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Belying its name, this collection of short stories is an incredibly valuable find for any scifi fan. I listened to this as an audiobook, apparently the only way it was published. What an inspired decision! Each story is introduced by the author, in his/her own voice, and each is read by a different performer. With a stellar lineup of both authors and performers, this was a treat from start to finish. The unifying concept is that the authors were asked to use the first line of a famous book as the first line in their stories. My one quibble is that nowhere could I find a list of all the stories along with the performers’ names, quite a shame since they were all superb. I have attempted to remedy that oversight here, and apologize in advance to any of the performers whose names I misspell.
1) Fireborn by Robert Charles Wilson, read by Christine Van. Wilson begins his story with the first line from a Carl Sandburg Rootabaga Tale: “Sometimes in January, the sky comes down close if we walk on a country road.” I particularly like the way this story incorporated music, dance and art, which are not common subjects in scifi.
2) The Evening Line by Mike Resnick, read by L.J. Ganser. Unbeknownst to me, Resnick has written a number of short stories featuring “Harry the Book” in homage to Damon Runyon. This, his twelfth story about the character, begins with the opening line from Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Although overlong, I appreciated many of the gags in the story, which was a mashup of scifi, Austen, and Guys & Dolls. I particularly enjoyed the names of the characters, which were lifted directly from Guys & Dolls and twisted (Nathan Detroit becomes Joey Chicago, Benny Southstreet becomes Benny Fifthstreet, Nicely Nicely Johnson becomes Gently Gently Dawkins). Also, at one point a character drinks an “Old Peculiar” – a reference to the Neil Gaiman short story?
3) No Decent Patrimony by Elizabeth Bear and read by the always fantastic Scott Brick begins with a line from Christopher Marlow’s Edward II “My father is deceased.” The story concerns the social strife between generations and classes engendered by life extension. Bear adds some twists to what is a familiar scifi storyline.
4) The Big Whale by Allen M. Steele, read by Christian Rummel. Yes, it’s a reference to Melville, but set in a Raymond Chandler universe. Who knew so many scifi authors were obsessed with detective noir? I loved this story, possibly because I just read Moby Dick a few months ago. What’s not to like about a story that combines “Call me Ishmael” with “I carry a harpoon” ??
5) Begone by Daryl Gregory, read by Jonathan Davis. Were it not for Gregory’s introduction to this story, I’m not sure I would have gotten what was going on right away, but for anyone of a certain age, this story will bring back many memories. Like Gregory, I was disturbed when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York in the role of Darrin Stephens, hapless muggle husband to Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha Stephens, a witch in the television series “Bewitched.” I was actually too young to understand the difference between actors and characters and so the switch mystified me and retains a bit of creepiness for me even today. But I may be over it now, thanks to Daryl Gregory therapy. Beginning with the first line from Dickens’ David Copperfield, “Whether I am to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show,” was a stroke of genius, and the rest of the story is just as brilliant, not to mention meta. It was funny, inventive but also thoughtful, as in lines like this: “Every man tries to forget that we are made from women, by women, for women.” I loved Gregory’s “Raising Stony Mayhall” and this short fiction has made me interested in checking out some of his other work.
6) The Red Menace by Lavie Tidhar, read by Stefan Rudnicki. If the name of the story doesn’t give it away, the fact that the first line “A specter is haunting Europe” is taken from Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto should make it clear the story is not about Mars, but rather is an alternate history of WWII. This was quite different from most scifi I have read, but that didn’t surprise me too much. I have read a couple of other Lavie Tidhar stories (in his excellent anthologies of world scifi, which I highly recommend) and enjoy his non-western take on things. I cannot neglect to mention here also, the excellent narration by Rudnicki, who is channeling Michael Ansara’s incredibly deep, resonant and slightly foreign-sounding accent.
7) Muse of Fire by John Scalzi and read—as are all of Scalzi’s audiobooks—by Wil Wheaton. Scalzi pulled his opening line from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “O for a muse of fire that would ascend.” Scalzi’s prodigious imagination produces a so-so story but plenty of great images related to flames and fire, but also just plain old great writing like this: “They were like two puzzle pieces that were not meant to be jammed together.”
8) Writer’s Block by Nancy Kress and read by David Morantz. Starting a story with the famously bad first line “It was a dark and stormy night” (from the book Paul by Edward Bulwer-Lytton) is pretty bold, but it pays off. I particularly liked the twist at the end.
