by Sukey HowardOctober, 2002
How sweet they are
I usually don't review self-help or self-improvement audios, but I have to break my self-imposed rule for Jill Conner Browne, the first and foremost Sweet Potato Queen and the founder of an institution unlike any other in the galaxy. Jill has reigned supreme in Jackson, Mississippi, for the last 20 years and has most graciously chosen to share her invaluable, inviolate, irrefutable, irresistible, irreverent advice with other women (and any man smart enough to listen up) and let me tell you, this is not advice you'll get from your mama. The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love and its inimitable sequel, God Save the Sweet Potato Queens, read by her very own regal self, contain everything a female person needs to know, and then some including the real recipes for the world's best, cure-all comfort foods Chocolate Stuff and Fat Mama's Knock-You-Nekked Margaritas. If you listen in the car, be careful! Driving under the influence of the SPQs is bound to cause fits of laughter and dizzying, dazzling shocks of recognition.
Stories of little known but highly important scientific discoveries have become a unique, often best-selling, genre. The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World (6 hours), Ken Adler's wonderfully detailed chronicle of the development of the metric system, is just such a story, filled with suspense, adventure, intrigue, high drama and personal tragedy. In 1792, two renowned astronomers set off from Paris, traveling in opposite directions, through a country embroiled in the roils of revolution, hoping to extract the length of one meter from the exact measurement of the curve of the earth between Paris and Barcelona. It was painstakingly difficult work, and they met obstruction and suspicion everywhere. Ultimately, they achieved their mission: They established the meter that was to become the standard measure for for all people, for all time. Bryon Jennings' narration, well-measured in tone and timing, gives this saga added life and excitement.
Stephen Horn's latest, Law of Gravity (6 hours), is one of those edge-of-your-seat-how-will-they-get-out-of-this mystery-thrillers, aided and abetted here by Dylan Baker's first-rate performance. It stars easy-to-root-for characters an on-the-skids Justice Department lawyer who sabotaged his own career by putting truth before politics (an inside-the-Beltway no-no) and a retired New York cop who joined the force to put things right and still believes in his purpose and some really nasty, stop-at-nothing bad guys. Add a well-turned plot involving a possible spy scandal that might implicate a wealthy, super-ambitious senator with presidential yearnings and his even more ambitious wife, some suspect suicides, multiple murders, high level political shenanigans and an FBI agent who may or may not be on the side of right, and you've got the right recipe for a high-voltage whodunit.
I hadn't listened to any science fiction for quite a while and had forgotten that it can be so compelling that is, until I tuned in to Science Fiction: The Best of 2001, edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber. It's a knock-out, 10-hour collection of 10 outstanding short stories by 10 of today's finest sci-fi authors, James Patrick Kelly, Nancy Kress and Gregory Benford among them. If you're a fan, you probably know how moving, poignant, right-on relevant, even playful and funny this genre can be. If you don't read or listen too often, give this audio a go. Without being preachy or pedantic, these authors can address issues such as global warming, genetic engineering, slavery, prejudice, freedom and peace between nations and peoples. Perhaps it's the remove from this time and sometimes this planet, perhaps it's their ingenious creativity. But whether these writers are telling cautionary tales or taking us on mind-bending flights to new worlds and states of being, their stories are enlightening and entertaining.