Archive for September, 2008

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Twenty-five years before we had William Gibson and “cyberpunk,” we had Philip K. Dick, and if nothing else, this work proves that he was way ahead of his time and that his successors in the genre have done little to build upon his ideas or surpass his vision. In Flow My Tears, we are shown a near-future society transformed to a neo-fascistic police state. Jason Taverner, a pop superstar, finds himself one day without an identity: his friends and lovers don’t recognize or remember him and his music and TV shows are unknown. Most significantly, perhaps, he does not have the precious ID cards without which he cannot safely travel more than a few blocks without being waylaid by police and sent into a forced labor camp. Taverner must contend with a rogue’s gallery of bizarre and memorable characters to discover how his identity was lost and attempt to recover it. Sometimes Dick’s writing is clunky – it is as if ten words at random were removed from the paragraph, and the reader is left slightly uneasy, but this may contribute to the book’s strong mood of paranoia. A touch of psychedelia a la Burroughs compounds this effect. Luckily for the reader, unlike in many of Burroughs’s works, there actually is a story here. And the characterizations are excellent. Unfortunately, however, somewhere towards the ending, Dick breaks down. The book ends quickly and crudely, like a field amputation given by a half-trained medic in the middle of a battle. In addition, there are allusions to Jung, Renaissance poetry, and several other thinkers or artistic movements which obviously influenced Dick, but I feel that he could have done more to develop these references and themes. All in all, though it is a prescient and moving work and one that should be enjoyable to any science-fiction fans.

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The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
From “Rocket Summer” to “The Million-Year Picnic,” Ray Bradbury’s stories of the colonization of Mars form an eerie mesh of past and future. Written in the 1940s, the chronicles drip with nostalgic atmosphere–shady porches with tinkling pitchers of lemonade, grandfather clocks, chintz-covered sofas. But longing for this comfortable past proves dangerous in every way to Bradbury’s characters–the golden-eyed Martians as well as the humans. Starting in the far-flung future of 1999, expedition after expedition leaves Earth to investigate Mars. The Martians guard their mysteries well, but they are decimated by the diseases that arrive with the rockets. Colonists appear, most with ideas no more lofty than starting a hot-dog stand, and with no respect for the culture they’ve displaced. Bradbury’s quiet exploration of a future that looks so much like the past is sprinkled with lighter material. In “The Silent Towns,” the last man on Mars hears the phone ring and ends up on a comical blind date. But in most of these stories, Bradbury holds up a mirror to humanity that reflects a shameful treatment of “the other,” yielding, time after time, a harvest of loneliness and isolation. Yet the collection ends with hope for renewal, as a colonist family turns away from the demise of the Earth towards a new future on Mars. Bradbury is a master fantasist and The Martian Chronicles are an unforgettable work of art. –Blaise Selby

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Watership Down by Richard Adams (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon review
Despite the fact that it’s often a hard sell at first, Richard Adams’ bunny-centric epic rarely fails to win the love and respect of anyone who reads it, regardless of age. Like most great novels, Watership Down is a rich story that can be read (and reread) on many different levels. The book is often praised as an allegory, with its analogues between human and rabbit culture (a fact sometimes used to goad skeptical teens, who resent the challenge that they won’t “get” it, into reading it), but it’s equally praiseworthy as just a corking good adventure.

The story follows a warren of Berkshire rabbits fleeing the destruction of their home by a land developer. As they search for a safe haven, skirting danger at every turn, we become acquainted with the band and its compelling culture and mythos. Adams has crafted a touching, involving world in the dirt and scrub of the English countryside, complete with its own folk history and language.As much about freedom, ethics and human nature as it is about a bunch of bunnies looking for a warm hidey-hole and some mates, Watership Down will continue to make the transition from classroom desk to bedside table for many generations to come.

