Category Archives: Books

The Books of 2011

Here are the novels I read in 2011:

  1. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, Book 2) by Steig Larsson. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  2. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Millennium, Book 3)by Steig Larsson. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  3. Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, Book 1) by Cherie Priest. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  4. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1) by Patrick Rothfuss. Audio, read by Nick Podehl. 

     ★★★★★ 

  5. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Hardcover. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  6. The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale by Mike Resnick. Hardcover.

     ★★½☆☆ 

  7. Bite Me: A Love Story (San Francisco Vampires, Book 3) by Christopher Moore. Audio, read by Susan Bennett. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  8. Midnight Riot (Rivers of London, Book 1) by Ben Aaronovitch. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  9. Dead Until Dark (A Sookie Stackhouse Novel) by Charlaine Harris. Audio, read by Johanna Parker.

     ★★★☆☆ 

  10. Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 2) by Gail Carriger. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  11. Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, Book 1) by James S. A. Corey. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  12. Room by Emma Donoghue. Hardcover. 

     ★★★★★ 

  13. 007: Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver. Hardcover. 

     ★★½☆☆ 

  14. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  15. Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert. Audio, read by Edward Herrmann. 

     ★★★★★ 

  16. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  17. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Paperback. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  18. Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 1) by Chris Wooding. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  19. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  20. The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 2) by Chris Wooding. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  21. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Kindle. 

     ★★★½☆ 

  22. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2) by Suzanne Collins. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert (cover)Best of the lot was probably Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert, thanks in no small part to Edward Herrmann’s excellent narration; Herrmann doesn’t sound like Roger Ebert, but manages to capture his voice nonetheless.

The best fiction is tough to nail down. Though I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in the last week of 2010, I think Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy takes the prize. If I had to choose a single book, it would be a toss-up between Room by Emma Donoghue and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Biggest disappointment? That’s a tie between The Buntline Special and 007: Carte Blanche; the former felt sketchy to me—more like an outline than a full-blown novel—while the latter was largely satisfying but I thought Deaver relied too much on cleverness by omission.

2012 has begun with a monster of a book: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, which will be followed by Mockingjay, the finale of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. I’m also listening to Under the Dome by Stephen King (another monster, clocking in at over 30 hours of audio).

What was the best book you read last year? The worst? What’s the first book you read in 2012?

Autumnal Equinox 2009: The Fall of the Summer Reading List

I’ve been updating the status of various books on this list since shortly after I first published my 2009 Summer Reading List. This post is scheduled to be published at 5:18pm on the 22nd of September, the official start of Fall. Let’s see how much reading I actually got done this summer…

Finished

  1. Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow.

    Rating: ★★★½☆ 

  2. The Touch by F. Paul Wilson.

    Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

  3. Glasshouse by Charles Stross.

    Rating: ★★★★☆ 

  4. His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire · Book 1) by Naomi Novik.

    Rating: ★★★★★ 

  5. Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Audio; narrated by William Dufris).

    Rating: ★★★★☆ 

  6. Lamb by Christopher Moore.

    Rating: ★★★★½ 

  7. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Audio; narrated by Simon Prebble).

    Rating: ★★★★★ 

  8. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

    Rating: ★★★★☆ 

  9. The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Audio; narrated by Ron Perlman).

    Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

  10. WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (Audio; various narrators).

    Rating: ★★★★☆ 

  11. Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison (Audio; narrated by Marguerite Gavin).

    Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

  12. The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines.

    Rating: ★★★★☆ 

  13. Paranoia by Joseph Finder (Audio; narrated by Scott Brick).

    Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

  14. Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout.

    Rating: ★★★½☆ 

  15. The Destroyer #14: Judgment Day by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir.

    Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

  16. The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks.

    Rating: ★★★★☆ 

In Progress

  1. Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Audio; narrated by Bianca Amato).

Not Yet Started

  1. Throne of Jade (Temeraire · Book 2) by Naomi Novik.
  2. Personal Effects: Dark Art by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman.
  3. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi.

Not too shabby, overall. My peculiar flavor of attention deficit disorder came into play, as I expected it would, and I read or started to read several titles that weren’t on the original list. I also failed to even start a handful from the original list, but maybe I’ll get around to them this fall. Speaking of fall, here (in no particular order) is the 2009 Fall Reading List:

  1. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (Audio; narrated by Lyndam Gregory).
  2. The Devil You Know by Mike Carey.
  3. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.
  4. Batman: The Stone King by Alan Grant.
  5. Black Powder War (Temeraire · Book 3) by Naomi Novik.
  6. Broken Crescent by S. Andrew Swann.
  7. Furies of Calderon (The Codex Alera · Book 1) by Jim Butcher.
  8. Fool Moon (The Dresden Files · Book 2) by Jim Butcher.
  9. Condemned to Repeat It: The Philospher Who Flunked Life and Other Great Lessons from History by Wick Allison, Jeremy Adams and Gavin Hambly.
  10. Ill Wind by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason.
  11. The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James P. Hogan.

