Friday, February 26, 2010

Librivox needs your help

For the first time, Librivox is asking for donations. It is a finite fundraiser, i.e. they wish to raise $20,000 for some specific upgrades. Information is below. If you are a fan of Librivox, please consider sending them something to let them know you support them. Here is the letter from Hugh, creator of Librivox.

Dearest LibriVox listeners, volunteers, & supporters:

For four-and-a-half years, LibriVox volunteers have been making audiobooks for the world to enjoy, and giving them away for free. We’ve made thousands of free audiobooks that have been downloaded by millions of people; our site gets 400,000 visitors every month. To date, all our costs have been borne by a few individuals, with some generous donations and support from partners. However, these costs have become too big.

For the first time (and hopefully for the last time for at least another four-and-a-half years) we're asking for your support, for a $20,000 fund-raising campaign.

Find out more about why we are raising money, and about how you can donate by following this link:

Thanks for all your wonderful work over the years, and here's to many many more free public domain audio books.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Destroyermen: Into the Storm - Review had a $4.95 sale on the first book of several series, one of which was Into the Storm: Destroyermen, Book I by Taylor Anderson, an Alternative History novel in which a WWI vintage destroyer, out of date and running from the Japanese in the early days of the WWII Pacific theater, gets sucked into an alternative world which is physically the same as the one they left, but on which different life forms have evolved.

While interesting, what really caught my eye, from the publisher's description was that, on this version of earth, two different intelligences had evolved and are at war, the humans "have the means to turn a primitive war into a genocidal Armageddon, one thing becomes clear: They must decide whose side they're on. Because whoever they choose to side with is the winner."

The book is solidly, if unexceptionally, written. As the destroyer is part of a fleet that is trying to escape the Japanese, a chance is had for the ship to pick up some additional people, besides the crew. There are a couple of pilots (gotta be able to fly on the alternate world), some nurses (gotta have some women), and an Australian jack-of-all-trades scientist (who can be knowledgeable and/or ignorant, as needed.) They even rescue a Japanese sailor who got sucked through the squall into this world along with them. A Japanese sailor on a US Navy ship, now that's conflict! (Fortunately, he was educated in the US, speaks English, and wasn't too gung-ho about the Pearl Harbor attack. Wouldn't want to have to actually deal with conflicting viewpoints.) While these are fairly formulaic, they are not hard to swallow in the context of making the cast of characters more interesting, and creating some potential plot conflicts.

The battle descriptions are very good. The ship's abilities are discussed, and the battle tactics are described, well, but without so much jargon that it becomes incomprehensible. The captain, whose viewpoint rightly dominates the book, is a reasonably interesting character. Most of the other characters are right out of central casting.

My problems with the books start to appear as the crew meets the first alien (to them) race, one descended from lemurs. I was looking forward to the ethical dilemma of choosing sides, but this dilemma disappears almost immediately, as these nice furry people are under attack by a race descended from raptors, who have no redeeming social qualities, and also have big teeth. While a paragraph or two is spent on the captain hemming and hawing over stepping in, he quickly decides to help the beleaguered "cat-monkeys" and the dilemma is over before it has a chance to begin.

I was also annoyed by the fact that this alternate world was supposed to be as old as the earth, and yet the races on it are far behind humans in technology. No explanation is given as to why they are so far behind, it just makes for a better story.

The book moves along well enough that until it is an enjoyable read/listen, but afterward I realized that it was mostly a waste.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Possibly the best part of the new Holmes movie

The kids and I the new Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie at Christmas, and it was fun. Not great, but a lot of fun. RDJ was quite unconvincing as Holmes, but Jude Law was an excellent Watson, the sets were wonderful, and the movie was a lot of fun. But this post isn't about the movie.

One of the side effects of the studio pumping millions into promoting "Sherlock Holmes" is that a number of other products piggybacked on that advertising.

The Sherlock Holmes Collection is a collection of episodes from a 60's series that I had not heard of before. It stars Peter Cushing, who was a very respectable Holmes in Hammer Films' Hound of the Baskervilles, and does a very good job here also. Nigel Stock is a bit old for Watson (the influence of the Nigel Bruce portrayal, one supposes) but handles the character well.

Another excellent BBC series that was released this fall was The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Set 1 (Set 2 will be available in April). This early 70's series presents stories based on stories of other contemporary detectives, such as Martin Hewitt, Max Carrados and Dr. Thorndyke, and has a number of actors that we saw much more of later, such as Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons and John Neville. For a mystery fan like me, this is a gold mine!

For a nice range of Holmes movies at a reasonable price, The Sherlock Holmes Collection has three solid movies, the Hammer Hound of the Baskervilles, the excellent, Billy Wilder directed Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and the hilarious Without a Clue with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley.

TCM showed the restored version of the 1922 silent Sherlock Holmes, based on the William Gillette play, and this version should be available soon for hardcore Sherlockians like me.

With the Holmes books in the public domain, Barnes & Noble and Amazon have new editions available for a reasonable price, including several versions for the Kindle. My favorite new edition of a Holmes book has to be Hard Case Crime's version of The Valley of Fear (cover shot below) which it lists as by "A. C. Doyle", and is "Based on a True Story", which is true, if a bit stretched. I am pretty sure that I don't remember "The Bodymaster" my previous readings of the novel. (You have to love the subtle placement of the "V"!)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Audiobook update

Well, it has been a busy month for me, recording wise. I finished recording Jules Verne's Dr. Ox's Experiment, and I am about 2/3 of the way through with Fantomas. You can connect to these through my audiobook page.

I have uploaded a couple more chapter of Sweeney Todd to my Penny Dreadful podcast.

I wanted to make it easier for people to sort through the many excellent mystery audiobooks that Librivox has to offer, so I have created a Librivox Mystery Bookshelf. This site sorts the various books by their time period and/or style. It also shows books that are recommended reading according to a couple of excellent sources. It was a fun project to work on, but took some serious time to create the 400+ links.

In all a productive month.