THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Surreal

This is the second of the two Dirk Gently books written by Douglas Adams, my time-twin except he’s dead and I’m not. Yet.  It’s an audiobook and it was written by Douglas Adams and is narrated by him, too.

There are not many of these original books written and narrated by the late, great Douglas Adams. There were original versions of all of his “Hitchhiker” books with him as the narrator, but no one has them anymore. It’s a pity because no one narrated Douglas Adams as well as Douglas Adams. He was, among other things, one of the Goon Show people and did a lot of work for the BBC. He also tended to do at least a small amount of editing and moving about of characters when he read. After all, who knew his books better than he did?

Of the many books Adams’ wrote, this is my all-time favorite. I start to cackle at the opening lines:

By Douglas Adams

I keep chortling, cackling, laughing all the way through. It’s not merely funny. It’s surreal and funny. It’s outlandish and funny. It’s bizarrely and weirdly true — and still funny.

Garry has never read the books, or rather he took a pass at “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but he didn’t get it. But he is definitely getting this. I did have to slow it down to 75% because Douglas Adams talks very fast and Garry doesn’t hear very fast.

Yes, you can read this in words and it is still funny, surreal, witty, and wonderful. To hear the author read it himself is special. The thing is, Adams wrote for radio.

This is part two of a series (it might be a series of three since “A Salmon of Doubt” was supposed to be Part I but somehow isn’t, exactly). It stands by itself and you don’t need to read the books in order.

Author: Douglas Adams

He worked with sound. Most of his material sounds beautiful to one’s ears. It’s an almost perfect counterpoint for the dreariness of current reality.

If by some chance you haven’t really read or listened to Douglas Adams — and especially if the world is getting to you (it certainly is getting to me!) — this will lighten the load. A little bit. A tingle.

A touch of the joy of a world we need to recover.

EARLY RISER – A NEW NOVEL BY JASPER FFORDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Early Riser
A Novel – By Jasper Fforde



In Audible. I have it in hardcover too.
I’ve read it and listened to it.
Narrated by Thomas Hunt
Length: 15 hrs and 16 mins

Jasper Fforde has written some of the funniest books I’ve ever read. You know, the kind of book you read in bed, but you are laughing so hard it makes your partner wake up and irritably ask what the hell you are laughing at?

This book has moments of humor and once in a while, a chuckle. There’s no hilarity, however. Overall, there’s a seriousness to this story that none of his other books have had. This isn’t so much humor as it is a warning about where our climate is going and who is running our world. I don’t know which is more terrifying: the obvious sub-arctic winters in Scotland … or the death grip the mighty “pharma” company has on all humankind.

There are fighters against big pharma and the corporate grip the company holds over everyone. For reasons you will have to read the book to understand, it isn’t easy to figure out who is the good guy or who is the bad guy. There’s not “history” about how the world got to this place, but if you have been reading even the headlines, it isn’t hard to put it together.

This is science fiction, except … it’s not all that far-fetched. Sometimes, I found myself not merely listening to the story but worrying if this is just a story or this is the real future history of my Earth — unless we DO something about it. Like … NOW.

Of course, it’s beautifully written because everything Jasper Fforde has written is wonderful, though I still am in love with Thursday Next.

I do recommend this book very highly, but I have to warn you — it isn’t like his other books. It isn’t hilarious and sometimes, it’s pretty serious. But he’s telling us a story that I think we need to think about … while being well-entertained. Just so you know, this does take place in the future, so it actually is science fiction. Not your usual sci-fi, however.

Is this science fiction or is it our science future? I think you will have to decide for yourself.


I have mixed emotions about the narrator. He was good … but I think I’d have preferred a deeper voice? Or maybe I’m just being overly picky.

NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY – JODI TAYLOR AND THE CHRONICLE OF ST. MARY’S

Yesterday, January 2, 2018, was NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY


It was another day too, including National Cream Puff day, but I’m much more interested in science fiction. So I’d like to talk about Jodi Taylor, author of a series called “The Chronicles of St Mary’s,” a school which isn’t a school where all the historians are time travelers. Never have I found time travel so much fun as I have found in all of Jodi Taylor’s books.

Just One Damned Thing After Another cover art
Book 1

There have been nine full length books and a bunch of short stories too, many of which are free. All of them also available as audiobooks. It’s actually less expensive to buy the Amazon Kindle version and get the audiobook for a couple of dollars than to buy the audiobook by itself, by the way. But I don’t care: I’d have bought them full price too.

The Long and the Short of It cover art
Book 9

The books are funny. Not in a slapstick, stupid way, but with intelligence and lots of historic detail. I’ve learned a lot of history from these books. Lots of cool details I never read in more “serious” history books. And oh how I have laughed!

It’s hard to find good science fiction that’s funny without being dumb, but this is it. There’s also drama and violence, a bit of sex and sometimes, death. But mostly, the books are a great deal of fun. Extremely British, witty, and smart. AND well researched. If you like time travel, you cannot go wrong with any of these. They are great.

They are all available from Amazon and pretty much on every continent and also on Audible.com. Super highly recommended!

