An Audio-Book Review: Stop playing with Fire, Snookums!

Unwise Child

By Randall Garrett

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Mark Nelson

 

The Book:

I’m not sure if this story was intended as an homage to Isaac Asimov’s robot stories or a commentary of his Three Laws of Robotics or maybe both. Along with using the famous “Three Laws of Robotics” there is also a murder mystery involved here so there are clear parallels with the Elijah Bailey stories although, as usual, Garrett handled this in his own manner and was obviously not simply copying Asimov.

Michael Raphael Gabriel, aka Mike the Angel, is the designer of the power plant that is to propel the Starship Branchell to its secret and ultimate destination. The Branchel, he later learns, is to transport the super-computer robot, Snookums. Snookums is a learning robot. He started out with a completely blank mind and has been learning win his childlike and inquisitive way ever since.  However, when he learns about nuclear explosives it is decided to ship him far, far away to distant planet lest he build one to see what it does.

Yes, yes, I see the plot hole. Why not just tell him that setting off such an explosion is likely to kill humans (a violation of the First Law of Robotics)? Well, Snookums has the mind of a child and maybe he just would not consider that in advance. Tell him humans are everywhere? Hard to convince him, maybe, since he has been kept isolated from most humans. Whatever the real explanation, Snookums is being shipped to another solar system along with his designer and child psychologist.

However, once in space, the medical officer on board is murdered and Snookums seems to be guilty. It is up to Mike the Angel to figure what really happened.

The story is a bit convoluted as though Garrett was reaching for something that was not quite there. This was not his best murder mystery (he wrote some great ones in my opinion). Maybe it was just that there were too many unique, albeit interesting, concepts being thrown into the mix and they seemed to get in the way of the plot/ I’m not sure, but in spite of it, I did enjoy the story and if science fiction murder mysteries interest you, you may enjoy it too.

 

The Audiobook:

It’s been a while since I listened to a recording by Mark Nelson and it was good to hear his voice again. Mister Nelson reads stories in a nice, no nonsense manner. He does not resort to funny voices and seems to allow the dialogue to delineate the characters rather than vocal tricks. I’m not sure how he manages that since some authors don’t seem to know how to do that themselves, but so far, at least that has been my impression. However, he accomplishes it, I find it is always a good listening experience when he reads.

So, it’s a story filled with interesting concepts and with some concepts that are unique to Randall Garrett and well worth the time to listen to.

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An Audio-Book Review: SF Meets Pulp Fiction

The Ambulance Made Two Trips

By Murray Leinster

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Phil Chenovert

 

The Story:

In some ways, this is a typical early 1960’s science fiction story, but Murray Leinster gives it a spin that makes it his own special take. A gangster is taking over the town by the usual ways although I must say that instead of bribing the cops directly he is more often bribing their wives. Sort of “Take me down coppers and your wives will make you miserable!” Not sure how well that would work on the large scale of a whole police force, but it is an interesting idea. It is a very “Twilight Zone” sort of story, because mixed with the cop vs gangster plot we also have a Psionic power to manipulate probability so that when Big Jake attempts to move in on a dry-cleaning business everything just started going wrong and it is up to Officer Fitzgerald to figure out how to make that work for him before Big Jake can.

The story is improbably to say the least, but a lot of fun to read. It written in the 1970’s it might have been posed as Murphy’s Law in practice, but this is, perhaps more direct as any attempt on the dry-cleaner would go wrong even if the least probable set of circumstances had to be set up to make it happen.

As I said, it’s a fun story and a relatively short one. The pacing is good and there does not seem to be any attempt to pad the length. Well worth your time, I think.

 

The Audiobook:

Once again, Phil Chenovert plies his sardonic tone of voice to a story that seems to take well to it. Maybe he goes a bit too far this time, or maybe not. It’s possible I’ve listened to him too many times and the novelty has worn off, but I have to be honest and admit that his style fits the sardonic and cynical attitudes of the classic fictional detective at his job, so it is probably just me. I have to admit that sometimes it’s just my own mood that causes me to react to a reader and generally I like listening to Mister Chenovert. Also on a second listen to one track I did not really detect any appreciable difference between his reading here and in books I enjoyed his reading more of, so I think it is safe to say that if you like his reading in general, you will enjoy this one too and even if you have never listened to one of his recordings, chalk this one up to my being cranky.

