nude and lazy folk who worship a God called Dungara, the sly priest of Dungara takes action.

12. Baa Baa Black Sheep (1888)
This fictional account of the experience of Kipling and his sister uproots 5-year-old Punch and 3-year-old Judy from their idyllic lives with their parents in Bombay and inserts them for five years into the Dickensian hell of Downe Lodge in England.

The reader of the audiobook, Sean Barrett, greatly enhances the stories, handling the many characters--young or old, male or female, British or Indian, sane or mad--all just right.

If you've read Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills, you know what to expect here, though the stories in this collection are longer and fewer. Both sets of stories provide a vision of British rule in India (and of "civilized" rule of "uncivilized" peoples anywhere) more complex than merely, "Kipling was an imperial apologist." His humane interest in all kinds of people--from prostitutes to priests, from 6-year-old British Colonel's sons to aged Sikh revolutionaries--shines through.

  • The Hydrogen Sonata

  • Culture, Book 10
  • By: Iain M. Banks
  • Narrated by: Peter Kenny
  • Length: 17 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 135
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 118
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 121

The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization. An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture 10,000 years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they've made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations: They are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence. Amid preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed....

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Hmm... Ok.. But not great

  • By Benbarian on 11-08-12

To Sublime or Not to Sublime—

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

Reviewed: 08-12-18

Iain M. Banks' tenth and last Culture novel Hydrogen Sonata (2012) is all about Subliming. For millennia the Gzilt have felt superior to other galactic civilizations because of their scientifically prescient holy book, and now only 24 days remain till they Sublime. In theory this happens when a civ has nothing more to achieve technologically and culturally and involves nearly everyone abandoning possessions, desires, and ambitions etc. and transcending from the Real to a Childhood's End-like nirvana in multiple unknown dimensions.

But are the Gzilt really ready for Subliming? Why does one of their warships atomize a diplomatic ship sent by the already Sublimed civ who helped them develop by giving them their holy Book of Truth? The destroyed ship was carrying a message, and if it was, say, "The Book of Truth was an experiment on the Gzilt by an advanced civilization," what would the Gzilt do if they found out? Will the two scavenger civs eagerly waiting for the Gzilt to Sublime start fighting over the abandoned technology too soon? What role should the Culture (the preeminent galactic civilization comprised of disparate societies guided by near divine AI ship Minds) play in all this? Their ship Minds don't like to interfere with other civs, but they also like to get to the bottom of mysteries and want to do the Right Thing. If they confirm that the Book of Truth was an experiment, should they tell the Gzilt? And what is the connection between the Gzilt Subliming and the legendary QiRia, a 10,000-year-old Culture man whose memories are encoded in his body, and the nearly unplayable and unlistenable to Hydrogen Sonata, which the Gzilt woman Vyr Cossont has decided to play as her life work (to the extent of adding a second pair of arms onto her body)?

For that matter, what IS Subliming? It is an act of faith, because information is scarce, because (typically) no one returns from the Sublime or communicates from it to the Real. Is it as most Gzilt believe a promotion to "the most brilliant lucid dream forever" in the "Happy land of good and plenty," or is it as many Culture Minds believe a kind of retirement into an old people's home or an act of collective insanity and annihilation? Banks, who died before he could write another Culture novel, isn't telling.

Whatever happens once you say "I Sublime" and vanish from the Real, it has no connection with ethical behavior. The Gzilt are no angels. Their politicians are amoral, their military leaders inhumane, their artists decadent. All that may be Banks' point. As QiRia puts it, "my heart is broken with each new exposure to the idiocies and cruelties of every manner of being that dares to call or think of itself as intelligent." But he also says (sounding like Banks) that one pleasure of benign misanthropes like him is watching the dolts repeat the same "fuckery."

But Banks is no future downer. He exuberantly spins out small s sublime technologies and scales of time and space for his galactic post-scarcity playground, like sculpted planets, a 30,000 km-long city girdling a world, elevenstring instruments so big you have to sit inside and play them with two bows, hyperspace, anti-matter and anti-gravity, body implants, stored consciousnesses, eccentric drones, combat arbites, nano missiles, and smart battle suits. Not to mention the Culture AI ship Minds keeping an eye on things and deciding what to do in conference calls, with their different personalities, agendas, hobbies, capabilities, avatars, and quirky names: the Beats Working, Mistake Not. . . (ellipsis intentional), Smile Tolerantly, You Call This Clean?, A Fine Disregard For Inconvenient Facts, Empiricist, Caconym (which means an incorrect name), and more.