“SCYTHE” BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN – ARC OF A SCYTHE, BOOK 1

Scythe By: Neal Shusterman

Audiobook narrated by: Greg Tremblay
Book 1: Arc of a Scythe

Every day, Audible.com (part of the Amazon group), offers one book at a huge discount. Often it’s an older book or a classic which, if I missed it along the way, I may buy. Sometimes, I read it years ago, so listening to it in Audio can be a treat … like a movie with all the “action” in my own head. More often, it will be the first book in a series. Pay a few dollars for the audiobook, get hooked, and then you will buy the rest of them. I’ve gotten into a lot of really good series this way and I like it because I run out of books rather more often than I would like. Also, as the years have gone on, I’ve gotten pickier about what I want to read. The world has gotten so outrageous and kind of terrible, I’m looking not for great literature, but for entertainment. If it is going to inform me, it is also going to amuse me or I simply won’t read it.

Scythe is Neal Shusterman’s first entry into a series called, as it turns out, “Arc of a Scythe” and it’s about (you guessed it) the guys who go out and kill people for a living. Humankind, in this world, has perfected medicine. No one dies of disease or disaster. Whatever happens to you — including having your spine snapped or falling off a 120 story building — they can fix you. People age, but very slowly.

No one has to work particularly hard because a giant computer — the Monsterhead (it was a cloud, but it grew to godlike proportions) has taken over the care, feeding, and entire management of the human race. Also mankind was feeling a bit hinky about it in the beginning, the giant computer has been a pretty good god … rather a lot better than the old-fashioned ones from “The Old Days.”

But death … that was a problem. What with medicine having been perfected and no one dying of disease or age or accident, something needed to be done to keep the population in check.

And so a group of men and women were created to take care of this problem. Monsterhead — as a machine — did not feel equipped to handle killing people. He — or really “it” — felt this was a human job for humans to manage. The Scythes were born. A set of rules was created and people were scythed as needed. There wasn’t any particular reason for the reaping. Crime was gone because no one had any reason to be a criminal. Sometimes people who behaved dangerously or just badly were reaped because they were the kind of people who would have done themselves in anyway. More often, it was just … your turn. No reason, but your file came up and a Scythe came to your house and done you in. Quickly, with no fuss or mess.

Even in the most perfect of scheme, the can be “issues” and the Scythes are not perfect. They are Scythes now, but they were people first and a few of them are perhaps “over-eager” and enjoy killing too much. Some of them, in a need to make themselves eve more godlike than they already are — which is pretty godlike — grant too many favors. Reprieves, given for a year or sometimes forever for families of the Scythes themselves.

Being a Scythe is a powerful position not only because it brings death, but also because Scythes have essentially unlimited wealth to go with their power — and therein lies the rub.

This has turned out to be an interesting story and a pretty good mystery. I wasn’t expecting much. I love science fiction and fantasy, but so much of the newer material is the same old stuff. Tired old plots and tired old characters. This is something new and a little different. The plot is a standard mystery of who killed who and I’ve seen it before on a lot of cop shows over the years. But the setting is quite different and the world in which it is happening is nicely unique. I’m also glad it’s a series. Many of my favorite series seem to have run out and I’ve been looking for something new.

This is new. It’s nicely ghoulish, a tiny bit sexy (not much — don’t go looking for the hot parts because there aren’t any), and the world creation is not absolutely original, but pretty close. Actually, it reminds me somewhat of the world in “City” … but it takes place entirely on earth.

If you are intrigued by the idea of a horde of reaping Scythes as the wild card that will send you to whatever may lie on the other side, this is a good one. Well written, nicely narrated too. Available as a hardcover book from Amazon and probably other booksellers as well. A nice, well-written fantasy. No magic … just really super advanced computers which might just as well be magic.

Because:


British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three adages known as Clarke’s Three Laws:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

 

TOM STRANGER: INTERDIMENSIONAL INSURANCE AGENT by LARRY CORREIA

“What’s that?” you cry. “What’s an interdimensional insurance agent and who is Tom Stranger?”

From the official blurb on Audible. com:

“Have you ever seen a planet invaded by rampaging space mutants from another dimension or Nazi dinosaurs from the future? Don’t let this happen to you! Rifts happen, so you should be ready when universes collide. A policy with Stranger & Stranger can cover all of your interdimensional insurance needs. Rated “Number One in Customer Satisfaction” for three years running, no claim is too big or too weird for Tom Stranger to handle. 

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent – by: Larry Correia Narrated by: Adam Baldwin

If you like funny science fiction, this was one of the funniest things I’ve ever listened to. It was obviously written for audio. The author is part of the story, as is the narrator (Adam Baldwin).

tom stranger

If you like science fiction and you’ve got a weird sense of humor, this is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s just over 2 hours long. I probably will listen to it at least twice, just to pick up on all the humor and wit. It makes fun of science fiction as a genre, and sci fi writers. It also does a great take-down on insurance companies, their agents, and customer service as well as those people who won’t stop calling and trying to sell you something.