Dora the Explorer of the Rings

Someone has to say it: Dora the Explorer is a complete ripoff of The Lord of the Rings.

Dora of the Rings
image-2346

Let’s review:

  • Dora is a short person from a fantastical land who is called upon to deliver an item to a faraway place. On her journey (or quest), she must overcome a number of obstacles and often encounters strange creatures.
  • Frodo Baggins is a short person from a fantastical land who is called upon to deliver an item (The One Ring) to a faraway place (The Cracks of Doom in Mordor). On his quest, he encounters strange creatures and must overcome a number of obstacles.
  • Dora is accompanied by a loyal companion (also short) named Boots.
  • Frodo Baggins is accompanied by a loyal companion (also short) named Samwise Gamgee.
  • Dora is often joined by companions of different species: Isa the Iguana and Benny the Bull, to name two.
  • Frodo Baggins is joined by companions of different races: Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf, to name two.
  • Dora is pursued by Swiper the Fox, a conniving-yet-cowardly thief who wants to steal something she is carrying.
  • Frodo Baggins is pursued by Gollum, a conniving-yet-cowardly thief who wants to steal The One Ring.
  • Dora is eventually joined by Diego, an animal rescuer who is skilled at tracking and outdoor survival.
  • Frodo Baggins is eventually joined by Aragorn, a ranger who is skilled at tracking and outdoor survival.
  • Dora must often solve puzzles using words and phrases in another language (Spanish).
  • Frodo Baggins was unable to enter the Mines of Moria until the word “friend” was spoken in another language (Elvish).

Of course, there are a few elements of Dora the Explorer that aren’t ripped straight out of The Lord of the Rings…or are there? Let’s consider:

  • Dora has a magical backpack that contains whatever object she might need to solve a puzzle or overcome an obstacle. There’s no magical backpack in The Lord of the Rings, but Dora’s backpack sounds an awful lot like a Bag of Holding from the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game (which was around decades before Dora the Explorer), and everyone knows that Dungeons & Dragons is the King of All Lord of the Rings Ripoffs.
  • Frodo Baggins is led by Gandalf, a wise old wizard who tells him which way to go and, ultimately, leads him into dire peril. Dora is rarely seen in the company of old men, wise or otherwise. True enough, but she does consult with a magical, talking map that tells her how to get to her destination, typically through waypoints that are fraught with peril (windy bridges, treacherous mountains, and the like). The Map may not be carrying a staff or wearing a pointy hat, but he definitely fills the “magical guide” role. (“Tell Frodo he has to go through the Mines of Moria, over the Fields of Pellenor and up Aman Amarth!”)

I’m sure there will be naysayers; those who call this evidence “circumstantial” or “coincidental” and point out that “Nickelodeon” isn’t really an anagram of “J.R.R. Tolkien”. You know: nutjobs. But to the rest of you—those who can see Middle Earth in the unnamed South American country in which Dora resides—I extend an invitation to show me more. Peel the veil further back to expose more proof. What have I missed? What more is there?

Summer Reading List 2009

I’m taking a page from Ken Newquist‘s book (or rather, his blog and podcast) to present my Summer Reading List. As we’re well into the season, the list includes books I’ve read since late June, those I am currently reading, and those I intend to read before summer comes to a close. The last of these three lists is—to put it lightly—mutable, as which book I pick up next is subject more to whim than design.

Pages Past

  • Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow. During World War II, a B-movie actor is hired to play the part of a giant, fire-breathing lizard in order to convince the Japanese to surrender or have a trio of Godzilla-like creatures unleashed on their cities.
  • The Touch by F. Paul Wilson. The third installment of The Adversary Cycle tells the tale of a doctor who suddenly gains the ability to heal with a touch. It wouldn’t be a medical thriller if there weren’t a terrible price to pay. This isn’t my preferred genre, but I enjoyed The Keep and The Tomb, so I thought I’d continue the cycle; The Touch isn’t anywhere near as creepy as its predecessors, but it’s a pretty entertaining tale.
  • Glasshouse by Charles Stross. In a far-flung future where technology makes changing your gender, race, and even species as commonplace as changing your shirt, and humanity has been through a great Censorship War, Robin wakes with no memory of his past and a killer on his tail. How much of what makes you you is determined by your physical being, your memories, and your relationships with other people? This was really a fascinating read.
  • His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi NovikHis Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire · Book 1) by Naomi Novik. During the Napoleonic Wars, the H.M.S. Reliant, a British naval vessel, captures a French ship and siezes a most unusual cargo: a dragon’s egg. When the dragon hatches and bonds to Will Laurence, the Reliant’s captain must leave the Navy behind for His Majesty’s Air Corps. I love Novik’s writing style and the relationship that forms between the dragon, Temeraire, and Laurence is beautifully executed. This is definitely my favorite book of the summer so far.
  • Anathem (Audio) by Neal Stephenson. The audio version of this lengthy tome consists of twenty-eight compact discs and took me eleven weeks to complete. As Chris Miller pointed out to me, Neal Stephenson doesn’t so much write novels as essays stitched together with bits of story. Much time is spent explaining how the world in which Anathem takes place is different from our own, complete with excerpts from The Dictionary (4th Edition, A.R. 3000) that mark the beginning of each of the eleventy-three thousillion chapters. Anathem follows Fraa Erasmas of the concent of Saunt Edhar as he ventures out into the sæcular world during (and after) Apert. And to explain every term in that sentence would require more space than I’m willing to devote to a single bullet point right now.