So, I think t6his is an interesting twist on an SF detective yarn and Phil Chenovert gives his characteristic color to it as he reads. Go ahead and listen for yourself!

Posted in Audio Books, Books, Reviews, Science Fiction, SF, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

An Audio-Book Review: Seeing Things and Hearing Voices (That are Really There)

Ten Days in a Madhouse

By Nellie Bly

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Alys AtteWater

 

The Book:

Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Jane Cochraine Seaman) has always been an interesting person to me. She was a journalist who gained notoriety by emulating Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and traveled around the world (breaking Fogg’s fictional record) and by this book in which she feigned insanity in order to get inside the infamous Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum in New York. Yes, she was both an investigative journalist and a “stunt” reporter at the same time, but she was also a strong and independent woman who on retiring from reporting went on to run the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. and is credited as the inventor of an improved milk can and a stacking garbage can. She possibly also invented the standard 55 gallon drum, but most believe that was the work of Henry Wehrhahn who assigned the patent to her. Later she returned to reporting where she reported from the Eastern Front during World War I and on the Woman’s Suffrage movement (Headline: “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors.”)

In this initial effort, Miss Bly takes on the assignment from Joseph Pulitzer to infiltrate an insane asylum and write about her experiences and observations while there. I have to admit that from a slightly more modern and possibly more enlightened (or not) standpoint, her attempt to behave in an insane manner sound less than convincing. However, in her own time, I imagine most people knew as little about madness as she confesses to knowing herself. Even today unless one has known someone in that condition one’s impressions are apt to be based on depictions in movies and on television shows.

In this case, Ms. Bly merely accused all the other women in a boarding house of being crazy and I guess that was sufficient to put the seed of thought into the minds of those around her. Once accused of insanity by one apparently “normal” woman it was simple to let the doctors of the age take the easy way out and agree she was insane – and, yes they did take the easy way out, relying on tests that would be inconclusive at the best of times giving results that can be interpreted as one wishes. In fact, once accused of being insane, the assumption was guilty with some doctors merely saying they were experts on the subject and could tell at a glance.

There were a few more caring individuals in her story, such as the judge who did his best to not ship her off to Bellevue where he obviously knew she would be judged hopeless and then sent to Blackwell’s Island. Indeed, that one judge may have been one of the few who were not convinced by Ms. Bly’s act, but in the end, she had her way and she was off to the “Madhouse.”

I had expected a more gruesome and graphic description of the conditions on Blackwell’s Island, but I doubt Nellie Bly’s readers would have been able to stomach that sort of fare and I suspect Pulitzer would never have printed it. Such would have cross the line between sensational and stomach-turningly tasteless. However, what she does describe is bad enough and eventually led to an official investigation that apparently saw through the Blackwell’s staff’s attempt to clean up. What is not covered was whether any of the asylum’s staff were fired. It seemed to me that many of them were as much to blame for the horrendous conditions as was the lack of operating funds. Then again, that was the beginning of the end of Blackwell’s as an asylum although that end took another twenty-four years or so to accomplish.

 

The Audiobook:

I really enjoyed listening to Alys Attewater read this book. Part of that is that she is a friend of mine, but really because her reading voice is most engaging. She reads with a sense of wonder and somehow manages to impart Nellie Bly’s inquisitiveness. I suppose Ms Bly might have sounded more cynical had she been reading her own work. Certainly the stunt reporting she did would have required a hard character edge in any person and her early life was not one of ease.

However, I think I enjoyed Alys’ interpretation far more than I would have by someone attempting to sound like a hardened cynic.

So, a good read, I think, for anyone interested in Nellie Bly or the condition of mental health facilities in the late Nineteenth Century and this recording is a pleasant listening experience.

