An Audio-Book Review: “Complicit”

Unhinged

Written and read by Omarosa Manigault Newman

Published by Simon & Schuster Audio

 

The Book:

I was hoping to review this one before its fifteen minutes were up, but it took me too long to get to it. Well, I’ll review it anyway. It will serve as a virtual shower to clean off the experience. As for the title of this review, many will recall the Saturday Night Live ad spoof starring Scarlett Johansen as Ivanka Trump and, if not, it comes up twice in this book, but it  is just as applicable to Omarosa Manigault Newman.

My first conundrum, listening to this book was over the believability of the author. By her own words she portrays her self as an actress, a reality TV star, and a political functionary in two administrations. None of those tell me I can rely on anything she writes. A lot of what she writes about her time in “Trumpworld” is diametrically opposed to anything she said or implied before she was fired.

Keep in mind that if you have read Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury or just listened to the news in the last two years or so, there is nothing new in this book. Well, not about Donald J. and his administration. Half the content is actually about Omarosa; how she grew up, her family, her university education (not to be sneered at, btw) her various careers, how she got involved with reality TV, her personal triumphs and tragedies and so forth. I suppose this is reasonable content, but I could not help but see a very important parallel between her and Trump; no matter what is said, it always comes back to the first person. It is as much or more a book about Omarosa as it is about anything else.

So, as I said, no new content about Trumpworld. I doubt she did this, but it is almost as is she culled everything she wanted to say about Trump and his cronies from the news and other people’s books and articles. The whole book stands as possible confirmation for all those stories we have been hearing, but without any new evidence to back it up.

One theme that ran through the book was over the putative recording of Trump using the “N” word in an out-take from “The Apprentice.” She apparently heard about that early on and repeats that she was told that the recording really exists, but this is a second-hand account from an unnamed source. How credible is it? Now do I believe Trump uses such language? Oh yes, yes I do. Did he do it on set?” It would not surprise me, but being told that such a tape exists because someone I do not know says someone else I do not know told her there is a “tape” is not even proof of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (unless there is a subatomic particle that spreads lies… hmm? I suppose it might be called the “Ratatoskon” (after the squirrel that carries messages up and down the world tree Yggdrasil between Odin and Niddhog) and, like the tachyon, such a particle would have to travel faster than light… uh… never mind.)

In any case, Omarosa asks herself several times whether Trump might have been referring to her when he used that word. As she heard about it fairly early on, it’s a reasonable conjecture, especially since she was one or only two African Americans on the show that season. Like much of Trumpworld, the cast was very white. In fact, when Wikileaks announced that by their own analysis the recent op-ed in the New York Times “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” was written by an older white male it was obviously not so much an analysis as it was a blinding glimpse of the obvious. Certainly, it’s a safe bet considering how many old white males are in the administration.

However, while it comes up several times, and each time she confesses to having serious concerns, it is obvious that each time she put her concerns back into her pocket and continued to associate herself with Trump.

She also goes on and on about how she was betrayed by Hilary Clinton and I found myself waiting to hear what that was about. Apparently, early in her career she had a minor job in the Clinton Whitehouse and so when Hilary started considering her 2016 run, Omarosa joined the organization (a PAC? I forget) that did the advance work for two years. When Hilary finally declared her candidacy, however, she did not choose as campaign manager the person who had been running the pre-candidacy organization, nor was Omarosa offered a top job in the campaign. That’s betrayal? Obviously, she did not get the job she wanted, nor did her boss, but bringing outsiders to run any organization is hardly unusual. And she apparently had no trouble with her hero, Trump (or DJT as she constantly calls him) bringing in Manafort to replace Lewandowsky and then Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to replace Manafort. None of these were exactly promoting from within.

