An Audio-Book Review: An Eternity in Which to Fail

Why Call Them Back from Heaven?

By Clifford D. Simak

Published by American Printing House for the Blind

Read by Roy Avers

 

The Book:

I was happy to find this science fiction classic in an audio format. As a writer, I have discovered that I have far less time to read than I used to. What used to be reading time is now filled with plotting, writing and proofing my own work. So, as I have explained in the past, the only time I have to read is while driving and since robot-driven cars still not really a thing for most of us, the only safe way to do that is to listen. That’s great for the newer, popular books, but sometimes the older novels get left behind that way and it’s a shame because so many of them have stood the test of time.

Why Call Them Back from Heaven was first published in 1967 and speculated on the nature of a society in which belief in “Science” has supplanted belief in religious values for most people. Now, in the world we live, this does not sound particularly believable especially with the emergence of the Religious Right combined with a host of cults that transcend the political spectrum but, in 1967, in the middle of the Space Race and other technological achievements in the headlines, Science was not as distrusted by as many people as today. Science truly was seen as a possible solution to many problems. For me, it still is, but Simak takes what looked like a trend at the time to its logical extreme.

In this case, the belief is that Science can, eventually, cure death and make us all young again. It would make all humans immortal. And who is going to do that? Why a super-large corporation called “Forever Center.” Forever Center stores the bodies of its clients (in cryogenic containers, I think) and holds their belongings in trust pending the day they can be resurrected to their eternal second life.

Anyone see the problem yet?

In preparation for this second life, most people are living in conditions of poverty while saving every penny they can. After all they are going to need all that money in their second life. Some people are choosing to die early, rather than spend down their savings. Most are looking for investments that will hopefully appreciate in value over the years; stamps, coins, artwork, you name it. What seems to be the safest investment are shares in Forever Center itself, but even there no one can really know what will be of value to a future society of immortals and there are conmen out there selling all sorts of investments that are likely to flop, but they make them sound good.

No, that’s only part of the problem, but if I go into the worst of the problems, I’ll be spilling more spoilers than usual.

Not everyone believes in Forever Center, however. There are the “Holies” who reject the offer of a second physical life in favor of an immortal spiritual life. There is also the problem of where to settle all the resurrected. Other planets? They all need thousands of years of expensive terraforming. In the past? Believe it or not that’s a strong possibility for Forever Center where it is speculated that time travel can transport people back one million years and when the world fills up then, a million years before that and so on. Keep in mind, it is 1967 and the fossil record back then had larger gaps than it does today and, I think Simak overlooked that to settle the past would mean that people would use up the natural resources like coal and oil, a million years ahead of time. It takes more than a million years to make enough petroleum for a civilization. Well, there are a lot of things like that overlooked and he used the same idea again in Mastodonia, except then he pushed human expansion much further into the past.

Into all that, we have Daniel Frost, an executive for Forever Center who truly believes in the good of Forever Center and its duty to Mankind. And then one night he wakes up in front of a judge and is told he has confessed to being a traitor to Mankind under a dubious procedure called a Narco-trial (trial by truth serum, basically). The Judge tells him that due to his confession, he has already been sentenced to Ostracism. An Ostracized person is no longer considered to be part of the human race and may have no business with another human. All their possessions are confiscated and they are given tattoos on their face to mark them as apart from human society. To be caught covering or removing those tattoos would remove their final right to be resurrected to a second life (and reinstated as human, although with no possessions). Ostracism is considered the second worst punishment; the worst being stripped of the right to a second life.

From that point on, the story gets a bit weak and the ending could have been better. Simak was a fantastic short-story writer, but some of his novels, like this one, sort of peter out or flag in the middle where all the action should be. The concepts he presents, however are thought-provoking and worth reading the book through to the end.

 

The Audiobook:

I really enjoyed Mister Aver’s reading of this book. He had a remarkably flexible voice that made each character sound completely different and yet, none of them are what I would call “Funny voices.” They all sound like real people, not second-grade cartoon characters. His reading style is a bit dated, but in a very good way. I’ve noticed that so many readers tackle books as they might read a play. Well, so many of them are actors, so I suppose that’s not too surprising, but Roy Avers’ approach is to read first and act second so he never actually gets in the way of the story, but, instead, facilitates the story, making him a partner with the author, rather than just a presenter. I looked up his obituary and am surprised I have not encountered his work before – over 1750 books in the Library of Congress! Well, I certainly hope to hear more of his work in the future.

So, the story is a bit dated. There is little mention of computers and no speculation as to how other tech gadgets might have become a staple of society. Then again, in this particular future world could anyone afford a cell phone? Would they buy a computer, or even a television, or just save every penny for their next life? One character mentions having a radio; hey, it’s an old book, sure, but TV’s were nearly everywhere in 1967, and Simak speculates that theatre and the cinema are dead for the same reasons as above – every cent will be needed for the next life so no one is wasting anything. So, the lack of technology not directly related to Forever Center is quite credible. All told, it is a believable situation in its own context even if it does not seem likely in today’s society and Mister Avers reading brought it all to life marvelously.

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An Audio-Book Review: What Happens When Magic Does Not Work

The Globe
(The Science of Discworld – Book 2)

By Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
Published by Random House Audio
Read by Michael Fenton Stevens and Stephen Briggs

 

The Book:

I really enjoyed the first book (The Science of Discworld) and looked forward to listening to this one. I really wanted to like this one too. Sadly, I could not have been more disappointed. The story within the first volume was so engrossing I could overlook the weaknesses of the so-called science parts. This time around Messrs. Stewart and Cohen (Drs? I don’t know.) went entirely too far with their sorts of explanation that even my somewhat rudimentary BS detectors got set off with red-alert warnings.

First of all, they obviously have a bent toward hypotheses that sound good, but for which the proof is just not there. For two people who make a living as “Science writers” there seem to be some very big holes in their knowledge. Yeah, okay., none of us are omniscient, but they frequently write as though they are. Here’s an example; the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis of Elaine Morgan.

I had the profound honor of an all-too brief correspondence with Elaine Morgan back in the 1990’s in which I found her to be intelligent, polite and an all-around delight to talk to. Based on some earlier work she developed the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (some writers have called it a theory, but it does not have the proof behind it). It is a good explanation for why humans are relatively hairless compared to the apes. Basically, she said that it seemed reasonable to postulate that our ancestors spent some time in an aquatic environment, whether that was along the coast, riverside or by large lakes. Basically, if she was correct then they lived on the beach and that a lack of fur made for better swimmers. There were a bunch of other benefits that would lead to modern human anatomy as well. It was a good explanation. The problem is, beaches and river banks are rarely favorable environments for fossilization so finding hard proof of early hominids habitually living by the sea (or lake or rivers) is going to be hard to find if it even exists. Also, as the years have passed, our paleoanthropologists have been filling in what even forty years ago seemed like gaps in the fossil record and so there are few and fewer periods during which our direct ancestors might have lived almost exclusively by the water.

Just how many generations (for some reason they measure time in “Grandfathers” or 50 year chunks) need to live in such an environment to shape a species for the next million years or more? No matter what the answer, the AAH is a just-so story if we cannot find the proof. Sometimes even the best, most obvious explanation is wrong and when it is, it usually means we did not know enough to find the right explanation. Too bad. Stewart and Cohen went on to embrace the AAH so closely to use it to explain how human brains grew so rapidly (in evolutionary terms) by eating shell fish, which is utter nonsense. What you eat has no effect on your genes and just because your brain grows large due to your diet, your children’s brains will not do likewise without the same diet. But they seemed to think that because these Aquatic Apes ate shellfish, their brains grew and their children inherited those larger brains and their own grew larger still. This is called Lamarckian evolution and, sorry, it does not work. The necks of giraffes did not grow so long because the parents stretched theirs in attempts to eat leaves on tall trees, causing their children to be born with already longer necks. It was natural selection in which the animals that could reach the higher leaves had more to eat and therefore were more likely to survive. Gradually, over the generations longer-necked animals ate better and were more likely to survive long enough to breed and pass that trait on to their young. Same thing with larger brains; I don’t know what the Darwinian pressure that led to larger brains was for certain, but the fossil record shows it was a gradual process. If Stewart and Cohen were right, then inland populations would be markedly less intelligent than those living on the coasts and that turns out not to be the case.

And yet, that is not my greatest complaint with their “Science.” They kept using the term “Extelligence” repeatedly as though this were a term set in the scientific literature and explained everything about human cultural development. Now, I do not claim to be an expert in cultural anthropology, but I do have an MA degree in Anthropology and Archaeology and had never heard the term before so I looked it up. Turns out they made it up themselves and used it in another book they wrote and then continued to use it as though this was widely accepted theory. It is not. Their notions of how human cultures develop are at odds so steep with standard Anthropological theory that even the most carefree gambler would shy away from making that bet. My best guess is that they have decided to base their hypotheses on philosophy rather than actual studies of real people. They briefly mention how Margaret Mead was fooled by the Samoans and consider that sufficient reason to discount all anthropological studies.

This has led them to some rather bizarre notions not the least of which is their almost religious belief that all teaching is a matter of telling lies to children and that all communications are also a matter of telling lies. They start out almost reasonably that the models we use to explain some natural phenomena are not entirely accurate, but that does not make them lies. One of their examples was a lesson to teach something scientific to children (Sorry, I can’t remember what it was just now and have no desire to listen to the book again to get it). Whatever it was, I remember learning it in school, but I also remember my teacher explaining that it was not exactly how that particular thing works, but that the explanation was a close as we could come to given the present level of understanding. That does not make it a lie, it makes it a metaphor, but I guess these two prefer to think that everyone lies about everything? A depressing thought.

Anyway, the book is drenched with their arrogant smugness that implies only they know the truth and the rest of us have been fooled by the lies we were taught. If that sounds like the standard patter of a con artist or the sort who decides one day to start a cult to you… you’re right. They might think they know the truth, but I caught them out in major errors just too many times to trust anything they wrote without checking it for myself and every time I did, they were either wrong or talking in technobabble rather than giving a lucid explanation… sometimes both together.

The book is also filled with their insistence that everything is a lie (even that?) and with their reliance on philosophy to explain science (even though they keep saying they are not doing that, but insist others are…) Amusingly, they instruct the reader not to trust those who do that, so I will take them at their word on that one point – and consider their explanations the purest form of BS and not even worth that much… At least BS can be used as fertilizer.

On the plus side is Terry Pratchett’s story which weaves in between the bouts of pseudo-scientific garbage. That part is worth reading, just don’t pay any attention to the supposedly scientific parts.

 

The Audiobook:

The “science” may have been hard to listen to, but Michal Fenton Stevens reads it well and Stephen Briggs is always a pleasure to listen to. So, if you must listen to the book, you may want to fast-forward to the bits written by Pratchett.

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An Audio-Book Review: Return to the Mote (Part 2)

The Gripping Hand

By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Published by Audible, Inc.

Read by L. J. Ganser

 

The Book:

So, having listened to the abridged version, I decided I wanted to dive right into the full thing, because there was just too much missing that I felt was important to the real story being told. It was better than trying to judge a movie by an extended trailer, but not by much. The full book, however, has a few faults as well.

A little too much time is spent on Maxroy’s Purchase and the red herring chase for Moties that eventually leads, quite by accident, to the real emergency about to open up. However, I did not really mind it because this was a chance to see what was going on in the rest of the galaxy. I have yet to read other books set in Pournelle’s CoDominium, most of which I think take place earlier than the Motie series. I have not even read all the stories associated with the Moties – I think they are stories by Pournelle that are contemporaneous with the events in The Mote in God’s Eye, rather than connected directly, I may not have missed much, at least as far the Moties go.

In this version of the story various characters, such as Lt. Ruth Cohen and the Honorable Lord Freddy get to be on stage form more than a line or two although while it sort of made real-life sense for Ruth to stay behind when Renner goes on to the Mote System t was a let down as she had been built up as an important supporting character and then is suddenly dropped in favor of Joyce Mei-ling Trujillo. For that matter Joyce is a journalist and I kept wondering why she was going into a potential war situation in the manner she did. Everyone else on the ships was either military or an agent of the Empire in one capacity or other. Joyce threatens them with journalistic blackmail but it was all her speculation without actual proof. They should have either told her, “Publish and be damned,” or else arrested her as a clear and present danger to the interests of the Empire… or simply held for questioning long enough for the situation to be resolved. However, putting both Ruth and Joyce on the same ship throughout the sojourn in the Mote System would have added an additional level of tension and possible character development.

That is another criticism; no character development. I’ll admit that is not unusual in science fiction and fantasy where it is more important for the world to change than the people to, but after twenty-five years there should have been some changes to the characters and actually there were none. Even Bury, who seems to have changed, really has not; he simply has found that his loyalty to his fellow Muslims and colonials of the planet Levant is now in keeping with serving the Empire, something that was not clear twenty-five years earlier. This is hammered down with a sledge in the middle of the book, by the way.

The full version of The Gripping Hand is a complex interweaving of plot lines that eventually narrows down to a single line and a slight let-down when I got to the end. I kept thinking they had forgotten something, but could not really figure out what. Maybe this needed to be a trilogy? Probably, but if that were the case, some Moties would have had to get free into the Galaxy at the end of this book (yeah, okay, that could be the Prologue of a third book) with a more reliable and permanent solution reached by the end. I did wonder how long the deal reached in this book would last and how well it might be enforced especially another generation down the line. Then again, Jennifer R. Pournelle’s Outies is supposed to explore some of this so I suppose I’ll have to look it up.

So, definitely, unlike the abridged edition, this is a whole and complete story and if it drags once in a while in a few spots, I think it is only because the authors were trying very hard to not leave any plot holes and loose ends. In spite of my above feelings, I found this to be a satisfying read

 

The Audiobook:

If the full book was much better than the abridged edition, it is a shame I cannot say the same for the reader. I felt that Mister Ganser was trying entirely too hard to make an already interesting story even more engaging. It was an effort he need not have made. His first problem was that his reading was frequently too emotional. The dialogue was emotional at times although sometimes the characters sound far more excited that they ought to be, but putting the same emotion into the narrative portions felt completely wrong.

Then there were a number of really jarring mispronunciations or in the case of the word “Grimace” (which the authors use a lot!) the choice of the less frequently used pronunciation. In that example one could still say it was valid even if not entirely in keeping with the rest of the reading, but the very worst was how he read “fyunch(click).” The authors were very precise that it was pronounced with a click of the tongue at the end of the word, which, I think, is melded to the “ch” sound, but Mister Ganser reads it out literally as “Feeunch-click.” Now, I’ll admit that the first time I read The Mote in God’s Eye shortly after its release, I did the same thing, but I was wrong and knew it even as I read it that way. This is the same as reading a dog’s sounds as “Arf, arf.” “Woof, woof,” and “Bow wow!” (NB that only works in a parody when the dog in question is actually sentient and capable of speech. Oh! and in the old “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip).

Another annoying trait of Mister Ganser’s reading was the way his voiced the Moties themselves. I will not venture to guess as to whether he read The Mote in God’s Eye, but if he did, it is obvious he paid no attention to the descriptions of the various Mediators who were fyunch(click) to humans. A fyunch(click)’s job was to study their subject until he/she thought and acted like them. Part of that was in copying their mode of speech right down to a perfect imitation of their voice. IN fact in the first book, humans are frequently confused because of the similarity, no, the identity of such imitations. In this book, we meet several students (and students of students) of Horace Bury’s original fyunch(click). Each should sound exactly like Bury himself, or at least as he sounded in the previous book, but instead Mister Ganser chose to make each one sound very different, resorting to a variety of funny voices, that, perhaps, made them sound like the aliens they were but it was annoying to listen to and not what the authors intended even if this time around they did not dwell on the similarities between fyunch(click) and subject of study.

Yes, as usual I eventually got used to all that, and a few other peculiarities, but I think I would have preferred to hear Jay O. Sanders, who read the abridged edition) read this one too.

So, the story is vastly improved for being unabridged, but Ganser’s reading flaws robbed it of some of the enjoyment I should have experienced. (I’ll admit he probably did better than I would. I’ve never liked my own attempts of reading stories out loud…)

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An Audio-Book Review: Return to the Mote (Part 1)

The Gripping Hand

By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Abridged Edition Published by Simon & Schuster Audio

Read by Jay O. Sanders

 

The Book:

I actually have two different recordings of this book. This is an abridged edition and a lot of juicy and interesting details were removed in order to fit it all in on a few cassettes. More on that below.

This is the sequel to the now science fiction classic, The Mote in God’s Eye in which humans meet a truly alien sentient species who have been locked up in their solar system for all their history, a length of time longer than humans have experiences. They had to evaluate the possibilities of trade and friendship of these aliens (Moties) and weigh that against the possible danger in letting them out into the greater galaxy. It might be a bit of a spoiler (sorry) but at the end of the book it is decided that the Moties are a clear and present danger to mankind and the only human way of dealing with them would be to leave them barricaded up in their system.

This second book takes place some twenty-five years later and much has changed in the meantime. Horace Bury, an unscrupulous merchant prince in the first book, has been acting as an agent of the Empire, rooting out enemies along with Captain Kevin Renner who was assigned to keep watch over Bury. In that time Bury has proven himself to be a valuable asset and now quite loyal to the interests of the Empire. Roderick and Sally Blaine (now Earl and Countess) have moved back to the Imperial capital where they raised two children, one is a son currently serving in the Imperial Navy the other a daughter, who, like her brother were partially brought up by the Moties who had been sent to act as ambassadors from their system. Other familiar faces from the first book are scattered around the Empire, and we get to meet many of them along the way.

The book starts out on a colonial world where Renner gets worried when most of the colonists are using three-way logic; One the one hand, on the other hand, on the gripping hand. It is not a common human way of thinking and he and Bury immediately suspect Moties have gotten loose. While it is soon established that no, they have not, Bury and Renner learn that stellar alignments along which interstellar travel is possible are about to change and that the Moties really are about to get out of their system. Something must be done to stop them and the threat they pose.

All in all, I enjoyed the book when I read it, but this abridged edition leaves a lot behind and is, in fact so chopped up that I occasionally wondered, “How the heck did they get there?” because the story moved too quickly. A lot of important characters were dropped or else only made cameo appearances, which in some cases made me wonder why bother bringing them in at all as anything they added to the story happened in the parts that were removed.

If you have read the entire novel, then this abridged form will remind you of the basic parts of the story, but the story presented here is rather thin. I can think of a few books that probably ought to only be presented in abridged form, but this is not one of them.

 

The Audiobook:

The story might have been cut short, but Jay O. Connor read it very well, it was a nice, mostly no nonsense. I’m not sure if the snooty, nose in the air accents used by Rod and Sally were really necessary. It sounded more like something cobbled up in Hollywood for old-money families in Newport or Philadelphia that that used by most nobles I’ve actually listened to. Both had, after all, spent a long time away from the capital and their fellow snooty nobility. Rod had served as a junior officer and then captain in the Navy and Sally had been an anthropologist. I suppose all that was meant to make it sound Victorian Era, but it seemed wrong somehow. On the other hand, it did serve to delineate the voices and on the gripping hand… I got used to it.

Next time (hopefully next week) I’ll be comparing his reading with that of someone who read the whole book. Stay tuned!

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An Audio-Book Review: Good vs Evil vs an Eleven Year-old Kid

Good Omens

The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

By Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Published by Isis Audio

Read by Stephen Briggs

 

The Book:

Before I start in on the book itself, please let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed the recently released 6-part miniseries based on this book (available through Amazon Strudion and also the BBC). Before it was actually released I will admit that I told a lot of friends that while I looked forward to the adaptation, I had mixed feelings because Neil Gaiman was both the writer and the show runner and not only had I experienced very few productions where that was the case, but also I tend to blow hot and cold on Gaiman’s writing (mostly cold). It’s a matter of taste, really. Technically I think he writes a darned fine story, I’m just not always thrilled about the stories themselves.

I did enjoy Good Omens from its first publication and have read it several times now and while, yes, I can easily tell, much of the time, which parts were written by Pratchett and which were by Gaiman (I may have guessed wrong on the parts I was uncertain about), I liked the whole book, not just parts of it.

One more word about the mini-series and then back to the book: I could not help but wonder what it might have been like had David Tennant (who played Crowley) and Michael Sheen (Aziraphael) switched roles. Frankly, I think had I been casting, I would have chosen one of them to play both parts and I think either actor could have managed it magnificently. However, I’m not reviewing the mini-series.