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An Audio-Book Review: What Do You Mean, “IF the Insurance Companies Owned the World?”

Preferred Risk

By Frederik Pohl and Lester Del Rey (writing as Edson McCann)

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Nick Bulka

 

The Book:

Here’s another piece of classic 1950’s science fiction and written by a classic pair of science fiction writers. Preferred Risk tells the tale of a claims adjuster for The Company that insures everyone on Earth against everything, thereby effectively owning the world.

Well, almost everyone: accused criminals have their policies cancelled and the poor cannot afford to buy insurance. Also, against almost everything; The company does not insure against warfare, but it claims to have put an end to war… supposedly. The Company claims to be the ultimate beneficent organization and yet there is an organized resistance movement doing what it can to bring The Company down.

Claims Adjuster Wills is a loyal Company man who knows in his heart that the Company only serves to maintain the happiness and security of all Mankind. However, when he meets a man who has collected on having suffered severed limbs multiple times (they grow back) and a beautiful but mysterious woman (of course) he learns that there is something very wrong at the very top levels of The Company and it is up to him to find a way to save the world, not only from the Company, but from the rebels who fight to bring the Company down by destroying all life on Earth.

I’m not sure how much of the science holds up some sixty-two years later, but while the story starts out a bit slowly it develops well and got better and better as the story progressed. The authors certainly knew their business and understood they had to take the time to set up their future world well before the real action began because once it started rolling, there really was no time to go back and explain. It was not a fun story as there was little humor, which would have been inappropriate in such a stark world, but it was a good story about real-seeming people in situations that, given the set-up, were quite believable.

Definitely this is a good example of mid-1950’s SF that while, perhaps a little dated, is not so out-of-date as it might be. It might not be for more modern tastes, especially for those readers looking for deeply moralistic stories set in dark and dingy worlds (side comment: have you noticed how many fantasy and science fiction movies are poorly lit lately? Sure, the story might be dark, and if you are in a cave, I don’t expect sunlight, but when alone on a space ship, why not turn on the lights? Oh, never mind, maybe I’ll cover that in a different post). Anyway, this is a story that involves hope throughout even at the worst of times and I’ll admit I prefer that to watching the protagonist being ground into dust.

 

The Audiobook:

I don’t think I have listened to a story read by Nick Bulka before, but I certainly will not shy away from recordings by him in the future. In fact I have already downloaded two more Librivox projects to which he contributed.

Nick Bulka reads the story well with just enough vocal differentiation to delineate the characters and while he does sometimes resort to accents (one character calls Wills something that sounds like “Wheels” but then, the authors wrote that into the story – as “Weels” – so he was only reading what was there. I would have done the same) none of those accents are over-the-top or difficult to listen too.

So we have a classic SF story, one of those hidden gems you hear of from time to time and it is read masterfully by Nick Bulka.

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An Audio-Book Review: Gasp!

Let ‘Em Breathe Space

By Lester Del Rey

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Gregg Margarite

 

The Story:

This is an interesting bit of classic science fiction combined with a murder mystery that was first published in 1953. In some ways it is rather dated, which is not too surprising as it is about an expedition to Saturn written long before any manned space flight.

Del Rey’s story is about nineteen men and women crammed into an old space freighter that was really only built for a crew of six. It’s a ten-month trip, but halfway out tensions are on the rise and then one of the people on board starts killing the others and poisoning the air-producing plants in the hydroponics bay.

If you can get past the 1950’s view of space travel (I had no trouble) then it’s a nice bit of writing that as a murder mystery holds up well even if the science fiction aspects are somewhat dated, and it is a fairly short story so is worth the time to read or listen to even if it turns out not to be the sort of thing you like.

