An Audio-Book Review: Let’s Go to the Fair!

Saint Peter’s Fair

The Cadfael Chronicles #4

By Ellis Peters

Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Read by Johanna Ward

 

The Book:

I think this is my fault, but after listening to the whole thing (and most of the time, enjoying it) I found I had to go look up a plot summary in order to know what I had just listened to. Part of that might have been the recording which tended to get lost in road noise as I drove, but I found my mind wandering even more than usual. Looking at others’ reviews I seem to be the only one who had that experience, so I won’t pass judgement on the story which, while reportedly not as complex of some previous volumes in this series, kept me trying to remember just who was who and what they had been doing.

The one character (besides the regulars, like Cadfael, himself, Hugh Beringar and his wife Aline) I do remember being able to keep track of, was, of course, the first murder victim, a wealthy wine merchant, Thomas of Bristol. After that there were quite a few characters old and new all going about in reaction to the murder (including Thomas’ daughter Emma and Philip, the accused murderer who has an instant crush on Emma). Cadfael is put in charge of the murder investigation (I could be snarky and speculate this is because the Sheriff’s men were incompetent, but if I was following correctly the Abbey was hosting the fair and therefore it was up to the Abbot to choose an investigator and, well, it actually made sense to choose Cadfael since he had already solved three other recent murders.

Eventually a second man is found murdered. I was still keeping track at that point and wondered if there were, perhaps two murderers since Thomas was killed by a knife wound and this one’s neck was broken. I won’t give it away, either read/listen to the book or watch the PBS adaptation.

In spite of my in ability to keep track of what was going on without a plot outline, I think this was a pretty good story although, for only 4 books in this series is already stacking up a large number of recurring characters, but the story is a finely woven tapestry (so far as I can tell, with a number of threads that, in the end come together in fine style.

 

The Audiobook:

This is the first book I have heard read by Johanna Ward and I cannot help but compare her performance to that of Patrick Tull. She gives a good solid reading of the story but I think I preferred Tull’s readings of the previous stories. That’s a personal preference thing and not meant as a critique of her reading. Actually, she reads the story well and my only complaint was that I did not like her pronunciation of Cadfael’s name. For all I know she’s right and I’m wrong; I don’t claim to know much about Welsh (other than the usual joke that it suffers a lack of vowels – and to be honest, Welsh has plenty of vowels, it’s just that whoever chose to make it a written language did not use the Latin alphabet the same way the English (and French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, Romanians and others did) and Welsh names. I have a bad habit of pronouncing non-English names the way they look to me. I did not have this problem with Tull’s readings, but…

Anyway, in spite of my limited attention span this time around, I think this was a pretty good story and Ms. Ward’s reading was good.

Posted in Audio Books, Books, Ellis Peters, Mystery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

An Audio-Book Review: Father Goose’s Rejoinder

Dumpty

The Age of Trump in Verse

Written and illustrated by John Lithgow
Published by Hachette Audio
Read by John Lithgow

 

The Book:

Here’s another review I meant to post weeks, no, months ago. I listened to this book, laughed a lot, cried a bit and then, in the press of real life, my plan to review it fell through the cracks.

Rarely is a book of satirical poetry a service to Mankind, but with this one, I think that is not an exaggeration. I had sworn off listening to any further books about Donald J. Trump. I find them depressing and so far not a single one of them has told me anything I did not already know. Oh sure, they provided some confirmation. (I find it interesting that even many of the pro-Trump articles I have read have come off as rather damning either for Trump, his supporters used as sources or the people who wrote them, often all three, but that’s a matter, I think, of where you stand already), but confirmation is not news.

John Lithgow does not seek to tell us anything we do not already know but his verses remind us of the many things that we should remember but have been largely forgotten, crushed under the hooves of the constant stampede of scandals and crises that have become normal in the last four years. Lithgow starts out with a note to both Trump opponents and supporters that I think they ought to read/listen too. Actually, I recommend listening to the whole book. It only runs for ninety-five minutes and really is a good reminder of what’s been going on.

Along with the verses, Lithgow includes his own illustrations, but also a few explanations as to who these people are/were, because a lot of them came and went with only some brief fanfare, drowned out by the next distraction. I for one, must admit I had forgotten a least half of Lithgow’s targets and I’d like to think I am relatively well-informed.

Best of all, though, is that these verses are entertaining and not just anti-Trump political rants. Lithgow masterfully takes on the subjects and shows them for the foolishness and dangers they are, so even if you don’t think you’ll agree with a word of it, read it anyway and see how much you’ve forgotten. That by itself, is scary!

