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The Bitter Guide to Science Fiction

And it's all verbal.

Justin Mohareb
June 25, 2001
 
Greetings, Bitterites!

I now bring you to an all audio Bitter Guide. This month, I have selected a variety of books on tape for your edification and aural pleasure.

Now, books on tape might seem like a good idea, but they aren't. You either listen to them in the car, which brings you that much closer to a fatal collision, or you listen to them at home, which is not conducive for me to listen to. I end up sitting there, trying to listen to them and twitching like the fat cowboy in the video for Rockafeller Skank.

So, I choose to bring myself that much closer to a fiery death in order to fulfill my pledge to make your lives that much better. Thanks will be accepted in the form of cash, or mudslides.

Let me start, then, with Kingdom Come .. Like all but one of this month's selections, I haven't read the book this is based on. I have read the comic the book this is based on was based on, but that's neither here nor there. I will say that Elliot S. Maggin is a great writer of Superheroic fiction, having written the two seminal Superman novels (Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday), as opposed to the seminal Superman essay, Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, which was written by Larry Niven. But I digress.

Kingdom Come, if you spent much of the past 4 years outside of the confines of your local comic shop, is a story set several decades in advance of whatever DC is using for their current continuity. In it, Superman and many of his cronies have retired, allowing a new generation of heroes to take over. They promptly trash the place, following the age old rule of trash the place when your parents are away.

The story is narrated by Norman McKay, an aged pastor who sees in the return of Superman and the Justice League the foreshadowing of the Apocalypse. Normally, you'd dismiss this kind of attitude as deluded ravings, if it weren't for the fact he's got an angel guiding him through the whole event.

Kingdom Come is a lush adaption, with a cast of dozens, including not a few DC comics staff. It kicks ass and takes names. It tells the story well (I really have to buy myself a copy of issue #4 of Kingdom Come someday), and even includes the epilogue.

Starship Troopersis the one book on tape I did read previously. It's an unabridged version, so there's nothing that has been removed.

Oh, Lord, but they could have. Surely SOMETHING in there could have been sacrificed in the name of abridgment. The presentation is 9.45 hours long. That, my friends, is a lot of brain time. 9.45 hours long, on 7 tapes. 9.45 hours of listening to Narrator and voice actor George Wilson, the sole voice in the production.

Thankfully, female voices are minimal, while there's a panapoly of men's voices. Wilson does his best, but there's only so many ways one guy can imitate dozens of troopers, officers, training sergeants, and Bahstan accent having parental types (I will say this; I wasn't aware that Daddy Rico was a Kennedy before I listened to this). The effort is valiant, and the result is enjoyable. But long.

Dear God. 9 hours and 45 minutes. Do you know how many trips to deliver the wife to work that is? A lot.

Now, here's my great shame: Star Trek: Spock VS. Q : An Alien Voices Production. Alien Voices is apparently a co-production by Leonard Nimoy (Spock) & John DeLancie (Q). They work together to produce audio adaptations of classic SF books (Wells & Verne & Doyle, Oh My!). Of course, that don't pay the rent, so they had to go back to the Star Trek well to... Well, to make money, I assume.

The concept behind this little uber-geek version of Waiting for Godot is that Spock travels back in time to warn the 20th century of impending disaster, but Q won't let him, so Spock has to trick Q into saving the planet.

Apparently, the tape was made at an SF convention of some kind; the audience hoots and chuckles at whatever they find amusing.

There also seems to be at least one howler monkey in the crowd, who chatters at any use of vowels.

Example:

Leonard Nimoy. "I"

Howler Monkey: "Screech screech, howl howl."

Leonard Nimoy: "think"

Howler Monkey: "Screech screech, howl howl."

Repeat that for about half an hour, until the zookeepers show up with the tranq guns.

Of course, in a dramatic situation like this, you have to depend on the actors having engaging enough characters to make you want to listen to them. I'm not one of the fans who'll sit down and listen to either of these guys reading the phone book. Listening to them them play silly riddle games in order to decide the fate of the planet may help pass an hour of traveling time, but I'm glad I didn't lay out $20 for this thing.

The needless use of anachronism for humour (Spock: "I believe the current reaction to such a statement would be 'don't go there, girlfriend') doesn't help much, either. Overall, if you're a diehard trekkie, and you have to choose between self inflicted genital mutilation or listening to this tape, it's a fine listen.

The next pair of audio books are a set, written by Timothy Zahn as an ending of sorts to the Star Wars setting begun by his Heir to the Empire trilogy.

Now, like every geek birthed in the heady days between 1950 & 1975, I recall with glee hearing that there would be novelizations of the Star Wars setting. It had been, what, 8 years since The Return of the Jedi, and while we were hanging in there, there's only so many times you can rewatch The Empire Strikes Back.