 

The Audiobook:

 

I generally have liked Gregg Margarite’s readings and he reads this one well too, but I think the recording could stand some work. It has far too much bass and was not recorded very loudly so I had to crank up the volume on my car’s stereo and then the sound of Mister Margarite’s voice boomed at me throughout. As he died back in 2012, we cannot ask him to re-record this story, but I think someone with a decent audio set-up could modify the sound track to boost the treble a bit and do whatever else would be needed to improve it. Even so, after the first part, I got used to the basso rumble of the recording and was able to enjoy the reading as much as I always do when Gregg Margarite is the reader.

So, a classic bit of Mid-20th Century science fiction that is read well even if the sound quality of the recording could stand a bit of re-mixing.

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An Audio-Book Review: An Infinite Earth with Finite People

The Long Utopia

By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Published by Harper Audio

Read by Michael Fenton Stevens

 

The Book:

This series started out well enough, but somewhere along the line it lost something. The “world” of the “Long Earth” series truly is infinite in scope with the people able to “step” from one version of Earth to the next with nothing more than a simple bit of circuitry powered by a potato. Indeed, it sounds like a Jr. High School science fair project… the one that lost out to the baking soda volcano. There are some people who can step naturally from world to world and, one of them, Joshua Valiente, is the glue that holds this series together albeit with increasingly less ability as the story progresses.

The Long Utopia is the fourth book of a five-book series, but I cannot help but wonder why the authors (although I suspect this work is more Baxter than Pratchett) seem to be running out of room on their infinite world for story ideas. This first became apparent in the third book, The Long Mars, in which our heroes got “stepping” across the different versions of Mars, which for some reason do not match up with those of Earth. I’m not sure I believe that alternative timelines would vary from world to world in both nature and number, but, it is an interesting concept even if it does rely on Time and Space being only vaguely connected to each other.

Actually, the story concurrent with Joshua has some interesting features and is not really a bad story at all, but sprinkled in between the current action are a series of flashbacks to one of Joshua’s forefathers, also a natural stepper at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign. It might have been a good story too but I felt it lacked depth and was not really all that necessary to the rest of the book, so while some readers might want to know where the orphaned Joshua came from, if could have remained an untold story and nothing would have been lost, save a bunch of pages that were, essentially, filler.

The main story was a tapestry woven with characters from previous books of the series and some new ones, including Joshua, Lobsang (an artificial intelligence who thinks he is a reincarnated Tibetan mechanic) Sister Agnes (one of the nuns who raised Joshua and now in a robotic body), and Sally Lindsay, another natural stepper and the daughter of the inventor of the Stepper Box, the device I mentioned that runs on a potato.

In all, however, it is difficult to detect Terry Pratchett’s hand in this story and like a few other reviewers I find myself wondering just what he did contribute. Well, the potato thing might be one of his, and Lobsang as well, but the writing seems to have more Baxter than Pratchett in it.

And, sadly, like the other books of this series so far, the story does not so much conclude as just pause at the very end, leaving the reader, or maybe just me, left waiting for a denouement that never comes. I can only hope the fifth and final book of the series has a satisfying conclusion.

 

The Audiobook:

Michael Fenton Stevens does the same fairly even reading he has in previous volumes of this series. For the most part he reads well, but every so often he makes the mistake of trying to read a character in a funny voice or an outrageous accent. Very few readers can pull that off and not be annoying and Mister Stevens is not one of them. That may be why I have not listened to a volume of this series in over two years, although, looking back at my review of The Long Mars, I had complaints both for the story and Mister Steven’s reading. This time I think he did better, but then there were fewer talking nonhumans floating around in this story.

So, while the story has some interestingly thought-provoking concepts, it falls flat much of the time, possibly in an attempt to remain at novel length, but the reading is good enough that I was not in pain to listen to it. If you have read the rest of this series, now might be a good time to continue on.

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

An Audio-Book Review: Where the Heck Are We?