Back to the “N” word, which haunts this book as it does in one form or other all African-Americans. Every time Omarosa has a choice to make, the possible “tape” rears its head and then she puts it aside until she finally decides it might be time to leave the Trump administration. Supposedly her plan was to leave in January, 2018, the one-year anniversary, but given her stated reasons for wanting out, I think she should have simply packed up and written an “I quit” resignation letter. Instead, she was fired by General Kelly before she could resign. Is that true or just another story for our consumption. Well, we will never really know, will we?

In short (I know, too late!), the only verified facts in the book about the Trump administration are those that we’ve already read or watched in the news. The rest is speculation those of us who do not trust Trump already believed, but if we’re honest still have no real proof of or else is Omarosa telling us about her life (which I have no reason to doubt nor is it my intention to call into question). Despite all her stated reservations as time went on, she was as complicit in the actions of the Trump administration as anyone else on the inside. In all, the book is probably not worth the 20% off cover price it was released at unless you really want to hear her side of the story.

The Audiobook:

I could say something sarky like, “Omarosa Manigault Newman reads this book as if she had written it herself… oh wait!” but to be quite honest she does read it very well for the most part. She does have an unfortunate habit of imitating the people she quotes and in most cases the imitations are far from flattering. Hope Hicks sounds like a bubble-head. Kellyanne Conway never says “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!” but there is a definite touch of the Wicked Witch of the West Wing in there. Most of her vocal depictions sound dead on, actually, at least in tonality and accent and some might be realistic in depiction too although Her version of Trump himself sounds more like someone from the heart of Brooklyn than Queens. I had no trouble imagining Trump saying the words she attributes to him, but not in that accent, or maybe having grown up in Ohio, she does not really hear the difference. Most of the accents she used were standard theatrical accents and theatrical accents are not really varied enough to differentiate by neighborhoods.

So, I’d say it’s a fairly good reading of a book that is at best mediocre. Next up, let’s compare it to Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the Whitehouse. (coming soon!)

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Posted in Audio Books, Autobiography, Books, HIstory, Nonfiction, Politics, Reviews, Social Commentary | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

An Audio-Book Review: Just Another Country Outing

Snuff

By Terry Pratchett

Published by Harper Audio

Read by Stephen Briggs

 

The Book:

“Snuff” has two meanings, both of which apply to this story; 1) it is a tobacco-based powder that some sniff up and into their noses for a nicotine hit, and sometimes the smell. 2) to kill. In fairness it is also an obscure term for  the burnt part of a candle wick, but I’m not sure if that applies here although I think candles are mentioned once or twice…

I have not been reviewing this series in any particular order, but for the record, this is Book 39 in the amazingly prolific Discworld Series. Actually, one could argue that Discworld is actually made up of a host of series, each of which has its own tone of writing and set of characters. The earliest main character was Rincewind the Wizzard (sic) and his bumbling attempts to avoid Death (another character of the series who once said, “I’ve had another near-Rincewind experience”) while acting as a guid to Two-Flower, Discworld’s first tourist.  Other series within this series feature Death, himself, his granddaughter, Susan, Granny Weatherwax and the Witches of Lancre, Tiffany Aching, a witch of the Chalk who apprentices with Granny Weatherwax (one could argue that Tiffany’s stories are part of the other Witch stories, but the tone of those stories is frequently more serious and geared for young adults than the others) and then we have the stories of Commander Vimes and the City Watch of Ankh Morpork.  (NB: there are a bunch of others I have failed to mention as well as a few one-off stories if I omitted one of your favorites, sorry). There is a lot of cross-over between these series, however, so a reader should not be surprised to encounter some of the officers of the watch while Death is filling in for the Hogfather (Discworld’s version of Santa Claus.) Any character might conceivably appear in another’s story if it seems appropriate.

Over the course of the entire series, the Discworld changes and develops as a world might do over time, so, in the beginning the series is a parody of well-known fantasy (and some science fiction) stories and memes, but after a short while it became an original and inventive world of its own although satire was a frequent element in many of the stories, although not all. In fact, as the series progresses with the additions of Discworld’s versions of 19th and sometimes 20th Century technologies, the stories take on a life of their own and the only satire is about people in general.