Pages Present

  • Lamb by Christopher MooreLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. The Bible doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail where the first thirty years of Christ’s life are concerned, and now Levi (who is called Biff) has been resurrected by the angel Raziel to fill in the gaps. Chris Miller and I will be discussing this somewhat-apocryphal gospel on a future episode of The Secret Lair.
  • The Strain (Audio) by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Vampires!
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Audio) by Susanna Clarke. Magicians!
  • The Way of Shadows (Book 1 of The Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks. Assassins! (Sorry: wetboys.)

Pages Future

Finally, here is a fourth list, which may be considered a bonus by some and entirely excessive by others. I have been using GoodReads to track my ever-expanding library and hummingbirdlike reading habits, but there are a number of similar sites and as I become aware of one I can’t help but set up an account and import at least a portion of my books, just to see how it compares to the others. Here is a list of said sites (I don’t claim it is comprehensive, and if you know of another please leave a comment with a link to it.) that I’ve been using recently, in the order I joined:

  1. GoodReads. Very well put together. The interface is generally very intuitive, though management of group “shelves” could be enhanced. GoodReads is, unfortunately, ad-supported.
  2. Readernaut. My favorite of the bunch so far. Pages aren’t as “busy” as those on GoodReads or LibraryThing and there’s a lot of flexibility around tweaking books (I especially like that I can upload my own cover images). Pages tend to render poorly on some installations of Internet Explorer. Readernaut is not currently ad-supported.
  3. Shelfari. My least favorite by quite a large margin. I’m not a fan of the default “shelf” layout and though the add/edit book interface is nice and streamlined, it is also rather limited. Shelfari is ad-supported.
  4. LibraryThing. I haven’t played with this one very much, but I do like that there is space for BookCrossing IDs (though it’s been months since I last logged in to BookCrossing) and they seem to pack in a lot of information about individual titles. LibraryThing is not ad-supported, but offers both free and subscription-based models, so I can only assume that the size of my library (as a free user) has a limit.

Bookstuff: Murder at Avedon Hill by P.G. Holyfield

Want to know how long it’s taken P.G. Holyfield to complete the audio version of his novel, Murder at Avedon Hill? Let me put it this way: I do one of the voices in the podcast novel and partway through the process I had to re-record all of my lines because puberty hit and my voice broke.

Yes, it’s been a long time coming. ((At the time of this writing, it’s still a long time coming, as there are two episodes yet to be released.))

But persistence (on the part of Holyfield) and patience (on the part of his 13,000+ fans) has certainly paid off. Yesterday, P.G. announced that Murder at Avedon Hill has been picked up by Dragon Moon Press and will be published late this year.

Here’s a snippet from the official press release:

“With what he’s done with his podcast, P.G Holyfield was on our radar,” notes Gwen Gades, publisher at Dragon Moon Press. “But fans tracking down a publisher to request the print version of the novel? We had to move on that.”

Now, I’m not one to encourage what amounts to stalking, but I suppose there are worse things a publisher could say about an author than “his fans demanded that we publish the book.”

Murder at Avedon Hill: A Land of Caern Novel tells the story of Arames Kragen, a monk who finds himself on the hunt for a killer in the town of Avedon Hill. Young Gretta Platt, Housemistress of Avedon Manor has been murdered, and Arames must bring her killer to justice before Lord Avedon will allow the monk access to the only pass through the Lantis Mountains. Solving the murder is challenge enough, but Caern is a world where gods walk among mortals and fantastical creatures are often more than the stuff of fairy tale and legend. Arames Kragen will need all his wits about him to find the killer…or even just to survive.

The Amazon Rush: Comes the Apocalypse

As August of ought-eight was drawing to a close, a new composition by an enterprising and imaginitive young woman named Mur Lafferty was made available for purchase to those individuals with the means to connect their personal computational apparatuses to the Internets. The very idea that a woman would have not only the time to write a book—I suspect her child routinely goes unfed, her floors have not been scrubbed in weeks, and her husband rarely arrives home after a hard day’s work to find dinner a-table—but the audacity to publish it raises moral questions aplenty, ((To speak nothing of the home environment that allows a woman to become enterprising and imaginative in the first place.)) but that is an issue for another time. For the moment, let us allow that Ms. Lafferty has written and published a tale of sheerest fantasy, a yarn involving citizens who are possessed of extra-ordinary abilities, quite probably as a direct result of consorting with Satan; it might well be an allegory, but as it is told through the pen of a woman, the moral and metaphor—if they exist at all—have escaped me entirely.