Fiver could sense danger. Something terrible was going to happen to the warren – he felt sure of it. So did his brother Hazel, for Fiver’s sixth sense was never wrong. They had to leave immediately, and they had to persuade the other rabbits to join them. And so begins a long and perilous journey of a small band of rabbits in search of a safe home. Fiver’s vision finally leads them to Watership Down, but here they face their most difficult challenge of all…

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Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
At age 10, Steve Martin got a job selling guidebooks at the newly opened Disneyland. In the decade that followed, he worked in Disney’s magic shop, print shop, and theater, and developed his own magic/comedy act. By age 20, studying poetry and philosophy on the side, he was performing a dozen times a week, most often at the Disney rival, Knott’s Berry Farm. Obsession is a substitute for talent, he has said, and Steve Martin’s focus and daring–his sheer tenacity–are truly stunning. He writes about making the very tough decision to sacrifice everything not original in his act, and about lucking into a job writing for The Smothers Brothers Show. He writes about mentors, girlfriends, his complex relationship with his parents and sister, and about some of his great peers in comedy–Dan Ackroyd, Lorne Michaels, Carl Reiner, Johnny Carson. He writes about fear, anxiety and loneliness. And he writes about how he figured out what worked on stage. This book is a memoir, but it is also an illuminating guidebook to stand-up from one of our two or three greatest comedians. Though Martin is reticent about his personal life, he is also stunningly deft, and manages to give readers a feeling of intimacy and candor. Illustrated throughout with black and white photographs collected by Martin, this book is instantly compelling visually and a spectacularly good read.

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Neuromancer by William Gibson (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
Here is the novel that started it all, launching the cyberpunk generation, and the first novel to win the holy trinity of science fiction: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Philip K. Dick Award. With Neuromancer, William Gibson introduced the world to cyberspace–and science fiction has never been the same. Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway–jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him in a big way–and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance–and a cure–for a price

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I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
In this collection, one of the great classics of science fiction, Asimov set out the principles of robot behavior that we know as the Three Laws of Robotics. Here are stories of robots gone mad, mind-reading robots, robots with a sense of humor, robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world, all told with Asimov’s trademark dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction.

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Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

From Publishers Weekly
In his latest collection, Sedaris has found his heart. This is not to suggest that the author of Me Talk Pretty One Day and other bestselling books has lost his edge. The 27 essays here (many previously published in Esquire, G.Q. or the New Yorker, or broadcast on PRI’s This American Life) include his best and funniest writing yet. Here is Sedaris’s family in all its odd glory. Here is his father dragging his mortified son over to the home of one of the most popular boys in school, a boy possessed of “an uncanny ability to please people,” demanding that the boy’s parents pay for the root canal that Sedaris underwent after the boy hit him in the mouth with a rock. Here is his oldest sister, Lisa, imploring him to keep her beloved Amazon parrot out of a proposed movie based on his writing. (“‘Will I have to be fat in the movie?’ she asked.”) Here is his mother, his muse, locking the kids out of the house after one snow day too many, playing the wry, brilliant commentator on his life until her untimely death from cancer. His mother emerges as one of the most poignant and original female characters in contemporary literature. She balances bitter and sweet, tart and rich—and so does Sedaris, because this is what life is like. “You should look at yourself,” his mother says in one piece, as young Sedaris crams Halloween candy into his mouth rather than share it. He does what she says and then some, and what emerges is the deepest kind of humor, the human comedy.

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Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

From Publishers Weekly
Sedaris is Garrison Keillor’s evil twin: like the Minnesota humorist, Sedaris (Naked) focuses on the icy patches that mar life’s sidewalk, though the ice in his work is much more slippery and the falls much more spectacularly funny than in Keillor’s. Many of the 27 short essays collected here (which appeared originally in the New Yorker, Esquire and elsewhere) deal with his father, Lou, to whom the book is dedicated. Lou is a micromanager who tries to get his uninterested children to form a jazz combo and, when that fails, insists on boosting David’s career as a performance artist by heckling him from the audience. Sedaris suggests that his father’s punishment for being overly involved in his kids’ artistic lives is David’s brother Paul, otherwise known as “The Rooster,” a half-literate miscreant whose language is outrageously profane. Sedaris also writes here about the time he spent in France and the difficulty of learning another language. After several extended stays in a little Norman village and in Paris, Sedaris had progressed, he observes, “from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. ‘Is thems the thoughts of cows?’ I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window.” But in English, Sedaris is nothing if not nimble: in one essay he goes from his cat’s cremation to his mother’s in a way that somehow manages to remain reverent to both of the departed. “Reliable sources” have told Sedaris that he has “tended to exhaust people,” and true to form, he will exhaust readers of this new book, tooDwith helpless laughter. 16-city author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever by Christopher Hitchens (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

From Publishers Weekly
Interconnecting a vast range of sources from Lucretius to more contemporary authors, Hitchens brings together a mix of naysayers and skeptics regarding religion and, in particular, God. While not all of his selections are by fervent atheists, Hitchens connects them in such a way as to explore how and why people have rejected religious beliefs throughout the ages. Additionally, he provides valuable introductions to many of the pieces, situating them for the listener in the context of his overall argument. While some provide great insight and questions for listeners, others are only tangentially relevant. Nicholas Ball has an agreeable voice, but when transitioning from introductions to the excerpt, he rarely pauses and listeners may not even realize the excerpt is being read. His timing and speed may work well with other material, but lacks the reflection and nuance needed for this diverse and complex work with many different writing styles.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc

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His Dark Materials, Book III:The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (Audio Book)

September 30, 2008

Amazon.com Review
From the very start of its very first scene, The Amber Spyglass will set hearts fluttering and minds racing. All we’ll say here is that we immediately discover who captured Lyra at the end of The Subtle Knife, though we’ve yet to discern whether this individual’s intent is good, evil, or somewhere in between. We also learn that Will still possesses the blade that allows him to cut between worlds, and has been joined by two winged companions who are determined to escort him to Lord Asriel’s mountain redoubt. The boy, however, has only one goal in mind–to rescue his friend and return to her the alethiometer, an instrument that has revealed so much to her and to readers of The Golden Compass and its follow-up. Within a short time, too, we get to experience the “tingle of the starlight” on Serafina Pekkala’s skin as she seeks out a famished Iorek Byrnison and enlists him in Lord Asriel’s crusade:

A complex web of thoughts was weaving itself in the bear king’s mind, with more strands in it than hunger and satisfaction. There was the memory of the little girl Lyra, whom he had named Silvertongue, and whom he had last seen crossing the fragile snow bridge across a crevasse in his own island of Svalbard. Then there was the agitation among the witches, the rumors of pacts and alliances and war; and then there was the surpassingly strange fact of this new world itself, and the witch’s insistence that there were many more such worlds, and that the fate of them all hung somehow on the fate of the child.

Meanwhile, two factions of the Church are vying to reach Lyra first. One is even prepared to give a priest “preemptive absolution” should he succeed in committing mortal sin. For these tyrants, killing this girl is no less than “a sacred task.”

In the final installment of his trilogy, Philip Pullman has set himself the highest hurdles. He must match its predecessors in terms of sheer action and originality and resolve the enigmas he already created. The good news is that there is no critical bad news–not that The Amber Spyglass doesn’t contain standoffs and close calls galore. (Who would have it otherwise?) But Pullman brings his audacious revision of Paradise Lost to a conclusion that is both serene and devastating. In prose that is transparent yet lyrical and 3-D, the author weaves in and out of his principals’ thoughts. He also offers up several additional worlds. In one, Dr. Mary Malone is welcomed into an apparently simple society. The environment of the mulefa (again, we’ll reveal nothing more) makes them rich in consciousness while their lives possess a slow and stately rhythm. These strange creatures can, however, be very fast on their feet (or on other things entirely) when necessary. Alas, they are on the verge of dying as Dust streams out of their idyllic landscape. Will the Oxford dark-matter researcher see her way to saving them, or does this require our young heroes? And while Mary is puzzling out a cure, Will and Lyra undertake a pilgrimage to a realm devoid of all light and hope, after having been forced into the cruelest of sacrifices–or betrayals.

Throughout his galvanizing epic, Pullman sustains scenes of fierce beauty and tenderness. He also allows us a moment or two of comic respite. At one point, for instance, Lyra’s mother bullies a series of ecclesiastical underlings: “The man bowed helplessly and led her away. The guard behind her blew out his cheeks with relief.” Needless to say, Mrs. Coulter is as intoxicating and fluid as ever. And can it be that we will come to admire her as she plays out her desperate endgame? In this respect, as in many others, The Amber Spyglass is truly a book of revelations, moving from darkness visible to radiant truth. –Kerry Fried

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