Abandoned

By Jules Verne

Translated by William Henry Giles Kingston

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Mach1, fiddlesticks, David Lodes, Oxygen, Anton, Thomas May, Kevin Powell, Jon Smith, merelyseoneil, Xiph, CPvoice, pyfeman43 and deongines

 

The Book:

This is the middle third of the larger work known as Mysterious Island. It picks up sometime after the castaways have managed to hijack a balloon in Confederate Virginia (toward the end of the US Civil War) in the middle of an impossibly large hurricane (it was over 1800 miles wide and extended across the Equator from thirty-five degrees north to forty degrees south and cause great destruction across the Americas, Europe and Asia. This is all blatantly impossible and stands as a testimony to how little weather was understood at the time) and was swept to somewhere in the South Pacific.

Where, you ask? Hard to tell, because the island hosts an (also) impossible variety of plants and animals, but if forced to guess, I would say it ought to be off the coast of Australia and Indonesia since among the critters are kangaroos, koalas and orangutans. The whole thing sounds like Verne strolled through a natural history museum one afternoon, read the plaques and decided to add in everything that caught his eye regardless of where it was from. An example of that are some of the birds that are obviously not from the South Pacific and the wild onagers, though to the best of my knowledge there has never been an onager native to a Pacific island. Some of Verne’s lack of scientific knowledge can be forgiven as he frequently conjectures based on 19th Century theory that has since been disproven, but the mix of plants and animals is just sloppy since where they were found was well-documented even then.

As it happens, however, he goes on to state the exact location of Lincoln Island as being at 34° 57’ South Latitude and 150° 30’ West Longitude. Now how they figured that out is somewhat problematic. Apparently, someone thought to put a sextant on board the balloon they escaped from Richmond on. Whey they might have done that is beyond me. It’s not likely to be of much use to a balloon that could not possibly have been intended for anything by aerial observation and therefore a road map would have been more useful for establishing their location. Even more amazingly either whoever st9ored their sextant in the balloon’s gondola also thought to store a book of navigational tables without which they could never have calculated their longitudinal position. Verne does not mention that at all and it is possible that he did not actually know the mechanics of how a sextant is used. Maybe he did and chose not to detail it, but considering how much verbiage is spent describing everything the castaways did, that seems unlikely. Fortunately, one of the characters is a sailor and I guess he assumed that all sailors were fully trained in maritime navigation. Then again, he also explicitly states that all sailors have a strong aptitude for sewing…. Yes, that would be a handy talent, but I refuse to believe that the occupation automatically bestowed that aptitude on a person. Sailors then and now were trained in knots and splicing (aka marlinspike seamanship) but that is training, not inherent ability.

To save you all some time I looked up the location. Lincoln Island is supposedly situated roughly halfway between Australia and South America (literally in the middle of the South Pacific) a little north of Sydney’s latitude and just under one thousand miles east of the northern island of New Zealand and about 870 miles south of Pape’ete in French Polynesia.

Okay, anyway, the castaways (called colonists in this book) have somehow managed to ride thousands of miles in a single day, if I recall correctly, and lands safely on this strange island. Since their arrival, they have names the island after Abraham Lincoln, a mountain after Benjamin Franklin, built a place to live called “Granite House,” and gone on to name just about every other geographical feature in sight. Why did they bother? I’m not sure, I am certain that having only one unknown island to live on, I would probably just call it “the island”, call the one mountain, “the mountain,” or maybe “the volcano,” and the house I lived in, you got it… “the House.” It’s not like I had more than one of these things to get confused about. Certainly, I would not bother about naming everything before ensuring I could continue to eat, but apparently, the naming of things is important to these people.

While Verne has frequently been hailed as a visionary, I cannot help but be jarred by the many times he gets it wrong. He inundates the reader with the known facts of something (to prove the science in his science fiction) often to the detriment of his plotline. One of the more jarring passages to me early on occurs when a troupe of orangutans invades and takes over Granite House. Apparently, he didn’t realize that Orangs are mostly solitary creatures. Well, the castaways kill all but one of the apes but decide to accept one of them as a servant because he is obviously at least as smart as an Australian Aborigine or a San bushman based, according to Verne, on the angle of its face. Indeed, the castaways lament they do not know the Orangutan language so they could speak to the creature, who, apparently, is happy to serve them.