I ought not dwell on the particulars of Ms. Lafferty’s fantastickal tale, for my purpose here to-day is not to discuss the merits and moral abiguities of said tale but rather the means by which it had—prior to appearing in the on-line marketplace—come to my attention. As has been previously noted, Ms. Lafferty is a woman of enterprise and imagination, and she posited that it was possible to increase awareness (and thus, potentially, sales) of her tale by giving it away to the public at no charge. Reckless seekers of thrill and vice who were savvy enough to access the Internets could, by means involving daemons named “Syndication” and “Enclosure” and “Pod-catcher”, freely partake of the tale as told in Ms. Lafferty’s own voice. In making her story thus available, Ms. Lafferty was able to ensorcell a number of unfortunates who would eventually become her pawns, a throng of adherents only too willing to transform their mistress’ every whim into reality. Despite my iron resolve, despite my nigh-indomitable will, despite my every precaution, dear reader, I was drawn into this web myself, a web that stretched the world wide.

On the day when Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript became available for purchase at on-line retailers, the authoress bade her disciples ((I hesitate to mention that they are often referred to colloquially as “Mur’s Bitches”, for the moniker gives rise to even further suspicions that Ms. Lafferty—and, indeed, those who supplicate themselves at her feet—truck with The Devil. The simple fact that her devotees do genuflect in her presence, coupled with Ms. Lafferty’s penchant for tiaras, smacks of idolatry.)) to engage in something known as an “Amazon rush”. This, I am relieved to report, has nothing at all to do with legions of Scythian warrior women; rather, it is a concentrated free-market assault on a single on-line purveyor of books: Amazon.com.

Set loose upon the unsuspecting merchant, Ms. Lafferty’s loyal flock exchanged the currency of the land for bound copies of her fanciful narrative. When the sun set upon this particular day of commerce, the rabid fanatics had propelled Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript to the very zenith of one particular column on the merchant’s ledgers: that column titled “Science Fiction”. In the space of four and twenty hours, the loyal adherents had made Ms. Lafferty’s tale a best-seller. In doing so (and, more imporantly, while doing so), the disciples had flooded the tubes—the very tubes that form the circulatory system of the Internets—with electronic missives acknowledging that they had complied with their mistress’ wishes and encouraging others—particularly the unensorcelled—to do the same.

It is important at this juncture to note that the concept of the “Amazon rush” did not spring forth fully formed from the mind of Ms. Lafferty. The tactic had been used with similar results (up to and including the flooding of the tubes) by several of Ms. Lafferty’s peers. The earliest documented case being April of ought-seven, when fantacist Scott Sigler encouraged a group of erudite and learned bibliophiles to purchase his tale of science-gone-awry, Ancestor. Mr. Sigler’s success encouraged other authors to follow in his footsteps, and ought-eight saw no less than four such “rushes” between April and August, including a cooperative effort from Tee Morris ((I include Mr. Morris here only out of a sense of duty to report the facts fully and accurately. While I hold Mr. Sigler, Mr. Harwood and Mr. Selznick in high esteem, the same cannot be said of Mr. Morris, for he is a unapologetic gadabout.)) and Philippa Ballantine ((Ms. Ballantine was the first female author of whom I am aware to rush Amazon.com, setting an uncomfortable precedent as well as a singularly unwholesome example for the fairer sex. However, Ms. Ballantine is from New Zealand, a country known for its loose morals and relaxed attitude with respect to the proper role of women, and I would expect nothing less from a country so perilously close to Australia.)) scarcely more than a fortnight before Ms. Lafferty unleashed her hordes upon the merchant.

Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood Infected by Scott Sigler Brave Men Run by Matthew Wayne Selznick The Case of the Pitcher's Pendant: A Billibub Baddings Mystery by Tee Morris Digital Magic by Philippa Ballantine Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Each of these “rushes”, as I have previously noted, caused considerable flooding of the tubes. As men more qualified to speak on the matter than I have already attested, flooding the tubes in such a fashion can lead only to disaster. When I realized that the veins and arteries through which the lifeblood of the Internets flowed were at nigh-constant risk due to these “rushes”, the scintillating threads and strands of bedazzlement spun by Ms. Lafferty began to clear from my mind and I beheld the looming peril: with the tubes so flooded, there was room for little else. In a delirious panick, I dispatched an electronic advisory to my friend and colleague, Mr. Chris Miller. In doing so, I drew back the gossamer veil that had covered his eyes and he, too, saw the threat.

Together, Mr. Miller and I resolved that we would not sit idly by in the face of the coming chaos. When my impassioned pleas to Mr. Selznick went unanswered, Mr. Miller issued a statement decrying the use of the “Amazon rush”. “The danger,” his first draft read, “is imminent; the consequences, dire. This practice must be abolished at once, not only for the good of those who will yield the brunt of the coming storm, but for those who will follow us and feel its echoing reverberations in years to come.” ((Alas, the published version of Mr. Miller’s warning does not hew so close to the truth of the matter; I suspect his tone was tempered not with cool reasoning, but with cold, hard currency. His further statements on the matter lead me to believe that the veil I so abruptly tore from his face has been replaced and is now stitched to his very flesh.))