The stories starring Sam Vimes are some of the more serious adventures. Vimes is a life-long cop. In his first story, he was a broken drunken cop in charge of only the disreputable Night Watch but as the stories go on, he finds the will to give up drinking without a 12 Step program and becomes one of the most influential people on the Discworld. In this story his wife (the Duchess of Ankh) has decided it is time for a country holiday and Vimes is forced to turn in his badge for the duration. Naturally, Vimes does no such thing and even on vacation there is always a crime for him to solve.

This time it involves goblins, the lowest-regarded sentient species on Discworld and the mystery behind certain events of some years earlier that seem to be repeating even now. As has happened in other Vimes stories, it turns out that all people are worthy of respect and by the end any great change has taken place on Discworld, all thanks to Vimes and those around him.

This is not a funny story, but it is a satirical one and a fun adventure.

 

The Audiobook:

Stephen Briggs has read a fair number of Pratchett’s books and is especially suited to reading the stories featuring Sam Vimes. He captures the grim seriousness of Vimes’ character along with his determination to see justice meted out with equality. Other readers of Pratchett’s books could handle characters like Rincewind, Ridcully, even Death, whose humor and/or slapstick adventures need a lighter touch, but for a story involving Vimes, Briggs is perfect.

So, this is a well-written and somewhat stern Discworld story although not so stern as to lose  the usual Pratchett satirical touch and Briggs reads it well.

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An Audio-Book Review: The Road to Verkat

The King of the Murgos
Book 2 of The Malloreon

By David Eddings

Published by American Printing House for the Blind

Read by Hal Tenny

 

The Book:

In this book the series finally gets into full action. The first book, Guardians of the West, spent most of it’s very thick stack of pages getting us, the readers, up to speed by detailing what’s been going on since the previous series involving then, The Belgariad, concluded. Guardians takes place over a ten or twelve-year span and while it attempts to skip over the boring parts when nothing seemed to be happening, the attempt was only partially successful and much of it might have been mention in a few paragraphs of conversation scattered here and there. In all, even the new action felt like filler. Fortunately for us all, from here on the action proceeds at a somewhat faster pace even though the whole series sometimes reads like a “Road Movie” but without Hope, Crosby and Lamour. (Sing: We’re  off on the road to Melcene…)

There is a lot of travelling involved, but then I estimate that by the end of the book they have gone over six thousand miles to the south. In real life one would hope this would be a boring trip (ie nothing exciting or dangerous happening), but in a novel we want interesting and between the bouts of travelling a lot happens. Even so, in my first reading of this series I had not realized just how slow the action is. Between the scenes in which something actually happens, there’s a lot of wandering around while discussing what just happened, what is currently happening (or not), what is about to happen, what might happen after that, and what it supposedly all means. A lot of that turns out to be wrong but even that is predictable – if they were always right we’d know what its going to happen from the start.

However, as I said above, the real action of the series does begin with this book as our varied band of characters stumble their way through the caves of Ulgo and the plains of Arendia. Then they get caught up in the political intrigues of Tolnedra and Nyissa and then finally into hitherto unknown territory of the kingdom of the Murgos, Cthol Murgos.

In many ways this reminds me of the “Thud and Blunder” stories I grew up with. Certainly there’s a lot of blunder going on by the main characters, but while they seem incredibly talented at getting into unforeseen trouble, they are even more incredibly adept at getting out of trouble again… eventually.

In spite of my grumbles, however, it’s an entertaining story even if I do have several more volumes to get through before it is complete.

The Audiobook:

 

Hal Tenney, bay and large, is not a bad reader, but he does occasionally lapse into annoyingly cliché (or I frequently call them, “Funny”) voices so that the Character of Silk (aka Prince Kheldar) also sounds like the sniveling rodent  he is often described as. Or rather it is said his nose is somewhat rodent-like, that doesn’t mean he constantly acts like a human rat. The same sort of complain can be applied to various other characters.