Never mind the lack of knowledge about Orangutan living habits, they probably had not been studied to that extent by Europeans yet at the time, but to assume that either they were as intelligent as people or else that some people are only as intelligent as an Orang shows an utter lack of understanding about the subject. There is a basic law of writing, “Write what you know.” I have come to realize that Verne violates that law with reckless abandon.

He makes a similar error when a large pack of Culpeo foxes (normally native to Chile) attempt to invade the castaway’s side of the island one night. Culpeos are not pack animals. Solitary males will mate with females and stay with them five or six months before they split up and go their separate ways, but being fairly large for fox-like critters, I guess Verne thought they would sound impressive.

I would also like to know where the domesticated grains came from (never mind all the other plants from all over the world (including tobacco, which the Orangutan apparently likes to smoke. It’s possible the Orang later got a job as the Librarian of the Unseen University on Discworld)). It seems obvious that Verne did not realize that domesticated wheat is generally not self-seeding. The reason for that was the wild grains naturally fell off the stalks easily so even as humans gathered it, enough fell off to seed the next year’s crop. The stuff that stayed attacked were the grains the humans actually brought home and ate. However, once humans started planting their own, that reversed since they planted some of the seed they had gathered – the ones more likely to stay attached to the stalks. As time went on the grains stayed on the stalks better and better and humans had to learn new and more effective ways to thresh the grain. So as part of the domestication process, grains became firmly attached to the stalks and domestic grains lost the ability to plant themselves, but they did not need to since the plants had trained their pet humans to do it for them.

The thing is, the sort of wheat you make bread from is domesticated. The wild sorts make good porridge and other cereal, but aren’t really glutinous enough to make a loaf of bread, so there should not have been any bread wheat on the island.

However, that’s a nit-picking point compared to the question of where they found sufficient tools to build the house, bridges, boat, wharf, windmill and everything else they built on the island. Verne makes the building of a windmill sound easy, but I suddenly realized that they needed a saw to cut the timber (although improvised stone axes might have chopped the trees down), a way to either make nails (no mention of a blacksmith on the island… or any mention of a way to smelt iron and make steel) or else cut pegs to peg the wooden structures together. He also states that the making of mill stones was very simple… I am sure Verne never tried to make a mill stone. And if he did, did he do so with iron or steel tools or stone tools? It can be done with stone tools, but simple is not a word I would use to describe the process. So, I can only assume that along with the sextant there was a full inventory of 19th Century tools on board that balloon as well.

And then one day they find a message in a bottle (which they reason must have been written recently as it was still dry (that is not explained, but for the sake of argument, I’ll let it pass and assume that the method of sealing the bottle would not have lasted for years, although some similar bottles have been found years after they were first set afloat. In 2015 a 108 year old message was found in a bottle floating in the Baltic Sea – that one was researching oceanic currents and promised a shilling (now called 5 New Pence) to whoever found it. Nicely enough, an old silver shilling was sent to the person who found it.

Anyway, the message tells them there is another castaway on an island about 150 miles away and since their resident sailor has just build a sea-worthy boat and proved it by sailing around the island, a party of three set out to rescue the other castaway who has become an ignorant savage in his solitude (I assume Verne meant he had gone mad, but instead describes him as no longer human), but before they he had managed to build a house a find garden with just about every other plant that did not exist on Lincoln Island and raised pigs, which the castaways of Lincoln Island want, although why I don’t know considering they were already making wool for themselves, so they must have had sheep to go with their poultry. I know I’d rather have lamb or mutton than pork, but maybe that’s a cultural and religious bias…

The only question, I had at that point was that if they had built such a fine sailing vessel (one with a fair-sized cabin and from the description was rigged in a manner of a small 19th Century ship) and were capable of navigating beyond sight of land, why didn’t they set sail for New Zealand or Australia? Sure, it’s a fair-dinkum journey, but Capt. Bligh made a much longer trip in a somewhat smaller craft following the famous mutiny on the HMS Bounty over 75 years earlier. But I suppose that if they had thought of that, they probably would not have bothered trying to build a new civilization, complete with a flag declaring them the 38th State of the United States (The State of Lincoln… I wonder if the capital would have been called Nebraska).