As I write this, the debate rages on. In my desire to alert the world to the dangers of the “Amazon rush”, I may have inadvertently done more harm than good, for even now the tubes fill with comments from authors and statements issued by pundits. The demise of the Internets, it seems, may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I its unwitting prophet.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Podiobooks to Print: Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Another podcast novelist makes the leap (over a tall building) to print on Monday, 25 August as Mur Lafferty‘s superhero novel, Playing for Keeps, debuts from Swarm Press.

I read Playing for Keeps about a year ago, when a pre-overlord Chris Miller and I were asked to assist with some of the “Stories of the Third Wave” supporting material for the podcast release of the novel. Unfortunately, I had to drop out of the production after only one episode due to some conflicting obligations, but the story of super-powered people whose abilities aren’t quite good enough to make them full-fledged superheroes is right up my alley and I’ve often speculated that my own “Third Wave” power could be anything from killing hard drives to sipping coffee just before it has cooled down to the point where it won’t burn my tongue.

Here’s the official press release from the publisher:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 25 Release Date for Mur Lafferty’s Playing for Keeps

Swarm Press is pleased to announce the upcoming release of breakthrough podcaster and author Mur Lafferty’s newest novel of superheroic action Playing for Keeps. Originally a self-released “podiobook,” this new printed version of Lafferty’s novel is due to hit shelves on August 25, 2008.

Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty.

Welcome to Seventh City, the birthplace of super powers. The First Wave heroes are jerks, but they have the best gifts: flight, super strength, telepathy, genius, fire. The Third Wavers, like bar-owner Keepsie Branson and her friends, are stuck with the leftovers: the ability to instantly make someone sober, the power to smell the past, absolute control… over elevators. They just aren’t powerful enough to make a difference… at least that’s what they’ve always been told. But when the villain Doodad slips Keepsie a mysterious metal sphere, the Third Wavers become caught in the middle of a battle between egotistical heroes and manipulative villains.

Playing for Keeps grabbed me and kept me reading straight through when I should have been plotting a new fantasy series for Tor Books. Mur, thank you. Tor, however, does not thank you.” – David Drake, author, Hammer’s Slammers.

Mur Lafferty is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a degree in English. Her nonfiction work has appeared at www.SuicideGirls.com, as well as in the magazines Knights of the Dinner Table, PC Gamer, Computer Games, Scrye, and SciFi Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in Hub, Escape Pod, and Scrybe. She was, until July, 2007, the host and co-editor of Pseudopod, and is currently the host and creator of the podcasts Geek Fu Action Grip and I Should be Writing. Visit Mur online at www.murverse.com

Playing for Keeps is still available as a free audio production at Podiobooks.com.

Spice World: The Many Versions of Frank Herbert’s Dune

Audio Renaissance presents Frank Herbert's DuneI’ve been a little Dune-crazy over the past couple of weeks. It all started when I stumbled across the Audio Renaissance production of Dune on CD at the local library. Several weeks of 15-minute (and occasionally longer) chunks of audio later I finished the 18-CD production. I followed that with the 1984 film version directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle MacLa…McLach…Maclach…Jürgen Prochnow. Two hours and seventeen minutes later, ((This is the theatrical running time of Lynch’s version. An “extended version” edited for television adds another 30 minutes, but I decided to stick with the original this time.)) I started watching the miniseries produced by the SciFi Channel in 2000.

That’s a lot of sand.

In fact, it’s just under twenty-nine hours of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, the weirding way, the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, CHOAM, Fremen, carryalls, Shai-Hulud, Paul Muad’Dib and above all, the spice melange. If you add the time I spent poring through the Dune Wiki, I’m sure my total time invested in matters relating to the desert planet Arrakis is well over thirty hours.

Oops, almost forgot: I installed Emperor: Battle for Dune on my PC, too. Might as well tack on another two or three hours of playtime (so far) to that total.

So, how do the various iterations of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction masterpiece measure up against one another?

Frank Herbert's DuneLet’s start with the book: I’ve never finished it. Like Stephen King’s The Stand, the first volume of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and The Bible, ((NIV Study Version)) Dune is a book that I’ve started multiple times but have never managed to finish. In fact, I’ve got all six of Herbert’s original Dune novels in paperback but I’ve only ever read the first half of the first volume. I consider this an abyssmal failure on my part and it almost certainly reveals a fatal character flaw.

Fortunately, I’m of the opinion that listening to the unabridged audio version of a novel counts as reading it ((That assertion is certainly up for debate, but I already know which way I’ll cast my vote should the issue ever appear on the ballot, and there’s little anyone can say to sway me.)) and, as far as I can tell, the Audio Renaissance production is unabridged. Double-fortunately, Audio Renaissance has completed audio versions of at least three of Herbert’s original Dune novels and I’m told by very reliable sources ((The Internet.)) that the ultimate goal is to produce the entire series in audio format.