Banks is not just parading awesome techs and sublime scales for the fun of it (although his book is fun), but to explore serious questions, like What is the meaning of life when there is no Meaning? What are the ethical and practical limitations of simulations? Should more advanced civilizations take a hands on or off approach to less advanced ones? Is intelligence connected to decency or to technology? Can we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? What makes us human? What makes us individuals? Where does identity reside? And so on.

Banks writes space opera about the human condition, as when an android in real danger says, "Happily, I am not human, and this is only a simulation." He writes snappy and humorous dialogue, like "Are you afraid of heights?" "No, just of dying generally." He writes sublime space opera comedy: "Back aboard the Passing By, the mind controlling both the systems vehicle and the avatar was doing the hyper AI equivalent of grimacing and mouthing the word, 'Shit.'" He writes straight space opera sublime, as in a description of the sound made by giant wind pipes, like "from an enormous choir of bases singing a slow sonorous hymn in a language you never understood."

Peter Kenny reads the audiobook with verve and skill. He distinguishes among the many characters by changing the pitch of his voice (Vyr Cossont's familiar Pyan talks like an infant stuffed animal, a combat android like a cheerful machine, an Ronte prince like an insect, a mysterious ship Mind like a senile Merlin, etc.) or his accent (though I wonder why people or AI Minds from the same civ speak American, British, Scottish, or Australian English).

Hydrogen Sonata is not perfect. There may be too many advanced technologies and point of view characters, some of which/whom finally don't seem so vital to the plot (like Tefwe, the Zoologist, and even the Hydrogen Sonata). True, Banks wants to freely exercise his imagination in a universe in which anything is possible, and at one point a "body enhancement artist" tells an interviewer that he recently had 53 serviceable penises on his body and that one should "never feel sorry for excesses, only for failure of nerve." But this novel feels more excessive and less satisfying than earlier Culture novels. The climax is exciting, but the resolution (deciding whether or not the Gzilt will Sublime and what will happen to some bad actors) is somehow disappointing. The last words of the novel nearly blow every prior thing away: "caught in the swirling breeze produced by the flyer's departure, [the elevenstring instrument] hummed emptily. The sound was swept away by the mindless air."

  • Magpie Murders

  • A Novel
  • By: Anthony Horowitz
  • Narrated by: Samantha Bond, Allan Corduner
  • Length: 15 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,501
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,986
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,962

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the best-selling crime writer for years, she's intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan's traditional formula has proved hugely successful.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A British Whodunit

  • By Sara on 07-24-17

A Framed Whodunit Outperforms Its Whodunit Frame?

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

Reviewed: 07-30-18

Editor and fan of whodunits Susan Ryeland has barely finished reading the typescript of one that her company Cloverleaf Books is keen to publish when she finds herself caught up in a real murder mystery. The manuscript is called Magpie Murders, and it's the ninth entry in the best selling Atticus Pund detective series by the popular author Alan Conway. Conway's novel is set in the 1950s in the small fictional village Saxby-on-Avon and features the "accidental" death of the housekeeper at Pye Hall, the bloody murder of Sir Magnus Pye, the host of locals with motives and opportunities kill him, and the famous detective Atticus Pund wanting to solve this last case before a brain tumor can kill him. Just after Susan discovers that the typescript is missing some crucial chapters, she learns that author Conway has apparently committed suicide. Her search for the missing pages leads her to believe that he has been murdered, and despite saying things like "I wasn't a detective. I was an editor," Susan is soon using her keen intelligence, observation, and whodunit chops to play detective. And because Conway was not the world's nicest author or man, Susan is soon dealing with multiple suspects and motives for murder. Has the extraordinary number of murder mysteries in books and TV shows made her imagine a murder where none exists, as a local police chief scolds her? Will butting into an affair best left to the police get her in some danger, as her boyfriend Andreas warns her? Will her investigation risk her job with Cloverleaf, as her boss Charles cautions her? Will she ever get to the bottom of it all or get to read the rest of Magpie Murders?