I could go on, but really, I think I’ve griped enough and this is not “Everything Wrong with Mysterious Island (or the middle part of it) in Six Minutes or Less.” I’ll leave that to “CinemaSins.” It’s just that they seemed to have so quickly established themselves on the island that they had the time to build an ocean-going boat, a small electric power plant and then a telegraph system and a windmill after establishing a comfortable subsistence, one has to wonder why they did not even try to get back to civilization. You could argue that by then they had no need to do so, but keep in mind there were no women on the island. Most of Verne’s adventures do not seem to include women; Journey to the Center of the Earth, Off on a Comet, Mysterious Island… Of the Verne stories I have reviewed so far the only vaguely important female character was in Around the World in Eighty Days.

I can understand why they might not have wanted to head into Polynesia etc. as they would not have known which islands would have offered happy, friendly native and which would have had happy friendly cannibals, but they knew where they were and where New Zealand and Australia was. They even recognized that some of their flora and fauna were from those places. Why did they wait over two years before at least discussing the possibility of sailing there? The distance? Well that was the eventual excuse, but they had quite a bit of fresh food to stave off scurvy and had capable sailors (two by that time) among them. And if they did not want to go to Australia, then Chile was roughly the same distance in the opposite direction and along the way it would not have been out of the realm of conjecture they might run into a whaling ship from out of New Bedford or Nantucket. They might have been blown off course by a storm and ended up on Pitcairn Island to meet the descendants of the Bounty mutiny too. But, no, not this bunch.

Why not? Well, probably Verne just did not think of it. There have been stories, both fictional and real, about such voyages, but these gentlemen seem intent on just sitting on this remote island/ Adaptations of Mysterious Island have attempted to justify that by [placing impossible tides or reefs that block them from leaving the island, but in the book they had no trouble sailing off to Tabor Island (supposedly 150 miles away) so there was nothing but good planning (or the lack of such) combined with the belief that they just cannot go elsewhere keeping them on the island.

And then this middle installment ends with the sighting of a ship (well, a vessel. For all the description as the first sighting, it could be a small dugout canoe) off the coast of Lincoln Island.

Believe me, I have left out a lot, such as hours of tedious narrative explaining how they developed photographic supplies for the newspaper reporter among them to use of the batteries of their electric power plant, or the rescue and rehabilitation of another castaway and so on. The dialogue is tedious and clumsy, but I cannot help but think that might be more the fault of the translator than the author. It was rather stiff and formal, which does frequently seem to be the case in Nineteenth Century novels written in English (at least to my more modern eyes), I do not know if the writing flows better in French.

I’m sure this story sounded more reasonable when it was first published, but this middle section of Mysterious Island just has not stood the test of time. For all the descriptive narrative and dialogue, the who section reads like filler to make sure the beginning and the end of the story don’t meet as they pass each other. That is not something I noticed when I first read the complete work, but Abandoned might have benefitted from being considerably shorter.

 

The Audiobook:

I like listening to Librivox recordings. Some are polished and professional products and others, maybe not so much, but they are always honest readings if not always artistic performances. The books that are read by a collection of readers, rather than by a single one are usually interesting to listen to because it is easy to imagine a group of friends sitting around a campfire or a living room, taking turns reading a chapter.

Yes, whenever you have multiple readers some are definitely better than others, but that just makes the reading that much more interesting. IN all, however, this was a good mix of readers and perhaps enough different sorts to please any listener.

So, the story is definitely the middle of a larger work and reads as such. I do not think you have to have read the first section to know what is going on since Verne did recap the salient points. However, the real action in my view is getting on the Island and eventually getting off again. The rest is just what happened in between and that is what Abandoned is. The readers do their best to keep the story going and in this case perhaps having many readers is better that having a single unified one. If Verne’s writing is interesting to you, this recording is worth spending some time with.

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