The Audio Renaissance production is twenty-two hours long, narrated by Scott Brick and features voice actors in many of the major roles. Unfortunately, the narrative switches back and forth at seemingly random intervals between the full cast and a solo performance by Brick. This was very distracting at first, but I was eventually able to ignore the transitions.

Dune (1984)My first exposure to Dune was David Lynch’s 1984 film, though I can’t remember exactly when I first saw it. Lynch, true to form, brings his twisted vision to the story of the desert planet, especially when it comes to the treacherous House Harkonnen. The bloated Baron Vladimir Harkonnen’s crippling disease takes on new dimensions under Lynch’s eye, as do his depraved appetites. Unfortunately, Lynch takes the wind out of Harkonnen’s nephew, Feyd-Rautha (memorably portrayed by a very buff Sting), omitting the na-Baron’s schemes to kill his uncle and seize control of the Great House.

Lynch also introduces “weirding modules”, new technology being used by House Atreides to create a secret army. This threat to the Emperor leads to another variation in Lynch’s story: a conspiracy between the Spacing Guild (who control all interplanetary commerce and travel) and the Emperor himself in which the Guild orders the Emperor to have Paul Atreides killed.

Despite the fact that Lynch’s Dune makes significant changes to Herbert’s original story, is chock full of clumsy exposition (mostly in the form of multiple voiceovers) and was a critical and commercial failure, the movie is really quite enjoyable, and its distinct visual style is so closely associated with the Dune universe that it was adopted by both Cryo Interactive and Westwood Studios for most of the Dune video games they produced. ((Cryo Interactive released the RTS Dune in 1992. Westwood Studios released a series of real-time simulation games: Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty—also known as Dune II: Battle for Arrakis—in 1992, Dune 2000 in 1998 and Emperor: Battle for Dune in 2001. Only Cryo Interactive’s 2001 3D action game, Frank Herbert’s Dune borrowed the visual style from another source: The SciFi Channel’s miniseries.))

Dune (2000)The SciFi Channel miniseries was written and directed by John Harrison and featured a largely unknown cast, with the primary exception being William Hurt as Duke Leto Atreides; Hurt was a big enough star that he got his name before the title: William Hurt in Frank Herbert’s Dune. I thought Hurt came across a little flat in his portrayal of the Duke, but I was pleased with most of the other performances, if not always with how the characters were written. Paul Atreides, for example comes across as a whiny, spoiled rich kid—with a haircut bad enough to rival Luke Skywalker’s disastrous coiff in the first Star Wars film—at the outset of the series, which (with the possible exception of the haircut) is not at all true to the novel.

From the design of the stillsuits and other costumes to the color of the spice itself, ((The Dune Wiki describes the spice melange as a “reddish-brown powder”, though I’m not sure whether that description originates in the novels or in Lynch’s film. The SciFi Channel miniseries depicts the spice as a green powder.)) the SciFi miniseries clearly wanted no visual resemblance to the 1984 movie. Usually, this worked very well, but some of the costumes (in particular the odd dorsal decoration on Feyd-Rautha’s jacket) verged on outlandish. I had a hard time taking the Sardaukar—the Emperor’s elite soldiers—seriously when they were all wearing large, floppy tam o’shanters; they looked like a squadron of goth Darby O’Gills wielding miniguns.

Storywise, I felt that the miniseries stayed fairly true to source material; certainly more so than did Lynch’s version. There were a number of unfortunate omissions, including the Atreides Mentat Thufir Hawat’s fate following the Harkonnen invasion of Arrakis, and the role of the Harkonnen’s twisted Mentat, Piter de Vries, was made all but insignificant, ((Brad Dourif was both creepy and funny as Piter in Lynch’s version, but he consistently mispronounced “landsraad”. On the other hand, he did recite the Mentat’s mantra, “It is by will alone I put my mind in motion…” which was excluded from the SciFi version, so I forgive him.)) but certainly the expanded format allowed for more of the original story to be preserved, especially in the Director’s Cut.

The Lynch version, on the other hand, is more fun to watch. It may not be the best choice to introduce the unitiatiated to Frank Herbert’s universe (Duniverse?), but the sheer, overblown, cheesy spectacle of the thing is enjoyable in and of itself.

Soon, there will be yet another version to add to the already expansive list. Peter Berg, director of The Rundown and the Will Smith reluctant-superhero movie, Hancock, is helming yet another film adaptation of Herbert’s novel. As of this writing, the details about this new version are scarce: only that Berg is directing and the film will likely be released sometime in 2010.

With just about any other novel I would probably say one adaptation is enough, but Dune is a special beast and I’m looking forward to yet another take on the universe. I’m interested to see what the stillsuits and the spice harvesters and the Guild heighliners will look like and whether they’ll finally cast someone who at least looks the right age (fifteen, at the start of the novel, eighteen or nineteen at the end) as Paul Atreides. And then there’s the matter of Chani, the Fremen woman who becomes Paul’s concubine. In 1984, she was played by Sean Young; in 2000 she was played by Czech actress Barbora Kodetová who is at the very least eleven times hotter than Sean Young (no slouch herself in the hotness department). I am interested to see if this elevation of relative hotness can continue. Very interested, indeed.