However, I think I can put up with that, but his pronunciation of various place names constantly grates on my nerves. It’s possible the way he does it is closer to how David Eddings envisioned them, but to my ears names like Sthiss Tor or Cthol Mishrak do not require an extra vowel (usually an “i”) inserted to maker them Sithiss Tor and Sithol Mishrak. Also, I always assumed the C in Ctholl was a hard sound, not a soft one. Well, maybe I’m wrong about that. That is the problem with made up names; it’s up to the reader to work out proper pronunciation or to decide which syllable the accent is on (Almost inevitably Mister Tenney’s choices did not agree with mine on that one.)

Well, as I said, he is not a bad reader, but his choices did rub me the wrong way too frequently; not enough to say you should look for a different edition of the book to listen to, but enough that I felt I had to say something.

So, yes, it’s a good continuation of the story and Mister Tenney’s reading was at worst passable especially if you are not as stubborn as I can be about pronunciations…

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A Cartoon Review: DreamWorks Stinks up a Classic

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Creator: (ie the guy to blame) David P. Smith
Produced by DreamWorks Studios
Available via Amazon Prime

I’m taking a one-time break from reviewing audio-books to hopefully save some of you from an animated travesty.
The Cartoons:

Then                       vs                                Now

RB.jpg
There is so much wrong with this incarnation of a favorite family classic. Where do I start? I know! Hey remember that truly awful mixed live action/3D Animation production of “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” in 2000? It has a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 4.2/10 stars on IMDB and 36 on Metacritic. It was panned by most reviewers, and yet it is a shining beacon of cinematography and an homage to the old cartoon in a way that this latest attempt fails in every possible manner.
The movie attempted to recapture the humor and maintain the basic natures of the characters. This cartoon does none of that.
First of all, the characters bear only a passing resemblance to the originals. The artwork of the original series was nothing to write home about. Jay Ward’s cartoon relied on the mix of childish and sophisticated humor (mostly in puns that kids would find funny on face value and that adults would find amusing, assuming they caught the references), but let’s face it, the animation was rubbish. Still the animation of this new series makes me long for the da Vinci-like masterpiece Ward presented us. The characters in the 2000 movie looked more like the originals. For that matter, there are characters in Star Vs. The Forces of Evil and Happy Tree Friends that look more like Bullwinkle than what we have to endure here. Kindergarten-produced fan art looks more like the originals. If only the artists had ever seen what the characters were supposed to look like, but given how far of the mark they went, they must have been working from written descriptions
Also, Captain Peter “Wrongway” Peachfuzz has been transgendered into an African-American woman – Commander Peachfuzz. Actually, I could get behind that one, if only she weren’t such an insulting racial stereotype. The Peachfuzz of the new series is a far more intense character without a stated backstory so we only see her as the outrageous stereotype she is.
Appearances might be forgiven, however, if the characters acted like the originals… No, abandon all hope, they don’t. For example, in the original, Rocky is a brave and plucky character. He may be a bit naïve – Boris and Natasha could always fool him with a flimsy disguise, but, in all, he is a sensible and mature squirrel. Bullwinkle is dumb as a brick with a brain of pudding, but he generally means well. In this case the boys are both mindless idiots who bumble into one bad situation after another. Oh… and Rocky frequently floats, bouncing up and down lightly to remind us he is a flying squirrel, except that the original Rocky could not float. Also, he apparently only flies when convenient for the plot. In chase scenes (most of the time) he runs on the ground. In the first story, the appropriately named “Stink of Fear” he complains often about how tiring the running is to be repeatedly reminded, “You can fly, you know.” “Aw, nuts!” Aw nuts, indeed!
Think of this series as “Ren and Stimpy” meets “Spongebob Squarepants” meets the “Three Stooges“ without any of the “redeeming” satirical social commentary or “fine writing.”
I might have forgiven the attempt to update the cartoon with the addition of modern tech (smart phones, ghetto blasters (is that modern anymore?) etc.) and some modern slang (if by modern, we mean 10-15 years out of date, yo.) if they had only attempted to pull some of the good bits of the original cartoons, but no.
The characters are all over-the-top – Fearless Leader is more crazed than the cold evil character he was, Cloyd, the moonman, is a little alien kid (his father looks like Gidney) with amazing and convenient powers rather than a scrooch-gun, and… well, I’ve already described Rocky and Bullwinkle above. The same can be said for all the rest. Oh, btw, Boris and Natasha aren’t so much a team as two spies who hate each other who have been forced to work together. Worst of all, there is an appearance by Gordon Ramsey (Boris is in fan-heaven) who seems far nicer than he is in reality, so the one chance to go over the top fails.
The stories are simplistic, straightforward and missing all the obscure references that gave it something for adults watching with their kids something to enjoy. So, no Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam, Rue Britannia, Treasure of Monte Zoom, or The Miceman Cometh.
This is not a remake, it’s a reboot. The difference is that in a reboot, the people producing it totally ignore the original and start all over again. This allows them to ignore everything that came before, including character development, storylines and production values. My usual example is the J. J. Abrams attempt at Star Trek wherein it was decided to change the past and present an entirely new history and set of characters with all the same names. So, Abrams was able to suddenly make Kirk and McCoy the same age and place them on the Enterprise as raw cadets where previously younger characters like Sulu and Chekov had already been through the Academy and were serving as officers. I don’t recall the change being that big, but I guess Abrams just did not care. And don’t even get me started on promoting a cadet to full ship’s captain in one stroke…
Now I usually like to say something nice about something I pan, so here goes… If you have never seen Rocky and Bullwinkle before and you are, say 6-11 years old, you probably will like this. Other reviewers have given this new series higher praise than I have (well, they would almost have to, wouldn’t they?) but to me if you are going to resurrect an old classic it should not be as a zombie with all the good bits falling off. So, if you treasure your childhood cartoons like Rocky and Bullwinkle, maybe give this one a miss. Or, go watch this for yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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An Audio-Book Review: Expecto perficientur!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By Jack Thorne (Based on a story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne)