As a side note, we’ve been getting a deluge of calls from a company that comes up on Caller ID as “Burial Insurance” … so maybe they know something we don’t know? Or maybe it’s TOM STRANGER!

THE FAR ARENA ON AUDIBLE.COM

“The Far Arena” by Richard Ben Sapir. Narrated by Peter Noble.

This great book is finally available again in print as well as on Kindle and as an Audiobook from Audible.com. Thirty-six years after I first read it, you can buy it again. Now that I’ve listened to it for the first time (as opposed to reading it), it is not only as good as I remember. It is better.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, which is a catch-all term for all the books that can’t be otherwise categorized. Time travel? Sort of, although the only “mechanism” is time itself.

The Coliseum at Pompeii


The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil not far from the arctic. He is subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of our modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 2000 years earlier.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. This isn’t a quick piece of dialogue in a long book about “other things.” The discussion of “what is slavery” is an underlying theme throughout the book along with “the corruption of giant corporations” which apparently has not noticeably changed between the days of the Roman Empire and today.

Although I had read the book several times, I had never listened to it. I wasn’t intending to listen to the whole thing. I just wanted a little taste. I have a giant heap of books I have promised to read and I thought “I’ll give a little listen” and come back to finish it when I have more time.

I had forgotten how good the book really is. It has been a long time since I picked up a book and was sucked in from the first paragraph until the very end … and was still wishing there would be more. It gave me a sharp pang, realizing how few really great books I read these days. How many are touted as great, but reading them, they are no better than ordinary and often far less.

Written by: Richard Ben Sapir
Narrated by: Peter Noble
Length: 18 hrs and 44 mins
Unabridged: Audiobook

Not only was Richard Ben Sapir a brilliant writer, but Peter Noble is a terrific narrator. He handles dialects with ease and give the book the intensity it deserves. Never over the top, never too dramatic, he is as perfect as a narrator could be. And considering how much I love the book, I’m surprised to find myself saying it.

I had a lot of trouble not restarting the book from the beginning and giving it a round 2, just in case I missed a paragraph somewhere. What is really eerie is how the main character, drawn into modern times following 2000 years of cryogenic sleep, understand this world better than the people he meets in 20th century Europe.

The man from Rome understands corruption. He understands slavery, whatever we choose to call it. He knows that the rich and powerful will never support the poor and will always do what is to their benefit.

It is a level of cynicism which sharply focuses the lens of 2017.

Great Quotes to Ponder

“I am old. I should have left before. Any fool can ride the chariots of victory. It takes judgement to get off at the right time.” 

“We are all the children of Rome, without knowing it. Our months are called after Roman emperors or gods, our summer is July and August, named after Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar. When you people scream fascist at us, you are referring to the rods of authority called fasces by the Romans. The idea of law written down and to be observed equally comes to us from the Romans, and our alphabet comes to us exactly from the Roman. From plumbing to the idea that surrounding someone in battle gives victory, Rome gave them to us. Rome is our common, civilized roots, so deep that many of us in the West do not even realize it unless we are educated to it. Rome is our intellectual father, and we have been living off its remnants for two thousand years.”

“Honesty is too strong a drink to be unwatered all the time; rather it should be given in doses.” 

“The authorities? The authorities?” I laughed. “Why is it people think the authorities are some form of gods with either great justice or great, cunning evil, rather than the same plodding fools they see in their daily lives, and most of all in their mirrors?” 

“Woman, so often you have said that even in the darkest night there still exists a sunlight so bright we cannot look at it. Now if this is so, somewhere in this bright day is a night so dark the terrors know no bounds. So let us not be so happy.” 

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM STRANGER, INTERDIMENSIONAL INSURANCE AGENT

“What’s that?” you cry. “What’s an interdimensional insurance agent and who is Tom Stranger?”

From the official blurb on Audible. com:

“Have you ever seen a planet invaded by rampaging space mutants from another dimension or Nazi dinosaurs from the future? Don’t let this happen to you! Rifts happen, so you should be ready when universes collide. A policy with Stranger & Stranger can cover all of your interdimensional insurance needs. Rated “Number One in Customer Satisfaction” for three years running, no claim is too big or too weird for Tom Stranger to handle. The Adventures of Tom Stranger is free until June 21, 2016.”

I don’t work for Audible, so all I can tell you is that this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever listened to in my listening life. It was obviously written for audio. The author is part of the story as is the narrator (Adam Baldwin).

tom stranger

If you like science fiction and you’ve got a weird sense of humor, this is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s just over 2 hours long. I probably will listen to it at least twice, just to pick up on all the humor and wit. It makes fun of science fiction as a genre, and sci fi writers. It also does a great take-down on insurance companies, their agents, and customer service as well as those people who won’t stop calling and trying to sell you something.

As a side note, we’ve been getting a deluge of calls from a company that comes up on Caller ID as “Burial Insurance” … so maybe they know something we don’t know? Or maybe it’s TOM STRANGER!

The price (free) is right. It’s also available on from Amazon. It won’t be free after June 21st, so grab a copy while you can. It’s really very good and hilarious.