Bring it, Peter Berg. Show me what you can do. The spice must flow.

Bookstuff: Podiobooks in Print

Jack Wakes Up by Seth HarwoodI arrived home this evening to find a soggy package from Amazon.com on the front stoop. Fortunately, the cardboard box had not allowed any of the damnable rain to seep through and damage my copy of Seth Harwood‘s novel, Jack Wakes Up.

Harwood is the latest Podiobooks.com author to land a book deal and see his novel—which is still available for free in audio form at Podiobooks— in print. When the novel was released, March 16th was declared PALMS SUNDAY; Harwood’s fans (myself included) mobbed Amazon.com and pushed Jack Wakes Up to the top of the Mystery charts there.

From the back cover of Jack Wakes Up:

What does an action movie one-hit-wonder and ex-drug-addict do when he’s cleaned up, down on his luck, and running out of money?

In the three years since Jack Palms went clean—no drugs, no drinking, no life—he’s added fourteen pounds of muscle, read 83 books, and played it as straight as anyone can ask him. Now, when an old friend from L.A.calls, he hits the streets of San Francisco to help a group of Czech drug buyers make one big score, a single drug deal that he hopes will set him up for life.

But, when people start turning up dead, and an old nemesis on the police force calls, Jack finds himself with just 24 hours to track down San Francisco’s biggest drug supplier or face charges that will put him behind bars.

Only an Oscar-caliber performance will get him through this alive.

Infected by Scott SiglerThe next Podiobook to see print is Scott Sigler‘s Infected (originally titled Infection when released as a podcast novel, but changed in the print version for legal reasons). Sigler is the author of several other podcast novels, including EarthCore, Ancestor, The Rookie and Nocturnal. The last of these is—as of this writing—in progress, with Sigler releasing a new episode like clockwork every week even as he pimps the hell out of the April 1st release of Infected on Amazon.com. To quote a certain wizened old Jedi Master, “he’s more machine now than man; twisted and evil“.

How twisted is this guy? Well, he’s been putting audio versions of his novels out on the Interwebs for a couple of years now, and he’s somehow bamboozled his publisher into giving away the PDF version of Infected for free until Monday, March 31st! That’s right, if you’re not reading this from the far-flung future, you, too, can get the entire text of Infected at absolutely no cost. Nooooo! It’s the future! You’ve missed it! Go back! Go back!

Why in the name of sweet, money-lovin’, capitalism would Scott do such a thing? Because he’s not right in the head. Or maybe, just maybe, he thinks that if you like his stuff you’ll think it’s worth dropping a few bucks to get a shiny and oh-so-tangible print copy. He’s either a flaming lunatic or a freaking genius. Either way, download the PDF. What have you got to lose? Oh, and tell your friends to download the thing, too. Don’t just send them the PDF; that’s cheating, you bastard. Besides why should you make it that easy for your buddies? What have they done for you lately? They can click on the link just like you did. But tell them to do it by Monday, or they’ll be left with nothing but regrets and an empty feeling inside. Oops! Too late! The hour has passed, and that hollow feeling in your gut? Yeah, I tried to warn you about it. Now you’ll have to buy the book.

Are you still reading this? What’s that? You want a synopsis of the book before you download it for free? Fine, here you go:

Across America, a mysterious disease is turning ordinary people into raving, paranoid murderers who inflict brutal horrors on strangers, themselves, and even their own families.

Working under the government’s shroud of secrecy, CIA operative Dew Phillips crisscrosses the country trying in vain to capture a live victim. With only decomposing corpses for clues, CDC Epidemiologist Margaret Montoya races to analyze the science behind this deadly contagion. She discovers that these killers all have one thing in common — they’ve been contaminated by a bio-engineered parasite, shaped with a complexity far beyond the limits of known science.

Meanwhile Perry Dawsey — a hulking former football star now resigned to life as a cubicle-bound desk jockey — awakes one morning to find several mysterious welts growing on his body. Soon Perry finds himself acting and thinking strangely, hearing voices—he is infected.

The fate of the human race may well depend on the bloody war Perry must now wage with his own body, because the parasites want something from him, something that goes beyond mere murder.

What I’m Reading (February 2008 Edition)

Bloginatrix Lorelle van Fossen issued another of her blog challenges earlier this week: Blog about what you are reading, what you like to read, and why. I hesitated to take up the challenge because we’ve been talking about books and such a lot over at The Secret Lair, but then J.C. Hutchins took up the call and I thought I’d be a good little clone and follow suit.

What I’m Reading
Blood and Rust by S. A. SwiniarskiBlood and Rust by S.A. Swiniarski is actually two previously-published horror novels collected in one volume. Both stories are set in Cleveland, Ohio, but in different eras.

Raven, set in the present, is the story of a man who wakes up in a storm drain with no memory of how he got there or who he is. His investigation into the events leading up to his awakening reveal the horrible truth: somehow, in the last few days, he has become a vampire.