Alan Horowitz' novel Magpie Murders (2017), then, is a whodunit nested within a whodunit. Susan's "real" framing story takes place in contemporary England (partly London, partly the countryside), Conway's fictional framed story in 1950s England (wholly in the countryside). Conway used Agatha Christie's oeuvre as a reference, so his part of Horowitz' novel reads like an excellent pastiche of Christie. Horowitz is an expert in the genre, so the Conway part of his novel also reads like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, with Pund's brilliant and observant detective Pund evoking Holmes, his obtuse and good-natured assistant Watson, and the well-meaning but misguided police detective Lestrade. Such is the power of Horowitz' writing and his knowledge of the genre, that for the long interpolated passage of Conway's novel about the investigations of Atticus Pund we nearly forget that we are reading a fictional mystery inside a "real" one. The characters are interesting enough and the mystery challenging enough and the sense of time and place vivid enough. The contemporary frame part of his novel in which Susan endeavors to find out what happened to Conway and who did it is also a compelling read, enlivened by many self-referential remarks on the whodunit genre and by many references to other detectives and mystery writers, including Holmes and Poirot and Conan Doyle and Christie.

The audiobook readers Samantha Bond and Allan Corduner do excellent work here, Bond reading the frame narration from Susan's point of view, Corduner reading Conway's framed Magpie Murders from a variety of point of view characters, though I did prefer Corduner's Pund (refined and elegant German accented English) to Bond's (so it's lucky that Bond reads very little of Conway's novel). Anyway, having different readers for the different whodunits works well.

Finally, as often happens when I finish a whodunit, I felt somehow let down and wondered, "It was entertaining and has lots of human nature and drama, but was it worth it?" Part of me sympathizes with Andreas when he tells Susan that the mystery genre is unworthy: "Eighty-thousand words to prove that the butler did it?" Sure Horowitz' book has going for it all its commentary on the whodunit genre (it is very much a whodunit about whodunits), and some interesting things about gender (a fine use of and explanation for the c-word at one point), but…

More criticisms. It's uncool when a writer has a character like Susan say something like, "I dislike coincidences in a whodunit" just before running into a whopping one, and I am not a fan of unnecessary sensational action scenes in the climaxes of mysteries like what happens in Horowitz' frame mystery here. Worse, I think Horowitz indulges in excessive pastiching, as when he has Susan (and us) read an entire chapter by an amateur who can't write well and then an entire chapter by Conway who stole the plot from the amateur so we may compare the two, even though they have nothing to do with Magpie Murders, or an extended passage of the serious "literary" novel by Conway that will never be published because it's "derivative rubbish" aping contemporary novelists like Martin Amis and Will Self. (Actually, I enjoyed that part because it's short and demonstrates that Horowitz can write pretentious, sour, and witty "literary" fiction with the best of them, but…) Finally, Andreas (Susan's middle-aged, understanding, Cretan hunk of a boyfriend) is a bit unbelievable (he was married to Aphrodite!), and the resolution of Horowitz' frame narrative is a bit disappointing.

Complaints aside, fans of mysteries will like this book; it is clever, funny, and compelling. It does have plenty of neat lines on crime and life, etc., as when Pund speculates "on the nature of human wickedness… how it is the small lies and evasions which nobody sees or detects but which can come together and smother you like fumes and a house fire," or as when Susan supposes that people around the world like murder mysteries because they provide certainty in an uncertain world. But that the best lines come from Conway's Magpie Murders makes me think that the framed mystery is better than its frame.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Odyssey

  • The Fitzgerald Translation
  • By: Homer, Robert Fitzgerald - translator
  • Narrated by: Dan Stevens
  • Length: 10 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 615
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 569
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 568

Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Odyssey has been the standard translation for more than three generations of students and poets. Macmillan Audio is delighted to publish the first ever audio edition of this classic work, the greatest of all epic poems. Fitzgerald's supple verse is ideally suited for audio, recounting the story of Odysseus' long journey back to his wife and home after the Trojan War. Homer's tale of love, adventure, food and drink, sensual pleasure, and mortal danger reaches the English-language listener in all its glory.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Amazing for classes!

  • By Cindy on 11-04-15

"A god moved him--who knows?"

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

Reviewed: 07-25-18

Like The Iliad, the Odyssey is culturally, psychologically, and aesthetically fascinating, moving, and entertaining. Recently I re-read it by listening to two different audiobook versions: Fitzgerald's 1961 translation read by Dan Stevens and Robert Fagles' 1996 translation read by Ian McKellan. Both translations and readings are superb. I don't know Greek so I can't compare their accuracy, but their English is tight, dynamic, beautiful, and flexible. Here are two versions of a great short scene where Medon tries to explain to Penelope why her son went on a dangerous voyage:

(Fitzgerald)
“A god moved him--who knows?--or his own heart
sent him to learn, at Pylos, if his father
roams the wide world still, or what befell him.”