Zahn's Heir to the Empire books were like a glass of lemonade after a long desert trip; refreshing, but fairly bitter. I mean, once again anachronism raised its ugly head (hot chocolate? For SHAME, sir!). As well, certain elements of his style were somewhat jarring (he said sardonically).

And lightsabers do NOT open with a snap hiss. It's a click thrumm.

Spectre of the Past is the first book in the double set; performed by Anthony Heald, who you may know as the Vice Principle on Boston Public, it tells of a race between elements of the Empire to find either peace or war with the New Republic. The story is interesting, and Zahn's writing is much closer to Star Wars than in his first efforts.

The one problem is that the main plot requires everyone in the galaxy (yes, every single person) to be Very Stupid. Basically, the Bothans, those hairy little fly guy spy guys, are accused of having done something to abet the Caamas Genocide. I don't really recall why this is considered to be a bad thing; I think the citizens of Caamas gave really good back rubs and made an awesome martini.

But what I'm wondering is, why does everyone in the galaxy decide that the entirety of the Bothan population needs a galacto-smackdown? I mean, it's entirely likely that there were a half dozen Bothans involved with it, so the reaction of the races of the New Republic is just total overkill. It's like every starfaring race in the galaxy shows up at Bothos to drop rocks on them. "You bastards! You killed Kenny!"

There's also a thrillingly lame subplot where Grand Admiral Thrawn, the greatest grand admiral in the empire, shows up. Ohhhh. Whoops, no. That was the main plot. This is a case of "author loves personal character, insists on using it even though character is boring".

These books have a huge advantage over other audio books; they have "Original Star Wars (r) music and sound effects"! Once again, Ohhhh. Lemme tell you, nothing jars more than a second-rate, bootleg rendition of "the sound TIE Fighters make when they go by" to ruin a perfectly good recording.

The sequel, Vision of the Future, is also okay. And the end presages Luke Skywalker finally getting laid, which can only be a good thing (hey, anyone remember that scene from the John Ritter flick Skin Deep, with the glow in the dark rubbers? That was funny).

But what I'd really like to talk about is Anthony Heald. Now, I've never met the man. I'm sure, like every other actor, he's a fine man who donates to charity and gets his taxes in on time.

But wasn't he creepy in The Silence Of The Lambs? For those of you not keeping track at home, he played Dr. Chilton, the head of the Baltimore nuthouse where Hannibal the Cannibal was stored, like a plot device ready to explode into action. I, of course, felt their attempts to keep Hannibal incarcerated were futile, as no matter what they did, he'd just chew his way through the scenery (rimshot).

Anyway, Heald played Dr. Chilton. And he was sooooooo creepy. The way he hit on Starling? Ouch. You kind of felt sorry for him at the end of the movie, where H-Dog is closing in for a snack, but only a little. I wonder how much you gotta cook something that slimy to make it palatable. And what the hell kind of come on line is "Baltimore can be quite a fun town"? I mean, that's only slightly above "If I tell you you've got a great body, will you hold it against me?"

Hell, I think he'd have had better luck if he'd said "so, now that you've spent a while with the nutbar, what do you say we go back to my office, you wipe that semen off your face, and I try to psychoanalyze your panties?" But I don't suggest you try that yourself; it's kind of limited in the situations where it's useful.

Of course, it can't help that when he smiles, I see a snake. That, and when he does the female characters, he does this more than creepy falsetto. I shudder to think of it.

Feh. Books on tape. What a wonderful idea they seem. What a horrid reality they are.

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What do you think?

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All Bitter Guides to Science Fiction by Justin Mohareb

Ha ha! I lied! #1-7 are up at his site, and I haven't added a link yet. Here are his most recent, though.

  • Because it's been too long January 15, 2002
  • It's the Bitter Guide! Now MSG free! September 19, 2001
  • And it's all verbal June 25, 2001
  • The official, Millenial, Party-licious Wes Smiderle Bitter Guide (with a sprinkling of Buffy and little chocolate toppings) April 4, 2001
  • The Bitter Guide: Pants Optional November 16, 2000
  • Not Suitable for Pregnant Women or People with High Blood Pressure August 31, 2000
  • Saludos, Amigos, a bitter greeting to you! May 4, 2000
  • I am the Bitter Guy! Watch Iron Chef!, April 7, 2000
  • The Bitter Guide to Books I Couldn't Finish, January 14, 2000, plus special bonus The Bitter Guide to the new Moe-llennium
  • Squirrels Eat Parsley, Yum!, December 6, 1999
  • Second Anniversaries and Weddings, June 29, 1999
  • Begin Witty and Trenchant rantery, April 13, 1999
  • #10 November 24, 1999
  • #9 September 29, 1998
  • #8 July 28, 1998

    Other columns at RPGnet

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