Published by The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s Talking Books Library

Read by Geoffrey Newland

 

The Script:

This is not a new Harry Potter novel, although it has been classified as the eighth story of the series. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play in two parts (which in some venues can be viewed in Matinee and Evening performances and in others on successive days. My opinion on that below…) and so, being a play, this is not a novel, but a script.

I have not seen the play but given the stage directions (including a lot of views as to some characters’ internal thoughts, which to me sounded a bit like trying to over-control the final product) it can easily be read and understood in book form. Of course, that leaves one to imagine the special effects but if you cannot make it to a performance, that is likely all you will have to work with since Ms Rowling has stated this will not be a “movie trilogy” based on the play. Otoh, it seems to me that a trilogy would be milking the story for more than it is worth. The Wizarding World has been a magnificent cash cow for those involved, but there are limits (I’m not sure I am up to four more movies about Newt Scamander). One movie, though, would be reasonable and perhaps one day that will happen… or not.

I was actually somewhat disappointed by the story of this play. While it does break some new ground, it also rehashes a lot of the earlier stories, most especially Horry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There is a lot of time travel with intentional and unintentional changes to the past and with all the old time-travel clichés being used in a manner I found all too unimaginative. If the Harry Potter Series did not need something, it is a “what if” story. It was an enjoyable story, but there was very little original thought put into the situations.