 

The Audiobook:

It is no surprise that John Lithgow chose to read his own verses. The man is an accomplished actor so why should he not read his own work? (I’m a terrible reader in comparison… you don’t want me to read one of my stories out loud, but I can’t afford John Lithgow). Actually, I don’t think anyone but Mr. Lithgow should or could have read the verses in this book.

So all told this is a masterful work of satire with a needle-sharp point and an entertaining experience to boot. I highly recommend it (in case that was not already obvious).

Posted in Audio Books, Books, Nonfiction, Poetry, Politics, Reviews, Satire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

An Audio-Book Review: A Giant Leap (Across Space) For a Man

The Lost Colony
The Lost Starship #4

By Vaughn Heppner
Published by Audible
Read by Mark Boyett

First of all: I meant to post this two weeks ago and between one thing and another I kept forgetting. The good news (well good if you like my reviews, bad news if you don’t) if that I’ll definitely have another to post for the next week or two.

The Book:

It is a coincidence that the next book I listened to after Mike Resnick’s Starship: Mutiny was this one. For two obvious space-operas, the two books could hardly be more different. Resnick’s book was filled with humor and while the main character was a bit of a know-it-all, he did seem to have a sense of humor and as I said in my review, the book felt more like a parody or satire of space operas rather than a serious attempt at one. This is an entirely different sort of story. The author is obviously writing a serious story about serious characters with no discernable senses of humor and unless you count mistakes, there is barely a sign of comic relief anywhere in the text.

Captain Maddox, as we learned in the first book of the series, has always been better at what he does than anyone else, but he learns as the books proceeds that while he is good, he is not the best. In some ways, he had too many foils, which may have been Mister Heppner’s way of balancing the fact that he is better, stronger, faster and smarter than most other around him. Among those foils are “The New Men” who are a genetically advanced branch of humanity (technically not a separate species since they can breed with normal humans (or sub-men as the new men call them) and produce viable offspring capable of breeding as well, the Methuselah Men (altered humans (well, most of them) for speed, strength and especially very long lives) and now androids, who while not smarter are definitely stronger and faster than Maddox. (the New men and the Methuselah Man were apparently invented by another mysterious and possibly immortal character named Strand, supposedly to protect normal humans… well we see how well that worked out). After a while you start to forget that most people in this future are normal human beings. I found myself wondering whether there needed to be so many advanced humans of one sort or another and found it got in the way of what could have been a much better story and might even have made Maddox a sympathetic character, rather than a cardboard super-man who somehow find himself surrounded by other super-men.

I am most skeptical of the “New Men” who while definitely stronger and faster than normal humans – Heppner goes out of his way to demonstrate that, they don’t seem particularly intelligent. Arrogant as all heck, yes, definitely, and they certainly think they are better than anyone else, but they do not act intelligently. Their advancements help them conquer human worlds, where they usually kill the inhabitants unless they choose to enslave them, and supposedly they have an advanced technology, but if they were really all that smart, why does the somewhat inferior (to them) Maddox, keep beating them story after story. It turns out that Maddox is half New Man himself, which explains, I suppose, why he is so good at what he does…

Oh, and while this is a bit of a spoiler: in this book it is revealed that there are no New Women. The New Men must kidnap (and presumably rape) normal women in order to have children. In which case, how can Maddox be only half New Man? None of them could be wholly New man (is there such a thing??? Sounds like arrogant racism to me and yet earlier in the series a New Man berates Maddox as only being part New Man and therefore worthless). On the other hand, the story was not interesting enough to me to try going back to see if I missed something, but sounds like blatant inconsistency.

One of the hallmarks of intelligence is the ability to solve problems and strategic and tactical planning is just that sort of problem, but while the stories tell us they have been very successful, Maddox and the normal humans keep beating them. Okay, Maddox has a special starship, built by an advanced alien race but even that takes heavy damage whenever he uses it and it is always a near thing especially when badly outnumbered by the New Men, so in spite of Heppner’s claims about them, the New Men are faster and stronger, but not all that much more effectively intelligent than normal humans. Maybe their arrogance supersedes their intelligence. I’m not impressed and keep thinking that if they were as intelligent as they think they are, they would have better things to do than to get involved with a protracted war with normal humans for worlds that have limited resources because they were already used by the humans… Oh, never mind, I should take this as it is presented.