In many ways the novel is much better. Even in a six-part mini-series, they could not fit in all the details from the book and some of them really fleshed out the story.

Good Omens is the story of an angel and a demon (Aziraphael and Crowley) who first met on that fateful day that Adam and Eve left Eden. Neither is entirely good or evil. Aziraphael had been set to guard Eden with a flaming sword, but he gave that sword to Adam and ever since has worried about Heaven’s Accountants asking what happened to it. Crowley (originally Crawley) was the serpent that tempted Eve. He did not Fall, per se, but just sort of sauntered downward. Since then they have met up from time to time, each keeping an eye on the mortals for their respective sides until the night that the Antichrist was born. At which point they realized that Earth was not such a bad old place and did not deserve to be destroyed just because Heaven and Hell needed it to fight their final battle.

It is also the story of Adam Young, the Antichrist, and his three friends and of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and what they’ve been doing all this time leading up to the end of the world. And it is the story of Anathema Device, a professional descendant of Agnes Nutter, the last true witch in England and of Newton Pulsifer, the descendant of the witchfinder who had Agnes burned at the stake. It is also the story of Agnes Nutter’s book of prophecies, the only truly accurate predictions of the world and the end to come.

It is a lot to fit in to a single volume, but Pratchett and Gaiman managed to do so masterfully, by stuffing it with both original, unusual characters and stereotypes from every day life all mixed up in a delightful satire that is best read rather than be told about.

 

The Audiobook:

There are several British voice actors who could have read this book, but Stephen Briggs is at the top of my list. As usual, he reads the story perfectly, subtly changing his voice just enough to delineate the characters without actually “talking funny,” a problem many readers seem to have. Very few actors can do funny voices and make them work (Actually, Tom Baker may be the only one) and Mister Briggs knows enough not to try. He reads the story evenly and with character, holding the interest of the listener from beginning to end and I thought this was one of the finest of his many fine performances.

So, good book, great reading and a fantastically fun time.

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An Audio-Book Review: Must Be Great Writing If I’m This Confused, Right?

Sailing Bright Eternity

Galactic Center Series #6

By Gregory Benford

Published by The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Read by John Polk

 

The Book:

It’s been a while, but at last I have reached the grand finale of this SF classic. As the title of this entry might suggest, I was not as impressed as some other reviewers have been. Generally, I like Benford’s writing and have enjoyed most of the previous volumes of this series, but this finale had, in my opinion, flaws that… well, I will not go so far as to say it ruined the series for me, but I di not like this one and an ending.

The situation (in the plot) is complex. The characters are navigating a sort of space in which time does not flow in the normal serial manner nor all in the same direction. This zone is called the Este… or at least I think that’s how it was spelled – keep in mind I have not read the book, just listened to it – although is could be Estee or ST. I suppose it sort-of stands for Space-Time, but I found that confusing as that fits the normal universe we are actually acquainted with and many authors refer to the universe as one of Space-Time.

The Este is, apparently an artificially constructed zone near or at the center of the Milky Way galaxy and in it one can travel not only through space, but through time, which adds to the confusion as the Bishop Family is attempting, in some way, to go home. It is a home that was destroyed, so I’m not sure why they are trying to get there. Surely if they went back to before they left, that would cause more trouble than they already have.

Maybe I’m missing something? Very possible because Benford chose to follow a myriad of different plot lines each centered on a different character, one of whom we have not seen since the beginning of the series. The story jumps around, over and under, back and forth and twists about so much I honestly lost track of who was where and how they got there. For that matter I frequently lost track of how they got separated from others as well. So, yes… confusing. I probably need to listen to it another dozen times, but I won’t.

On top of the confused and sometimes interwoven plotlines, I really got tired of humans asking questions of the Mechs or Mechanicals and various other beings and being told “You can’t know that.” At least once it was explained that part of the reason they could not know it was that they were human, not that they might not understand. It gets said too often by various characters until I realized that maybe Benford is intentionally trying to confuse and frustrate the reader. Yeah, I get it’ these are alien creatures doing alien things for reasons that are purely their own. I also will stipulate that out there in the Universe, there may well be intelligent beings we are not capable of fully understanding. I would be silly to think that I could imagine and understand anything, no matter how alien, but it makes for really lousy story-telling, especially since by the time it was over, I was far from satisfied by the end.