Because I was listening and not reading I did not catch the correct spelling of one of the new characters’ name. She was called Delphi Diggory although I heard it as “Delfie.” Had I seen the actual spelling I would have suspected what she was up to from the start and known exactly what was going to happen shortly thereafter. As it happens I figured it out after the first trip back was accomplished which was still a long time from the end. Subtlety was dealt with a sledgehammer and I could not help but wonder if Ms. Rowling and her co-authors had a measure of disdain for the fan’s ability to figure it all out, or maybe they were just as our British friends might say, “too clever by half” and failed to think it out for themselves. I suppose it is also possible that none of them are actually fans of fantasy and science fiction and do not realize they are treading on an already trampled path. Fortunately, there has been such a hunger for more Harry Potter that, so far it worked for them.

I’m not sure I really want to see the play, at least not on successive nights. As a single play it is a long one so a decent intermission is in order, I think, but to get attendees to devote two days (or evenings) to view the performance sounds like they are really trying to cash in on the fan fervor (a feeling I have gotten from the release of mini-books like Quidditch Through the Ages and Tales of Beedle the Bard and other books of the Hogwarts Library. Admittedly some (all? Not sure) of these were written to benefit a worthy charity of Ms. Rowling, but while the Fantastic Beasts movie series does interest me, I am satisfied that the Harry Potter series is complete and have moved on. Beyond this feels, to me, like exploiting the success of the original series. I really do not care what Harry has for breakfast on alternative mornings while in his office at the Ministry for Magic.

 

The Reading:

The script is available for sale via all the usual venues one buys book at, but the audio version I listened to is not. There is no plan for a commercial release of an audio version of the script so I had to borrow this one. I like the fact that it has been released as a talking book for those unable to read due to disability and applaud that it was done, but I think a commercial release of the same recording would be appreciated by fans and if the authors do not want to cash in on what was a very nice charitable act, the proceeds could go to charity as well. Sadly, there is never enough charity in this world.

Geoffrey Newland reads the script very well and I really enjoyed it from start to finish, but… Wow! It was hard to find out who was reading. His name is not mentioned at all in the recording although credits for the original cast and crew of the play went on and on at the end. I was eventually able to find it on only one of the listings at the RNIBP site and in very small print. I’m not sure why he was downplayed in the credits. In the reading of the script, the reader is as important as those who performed it on stage, maybe more so if, like me, this is only performance you are likely to experience.

Still, I found out who he was and, yes, this is a very good reading and a passably good play. If you’re a firm Harry Potter fan and not a curmudgeonly old F&SF fan you are likely to enjoy it all without reservation.

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An Audio-Book Review: It’s Not as Long as You Might Think

The End of Eternity

By Isaac Asimov

Published by Blackstone Audio

Read by Paul Boehmer

 

The Book:

Now here’s an old SF classic! I thought I had reviewed this one before, but I cannot find an old review, so here goes. (and if I have reviewed it before, well we shall find out how consistent I am…).

In this novel, Eternity is an artificial construct of imaginary physics that exists outside normal time starting in the Twenty-seventh Century and running until… well, forever, I guess. It at least runs until the Sun goes nova, billions (and billions) of years from now as Nova Sol is the main power source for “Eternity.”

The men who live inside Eternity (and, yes, it is a male-only society with only an occasional woman allowed to visit temporarily) are ostensibly inter-temporal traders, carrying goods from one century to another, but in actuality they secretly control the course of events for the good of all mankind. What that means gets explored in the story, so I won’t get into that. One change leads to others, of course, so the Eternals are constantly meddling with the course of human events and I could not help but wonder if all that inter-temporal trading (which goes on too) may have lead to a lot of necessary changes in spite of claims by Eternals that they are very careful about what gets traded and to whom.

Reality is a flexible concept in this future world. The Eternals know that it changes, but the people in real Time are obviously unaware of it. So, we have phrases like the 14th Reality of the 57th Century being bandied about and our main protagonist, Andrew Harlan, is a Technician, the guy who actually makes the changes.

Eternity might be trying to create a perpetual Utopia on Earth, but it is no Utopia inside Eternity with all the sorts of biases and prejudices between varies ranks of Eternals that one can imagine. The Technicians are despised, for example, because they are the ones who make the changes, even though every other sort of Eternal (Computer, Life Plotter, etc.) must plan and approve those changes before they are made. There is also more political scheming and plotting than you can see reported on CNN each evening.