We also get a hint as to just how small Human-occupied space is in this volume when our heroes go through a sort of artificial worm hole and end up 1000 light years away which apparently is an incredible distance from home and without another such passage it means they can’t get home. Given the fact the Milky Way is at least 150,000 light years in diameter (maybe as wide as 200,000 LY) that is a very small chunk of space. And yet Human Space has a lot of inhabited worlds in it. No one really knows how common Earthlike worlds (with the right gravity and atmosphere) are, but I suspect Mr. Heppner is postulating an amazingly dense population of them. Maybe I’m wrong there and maybe terraforming is a faster process than I can imagine. Just another feature you have to take as it is…

…and as presented, well if you like lots of military action described in detail (space battles sound like naval encounters with wormholes tossed in for extra color) you’ll probably like this book and the others in the series. Me? Well, I’ll admit that classic science fiction is not known for character development, but in good SF in the place of character development we have changing worlds and, in really good science fiction you can have both. This has neither. It has good action scenes, but I found the story and the characters less interesting than they should have been, so it will be a while before I move on to the next book… if I do. I think it is a ten-book series, but unless it improves, I doubt I’ll listen to another six of this sort of thing and I suppose it is no coincidence that I have not bothered with this series in almost two years.

 

The Audiobook:

Mark Boyett reads the story passably. I said that last time and will stand by my earlier comments. His reading does not sparkle and delight, but it also does not turn me off and make me want to skip ahead. At worst I would say his read is transparent and maybe it enhances the text. It certainly does not detract from the story.

So, I can’t say I enjoyed the book; there is not character development, no change in situation. As I have pointed out before SF is not known for character development and I’m not really into military battle descriptions, so this was a fairly bland story to me. The writing is better than some of the trash available in your local bookstore, but then that is a very low bar, depending on the section you shop in. Mr. Boyett’s read might not make it more bearable, but it does not hurt the experience either.

Posted in Adventure, Audio Books, Books, Reviews, Science Fiction, SF | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An Audio-Book Review: Mutiny on the Teddy!

Starship: Mutiny

By Mike Resnick

Published by Audible Studios

Read by Jonathan Davis

 

The Book:

I kept thinking I had either listened to this or read it before, but while parts seemed familiar, I did not remember it all, so my guess is that I read it or maybe only part of it some years ago when it first came out. Otoh, it is possible I have listened to and reviewed it before. I can’t find the review, but my reviews are organized by date of post, not name of book. In the first few years of writing these reviews that seemed like a good idea. Now… maybe not so much. Well, if I have reviewe3d this before, maybe someone will point out when and whether I have been consistent…

This is the first book of Resnick’s Starship series, a classic space opera, but with the usual Resnick twists. I cannot help but wonder if it was intended as a satire on space operas, not that it is funny. There’s a lot of humor in the mix, but this is not a humorous story, but satire is not necessarily funny. His characters are close to one-dimensional, especially the main character, Commander Cole.

Cole is the most decorated man in the Navy; a virtuous officer who is always at least one step ahead of the enemy and his superior officers. He always has a plan, can always see all the implications of a situation and is always right. That’s a bit boring. Because he is always right, he has been given a lot of medals over the years, which he does not think much of, and in doing so has committed the unforgivable crime of showing up his superiors. He is a loose cannon who does not wait for orders – he just goes and does what needs doing. That can be an admirable trait, but in Resnick’s future history that means that eventually, after having yet another medal slapped on his chest, he is sent off to one of the fleet’s oldest and least armed warships, the Theodore Roosevelt (or as those on board call her, the Teddy R). In the middle of a long-running war, this ship has been sent out to patrol a sector on the rim of the galaxy where nothing is happening… until Cole arrives.

On Cole’s first shift an enemy ship is spotted landing on an allied planet uncontested and rather than reporting it to his captain, Cole grabs two others and flies off in a shuttle craft to investigate. One thing leads to another… no one, including his crewmates, is as smart as him and eventually he (and his captain) ends up with yet another medal.

This sort of thing goes on and in the next encounter the captain sacrifices himself, Cole gets another commendation and the First Officer, a stick-to-the-rulebook martinet, takes over. AT that point I thought I could see what would happen next; A demoralized crew, after a period of sloth, suddenly finds itself under a strict disciplinarian… Yeah, I read that story in grade school although that time it went on and on about breadfruit. Well, thankfully, Mister Resnick did not follow that script and threw in some differences so the story was interesting.