9) Highland Reel by Jack Campbell, read by Nicola Barber. Not to be outdone in hubris, Campbell begins his story with the first line of MacBeth: “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?” The story was a mashup of Brigadoon with alternate history that would have benefitted from a less conventional ending.
10) Karin Coxswain or “Death as she is Truly Lived” by Paul Di Filippo and read by Dena Perlman. I have never read anything by Di Filippo and now I probably never will. I should have backed away as soon as he started in about how Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was the first American Novel and announced his opening line would be taken from that book: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I just read that book within the past year and hated it, but I forced myself to get through the whole thing because of its place in the canon. But I only got a few minutes into this coarse, tasteless bit of trash before deciding I could move along down the river to the next story.
11) The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal, read by Alison Johnson. This story took its opening line from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz: “Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.” This beautiful, gentle story of growing old, love, loss and yearning was my favorite serious story in the entire collection.
12) Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth by Tad Williams and read by Mark Vitor began with “First God made heaven and earth” from . . . well, you know what that’s from. This story had me laughing so hard my husband came to find out what was going on. Picture the little girl from Ransom of Red Chief getting into the Garden of Eden and arguing with the angels who are creating it and you have some idea of the chaos. The performance by Mark Vitor, whose sonorous, Shakespearean tones become increasingly harried and incredulous as the story goes along, is the icing on the cake that made this my favorite comedic story in the collection.
13) Declaration by James Patrick Kelly, read by Ilyana Kadushik, opens with “When in the course of human events.” This was a mildly interesting near-future tale in which young students take a class assignment a bit too far. The author says he intended the story as a bit of an admonition to the Matrix films, but I think he misses the point and the story misses the mark.
29 of 30 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Rip-Off!?
The premise is take a classic line from another story and/or plot of another story and make it their own. All the narration was fabulous as well.There is also a forward from each author about this challenge put before them. I enjoyed all the stories but I will focus on my favorites Mike Resnick's "the evening line" where Harry and Benny give us color commentary on which woman is going to relieve Malone of his winnings from the race. Hilarious!! Including Zombies and Mages. Allen Steeles "the Big Whale" Where Captain Ahab's wife contracts Ishmael, a hard boiled private dick, to investigate her husbands lover Moby. The story starts where Ishmael just got back from doing work on the unlawful termination case of Bartleby the Scrivenor, who, when he went to collect payment, said he would prefer not to lol. Paul de philiipo "death as she has truly lived" All I am going to say about that is it's the story of my (after)life. I love Mark Twain and this is quite a different adventure than Huckleberry Finn had. I laughed out loud through the whole story.
What did you like best about this story?
The above mentioned stories were the top three funny stories. I also want to mention how great john scalzi's and James Patrick Kelly's stories. John scalzi usually writes campy sci-fi stories but "muse of fire" was not at all campy. It was very well written and beautifully narrated by Wil Wheaton. This Confirms what I already suspected Scalzi has agreat imagination and ability to let us see that through his storytelling and Wil Wheaton channels that. James patrick Kelly's "declaration" was an interesting twist on the declaration of independence. It took place in a matrix type world. However you can see where this could be our future.People are interacting less and less IRL so there are mandates on how much time you must spend on hard time ( real life). Some people want to declare their indepedence to live life fully in virtual world. It is very heartbreaking.
What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
Wil Wheaton's narration of "Muse of Fire" took my breath away. It was stunning. Also I laughed all the way through Dina Pearlmans narration of "Karen Coxswain"
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
"Muse of Fire" was a very moving story. I think it could be about unhealthy or codependant relationships if you want to dig deep into the story. I think I was particularly moved because I did not expect that from Scalzi. Yes he does provoke thought in his novels but they are so fun you just think about it a little and go back to laughing. This story was kind of sad. Also "declaration" moved me because I know someone who lost a brother with a disability and it is both difficult and freeing at the same time so that is very moving.
Any additional comments?
I wanted to mention that I usually buy anthologies to get a sample of different authors so I can see if I want to read more. Although "the red menace" by Lavie Tidhar was not my favorite I did like the way he told the story so I will definitely be looking up other stories by him. This is definitely a great anthology and I think even if sci-fi is not your thing you might still enjoy it because obviously reading is your thing or you wouldn't be in a book club, right.
21 of 22 people found this review helpful