So, our boy Andrew is a rather closed-off individual who keeps to himself most of the time, studying the “Primitive Times” before Eternity was founded… and then he falls in love with a woman in… uh, I forget which century exactly (the 482nd maybe). Meanwhile he has also been tasked with teaching Primitive History a new recruit (called a “Cub”) into Eternity, a younger man who is several years too old to have been recruited. Andrew eventually becomes suspicious of the cub, and by extension various other higher ups in Eternity as he strives to have and keep the woman from real time even if that means the ultimate destruction of all Eternity.

The story seems, at first to be a simple one, typical of science fiction from the 1950’s, but as I listened to it this time, I found complexities in the plot line I had not noticed before. There is some surprisingly good character development (SF is not known for character development. It happens, but while the point of much mainstream fiction is to show how the world changes people, SF shows how people change the world) in the case of Harlan. Admittedly most of the rest of the character were flat, but as I said, character development is not a requirement in SF, especially classic SF.

This could have been a dirty, gritty story and if written now it might have been, but like most of 1950’s SF it is an optimistic story and, frankly was a breath of fresh air after some of the books I have listened to in the last few months.

What I liked is that this was a very different take on time travel stories. Rather than having our characters going back in time and accidentally changing something fundamental and then having to go back again to set things right, there are intentional changes to time going on all the time. Of course, it is all in the future, so maybe it does not count, but definitely it was an original idea, especially at the time it was written.

Definitely it was great to get back to one of Asimov’s stories.

 

The Audiobook:

I’ve listened to Paul Boehmer’s narrations before. Some of his characters sound like they are whining a bit when he tried to pitch his voice higher than normal (such as when he does female characters, but to tell the truth I only noticed that on a second listening. The first time through I only sat back and enjoyed the ride and, if I noticed anything, it was how well, he was able to differentiate each of the characters vocally. A few times he comes close to annoyingly “funny voices,” but I do not think he quite crossed the line even if Computer Twissel, for example, sounded like the stereotypical old man. Well, he was old, but to be honest I speak to elderly gentlemen frequently and never heard anyone who actually sounded like that, although I suppose someone must or how else would that have become so cliché?

All, in all, this was a very enjoyable book and the reading of it was worth the time.

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An Audio-Book Review: The Bishops in Check

Furious Gulf (Galactic Center #5)

By Gregory Benford

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

Read by John Polk

 

Oops! I was supposed to post this two weeks ago. On the plus side I’m now set for the next three weeks or more…

The Book:

I think I may finally be warming up to this series. At least that’s how I felt at the start of the story. Bishop Family, along with the remnants of the other chess-themed families are once again traveling through space aboard the Starship Argo, having picked up bunches of people named after playing cards and a few nonhumans from the last strange world they visited. They are still fleeing the “Mechs” a culture of sapient machines intent on wiping out organic lifeforms, although from what I can tell they are not very consistent about it since some seem to be content to keep humans as pets while others want them all dead. I keep hoping I’ll get a glimpse of a plan behind the madness, but I suspect we have to assume that the Mechs do what they do because that is what Mechs do.  It’s also possible that across an entire galaxy that there are various groups of Mechs each with their own priorities and that these various groups have different goals and are not one homogenous culture. Or… Mechs are as crazy as organic life is… deal with it?

Meanwhile Captain Killean, the leader of the people aboard the Argo has set a course for the center of the Galaxy (hence living up to the name of the series) but he has aged a bit since the last book and now is a stubborn, obsessed and possibly crazy older man. Perhaps it’s all those voices in his head. These far future humans have managed to hold on to a technology in which the memories of their ancestors can be implanted as chips in their spines. These chips, called aspects, can be consulted for the valuable memories, but sometimes they can get a little out of hand.