The series was pretty good up to this point, but rather than tying it all together, the final volume just stopped moving. Of course, you may well disagree with my assessment – I noted that quite a few reviewers thought this book was the best of the series. Maybe they are right and maybe, if you have read the other books, but not this one you might feel the same way.

 

The Audiobook:

John Polk is a good and consistent reader. I don’t think he is performing as many professional readers do. He is reading the story out loud. He is not putting in a host of funny voices, which would be very easy to do with all the nonhuman and post-human characters to be voiced. It would also have been very annoying to me, so just as well. To date I have only heard Mister Polk reading the books of this series, but I will not intentionally stay away from other offerings read by him.

So… I found this to be a dissatisfying end to what, up until now, has been an interesting series, but I think the author chose to emphasize Mankind’s limitations over the art of story-telling. It was well-read, however.

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An Audio-Book Review: Strrrrretch!

Sorceress of Darshiva

Book 4 of the Malloreon

By David Eddings
Published by American Printing House for the Blind
Read by Hal Tenny

The Book:

Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. This entire book definitely counts as a part of the middle. In fact, it is so “Middle” that I got to the end thinking that not much had actually happened. Oh, sure the central cast of characters went places and did things, but the plot points of this particular volume would have filled a much thinner book (and the books of this series tend to be fairly thick) so that much of the time the book is filled with the chatter of the characters pretty much going on about the same things they had been going on about earlier in the series.

For example, as has been the case in the previous books, they are all in a hurry to catch up to Zandramas who had kidnapped Garion and Cenedra’s son. So, do they move with all due haste? You might think so, but once again, we see Silk getting repeatedly obsessed over his business matters, even to take the time to haggle with and cheat the people he is doing business with when he might save time with a straight answer or two. We see various conversations with pig farmers, idle fishermen and drunken noblewomen that while, yes, some vital information is gained, the character then go back and repeat what they learned to others, often with unnecessary details. There is a lot of repeated conversations on the philosophy of quests and prophecies, most of which is a rehash from earlier too, so that by the time I reached the climactic scene at the end I could see that most of the book was filler so that this would be a five book series, rather than a tetralogy.

About the only other purpose for all the filler scenes is to show the reader just how large the world is and how long it takes to get from one place to the next when on horseback. That, by the way, sounds a lot like stuff my high school teachers might have told us to make dusty and poorly written books of the 19th and early 20th Century sound like great works of literature. (Side note: have you ever noticed how high school reading lists seem to have been crafted to actually discourage literacy? I could give examples, but I’ll save that for some other time).

All those gripes aside, I did enjoy the story even if all the characters appear to be too clever by half at times and somewhat two dimensional. It is a perfect example of how character development is not always a requirement for decent fantasy and science fiction. However, I have found that this particular part of the story is less interesting now that I have read the entire series, although even on first reading, I knew where they were ultimately heading (the “Place that is No More”) the moment I opened the third volume. Actually, I knew that the first time the phrase was used, but did not know where it was and wondered why they did not, especially Belgarath who had been around at the time when it was sort-of destroyed. Well, at 6,000 years of age, I suppose he must be prone to memory lapses when the plot requires it.

So, anyway, I think the series in general tells a fairly interesting story, but this part of it lags at times and if I had to guess, I’d say it was badly stretched out so it would be over 400 pages and roughly as thick as the rest of the series.

 

The Audiobook:

My copy is of the same series as the previous volumes of this series and Hal Tenney is both a talented reader. So, everything I’ve said before about him still applies. He reads very well and is easy to listen to although I do disagree with some of his vocal choices. Belgarath sounds more and more like a confused old man which is in opposition to how he is portrayed in Eddings’ writing, although Silk no longer sounds like a human weasel as he did in earlier books. That mean no points of consistency, but I appreciate not hearing the voice Tenney used for him earlier. However, most characters sound fairly normal most of the time and while I still disagree with his pronunciation of Zandramas, I’ll admit that maybe I’m wrong.

So, while very stretched and full of verbal fluff, it’s not a bad continuation of the series and Tenny reads it well.

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