The Flesh, The Blood and The Fire is set in the late 1930s, after Safety Director Eliot Ness failed to capture the Cleveland Torso Murderer, a notorious serial killer who left more than a dozen decapitated, mutilated corpses in his wake. From the back cover text: …one Cleveland cop refused to give up the case. And his search led him down a bloody trail from the depths of the city’s shantytowns to the inner citadels of industrial power to the darkest parts of the human soul…

Swiniarski, who publishes science fiction novels under the name S. Andrew Swann, is a local author and Chris Miller (persuasive fellow that he is) talked me into buying Forests of the Night, the first book in Swann’s Moreau series (which now has four volumes) last winter. Looking at Swann’s bibliography, I realized that I’d read another of his books, The Dragons of the Cuyahoga, several years ago; so after finishing Forests of the Night I grabbed the sequel to Dragons: The Dwarves of Whiskey Island. Both were fun reads; enough so that I thought it might be worth giving his horror a try.

Spook Country by William GibsonSome people might consider this cheating, as I’m listening to Spook Country by William Gibson on CD, but I’m not going to argue the merits of listening to an unabridged audio production versus reading the actual text; I’m just going to enjoy the damn book.

The first Gibson novel I ever “read” was Virtual Light way back in the days when books on CD were a novelty but books on cassette were abundant at the local library and I was still driving a hand-me-down ’77 Mercury Marquis (ride-engineered by Lincoln-Mercury). My 30-minute commute to and from work was the perfect time to catch up on my reading, and I would go to the library check out any of the Recorded Books audiobooks if Frank Muller was the narrator. Unfortunately, Frank Muller was severely injured in a motorcycle accident several years ago and is no longer able to narrate; Spook Country is narrated by Robertson Dean. I’ve only listened to about 10 minutes of the first disc, so I can’t render even a partial review at this time, except to say that Dean seems like a good narrator.

Skein of Shadows by The Wandering MenSkein of Shadows by The Wandering Men is a book I’ve mentioned here before. At last year’s Con on the Cob I interviewed one of the authors, Brannon Hollingsworth, then pre-ordered a signed copy. The book arrived in the mail just before I went on The Great December Information Detoxification and I had every intention of reading it while on my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As usual, I managed to get distracted by a host of other stuff and I find myself just over halfway through the book.

Skein of Shadows is five short works, each by a different author, that tell a single story. I really enjoyed “Vendetta”, “Fiend Fighter” and “Seaborn Sentinel” (by Nathan Ellsworth, Davis Riddle and Brannon Hall, respectively), but “The Bonds That Bind Us” by Corey Blankenship feels disconnected and has really slowed me down, to the point where I don’t look forward to picking the book up and continuing where I left off. This is unfortunate, because I’m very curious about the final story in the book, Brannon Hollingsworth’s “Tenet’s Tale”.

I Am America (And So Can You!)I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert is one of those rare books—along with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction—for which I’ll break my “no hardcovers” rule; the books just work better as hardcovers. Plus it was a Christmas gift.

I Am America is one of those books that can easily be read in little bits over the course of a few months, which is exactly what I’ve been doing. The humor is an extension of what Colbert does Monday through Thursday on The Colbert Report, complete with margin notes that duplicate the ironic bullet points on “The Wørd”.

What I Like To Read (and Why)

  • Science Fiction – No surprise there. As a child of Star Wars I tend to prefer the more fantastical sci-fi to the hard stuff. I’m in the definite majority minority of people who prefer Kevin J. Anderson’s Star Wars novels to those written by Timothy Zahn. Speaking of Anderson, I also like the Dune stuff he’s written with Brian Herbert, which is probably cause for the hardcore Frank Herbert fans to burn me as a heretic.
  • Fantasy – Again, this isn’t a big shocker. I think the first fantasy novel I read was Azure Bonds by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb, which I picked up thinking it would help me beat The Curse of the Azure Bonds game for my Apple //GS. No such luck. Not long after that I started reading the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series also falls into this category, as do the Harry Potter novels, which I loved to the last (more than I can say about Dark Tower, unfortunately).
  • Mystery/Thriller – It’s probably not fair to lump these two genres together into one, but when you’re writing your own list you should feel more than free to separate them. I read plenty of Agatha Christie (and before that Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon) in my youth, but I don’t read much in the way of pure mystery anymore. Instead, I go for stuff like the Agent Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
  • Horror – I read plenty of Stephen King, Robin Cook and Dean Koontz in my post-adolescent years, and I do enjoy a good vampire novel now and again (though most of those probably fall into the Fantasy genre). I read most of a Lovecraft short story collection last year, but H.P. can be a difficult slog.
  • Non-Fiction – Every once in a while I pick up a random non-fiction tome, such as Holley Bishop’s Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey—The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World or Daniel Schorr’s Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism. Come to think of it, NPR seems to drive a lot of my non-fiction reading.
  • Chuck Palahniuk – I have no idea what genre this guy writes in, but I love it.

You can always see what I’m reading (as well as what I plan to read and what I’ve recently read) over at GoodReads.com.