In Toby’s case, one of those aspects is something more, a “personality” of his father’s now deceased wife who Killean wants to speak to directly even though that is against all custom and propriety of these future people. Also, on Killean’s mind is the fact that the ship’s gardens are failing and the slowly starving people on his ship are starting to have mutinous ideas.

So… Killean plunges the ship into a black hole. Okay, I’m leaving a lot out, but that is where it all goes really strange. It turns out there is a human civilization close in toward the event horizon and they seem to have been able to hold off the Mechs and everyone else they do not want. However, this black hole civilization offers an opportunity for trade of both goods and information. However, time is strange this close to the black hole and so is the story.

However, this is not Killean’s story so much as it is Toby’s. Toby has grown up since the last book and is now on the verge of manhood, and maybe just a step over the verge, so amid the strangeness of the setting we also have Toby’s own personal discoveries. In all it’s a fairly rich book with a lot of story to tell.

I’ll admit that because of the fact I was listening and not reading this one, I lost track several times of what was going on and how some characters got to where they were and to where they eventually were going. Had I been reading a real book or even an e-book, I could have flipped back a few pages and tried to figure out what I had missed. Listening, though I had to hope I could piece it all together as it went and that did not always happen.

Yes, I could have gone back to relisten to passages, but as I have explained in the past, I do most of my listening while driving and maybe I’m a bit old-school, but I try not to get distracted from what the idiot in the car in front of me is doing. In most books that doesn’t matter. This time I felt like I had blinked and ended up in a new world at least three times. So, my first recommendation is to read this book, if you can, before attempting to listen to it, or if listening, try to do so as a primary activity and not as background noise. And definitely, do not start the series with this volume! I think you could probably skip the first book and maybe the second without getting lost, although there’s a lot of back story leading up to the tale of the Bishops that help to make sense of it all, but by the third book we have a firmly connected story arc that must be followed volume by volume.

In spite of my confusions, however, this is solid hard science fiction of the sort that it helps to be at least somewhat acquainted with astrophysics, relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, etc. because otherwise some of the setting might make no sense to the reader. You don’t have to be an expert with a degree in physics and to be able to understand the math behind it all but having a layman’s acquaintance with some of the concepts definitely helps keep this from seeming like impossible nonsense since Benford was busy telling the story and did not take a lot of time out to explain the situation in detail. That, by the way, is probably a good thing, because the explanations alone would (and have) filled tomes on their own and this is supposed to be fiction, not a college-level course.

All told, so far, I think that it was worth getting through the previous book to get to where we are now. This opinion may or may not change with the next book, of course.

 

The Audiobook:

Once again, John Polk has delivered a solid reading.  He does not engage in a slew of “funny voices” that grate on the nerves and sometimes are hard to understand. However, as I have said in the past, he also leaves no vocal clues as to who is talking so you really have to listen to the text or you could get lost. Fortunately, Benford writes sufficient vocal tags (he said, she announced, etc.) for a listener to follow and it was hard to get confused in that manner.

One complaint, however. I thought Mister Polk might have been trying too hard. Everything was read in an overtly dramatic tone of voice. I kept thinking of the narrator from the old Batman TV series from the 1960’s. Most folks remember that for the campy writing and performances (sorry, kids, Adam West is still my favorite Batman!), but I also recall that it used to run two nights a week with the Wednesday show always ending in a cliff-hanger to be resolved the following evening. And the narrator would cut in and say something like “How will our heroes escape this time? Tune in tomorrow, same bat-time, same bat-channel!” Of course, the line was even cheesier than that, but hey, it’s Batman! Anyway, Polk’s reading was dramatic in that style and I kept expecting Batman and Robin to swing in for a non-sequitur battle with the Joker. Biff! Pow! Bam!

However, as I said, the series seems to be working up to a fine crescendo and may even have a great finale, so I guess I will tune in next time… same bat-time, same bat channel.

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