(Fagles)
“I don’t know if a god inspired your son
or the boy’s own impulse led him down to Pylos,
but he went to learn of his father’s journey home,
or whatever fate he’s met.”

Both versions capture the Homerian ambiguity about why we do what we do, but Fitzgerald does more compellingly in 28 words what Fagles does in 34, and I did find that Fitzgerald is usually more concise. Fagles tends to be more colloquial (catch my drift, cramping my style, etc.), while Fitzgerald uses unusual, "authentic" spellings of names with k for c etc. (Kyklops, Akhaians, Telemakhos, etc.). The above two translation examples are similar in meaning, but there are other places with greater differences, like when Odysseus blesses the royal house of the Phaeacians by saying he hopes they'll pass their riches down to their SONS in Fagles but to their CHILDREN in Fitzgerald, and I wonder which is closer to the original Greek.

As for the audiobook readings, both Dan Stevens and Ian McKellan are excellent, versatile actors with appealing voices and manners and great intelligence and empathy. Neither strains artificially for male or female or young or old characters. Both greatly enhance Homer's poem. I did find that, perhaps because of his greater age and experience, Ian McKellan revealed a wider and deeper range of emotion than Stevens. McKellan does a great Cyclops giving Odysseus a "gift," Circe enticing Odysseus to her bed, Menelaus predicting a blood wedding for the suitors, and so on. The 40-page "Postscript" by Fitzgerald is missing from his audiobook, while Fagles' informative 65-page introduction is missing from his. Anyway, I highly recommend both audiobooks of The Odyssey, which was after all originally meant to be listened to rather than read.

The first four books of the poem begin not with the beginning of Odysseus' epic ten-year effort to return home but in its last year, and concern not Odysseus but his son Telemachus, introducing the situation in Ithaca where for the last three years many reckless suitors have been hanging around the hero's wife Penelope in hopes that Odysseus will stay missing so one of them can marry her. Telemachus has been helplessly watching the greedy suitors devour his patrimony, until Athena decides to spark his maturing into a man by inspiring him to travel to his father's old Trojan War comrades to ask them what happened to his father. The next four books recount Odysseus' long longed for departure from the island (and bed) of the minor goddess Calypso and his arrival at the island of the Phaeacians, where, in the next four books he suspensefully narrates to his hosts his past adventures trying to return home after the Trojan War (encountering lotus eaters, sirens, Cyclops, wind gods, Circe, the House of the Dead, and more). The last half of the poem depicts Odysseus finally back in Ithaca, disguised by Athena as an old beggar, recruiting an ally or two, visiting his palace to assess the suitors and servants (and to suffer their affronts), and plotting some ultra-justice on the people who've been living without proper manners and morals.

The poem features many memorable fantastic and or emotional scenes. When Zeus complains about the tendency of foolish mortals to blame the gods for their troubles, when Athena prays to herself for a smooth journey, when Odysseus meets the shade of his mother ("like a shadow dissolving like a dream" in Fagles), when Odysseus treats Polyphemus to some wine and a sharpened stake (in an exuberantly gruesome scene), when Odysseus meets Nausica, when Odysseus tells Athena another fake autobiography ("You chameleon, bottomless bag of tricks," she calls him in Fitzgerald), when Telemachus sneezes at something Penelope says, when Penelope interviews a beggar, when Odysseus tests his sad old father, when the shade of Agamemnon happily hears the shade of a suitor recount what Odysseus has done to his fellows and him. And many more.

There are many interesting aspects of the poem, like the following:
--divine interference in our affairs may be explained by human nature or chance.
--Odysseus travels around sleeping with goddesses, while Penelope must stay chaste at home.
--Odysseus is willing to raid strangers in their homes but expects the people he visits to be friendly to strangers (and that in a sense his treatment of the suitors resembles what monstrous hosts like Polyphemus and Hercules do to their guests).
--Odysseus metes out disproportionate violent justice, especially to a dozen slave girls and a disloyal goatherd.
--Homer addresses the loyal swineherd Eumaeus as "you."
--Homer really likes poets (especially blind ones).

Finally, such is the richness of the poem's characters and imagination and language (including the epic similes comparing, for example, Odysseus to things like an octopus dragged from its lair, children who feel relief after their father recovers from illness, and a sausage turned back and forth by a cook over a scorching blaze), that even though from the start Homer repeatedly foreshadows what will happen, it all manages to be suspenseful and entertaining every time one reads it.

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