Now I may not be praising the story much, but I have to admit that in spite of its flaws – mostly with a cast of rather flat and predictable characters – it was an entertaining story that kept me listening to the end and right into the preview of the next book, which I also look forward to listening to.

So, Cole is literally a smart-ass who knows more than anyone else (I doubt I’d enjoy his company) and each of his companions have only one defining trait each. This is typical of space operas, which is why I think it was meant as satire. Am I giving him too much credit? Maybe, maybe not. However, while the characters themselves are one-dimensional, the story twists and turns in what I found an interesting and entertaining manner so that I did not really know how it was going to turn out until fairly near the end.

 

The Audiobook:

I don’t think I have ever listened to Jonathan Davis read before, but I honestly enjoyed the experience. He delineated the characters clearly and without any extreme “funny voices” even when non-human species were speaking. Well… there were some funny voices for the non-humans, but they were not annoying.

So, all told the story had sadly flat characters made interesting only in their being mixed together (like I said, typical of classic space opera – try reading some of Chandler’s John Grimes stories sometime; fun but you know where they are going and how each character will react) but with a fun and swift-moving story all read by a very good narrator. Maybe it’s not a satire, but if you think of it as such, you may enjoy this one as much as I did.

Posted in Adventure, Audio Books, Books, Mike Resnick, Science Fiction, SF | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Audio-Book Review: Three Times the Fun!

Black Amazon of Mars

By Leigh Brackett

Published by Libravox

Three editions read by Gregg Margarite, Phil Chenovert and Thomas A. Copeland

 

The Book:

One might wonder why I chose this book. Seriously, how could I resist the title? And why three times? Well it is a short book – only about two and a half hours long and two of the three readers are ones I have enjoyed listening to in the past, so, why not?

I suppose I should have read some of Brackett’s earlier stories involving John Eric Stark (this is actually the third) but it seems to stand on its own well enough. By the way, this title, first published in 1951, was later expanded into a full novel-length book entitled People of the Talisman. Perhaps I shall look that on up in time as well. Actually, I think I probably should have read some more of her stories before now in any case although I have, unknowingly, seen some of the screenplays she worked on such as Rio Bravo, The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep. She also wrote a version of The Empire Strikes Back shortly before her death. That script was rejected, but it is of note that while her contribution was mostly rejected, the same basic story beats from her version remain in the finished project. And also in her version Darth Vader is not Luke’s father. Instead Anakin shows up as a Force Ghost. I have to admit that when that movie first came out, I was convinced Vader was lying and held that view until “Return of the Jedi” came out. I think I might have liked her version better.

Anyway, without giving anything away, the title of the work implies this is a nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his stories about John Carter and Barsoom. Indeed, story-wise, at least, John Carter and Tars Tarkas would have fit right in here even though this Mars is definitely not Barsoom. John Eric Stark is cut from the same cloth as Carter; an epic hero on a world filled with warring factions. Or it seemed that way; this is a relatively short story so only a small windows into Brackett’s Mars, but somehow I doubt the first two stories were about John Eric Stark’s days in high school and college set in a something much closer to a paradise.

There’s a bit of the deus ex machina going on here in that he finds a talisman near the start of the story that is just what it turns out he needs at the end, but all in all, it’s not a bad story and maybe I’ll get around to reading the novelization one of these days. This one ended very abruptly but I think we expect that from a short story or novelette.

 

The Audiobook:

It was interesting to hear three different takes on the same story. Each author has his own style and each read it well. Gregg Margarite read it in a deep-toned voice that sort of edged on a whisper. I generally enjoy listening to him, but this was not his best recording. I would not have had this problem listening at home, but in my car, his voice was frequently lost in the road noise unless I turned the volume way too far up.

Phil Cheonvert’s style is very Cajun which might sound odd at first, but his was my favorite recording of the trio. He kept my attention throughout which is good because I kept losing track of what was happening when listening to Gregg Margarite’s recording (the road noise thing. In quiet moments, he held me as well as any of the readers.

Thomas A. Copeland used some modest special effects, like turning on the reverb for some voices and situations. It worked well and he voices the characters with more variety than the other two.

I think my favorite was Phil Chenovert, but I seriously recommend listening to all three. It makes for a very good combination.

So, I think it was a fairly tight story so far as it went and it was a lot of fun listening to it all three times.

 

Posted in Adventure, Audio Books, Books, Fantasy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Audio Books, Books, Clifford Simak, Science Fiction, SF, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Anthropology, Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Science, Terry Pratchett, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment